Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal – Jurisdiction – Judicial review – Standard of review – Reasonableness
Assn. of Ontario Chicken Processors v. Ontario (Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal),  O.N. No. 330, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, January 31, 2003, Blair, Carnwath and J. Macdonald JJ.
The AOCP sought judicial review of various decisions and orders of the Tribunal concerning the production and marketing of live chicken in Ontario. The decisions of the Tribunal were made pursuant to s. 16 of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Act (the “MAFRAA”), which empowers the Tribunal to hear and decide certain appeals from the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission (the “Commission”) and from various local boards, including the Chicken Farmers of Ontario (the “CFO”). Three issues were before the Board: (1) Did the Tribunal exceed its jurisdiction by establishing a specific pricing formula for the marketing of chickens in Ontario?; (2) Did the Tribunal exceed its jurisdiction by fixing prices under the specific pricing formula?; and (3) Did the Tribunal have jurisdiction to order the Commission to amend its regulation 402 in order to implement the Tribunal’s pricing formula as established?
The court held that in accordance with the “pragmatic and functional” approach adopted by the Supreme Court of Canada, a central question in ascertaining the standard of review is to determine the legislative intention in conferring jurisdiction on an administrative tribunal. In so determining, the court must look at the tribunal’s role or function, the expertise of the tribunal, the purpose of the Act as a whole and the provision in particular, the existence of a privative clause, the nature of the problem as a question of law or fact, and the jurisdiction of the tribunal. None of these factors is dispositive and all of them must be weighed. In this case, the court found that the Tribunal had the power to “stand in the shoes” of the Commission, which had broad supervisory powers and a role in balancing competing interests. The court found that the Tribunal was a supervisory body that engaged in a polycentric balancing of competing interests. These findings weighed in favour of a deferential standard of review.
The court noted that the Tribunal consisted of experts with specialized agricultural background and the decisions involved, to some degree, the application of this highly-specialized expertise. This factor weighed in favour of a deferential standard of review.
In reviewing the purpose of the legislation, the court found that the Tribunal decision dealt with six complex issues in the agricultural sector involving a number of “interlocking and interacting interests and considerations”. This factor also weighed in favour of a deferential standard of review. After reviewing all of the factors, the court found the standard of review to be applied was one of reasonableness.
The court then reviewed the AOCP’s submission that the Tribunal lacked jurisdiction to establish a specific formula and fix prices. The court rejected the AOCP’s argument, noting that the legislation authorised the Commission to establish a specific pricing formula. The AOCP argued that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to order the Commission to amend its regulation 402 to institute the pricing formula. The court agreed that the appeal procedure for a regulation passed by the Commission was different and required a party to request the Commission to reconsider the regulation under s. 17(4) of the MAFRAA. However, the court found that, in this instance, the appeal concerned the Commission’s decision to establish the pricing formula and fix prices and that the appropriateness of this decision was properly before the Tribunal. The court held that once the matter was properly before the Tribunal, the MAFRAA gave the Tribunal broad remedial powers, including the power to do anything or order anything that the Commission can do. This included the power to direct the Commission to amend its regulations in order to carry out the policy of the legislation.
In the result, the application of the AOCP was denied.
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