by SUSAN MANN
Ontario's Liberal government is taking another stab at introducing a Local Food Act that aims to make more local food available in the province’s markets, grocery stores, institutions and restaurants.
“Promoting local food is part of the new Ontario government’s plan to strengthen the agri-food industry, build stronger communities and create jobs that will grow the economy,” the government says in a March 25 press release. The proposed law was introduced at Queen’s Park Monday. Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is also minister of agriculture and food, says the bill “is good for the economy.”
An earlier bill with the same name, introduced at Queen’s Park last year, died after former premier Dalton McGuinty suspended the legislature in October and resigned. There’s mixed reaction to the current proposal.
Members of Sustain Ontario, an alliance of food producer and sellers, applaud the government’s reintroduction of the proposed bill. “In particular, Sustain Ontario welcomes the opportunity to provide input on strategies for supporting regional food system development and ensuring that local food incorporates a strong ecological dimension,” the group says in a March 25 press release.
Progressive Conservative agriculture critic Ernie Hardeman says the proposal is a very small step in the right direction. He calls it ‘fluff.’ “It sounds good – the Local Food Act but it really doesn’t do anything.”
This proposed bill is similar to the last one because it spells out a lot of things the government could do but not what it will do, he notes, adding the government hasn’t spelled out in the proposed bill what it will accomplish.
The government says in its press release the proposed bill aims to:
· Increase local food awareness access and sales by setting local food goals and targets through consultations with stakeholders.
· Enable government to work with public sector organizations to achieve the goals and share information on progress and results.
· Proclaim a local food week in Ontario starting the Monday before Thanksgiving.
· Require the government to write a report on its activities to support local food.
The government’s press release says the proposed legislation is part of a broader strategy to encourage growth and development of markets for Ontario grown and processed foods and “provides funding for innovative and collaborative local food projects.”
Agriculture ministry spokesperson Susan Murray says by email the reporting requirement is one of the differences between this bill and the one introduced last year. Other new non-legislative elements are: a consultation process to get stakeholders ideas on creating a provincial designation system to promote local food; an Ontario government policy requiring provincial ministries to consider local food for procurements under $25,000 and delivering local food funding for innovative and collaborative local food projects.
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales says the requirement for government to provide regular reports is good. “That means it’s always on the radar screen.”
But Hardeman had a different take on the reporting requirement. He says the report is supposed to cover how the government is meeting the targets but none are set and in fact are voluntary. “The reporting doesn’t mean much if you haven’t got targets.”
Hardeman is also concerned about the government’s proclamation of the week before Thanksgiving as local food week when that week has already been set aside as ‘Agriculture Week.’ For the past 15 years, that week has been earmarked by farm organizations to celebrate the production of food and farming.
“I would think they would have picked a different one than local agriculture week,” he says. BF