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Farm group looks for provincial support in upcoming budget

With Ontario’s 2014 budget to be set out on May 1, the organization representing the province’s farmers hopes the sector is recognized in a tangible way for its contribution to the economy.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) sees its current mandate as well-aligned with what Queen’s Park should be focusing on, says the group’s president.

“I think OFA’s priorities can fit well into the budget, but we shall see. My crystal ball has snow on it,” said Mark Wales.

Last year Premier Kathleen Wynne, who also took on the agricultural portfolio, challenged Ontario farmers to double the sector’s annual growth rate and create 120,000 new jobs by the year 2020. To promote that growth, the OFA sees three priorities for the sector this spring.

Number-one on the list is regulation issues for farmers, Wales said.

“There are too many to list that affect members on a daily basis: Issues around incorrect property assessment (commercial or industrial instead of agricultural), MOE (ministry of the environment) and water and other environmental regulations. Ministry of transportation issues [include] poor design of traffic circles in rural areas, regulations or inconsistent enforcement in regards to abattoirs, etcetera. Fundamentally, it is about the regulations that are a daily impediment to farm business.”

Wales cautiously added, with the provincial government’s focus on infrastructure there may be room in the budget, for another OFA priority: at half the cost of electricity and one third the cost of propane, the federation is pursuing pushing for room in the upcoming budget for a long-term expansion plan of natural gas in rural Ontario.

“The infrastructure announcement could possibly allow for natural gas lines, but we will not likely see details until budget day,” he said.

In a newsletter released earlier this spring the federation looked at additional factors influencing agricultural growth in Ontario, stating that one way to boost growth is for rural communities to have comparable services to those enjoyed by urbanites.

“The Ontario government must ensure Ontario farms and businesses have access to physical infrastructure capable of handling current and future needs, including a level and quality of services and infrastructure comparable to their urban counterparts. That means properly maintained roads, bridges and culverts that enable farmers to do business, and access to other services such as health care, education and child care.”

A third barrier to growth according to Wales is the Not for Profit Corporations Act, which the OFA argues is eliminating geographic-based election for board members.

“Our concern is that we elect parliament geographically, why is it now wrong to elect farmers to lead our organizations the same way? We also have other concerns around allowing proxy voting and voting by non-members. This act is an act to make changes to the previous Not for Profit Corps Act which has all of the same flaws. The new bill has only received first reading and may not survive,” Wales said.

While he believes OFA’s priorities are a good fit for the Liberal’s budget, whether it will pass is “anybody’s guess” – the minority government is in a precarious position.

“It will depend on the polls, he said, “state of election readiness of parties and whether they think they can win. It would require the NDP to trigger it by voting against it.”

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