Growers abandoned?  


Don Plant, The Daily Courier, 2011-05-17 

The B.C. government has turned its back on Okanagan fruit growers and failed to provide British Columbians with enough domestic food, the province‘s agriculture critic said in Kelowna.

Lana Popham said the government is focusing too much on selling B.C. food to other countries and doing too little to stimulate local markets. In the Okanagan, fruit growers are suffering while four million British Columbians rely increasingly on imported food, she said.

"We‘ve abandoned agriculture in B.C.," Popham said Monday. "We have the lowest support for agriculture of any province in Canada. The government doesn‘t think it‘s a priority. They believe agriculture here is a cost and not an investment." 
Popham joined Adrian Dix on his first swing through the Valley since he won his party‘s leadership last month. Dix repeated the agriculture policies he touted during his campaign to replace outgoing Carole James - provide grants to fruit growers, feed B.C. fruit to hospital patients and revive the Buy BC marketing program.

"There‘s so much at stake. This is a critical issue for the economy of this region and we can‘t afford any more delay," he said. "I‘m challenging the government to act right now."

The cost of growing apples last year outstripped what growers earned - an average of 22 cents a pound compared to 14.5 cents a pound. After three years of poor returns, hundreds of growers are in debt. Banks are forcing some to sell their properties and many can‘t afford to buy what they need to harvest a crop this season.

Their representatives with the B.C. Fruit Growers Association have asked the government for $7.5 million worth of grants to cover equipment, supplies and credit to grow a crop this year. Agriculture Minister Don McRae has yet to give an answer. 
"Growers need assistance in purchasing inputs," said BCFGA President Joe Sardinha. "It‘s critical growers have the ability to purchase fertilizers, sprays, nutrient sprays, and have the means to afford production insurance."

The proposed program is too small to be deemed a subsidy, which can trigger countervailing duties at the U.S. border in retaliation, Sardinha said. He thanked Dix for taking up the growers‘ cause, but added he‘s working with all parties to acquire a lifeline.

Growers and the NDP support contracts that would deliver Okanagan apples to Valley hospitals and other health regions in the province to boost their sales. Patients would benefit from healthier food; procurement contracts would still align with trade agreements as long as it‘s a local food service, said Popham. 

Restoring Buy BC, which ended in 2001, would encourage British Columbians to buy locally grown food. Growers would partner with restaurants and add value to their fruit, she said. 

"I hope the government‘s listening . . . Otherwise we won‘t have growers any more."

The B.C. government has said the deficit is too high, most revenues are going toward health and education, and there‘s no extra money. The consequences of doing nothing would damage a fruit industry that provides thousands of jobs and is a linchpin of the Okanagan‘s economy, said Dix.

Because Premier Christy Clark is vague on when the next election will be, the party is campaigning as if it will happen soon, Dix said. 

"We encourage the government to take action now. It can‘t wait until 2013," he said. "Both parties should . . . support the package. . . I don‘t care who gets the credit." 

Supreme Court of Canada says it is fair to deny farm workers the right to unionize  


This is a very concerning set-back for farm-workers rights in Canada. You can read the Supreme Court Decision here.

And here is an April 29/2011 article about it by Sharon Hill in the Vancouver Sun.


Supreme Court denies right of farm workers to unionize

WINDSOR, Ont. — The Supreme Court of Canada has abandoned Ontario's farm workers and the charter of rights has failed them, UFCW Canada national president Wayne Hanley said Friday after the union lost a 16-year court battle to allow agricultural workers to unionize.

"We are shocked that the Supreme Court of Canada has treated agricultural workers differently here in Ontario than any other worker," Hanley said at a Toronto news conference after the ruling was released.

In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court sided with the province, ruling its Agricultural Employees Protection Act does not infringe on the charter. At issue was the freedom of association. The act allows workers to form associations to take complaints to employers and if needed to a tribunal, but it doesn't allow collective bargaining.

"The Supreme Court of Canada has abandoned agriculture workers here in Ontario in their plight for dignity and respect," Hanley said.

Without protection under the Labour Relations Act like other workers, farm labourers may then be second-class citizens, said Stan Raper of the UFCW.

"This is just wrong. It's unjust and this decision is not really worthy of the paper it's printed on. It's not even fertilizer."

Joining UFCW officials was Mindy Leng, who worked at a Kingsville, Ont., mushroom farm seven years ago.

"I'm sure right now a lot of farm workers are very, very disappointed," said Leng, 29, who is now studying to be a nurse.

"The condition that we work in is really harsh," Leng said of her former mushroom picking days. "The employer did not take care of us or protect us, so that's why we had to run to the union, They listened to us. We want to be heard by somebody."

The UFCW said it will continue to fight for farm labourers but it seems their court options after two trips to the Supreme Court are done. The union could lay hundreds of thousands of complaints under the act upheld by the Supreme Court and lobby the province to allow collective bargaining.

One of the justices in the Supreme Court ruling said: "The decision to impose a duty of collective bargaining should be made by the legislature and not by the court."

The provincial government has no plans to change the act, said Sarah Petrevan, a spokeswoman for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Carol Mitchell.

"The decision means that farm workers maintain the right to form associations to represent and communicate their interests and employers under the act are also obligated to address the workers' issues or concerns and that is what the court agreed with," Petrevan said.

Farm groups are delighted with the ruling, said Ken Forth, chairman of the Ontario agriculture industry's labour issues co-ordinating committee.

"The ruling still protects the rights of workers under the Agricultural Employee Protection Act. It's a good outcome for agriculture, in our view."

Ken Wales, a vegetable grower who is the committee's vice-chairman and the vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said the act needs to be given a chance to work.

Wales said farmers are glad to hear a clear decision that the act is constitutional and "that we can get on. This issue has gone on for too long."

The union battle started in southern Ontario. In 1995, the UFCW unionized about 200 workers at Highline Mushrooms in Leamington under 1994 NDP legislation that gave collective bargaining rights to farm workers for the first time in Ontario.

When the Conservatives came to power in 1995, they repealed the law and the union appealed. The union took the case to the Supreme Court. In 2001, the court ordered the province to make a new law.

The new legislation, the Agricultural Employees Protection Act, did not allow collective bargaining so the UFCW challenged it.

In 2008, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled the act violated the charter right to freedom of association and the province was ordered to come up with new legislation. Ontario appealed the case to the Supreme Court and won.

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