The forgotten farm

March 28, 2012

QUEEN’S PARK – The corn fields of Canboro and wheat crops in Windham Centre are a long way from the bureaucrats in Toronto. That much was obvious in yesterday’s Ontario budget.

While it’s recognized that cutbacks are needed in government bureaucracy, the McGuinty government ignores the fact that agriculture is a primary industry, providing raw products for jobs in towns and cities. Ontario’s farm sector contributed $22 billion in gross economic stimulus in 2009. Yet, the word ‘agriculture’ wasn’t even in Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s speech.

“Time and time again, we have seen this McGuinty government ignore agriculture, natural resources and the environment – the ministries people in rural Ontario deal with outside of health and education,” Barrett said. “This budget is no different than the pattern we have seen in this past.”

Larry Davis, OFA director for Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk, believes agriculture has already had its fair share of cuts. He pointed out agriculture contributes more income than debt to the province.

Prior to the budget, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture asked for investments in risk management, infrastructure, environmental stewardship, ecological goods and services and regulatory reform. An OFA release acknowledged the need for fiscal restraint, but at the same time pointed out an investment in agriculture results in economic spin-offs.

“When this Ontario government runs its debt so high – projected to be $ 411.4 billion in five years by Drummond – it affects programs we all support, be it health, education or risk management,” Barrett said.

The Risk Management program which was announced last year has been capped at $100 million per year. Last year the government announced $150 million, then capped their contribution at $100 million, counting the farmers premiums (which were forgiven last year) as the other $50 million. When the farmers asked for the risk management program they wanted it to be an insurance program with both the farmers and government sharing the premiums which would, like a private sector insurance program, cover the risk. By capping the program the government is risking that farmers, particularly large producers, may be discouraged from joining the program. As well, insurance programs are allowed under trade rules however the further the government gets from a straight insurance program – both the caps and forgiving the premiums – the greater the chance that it will be countervailable.

There is also a reference in the budget document to redesign of risk management programs and savings over four years of $39.7 million. This is not the risk management program announced last year, it is the envelope of transfers that includes a variety of support programs such as AgriStability, AgriInvest and risk management.

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For more information
contact MPP Toby Barrett
at 1-800-903-8629 or 416-325-8404