On Oct. 25, Ontarians cast ballots in the municipal elections to elect new and returning leaders in cities and towns across the province.
Those municipal leaders will be shaping our communities and business environment for the next four years.
With councillors and mayors soon in place, OFA members and county federations have a valuable opportunity to meet with newly elected officials to reinforce the impact of agriculture on municipalities. Conversely, we have the opportunity to emphasize the importance of municipal policies to support the positive economic impact of farming.
The OFA outlined its key concerns in its municipal election kit to identify agriculture issues and recommend solutions that will improve the business of farming across the province. Elected leaders need to understand the issues and act in the best interest of their farm constituents – the very community that drives the local economy, provides food and fuel, and ensures a better environment for all. We urge new and returning leaders to consider our calls-to-action and address the top issues our industry faces today that impact farmers, farm families, businesses, and the agriculture sector as a whole.
Ontario agriculture has a significant impact to the economic viability of municipalities. Agriculture provides rewarding job opportunities, drives food processing and exporting, provides tax revenues and brings food to communities across the country. Clearly, the agriculture industry is valuable and worthy of careful attention across municipalities.
The OFA has met with the Rural Ontario Municipalities Association (ROMA) to pursue issues of mutual concern. We agreed that drainage plays a major role in the success of agriculture in Ontario and needs particular attention. Drainage projects move slowly, if at all.
OFA receives numerous complaints with regard to delays in approvals to construct, reconstruct, and maintain municipal drains. The delays are generally not at the municipal level but with provincial and federal authorities. We must join our municipal councils in a call for a more efficient approval process that is more efficient with less effort on the part of the applicant.
We also recognize that the Ontario government has not provided the adequate transfers to the municipalities under the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund. We are prepared to work with ROMA to maintain the current farm property class tax rate system and secure sufficient funding revenues for our municipalities.
Meanwhile, the treatment of farming operations and facilities such as bunkhouses must be a priority of the Ministry of Finance. Working with our municipal councils we can address the inappropriate taxation rules and secure an effective Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund. There are details of many other municipal issues in our online municipal election kit – everything from waste management, to rural child care and more.
Now is the time to build effective bridges between the agriculture industry and municipal governments. I encourage OFA members and county federations to introduce themselves to their local leaders as a step in developing new working relationships and strengthening existing ones.
The OFA also sends gratitude to incumbents who were not re-elected, yet were helpful in creating a viable future for farming.
While the composition of governments may evolve with each election year, a change in municipal leadership brings new opportunities and new hope to strengthen our commitment to farmers in advocating key issues that matter. Together, we can influence a positive political process to sustain a successful industry for agriculture.
Bette Jean Crews is the President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture