Thursday, May 19, 2022

Tribunal declines to hear Sweda’s appeals

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal has declined to hear four appeals filed by Norman Bourdeau who is acting as an agent for Sweda Farms Ltd.

The tribunal has not posted its decisions on its website, but Ontario Farmer has obtained a copy and also learned that Bourdeau has written to Ontario Agriculture Minister Lisa Thompson to protest the tribunal’s decision.

The letter raises a number of issues that it claims are errors in law. That raises speculation that Sweda is considering an appeal to the courts to obtain decisions on its claims of tribunal errors in law.

The Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board, represented by lawyer Geoff Spurr, argued that Sweda is neither an active egg producer nor egg grader and therefore has no right to appeal. The tribunal disagreed because Sweda does have basis to argue that it has been aggrieved by the lack of policies Sweda seeks.

But the tribunal ruled that is lacks jurisdiction to order the egg board to implement Sweda’s requests. It said it can deal with grievances under existing board policies or actions, but not on policies it has declined to implement.

The key request is that the egg board change marketing to establish pools for geographic districts and then direct eggs from those pools to grading stations. That speaks to Sweda’s concerns that egg grading is dominated by a “duopoly” of Burnbrae Farms and L.H. Gray and Sons Ltd.

It also proposed an alternative that the egg board direct production from 200,000 hens to Sweda’s grading station.

Bourdeau countered that the tribunal has broad jurisdiction and cited a number of cases including a tribunal decision on chicken pricing that was ordered by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, not the egg board, a decision on an appeal brought by Glenn Black against th Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board, seeking new policies to favour small-scale producers, and an appeal by Georgian Bay Milk Producers which sought new milk board policies on milk production for export.

Spurr argued, and the tribunal agreed, that there is a conflict between the tribunal entertaining the appeals and an ongoing lawsuit Sweda filed against Burnbrae Farms Ltd., L.H. Gray and Sons Ltd. and the egg board seeking $32,000,000 in damages and $10,000,000 as a fine, called punitive damages. 

The courts allowed Burnbrae out of that case because Sweda’s lawyer at the time, Donald Good, failed to file a timely request for Burnbrae documents. The case against Gray and the egg board remains active.

Bordeau countered that the issues it raised in its appeals are separate from those in the lawsuit.

The tribunal not only declined to entertain Sweda’s appeals, but also stuck it with a bill for $8,812.25 to cover the egg board’s legal fees. It lectured Sweda for being “vexacious” and harassing the egg board.

Neither the egg board nor the tribunal made any comments about the conflicts of interest Sweda raised about senior officials of Burnbrae and Gray sitting as egg producers the Ontario egg board where decisions have considerable implications for their dominant businesses in egg grading and egg processing. 

Sweda has also argued that they can intimidate egg farmers who rely on them to market their eggs.

I frankly think that politics, not the law nor the facts, are protecting Burnbrae, Gray and the egg board. 

I have substantiated, from Canadian Food Inspection Agency data, that there is cheating on the grading of eggs to the benefit of producers, the egg board and the two grading stations, but to the detriment of consumers.

And I have seen examples over the decades of Burnbrae's Joe Hudson acting for his business benefits to the detriment of producers, supply management and consumers. And the politicians and bureaucrats looked the other way.