by SUSAN MANN
Legislation to ensure the government buys Ontario produce when making food purchases and securing more shelf space at the LCBO for local wines are promises that can be found in the New Democratic Party’s rural platform.
“A New Democratic government would bring change that puts farmers and their families first,” Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath says in the rural section of their platform document. The rural portion is called ‘Change that works for rural Ontario.’
The NDP would also:
• review regulatory barriers that put Ontario farmers at a competitive disadvantage;
• encourage on farm processing by relaxing municipal taxation and zoning;
• establish a rural school stabilization strategy;
• forgive tuition fee debt for 200 graduating medical students who work in underserviced rural areas; and
• make rural employers eligible for a training tax credit to help them invest in Ontario agricultural workers. 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? The NDP chose to respond to all of the questions.
BF: How would you convince the federal government to support Ontario's risk management program and pay its 60 per cent share?
NDP: Farmers and their families need stability in tough times. The expanded risk management program is essential to enable the agricultural sector to deal with fluctuating market conditions. New Democrats will fund the province’s portion of the planned expansion of the risk management program to include cattle, sheep, pork, veal and horticulture. We will work with the official opposition in Ottawa to ensure that the federal government comes to the table with its share.
BF: How would you attract young farmers to the industry?
NDP: The number of farmers across Ontario is falling. If we are going to have a sustainable, local food production industry we need to do more to make farming a viable and attractive career option for young people. New Democrats will make it easier for young people to pursue careers in farming by: creating a new apprenticeship program for young people to develop skills they need for a successful farming career; working with farmer organizations to support succession planning of farms between generations; and providing rural employers with a training tax credit to help them train employees for a future in agriculture.
BF: What will you do to get Ontario companies back into processing Ontario-grown food?
NDP: It’s time to get behind Ontario’s farmers and agricultural businesses with dollars – not just words. It doesn’t make sense to send taxpayers’ money out of the province when we have fresh, affordable food on our doorstep. Our “Buy Ontario” commitment will make it law that Ontario’s money is spent here in Ontario, which will encourage food processors purchase local foods.
The Ontario Marketing Investment Fund needs to be expanded to invest in local supply chains, including regional food hubs to link farmers directly with processors, restaurants and consumers. We’ll help businesses, farmers and processors to market and advertise local products by extending the funding for the Ontario Marketing Investment Fund for a further three years.
There is also a booming market for farm products processed on-farm as local people look for locally sourced food. Farmers need to be untied from unnecessary rules that are getting in the way. You can’t have local food without small abattoirs, egg grading stations and pasteurization units. We will provide relief from municipal taxation and zoning restrictions to encourage on-farm processing.
BF: What priorities do you think OMAFRA's budget should have?
NDP: Farmers we have spoken with, along with the National Farmers Union, have criticized OMAFRA programs and strategies and questioned how much OMAFRA spending actually goes towards supporting the family farm. Currently there is no short, medium or long-term plan for agriculture in Ontario. There is no vision as to how we want agriculture to look in 25 years – let alone 5. If we are going to have the successful farms Ontarians say they want, this must change. The first step must be a comprehensive review of OMAFRA spending to see who is receiving this spending, whether programming goals are being met, and what sort or outcomes farmers and the rest of Ontario’s citizens are receiving for this investment.
We need to listen to the concerns of farmers and all those with a stake in the future of the industry, to ensure that the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Farming and Rural Affairs is focused on their priorities.
BF: What is your party's position on the Melancthon Quarry?
NDP: Over the past year we have joined with opponents of the mega-quarry in urging the McGuinty government to designate this project as an “undertaking” under the Environmental Assessment Act, so that a full environmental assessment would be conducted. After months of protests and pressures, the government has finally agreed to this.
We believe the proposed quarry poses a serious threat to the environment by removing farmland, increasing air emissions and threatening an important watershed. The lack of an automatic requirement for an environmental assessment of a project of this scale shows that there are serious flaws in the Aggregates Act. While the Liberals have shown themselves to be committed to reducing environmental protection by removing the requirement for permits and public consultation for many industrial activities under the Open for Business Act, we will ensure that companies are held fully accountable for their emissions and impacts on the environment.
We will review the Aggregates Act to ensure stronger protection of the environment from new quarries and pits, and protect the rights of citizen groups to protect their local environment by ending company and developer use of lawsuits to silence citizen groups.
BF: What is your party's position on farm workers having the right to strike?
NDP: Ontario’s NDP supports farm-workers’ right to form unions, the collective bargaining process and the right to strike. Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives support this right.
Better Farming election series:
Conservatives pledge supply management protection, small business bill of rights
Liberals propose regional economic development funds, local food legislation
Local food, young farmers a Green Party priority