Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary
By Drew Spoelstra, OFA Executive Member
The 2018 Ontario provincial budget was met with criticism and speculation on how voters will react to spending that offers something for nearly every Ontarian. It also yields several years of provincial deficits required to deliver on these spending promises.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has been advocating for responsible government investments in agri-food and rural communities. While it appears some of those requests have been addressed in this year’s budget, there’s still plenty of room for real commitments to our industry and residents outside of the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA). Numerous government assistance and spending programs are included in the budget, and our work remains to ensure their extension to Ontario’s rural communities.
Here are the budget highlights for agriculture and rural Ontario.
OFA is pleased to see the $500 million investment over three years to help expand broadband in rural and northern communities, including $71 million for cellular coverage in Eastern Ontario. OFA, along with our partners in the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus and Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus have made it clear to the Ontario government that rural Ontario needs reliable broadband access to operate our farm businesses, support and grow our communities and compete in global markets.
A small nod was given to the needs of attracting new investments in rural Ontario. With the goal to create 19,000 jobs and attract $800 million in new investments. The Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund will provide an additional $100 million to the Southwestern Ontario and Eastern Ontario Development Funds over the next 10 years to support business needs, particularly in rural and small communities.
There was no specific spending for agricultural programs or funding included in the budget. The budget for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs appears to be slightly increased and the specifics of that will come later with the spending estimates.
OFA is pleased to see the 2018 budget reflect our call for investment in rural capacity and economic development as outlined in our Producing Prosperity in Ontario campaign. There’s still plenty of work to be done to help government understand the significant impact and potential growth of our agri-food businesses and rural communities, and to realize the results of that improved understanding in financial spending, sound policy development and increased attention.
The budget has a lot to offer Ontarians, but we’re not alone in our concern with the high and persistent deficit spending the 2018 budget delivers. All of Ontario will be watching closely as we approach the provincial election in June. OFA will continue to position our agri-food sector and rural communities as the answer to growth, economic development, affordable communities and a sustainable environment and local food system for all Ontarians.