This week’s guest commentary comes from Mark Wales, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
The 2014 provincial budget was unveiled amidst much speculation about its potential to ever see the light of day. We learned shortly afterwards that the budget will go down to defeat in a non-confidence motion because neither of the other two parties intend to support the Liberal budget.
This makes the budget an election platform for the Liberal party. This means that the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and Ontario farmers have our work cut out for us in the upcoming spring election campaign. The budget essentially shut out agriculture and rural Ontario from direct measures needed to improve competitiveness and help grow Ontario’s economy.
OFA is disappointed the Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, failed to recognize the tremendous growth potential Ontario’s key industry offers. Already the largest economic contributor in the province, agri-food carries the most opportunity to grow of any other sector.
In our provincial budget submission to the minister, OFA clearly outlined what agri-food and rural communities need to increase jobs and sustain the growth of our industry. We recommended programs and policies that would help our industry meet the Premier’s challenge to double the agri-food sector’s growth and create 120,000 new jobs by 2020. We told the government Ontario’s farm businesses need access to natural gas throughout rural Ontario, food literacy programs in our schools, an improved farm property tax system with adequate transfers to municipalities to pay for services provided to residents and increased funding for agricultural research and the Risk Management Program.
The growth targets will be no small feat to achieve, but will be made much less likely without the programs and policies we need to be competitive and to enable jobs and growth.
OFA was pleased to see the province invest $40 million annually over 10 years to develop agri-food processing. We believe this dedicated food-processing fund will only support farmers if processors commit to using only Ontario products. And this will only happen if Ontario farmers remain competitive. OFA looks forward to hearing further details on this proposal during the election campaign.
So now we turn our efforts to influencing all party platforms throughout the election campaign. We will continue our calls for natural gas infrastructure and hope that the infrastructure promises made in the budget find their way to all party platforms. Rural infrastructure is a critical input to ensure the efficient movement of farm equipment and products.
OFA will press throughout the election to ensure that agri-skills training and food literacy programs are elements of the next provincial budget. We will continue our efforts to secure a viable farm property tax system and adequate funding for municipalities to provide people services.
OFA also believes reducing electricity costs has to be an election priority. Farmers and rural businesses cannot be competitive and contribute to growth in a province where energy prices are among the highest in North America.
OFA and its farm business members are ready for an election and will actively engage all candidates in the opportunities that farming and agri-food offer. With the right platforms, farming and food in Ontario can and will be the catalyst if we really believe in Growing Ontario. Our goal is to ensure all candidates believe in Growing Ontario.