Government Wipes Out Ontario Processing Vegetable Grower Board; Appoints Trustee

In a rare, but completely legal move, Ontario’s provincial government has removed an elected board of directors and named a trustee to oversee the organization.

Late last week, Jeff Leal, minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) fired the entire Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (OPVG) board, and appointed Elmer Buchanan, a farmer and former OMAFRA minister as trustee of OPVG. Buchanan temporarily assumes the powers of the board to negotiate 2017 contracts, until elections for a OPVG Board are held (prior to December 31, 2017).

The processing vegetable board, representing farmers, has been in heated 2017 contract negotiations with processors, specifically as it relates to the tomato industry. According to OMAFRA, 2017 contract negotiations between Ontario’s tomato growers and processors has reached an impasse, “jeopardizing this year’s crop season.”

“Risking this year’s tomato crop and the thousands of jobs that support it, is something I am not prepared to do,” says Leal, in a press release, as an explanation for the removal of the elected board of directors. Leal’s ministry states: “This mandate will ensure that Mr. Buchanan assists in the negotiations of 2017 contracts, benefitting both parties involved and saving the tomato season. This decision also honours the directive I issued last August to develop a regulatory framework to achieve reform for the 2018 growing season and beyond.”

Farmers, understandably, are crying foul, claiming this move benefits tomato processors — the former Heinz plant at Leamington, specifically — and undercuts vegetable growers’ rights to negotiate a fair price for their products.

This is not the first time Buchanan, Ontario’s agriculture minister during the NDP era from 1990 to 1995, has been tapped by the Liberal government to manage an agriculture and food minefield. Buchanan was asked to play “Mr. Fix It” and help restructure the province’s horse racing industry after the government’s misguided, misinformed, and mean attempt to dismantle the Slots At Racetrack program.

The move killed thousands of horse racing jobs for breeders, trainers, grooms and service providers as the industry teetered on the edge of collapse. The ill-conceived casinos were never built and Premier Wynne has restored much of the funding pulled by McGuinty and Duncan. In 2013, she installed Buchanan as chair of the Ontario Racing Commission to clean up the mess and help the racing industry build a sustainable future.

The Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission is holding a meeting today. RealAgriculture will continue to cover the story as new information becomes available.

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