by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Ontario’s local food bill is one of several pieces of legislation relating to farming that will be lost following Premier Dalton McGuinty’s sudden announcement Monday that he is stepping down and adjourning the provincial legislature until a new leader is found.
“We are back to square one,” says Don Mills, president of Local Food Plus, which promotes local, sustainable food production by connecting growers with buyers and certifying production systems.
Proroguing the provincial legislature —adjourning the current sitting— kills any bill that has not reached third reading and suspends committee work.
Mills notes that the local food bill “was really significantly 'aspirational' in nature. So it was going to take some work to make it a really useful piece of work.”
But because the bill’s debate was in early days, he doubts much ground is lost. “If we can get Queen’s Park back in business there should be opportunity to move forward on this again,” he says. “The downside is who knows what other legislative agendas take over . . . We hear we may be into an election cycle again.” Nevertheless, he’s optimistic that some form of local food legislation will return, noting that last year the NDP tabled their own local food bill and the Conservatives have also expressed interest.
photo: Cathy Bartolic
The Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association is also of the view that not all is lost. “We’re disappointed that this piece of legislation has now been lost but we’re sure it will come back in some form as all parties seem supportive,” says executive director Cathy Bartolic.
Along with the local food bill, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture has been monitoring the development of proposed aggregate and Great Lakes legislation, says general manager Neil Currie. He has mixed feelings about their demise.
“Both had potentially serious ramifications for farming practices,” he explains. Current legislation allows aggregate extraction on agricultural land. The farm organization’s submissions to the hearings on the legislation called for farmland having “an equal or even superior footing to aggregates,” he says.
The Great Lakes proposed legislation, on the other hand “was a bit of a confusing piece of legislation,” he says. The OFA has been concerned that there may be overlaps and conflicts with federal legislation addressing the lakes’ basin and the possibility that the proposed law’s terms would take precedence over other existing legislation, such as the Nutrient Management Act.
“So now we have an opportunity, I suppose to take a breath, step back and start working on making sure they get it right if they’re going to introduce it again,” he says.
Photo: Ted McMeekin
Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin says while the local food bill may no longer be on the table, it could be reintroduced in a future sitting of the legislature.
He says the government will continue to encourage Ontario families to shift $10 of their weekly spending towards local produce. In agriculture ministry news releases introducing the bill it was noted that if all Ontario households made such a shift it would generate $2.4 billion in economic activity and generate more than 10,000 jobs.
Risk management unchanged
Changes to the Ontario risk management program that serves several non-supply-managed commodity sectors does not require any legislative authority and continues to move forward, the agriculture and food minister says. “We are very, very very close to having the Ontario risk management program worked out with the key commodity stakeholders,” McMeekin says. No deadline has been set for finalizing the program.
Neither is the development of the Growing Forward provincial and federal agricultural policy framework affected by the adjournment of the legislature, he says.
Controversial efforts to reform the province’s horse racing industry are unaffected. “The dialogue has been good,” McMeekin says, noting that a final plan will be released very soon.
“Agriculture continues to be the number one economic driver in our province and our ministry and our government continue to be committed to ensuring it stay that way,” he says. “That being said, there are lumps and bumps along the way in political life and the Premier in his infinite wisdom has decided to call it a day as premier and move to some rededication, refocusing on renewal of the party and the government. I respect his decision.”
photo: Ernie Hardeman
A less charitable Ernie Hardeman, the Progressive Conservatives’ agriculture critic, calls McGuinty’s decision to prorogue the legislature “inappropriate.”
“One person shouldn’t be the decision as to whether we’re going to have a legislature operation or not,” he says. Hardeman notes, with some irony, that while he and other party members were receiving their first briefing from the ministry about the proposed local food legislation, McGuinty, who had announced the legislation with McMeekin at the International Plowing Match in the Region of Waterloo in September, “was getting ready to make his announcement that he was going to prorogue parliament.”
The proposed aggregate act, he adds, was already well along in the approval process and many had spent a lot of effort on its development. “All the work that’s been done on anything that doesn’t have third reading finished, all that work is for naught,” he says.
While many current activities are not affected, he points out that the adjournment prevents the undertaking of any new initiative that requires debate or direction until the provincial legislature returns. BF