by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Representatives from Ontario’s agriculture industry met Friday with staff from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for the first of what will be regular forums intended to cut through regulatory red tape.
The forum is one of several new provincial measures to reduce regulatory pressures on the industry. OMAFRA also plans to conduct internal reviews of regulations with the first round to be completed by the end of this year. As well, the ministry recently expanded the scope of its call centre to manage enquiries from the agriculture and food sector about activities initiated by other ministries, such as inspection and enforcement.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture was approached a year ago to lead consultations with the province’s agriculture and food industry says president Bette Jean Crews, one of the Friday forum’s two co-chairs (John Burke, OMAFRA deputy minister, was the other.) The federation was asked to identify five regulatory priorities for the government to address.
Crews says the federation consulted with members, held central meetings in Toronto and Guelph and met with processors, input suppliers and retailers.
“The first thing that we heard from everybody was; ‘consult with industry early and often’,” says Crews.
The interpretation of regulations by some inspectors and enforcement officers was an issue identified as needing attention as well as the points where the roles of the two authorities overlapped. “We see that a lot in the small meat packing and processing,” Crews says.
The five priorities eventually identified included: establishing a mandatory, early consultative process for new regulations; reducing overlaps, consistent and accurate interpretation of regulations across ministries; streamlining the licensing, permitting and approvals process; and introducing regulatory compliance initiatives.
Crews notes the province is addressing many of the priorities. For example, permits to take water are being streamlined to “make it really easy for farmers to do it so the permit can be turned around, worst case scenario, in six weeks. But they should be able to turn them around in a couple of weeks so when you need to take water for irrigation, you’ve got it.”
She acknowledges that it may be more difficult to streamline drainage permits because of the different levels of government and the number of provincial ministries. But there is a commitment to work towards a one-permit system where possible.
Crews notes that there has been a lot of regulatory reform over the years and because there’s always a need to reform and modernize these, the need to continue the work won’t ever go away. However, she says the approach the province is now taking is a little different from what went on before.
“I have great hopes for this.”
The next forum is scheduled for December. BF