Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary
By Steve Brackenridge, OFA Director
Each year, OFA advises the province how taxpayer dollars can be effectively used to grow farming and rural Ontario. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s (OFA) recent provincial budget submission outlines priorities for the agri-food industry and our rural economy. The provincial budget is expected to be finalized in spring 2017, so getting agriculture’s recommendations in front of budget and policy decision makers is key.
Farm businesses form the backbone of our robust food system and rural communities and are poised to drive Ontario’s economy. OFA is asking the provincial government to prioritize investment in Ontario’s farm business and rural communities and have outlined four areas we want included in the 2017 provincial budget.
1. Investing in rural infrastructure – Roads, bridges, drainage, and connectivity are vital to maintain and grow our food system. From the flow of inputs and information to farmers, to the delivery of products to processors and ultimately the consumer, effective and efficient transportation infrastructure is essential to Ontario’s entire value chain. Rural communities have a disproportionately large stock of infrastructure compared to their local tax base.
That’s why OFA strongly recommends the Ontario government work with municipalities across rural Ontario to develop and adopt a cost-effective infrastructure replacement program including roads, bridges and drainage. The province must also ensure that rural Ontario has the broadband capacity to thrive in our global economy. The provincial government needs to invest in our rural municipalities.
2. Expanding natural gas to rural Ontario – Extending affordable energy to rural Ontario will drive growth. OFA is asking the provincial government to commit to a 20-year program, investing $75 million annually to provide rural Ontario with access to natural gas through pipelines. Access to affordable energy will bring new money and jobs to rural Ontario. Our farms, businesses and neighbors will save over $1 billion per year in energy costs for heating and appliances with access to natural gas. It is simply the best and most effective investment the province can make in rural Ontario.
3. Balancing electricity distribution costs – The high cost of electrical energy will not be solved overnight. However, we know that rural Ontario pays a very high price for distribution on their electricity bills. To provide some short-term relief OFA is calling on the Ontario government to equalize the distribution costs for electricity across the province. Rural customers bought and paid for the Hydro One distribution assets. These assets are now being sold to pay for urban transit projects. It is only fair that rural Ontario sees some benefit from its investment.
4. Supporting farmers – The OFA fully supports the need of Ontario farmers for adequate and bankable risk management programming. So we again join with Ontario commodity organizations in calling for Ontario to maintain its commitment to the Risk Management Program (RMP) and the Self-Directed Risk Management Program (SDRM) used by the horticulture industry. In times of volatile global markets, the RMP and SDRM programs are more critical than ever.
OFA has provided sound fiscal advice to the province for many years. Our recommended investments will pay very strong dividends as the tax money will yield extraordinary economic returns on the investment. The investment in affordable natural gas for rural Ontario could provide more than a 300 percent return in the first six years in economic activity.
In our view, that is sound fiscal management.