Tuesday 17 February 1998
Farming and Food Production Protection Act, 1997, Bill 146, Mr Villeneuve /
Loi de 1997 sur la protection de l'agriculture et de la production alimentaire,
projet de loi 146, M. Villeneuve
Statement by the minister and responses
Hon Noble Villeneuve, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Mr Pat Hoy
Mr Gilles Bisson
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Mr Ed Segsworth
Mr Réjean Pommainville
Mr Ken Kelly
York Region Federation of Agriculture
Ms Virginia McLaughlin
Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario
Mr Bob Bedggood
Mr Elbert van Donkersgoed
Mr Jasper Vanderbas
Ontario Pork Producers' Marketing Board
Mr Carl Moore
Timiskaming Federation of Agriculture
Mr Carman Kidd
Town of Oakville
Ms Jennifer Huctwith
Canadian Environmental Law Association
Mr Paul McCulloch
Ontario Ratite Association
Mrs Sharon Heutinck
Association of Municipalities of Ontario
Mr Roger Anderson
Mr Dan Vanlondersele
STANDING COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT
Chair / Présidente
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président
Mr Peter L. Preston (Brant-Haldimand PC)
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre / -Centre ND)
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North / -Nord PC)
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North / -Nord L)
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph PC)
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland PC)
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent L)
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls PC)
Mr Peter L. Preston (Brant-Haldimand PC)
Substitutions / Membres remplaçants
Mr Marcel Beaubien (Lambton PC)
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South / -Sud ND)
Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall L)
Mr Harry Danford (Hastings-Peterborough PC)
Mrs Julia Munro (Durham-York PC)
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East / -Est PC)
Clerk / Greffière
Ms Donna Bryce
Staff / Personnel
Mr Lewis Yeager, research officer, Legislative Research Service
The committee met at 0904 in room 151.
FARMING AND FOOD PRODUCTION PROTECTION ACT, 1997 / LOI DE 1997 SUR LA PROTECTION DE L'AGRICULTURE ET DE LA PRODUCTION ALIMENTAIRE
Consideration of Bill 146, An Act to protect Farming and Food Production / Projet de loi 146, Loi protégeant l'agriculture et la production alimentaire.
The Chair (Mrs Brenda Elliott): Good morning, everyone. Our purpose for gathering this morning is to consider hearings on Bill 146, An Act to protect Farming and Food Production.
Our first order of business is to attend to the subcommittee report before you dated December 18. Do I have a motion to adopt? Thank you, Mr O'Toole. Any discussion? All those in favour? Opposed? It's carried.
STATEMENT BY THE MINISTER AND RESPONSES
The Chair: We now move to much more interesting matters. Our committee is pleased to welcome the Honourable Noble Villeneuve, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, to join us and make our first presentation of the day on Bill 146. Welcome, Minister.
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): Thank you very much, Madam Chair, and to my colleagues, good morning. Some of you I haven't seen for a little while. It's great to see you all here. Some of you had to survive an ice storm and some of you were able to get away without having to do that. I don't wish that on anyone, even the opposition. I know one of my opposition colleagues certainly lived the ice storm, as we did in eastern Ontario.
Welcome all. This will be oriented towards any changes to Bill 146 that the committee sees fit. I want to thank the committee members for conducting these hearings and I want to thank all those who will be making presentations. I think this is a very important piece of legislation and its time has come in a modern world, the agricultural world we live in here in Ontario.
I'm pleased you have taken an interest in Bill 146, which is An Act to protect Farming and Food Production, because I think it's a piece of legislation whose time has indeed come.
The proposed legislation is crucial in protecting farmers' ability to continue producing an abundant supply of wholesome, high-quality, affordable food and other agricultural products for Ontario, for world markets and indeed to provide Ontario with quite a few billion dollars in export sales.
It reasserts this government's commitment to agriculture and food production as a vibrant, competitive and growing sector that annually contributes some $25 billion to the provincial economy, employs some 640,000 people and creates more jobs every year, and exports products worth well over $5 billion annually to the far reaches of the globe.
In order to continue feeding all of us as well as creating jobs and economic growth, our food producers, our farmers, of course, need assurances that they can conduct their normal business practices without fear of nuisance lawsuits and unnecessarily restrictive bylaws.
While we do have a law that provides this kind of protection, it is limited, out of date and indeed in my opinion no longer effective. In the 10 years since the Farm Practices Protection Act was introduced, the population mix in rural Ontario has changed, with more urban people moving into rural surroundings; new and innovative kinds of farming have been introduced involving non-traditional livestock and crops; modern, normal farming practices include activities not covered under the current legislation; on-farm activities in which farmers add value to the commodities they grow are increasing.
Times have changed and the current act has not changed with them.
The bill being discussed in these hearings reflects far better the modern-day realities of farming, and it does much more, because it balances the rights of those who conduct their farming businesses in rural Ontario with the rights of all those who live in rural Ontario. It adheres to strong health, safety and environmental standards. I emphasize that: It adheres to strong health, safety and environmental standards.
It is forward-looking, providing much-needed protection for today's farmers and for generations to come, and it builds on the tremendous environmental work that's been done by farmers and farm organizations over many years.
As an example, the Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition has been working since the early 1990s with our farmers across the province, encouraging them to conduct farming activities in a way that respects the environment.
Dozens of farm organizations and marketing boards are involved in the coalition, including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, whose representatives are here this morning -- and, gentlemen, welcome and thank you for being with us -- the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, AgCare and the Ontario Farm Animal Council. All told, the coalition represents tens of thousands of farmers.
Central to the coalition's efforts are environmental farm plans. These individual plans set out opportunities for environmental enhancement and provide a strategy for making low-cost, highly effective changes on our farms.
In combination with educational workshops, technical advice, peer reviews and funding incentives, the plans are helping our farmers to make environmental improvements in their own operations. It's voluntary and it's working because farmers care. In fact, it's working so well that recently the coalition received the province's Pollution Prevention Leadership Award.
Chers amis, il s'agit là d'un formidable témoignage de la clairvoyance de la collectivité agricole, et de ce qui peut être réalisé lorsqu'on travaille ensemble. Il s'agit également d'une reconnaissance du temps, des valeurs monétaires et des efforts investis par des milliers d'agriculteurs partout dans la province pour rendre leurs exploitations aussi respectueuses de 1'environnement que possible. Je suis très heureux que le ministère soit en mesure de continuer à contribuer à ce partenariat dynamique.
Besides the environmental farm plans, there are countless projects involving millions of farmers' hard-earned dollars aimed at such things as reducing pesticide use, improving tilling practices, developing more efficient manure management practices, and of course erosion control. Farmers see these projects as investments both in the environment and in their business. For farmers, the two are connected at the most basic levels.
I know from years of experience the significant changes that are occurring in rural Ontario. Having been a farmer and a rural resident for decades, I can understand the attraction that draws people from the city into our countryside. That's easy to figure out. For most of us it is indeed a more tranquil, less rushed life, and possibly a better place to raise our family.
However, there's a real sense of community in rural living. Neighbours generally get along and help each other, and certainly that was very transparent during the ice storm. That's why so many have decided to make the move from the city to the countryside.
At this point in time I want to thank all of the farmers from across Ontario who sent generators and supplies to our folks who were very hard hit by the ice storm at the beginning of January. Certainly the generators were most welcome. They had to be shared and I must tell you in many instances they ran for weeks on end, 24 hours a day. They were really not intended to run that hard for that long. I know some of them are, I would say, a little bit tired and maybe need some repairs before they go home, and we'll certainly try and look after that as well from the ministry's standpoint.
But make no mistake. For farmers, the countryside is very much their place of business, with all of the challenges and opportunities that entails, including living with the whims of Mother Nature and the fluctuation of world markets. The business of farming has evolved rapidly and farmers have risen to meet the challenge.
The Canadian farm population may be reducing in numbers, but it still produces enough food to feed Ontario and exports some $5 billion plus.
I think we can all agree that creating a climate in which our farmers and food producers can continue to provide us with a high-quality, affordable food system without unnecessary restrictions is a very worthwhile goal.
That's why we're putting forward what we feel is this balanced piece of legislation. I use the word "balanced" because it was carefully crafted after extensive public consultations -- pre-bill consultations. These were carried out by the parliamentary assistant and MPP for Hastings-Peterborough, Harry Danford, with help from Lambton MPP Marcel Beaubien. I want to thank both of those gentlemen who were very directly involved in pre-bill consultation and formulating Bill 146. That's the way we like to do things to ensure that new policy and legislation meets the needs of those it is intended for and will affect.
The response was most encouraging. More than 850 people attended the meetings and more than 60 written submissions were not only received but considered. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, the Rural Ontario Municipal Association and many other agricultural commodity groups contributed tremendously to both the consultation and the development of the bill. Many rural residents took the time to share their concerns and issues and they helped immensely in bringing balance to this legislation.
Many of those suggestions are incorporated in the bill that's before the committee now. The proposed act provides added protection for farmers without overriding or duplicating other legislation and policies designed to protect the Ontario public.
Farmers have told me again and again that their interest in strengthening this legislation is so they can get on with the day-to-day operations of their farms. They have said emphatically that they do not -- and I emphasize again, they do not -- want a licence to pollute.
Therefore, the new law would continue to be subject to the provincial Environmental Protection Act, the Pesticides Act, the Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act. Further, it would adhere to cabinet approved policy statements.
At the same time, the proposed act deals constructively with the emerging concerns around unduly restrictive municipal bylaws. That's becoming more and more of a problem. Before its implementation, the ministry, farm groups and municipalities will be working together to increase awareness among municipal decision-makers about modern farming practices, so that future bylaws can be drafted with full recognition of the demands of running a farming operation.
Under the new law, the minister would be able to issue farm practices policy statements which can also be used by municipalities as guidelines to help in developing new bylaws.
Now I know that some groups have voiced concerns about this particular part of the bill, so let me take a few moments trying to outline why we have included clause 9.
This clause is necessary, in my opinion, to provide guidance to the new Normal Farm Practices Protection Board in their deliberations and to help municipalities draft new bylaws that will conform with the law. By having provincial guidelines, municipalities can draft bylaws that do not infringe on farmers' ability to do their jobs, whether they're in the north, south, east or west of this great province.
The kind of guidance I'm talking about is broad and provincial in nature. It is not a vehicle for the minister, whoever that may be, to dictate to individual farmers how to farm. This kind of leadership and direction is needed to head off potential conflicts between farmers and municipalities before bylaws are drafted.
Another activity we're preparing to undertake is a public awareness program that would focus on the realities of living in rural Ontario. This would be accomplished in cooperation with farm and rural groups. We have to do a better job of informing people who have moved to rural areas that farms are places of business subject to nature's extremes, where sometimes the crop can't wait until after the weekend to be harvested or processed, where at the height of the season, greenhouse operators, for example, have to run their lights all night, where the weather conditions mean that farm equipment could well be running 24 hours a day, and that is common during the rush season.
We must also do a better job of reminding everyone that Ontario's economic roots are firmly planted in our farmers' fields and barnyards and that we all depend on the healthy, wholesome, affordable food supply and all the other non-food products that are produced on these farms.
I know some farmers already regularly advise their neighbors when they will be combining, running equipment such as dryers all night, or spreading manure on adjacent fields. Often the timing of these activities can be worked out to keep everyone reasonably happy.
If this doesn't or can't happen, the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs are not only knowledgeable but experienced in helping to mediate and resolve problems between neighbours before the dispute escalates to a major war.
I also know there are local examples of farmers working with municipalities, providing input into such things as drafting nutrient management plan requirements. In Perth county the local Ontario Federation of Agriculture has representation on a municipal advisory committee. A committee of farmers has even set up a 1-888 number where local residents can call to report incidents that they believe are outside normal farming practices. When a call comes in, one of the committee members will visit the farm in question and try to resolve the problem to effectively satisfy everyone. These measures are designed to head off needless confrontation before it actually occurs.
The vast majority of conflicts in the past and, I'm confident, in the future will be settled either among the parties themselves or with mediation help from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs staff.
If, after all these avenues have been exhausted, the dispute continues, the issue can be brought before the new Normal Farm Practices Protection Board for a ruling on a specific farm practice.
There have been a few concerns raised since this bill was introduced in June that it would leave municipalities powerless to govern their own development. Let's clear that one up too.
First, the Rural Ontario Municipal Association, better known as ROMA, at a meeting here last week in Toronto was very instrumental in the consultations leading up to the bill's introduction and in its development. They were very helpful in bringing a rural-municipal perspective to its design, and requested that the proposed legislation include a mechanism for providing guidance to municipalities wanting to draft new bylaws.
Second, I see application to the board as a last resort. If the board rules that the specific farm practice in question is normal, the bylaw would not apply to that farmer and farm.
Third, we also intend to increase the representation from rural municipalities to the new board. This change would help ensure that a balanced approach is taken to making rulings and that the rights and responsibilities of everyone in rural Ontario are taken into consideration.
In their deliberations, board members will take into account such things as the purpose of the bylaw, the effect of the practice on abutting lands and whether the bylaw reflects a provincial interest as established under other legislation or policy statements.
I have every confidence that the new board will have the experience and knowledge necessary to make fair and balanced decisions.
I believe our approach of putting awareness and education, conciliation and mediation first and backing these measures with strong, clear legislation will be a winner for everyone, because it resolves potentially costly and time-consuming conflicts before they occur and before they escalate.
Bill 146 is an improvement over current legislation for a number of reasons. It clarifies what constitutes an agricultural operation and encompasses more businesses. Farmers who raise emus and ostriches, beekeepers and maple syrup producers, as examples, are added under this new law.
It spells out normal farming practices, which are those that are consistent with proper and acceptable customs and standards followed by the industry.
It adds light, vibration, smoke and flies to the current list of noise, odour and dust as the effects that can be expected from normal modern farming practices.
It includes activities that farmers may undertake on their farms to add value to their own commodities.
N'oublions jamais que notre secteur agricole, qui est fort et viable, renforce notre économie ontarienne considérablement. Je crois fermement, et je sais que beaucoup partagent ma conviction, que la loi proposée sur la protection de l'agriculture et de la production agricole constitue un projet de loi qui arrive à point et rencontre les besoins de nos agriculteurs.
I want to remind everyone, as I like to terminate any presentation, when our farmers and our agrifood business people prosper in Ontario, you know what? We all benefit as Ontarians.
The Chair: We now turn to the Liberal critic, Mr Hoy.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): Good morning, Minister, and everyone in the room. We're pleased to take part in the hearings on Bill 146, An Act to protect Farming and Food Production.
At long last we're at this point. Second reading was held in the last days of the government sitting in December 1997, so we're very pleased that we're able to discuss this bill in committee at this time. We're pleased the government has held this bill over to the next session. Some of you may not know that the government prorogued in December, and often many bills will die on the order paper, such as Bill 78, for example. We're pleased that this government bill, an important one, will continue, and that's why we have these hearings here today.
Most farmers -- and indeed I want to emphasize "most farmers" -- are protective of the land, the water and the air. Their livelihood depends on it. It depends on all three of those elements. They realize these three elements provide not only for themselves but for their families, so they have a vested interest in safeguarding those components.
Agricultural technology has changed and will continue to change over the years. I can recall when I was young, but then not so many years ago, many farms had a few chickens, had a few hogs, had a few cattle. But now I don't see that in my area, and indeed I don't see that anywhere in Ontario. People who visit my county of Kent from other countries have asked, "How come every farm doesn't have a few chickens, a few hogs," whatever, "in the backyard?" But we've changed and farms are much larger, much more diversified. The farmers protect their land, water and air. In the main, all of them work hard to protect those three elements.
However, some may willingly or unwittingly be working in a way that can be described as not a normal farm practice. Therefore, we need laws. Just as we need laws on our highways to protect those who would flout normal driving practices, we need a law to protect legitimate claims of abuse and we need laws to protect nuisance claims.
The minister talked about provincial interest in regard to some aspects of Bill 146 and how it relates to the farming community, the urban community and municipalities. I hope the provincial interest is not so broad or determined that we harm the agricultural areas. An example of that is when the Minister of Transportation stated that provincial highways were no longer of provincial interest. I hope this minister will fully understand my remarks that provincial interests must remain within the sphere of protecting farming in the rural and urban communities.
These hearings will allow the public to make comments on Bill 146. Rural and urban communities have a key interest in this subject and have indeed been waiting for quite some time to see this bill move along the necessary steps towards becoming law.
We in the Liberal Party look forward to all the submissions and presentations that will be made over the next few days and any written briefs that are sent to the committee. We will look forward to improving this law if it's required by the communities with an interest in Bill 146. I await the presentations today and over the course of the next three days and, as I said, any written submissions that might come to the committee.
The Chair: We now move to Mr Bisson, the NDP critic.
M. Gilles Bisson (Cochrane-Sud) : Je voudrais vous dire premièrement que tout ce qui facilite la vie de nos agriculteurs de l'Ontario, notre caucus NDP en est en faveur. Dans cette instance avec cette législation, on veut travailler avec vous et avec la communauté agricole pour être capable d'avancer avec ce projet de loi. Je pense qu'il répond beaucoup à la situation agricole dans la province.
I was just saying to the minister that anything that makes the life of the farmer and generally the agricultural community an easier thing to do, because we know it's a very tough business to be in, we in the NDP caucus plan on working with the agricultural community and the government in order to make that so. This bill to a large extent tries to deal with some of the very real issues that the agricultural community faces, especially in rural Ontario, basically abutting municipalities, when it comes to some of the bylaws we've passed over the past number of years.
I welcome the comments of the minister. You said, Minister, in your presentation, and I tried to write it down, "We like to consult with people and make the legislation reflect the views of what we heard." I don't want to be critical, Minister, but your government has not really been noted as a government that does a lot of listening to the people, and I hope in this case you will. I know you have a soft spot for the agricultural community. We're certainly thankful for that. I wish you had a soft spot for other communities in Ontario that also need the help of this provincial government. But in this case we will work with you.
I want to go through the legislation because I think a number of things need to be raised and I want to raise them, not in partisanship but in friendship, in trying to find a way of working our way through this. There are under the bill a couple of concerns I'm going to put forward as they were related to me from various people who contacted our caucus about this particular legislation, both from within the agricultural community and from within the environmental community.
One of them is at the very end of section 1, under the definition "processing." It talks about including "sawing, cleaning, treating, grading and packaging to the extent that these activities relate to products primarily from and are conducted as a part of an agricultural operation." Some people see that as being more than what it really is. I understand as a legislator what the ministry is trying to get at here. You're trying to encompass within this legislation that farmers on their land at times have to operate equipment that may not necessarily be what people associate with the farming community, for example a portable sawmill to cut lumber to build a barn or do whatever it is. You're trying to encompass that kind of activity within the legislation.
Some people have fears that it means a lot more than that. Some people feel that you can add within that scope value added processing that you may have on the farm. We all want to make sure we do value added activity on the farm, but people don't want to see this as a backyard way of being able to circumvent bylaws that would normally apply to an industrial setting.
I know what you're trying to get at. I think the farm community understands what you're trying to get at. I know our caucus understands you're not trying to encompass this as being a lot larger than it is. But there are some concerns out there and maybe a bit of a clarification under the definition might alleviate some of the concerns people have related to me.
The other thing I'd like to raise is under section 6 of the bill, where you're talking about "Normal farm practices preserved." It says under subsection 6(1), "No municipal bylaw applies to restrict a normal farm practice carried on as part of an agricultural operation." Some people see the effect of this being not to allow a municipality to pass any bylaws that deal with it. As I read the bill, and I'll need some clarification on this after, if it's at all possible, the process would be that when a municipality passes a bylaw, a farmer would be able to apply for exemption to that bylaw. It's not a question that the municipality can't pass a bylaw that deals with certain issues that may affect normal farm practices; it's a question that you can apply for exemption. I just need some clarification on that, if you wouldn't mind. That's the way I understand it, and if that's what you're doing, I certainly don't have a problem.
The other issue is under subsection 6(3) -- again this was related to me; I'm not going to mention which group because I may have it mixed up -- "An application may be made," and that's to the board, of "(b) persons who want to engage in a normal farm practice as part of an agricultural operation on land in the municipality and have demonstrable plans for it." That's for that exemption we just talked about. Some people wonder, "Does this mean to say that somebody who is not operating a farm actively but says he or she may do that in the future may utilize this in order to exempt themselves from bylaws?"
In communities all across Ontario, and I think I can speak of my own riding, and I imagine it's the same in others, we have people who have moved out into the country who do not actively work the farm but they've bought farm land and live on it. Somebody came to me within my riding and said: "Listen, I've read a number of things I've received through the mail from the OFA and others. Does this mean to say that now I will be able to do things that contravene bylaws in my township?" As I understood it, I said, "No, I don't believe the government's intention is to allow somebody who is not actively farming to exempt themselves from municipal bylaws." Reading the legislation, I think I need a little bit of clarification or maybe the language has to be written in such a way that it's very clear. As I understand it, it would be the provincial government's idea that this would not exempt non-active farms; if you're living on a non-active farm and it's a residence, you would not be able to exempt yourself from municipal bylaws.
There is another point that was raised under subsection 6(5), and that's the question of only those who are directly affected being able to go to the board. I as a legislator understand why you're doing that. I think there's some concern that some people, because of the government's record of shutting out the people in a lot of cases -- you don't exactly have a very strong record when it comes to the democratic practices of our institutions -- see this as an affront on democracy. I don't think that's what it is, but again, we need to be able to clarify what subsection (5) is all about. It's not to allow people who are not directly affected by a bylaw to go before the board and use the board's processes for something other than what it was designed for. That is one of the issues that was raised. I don't know how you fix that one, quite frankly.
The other point I would make, and the very last point, is with regard to the legislation. There is something in section 10 that I have some problems with. Unlike the old act of 1988, which is not all that old, it was the Lieutenant Governor in Council who had the power to make regulations. Under this act, the Minister of Agriculture has the power to make regulations. Again, I think it relates back to the record of this government when it comes to your democratic practices. People in the city of Toronto, people involved in education, people involved in health care, people involved in all facets of Ontario life have not really seen this government act in a very democratic way. It is a feeling that this government does what it wants and, you know, "Damn the torpedoes; we're going ahead." When people see that it's not even cabinet -- it's bad enough that cabinet is going to make a lot of these decisions by regulation -- that it's the minister himself or herself, there are some concerns on that. As well, the minister is giving himself very big powers, compared to the old act, when it comes to prescribing for the purpose of the definition of what agricultural operations are.
I would feel a lot more comfortable if there were a more open process than just giving the minister the ability to go and decide what is within an agricultural operation, that there is some process; at least if it's an order in council you have to make it public. Whatever decisions the government has made at the cabinet table, there's a public process of some sort. In this it's not as open, it's not as clear as far as the public is concerned.
I have some concerns in that and I hope that through the clause-by-clause process we can find a resolution to this particular issue. I'm not prepared to vote against the bill on that basis, but I hope because of the fact that we're prepared to support this legislation the government won't turn a blind eye to what is I think again an example of how the government is taking a heck of a lot of power on to itself and on to the cabinet ministers.
I believe, as I think a lot of Ontarians do, and I'm sure many members of the government, the Legislature is here for a reason. Members are elected in order to represent their constituencies and also to serve as watchdogs for the province. One of the things we do in the Legislature, not allowing the ministers the power to make all kinds of changes by regulation and forcing them to come to the House, makes them publicly accountable. I'm sure the government members want to keep that public accountability, as do I within the New Democratic Party, or the members of the official opposition, and I get very nervous when I see the government doing this. If it were a question of this in isolation, I probably wouldn't be as worried, but when I look at the record of the government when it comes to the powers it has given itself under Bills 26, 160 etc -- the list goes on -- it's coming to the point that the government can do almost anything by way of regulation and there's very little in the way of public process.
I would close on this note. You made a comment that I thought was interesting when you talked about the 1-888 numbers to deal with a person living next to a farm who may have a complaint, saying you'll send an inspector out there to try to satisfy everybody. Actually you didn't say "try" but that you would satisfy everybody. It is my experience in politics that you can't satisfy everybody. It doesn't matter how well intentioned you are, Minister, and you've been at this business as long as I have. At one point this person is going to have to pick a side that either the farmer is right or the complainant is right, and whatever that decision is, there will be one person happy and one person unhappy. But I guess the effort of going out there and trying to resolve the problem before it goes to the board is a step in the right direction.
With that said, I would like to go on. Actually, I just want one other last comment. It's a good one about the OFA. I just want to say, as a member of the Legislature --
The Chair: Sorry. On that note, Mr Bisson, that some are unhappy and some are happy, time is up.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Which one are you?
ONTARIO FEDERATION OF AGRICULTURE
The Chair: It is time to hear our first presenters of the day. It is my pleasure to welcome representatives from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. Welcome, everyone. Please make yourselves comfortable. I'm sure you know you have 20 minutes for your presentation this morning, and that may or may not allow time for questions, as you choose. Please begin by introducing yourselves for the Hansard record.
Mr Ed Segsworth: I'd like to introduce Sharon Rounds, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture; Ken Kelly, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture; and Réjean Pommainville, chairman of our land use committee, who has worked very hard on this bill for us. I am Ed Segsworth, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
Thank you for hearing us. You should have a presentation in front of you, which I will be referring to. The OFA believes there is a need for effective farm practices protection legislation. The changing population demographics are creating rural communities that often do not fully understand modern farming or what a normal farming practice is, and the public demands a clean and safe rural environment. The Farming and Food Production Protection Act was developed through extensive public consultation with farm organizations, municipal organizations and government. The Farming and Food Production Protection Act will not be a licence to pollute. Farming practices legislation protects farmers against nuisance court actions.
The definitions of agricultural operations in the act are updated to reflect agriculture today and into the 21st century. We believe "acceptable" brings a more forward-looking perspective to the definition. We fully support the change from "proper and accepted" to "proper and acceptable."
If the board rules for the farmer, he is exempt from the bylaw but it remains in force for all others in the municipality. If the board rules against the farmer, the bylaw stands and the farmer must comply with it.
The Farming and Food Production Protection Act is linked to the new Municipal Act. As far as the board goes, the board can refuse applications that are trivial, frivolous, vexatious or from someone with an insufficient personal interest in the matter. These are reasonable limitations.
Some suggest that appeals be heard by another body, perhaps the Ontario Municipal Board. No other body has the agricultural expertise of the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board.
Dealing with section 9, we do not believe that section 9 gives the minister too much power. We believe the minister will use section 9 only with the support of or on the request of Ontario farmers. Other farm practices acts in Canada and the US have similar statements. Examples from Alberta, Saskatchewan, BC and Michigan are cited in the brief.
In conclusion, legislation replacing the Farm Practices Protection Act must address its shortcomings. We support expanding the list of nuisances, enhancing the "normal farm practices" and "agricultural operation" definitions and instituting a municipal bylaw review mechanism.
Farm practices protection is not a licence to pollute; it simply provides farmers with the assurance that they will not face nuisance bylaws over normal farm practice complaints. Without effective farm practice protection legislation, farmers face the risk that restrictions will be placed on normal, everyday farming practices because of complaints or injunctions over odour, noise, dust and other nuisances. Such restrictions are not in the interests of all Ontarians.
The OFA recommends that the standing committee on resources development endorse the prompt passage, without change, of the Farming and Food Production Protection Act.
The OFA thanks the standing committee on resources development for this opportunity to comment on the Farming and Food Production Protection Act.
I am going to turn it over to Réjean Pommainville. Réjean is chairman of our land use committee, and he will add a few comments now.
Mr Réjean Pommainville: I think what's important with this piece of legislation is that it is legislation that is a balance. We didn't get everything we wanted, but it is a piece of legislation that is probably going to satisfy almost everybody in the farming community when it comes to really protecting their industry, which is the second-biggest industry in Ontario.
As you can see in our presentation, agriculture is extremely important to the province. It is said in the preamble to this legislation that farming is recognized as a very important industry in our province. It's extremely important to say that, to make people aware that agriculture is not just a way of life any more but an industry that has to be protected. That's extremely important, and this legislation does state that in the preamble.
I'd like to reiterate that this is not a licence to pollute. It's extremely important. A lot of people are saying that this legislation will give farmers the right to pollute, and it's not the fact. It's not written anywhere. It will not give the farming community the right to pollute. It's written right in there.
Nuisances and disturbances: We had odour, noise and dust in the past, and now we're trying to add light, vibration, smoke or flies. There are some reasons we are adding those. The Farm Practices Protection Board had to hear some cases with regard to some of those disturbances or nuisances, depending on the way you look at it. Some cases were heard in the last 10 years, and it is important that we have those in the new legislation so the board has the power it needs to hear those complaints.
Codes of practice and best management practices: The farming community has made tremendous improvements in their farm practices in last 10 or 15 years, and it's going to continue to progress towards an environmentally more sustainable agriculture. It is important that people understand this. Farmers have done great in the past and are going to continue to do so. We do have a more open "agricultural operation" definition. It is important, especially when you start talking about value added on the farm. This has to be recognized and it is recognized in this bill. We're seeing farming as an industry now. In the future, it may be a niche market or stuff like that. It has to be recognized that it's extremely important.
We fully support the change from "proper and accepted" to "proper and acceptable." I think it's a more proactive way to define what is normal farm practice, but at the same time I'd like to say that the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board is the only body that should decide what is a normal or not a normal farm practice. They are the only people who have the expertise to tell in a case if it's a normal or not a normal farm practice.
Municipal bylaws: We see what's happening in the countryside with the new Municipal Act. It is extremely important that we have this piece of legislation to address this. This may be part of the law that could affect the farming community. As you are aware, some big cities might be part of the new Municipal Act. Some new council might not know exactly what is a normal or not a normal farm practice, so we have to have an avenue to deal with that.
We had a big consultation with ROMA on this, and we agree that we have to have this in this act to protect us in case some people or fringe groups try to pass bylaws that might restrict normal farm practice. We hear of some cases in the Niagara region or anything like that, that special groups might try to pass municipal bylaws that might restrict normal farm practice. After a hearing, if a farmer feels he has been restricted in his practice, he will have an exemption from the bylaw but the municipal bylaw will stand per se.
The object of this is only a last resort. In the past, we know at the municipal level that council had passed first, second and third reading of a bylaw on the same night, without proper consultation with the farming community. The idea behind this is to have proper consultation with the farming community in the countryside. This is extremely important for us and I think it is recognized in this bill that we'll have an exemption, but only up to a certain point. Negotiation is the first and foremost important thing.
Transportation bylaws: I'd like to address this a little bit, especially in the poultry industry. A lot of people have concerns that because of noise from the trucking industry at night and stuff like that, they were not allowed to go and get the poultry. It is important that this problem be addressed. I think that in this section the act does address this.
The Normal Farm Practices Protection Board is extremely important. It is extremely important. It has done tremendous work in the past. I think there are going to be some additions to the board. If we are going to deal with municipal bylaws, there is going to be some municipal representation added to this board. It is important, and I think people will recognize that if we're going to be trying to deal with municipal bylaws in the future, municipalities and ROMA and so on have to be present at this board. It is recognized in the bill.
Section 9: You are going to hear a lot about section 9. We do not believe that section 9 gives more power to the minister. Some people might say, "We don't have any problem with the current minister, but maybe the next one is not going to have such good regard towards agriculture." I have more faith than that in the present Minister of Agriculture and either in the past or the future. We've had good ministers of agriculture. I think it is important that this section be maintained because we need the balanced approach. We need the support of ROMA. If we don't have municipal support on this one, when it comes to section 9, we're not going to have this piece of legislation. It is extremely important.
I could go on, but I'd like to leave some time so we can answer some questions. I'm sure you have some questions for us. Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you. There's time for brief questions from each caucus. We'll begin with the government caucus.
Mr Harry Danford (Hastings-Peterborough): First of all, thank you for the presentation this morning. With respect to the Chair, perhaps I'll address some remarks to Réjean, because Réjean was part of the consultation from the very beginning, certainly in trying to develop what was necessary to have in an improved bill, and he was part of it when we brought back some draft considerations and that sort of thing. You've been through the whole process. Given your comments this morning, do you feel that in essence this bill does cover that and provides that balance that you mentioned earlier in your presentation? Do you think it needs amendments? I'll be very forthright: Do you really think it needs amendments or what is your position? I know I'm putting you on the spot, but I would like your opinion.
Mr Pommainville: I don't think it needs amendment at this point. It seems a balanced piece of legislation. What we believe is that in any kind of legislation there are pros and cons and good and bad, but this is a balanced piece of legislation. The farming community needs this new legislation to resolve some of what was maybe lacking in the previous one. I think it is basically a good piece of legislation for the farming community.
The Chair: We move to the Liberal caucus.
Mr Hoy: How much time do we have?
The Chair: About a minute and a half.
Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall): I would just thank you very much for the presentation. My colleague just asked you a question about amendments, and I guess you answered that for the present time. Out in rural Ontario, every farmer I know wants to protect the water and air and have safe food for the residents of Ontario and the world. I know there are two sides to every issue and I'm interested in hearing some of the presentations over the next few days, but you figure at this time that the bill is satisfactory and doesn't need any amendments. Is that correct?
Mr Segsworth: Yes.
Mr Hoy: I'll be very quick. Could you give me an example of a bylaw that would apply to everyone in a municipality but not to the farm community? Have you thought through just what one example might be in that regard?
Mr Segsworth: I think it's laid out in the brief. Under "Transportation," there's a bylaw there that would restrict trucks from travelling on municipal roads, and they could not go in and pick up chickens and that type of thing from farmers without an exemption.
Mr Hoy: Good example.
Mr Bisson: Thank you very much. What I was going to say at the end of my last presentation was that I went through the document you sent to my office and I really appreciate the work that went into this. It's very well laid out. It explains very clearly what your expectations of the bill are. It answers a lot of the political questions around some of the issues that have arisen around this bill that other people have raised and I think it speaks to it directly.
One thing I appreciate is that over the past number of years, OFA and I think generally the farm community have done a much better job of going out and talking about what they do well. I think that for a long time we were more concerned about what we do on the farm and how we operate our individual operations and maybe didn't understand quite as well how important it was to go out there and, quite frankly, boast about some of the good work that is done on the farm and some of the practices we have.
Coming to that, when I read the bill I understand it exactly as you understand it, that in no way can this bill be interpreted that other laws will not apply in regards to the application of this act. Is it a question that maybe the agricultural community hasn't done as much as it needs to do to go out there and talk to the greater public about the work you do and that quite frankly a lot of environmentalists are farmers?
Mr Ken Kelly: A couple of things perhaps, Chair, based on Mr Bisson's wonderful support for the brief we had prepared.
Mr Bisson: You wrote it, right?
Mr Kelly: Actually, no. We've got wonderful staff people who do these things for us.
I wonder if it might be appropriate to enter our full brief in the record at this time.
As for the question, certainly farmers are very proactive environmentally. I think you'll find, if you look at any of the press that's been developed around many of these issues, that there are people who understand what farmers do for the environment and that there are people who don't want to understand what farmers do for the environment. I only need point to a recent award the farmers of Ontario received for the environment from the government of Ontario. There are some people who apparently want to make issue out of things that no issue need be made of.
The Chair: With that, thank you very much for coming before us this morning with your presentation. We appreciate your advice and your support.
Mr Pommainville: Madam Chair, I would like to have this letter of support from the Russell County Federation of Agriculture presented to you this morning.
The Chair: That's excellent. The clerk will pick that up from you.
Colleagues, just so you know, the next presenter, the Haldimand Federation of Agriculture, has been forced to cancel. They have indicated they will send a written brief instead. That means, unless the Christian Farmers Federation is present -- I don't think they are -- we will take a recess until 10:20 and resume hearings at that time.
The committee recessed from 1001 to 1003.
YORK REGION FEDERATION OF AGRICULTURE
The Chair: Colleagues, we are going to pretend that time has flown, because our presenter for the 11 o'clock slot from the York Region Federation of Agriculture has been kind enough to make herself available to present early. With that we will resume and welcome Virginia McLaughlin as their representative.
Ms Virginia McLaughlin: My name is Virginia McLaughlin and I am president of the federation of agriculture in York region.
Thank you for providing this opportunity for the federation of agriculture in York region to present to you their support for Bill 146, An Act to protect Farming and Food Production.
Over the course of these hearings and in the written submissions you will hear and read, a variety of opinions from a variety of sources will be made. Many of these will be very learned and speak at a technical level that is beyond my expertise. I am here today as a farmer and as the chair of the York Federation of Agriculture representing farmers in the region. I speak with that voice.
Despite the perception of some, agriculture is alive and well in York region. In fact, according to the 1996 census, the value of farm production in the region is up 26% in the last 10 years. Farmers in York region produce $170 million annually in primary sales, and I believe the multiplier that's usually used is six to one. York and its GTA neighbour Durham are the two largest agricultural counties between Toronto and the Quebec border. Not bad for a region with a population of 650,000 people, growing at approximately 4% per year.
Agricultural enterprise in York is diverse. Many are familiar with vegetable production in the Holland and Keswick marshes and the equine business centred in King township. But York region is also home to the traditional farm activities of dairy, beef and crop production and the non-traditional such as wineries. There are world-class livestock breeders, intensive poultry producers, large cash crop operations, orchards, soft fruit growers, greenhouses, on-farm markets and many more.
In real estate there is the maxim of location, location, location, and in York region our proximity to markets, the consumers not only in our own region but also in Toronto and beyond, has provided opportunities for entrepreneurship, especially in the areas of on-farm marketing that are behind the significant increases in the value of agricultural production that I have mentioned.
But these same opportunities also provide challenges, challenges of farming in such close proximity to the urban or non-farming rural neighbour who does not understand that the romanticized image of farming and rural life is not today's reality. Farming is tough enough without the constant fear of trivial, vexatious or simply misguided legal challenges. We welcome the government's recognition that farmers farming responsibly should be able to do so without the fear that such things as noise, dust, light, vibration and other byproducts of some normal farming practices will result in nuisance damages.
It is my understanding that the intent of Bill 146 is to replace the current legislation, the Farm Practices Protection Act, with new legislation that reflects the current environment in which we as farmers conduct our businesses. It is my understanding that this legislation is not proposed as a licence to farmers to pollute or to operate in contravention of other legislation such as the Environmental Protection Act or the Pesticides Act. Rather, it is intended to be a prospective and forward-looking piece of legislation designed to deal with the rapidly changing nature of the farming business. With respect, to those who would argue that farmers are just waiting to take advantage of the increased coverage that is afforded in this new act, I would say that they do not know the same farmers I do.
Farmers are stewards of the environment. They have to be, or they would soon be out of business. Farmers are constantly changing and modifying their farming methods in order to reflect the best current knowledge of farming practices. Farmers are in business for the long haul and it is not in their best interests to pollute or exploit their resources, whether they be soil, water, buildings, financial or whatever. The Normal Farm Practices Protection Board has at its disposal the ability to determine what constitutes a normal farming practice, and the process has worked well in the past to ensure that environmental issues are appropriately dealt with.
Farmers are not fools. They are aware of the increasing pressure the consumer places on them to produce in a way that minimizes herbicide, pesticide and other chemical use. Livestock producers are aware of the public's concern for animal welfare. They know that if they wish to stay in business they need to respect these viewpoints. I see from the schedule I received that you will be hearing from AgCare. I did not see the Ontario Farm Animal Council on the list. These two groups are actively raising awareness among the farm community of the various issues of concern to the public. This helps ensure that farmers are aware of and responsive to consumers' concerns. Farmers educating, supporting, monitoring and regulating farmers is the best way to ensure that farmers continue to be good stewards of their enterprises.
On a realistic note, farmers are no different than the rest of society. Most, by far and away the vast majority, are responsible, contributing, law-abiding citizens. Like their urban cousins, they are doing their part to build a society that reflects the values we treasure as Canadians. No amount of restrictive legislation will stop the bad actor, urban or rural, from doing things to their best advantage with no regard for their neighbour. This legislation provides, I would argue, a balance between the right of the farmer to farm and the rights of society.
We support the flexibility that is built into the legislation that allows for certain changes by regulation rather than by amendment to the legislation. This allows for timely response in a rapidly changing industry. In fact, when I was doing my research for this presentation, I was surprised to learn that such things as fish farming, game farming, maple syrup and tree farming were not included in the existing legislation. If entrepreneurship is to be encouraged, then it must be supported, not hindered, by the legislative framework within which it operates.
As I mentioned at the outset, it was not my intention to dwell on the technical details of the legislation, but rather on the philosophical underpinnings. I trust that I have conveyed to you a sense of the importance of agriculture and the agricultural community in York region. With the increasing pressure of urbanization, this legislation will provide in a proactive way a level of protection against trivial, vexatious or misguided actions as present and future farmers endeavour to produce the food we eat, the plants we enjoy in our gardens and the other fruits of the land.
I would be happy to answer any questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. We'll begin with questioning from the Liberal caucus, about four minutes per caucus.
Mr Hoy: Good morning and thank you very much for your presentation. The notion that this bill -- and it's an incorrect notion -- will give the farming community the ability to pollute or get into that manner is not correct. I hear your plea that this be made known.
In the fourth paragraph of the bill it mentions that it balances the needs of the agriculture community with provincial health and safety and environmental concerns. So it's right up front that this bill is not going to allow the farm community to pollute. I say to you that I have had some urban people bring up that very issue and I think your organization locally and your parent organization should make it very clear that none of us here around this table would permit that to ever take place.
I'm curious and interested that you say your region, with a population of 650,000, is growing at the rate of about 4% per year. That growth, I will assume, is mostly urban or non-farmers in a rural area. Is that correct?
Ms McLaughlin: It's certainly mostly urban. There is some expansion in the rural areas but basically it's urbanization and it is mostly in the southern part of the region in land that is slated for development in the official plans.
Mr Hoy: The region itself has a large population to begin with, and then you have growth at 4% per year. I would expect that both communities, rural and urban, are looking for some guidance in regard to what is the normal farm practice and other issues within this bill. Have you had representation made to you as a rural person from urban people who are interested in this?
Ms McLaughlin: No.
Mr Hoy: You spoke about, "No amount of restrictive legislation will stop the bad actor," either urban or rural. However, it's my position that we will need legislation to update and change the legislation, for agriculture and life in Ontario for all persons. I think what we need after this is an enforcement mechanism for those bad actors you are talking about who may exist. In part and parcel with Bill 146, we need to have enforcement. I know in my community the Ministry of Environment has not acted promptly in some cases where it was deemed that the action was not normal, and I think enforcement is critical here as a companion idea with Bill 146.
Ms McLaughlin: It was my understanding that the process was working quite well. I attended one of the consultations for this bill in Barrie and we had very interesting presentations in terms of how the process actually works. It is my understanding that if a complaint is made, it's either made through the Ministry of Environment or through OMAFRA, and that staff work very closely with the person who complains and also the farmer to find out the basis. If there is something that needs to be done, they work to see that's done. Things only get to the level of the board if there appears to be nothing that can be done. I don't have the numbers in my head, but I do believe there are very few cases that actually get to that level. It can always go to the courts after that if the complainant feels they are not getting a satisfactory hearing.
It was my understanding that the various issues were satisfactorily and well being dealt with at the initial level. In fact, my thinking is, from my understanding -- I have never been involved myself so I don't have firsthand knowledge -- that it works like an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, which I think is quite laudatory: Try to keep things out of the courts and deal with them at the firsthand level.
Mr Bisson: On that note, I agree with you. That's something our government, the former NDP government, had worked quite a bit on within the Ministry of the Attorney General, to move to that, to try to keep a lot of these cases out of the courts. Our courts run at overcapacity, so we need to try to find mechanisms. I think this legislation tries to do that. That's a good goal.
I just want to clarify, first of all, and then I have a question, something that you said and something that was said by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. In the last part of your brief you talked about, "With the increasing pressure of urbanization, this legislation will provide in a proactive way a level of protection against trivial, vexatious or misguided actions." What you're referring to is a section of the bill under section 8 that says the board can refuse to hear an application if it's deemed to be vexatious or frivolous. I just want to point out that was in the existing bill in 1988. It was in subsection 5(4) of the 1988 bill. So that's not a new concept. That's something that was there already in the existing legislation. The government has, almost word for word, copied that and I think we understand what that's all about. I just want to clarify it.
I want to raise something else because you touched on it at the beginning of your presentation. You didn't get into it directly, but I thought that's where you were going and that's why I wrote this down. That's the whole issue of the urban crawl that we see on to agricultural land. We know the provincial government early on in amendments to the Municipal Act very much diluted the provincial policies that protect agricultural land from urban crawl. Especially in your situation in the farm community in York, what are your impressions about what the role of the government should be, and the ministries of agriculture or municipal affairs or whatever, to protect that agricultural land? Is it your fear that in the long run a lot of our agricultural land will be in jeopardy?
Ms McLaughlin: I wouldn't want to speak at the global level because I think it's beyond my particular expertise. In York region under the last government, your government, there was an official plan process, as you know. I would say, to my knowledge, that the development that is taking place in York region is all development that was in the York region official plan and the municipal official plans that were part of that whole process.
People being what they are, there will always be an attempt to kind of nibble around the edges, but I would suggest that to my knowledge, York region and the municipalities are being quite faithful to their official plans, which designated land in a certain way that would be used for development.
Mr Bisson: In speaking to people -- mostly in the Niagara area; not so much in the York area -- there's a real concern that there is a large pressure of urbanization and also industrialization of our agricultural land, and I share that. I know that immediately it's not a big problem, because there have been policies in place that protect that plan. But with a number of repeals of protections we have, there is a danger in the long run. I'm just wondering if you, from the farm community, think that's possible in the long run. Should we be more concerned, or do you think just leaving things the way they are would be fine? I guess that's the direct question.
Ms McLaughlin: I'm here on behalf of the federation and it's not something we have discussed at our meetings. I could give you a personal opinion, but that wouldn't be fair to them because I'm here representing them.
The Chair: We have two questioners from the government caucus, Ms Munro and Mr Beaubien.
Mrs Julia Munro (Durham-York): Thank you very much. It's certainly a pleasure to see you and hear the comments you have to make. I want to come back to this issue that has been a recurring theme this morning, and that's the question of balancing agricultural and urban concerns. Obviously, as the previous comments were made, you and I both know that York region is really a flashpoint, if you like, for that kind of concern. I wondered whether you see a role for the York federation in protecting the balance that exists right now.
Ms McLaughlin: You mean the balance of legislation?
Mrs Munro: I guess I'm thinking in terms of promoting and creating greater awareness.
Ms McLaughlin: Yes, I do, very much. In fact, it's one of the things the federation has really put an emphasis on. We are a decreasing band of volunteers. Basically, there are fewer and fewer of us, so it becomes tough to do everything that needs to be done. But certainly the federation has a tremendous role to play in raising the awareness of agriculture in the region, of raising awareness of some of these issues that have been talked about today and that Mr Hoy mentioned we should be doing, of educating our urban neighbour. In fact, we and our GTA neighbours have a unique opportunity, because we live literally across the road from our consumers, so we do have that unique opportunity.
Mr Marcel Beaubien (Lambton): Thank you for your presentation. I would also like to point out that this government does listen to the constituents. I think this is a perfect example of how well this government listens. We did consult with over a thousand people during the pre-bill discussion we had with the farm communities, farm people and rural communities.
You're quite right when you mention that this bill will not impact on health, safety and the environment. I think that was one of the key issues we had to deal with on this bill.
You mentioned in your presentation, "Rather, it is intended to be a prospective and forward-looking piece of legislation designed to deal with the rapidly changing nature of...farming." I realize it's very difficult for the opposition to own up to the fact that life is changing, that the status quo is no longer acceptable and sustainable.
I have one concern, that there is at times conflict between the rural and urban communities. I feel sometimes we maybe don't do a good educational program with regard to educating the urban people moving into a rural area, whereby we have to make them realize that there is dust, there is noise in downtown Toronto or other communities. Do you feel that the federation, whether it's the OFA or your own organization, could play a more important role in educating the public at large?
Ms McLaughlin: I can't speak for the Ontario federation, because it's a provincial organization, but they recognize that education is an important part of their mandate. But they have many other issues to deal with besides just education.
As I said to Ms Munro, certainly for us in the urban fringe in the GTA, and I'm sure the same would hold in the Ottawa area and perhaps around Windsor and also London, we do have a real role. I think it is also a partnership with the government, because we have limited resources. Basically, the money we have to spend on such things is raised by the farmers through a levy and through our membership in the Ontario federation, and some of that comes back to the local level.
In York we look carefully at how we spend that and we do support education; we support the pizza project and we support the work at the Markham Fair, where 80,000 people come to essentially a country fair every fall. We put a lot of energy and effort into the commodity displays there.
We can't do it alone, it's too big, and as I said before, the smaller we get the harder it gets. So I think it is a partnership among the federations, the commodity groups and the government. But we have to do it. It's very positive, because we get along better with our neighbours when we know each other and understand each other. If you live in a more typically rural county, you don't have that opportunity because you have to travel so far to do it. But in the regions of York, Halton-Peel and Durham, as I said before, our urban neighbours are right across the road. Our kids go to school with them; our kids play hockey with them. We do have a wonderful opportunity, but it's not inexpensive and it is time-consuming.
The Chair: On behalf of all the members of the committee, may I thank you for taking the time to come before us this morning with your views and ideas.
CHRISTIAN FARMERS FEDERATION OF ONTARIO
The Chair: I now call upon representatives from the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. Please come forward and make yourselves comfortable.
Mr Bob Bedggood: It's a privilege for us to be here today with this presentation. I'm Bob Bedggood, the president of the organization. With me are Jasper Vanderbas, the vice-president of the organization, and Elbert van Donkersgoed, the research director of the organization. Elbert will be making the presentation, and Jasper and I hopefully will be able to answer any questions the committee has after the presentation.
Mr Elbert van Donkersgoed: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity. I'll just quickly read our presentation.
The CFFO strongly supports the original goal of this legislative initiative: strengthening protection for farm practices. This support is firm for both protection from nuisance complaints about normal farm practices and the overzealous restriction of normal farm practices by municipalities.
The CFFO endorses the Farming and Food Production Protection Act as a significant step in creating increased protection from nuisance complaints for our farming practices. It is an important step forward in keeping rural Ontario open for the business of farming. This legislation goes a long way towards balancing the interests of rural residents with farmers' continued ability to grow and deliver food.
The CFFO endorses the Farming and Food Production Protection Act as an appropriate process for establishing exemptions from municipal bylaws that restrict normal farm practices.
As municipalities gain new powers due to offloading from the province, it is important to have legislation which provides some counterbalance to restrictive bylaws. As a result of municipal restructuring, there will be fewer farmers on municipal councils. As farm businesses move into value added activities, some municipal bylaws can cause serious problems for the development of these activities.
Some problems that have emerged include sign control bylaws -- size, location, and in some cases totally prohibited -- limits on the size of a bed and breakfast, limits on type and size of processing, limits on the number of people employed in the value added part of the farm business, defining fences as buildings, limits on the size of roadside stands, regulations for outside storage and regulations about parking for clients and employees.
The CFFO has decided to live with the change in the definition of "normal farm practice" from "means a practice that is conducted in a manner consistent with proper and accepted customs and standards" to "means a practice that is conducted in a manner consistent with proper and acceptable customs and standards."
The change increases the standard. In the context of a growing rural concern about some farm practices, this is appropriate. This says to the rural resident that "normal" is not just what we have always done. We will meet modern standards and use currently available technology to reduce nuisances.
The fact that this creates some risk of future governments changing the meaning of "acceptable" is a risk we agree to take, with some hesitation. Governments generally have a good history of consulting farmers but we are cautious about assuming that this will always be the case. We have some reservations about the wisdom of this change. The change in definition raises the question, acceptable to whom?
We strongly support the case-by-case approach used by the Farm Practices Protection Board in the past. This results in the specific circumstance being a significant factor in a finding of "normal." We are concerned that "acceptable" will lead to the notion that provincial standards can be developed.
The CFFO emphasizes that this new legislation is not a substitute for good land use planning. The need for an act such as this demonstrates that municipalities have not been doing good land use planning. The pattern of scattered rural development and the current existence of many vacant rural lots make increased protection a necessity.
The CFFO regrets that the government was not willing to require disclosure statements about the possible discomfort and inconvenience of normal farming practices from all sellers of real estate within two kilometres of farming operations and farm land. However, we accept that an awareness program and voluntary disclosure is a step in the right direction. Educating buyers of rural properties in agricultural areas will minimize land use conflicts. It is important to make sure that people who buy a house in the countryside realize that farming can produce noises and odours they may find unpleasant.
CFFO members have a serious problem with section 9 of Bill 146. We request that you amend Bill 146 by removing the following:
"9(1) The minister may issue directives, guidelines or policy statements in relation to agricultural operations or normal farm practices and the board's decisions under this act must be consistent with these directives, guidelines or policy statements.
"Adoption by reference
"(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the minister may adopt, in whole or in part, directives, guidelines or policy statements issued under other acts or by another ministry."
The CFFO does not have confidence in the province's commitment to agriculture. For the past quarter century there has been an urgent need to protect the best farm land in Ontario for agricultural purposes and to keep the countryside open for the business of farming. The province has allowed urban sprawl and scattered rural severances to continue, eroding the long-term potential of our best lands and our business investments.
Guidelines have not worked. The Food Land Guidelines of 1978 are the best example. If it were not for five municipalities taking it upon themselves to write official plans with real concern for agricultural land, there would be even more lots in rural Ontario waiting for builders. We recognize that the new provincial policy statement under the Planning Act has given some new tools to municipalities that are committed to protecting their best land, but we are still a long, long way from a policy that will break the pattern of cities rolling out farther on to the best land and of scattered development up and down our concessions. Where it really counts, the province is not firmly committed to keeping Ontario open for the business of farming.
In our view, there is no point in the province trying to create directives, guidelines or policy statements on or in relation to normal farm practices or agricultural operations if it is not prepared to do the essential: protect the land itself.
The consultation process leading up to the legislation strongly disapproved of the idea of mandatory provincial codes of practice. Guidelines are not significantly different from codes of practice.
A directive, guideline or policy statement will be a political decision and will limit the ability of the new Normal Farm Practices Protection Board to mediate controversies and to make a determination on a case-by-case basis.
The present Farm Practices Protection Board has a successful track record with a case-by-case approach. Once there are provincial policy statements in place, the board will need to see its previous interpretations of those statements as precedents, even if the practice of farming has already moved on to other approaches.
If someone is not satisfied with a decision of the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board, they can do an end run of the board by going to the minister to ask for a political directive. A minister could on his own become interventionist and issue statements on subjects that are not at issue before the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board. We are concerned that the present minister may be pressured to use these powers to wedge investor-driven mega-farms into our countryside. A future minister with roots in the rural affairs part of the ministry might bring a very different agenda to the proposed powers than does the present minister.
A major power is being granted to the minister in the bill, but what this power is for is unclear. There has been no public discussion or documentation of directives, guidelines or policy statements that the minister needs to regulate agricultural operations.
This will create an opportunity for the civil service to become prescriptive. There is a recent history of the civil service writing extensive guidelines when given the opportunity. Under the previous government, implementation guidelines were drafted for the comprehensive provincial policy statement adopted under the Planning Act. That resulted in a four-inch-thick binder of guidelines.
Normal farm practices will always be in a state of flux as farmers try new technologies and management practices. A directive could soon be out of date or simply wrong. Creating directives and policy statements will create an opportunity for the courts to get involved. The Normal Farm Practices Protection Board's interpretation of a minister's directive could well be challenged in a court of law. Does the directive in fact state what the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board has taken it to mean?
Municipalities have expressed an interest in provincial directives, guidelines or policy statements. Municipalities are sending messages to the province that they want guidance for dealing with large livestock facilities. They would like the province to deal with the controversies that are developing by giving them a cookie-cutter bylaw to adopt. In other words, municipalities want the province to take care of the controversies for them. This is quite inconsistent with (a) the request from municipalities for more authority to guide their own development, (b) the commitment by the province to give municipalities more authority to guide their own development and (c) the expectation that municipalities deal with the controversies around siting landfills.
OMAFRA's present role as a mediator will be dramatically curtailed. The vast majority of nuisance complaints and other concerns are now resolved by mediation long before they get to the Farm Practices Protection Board. OMAFRA and the Ministry of Environment and Energy are key to that mediation. OMAFRA can now say, under the present bill, "We can do no more for you than mediate." Why would an aggrieved citizen accept mediation from OMAFRA when OMAFRA has the power to fix their problem for them? The Ministry of Environment will be the only credible mediator if Bill 146 becomes law as is.
Finally, we have a concern about property rights, ours and our neighbours'. A minister's directives, guidelines or policy statements in relation to agricultural operations are likely to impact property rights. That requires due process, an opportunity for appeal and usually compensation. The act provides none of these.
Some of the CFFO's member think tanks drafted an amended version of section 9 with concern about property rights in mind. On two occasions our provincial board debated this concept. Both times the idea of supporting an amended version was defeated. Our members simply want the section removed.
In summary, keeping Ontario open for the business of farming starts with the protection of the best land. Bill 146 by itself cannot do so.
The CFFO strongly supports the original goal of this legislative initiative: strengthening protection for farm practices. The CFFO believes that the bill will do all that can be done without section 9. Actually, we think the bill will function better without this clause.
The Normal Farm Practices Protection Board should make its findings on a case-by-case basis and not be subject to political direction. Farm practices are in a constant state of flux. Flexibility is needed for our enterprises to succeed. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have about three minutes per caucus and we'll begin with Mr Bisson.
Mr Bisson: I was out of the room but I had read your brief and gone through it. We've only got three minutes. I'm not as concerned with section 9, as you put forward with regard to the minister's powers, as I am with section 10. I'm wondering if you can maybe look at section 10 and give me some comment.
Section 10 does two things. First of all, in the old legislation any regulations were made by order in council, which means cabinet had to deal with it. In this legislation now the minister has the right to make regulation. The second part is that the minister can expand the definition of what an agricultural operation is under his own power, unlike what was in the old legislation. I'm wondering if you can comment on that as well, because I noted you only spoke to section 9 in your brief.
Mr van Donkersgoed: It has not been an issue in our meetings. We're not uncomfortable with the minister making this thing work once it's there. It really is, is there going to be political policy? Is there going to be policy set around "normal"? Are there going to be directives of how we do the business of farming? In terms of how everything actually works and is structured and making this board work right and who goes in front of it and who does what, we can learn to work with that. We don't find ourselves concerned about that.
Mr Bisson: All right, because section 10 deals with the powers of the minister, and I noticed in your brief you had dealt with that under section 9.
Mr Peter L. Preston (Brant-Haldimand): In 9.11 of your brief you make a statement and I can't really find out whether you're on the side of -- well, you tell me. Which side are you on here? It's just a statement without a conclusion, as far as I can see. What is your conclusion about 9.11: that municipalities should be providing more authority or municipalities should be in charge of the urban sprawl? Is that the conclusion of 9.11 in your brief?
Mr Bedggood: Someone has to be aware of the problem that urban sprawl creates. Urban sprawl is probably the biggest reason for the need to have a good farm practice protection. In Ontario and in Canada we are unsure today of the value of productive agricultural land and we should very quickly address the thought that agricultural-productive land is very important. Our ability to produce food and fibre is very necessary and we're losing that land at a phenomenal rate. We are on the side of protecting productive agricultural land.
Who does it, that's a very difficult question. In the past when we have left it to municipalities, at times they have done a very poor job. I think our organization would say we need some protection from a provincial government point of view. We worry about the number of severed lots in the country today and we worry that it will continue.
Mr Preston: If the provincial government were in charge of deciding on land use, what form would it take?
Mr Bedggood: I don't think we're probably ready for the land bank idea yet but we're getting very close to that. The provincial government must prevent development on that prime productive land. It's wrong to use it up. We're not making any more land.
Senator Sparrow said in 1984 that we're losing land at the rate of about 26 acres an hour in Canada. That's a phenomenal amount of land. We only have about 5% of our land that is productive. It's in a very serious state and I think the provincial government must address that problem today.
Mr Jasper Vanderbas: On the other hand, sir, the Bible teaches us that a rock makes a very good foundation. We seem to have a fair bit of that in Ontario.
Mr Preston: Yes, I understand, right.
Mr van Donkersgoed: The reality is that farm entrepreneurs in Ontario need only somewhere between 8% and 10% of the land base for us to be productive and remain productive, because that's the best land. There's room for both but we haven't figured out how to stop that urban sprawl just rolling out, or that scattered development going around each concession, putting a row of houses up and down the concessions. That's going to take serious political will and that's got to be a combination. From where I sit, it has to be a combination of provincial will and municipal will, but without the provincial will, the municipal will is very weak.
Mr Hoy: Good morning and thank you very much for your presentation. You have indeed spent quite a bit of your time on section 9. You are probably aware that the AgriCorp legislation, as I will phrase it, allows the minister to give directives to AgriCorp. It also requires that AgriCorp provide a business plan to the minister. At the time of that legislation we moved an amendment that was turned down by the government to make those public, both the minister's directives to AgriCorp and the business plan from AgriCorp to the minister. It wouldn't be done immediately; it would perhaps be tabled in the House. There are some parameters, but in essence we would say somewhere around 90 days after.
If it is the government's desire, and they have all the boats in this regard as to amending this bill or changing it completely, would it help your organization if the directives of the minister in regard to clause 9 were made public?
Mr van Donkersgoed: We've been assuming that they will be public. Our full assumption is that if this goes forward, anything would be public, and I would assume there would be some consultation with the public. Our assumption is that they would be public.
Mr Hoy: That's an assumption.
Mr van Donkersgoed: We have no reason to think otherwise. If that were the case, our concern level would mount dramatically, even more than our concern is right now.
Mr Hoy: It would be more so. Yes, I understand.
Mr van Donkersgoed: Our concern is on what it does or how the whole bill will function, and we say with that in there this process will not be good mediation in the countryside.
Mr Hoy: So you're very firm in your position here. I appreciate that, and in that we are at this stage of the bill, it is wise to know all of those views that you have.
In regard to informing people who move into rural areas, who should be responsible for that? There has been some discussion in the public domain that it should be farmers, it should be real estate people, it should be government. Who do you believe should be doing the informing in this regard?
Mr Bedggood: Right now we have a real problem. I read in Saturday's paper the ads for rural properties, and it's, "Moving into a park-like setting." They come into the country and they think they've moved into a park and they forget they've moved into an industrial area. In many municipalities today, if you move into an area that has floodplain on it, lawyers must put a disclosure in it that indeed you are unable to build on part of your property because it's floodplain. We see the same type of thing for agriculture. You have moved into an industrial-agricultural area: We may create some dust and some noise and we may work past 5 o'clock at night. Probably the vehicle would be via disclosure on the legal document on the offer to purchase -- probably. We don't know that, we haven't looked at that, but we think disclosure would be an important first step, because what we find now is that people come into the country and suddenly discover that I make noise and dust on my farm.
Mr Vanderbas: If I may add to that, I just came back from a visit to Iowa State University, and in Iowa they have no restrictions on swine buildings. Anybody can build a swine barn wherever he sees fit. Humboldt county has brought in front of a US court -- they're being challenged. They asked for a bylaw to ask for a performance bond from farmers. That's not where we want to go. We want to live in harmony with the neighbours. Maybe municipalities can do it better than the province, but somebody ought to do it.
The Chair: Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming before the members of the committee this morning with your suggestions for this bill.
Mr Bedggood: Thank you very much for the opportunity.
ONTARIO PORK PRODUCERS' MARKETING BOARD
The Chair: I'd now like to call upon representatives from Ontario Pork, specifically Mr Moore. Welcome. If you would please begin by introducing yourself and your guest for the Hansard record.
Mr Carl Moore: Thank you very much. I'm Carl Moore, chairman of the Ontario Pork Producers' Marketing Board. With me this morning is Jean Howden, our executive assistant.
Madam Chairman, Minister and MPPs, Ontario Pork welcomes the opportunity this morning to make this presentation on Bill 146. Ontario Pork, as representatives of the pork industry, view this as a most important piece of legislation, both for the present and for the future agricultural development here in Ontario.
A little bit about the pork industry in Ontario: We have about 6,000 pork producers spread across the province, a preponderance of these from probably Guelph-Kitchener west. Last year we had about $687 million contributed to the economy from the sale of market hogs, probably an additional $100 million or better in sales of feeder hogs that were moved to the United States, so a very significant contribution to the economy.
It's estimated that with the add-on jobs -- processing, trucking, trade -- we have contributed an estimated 42,300 jobs and something around $4.5 billion of economic activity to the province.
As representatives of the pork industry, we feel that our mission is to create the most favourable environment possible for the production and marketing of pork and to maximize returns for Ontario producers through cooperative action.
I might just add here that in 1997, Canada exported approximately $1.3 billion worth of pork products. This has grown by 10% to 15% a year for the past several years. The Asian countries, even with the mild case of Asian flu that they have had in the past few months, continued to be a very dominant market for Canadian and Ontario pork. We feel that we have some of the best quality pork in the world, we have some of the best processing facilities, and we have the trading infrastructure in place to do this. We feel that it would be an absolute tragedy if the pork industry in Ontario -- Canada generally but Ontario in particular -- were not allowed to develop the expertise that has been garnered over the past many years and to continue to increase our industry.
Having said that, we are very aware of problems that have taken place, mainly we hope in other jurisdictions. I think most of you are probably familiar with a 60 Minutes program a number of years ago on some manure spills in North Carolina. This has become more or less a benchmark for environmental groups saying that if we're producing pork, this is what we are going to do.
We believe in Ontario that this is certainly wrong. We do not in any way condone or encourage any type of management practices that would pollute our environment. We live in the environment. We feel that pork production is a biological balance whereby feed grains are processed through pork. Hogs do produce manure, manure does have all essential nutrients for plant production, and providing a nutrient management plan is put into effect whereby the amounts of nutrients that crops are taking out of the soil are put back in by manure, we have a biological system that is really without equal. We can therefore minimize our reliance on imported fertilizers and nonorganic products. So we feel that really the future of the pork industry in Ontario is very bright.
We feel that Bill 146 gives us the ability to expand our production on an economically and environmentally sound basis, and it will not tie our hands unnecessarily by unreal demands from other people who live in the rural community but who are not involved in agriculture or in pork production.
The Farming and Food Production Protection Act will not be a licence to pollute -- far from it. Federal, provincial and municipal legislation and regulations will protect both the rights of farmers and the general public, and that is as we want it. We do not want farmers to be protected so that any member of society can say you have a right to pollute. We do not want a right to pollute. In fact, we actively reject any suggestions that we should have any special preferences over the rest of society. We want to be responsible citizens.
Ontario Pork is fully supportive of the proposed amendments to the current Farm Practices Protection Act. We fully support the wording and inclusion of the preamble in the act, which states the purpose of the statute and the intentions of the authors of the legislation.
We support the expansion and the inclusion of additional nuisances such as light, vibration, smoke and flies to the current odour, noise and dust. These nuisances do not threaten life, health or the environment. Farm practices legislation protects farmers from court actions under the common law of nuisances, and this we commend you for. Because agriculture in all its aspects, particularly crop production but even livestock production, is very seasonal in nature -- practices like manure spreading have to take place in the spring, in the fall, when best nutrient use can be made -- it may well be that we do have to work long hours. There may be some odour; there will be some odour. We do not apologize for this. This is part of the industry of farming. But at the same time, we appreciate the protection this act would give us from nuisance lawsuits.
It will allow farmers to apply to the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board for an exemption from municipal bylaws both present and future that unnecessarily restrict a normal farm practice. This includes bylaws that prevent vehicles from using certain roads at specific times of the day.
Section 9 of the act deals with the minister's power to make changes to the regulations. This is a standard inclusion in many government statutes, including similar legislation in other provinces and states. We believe the minister will only issue the directives, guidelines or policy statements referred to in section 9 with the support of Ontario's farmers. To do otherwise would be absolutely foolish.
The board's decisions should be consistent with these directives, guidelines or policy statements. At Ontario Pork we have had a long tradition, spanning some 55 years, of dealing with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, its predecessors and the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission. We realize that at any time we operate under the jurisdiction of this legislated body and government. We have not found over the 50-some years any unnecessary interference due to government and we feel that this long history gives us a great deal of confidence that under section 9 the minister and the government of Ontario will act responsibly.
Municipalities should be able to call in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for assistance in drafting bylaws that do not restrict normal farm practices to assure their continued support for the Farming and Food Production Protection Act.
We are also supportive of having a warning statement on land titles to alert buyers that they are moving into an agricultural area, with the inherent noise and some of the inherent nuisance factors that might be deemed by some areas. We realize that this has some legal implications that probably have to be investigated.
The Farming and Food Production Protection Act will provide hog producers and the industry with the assurance that they need to continue to farm in the future without nuisance lawsuits over normal farm practices. OPPMB is proud to support the government in Bill 146 and we would like to thank the standing committee for the opportunity to express our support for this act.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have three minutes remaining per caucus. We'll begin with the government caucus.
Mr Danford: Thank you for your presentation, Mr Moore, on behalf of your group. Certainly I was pleased to hear you say again that farming in general and agricultural people who are involved in it are not there to pollute. That was made very clear to us through all the consultations from the very beginning from every farming group. I'm glad to hear you reinforce that again this morning.
To be more direct, I have one question perhaps with section 9 and you have commented on it as well. Certainly normal farm practices and what happens in the agricultural field continuously change. I think we who have some knowledge of the organization and agriculture in general recognize that. In order to provide some flexibility, which was brought up many times during our consultation in preparing this bill, the minister would have some opportunity to provide those directives and provide that flexibility and direction. Do you see that as a problem, and if there is any problem with that avenue, then do you see another way that that flexibility could be incorporated?
Mr Moore: I would say we don't see it as a problem at all. In fact, we view it as very much a protection. I've used this example in a number of presentations: having a grain dryer at home. The neighbours might think, if they moved in from an urban area, that running it 24 hours a day is a nuisance. We believe this would protect us here. We believe that the minister would not make a directive to shut that down. If such an item were not included, that urban person could very well go to a lawyer or a number of lawyers. People in agriculture have had that experience. A court order might be obtained to shut down that grain dryer for the duration of the season. I believe we would win the court case in the end but it might well be a whole season of grain drying that would be gone before we did. We believe this bill stops that happening and still allows all citizens their full legal rights and responsibilities.
Mr Danford: So you feel it's an appropriate and responsible way to deal with that?
Mr Moore: We do, and probably one of the most efficient ways we can think of dealing with disagreements that will take place.
Mr Hoy: Thank you for your presentation and your comments throughout. The warning statement on land titles I take as a good suggestion.
What we're seeing in Ontario now are rural and urban partnerships in terms of municipalities. I happen to live in one known as Chatham-Kent. At one time there were 23 municipalities; now we're down to one. There are those governing within that municipality who believe they are now a city, even though the land mass is 92% agricultural. I haven't been able to verify this, but in attending the latest ROMA convention, there was no one from that municipality. So maybe that enforces the idea in their minds that they're not rural.
I think there needs to be greater discussion on how we will notify people that they are in an agricultural area, if indeed small towns exist which are not zoned agricultural. We have megacities being created in Ontario. There may be people who move into an area that isn't zoned agricultural and just simply have not been informed. If we're going to do this right, I think we have a little bigger job than just looking at this at first blush as to who will be informed that they may be near an agricultural area with all the nuances of agriculture.
Mr Moore: We could not agree more and we would ask the government, opposition, whoever, to try to put as many labels on there as possible. Again, we don't want special status. We just want the status that any other industry has with zoning bylaws right across the province, whether in a city or rural area.
Mr Hoy: Another question would be in regard to section 9. You were in the room when the previous group said it believed that directives and guidelines and policy statements coming from any minister would be made public. It doesn't say in the act that they would be. Would you like to have an inclusion that these directives, guidelines etc are made public?
Mr Moore: I would not see, again, reflecting on our history over the years, any reason that the minister would not make them public. I can't think of any correspondence, anything -- we have had dealings with the Farm Products Marketing Board, that type of thing -- that we or they would not make public and I would hope they would, yes.
Mr Hoy: Then the notion that a previous minister would abuse section 9 is not really relevant?
Mr Moore: I cannot find any evidence, no.
The Chair: Colleagues, we have no questioners from the NDP. Is there anyone who wishes to have further questions? No. On that note then, on behalf of all the committee I'd like to thank you for coming before us with your suggestions on this bill.
That concludes our presentations this morning. We will reconvene this afternoon at 1:20.
The committee recessed from 1107 to 1324.
TIMISKAMING FEDERATION OF AGRICULTURE
The Chair: Good afternoon. The standing committee on resources development is called to order for our afternoon session. We're going to begin this afternoon with a presentation brought to us by way of videoconferencing from New Liskeard. Our presenter is Mr Kidd, the president of the Timiskaming Federation of Agriculture. Mr Kidd, can you hear me clearly?
Mr Carman Kidd: Yes, I can.
The Chair: Welcome. We can see you very clearly and we can hear you. I know it seems a bit lonely in the room you're in right now, but there are about 30 people here who are ready to pay very close attention to what you have to say to us. You have about 20 minutes for your presentation.
Mr Kidd: Thank you very much. We have a prepared statement I'll read to you. The Timiskaming Federation of Agriculture is an affiliate of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and on a local basis represents the interests and concerns of more than 300 registered farmers in Timiskaming. We appreciate this opportunity to offer these thoughts to the Ontario government standing committee on resources development.
With farm-gate sales in excess of $30 million annually from the Timiskaming farms, the TFA believes that protection of the rights of farmers to produce food without fear of harassment or intimidation or any other form of interference by neighbouring farm owners is important to the continued existence of the farming industry. The TFA firmly believes that well-defined normal farming practices must be protected within this legislation, and at the same time appropriate penalties must be available for farmers operating beyond the normal definition and causing discomfort or inconvenience for neighbouring property owners and threatening the safety of the environment.
As the rural areas of Ontario adopt changes in local government structure, it would seem important for the provincial government to take the necessary steps to ensure that local committees of adjustment have farmer representation within their makeup. Without such representation it is conceivable that land severances for the convenience of urban residents would be allowed and bring an increasing number of urbanites into the farming community. If this were to happen, the implementation of Bill 146 would become even more critical. With farmers on the local committees of adjustment to provide input into land severance decisions, conflicts between urban and rural residents within the farming community could be reduced.
Since the original Farm Practices Protection Act was implemented in 1988, major changes have taken place in the farming areas of Ontario, with the introduction of new technologies and accompanying farming practices. Many of these changes point to the importance of updated legislation to protect the rights of farmers to carry on their businesses without interference from neighbours concerned with noises, dust, odours, and other possible annoyances or disturbances that are bound to come from even normal farming operations.
Responsible farmers do not view Bill 146 as a right to pollute any part of the rural environment. Farmers have a history of respecting the environment, wildlife and the land they depend on for their living. For those attempting to operate outside the accepted norms for modern farming, there is legislation to protect the environment, other citizens, wildlife and all lands. As an example of the dedication of today's farmers to the environment, one only has to look at the increasing level of participation in the environmental farm plan program.
With the promise of a new Municipal Act and because of the strong links between rural municipal governments and the farming communities, it is important that Bill 146 be enacted by the government of Ontario in order that modern farming practices are defined and protected from nuisance complaints and the like at the same time as municipalities are taking on new powers and responsibilities.
The TFA supports the position of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture regarding the inclusion of a warning statement on land titles in agricultural areas. Without these warnings, newcomers to a rural agriculture area, taking the opportunity to live with your urban comforts in an agricultural area, could buy a property without being made aware of the consequences of life in a farming community. The consequence could be nuisance complaints and legal battles, the sort of things that farmers want to avoid at all costs.
The recommendation of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture that appointments to the Farm Practices Protection Board be made on a staggered basis also has the support of the TFA. This practice would ensure a higher level of continuity in board actions and decisions and avoid the possibility of all members being replaced on the board at the same time. Both of these recommendations could become part of Bill 146 without amendment to the legislation, would make the legislation a more workable tool for all sectors of society and would permit the speedy passage of the legislation.
With these points in mind, the Timiskaming Federation of Agriculture feels it's appropriate to urge the standing committee on resources development to recommend the legislation in its present form for immediate passage when the Ontario Legislature resumes sitting.
We also thank you for this opportunity to participate in this process. We want to let it be known, however, that farmers across northern Ontario would still prefer the opportunity to participate face to face with this committee through the staging of public input sessions in this area, accessible to residents of all northern Ontario.
We also received a fax last night from the Rainy River Federation of Agriculture, from Kim Defferre. I'd like to read it as well. She wasn't able to participate in either the committee meetings or this teleconference.
"Dear committee members:
"The Rainy River Federation of Agriculture is a strong voice for the Rainy River district farmers. We are supported by over 150 farm family members, representing over 50% of the farmers in the Rainy River district. We are a grass-roots organization of farmers working for farmers and we represent all the diverse types of agricultural production found in the Rainy River district. On behalf of these farmers, we support Bill 146, the Farming and Food Production Protection Act, 1997.
"Our area is sparsely populated, and we welcome rural residents who recognize the realities of modern agricultural production. Many new rural residents have no direct personal link with a farm, resulting in a lack of understanding of modern, everyday farming activities and practices, and we feel that farmers must be able to carry on their normal practice without interference. We feel Bill 146, the Farming and Food Production Protection Act, 1997, justly addresses that issue.
"Thank you for this opportunity to address your committee.
"Kim Defferre, President, Rainy River Federation of Agriculture."
That's all I have prepared at this point. I'm open to any questions.
The Chair: We have about three minutes for each caucus for questioning. We'll begin with the Liberal caucus.
Mr Hoy: Good afternoon, Mr Kidd. I had the opportunity before I was elected in 1995 to visit New Liskeard. It is indeed a wonderful farming area. I enjoyed my visit to the area very much.
The use of teleconferencing is getting to be a newer practice with committees. I, for one, wouldn't want to see it happen over and over repeatedly. I discussed this with the government members and I did agree with them to use it on this occasion -- I wouldn't say that I did not -- considering weather and other ramifications, and actually to give us a chance to move ahead and deal with Bill 146 after this great length of time that the bill has been before us. It was brought to the House in June of last year and here we are into 1998 and the bill has not been passed or amended. I just put that to you, that I wouldn't want to see teleconferencing used in great detail over and over again. Quite frankly, the audience here can't see you because there aren't enough televisions, although I think we have agreement that in future that would take place.
You're quite right in your remarks that this does not give farmers the right to pollute. With regard to what I believe you said was a warning on land titles, I wonder if you could give us a little more insight into that. I would call it advice on a land title rather than a warning, but perhaps you didn't use the word "warning."
Mr Kidd: Just going back to my own experience, I have been reeve of Dymond township for the previous six years and we just rezoned a piece of property along the lake there that was agricultural. We actually put a note on the land title saying that it was adjacent to farming areas and that they would have to be aware of normal farm practices when they were buying those pieces of property. I think that's something that's very important that we have to start putting on there, because there are a lot of small areas of urban population that are building up around the rural areas. Out near my place, I have probably about 12 different residences along the other side of the highway that have been allowed over the years, and that has become the norm across all Ontario. These people have to be made aware that there is a normal farm practice going on across the road from where they live.
Mr Cleary: Some of the earlier presenters had some concerns that with the amalgamation of municipalities, municipal councils would not be able to get an equal number of council members from rural Ontario and the agricultural community. Is that a concern to you?
Mr Kidd: Yes, it is. We're seeing a lot more rural people not wanting to take the time to join the local councils and we're getting more and more people from the small residential areas taking up the full number of chairs on the rural councils. Dymond council alone has one representative from the rural area; the rest are all from a small residential pocket. That's happening all over, whether it be some of the small lakes areas where the lakes residents are coming into the rural councils as well, and you're getting fewer and fewer voices on the local councils that are actually from a farming background.
Mr Cleary: You, a reeve and a farmer, are in a good position to help correct that. I was a reeve for many years too, and you try to strike a balance. We heard that this morning. Surely in your area you can do something about that and make sure that there is the right representation in the Timiskaming area.
That's all I have. I was concerned because I had thought that might be the case out in Timiskaming, knowing the area and knowing the member of the Legislature from out there. We have talked about these issues many times.
Mr Kidd: As people get more and more busy on their local farms trying to make a living, they don't have the time to go into local politics. That's one major problem. We're trying to get new people involved. But if they're already too busy in some of their local farming operations and some of the local committees, they haven't got time to go into local politics.
Mr Preston: Mr Kidd, welcome to our meeting. The Christian Farmers this morning indicated that they felt the provincial government should have a hand in dictating what happens to farm land to prevent it from being turned into urban sprawl, and then this afternoon you've said that the province should get involved in deciding who should be on the committee of adjustment. As a past reeve, does this not run counter to what we have been trying to do in putting the decision-making back in the municipality?
Mr Kidd: No. I think the local municipalities are quite aware of what impact the agricultural community has on their local areas and I think they're very aware that they must keep in mind what's going on in the agricultural community. Most rural municipalities make sure they do have appointments on the committee of adjustment from the rural sectors, from all sectors really, and they keep a very even balance.
In Dymond, three representatives of the four of us are actually from farming backgrounds, and I think they realize that on a local basis. It may be helpful to mandate what percentage has to be from a farming area. I don't think we need to have the actual provincial government come in and mandate who is actually appointed, but it still can be left in local hands as to who the appointments are made with.
Mr Preston: Then I misunderstood. I understood you to say that the provincial government should see to it that the mix is there.
Mr Kidd: I think you should probably mandate the actual mixture, make sure there is a farming representative on those committees. That's what I'm saying. If there's a panel of three in a very rural area, then probably two of the panel of three should be from the farming area. That may have to be mandated from the provincial government.
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): First I want to make a comment on the videoconferencing. I think it's another increased means of communicating with the people of Ontario. We have had a number of faxes, in fact the fax from Rainy River. We have had information from Brant, from Niagara and from all over Ontario, places which we would not visit. We're visiting you just in another forum or venue today. I would hope that as you look to the future, that is saving taxpayers' money and yet allowing us to have today face-to-face dialogue. I thank you for your input.
Second, I'm very supportive -- we heard from the pork producers this morning that they also made note of the need to have some sort of statement on the bill of sale or some legal document on the sale of rural property. I gather that you, from your perspective, support at least alerting the potential buyer to the fact they're moving into, as they called it, an industrial workplace, albeit the agricultural community. Would you like to see it in the legal documents on title, or just as a notation that a real estate person would be required to make this disclosure statement?
Mr Kidd: It probably has to go right on to a legal document with the land title itself, or a mixture possibly. A lot of these are going to require private wells, private municipal systems or private sewage systems versus being tied in with some of the local sewage systems, and that has to be put on title, that they will never be in a position where they will be allowed to tap into the municipality's water and sewage systems because they have already agreed that they'll be using their own water, their private well system and their own private septic system.
The same ties in with the land use as well. They're adjacent to farm land and they've got to realize that and agree that they're not going to be put through nuisance suits; just normal farm practices. Whether their practice is driving by at 10 or 11 o'clock at night, this is something that is done normally.
The Chair: Mr Kidd, that concludes the time we have today for presentations on the teleconferencing line, so on behalf of all the members of the committee here today, we would like to thank you for taking the time to make your presentation all the way from New Liskeard. It was a pleasure hearing from you and we appreciate your input.
TOWN OF OAKVILLE
The Chair: We come back here to greet our next presenter, representing the town of Oakville, Jennifer Huctwith, the associate town solicitor. Welcome.
Ms Jennifer Huctwith: I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. You have been provided with a copy of a summary of our concerns and I want to outline some of those concerns for you.
Oakville is a community which has both a strong urban community and a strong rural community. As such, we are a community that values the rural aspect and the concerns you are trying to address through this legislation, but we also have concerns that the legislation as drafted goes beyond what you intend and impacts matters which are of concern,particularly in our urban community.
The section that brings us the most concern is subsection 6(1) of the legislation, which provides, "No municipal bylaw applies to restrict a normal farm practice carried on as part of an agricultural operation." We understand why you might have concerns in agricultural areas regarding this. However, our concern is that it will (a) apply to our zoning bylaw, and (b) apply to other municipal bylaws such as noise and nuisance bylaws in urban areas, if the legislation remains as drafted.
The most important concern we have has to do with our zoning bylaw, and it is for several reasons. The first has to do with assessment impact; the second has to do with land use planning impacts.
There is a long history of disputes between municipalities and developers regarding assessment issues. Many of the rules have now been set, either by the new rules under the Fair Municipal Finance Act (No. 2) or through litigation between the parties, but zoning remains important in this process. It's no longer determinative if the new rules are as I understand them to be. However, it is still important.
When municipalities plan, we put in infrastructure, we make all these arrangements so that development is possible. Zoning bylaws are what we put in to make the use legal after all the other planning development approvals have taken place. When municipalities commit themselves to the infrastructure, both the initial financing of it and the ongoing maintenance, the assessment revenues we receive from these lands are important to us. It's essential to municipal financing that, to the extent possible, such development is paid for by those who are requiring the development rather than by existing taxpayers.
What happens with zoning bylaws is that zoning bylaws prevent the process from going backwards. If, under a zoning bylaw, a farm use is not permitted -- this is in the urban areas I'm talking about -- then the municipalities can stop the farm use in this inappropriate area and retain control of the assessment revenues. The town of Oakville has been involved in litigation on this matter quite recently, both on the assessment front and on the land use planning front. The Ontario Municipal Board recognized this fundamental connection between land use planning and assessment, and as drafted, this act would prevent us from stopping the farm practices and therefore stopping the farm use.
The other area of concern we wanted to address was with regard to land use impacts. Again, we understand your concerns within rural areas. However, this legislation is not limited to rural areas. The bill itself recognizes that there are incompatible uses, that there are complaints regarding farm uses, that there are conflicts. Zoning bylaws help to minimize those conflicts by determining which uses will be placed where, so that the uses which are most likely to complain about farm uses are far away from agriculture uses. To protect those uses which would suffer impacts, zoning bylaws should be exempt from the application of this legislation.
To understand why zoning bylaws don't cause the concerns that I believe you may perceive them to, you need to understand what a zoning bylaw is and how it works. Zoning bylaws don't prohibit existing uses. Existing farm uses can continue to exist even after we've zoned an area away from agriculture to some other use. Zoning doesn't pose any threat to existing agricultural uses. It's only new agricultural uses or different agricultural uses which would be limited by zoning. There is therefore very little harm in allowing zoning bylaws to have a complete exemption from this legislation.
What I'm suggesting is that there be an exemption as was contained in the previous legislation regarding zoning bylaws. If that is not acceptable to you in that you won't achieve your goals, then at minimum, the application of this act should be restricted to rural, agricultural areas, where agricultural uses are permitted. Even in agricultural areas, especially where there is the border between rural and urban use, that's where most of your conflicts exist. If municipalities can have the ability to restrict the uses that are on the border, that provides us with some assistance in this process in ensuring that all our residents have minimum impacts and that there are minimum complaints against agricultural uses.
As I indicated, my submissions are in more detail in the presentation I provided to you. I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Colleagues, I was remiss in indicating that Mr Bisson mentioned before we broke that, because of a death in his family, he might not be able to join us. I can see he doesn't have a colleague to replace him on short notice, so I'll be splitting the time between the two caucuses. That means we'll begin with the government caucus for questioning.
Mr O'Toole: Thank you very much for an interesting perspective on this. It is different than previous questions or comments. Specifically, if I could boil it down very quickly, you're really thinking of the fringe or marginal areas between the rural and urban components. Very broadly, this is where you've zoned for subdivisions or whatever already in your official plans, and certain developments have taken place. Is that important, that kind of marginal relationship between urban and rural?
Ms Huctwith: The fringe area is where you have most of your conflict because you put the two uses together the closest.
Some of my concerns have to do with things right within our urban area. The area we were litigating about last year is located between Winston Churchill and Highway 403, Dundas and the QEW. There are some farm uses within there. In those types of areas, any agricultural use can be inappropriate because dust can have large impacts if you have a drug company, a computer company, a chemical company, anything like that. The smallest agricultural use could have concerns.
This legislation would prevent us from regulating those uses, even the sections within section 7 where we would be unable to restrict times, if we were trying to make these uses compatible with the existing uses which have the business uses. One of the uses within that area has time delivery to Ford Canada and must get through the roads at certain times. If we were to restrict the agricultural use to other times when it wouldn't conflict with that company, this legislation would prevent that.
Mr O'Toole: Yes. Your point is quite different from what we heard from New Liskeard and other parts of the province. This second part is the assessment impact. I am understanding that if you are assembling land for development, under our new Assessment Act there are provisions for that very issue of land for development where it takes on a different value because of development and approval processes, and therefore the municipality, or in your case the town, can really place more taxes on the property through property classes.
Ms Huctwith: The rules change. That's why in the materials I've provided to you, I indicated that the range was 65% to 98%. Currently, what happens is the taxes are approximately 2% of what they otherwise would be, a 98% discount. For land under development or farm land pending development, if there is a plan of subdivision registered, then the discount will be, I believe, 65%, so they'll pay 35% of the taxes.
For some of the lands which are lands under development which we have those designations for, they still have to be farming them to get those farm lands under development, and we can stop the farm use for those. For some properties where municipalities maybe had investments in infrastructure, particularly in certain cases where the development charges did not apply at that time, and the sewage treatment plants have been sitting there and have been maintained by the assessment revenue, and it is important that they continue to be maintained by that assessment revenue, the municipality has an interest in stopping farming.
For properties where we don't yet have the registered plan of subdivision, if we can have assessment revenue we can invest more in infrastructure, knowing we can have assessment revenue from it. So there are classes. It is improved in some ways because it does exempt, or it provides a lesser subsidy to farm lands under development, but it doesn't end the issue.
Mrs Munro: I appreciate, as Mr O'Toole mentioned, that obviously you're bringing a different perspective to this discussion. I wondered if you could just clarify a couple of issues, to have a better understanding of the situation in the town of Oakville. Can you give us any idea of the percentage of land that is currently zoned agricultural?
Ms Huctwith: I can't give you an idea of the percentage. I can give you an idea of the area if you're at all familiar with Oakville. The land north of Highway 5, Dundas, is all agricultural. Everything below that is urban.
Mrs Munro: Do you have an official plan that would identify long-term? You referred to the kinds of problems you see where you have the question of a buffer or the need to have a buffer. I just wondered how this is reflected in your official plans.
Ms Huctwith: It is reflected in the official plans. However, with a municipality such as Oakville where development is taking place and the development comes out from Toronto, there is a large push for it to expand northward, so the expansion will continue northward. There is pressure on us at this point to look beyond Highway 5, so in those circumstances you can't always deal with buffers, although you do provide for it.
That's the kind of thing I was dealing with. With the border you might want to establish more benign agricultural uses close to the buffer area. If you are going to have the type of agricultural use that would have more impact, it would be established further north, further away from it.
We have official plans. We haven't divided our agricultural uses into different types at this stage. It's just one big agricultural area. But that may become relevant as time goes on and the legislation would prevent it.
Mrs Munro: I want to go back to something on page 3 where you talk about, "It is only when the existing agricultural use stops that it cannot be resumed." This is really my lack of understanding here. Are you talking about where zoning changes have been made, or are you talking about where it's still zoned but has fallen into disuse?
Ms Huctwith: After a zoning change there is a concept of legal non-conforming use. You can keep doing what you were doing until you stop. If we change it to industrial, we can't make you start industrial uses and you can continue your agricultural uses. In those cases it's not prohibited by the zoning bylaw, so it's legal. There's nothing you could do and the agricultural use could continue. If it had the most impacts, there is nothing we could do about it, but that's something we recognize.
Mr Hoy: Good afternoon, as I collect my next thought on what you were describing just now. Picking up from where you left off, is it not my understanding that a new agricultural use could not be started under this zoning? If they're involved in an agricultural activity and the zoning changes, they can continue to do that and may continue to do it for some time, but they may not start some newer type of agricultural activity.
Ms Huctwith: That's correct, but you need to understand how the zoning changes as well. There are provincial policy statements supporting agriculture that municipalities must have regard to when they change zoning. Agriculture is protected through that realm as well. If we take the agricultural use out, it's taken out for good reasons rather than just on a whim. It would be based on the other uses surrounding it and other factors, such as protection of the assessment within the area when it's already been taken out into an urban area. Unless you want to put some new use in a particular area, as opposed to the areas where it would be permitted, I don't see why you need to restrict zoning bylaws.
Mr Hoy: I would just make the comment that some years ago I took a tour in the Oakville area and beyond. I was amazed, just as a point of my amazement, on that trip where we drove and drove and drove, and then I was told that none of this land was owned by the individual farmer who was living there. They may not be owned by the city, but by others. It's just a comment I make to you. I found it extraordinary that you could drive that far and the land, in some half-hour's drive, was not owned by anyone who was farming.
Ms Huctwith: We recognize that much of our land is subject to developers who wish to use it at some point for other purposes.
Mr Cleary: Thank you for your presentation. I was going to ask the same question Pat asked, that most of your problem is with land that I understand is owned by the city and by non-farmers, by developers. Is that correct?
Ms Huctwith: Could you repeat your question? I'm afraid I didn't understand it.
Mr Cleary: My question was that I understand most of the land you're talking about is owned by your city and by non-farmers; in other words, by developers who have it in a holding, agricultural zoning?
Ms Huctwith: Not entirely, no. The town doesn't own this land. Some of the land within our urban area is owned by developers and they are farming it. With some of the land north of that, I'm uncertain who owns it, but it is being actively farmed and the farmers in those areas would have the concerns which may have been reflected by other presentations. There is legitimate farming going on in north Oakville. There's less of it than there used to be; however, there is farming going on.
Mr Cleary: These are developers who rent their lands out. Is that correct?
Ms Huctwith: I have no idea who owns the lands north of Dundas. I am aware they are increasingly owned by developers.
Mr Cleary: I've heard that for many years. That was my question.
The Chair: Thank you very much for coming before us. You've brought a new perspective to the discussion around this piece of legislation, and we thank you for bringing your ideas forward.
CANADIAN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW ASSOCIATION
The Chair: I'd now like to call upon representatives from the Canadian Environmental Law Association. Welcome. Please introduce yourself for the Hansard record.
Mr Paul McCulloch: I'd like to thank the committee for giving us this opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Paul McCulloch. I'm with the Canadian Environmental Law Association, more commonly known as CELA. CELA is a legal aid clinic that was founded for the purpose of using and improving laws to protect the environment and conserve natural resources.
We have a long history of participation in agricultural law reforms, including the original Bill 83, which produced the first Farm Practices Protection Act, and consultations last spring. We've also been heavily involved in land use planning reforms over the past 10 years which have a significant agricultural component.
Many of our past and present clients are farmers, and we have worked with the farming community and understand many of their needs. We regularly receive calls from individuals throughout Ontario who have concerns about farming, and a number of those calls are from farmers.
I have put in a written submission, which has a summary on the first page, and I'll probably just refer to that.
Our main submission is we are actually opposed to this bill, and I'll summarize the primary objections in a moment. Basically, we don't understand the need for the bill. In the very first paragraph, the preamble states that, "It is desirable to conserve, protect and encourage the development and improvement of agricultural lands."
This act is designed to protect practices, after it says that in the preamble, not land. The loss of agricultural land to industrial, commercial and residential development occurs because of loss of ownership rights and changes in land use designations, not from pressures due to nuisances. Furthermore, the law of nuisance in the past has done an excellent job of protecting farmers and has been their friend more than their foe.
It begs the question as to why we need this bill at this time. I'll return to that question at the end, because I believe as I go through my three main points here that question will be answered.
The first point is that Bill 146 brings about some changes to municipal planning, which the previous presenter from the town of Oakville I think addressed very well. Sections 6 and 7 propose to provide immunity to farmers from bylaws. Municipal bylaws or zoning bylaws are the outcome of public process and represent the interests of a community as a whole. It doesn't seem fair to allow one individual farmer to avoid this process.
If the government truly wants to protect agricultural land and you want to do it through a planning process, then the solution is quite simple: You bring in strong policies and guidelines to preserve agricultural land. You protect it from urban sprawl and you designate prime agricultural lands as off limits to development. In fact, with the passing of Bill 20 in 1996, the exact opposite happened. A number of the policies under the Planning Act were actually made weaker.
There's another change here bringing about a chance to challenge bylaws. What is happening is the planning process is becoming even more complex. In our opinion, allowing individual farmers to challenge bylaws on an ad hoc basis, which is what this bill is suggesting, is unfair. It's going to unduly complicate the planning process. It's going to lead to chaotic, disjointed and uncertain planning processes. The idea of planning is you want to be able to plan. You want some certainty. If one individual can challenge a bylaw down the road -- and this act, Bill 146, allows farmers to retroactively challenge bylaws that are already in place today -- it's going to create a great deal of uncertainty for communities that are trying to develop official plans.
The second point is the change to nuisances. Bill 146 plans to expand the definition of what types of agricultural operations are insulated from nuisance claims. Again, I'm not certain why we need these changes. There has not been a sudden and drastic increase in nuisance claims against farmers that I am aware of and that my research has been able to pull out. The Farm Practices Protection Board was created in 1988, and up until 1997 there were only 12 cases. We're getting a whole new bill for what to me appears to be 12 cases. If I could get a bill passed every time I had 12 cases cross my desk, that would be great, it would be a very busy place around here, but we don't get that.
Similarly, there is no evidence that the courts have been handling nuisance claims, in our opinion, in an inappropriate manner. A nuisance claim requires the courts to consider the context in which the claim is brought. Very few actions have ever succeeded against a farmer, because courts recognize the nature of farming. I'm not convinced that there is a problem, that farmers are facing an onslaught of nuisance claims. I unfortunately missed the presentations this morning by the agricultural community. If they have demonstrated that, then I take it back, but I would ask the committee to ask for that to be demonstrated.
As someone involved in law, I find the definition of "normal farm practice" disturbing, because it shifts the focus from what is considered reasonable and proper, which is historically what nuisance has been, to now what is normal, and the definition of "normal" is if other people are carrying out a similar activity. This makes me think of when I was a kid and my friends would be able to go out and do things and I'd ask my mom if I could and she'd say no. I'd get mad and then she'd look at me and say, "If your friends wanted to jump off a cliff, would you do it too?" This is the same type of rationale, when you say a normal farm practice is what other farmers are doing. We'd prefer to see a definition that's either based on "reasonable" or "proper." The worry we have about the definition is that the types of practices that will become normal could include some very environmentally damaging processes.
Quickly, there are two changes in society which need to be raised as well to place this bill in context. One is that the nature of farming is moving away from family-owned and -operated farms to large-scale, even corporate, operations. This raises a concern for us. The other is just that the government downsizing that's going on has been particularly strong against the Ministry of Environment. This bill assumes that the Ministry of Environment will be there to protect against agricultural practices which are environmentally harmful, and in fact the ministry is really stretched to the limits and violations by farmers are a very low priority. So it could be up to individuals and communities to protect their own environment.
When I take this as a whole, the act protects practices, not land, and immunity from bylaws is not a sound means of planning; it is going to lead to a very chaotic form of planning. Nuisance laws have always protected farmers, and we would strongly support that. We have no desire to see nuisance laws change to not protect farmers, but this goes beyond what is reasonable to a different form of nuisance. In conjunction with the changes that I see going on in society, I see a need for individuals to be able to have their say and regulate farming activities. I just don't understand really the need for this bill. We'd ask that it be withdrawn and that more effort be put into the planning system, to plan for agricultural practices ahead of time and protect agricultural land from development.
In this submission, there are a number of specific wording comments. There's just one I really would like to point out: subsection 2(3). This is on page 6 of the submission.
Historically, under the Farm Practices Protection Act, farmers were protected from nuisance if they did not violate any environmental statutes, but if they did violate those statutes, then they were open to a nuisance claim. That has been reworded slightly so now there has to be a charge pending before someone is open to a nuisance claim. That's a very important difference. This means you have to get the Ministry of Environment, or another department, or even lay your own charge before you can bring a nuisance claim. That's very onerous. Historically, under a nuisance claim all you had to do was demonstrate that the farmer was violating an act and then you could go on with your claim. You could do that all at once; it wasn't two processes. I would strongly suggest that be returned to its original version, which was violating the act, not charge pending.
Thank you for your time.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have five minutes for questioning from each caucus. We'll begin with the Liberal caucus.
Mr Hoy: Thank you very much for your presentation. I'm just looking at the wording under subsection (3) again. I can see that you're going to be a very good lawyer at some time. You make a compelling case here. However, I'm not in total agreement at all that the bill should be withdrawn.
I see this bill required for a number of reasons. We have a changing agricultural world that may need more definition and some guidance towards those who are looking at agriculture. The municipalities in Ontario, I'm led to believe, are quite interested in seeking some guidance from the government of the day in regard to agriculture.
The world has not yet, in Ontario at least, developed a situation where agriculture will take place here and all other things will take place elsewhere. We have quite a mix of planning that has gone on, some of it perhaps not all that thoughtful, so we're left with this dilemma of urban and rural neighbours being close. We have industry on one side of the road. I can think of one in my riding where we have a new ethanol industry and right across the road they're farming. It's a very diverse situation in the agricultural field and I think the participants, including yourself -- even though you're opposed to the bill, there are others who seek the guidance from it.
The other point I would like to make is that agriculture is in a minority situation. Their population is only about 2% of all persons. In the municipality where I live 92% of the land is used for agriculture, yet there's probably the same amount of people, 2%, involved in the industry. Governance is changing and people have concerns that agriculture doesn't have the time, those people involved don't have the time, to focus in on local councils or even higher endeavours than that.
I would suggest to you that there's a need for this bill. As an opposition member I say quite freely that we need something in place to give guidance to those persons and individuals in Ontario -- urban, rural, farm, non-farm -- to help us deal with what is normal and what is not, because agriculture has changed, and is changing rapidly. Some people are challenging the idea that large farms are not normal, for instance. I think we need someone and some mechanism to make the judgement as to whether it is normal or not just on that one example.
Mr McCulloch: I guess I have two quick comments. If I thought this bill was simply codifying the historical nuisance as it has existed in the past and just giving it more definition, then we would not be opposed to it. I think it goes beyond the historical nuisance that has developed over 200 years of case law. That was my discussion about the difference between reasonable use versus normal.
I've just lost the second comment. If it comes back to me, I'll mention it.
The Chair: You have about a minute to wrap up.
Mr Hoy: I agree with you that the Ministry of Environment may not be able to provide the enforcement that you require from time to time. I know of a case in my area where the farm practices people deemed this gentlemen was not involved in a normal farm practice, but then there was no enforcement after that.
I would agree with you that we'll have to be vigilant with the government to make sure there is enforcement at any time, whether this bill exists or does not exist. I agree with you that the Ministry of Environment has suffered greatly in terms of staffing in the last few years. I mentioned this morning that a piece of legislation without enforcement is not of much use to anyone. On that we agree.
Mr McCulloch: All right.
The Chair: We'll move to the government caucus.
Mrs Munro: I wonder if you could explain to us, in opposing this bill it seems to me that one of the underlying principles you have identified is the need to protect agricultural land. Is that correct?
Mr McCulloch: I see that as a purpose of this bill. It says that in the first paragraph. We believe there's a two-step process being used by the government here: to give power to the municipalities through planning, and you're now giving powers to farmers to oppose the municipality. You're setting up a conflict. Why not just set up a provincial policy statement that protects agricultural lands? We have a policy statement but it's not as binding as it used to be.
Mrs Munro: I'd like to also ask you about the notion of reasonableness that you have outlined on page 3. In the bill we also talk about acceptable farm practices. What is unreasonable about "acceptable"?
Mr McCulloch: "Reasonable" is the word that has always been used in law. At some point this act is probably going to be appealed to a judge and that's when it will finally get its definition. A judge is going to look at it and say: "Why was the word 'reasonable' not used? Why did another word get chosen?" There's a presumption in interpreting statute that if another word is used, it must mean something different. "What is the difference?" and "Acceptable to whom?" would be the questions that would start going through a judge's mind.
We don't see a need to differentiate from the historical definition of "reasonable" because the courts are very comfortable with figuring out what's reasonable and have never ruled against the farmers in the past by saying, "Manure smells are unreasonable." That has always been considered reasonable in a farming community. What would be considered unreasonable, as far as we're concerned, are things that pollute. From what I've heard from the submissions, no one really wants a bill that promotes polluting, but we're afraid that through the back door that's what's going to happen through different types of interpretations because the term "reasonable" hasn't been used.
Mrs Munro: And you don't think that's acceptable?
Mr McCulloch: It just worries me as to why a different word, you know.
Mr O'Toole: Thank you very much for your interesting position on this particular bill. As you know, if you've been watching the presentations or participated, Mr Hoy and Mr Cleary, and indeed I could say almost all of the participants, have been very broadly supportive of this legislation, each bringing forward his own unique concerns.
It's interesting when I look back at CELA's position that even in 1988, they were opposed to the legislation at that time. That's their position. I'm wondering what would motivate them to not listen to the farmers, to the actual people, and the willingness to move all litigation into the courts, which are somewhat paralysed today, perhaps because of the litigants, perhaps because of others.
I just want to make a couple of points. Did I hear you correctly when you said you were opposed to the formation of large assemblies of land for the purpose of agriculture?
Mr McCulloch: Opposed? No, we're strongly supportive of land use reform agriculture policies that protect prime agricultural land.
Mr O'Toole: Yes, agricultural land. You don't have a problem with the fact that with the intensification and specialization that might be required for cash-cropping, they actually work 1,500 acres today. That wouldn't be unusual, would it? Would you be opposed to this land assembly?
Mr McCulloch: Oh, increasing the size of operations?
Mr O'Toole: Yes, for being competitive globally. That's what's going on. You have to have a large assembly of an operation to drive unit costs down. To buy a $200,000 tractor, you've got to have a fair amount of land that you're working to make it efficient, like the Midwest competition for grain crops etc.
Mr McCulloch: If it's done properly, no, we'd have no opposition.
Mr O'Toole: That's good. The other thing too I was wondering, did I understand? We're talking about the importance after the consultation of the current noise, odour and dust which nuisance bylaws, municipal bylaws kind of address. I gather -- I don't want to misrepresent -- we've added light, vibration, smoke and flies, I think. When we added that, that was addressing the current realities in the businessplace.
This was brought to us. It isn't some invention of the government; it's to respond to the realities of the workplace. Do you think it's wrong for the government to respond, to try and clarify for the participants? Do I hear CELA saying that their view is better than listening to the people? That's the way I hear it. Should we be listening to you? What is your recommendation as opposed to what Mr Hoy and others have supported as responsive, balanced legislation?
Mr McCulloch: I don't see the need for the legislation because I haven't seen a demonstrated problem. There's a difference between fears and a demonstrated problem. If the agricultural community has had fears, that's one thing; if they've had a problem, that's another. I haven't seen evidence of a problem.
The Chair: Time's up. Thank you very much, Mr McCulloch, for coming before us this afternoon with your views. We appreciate it.
ONTARIO RATITE ASSOCIATION
The Chair: I'd like to now call upon Sharon Heutinck from the Ontario Ratite Association. Good afternoon. Welcome.
Mrs Sharon Heutinck: Good afternoon. First of all, I must say that I consider it an honour and a privilege to be here today. It also reminds me that I'm very grateful to be a Canadian.
As other people who have been here today stated, I feel Bill 146 is an excellent piece of legislative material, which addresses a good many issues. But one issue that has not been addressed, because I'm sure it isn't an issue that would have been thought about, has the potential to negatively impact the operations of many, many farmers across this province. As you know, farmers are being encouraged to diversify, but without some built-in safeguards in this new act these farmers may find themselves being told, "Sorry, you can't."
If I can expand upon "diversify" for a moment, diversification can mean a new venture on an existing farm. Right now, one of the new things is ginseng, which has been going on in our area for about eight years. They're now making hemp materials for fabrics, which is new. My personal experience is with emus; ratites are relatively new. That's a new venture on an existing farm.
The other way of diversifying is to re-establish a farm operation on your property which you may have discontinued and now you wish to return to that. An example might be range-fed, drug-free chickens, which are very popular and sold at local markets. Returning to sheep for homespun wool is another example of diversifying, returning to an area of agriculture that once existed and now you wish to diversify and go back into that.
My purpose here today is to introduce to you the possibility of a friendly amendment to this bill. The following will illustrate an example that is personal to me and my family but is not unique in this province. We own a small farm in Brant county, which has been cash-cropped for three generations. It is zoned agriculture 1, by the way; the barn has been in existence since the 1800s. Under the township's own bylaw, the permitted uses include "agriculture uses, including all livestock uses." That's the bylaw in our area for agriculture zone 1, which is what we are in.
The recent bylaw in Oakland township was passed in 1985. We decided to diversify, continue cash-cropping but diversify and introduce emus into our barn. The barn is in excellent condition, has always been well maintained. We were told by the planner, and I quote, "Sorry, you have lost the right to house livestock in your barn." Reviewing, we're agriculture 1 on a farm, the farm is being cash-cropped. Because we did not have livestock in our barn at the passing of the bylaw in 1985, those new bylaws rendered our barn non-conforming because it no longer met the side lot and setback requirements of the new bylaw.
We were just devastated. We couldn't understand. How can this be? You're zoned agriculture, you've cropped your land, you have a barn, it has had agriculture, but because it didn't have it then, you are non-conforming. We are OMAFRA-conforming. I have the figures here for OMAFRA. We meet OMAFRA MDS. Emus are five-animal units to one cow. Under the OMAFRA guidelines, with our particular barn in our particular area, from the distance to the nearest house, OMAFRA allows us to have up to 50 emus or 30 ostriches. The township cast that aside; the barn is non-conforming. Absurd? Absolutely. True? Every word.
Urban sprawl: Those of you who may know Dr Gord Surgeoner at the University of Guelph, he has predicted that 40,000 families will go to rural Ontario over the next year or two. Local bylaws are going to be changed. You heard the lady solicitor from Oakville talking about non-conforming and Oakville sprawling and all this stuff. Keep focused, please, that I'm talking agricultural 1 in my scenario.
Changing of bylaws: It's safe to say, I suspect, that now many of the original barns in the 1800s, which ours was, that are built in Ontario no longer will meet the new side lot or setback requirements. It doesn't matter whether it's a 100-acre farm or a five-acre farm. I can go out for a drive within five miles of my farm and count 20 barns that, if you apply the same setback laws, don't conform.
The pig industry is a prime example right now. Pig prices, as you well know, have plummeted severely. Farmers have to diversify because they can't pay their bills. So let's say they clear out their barns and they go into cash-cropping. Maybe they go to ginseng, which will take up to five years to get a crop. Maybe they plant soybeans for a few years. Then they wish to go back -- maybe they don't want to get back into pigs; maybe they want to get into beef cows, dairy cows, sheep, goats, anything. They may be told, "You have lost the right to house livestock because your barn is non-conforming."
I'd like to read you some of the bylaws. We had a letter sent to a few municipalities in southwestern Ontario. I chose southwestern Ontario because it's prime ag land. We asked a question: "If a barn was on an agricultural property, a working farm, but didn't have livestock in it at the time, were there any issues?" To summarize it, I'm going to read you six replies, four of which you would have problems with. Only two said, "A barn is a barn is a barn."
Haldimand-Norfolk states, "However, if the property has a barn on it which has not been used for the housing of livestock for several years the appropriate zoning bylaw will have to be reviewed." We spoke to one of the bylaw officers because we looked at a piece of property in Haldimand-Norfolk, agriculture zone 1 area; the whole area was but there were a few houses located in and around that area. The bylaw officer told my husband and me, "Go around and talk to the neighbours, and if the neighbours don't object, you can probably put your emus in that barn." The farm we looked at had been cash-cropped I don't know how many years, but it had had animals in it. It did not have animals in it at the time because when the gentleman was in his eighties he had died and the widow was selling it some five or six years later.
The next one that responded to us was Oakland township, which is our own township, and even they still say, "The ability for a current or previous owner to show whether it has been a permanent or temporary cessation is critical in determining whether this is non-conforming." Well, folks, that was us, and they said we were non-conforming and we had lost the right.
London: "To answer your second question, if a farm is legal non-conforming, a minor variance will be required to change the use of the buildings or land from a legal non-conforming" -- so it doesn't meet the setback -- "to another legal non-conforming." In other words, the introduction of livestock suddenly in an ag zone is now considered non-conforming by this, because if your barn doesn't meet the setback, it's non-conforming, so they say. To introduce livestock into that empty barn is a non-conforming use. Well, I can't yet figure out how livestock can be anything other than a permitted use in a barn. What was a barn built for? Livestock on the bottom, the hay and the straw and the grain on the top floor. That's London.
Brantford township: "As a matter of practice we require compliance with MDS for livestock operation." I phoned this man and I said, "Do you have anything in your books that states if the barn is empty and it's a farm and you're still cash-cropping but the barn is empty" -- He said to me, and he started to laugh, "Oh, you're non-conforming; forget it." I said, "Have you got it in writing?" and he said: "No, no, no. We don't put things like that in writing but it's a common planning practice."
The last one, the best one of all, which is the only one that truly supports, is from the township of Onondaga. It states what I feel is the correct interpretation: "The only zone in our bylaw which permits animal operations is agricultural 1 zone." No problem. "If the property is under the A-1 zone, it can be used for animal operations even if it does not meet the minimum setbacks in the existing building." That, ladies and gentlemen, is what they all should say, but they don't.
The amendment I would like to introduce is on page 6 of the proposed act, under subsection 6(1). Interesting that the lady from Oakville referred to this exact same section. It currently states, "No municipal bylaw applies to restrict a normal farm practice carried on as part of an agricultural operation." Fine. What I would like you to very seriously consider is adding this clause: "or to restrict the use of agricultural land, building or structures used in a manner consistent with carrying on agricultural operations and in accordance with OMAFRA guidelines." We must have the guidelines because it's OMAFRA that said, "All right, you can have so many animal units in the barn."
The introduction of this friendly amendment is in every way intended to be consistent with the spirit and the intent of this very important legislative bill. It is vital to ensure the continuation of agricultural operations in this province that barriers not be put in place that would prevent diversification or the return to the previous use of the lands and barns.
My final word on this is that we have battled with the courts for four years. We have spent almost $50,000. We lost. The reason we lost, with all due respect to the judges, is that the judges are city oriented. As soon as they hear the word "non-conforming" it sets up a red flag. Then they hear "non-conforming use," which is reintroducing livestock, and that's where they sided: "No."
We were told at the time there was no case law. Well, now, gentlemen and ladies, there is case law. We, unfortunately, are the source of the case law. Our farm situation deeming our barn in an agricultural zone to be non-conforming, therefore livestock would be non-conforming, sets a horrendous precedent for other farmers in this province who want to diversify. Sadly, it sets a precedent to be used in that regard. It is not up to the township to prove you are non-conforming. It is up to the farmer to prove you are permitted.
I would hope that I would receive all-party support on this amendment. I don't want any stalling to stop this bill from going through and hope that in retaining all-party support we can go ahead with the final reading of this very, very excellent bill. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have two minutes per caucus for questions, beginning with the government caucus.
Mr Danford: Thank you very much for your presentation. I think we've all listened intently to the circumstances you found yourself in. Certainly a number of comments were made in our consultation to try and not have a situation like this occur in a general sense. When the first part of section 6 was put in place it was this question that it was actually intended to deal with, the circumstances you find yourself in, that category. It very straightforwardly says exactly that. It also is intended to have some generality because it is impossible in law or in any other circumstances to clearly define every minute point in black and white; therefore, you can leave something out that was not intended when you try to go to that extreme.
In putting this together in this form, it was to leave some flexibility for that group that was entirely familiar with dealing with the issues that would come before them, not in a court of law but in different circumstances, where there would be particular expertise in this form. The fact is that in our last section it does apply to all the bylaws that were in force, to new bylaws and to those in force. It covers the whole gamut. You have a concern that it doesn't go far enough, as I understand by your amendment.
Mrs Heutinck: The concern is basically the use of the barn.
Mr Danford: So for that reason you think buildings should be included to be more specific. Okay. I understand where you are coming from but I hope -- I don't mean to debate it -- you can see our point in the original draft of the bill that we brought forth. It was to cover everything and not for any reason to leave anything out either, and leave it in that form. We were of the opinion that it would cover even your instance.
If this legislation had been in place with the present wording, would you agree that you would be in a better position to have a board provide a decision that would have given you a different authority or a better position to contest?
Mrs Heutinck: I guess it comes down to the fact that it is not up to the township to prove the barn is not non-conforming. It's up to me, the farmer, to prove it's permitted. The fact that it doesn't really specifically address these barns that are used for livestock is vital. When I've talked to people in the farming community, they've all looked at me like this has to be the only issue in Ontario that could ever have happened. I just read you off four other bylaws in townships to point out very clearly that it is not an isolated case. In our situation we decided to fight this because we felt so strongly. You're in an ag area. We spent a great deal of money, and a lot of people were very fortunate that we were able to do that. It's not going to help us; we're done. It's for other people who want to go back into using their barn, to diversify. These people are at the mercy of various municipal bylaws now, because if that barn no longer meets the setback, you're non-conforming, and that's all people in authority need to hear: non-conforming.
That's exactly what the young lady, the Oakville solicitor, was saying. If they rezone a farm area, that barn is non-conforming. As long as you keep livestock in that barn, fine. You may have a 200-acre farm that you're operating. If your area has been rezoned to residential, all right. But this is not the case here. We are an agriculture 1 zone, and they still are able to say that because you don't meet the setback, you are non-conforming.
With all respect, take a drive into the country this weekend. Just drive around and see how many barns are located 500 feet from the nearest house or 300 feet from the nearest setback, side lot. There are all kinds of them out there, and this is what is going to happen.
If you don't want to use the whole clause, fine, but please do something to get the use of the barns in there. That's vital. I cannot impress it upon you enough.
I think the bill is wonderful. This is absurd, what I'm sitting here telling you, and I know it is absurd, but it is the truth.
Mr Cleary: I think you made an excellent presentation. I know, as a former reeve, that we went through that on many occasions in our part of Ontario to try to get the best possible plan in place for rural Ontario, and particularly our part. The members on the other side talked a little bit and answered your questions, and I'm sure there's a way around that.
I'm just not sure what you mean about one thing. The setback, is that setback from a plan of subdivision?
Mrs Heutinck: Every township varies. That's the interesting part. In our township you have to be 1,000 feet from the nearest house, which we aren't, and you have to be 300 feet from the side lot of your property edge. If this is my property here, my barn has to be at least 300 feet from the edge of my property and 1,000 feet from the nearest house. Our barn is not, simply because of development through the years. The barn has never changed its position; it's there and has been for 150 years.
But you will find, as I say, that with roads and urban sprawl these barns aren't meeting these setback requirements.
Mr Cleary: Do they ever vary, from what you told me there. I've been a strong believer that in Ontario, with the changing times, with what we grow, we have to diversify. We have to add value to what we produce. That's going to create the jobs. I don't want to harp on this for a long time, but I feel very strongly that there must be a way to get around this.
I didn't know of those incidents till you brought them before the committee. I did know of previous incidents back in the 1980s, but I didn't know of your particular incidents or others. I wish you well on it. Hopefully there's a way to get around it.
The Chair: On behalf of the members of the committee today, I thank you for bringing your presentation before us. It's an interesting problem and we'll have to work on it.
ASSOCIATION OF MUNICIPALITIES OF ONTARIO
The Chair: I'd like to now call upon representatives of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. Welcome. Please make yourselves comfortable.
Mr Roger Anderson: Ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee, I would like to thank you on behalf of the Association of Municipalities for the opportunity of appearing before you to present the issues related to the proposed Bill 146, the Farming and Food Production Protection Act.
My name is Roger Anderson. I am first vice-president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. I am also the chairman of the region of Durham. With me today is Dan Vanlondersele. Dan is well known to most of us, but we never call him by his last name. He is a councillor of the township of Delhi in the region of Haldimand-Norfolk, and is also chair of the association's rural section.
Mr Dan Vanlondersele: Harry could probably pronounce that better.
Mr Anderson: In general, AMO supports the government's actions and programs that strengthen the economic competitiveness of Ontario, including the competitiveness of farmers and food producers. We support in principle the bill's intent to assure farmers of the right to conduct normal farming operations in order to foster economic growth and food production in rural Ontario without being subjected to vexatious and frivolous nuisance complaints.
However, it is regrettable that in trying to achieve this objective, the bill disturbs the delicate balance between the farmers' right to farm and the need to protect other community interests. Municipal councils are elected to represent their constituents; they are not appointed. Municipal councils are responsible for and are held accountable for policy decisions that balance the interests of the individual with those of the entire community. Unlike appointed special purpose bodies, municipal decision-making is an open and accessible process. Any action that infringes municipal authority and accountability would be counterproductive.
Given the inclusive, consultative and accountable nature of local government in Ontario and the course of action and the level of protection farmers enjoy under the existing act, we are not clear about the proposed bill's rationale for rendering municipal bylaws inoperative and expanding the mandate of the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board.
In 1988 the Farm Practices Protection Act was proclaimed to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits related to noise, odour or dust resulting from normal farming practices. The legislation empowered the minister to appoint a farm practices board to adjudicate complaints. This is considered a reasonable authority for the board.
The right-to-farm consultation paper released in December 1996 stated that the review of the Farm Practices Protection Act must address the "need to balance the increased authority the municipalities will have with farmers' need for right-to-farm legislation."
In October, the AMO rural section executive met with Agriculture Minister Villeneuve and raised a number of issues and concerns; specifically, that there are measures included in this proposed act that will impede municipal authority and create confusion.
AMO has previously stated that they support in principle the bill's intent to assure farmers the right to conduct normal farming operations in support of economic growth and food production in Ontario. Farmers, like other businesses, should not be subjected to vexatious or frivolous nuisance complaints. However, the bill strengthens farmers' rights to farm by impeding the fundamental rights and responsibilities of elected municipal councils to pass and enforce bylaws.
In order to address this impediment, AMO is recommending a number of amendments to the bill. The following are AMO's principle issues, comments and recommendations.
Bill 146 undermines the authority of municipalities to regulate farm operations through zoning and other bylaws mandated by existing provincial legislation.
The current Farm Practices Protection Act, in clause 2(1)(a), recognizes a farmer's right to carry on normal farming practices as long as the farmer complies with "any land use control law" -- for example, the Planning Act. Bill 146 deletes this section and introduces a provision, subsection 6(1), that states, "No municipal bylaw applies to restrict a normal farm practice carried on as part of an agricultural operation."
Therefore, Bill 146 removes the requirement to meet a zoning bylaw's general provisions, specific standards and definitions. In rural Ontario zoning bylaws contain such provincially mandated regulations and standards as the minimum distance separation formulas regulating the distance between livestock facilities, homes and rural based industries. Such regulatory measures are intended to deal with health and safety matters as well as the enjoyment of property privileges. All property owners and tenants, whether farmers or rural residents, should enjoy a level of assuredness when it comes to municipal standards and their status.
AMO expects that the standards related to ground and surface water protection are issues which may have adversely impacted some individual farmers and have been the cause for recent conflict and concern from the farmer sector. However, from our standpoint it is not appropriate that the Farm Practices Protection Board should have an unlimited and unfettered authority to neutralize land use documents and municipal government decision-making. The effect of this act is to bestow exceptional powers on the Farm Practices Protection Board, another special purpose, quasi-judicial tribunal. Municipalities believe there are too many special purpose bodies in Ontario and have worked with the province to eliminate them or at least clarify their roles and their responsibilities.
Instead of empowering another unaccountable special purpose body through Bill 146, we believe the solution to farmers' concerns involves a fuller discussion and dissemination of information on how farming practices can be better reflected in municipal bylaws without compromising Ontario's land use planning process, environmental protection, and broader community interests and rights.
There is also a danger that the general term "normal farming practices" could change in meaning over time. AMO is concerned that Bill 146 and the lack of a precise definition of normal farm practices may create a move to bypass or replace municipal land use planning and its local processes.
The Planning Act, introduced 50 years ago, has gone through several substantive revisions to make Ontario's planning system more efficient, timely, less costly, and with greater transparency and accountability. It benefited from the input of many stakeholders, including farmers, other business groups and ratepayers, developers, and municipal constituencies. By removing references to existing land use controls in Bill 146, confusion and uncertainty for the public will be created when municipal bylaws are overturned by the Farm Practices Protection Board.
Therefore, rather than rendering municipal bylaws inoperative, AMO believes that OMAFRA can and must work with municipalities, planning consultants and the farm community to have better agricultural input prior to the drafting of municipal bylaws that would impact on agricultural practices. Given that many farmers also sit on rural municipal councils, this is an achievable objective, if it is not already being practised.
Therefore, AMO recommends that subsection 6(1) be deleted and section 2(1)(3) be amended to insert the phrase "any land use control law," as it is included in the current act.
The association is concerned that Bill 146 is adding another layer of appeals at a time when the province and municipalities are streamlining and removing duplication in their operations. For example, there is now only one level of appeal for property assessment, rather than two. In cases of conflict arising between normal practices and the municipal regulations, the bill proposes that the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board conduct hearings. As such, this board provides another avenue of appeal should the Ontario Municipal Board not provide a favourable decision on a comprehensive zoning bylaw or an amendment. This multiple access and duplication could prove costly and will certainly create public confusion and undermine the authority of councils and the Ontario Municipal Board.
There is also ministerial intervention. Every year, several hundred complaints are satisfactorily resolved by OMAFRA staff before reaching hearings. AMO believes that farmers have sufficient recourse to appeal unfavourable decisions of municipal councils without having to refer them to the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board.
The Ontario Municipal Board has tremendous experience and expertise in dealing with land use conflicts. If a special tribunal is needed, the matter should be handled by the Ontario Municipal Board. At a minimum, there should be consolidated hearings with both the Ontario Municipal Board and the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board on planning application appeals that deal with farm practices.
AMO recommends that in order to avoid duplication and delays, and to lower costs, the legislation should be amended so that the farmers may directly appeal their complaints regarding municipal zoning bylaws to the Ontario Municipal Board rather than the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board.
At a minimum, the Ontario Municipal Board and the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board should conduct consolidated hearings regarding appeals of municipal decisions.
The bill empowers the minister to appoint at least five members to the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board, but there is no explicit requirement that there be any municipal representation on this board. If the government continues with the proposed Normal Farm Practices Protection Board concept, then in order to ensure the local government perspective is included in the board's deliberations, AMO recommends that at least one member of the board be an elected representative or an appointed official of a rural municipality, and furthermore that this requirement be enshrined in the proposed legislation.
We would recommend that subsection 3(1) be amended so that at least one member of the board be an elected representative or an appointed official of a rural municipality.
Section 9 empowers the minister to issue directives, guidelines or policy statements in relation to agricultural operations or normal farm practices, and the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board's decisions under the proposed act must be consistent with these directives, guidelines or policy statements.
Guidelines are intended to be advisory and are issued as best practices tools. However, in practice they have an ambiguous status before quasi-judicial tribunals. Moreover, before they are introduced, they are not subjected to the same level of consultation and scrutiny as legislative and regulatory amendments. If the ministry intends to address some of the above municipal concerns through guidelines, this will not provide rural municipal councils with sufficient assurance that their concerns will be addressed either in the short term or the long term.
Therefore, in order to achieve greater certainty in application, rather than the minister issuing guidelines, AMO believes that the matters proposed to be in the guidelines will have significant effect on all property rights and therefore are important enough to warrant promulgation through regulation. Furthermore, there should be input and advice from rural municipalities in their preparation.
In conclusion, AMO supports the legitimate right of farmers to engage in normal farming practices. Farming is a vital economic activity for the prosperity of rural areas. From that standpoint, AMO supports the intent of this legislation.
However, the Association is gravely concerned that in achieving this objective Bill 146 in effect nullifies the authority of locally elected and accountable municipal councils to pass and enforce bylaws. Municipalities pass these bylaws through an open and accountable process mandated by the province through legislation. Providing non-elected, special tribunals with the authority to set aside municipal bylaws is unacceptable.
AMO strongly believes that without full local government democratic participation, the province will have great difficulty achieving a key objective of this bill, that is, to balance the needs of the farmers with the environmental and land use concerns of the whole community. Given that many municipal councillors are involved in the agricultural activities, they are capable of meeting the objectives and finding solutions for local problems.
The Chair: Thank you. We have just under three minutes for questioning from each caucus. We'll begin with the Liberal caucus.
Mr Hoy: Good afternoon and thank you very much for your presentation. Under recommendation 3, that subsection 3(1) be amended "so that at least one member of the board be an elected representative or an appointed official of a rural municipality," earlier in your brief you were concerned about certain activities of OMAFRA taking the place of elected officials in rural or even in urban settings. Would it make sense then to delete the "or an appointed official" and just have somebody selected for the board who is an elected representative? I see a contradiction between your argument earlier in the brief and then the amendment.
Mr Vanlondersele: The Rural Ontario Municipal Association met with Minister Villeneuve and the member Mr Danford during our mid-term, and the issue of having some representative to have some empathy with the local municipal councils was raised and heightened. Certainly former Reeve Cleary mentioned that with the last deputation. There's some empathy with the fact that municipal councils have to deal with the rural-urban conflict and the difficulties between neighbours. Now, if the rural association finds an appointed individual, a clerk or a municipal official, who has that same empathy -- we wanted the ability to appoint either and requested that flexibility. However, if the members present have difficulty with that suggestion, we're certainly not averse to having that taken out. We wanted to have as much flexibility as possible in our proposal so that you would consider any possible changes we might suggest to you today.
Mr Hoy: I think the suggestion is excellent. Just to give you a comment about what OMAFRA may be doing and how it affects AMO and ROMA as well, you cite that there are elected people at the local level who understand these issues and so on, but we've had rural representation made today where farmers are finding they don't have the time to run for elected office. In some cases where municipalities are restructuring and actually becoming larger municipalities -- in my location of Kent we have gone from 23 to one and representation has gone from I believe 128 people to 18 -- there's a concern that the rural voice is not what it was. At one time in the rural municipalities perhaps their whole council was made up of farmers. I wouldn't suggest that was always the case, but it could have been.
There are some fine points in your brief today but I do think there is an overriding concern in the rural areas that there was pressure being brought for bylaws that would restrict and in some cases, not that they ever made the table, would almost eliminate agriculture completely. There are some people who would like to do that and there are people who would like to keep the urban people right where they are as well. I think we have to strike a balance. I appreciate your comments today.
Mr Vanlondersele: Thank you. Certainly the newly formed municipality of Chatham-Kent is foremost on ROMA's mind as an example of what's happening across the province.
The zoning bylaws and official plan amendments have certainly opened public procedures that people have input and comment to, but the difficulty, as explained by the vice-president of AMO, is that if you have a municipal bylaw in place and there is an organization that can overturn that bylaw, there could be some confusion out in the community. It's up to the public process and the elected members to protect their rural members, and that's ROMA's position.
Mr O'Toole: I'll be very quick and share my time with Mr Danford. I just want to say first that I'm mainly interested in addressing your concluding remarks. You say AMO is supportive of the legislation, but the tone of your brief is anything but that. Theoretically, it's quite critical, and that's exactly the opposite of what we've heard.
There have been consultations across the province. Mr Hoy here and the opposition party's position are supportive. I don't know where AMO is on this. I'm not sure they're reflecting the real needs of the agricultural community, which Mr Anderson is certainly charged with representing. The area of our municipality rurally exceeds the urban form, and the outcry I hear is that the encroachment on rural class 1 property is a serious issue. This government is trying to address that.
What we heard just before -- I'm sure you sat here and listened to Mrs Heutinck with respect to an example of a municipal bylaw. That's exactly what the province is trying to avoid. I think it's fair to ask that representation on those decision boards -- and they are appointed. The Ontario Municipal Board is an appointed body, unelected. The farm protection board would be the same kind of board, though I think it's more specifically focused. Do you understand what I'm saying?
Mr Vanlondersele: Yes.
Mr O'Toole: Some of the things I'm hearing today aren't consistent with what I thought was AMO's position. I would let Mr Danford, who did participate in those broader consultations, conclude.
Mr Anderson: Madam Chair, if we could respond to the comment first I think that would be fair. Don't get AMO's position wrong, Mr O'Toole. AMO has been and we are committed to supporting Bill 146, as we've said, but we have some major concerns about parts of the bill. It's not the whole bill, just certain parts. I think we made that very clear through our presentation. I don't want you to get the wrong impression that this is a fight between AMO and the government. It's not. AMO consistently and continually believes that the only way we resolve concerns is through dialogue, and that's why we're here. We have some major concerns in regard to the powers that be. That's what our concern is and we want you to be aware of it. It's no slight against any government at all; it's just that we have concerns and we want to express them. I think that's why you allow us to come here.
Mr Danford: We recognize that's the purpose of having these meetings such as we're holding today, that we have a continued opportunity to be part of it before third reading is initiated and any amendments are proposed. I think you'll both remember that when the presentation was made to ROMA with all those municipal councillors there -- it was an open session for them to question us -- there certainly was support that it was a provincial responsibility to deal with this particular aspect, and it would actually be in support of their making decisions because they would have another avenue to go to -- this board -- to get definitions and so on in order to put together municipal bylaws that would reflect rural use. I say "rural," not necessarily agriculture but a balance between agriculture and rural residents. There was wide support for that, as we have found over the last year of consultation.
Certainly when we talk about the level of decisions, you mentioned in your brief, as I understood it anyway, that you felt it was more appropriate to go to the OMB rather than to have this other level to deal with some of these situations. Did I assume that correctly?
Mr Vanlondersele: Yes.
Mr Danford: There were also positions given to us through the consultation that they felt that this board could provide judgement if it was required and the dispute could not be settled, that they could provide a decision for this type of issue much easier than the OMB. The OMB, as we all know, is municipal councillors. I've had a chance to be involved in that over the years too. Certainly it can be sometimes lengthy, first of all, to get before the board and then deal with it, and there can be a cost. Because of the type of presentation that is sometimes required to the OMB, it can involve a legal expense, having a representative and so on. But at this board it was felt that at any level you could go and make your case and, because of the expertise of the members of the normal farm practices board, they would understand and make a responsible decision.
I guess I'm disputing your comment about which level of board has the best level of responsibility. I would contend that we found a different feeling when we talked to all the people who were involved in the consultation, and that included your municipal representatives. Do you have anything to offer more than you've already stated in your brief just to clarify that?
Mr Vanlondersele: Since our mid-term we received a number of resolutions from various councils, Member Danford, that spoke to the definition of "normal farming practice." As you and I well know, that can change. Without a definition in it there was concern that there would be a lot of appeals and it might tie up the farm practices board.
The OMB has a history of being a referee for municipal issues, and a respected history. Again, the concern is that we set up another body that might well deal with similar issues. As was stated in the brief, if that's your wish, to carry on with this board, you might think of joint hearings between the OMB and the new board because there is some overlap when you're dealing with OMAFRA regulations, the Planning Act etc.
Mr Danford: Can I just have one more point?
The Chair: All right, just because it's you.
Mr Danford: You mentioned the representation on the farm practices board. We have always, as I understand it -- I think I can say always; I can go that far -- had a member who represented rural municipalities as a member of that board. I can assure you without any doubt that we will continue that. In fact, if the board is expanded, and there's some possibility that may in the end happen, we would allow it to show that and reflect that change. There is no intention, and I say that without any doubt, that there will not be rural municipal participation on that board, because we see it as providing the balance that's necessary. I guess that's a statement but I just wanted to clarify that.
Mr Vanlondersele: I want to say as well, thanks to you and Minister Villeneuve for the openness of this legislation and the input we've had. The concerns we raised today were by no means meant to be negative. We're all in elected office here and we have rules and responsibilities that we have to deal with. We just want the road to be somewhat clear and we see a potential pitfall here if something can be overturned from properly orchestrated, open meetings where bylaws are derived from and then a board can overturn them.
Mr Danford: We appreciate your input and we'll take that into consideration.
The Chair: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for taking the time to come before us this afternoon with your brief and your ideas. We appreciate it.
Colleagues, that's our last presentation of the afternoon so we will adjourn, to reconvene tomorrow morning at 11 o'clock. We will be in Belleville. If any of you are contemplating coming along on the bus, we will leave from in front of the Legislature at 8:15 tomorrow morning. We are adjourned.
The committee adjourned at 1514.