Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary By Don McCabe, OFA President
Finance Charles Sousa delivered an economic blueprint for Ontario on February 25, in his 2016 budget, titled Jobs for Today and Tomorrow. The budget promises to grow our economy, create jobs and provide Ontarians better access to services while balancing the budget by 2017-18.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) was encouraged by the budget’s focus on growing the economy and creating jobs. Growing the economy is what Ontario’s agri-food sector does every day, fueling the economy with jobs, food, processing and spin-off benefits to rural and local communities.
The specifics of how the budgeted programs will be implemented will require a lot of work in the coming weeks and months, but OFA is pleased that some of our pre-budget recommendations are being addressed. Our budget recommendations focused on ensuring our sector can continue with the tremendous growth opportunities that contribute to a thriving economy.
The provincial budget promises to make the biggest investment in public infrastructure in Ontario’s history — $160 billion over 12 years — supporting an average of more than 110,000 jobs each year.
This investment must extend to rural communities and farm businesses. OFA has been pushing for investments in rural infrastructure, specifically government funding to expand natural gas infrastructure to lower business costs on farms and throughout rural Ontario and investments in our rural communities. We will continue to work for on-farm investment on climate change adaptation initiatives as part of important rural infrastructure spending.
The province announced increases in infrastructure funding for small municipalities and the rural infrastructure Connecting Links program. OFA worked closely with rural municipalities for reinstatement and improvement of Connecting Links.
When it comes to growing business on the farm, the budget committed to work with Ontario’s farm community to improve taxes on value-added farm activities. Despite the budget’s commitment to ‘reducing electricity costs for business’, no mention of a farm/industrial electricity rate was included. With one of the highest electricity rates, Ontario farmers remain at a competitive disadvantage, making it difficult to grow our own farm businesses.
OFA has been advocating for the provincial government to take action on climate change. We have promoted a Cap and Trade system that would acknowledge the carbon offsets the agricultural industry offers and recognize the efforts farmers are already making to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. OFA was pleased to see a commitment to support on-farm emissions reductions, along with a commitment that agriculture will offer offsets to covered sectors. Investments in a Cap and Trade system are outlined in the budget, including increases in gasoline and a rise in the cost of natural gas. Everyone will feel the impact of these fuel cost increases as part of the Cap and Trade system, but OFA understands the revenues will be invested in projects to address climate change and enable agriculture offsets.
OFA is watching the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affair’s budget which is projected to decrease by $25 million. We await further details of this reduction and will be addressing any cuts that affect programs for our members.
The government was clear that its number one priority is to grow the economy and create jobs. The agri-food sector is a vital part of that growth. And we look forward to continued collaboration between government and industry to meet the Premier’s agri-food growth challenge that will see 120,000 new jobs added to our sector by 2020.