Our organization is always involved in a multitude of activities on behalf of growers and our member organizations. At its core, though, the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) is first and foremost a lobby organization, and our primary role is to advocate for growers on issues of concern to them.
Usually, this type of work happens most frequently in face-to-face meetings with government officials, political staff and ministers at the provincial and federal levels. We’ve also hosted mix-and-mingle style events at Queen’s Park, where our directors and staff could interact more informally with government representatives over appetizers and drinks.
Both of these approaches are valuable in the relationship-building process, particularly if outreach isn’t always limited to times of crisis or when approaching government with specific asks.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of that, and like so many things, lobby days have now also moved online. I’ll be the first to admit that I vastly prefer these types of activities to take place in person. It’s a different feeling when you can sit down face-to-face with someone, and I admit that I was hesitant about the virtual format.
But we can’t just pause our outreach activities and wait for the world to go back to some semblance of normalcy; after all, the issues and challenges facing our industry aren’t taking a break either. So, in place of our usual day of meetings at Queen’s Park capped by a reception, we held more than a dozen virtual meetings over several days in early February.
Our outreach included meetings with Monte McNaughton (Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development), Michael Parsa (Parliamentary Assistant to the President of the Treasury Board), Prabmeet Sarkaria (Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction), Stan Cho (Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance) and Rick Nicholls (MPP for Chatham-Kent-Leamington).
We also met with Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath and NDP agriculture critic John Vanthof, and with staff from the offices of the Premier, Health Minister Christine Elliott, and Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy.
Everyone worked hard to make this new format work. I am pleased to say that people were very willing to meet with us and hear our perspectives, particularly on farm workers, growing food and the ongoing pandemic.
As we continue to battle the second wave of COVID-19 and look toward the beginnings of post-pandemic recovery, partnership remains as critical as ever to keep our farming workforce healthy and keep our food system strong.
To that end, we have asked the provincial government to continue to collaborate with us on existing partnerships as well as establishing new ones that may be needed to help address issues where growers and government can work together for solutions. For example, that includes continued assistance to support worker safety, including funding to help farms cope with PPE costs and other health and safety measures in the workplace or on-farm worker housing.
We’ve been encouraged to see agrifood workers included in phase two of the provincial vaccine roll-out plan, and we have reinforced the importance of moving forward on this front as soon as vaccine supply permits.
It’s looking increasingly likely that proposed federal changes to the AgriStability program will not move forward, as not all provinces are on board. OFVGA is part of a coalition of provincial farm organizations urging the Ontario government to redirect funds it had set aside for those changes into the Risk Management Program and the Self-Directed Risk Management program.
We certainly look forward to the day when we can once again meet with people in person, but we appreciate everyone’s willingness to adapt to the limitations of our current reality. Regardless of format or venue, we will continue to make sure that policy and decision-makers hear the voice of Ontario’s fruit and vegetable growers.