Unleash the potential of our farm and food economy

By MPP Toby Barrett

There is need for those involved in farming and food production to work together – and work with policy makers – to foster productivity and enhance competitiveness.

As Opposition Critic for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs I submit for consideration some thoughts on boosting agri-food jobs and economic activity building on four pillars by:

  • Reducing the regulatory burden and cutting red tape
  • Investing in infrastructure
  • Creating competitive energy prices
  • Addressing Ontario’s growing skills gap

First, address the growing regulatory burden and cut red tape.

Ontario’s farms, food processors and agri-businesses continue to rail against a myriad of rules, regulations, bureaucratic red-tape and paperwork – all seemingly designed to increase the workload and hinder operations without adding value.

Regulatory creep has created an oppressive and chaotic environment that discourages investment, curbs innovation and siphons billions of dollars from the economy.

All too often, there is a requirement to secure multiple approvals and licenses and permits from multiple ministries and departments, often working in isolation from each other, often offering conflicting direction.

Second, invest in and modernize infrastructure.

An important component of job creation is having the necessary infrastructure. Broadband internet access allows business to build their base at home while accessing and selling to the world. Roads, bridges, culverts, rail and other air and water transport is crucial to the cost-effective movement of agri-food good and services. Electricity, natural gas, fuel and other forms of energy must be available at reasonable delivery cost to business – both urban and rural.

Our schools and hospitals are crucial components of infrastructure. Declining enrollment across the province threatens schools in most boards, particularly in rural areas. Closing a rural school can have a dramatic impact where the school is often the heart of the community.

Third, create competitive energy prices.

We can go a long way to bringing back affordable energy by restoring rational decision-making and basic economics to Ontario’s electricity market.

We propose to:

  • Stop signing contracts for electricity we don’t need and can’t afford.
  • Stop any further sell-off of Hydro One.
  • Return municipal decision-making with respect to industrial wind turbines – something the Green Energy Act removed. Unaffordable subsidies for industrial wind farms have taken away rural voice and divided rural Ontario.
  • Stop selling surplus power at a loss, where possible, and restore a balance between electricity supply and demand.

Fourth, address Ontario’s growing skills gap.

Food processors and other agri-businesses continue to struggle with staffing – the difficulties of finding, recruiting and keeping people with the required technical skills.

As industry grows, more skilled labour will be required creating more opportunities for graduates. We need to invest in practical, job-oriented education and training to encourage more young people to consider agri-business careers.

In outlining these four pillars of plan of a plan for prosperity, we recognize there is much work to be done by consulting with all who have ideas for the continued growth and success of our agri-food sector.

However, all too often, Ontario’s agri-business economy is taken for granted and, at minimum, is an afterthought in any planning or programming to bring back Ontario’s economy. We will put an end to that!

We have developed a comprehensive process over the coming year to capture ideas and proposals to boost Ontario’s agri-business economy. Please forward your thoughts on policy to www.ForOntario.ca.