Melanie ConsCanadian Farm News

Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary

By Marie Versteeg, CFFO Manager of Executive Board & Committees

Provincial elections take place on June 7, and campaigns are (unofficially) in full swing. This May, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario is bringing attention to three key issues for farming communities: agri-food sector success, farmland preservation, and water stewardship.

This week’s focus has been on agri-food sector success. In 2017, the Barton Report recognized Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector as a potential driver of economic success and job creation.

CFFO district leaders across the province have reached out to candidates and local media to remind them of the vital role that the agri-food sector plays in Ontario’s economic achievement.

But if our province is going to seize the opportunity that this sector offers, we need elected officials who back policy focusing on economic success for Ontario’s farms, food processors and rural communities.

The CFFO sees four issues that are of particular concern:

First, this province needs a balanced budget. As we know, agriculture is a capital-intensive industry, very reliant on credit. We need the province’s leaders to commit to balanced provincial budgets and reduced debt, which will help to keep our interest rates low.

Second, we need labour policy that balances the needs of both employees and businesses. Minimum wage affects businesses’ competitiveness, consumer spending power, inflation, and overall job opportunities, especially for new and young workers. The agri-food sector is a significant employer, providing jobs in food services, food processing and primary production. Sudden wage hikes in Ontario have jeopardized the livelihood of many small and medium-sized business owners and their employees.

Third, the province needs long-term solutions to rising energy costs. Carbon pricing and higher electricity costs have been onerous for farm businesses. At the same time, agriculture has been a key contributor to green energy generation. Cap and Trade carbon pricing can and should include offsets that reward farmers for reducing greenhouse gases. Agriculture can benefit from energy policy that recognizes good stewardship.

Finally, rural Ontario needs improved infrastructure, including transportation routes, sewage and drainage systems, natural gas service (where feasible), and—above all—high-speed internet access. Rural internet is now recognized as an essential service. Modern farming relies on internet-based technology, from GPS-enabled tractors to online marketing. Expanding and maintaining rural high-speed internet will have a positive impact on agriculture’s economic success.

Ontario needs balanced budgets, sensible labour policy, farmer-friendly energy policy, and improved rural infrastructure. The CFFO is asking local candidates for their commitment to a more productive and profitable agricultural sector through policy that works.

Agriculture and agri-food can be a cornerstone of the Ontario economy, but political will is necessary to help it thrive.