As one year ends and another begins, it is good to recap how the past 12 months have had an impact on Ontario’s agri-food sector, our farms and our families.
No one can argue that it hasn’t been a tough year in the agri-food industry with market disruptions, trade issues, weather and labour disputes. And yet, we’ve seen progress on key issues that impact the sustainability and competitiveness of our farm businesses. Here’s a recap of 2019 advocacy and government relations activities from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s (OFA) perspective.
One of the biggest wins for Ontario agriculture came early in the year with the provincial government’s decision to remove Schedule 10 from the proposed Bill 66, Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, 2018. The proposed amendment to the provincial Planning Act would have given municipalities the ability to pass bylaw changes that would have allowed the use of prime farmland for any type of development. OFA objected to Schedule 10 and had serious concerns about the impact the proposed legislative changes would have had on Ontario’s agri-food sector.
Reducing farm property tax ratios is always on the agenda for OFA as we continue to work alongside county and regional federations to advocate for change with local government. Through one-on-one meetings across the province, we have had 18 county and single-tier municipal governments (to date) agree to lower the farm tax ratio (below 0.25) to help offset the impact of soaring farm property assessments.
This year, OFA ran two road safety campaigns to increase awareness and educate urban motorists about slow moving vehicles and sharing the road with farm equipment. We understand the hazards of operating tractors and large farm equipment on roadways and will continue to engage with non-farming audiences through social media and other communication platforms in an effort to keep everyone safe on our roadways.
Reducing red tape was on the 2019 lobby agenda again for OFA. We appreciate the provincial government’s action taken this year that saw the removal of the Line Fences Repeal Act, 2019.
We’ve also seen encouraging progress on natural gas expansion and access to reliable broadband across the province with announcements and programs to connect communities in rural and northern Ontario.
This year also marked the 10-year review of the Endangered Species Act, 2007. OFA participated by sending a formal submission to the government to address areas of the legislation that were subject to changes, including assessing species at risk, implementing habitat protection, issuing permits, developing exemptions and the enforcement of the act.
Land use planning policies have been, and continue to be, a core issue for OFA and Ontario farmers. In 2019, OFA provided a submission to the Provincial Policy Statement review, outlining key recommendations on the proposed revised land use planning policies within the statement. OFA believes the preservation of productive agricultural land to produce food, fibre and fuel is in Ontario’s long-term environmental and economic interest.
The latter half of 2019 has presented challenges for our provincial food value-chain. The beef sector has been particularly hard-hit by the closing of Ryding-Regency Meat Packers and ongoing depressed market prices, trade and market access barriers, and a shortage of processing capacity. OFA will continue to work with our commodity partners and support our members through this challenging time.
This year has also been marked with growing threats from animal activists, trespassing on farms and a legal system reluctant to prosecute individuals involved in these activities. OFA is encouraged by the proposed new legislation Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019 that would increase the protection of our farms, families and food supply. We also saw a significant change in our provincial animal welfare enforcement in 2019 with the withdrawal of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the introduction of Bill 136, the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, 2019.
It’s been a busy year for OFA and we’ll certainly remember 2019 as a year of challenges, but also of opportunities that have brought out some of the best qualities of our farming members – optimism, resilience, perseverance and ingenuity.
Mark Reusser is vice-president of the OFA