Ontario benefits from a strong agri-food economy

By MPP Toby Barrett

Agriculture is a major component of our local and provincial economy as well as our social and cultural life. And we are all in need of a constant reminder of the importance of agriculture and food – a sector that rivals auto.

Agri-food accounts for $7 billion in wages and salaries in Ontario, and 13 per cent of provincial GDP. The sector generates 164,400 jobs.

But we have seen the farm population shrink to three per cent provincially – another reason we must continually strive for long-term, thoughtful and considerate approaches to the problems and opportunities we see on our farms.

Working with farmers can create an environment that will help us succeed domestically and around the globe. This requires cutting red tape, cutting taxes, creating insurance-based programs to manage risk, and an affordable and reliable energy supply.

My colleague, Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, Opposition Agriculture Critic, has surveyed the industry and proposed a number of additional directions ranging from greater oversight for OSPCA inspectors on farms to implementing a two per cent biodiesel mandate for Ontario.

Farmers surveyed expressed concern about the burden of red tape. Ontario agriculture is governed by over 30 pieces of provincial legislation. Farmers spend 154 hours a year filling out forms.

Innovation, entrepreneurship and technology require further provincial direction and support. In our riding of Haldimand-Norfolk – where agriculture is the largest industry – our livestock, cash-crop, fruit and vegetable producers have embraced new technologies over the years, reaching out to markets across Canada and the world. We must make sure scarce dollars go towards initiatives that keep us on the cutting edge and boost our productivity.

Further, as Ontarians increasingly understand the importance of local food, we should be considering opportunities to increase access by creating a new regional food terminal and strengthening market access for Ontario wines, beer and spirits. It’s time to lead by example in supporting local food by increasing the amount of Ontario grown food purchased by the broader public sector. We plan to introduce a comprehensive Ontario Food Act.

People across rural Ontario are rightly concerned about the current government’s decision to end the slots at racetracks program that has been in place since 1998. Given the industry employs 60,000 men and women across – mostly rural – Ontario, horse racing must be a key component of the province’s gaming strategy. We need to shelve the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s empire building plan to open up 29 new casinos. The government should cancel OLG’s plan to abandon racetrack slots and spend money on new casinos. We must continue to build partnerships with the horse racing industry.

These points provide the basis for our latest Opposition White Paper, Paths to Prosperity: Respect for Rural Ontario – a policy document based on extensive consultation with farmers, food processors and agribusiness across the province about the challenges they face and how we can strengthen the industry. For more details on our plans to strengthen our farms, farmers, and agriculture and reawaken our sleeping agricultural economy, go to: www.ontariopc.com/paths

One thing standing in the way of progress to create new jobs supporting agri-business is a government that treats farming as ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Working together we can strengthen our rural communities and our agri-food industry to deliver prosperity and a bright future.