It’s now been a year since Ontario saw its new provincial government take power. And it’s certainly been a year of change, both for the province and for the agricultural sector. I’ve been involved in farm politics for many years and I can safely say I’ve never experienced a government that moves so quickly on so many files.
For the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA), getting good information in front of the politicians we deal with directly is very important. The minimum wage issue is a really good example of where preparation and having your facts ready paid off.
We met with former Minister of Labour Laurie Scott – now Minister of Infrastructure – fairly soon after the new government took office last year to discuss the impact the provincial minimum wage increase was having on our sector. The government’s decision to hold the line on the increase to $15 and move to regular cost of living-based increases starting next year was important to our growers, and we’re appreciative of their decisive action on that file.
We congratulate Monte McNaughton on his appointment as Ontario’s new Minister of Labour earlier this summer and we look forward to working with him on other labour-related files that impact horticulture.
Key among those is the need to keep provincial labour regulations business-friendly so that we’re competitive with other jurisdictions, and to make sure government is aware of agriculture’s unique situation when it comes to labour needs.
Environment is also an area with direct impact on our sector. As growers, we take our responsibilities towards the environment very seriously, but must balance that with the need to stay competitive and profitable while remaining stewards of the land.
We thank former Environment Minister Rod Phillips for the leadership he showed during his time in that position. OFVGA had the opportunity to meet with him several times and hope he will continue to be an advocate for horticulture in his new role as Minister of Finance. We look forward to getting to know our new Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek.
Toby Barrett was recently named parliamentary assistant for agriculture and food. He is a long-time supporter of horticulture and the larger agricultural sector – we have worked closely with him in the past on many issues important to fruit and vegetable growers, and it’s nice to see that he is returning to an official role in our industry.
And I would be remiss in not mentioning our Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ernie Hardeman. In my experience he’s always been approachable and he has a solid understanding of the sector and the issues we face as farmers and growers. Unfortunately, his ministry is under much more financial restraint than in the past, which means there’s a need to look for efficiencies in all programs administered by OMAFRA.
As an organization, we understand what that means and we support the need for fiscal responsibility. At the same time, this must be balanced with programming that delivers what growers need. Crop insurance and business risk management are two leading examples that come to mind, and we are working with Minister Hardeman and OMAFRA staff at developing solutions that can work for growers while also meeting the government’s objectives.
One of Minister Hardeman’s roles is also to represent Ontario agriculture at the federal level, such as the federal-provincial-territorial ministers’ of agriculture meetings. This summer, those meetings were hosted in mid-July in Quebec City.
OFVGA met with the Minister to update him on the top three issues we’d like him to bring forward to the federal table: financial protection for horticultural growers, crop protection, and business risk management.
Canadian horticulture has long been asking the federal government for financial protection legislation to ensure growers get paid for their produce in case of buyer bankruptcy or insolvency in the U.S. Science-based decision-making around crop protection materials are critical to keeping Canadian growers competitive with other jurisdictions, and we need business risk management tools that will provide the help we need when we need it.