by SUSAN MANN
The Ontario Liberal Party’s rural platform will mean real measurable progress for the province’s rural families, says Ontario Agriculture Minister Carol Mitchell.
Called Forward Together, it’s a plan to “help rural families meet the challenges we face as we emerge from the global recession,” she says in a press release announcing the plan.
The key elements are:
• improve municipal infrastructure and public services such as drainage;
• continue to bring more healthy, locally grown food to families through their commitment to promoting local foods with initiatives such as Foodland Ontario, the Ontario Farmers’ Markets Strategy and ongoing collaboration with retailers and the food service sector;
• increase support through the Rural Economic Development program for agri-food businesses;
• make the Eastern Ontario Development Fund permanent and create a new Southwestern Ontario Economic Development Fund to help communities attract jobs;
• create a new Specialist High Skills major in food processing in all Ontario schools which would help build skills in food and agriculture;
• support supply management in international trade talks and fight for its place in the Canadian farming community;
• keep their commitment to clean energy that’s creating 50,000 jobs and has already provided opportunities for 20,000 farmers who have applied for MicroFIT contracts with almost 11,000 already turning on cleaner sources of power such as wind and solar. BF
We asked the main provincial political parties to respond to three mandatory questions and respond to one other question of their choice among a list or visit our website to respond to one of our readers’ questions. The elective questions were: What priorities do you think the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs' budget should have? What is your position on farm workers having the right to strike? What is your position on the proposed Melancthon Quarry?
BF: How would you convince the federal government to support Ontario’s risk management program and pay its 60 per cent share?
Liberals: Ontario Liberals have delivered on their promise to Ontario farmers by creating a permanent Risk Management program for all of the non-supply managed commodities: cattle, hogs, grains and oilseeds, sheep, veal, vegetables and fruits. This program gives our farmers the predictability, bankability and stability they need to focus on what they do best – providing us with the good things that grow in Ontario.
We will continue to support the Risk Management program and work with Ontario farmers to develop programs that meet their needs.
Unlike the Conservative and NDP leaders, Premier McGuinty has stood shoulder to shoulder with farmers calling on the federal government to come to the table and support their share of this critical program. We have put this issue front and centre in our dealings with federal government, including standing up for Ontario’s needs at the FPT table, and we will continue to put this issue front and centre in our dealings with Prime Minister Harper.
Moving forward, we will continue to consult with Ontario farmers on proposals brought forward at the FPT table and ensure that the needs of Ontario are brought forward to the federal government. We have, and will continue to be open to proposals from the federal government on how we can work together to strengthen agriculture in Ontario, however Ontario Liberals believe the federal government needs to come to the table in support of Canada’s richest and most diverse agricultural province.
BF: How would you attract young farmers to the industry?
Liberals: Farmers told us that the permanent Risk Management Program (RMP) was one of the most important things we can do to help new and young people enter the business of farming. In building this program, we specifically sought to address the unique challenges faced by new and beginning farmers, which is why new and beginning livestock farmers may enter the RMP at any time throughout the program year, provided they meet all other eligibility requirements.
Earlier this year, we announced changes to the Feeder Cattle Loan Guarantee Program, which supports short-term loans for buying cattle and allows farmers to negotiate lower interest rates. This is especially helpful to new farmers in that it helps them build their base. In fact, right now a full one-quarter of the users of this program are new farmers. That is why we have extended the coverage available through this program from $80 million to $130 million. This will help many new farmers enter the sector.
Another positive change we have made to help new farmers is to exempt the land transfer tax for farms that change ownership between members of the same family – helping to preserve and strengthen our farms and help keep them in the family.
We will continue to build on this success by working with farmers to address barriers to programs that support the agriculture industry and make them more accessible and receptive to new farmers.
BF: What will you do to get Ontario companies back into processing Ontario-grown food?
Liberals: A strong food processing sector is not only good for rural Ontario because it creates jobs – it also represents a new and growing opportunity for farmers. Now, more than ever, processors are looking to buy the things they need for their business locally. That means more local food is being purchased from farmers, and Ontarians can buy locally processed foods at their supermarket.
Ontario is home to one of North American’s largest food and beverage processing sectors, with more than half of it located throughout our rural communities. Ontario Liberals recognize the diverse and growing market opportunity the food and beverage processing industry presents. This is why over the past four years we have supported food processing businesses, which have created and kept more than 15,000 jobs and generated nearly $500 million in economic activity across the province.
Ontario Liberals are committed to increasing support for food processors, especially ones who use Ontario-grown inputs. As just one example, we announced that Dr. Oetker has chosen to build its first North American frozen pizza plant in London Ontario. With Ontario’s support, Dr. Oetker will source more than 24 million pounds of high-quality ingredients from Ontario farmers per year.
Another way we will encourage local food processing is through our strategy to get more local foods into our municipalities, universities, colleges, schools, hospitals, long-term care facilities and day care centres. Our platform outlines that we will introduce a new Local Food Act to further encourage the purchase of Ontario food in public institutions, and will support processors who want to supply our public institutions with local foods.
BF: What priorities do you think OMAFRA’s budget should have?
Liberals: Ontario Liberals believe that the OMAFRA budget should focus on three key areas: support for farmers, support for local foods, and support to foster vibrant growth in rural communities across the province.
Ontario Liberals know that to build a strong prosperous future for agriculture in Ontario, we need farmers to be at the table, working with us to develop programs that meet the needs of the concession roads. Though the creation of the permanent Risk Management Program, the renewed Wildlife Damage Compensation Program, initiatives to cut red tape, and other programs we have worked with farmers and farm organizations to ensure programs are responsive and timely.
Ontario Liberals know that there is more to do and we will continue to work with farmers to improve existing programs as well as develop new programs which support stewardship initiatives, new market opportunities in local food production and processing, and value-added agricultural activities in biomass.
In local foods, we have supported and increased the amount of local food available, whether it is at your grocery store, farmers market, school, or hospital. We have invested $80 million in support, helping more than 200 local food networks, farmers and processors market their products and services, increasing the number of farmers’ markets across Ontario, and showcasing Ontario foods in grocery stores across the province with Foodland Ontario.
Ontario Liberals have taken our strategy one step further, by investing $6 million through our Broader Public Sector Investment Fund to increase the amount of local foods in our municipalities, universities, colleges, schools, hospitals, long-term care facilities and day care centres. Our platform outlines that we will introduce a new Local Food Act to further encourage the purchase of Ontario food in public institutions.
Finally, Ontario Liberals know that keeping our rural communities strong and vibrant is key to keeping our economy strong and moving Ontario forward.
Ontario Liberals have provided more infrastructure investments for rural communities than any other government in the province’s history – including the previous two governments combined. We have put more than $1.4 billion to work repairing rural Ontario’s crumbling infrastructure with investments in our roads, bridges, water, wastewater, and community centres.
We’re going to continue to work with our rural communities – investing in infrastructure, creating jobs and reducing the burden on municipalities by continuing to upload services. We will continue to make improvements to rural infrastructure and public services, especially in areas such as drainage infrastructure, which will benefit farmers and rural municipalities. We will also work with municipalities to create a new, permanent fund for municipal roads and bridges.
Better Farming election series:
Conservatives pledge supply management protection, small business bill of rights
NDP pledge to buy Ontario-grown
Local food, young farmers a Green Party priority