Jeremy Poteck has revealed himself as the person behind the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request for Farm Business Registrations in Ontario.
The founder and president of Poteck Power said his intent was to generate a cohesive list of farm businesses across Ontario that might benefit from his company’s product.
Why it matters: The spring Freedom of Information request caused stress for farmers and took up any hours of staff time at farm organizations.
Poteck Power combs through a farm’s power bills to see if there are any mistakes and potential refunds.
If no mistakes are found there is no cost to the client. If a mistake is found and Hydro One issues a refund the company would take a percentage of the refund.
Poteck said he reached out to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) in 2016.
“We negotiated with them for a couple of months,” said Poteck. “As far as I knew everything was above board and they were excited and we were actually going to work together.”
Poteck said negotiations dragged for six months before he decided to drop it and expand the company reach to service large institutions such as hospitals, universities, developers and a few large agricultural operations in the cannabis sector.
Keith Currie, OFA past-president, confirmed the OFA had a conversation with Poteck on a potential member benefit opportunity.
“Like all member benefits, OFA has a vetting process,” Currie said. “And at the time it was felt this particular company was not something we (OFA) wished to pursue as a member benefit for our membership.”
When COVID-19 shut down the province Poteck took the opportunity to take a second look at the agriculture sector and launched his FOI for the Farm Business Registration numbers believing it would cast a wider net for potential clients.
“Within the rules of the FOI Act, we were within our rights,” says Poteck. “We just didn’t realize how many individual farmers it would affect.”
Poteck said he’s confused that the FOI request caused such a stir when most farm addresses are accessible via the white or yellow pages and by driving around – all sources he pulls from regularly when drumming up business.
“When we got a little bit of push back we immediately offered to change our request to only be for corporations and remove the personal information aspect which seemed to be what was troubling,” he said. “We were trying to be reasonable but I guess the damage was already done at that point.”
The FOI request came at the same time farmers were dealing with increasing trespassing and theft from animal rights activists.
FOI requests legally provide anonymity so the timing of Poteck’s filing caused a great deal of concern among producers around how the information would be used, said Currie.
Poteck said it didn’t seem reasonable or realistic to him that a large contingent of people would indiscriminately go and protest farms and his intent was not nefarious in any way.
“I’ve never heard of anyone who wants to go and protest a farm,” he said. “I’m from Toronto. I’m not a farmer but I’ve got respect for farmers and I think most people here do.”
Poteck said he made it known he was willing to adjust his request once it became clear how the original request has upset producers within the agriculture sector.
“It’s important to note that we really were immediately willing to change our request,” he said. “That was never made official by the folks that we were negotiating with because they said, ‘No we’re not going to let you have anything’.”
Poteck said if everyone had been reasonable on both sides, they would have immediately revised the request and assuaged everyone’s fears on who they were and their intentions.
The OFA and several members filed an appeal on the adjusted request and a mediator was assigned to work between the Poteck, whose identity was still anonymous, and OFA legal counsel to try and resolve the issues.
Eventually, Poteck revealed himself as the requester to the OFA legal team, however, that did not deter the OFA’s intention to protect their membership’s information from being released without a challenge.
In an effort to avoid further costs, Poteck withdrew his request because the return on investment didn’t outweigh the cost of proceeding.
“We were reasonable, we were open, we revised our request immediately to try and assuage those fears,” he said. “I apologize for anyone that felt wronged by it, but like I said, we had good intentions the entire time.”
Currie said he understands the intent was to garner opportunities to attract new clients, but there are better ways to go about it.
“If a company wishes to obtain an agriculture audience, advertising in a number of various print and online media would easily get exposure to farmers in Ontario who could then seek out this business should they so choose, he said.
“Scaring farmers with an anonymous FOI request to obtain their information is not a way to achieve business or trust in the farm community, in my opinion.”