Posted in March, 2017
SUPERIOR COURT OF JUSTICE: ROSSEAU
A WIN FOR THE MEMBERS
OF FARMERS MARKET CO-OPERTIVES
Farmers Market Co-ops are still Co-ops. They cannot evade co-op law. The judges decision constitutes a precedent in law that may in future serve any vendor whose rights are not respected by the directors of Ontarios pretend co-operative farmers markets.
I have it on good authority that there are only two farmers markets registered as co-ops in the whole of OntarioRosseau Farmers Market and Gravenhurst Farmers Market.
I asked the Court for two things: 1) To declare my expulsion from Rosseau Market illegal, and 2) To strike down one of the changes they made to the Markets by-laws--a change that the directors thought would strengthen their claim that they--the directors--could expel a member of the co-op by simply refusing the members annual application, thus bypassing the member protections in Ontario co-op law (the Co-opertive Corporations Act)
I won on the first issue, lost on the second. It makes no difference, however, since, according to the precedent set by the courts ruling, the directors of these markets would, in future, be well advised to abide by the member protections of the Co-operative Corporations Act of Ontario.
Simply stated, the directors of a farmers market co-operative cannot be rid of a member simply by refusing that members annual application.
Why is this important? Because a co-operative is supposed to be a coming together of equals for business and social purposes. Directors are elected by the membership and are supposed to be the servants of those members. If those who happen to be directors at any given time have the power to be rid of someone they dont like, or whose ideas they dont like, simply by refusing that persons annual application, then clearly, those directors are not acting as servants of the market, and they are not acting as equals. And clearlyto paraphrase George Orwells Animal Farmsome members are more equal than others. (All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.)
Rosseau and Gravenhurst directors, do you know this charming farm story, in which the pigs take over? Better check it out. You might want to ban it from your respective markets.
As a Rosseau Market director for eight years, and board president for five, I consistently defended member rights. Justice Fragomeni alludes to this in his decision. But my small contribution to case law will not fix the two named farmers markets.
The Rosseau and Gravenhurst Markets need to become true co-operatives or else surrender their co-op status.
Only then will member rights truly be protected. Why? Because a member who has to go to court to have his or her rights respected, will still need the support of the membership (in the general assembly) if the directors are intent on throwing out that member.
The general assembly of the members is a members last chance to be heard and to obtain justice. In a real co-operative the power base is the membership, and ultimate authority rests in it. But in a pretend co-op, as in any pretend democracy, things do not work that way. The membership is subservient. The board of directors controls the process that will guarantee the result the board wishes to see.
In such a market, involving the membership merely results in a kangaroo court. The outcome is predictable.
I must also remark on something else. Court hesitation to intervene in the internal workings of a market (which explains why I was not successful in getting the by-law changes struck down) on the unwarranted assumption that it is a properly functioning co-operative democracy, merely because it is registered as a co-op, is wrong, and cannot result in justice. An assumption is an unknown, and justice is not built upon what we do not know.
Both Gravenhurst and Rosseau are ugly parodies of the co-operative ideal. Whether or not markets operate in conformity with co-operative principles and values is determinable. And, in the public interest, this should be determined.
This is the proper preserve of the Superintendent of Financial Services.The Superintendent needs to act. Its his responsibility. And that is why I am petitioning the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
If my arguments resonate with your own thoughts on the kind of farmers markets this province deserves, if you believe that all farmers markets operating in a public space should be accountable, trustworthy, and transparent, both internally and in relation to their customers, obeying their own by-laws and whatever provincial laws apply to their vendors, please consider downloading my petition.
It's a step in the right direction.