Ontario Throne Speech | Government ministry to include ‘climate change’ in its name
DRESDEN, Ontario — Farm organizations say a recent commitment made by the Ontario Liberal government to addressing climate change is a good first step.
In its recent Throne Speech, the provincial government announced that its environmental ministry will now be known as the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
“You have to accept what the scientific community has to say on it and the farmers are on the front lines of this,” said Lorne Small of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.
“Farmers need to be on top of that issue. It is affecting us,” said Karen Eatwell of the National Farmers Union.
Mark Wales of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture said he recognizes climate change as a major concern, but is unsure of how effective the government’s response will be.
“It sounds nice, the name of the new ministry, but what does it really mean and where is the budget to deal with things,” Wales said.
“Farmers are going to bear the brunt of climate change immediately. I’ve got farming friends in Manitoba where they’re about to breech the dike and flood their farms.”
Wales, who serves as a township councillor in Elgin County in addition to his role with the OFA, said many Ontario municipalities are looking at ways to mitigate climate change impacts.
Eatwell suggested farmers can help by diversifying their farming operations rather than relying on a handful of crops.
On her own farm north of London, Ont., Eatwell said she oversees forage crops, pastures and livestock, along with corn, soybean and wheat crops.
Small, a sheep farmer in Grey County, said consideration should be given water issues, both for drought and excessive rain.
He suggested the farm community and the environment could benefit from the construction of retention ponds that would mimic, to some extent, the wetlands that were once an integral part of Southern Ontario’s landscape.
“There would also be an economic benefit. My farm, for instance, could carry more sheep if I knew I had enough water to keep my pastures going,” he said.
Small said improvements to Ontario’s regulatory regime would be helpful, placing an emphasis on positive outcomes rather than prescriptive rules that stymie innovative solutions.
Concerning references to the minimum wage in the Throne Speech, Wales said there’s a tradeoff involved. If labour costs increase too much, jobs will be lost.
Wales applauded the decision to tie future increases in the minimum wage in Ontario — now set at $11 per hour — to inflation.
“At least having legislation fixing it to the CPI (consumer price index) takes politics out of it,” he said.
Small said the $11 minimum wage is a good, albeit imperfect, compromise. It’s enough for students who also have support of their families, but too little to raise a family with, he said.
“Our organization is divided on this. It adds costs, especially for horticulture. It makes it challenging to compete in the international market … You need to compete in the world, but you have to be compassionate too. I don’t know what the answer is.”
Small, Wales and Eatwell are confident that the farming community can work with the Ontario government despite the rural-urban divide that became apparent in the June election.
Most rural ridings went to the Conservatives, while urban voters favoured the Liberals and NDP.
Wales said there are some exceptions to Tory blue in rural Ontario, notably Peterborough, the riding won by Jeff Leal, who has since been named Ontario agriculture ministry.
He said the OFA’s strategy is to work with all parties.
Small said there are enough knowledgeable MPs within the Liberal caucus to work effectively with the farm community, but said the election results are significant.
“We expected this to happen, but not until the next election. This has not happened for 160 years, but it happened this year. We have a majority government in Ontario without rural Ontario being part of it.”
The Throne Speech also referred to the Jobs & Prosperity Fund, a 10-year, $2.5 billion program that will support job creation in a range of a number of areas, including the agri-food sector.