Inflammatory Comments Behind Breakdown In Tomato Talks

A line in an email obtained by AM800 News from a former director of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers may be behind the breakdown in tomato contract talks.

The email from the former director of District 2 in the Simcoe area, Jim Poel, referred to the ownership of Highbury Canco as "Wynne's East Indian friends." The email was written to one grower, but was shared among the OPVG directors and senior staff and eventually to Highbury Canco.

Company President Sam Diab wrote to the agriculture minister, referencing the email.

Dismissed District 1 Chair Ron Van Damme confirms the email stirred up the situation and lead to the breakdown in contract negotiations. Van Damme says the executive director of the OPVG was notified of the email and took action.

"As soon as it was brought to his attention there was a request for Jim's resignation and that was immediate," says Van Damme.

He says there was complete revulsion about the tone of the comment in the email.

"Not one single grower, not one single committeeman, condoned that behaviour.  They all felt Jim did the right thing by handing in his resignation and they all felt that the board did the right thing by accepting his resignation," says Van Damme.

He says relationships have become strained, and he suspects the election of the new board will see a significant change.

"This tone has been slowly but surely degrading over a period of time.  We understand it almost gets to a point where you got to blow the thing up and then start over again," says Van Damme.

Even though the email and the letter from Diab may have been factors in the dismissal of the board of director last Friday, Van Damme says there were other reasons the job of negotiations has been handed to former agriculture minister Elmer Buchanan.

In a statement issued by the minister's office, Jeff Leal says he was "deeply saddened and disappointed by the opinions and comments expressed."  Leal says "there's no place for discriminatory speech of this nature.  It will absolutely not be tolerated in Ontario nor in our agri-food sector."

The statement from Leal goes on to say his actions taken last week were not in response to the comments but to protect the economic well-being of farm families and processing jobs in the vegetable industry in Ontario and protect this year's tomato crop.