The Ontario Sheep Farmers (OSF) held its annual general meeting October 23, via Zoom, and the chair’s opening report directly addressed the ongoing issue of dissension within the membership and the Canadian sheep industry as a whole.
“I am frustrated by the distrust in our industry that has led to too many acrimonious and hostile discussions between different parts of our provincial sheep family. I believe that this distrust and the struggles it creates are the greatest barrier to the further success of our industry. This challenge is an ongoing distraction that robs us all of time and energy that should be directed towards the interests and success of our industry,” wrote chair Marc Carere, in a written address released the day before the meeting.
The chair further outlined his concerns in his message to the membership on the Zoom call. Carere says that the mental toll the acrimony and distraction have had on board members is unacceptable and a waste of valuable energy and resources.
“Producers are passionate about this industry, but when passion bleeds to zeal we talk through, not to each other. We need to capture the passion, commitment and energy of all producers in a common commitment to building a better future,” Carere says.
Carere directly addressed the strained interactions with the Canadian Sheep Federation (CSF) — a group that Quebec, then Ontario and Alberta left four years ago. The three provinces have been working collaboratively by forming the National Sheep Network.
The Canadian Sheep Federation administers the scrapie surveillance program for Canada, and oversees the Canadian Sheep Identification Program for all sheep farmers in Canada, regardless of whether or not their province is a member of the over-arching group. Without the three major provinces, however, the CSF does not represent even half of those responsible for Canadian sheep production.
Internally, Ontario Sheep has spent the last few years focused on enhancing the professional capacity of the board, including adding an industry-first role of an external board advisor, Dr. Deb Stark. Dr. Stark brings years of experience, expertise, integrity, and strength – the foundation for building trust, says Carere. Stark’s role is as advisor, and also moderator for member complaints.
“Yet despite our commitment and our successes our sector continues to have internal struggles with trust. Not everyone here agrees that we are on the right path. Some have expressed concerns with our approach to an effective national voice – and these concerns have, more often than not, been expressed in ways that aggravate the hostility and acrimony I mentioned earlier,” Carere says.
Carere outlined the OSF’s position clearly, saying that it is fully open to respectful dialogue on broaching a truly national organization. He also placed the ball firmly in the CSF’s court by asking the group to outline its vision for a national organization that includes Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, calling on all sheep producers — and those working within sheep policy groups — to conduct themselves with transparency, dignity, and respect.