By: Trevor Wilhelm
Sporting a fresh haircut from a Leamington barbershop, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday he is boosting Ontario’s risk management funding by $50 million a year to help farmers get through the economic devastation of COVID-19.
Ford, who toured parts of Essex County and Chatham-Kent, said the province is accelerating a campaign promise to top up the Risk Management Program to $150 million annually.
“We all have a part to play in keeping our farms and our food supply chain strong,” said Ford. “Because a strong farming sector is critical for a strong province. It’s critical for all of us.”
The premier made the announcement with Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, at Craven Farms near Chatham.
Hardeman said applications for the Risk Management Program reopened Thursday. The deadline to apply is midnight July 30.
“One of the most important lessons of the COVID-19 emergency is the importance of our food supply chain and how much we rely on Ontario farmers to keep it strong,” he said.
Ford promised during his election campaign that he would expand the program in 2021. The funding will help farmers through “unforeseen challenges” such as fluctuating market prices, disease and extreme weather events like flooding or drought, he said.
“We’re accelerating the commitment by one year to help farmers get back on their feet as quickly as possible,” said Ford. “Going forward we will support farms through this program with a total investment of $150 million every single year.”
The announcement was met with immediate approval from Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG).
“This is another meaningful investment into the Ontario greenhouse vegetable sector, and it could not come at a better time,” said general manager Joseph Sbrocchi. “Our sector is going through a number of challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and it is critical for our members to know that they have a solid and supportive partnership in the provincial government.”
Ford also said Thursday that Ontario’s share of new federal funding to help kick-start the economy amidst the pandemic is $7 billion.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday the federal government will give $19 billion to the provinces and territories to help fund a “safe restart” of Canada’s economy.
Ford called it a “historic agreement” negotiated with the feds that will funnel “desperately needed” money to the provinces.
“This deal will see billions of dollars flow to the provinces to support municipalities, transit systems, health-care systems at a time when it is needed most,” he said. “These funds will help expand testing and contract tracing, stockpile PPE, provide critical supports for mental health and addiction.”
Ford began his tour of the region Thursday morning by stopping for a trim at Mastronardi Barbering in Leamington.
When he barred Leamington and Kingsville from moving to Stage 2 with the rest of the province last month, he vowed not to get his hair cut until everyone in the province could do it.
“The good people at Mastronardi barbershop in Leamington have finally hung up their sign that says ‘open for business,” said Ford. “This morning, Henry, who has had his barbershop for 56 years in Leamington, gave me a great haircut. My friends, businesses are opening their doors in Windsor-Essex. People are going back to work. All of Ontario is now on the path to recovery.”
He noted that 24 regions in the province will move to Stage 3 on Friday, with the rest “not far behind.”
He didn’t expand on how far behind those regions — including Essex County — will be.
Essex County was first delayed in advancing to Stage 2 then left behind in the move to Stage 3 because of a large COVID-19 outbreak among migrant farm workers.
After his haircut, he visited Sunbrite Canning in Ruthven followed by Craven Farms.
Ford toured Sunbrite with Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald, Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos and Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff.
MacDonald said she planned to push Ford on appointing a co-ordinator to oversee the various agencies responding to the farm crisis, something officials across Essex County have called for.
But she didn’t get the chance.
“There wasn’t that one-on-one opportunity at all,” said MacDonald. “So, I guess disappointing in that I had hoped to be able to tell him face to face. But again, our community welcomed him. He got to see us and the community. So I’m trying to find the bright side in it because I don’t think it was a wasted trip.”
Ford told reporters it’s “all hands on deck,” and Ontario Health “for the most part is overseeing all the testing.” But he didn’t say if he would appoint an official co-ordinator.
MacDonald said it was still a positive visit because the premier “knows us now.”
“There’s a face with the name,” she said. “So I think that’s a good thing. He knows our community. He’s been here. He came through at campaign time but now he’s come for a visit, had a haircut in town. I think that’s making inroads into a relationship.”