Agriculture plays low-key role in Ontario election

It’s election time in Ontario – and the race is tight.

Voters head to the polls June 7. Right now the result is anyone’s guess, with the latest polls showing the NDP stand a real chance, while others argue that it’s the Conservative’s election to lose.

So what are the parties promising Ontario farmers, ranchers and others with links to the agriculture and agri-food sectors? And how does it tie to Ottawa’s work on the file?

Ontario Liberal Leader and current Premier Kathleen Wynne, a former provincial agriculture minister herself, has one of the longest lists of promises for the agriculture sector. That list includes a promise to renew a 10-year funding agreement with the University of Guelph. The funding arrangement is valued at $700 million and is aimed at research, agri-food growth and innovation.

Another $120 million in unspecified funding has been promised over three years for the food and beverage sector.

It also clearly backs this country’s supply management system – which remains a sticking point in the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free-Trade Agreement.

Wynne’s successor on the agriculture file, Jeff Leal, has repeatedly insisted a modernized NAFTA must not allow for concessions on the dairy, egg and poultry front, despite ongoing American demands.

The Ontario Liberals are also vowing to work with their federal counterparts to ensure that any modernized NAFTA does “not place any new restrictions on the movement of agricultural goods across North America.”

Further, the Liberals are doubling down on their demand that the federal government “provide transitional assistance” for concessions and changes made as part of the yet to be ratified Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. An amount is not specified.

The federal Trudeau government, under increased pressure from farm groups to move ahead with the trade deal, quietly tabled the full text of the CPTPP agreement in the House of Commons last week.

Wynne is also promising to continue working with Ottawa to improve the business risk management file — currently under review by a federal appointed task force that is set to present its findings to the country’s agriculture ministers in July at the Federal-Provincial-Territorial meeting in Vancouver.

The Liberals’ platform does not say what those improvements should look like.

Both the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, who are led by newly selected leader Doug Ford, have a platform point tied to alcohol.

Wynne has pledged to work with wine, cider, spirits and beer producers to develop a new strategy to grow the beverage alcohol sector. A timeframe for those discussions has not been provided.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Tories announced May 26 that, if elected, the party would “reduce the minimum price floor for the sale of beer in Ontario to $1 plus deposit per bottle.”

“Our plan puts people first,” Ford said in a statement. “For too long, beer consumers have been forced to pay inflated prices for beer in order to increase the profits of big corporations. We’re going to allow price competition for beer and this will save consumers money.”

Ford had also promised to open up the Greenbelt to developers – a pledge he quickly rescinded after public outcry, including from within the agricultural community.

He’s also vehemently opposed to Ottawa’s plan to impose a federally regulated price on carbon, despite repeated federal threats that if provinces do not impose a system of their own Ottawa will step in an establish one themselves.

As for the NDP, they’ve vowed to cut hydro bills by 30 percent by putting Hydro One back under public control.

Leader Andrea Horwath has also vowed to defend supply management, protect the province’s production insurance program and lift a Liberal cap on the risk-management program.

The NDP appears to be the only party to mention young farmers, pledging to ensure the next generation of producers can “get their foot in the door.”

The NDP has also promised to expand the provincial government’s definition of “farming and food production to include new definitions, such as urban farming.”

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