This week’s guest commentary comes from Peter Lambrick, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Every spring the provincial government tables its budget, a roadmap for how and where money will be allocated in the coming year. And each year the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) prepares a submission and meets with government and policymakers in advance of the budget to ensure Ontario’s agriculture and food industry is adequately represented in budget decisions.
The OFA’s submissions are all geared towards sustaining the health and prosperity of Ontario’s agriculture and food industry and our rural communities. Working with the provincial government is our first order of business.
The good news is the Ontario government already appears to have agriculture and rural Ontario on its radar. The recent release about the Ontario Jobs and Prosperity Fund announced by Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure will provide $2.5 billion over 10 years to enhance productivity, drive innovation and grow Ontario exports. The OFA is especially encouraged by the government’s commitment to a new Food and Beverage Growth Fund as part of the overall Jobs and Prosperity Fund. With a pledge to support food, beverage and bioproducts, the government’s focus with this fund aligns with OFA’s emphasis on developing Ontario’s bioeconomy and securing more food processing and value-added facilities.
The OFA’s top three pre-budget submission items we are discussing with politicians focus on the bioeconomy, energy and rural municipalities.
The OFA has been working to build a bioeconomy here in Ontario, with a goal to attract and build bioprocessing plants and develop additional energy generation through biodigestion. Assistance in drawing processing companies to Ontario, for purpose-grown crops to help fuel our rural economy will be in OFA’s pre-budget submission.
Rising energy costs are making Ontario farms less competitive and OFA members are seriously concerned about the increasing costs of energy required to operate their farm businesses. The OFA is asking the government for program details on investment in natural gas expansion in rural Ontario with $200 million in loans and $30 million in grants over two years. We are also advocating for the Ontario government to reintroduce a farm and industrial electricity rate, for the 2015 provincial budget.
The OFA recommends the government increase provincial transfers to municipalities to ensure municipalities don’t need to resort to excessive property taxes to raise the revenues needed for municipal services and rural infrastructure investments.
We want to ensure that the range of services available in rural communities, including roads and bridges and public services like health care and schools, are similar to those offered in urban areas.
OFA’s pre-budget submission gives us an audience with the Ontario government and is an integral part of building stronger relationships with policymakers to advocate for decisions that will impact the sustainability of Ontario farms and the rural community.