This week’s guest commentary comes from Nathan Stevens, General Manager and Director of Policy Development for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario
The Premier’s recently issued mandates letters to all of the Cabinet Ministers has set the tone for the Provincial Government and Ontario as a whole. The overarching mandate is to promote growth in the economy and job creation, while maintaining fiscal prudence. For Ontario’s farmers, the specifics of several of these plans will shape the future.
For the business of agriculture, there is a focus on strengthening the food processing sector in Ontario. Strengthening our close to home business partners is good for Ontario farmers as it is vital that we have healthy business partners farther up the value chain. The government has also recognized the need for increased natural gas infrastructure in rural Ontario as part of the greater infrastructure plan.
The management practices of farmers may need to shift to meet desired outcomes on several fronts. There is a clear mandate to curb prophylactic use of neonic pesticides over the next year and a half in order to improve pollinator health in Ontario. Furthermore, there will be renewed emphasis on wetlands, strengthening biodiversity, protecting endangered species, and a re-vamped approach to aggregates that will all subtly impact the rural landscape in which farmers operate. Finally, the need to deal with the algae bloom issue in the Great Lakes will drive change for farmers.
There is a great deal of effort that will be placed in land use planning. The review of the Greenbelt Plans and the Growth Plan is of great importance to farmers in the Greater Toronto Area, will set the stage for planning in the most populous region of the country. Looking farther afield, the north has been identified as an opportunity for agriculture. Finally, the Farms Forever Program promises to provide additional support for farmers and farmland in near urban regions of the province.
Farmers will also need to prepare for increased efforts to deal with environment related issues as Ontario strives to reduce its footprint on the land. Dealing with climate change is a high priority and agriculture is expected to do its part. A strengthened Great Lakes Protection Act is on the way. Revamping the province’s approach to waste diversion will impact the food sector. Finally, a “polluter pays” approach will inevitably increase the cost of doing business in Ontario.
The Ontario government has received a strong mandate to implement their vision for Ontario over the next four years. It is an ambitious agenda that will impact the lives of every Ontarian and every business in Ontario. The CFFO will work with its members, other organizations and government in achieving the most effective way for farmers to move forward as responsible players in our great province.