Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary By OFA Director Debra Pretty-Straathof
Every year for the past 10, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and local members, along with Quebec colleagues have met with federal politicians on Parliament Hill. Thanks to the hard work of local federations in eastern Ontario and logistical support from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), this annual event is an opportunity to bring the issues and concerns of Ontario farmers and our agri-food industry to our federal leaders. And this year representatives from the Union des Cultivateurs Franco-Ontariens (UCFO) joined the group.
More than 40 local volunteers and agricultural advocates brought their farm voice to Parliament Hill during this year’s event on Tuesday, April 12. We started the day with breakfast, hosted an all-day drop in meeting and had all-day office meetings with MPs. By the end of the day OFA and farm representatives spoke with 60 MPs and policy makers. This gives Ontario and Quebec farmers a great format to address the issues facing agriculture that are impacted by federal decisions. We concentrated our discussion on four issues with federal leaders – trade negotiations, investments in agriculture, risk management and the need for a Canadian food policy.
We stressed the need for agriculture to be represented and considered in all international trade negotiations. Most Canadian farmers rely on both domestic and overseas markets to sell their products, and that means market access opportunities must be a key component in agriculture policy. OFA members and volunteers discussed non-tariff barriers, market access and international agreements in our meetings.
When it comes to infrastructure needs, agriculture requires regular and significant financial investments, just like any other industry in Canada. But unlike other industries, agriculture’s infrastructure needs are different. Rural infrastructure needs investments in solid roads, bridges, broadband and access to cost-effective energy to keep our rural communities competitive and sustainable. We also need a renewed government focus on agricultural research to support growth opportunities for our sector. And we reminded politicians about the importance of investing in Canada’s food manufacturing industry – a key partner in our agri-food industry.
Business risk management and support programs also made the agenda on Parliament Hill. Canadian farmers need a stable economic foundation that includes properly designed business risk management programs. OFA members and volunteers took the opportunity to talk about program areas that need improvement, including recommendations to meet business risk management needs.
A Canadian food policy is required to address food security and safety, and to promote healthy eating and better use of homegrown products in Canada. OFA representatives reminded politicians that the CFA’s National Food Strategy addresses all these food priorities. The National Food Strategy outlines specific objectives and outcomes for Canada’s food system that directly address the goals identified in the federal agriculture ministry’s mandate. Canada’s agri-food sector is ready to work with Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and his colleagues to establish a Canadian Food Policy.
Advocating for agriculture has never been more important to the future of our industry. OFA is proud to be involved with members in this annual trip to Parliament Hill. We must continue the dialogue with federal politicians to represent the opportunities, challenges and importance of our agri-food industry to all Canadians.