Opinion: Agriculture is open for business

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture was selected by the Ontario government under the Open for Business initiative to work with the agriculture sector to identify our industry’s top five regulatory issues affecting our business.

Open for Business is a three year project under the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade to improve government service to business and to make Ontario more attractive for business development.  In other words, the initiative has a goal of working with us in addressing problems with regulations and to improve the regulatory environment for the future.

Together, we are providing recommendations on how the province can better address these priorities.

The OFA has long heard from farmers and the food industry that regulations stifle competitiveness and innovation, and provide a constant source of aggravation in the business.  The opportunity offered to us under the Open for Business initiative allows us to address the frustration and recommend tangible change.

We know there is skepticism about the opportunity. We have seen similar efforts to reform regulations come and go. Some have had impact and others were brushed off as window dressing.  However, the unique feature about this opportunity is the requirement of ministries to respond directly to our final recommendations with solutions to address the problems. The ministries we call on to deal with the recommendations will have two months to find the solutions needed to make an impact.

That has real potential to enable our industry to remove some of the regulatory burdens that we continue to advocate changes for.

So, how do we capitalize on the opportunity? The OFA has already initiated discussions with industry representatives to identify the top five priorities. In late September we spoke with a group of commodity organization representatives to get their perspectives on regulatory issues and concerns.  And again, in early October, we worked for a day with those involved in our related agri-food sector – representatives of companies involved in supplying inputs and in processing our products. 

The interest in the subject at hand was quite intense.  We experienced the level of frustration with the regulatory environment that we have been sensing over several years – the sense that there is little movement in some areas of the regulatory process. This frustration is manifesting itself in many priority issues and recommendations.

This week we will be consulting across Ontario with our OFA policy advisory council members in five regional meetings. We are getting the grassroots perspective on regulations first-hand. Not surprisingly, the input we have received so far across the agriculture and agri-food sector is consistent: there is an opportunity to make things better for business.

We are very pleased that the provincial government seems to believe there is opportunity to make Ontario’s agriculture sector better as well, while continuing to protect the public interest.

Once our regional meetings are complete we will consolidate all of the input received and develop a draft of the collective five priority issues. Afterward, we will again meet with industry representatives in mid-November to finalize the resulting report and recommendations. We look forward to working with respective ministries early in the New Year on resolving our concerns.    

The OFA is hopeful that the result will be measurable and help establish positive change in the regulatory regime that provides tangible results of the entire industry. 

The recognition that there is a problem and the clear process developed to ensure there are solutions gives us reason to be hopeful. Through this opportunity, we can make serious improvements in our business environment.

Keith Currie is on the executive for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.