Keeping our Eyes on the Prize

February 8, 2019 | Brenda Dyack

Keeping our Eyes on the Prize

CFFO Provincial Pre-Budget Recommendations for Investing in Long-Term Sustainability

The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario has weighed in on the next provincial budget this week with three major recommendations to Finance Minister Vic Fideli: (1) to provide provincial leadership for tax reform, (2) to invest in modern planning tools that will equip the government for making decisions that can generate both prosperity and sustainable growth, and (3) to invest in research that will help farmers, and all Ontarians, improve our soil, water and air.

The CFFO is asking Ontario to take the lead on tax reform, and two very recent occurrences highlight the need for a better tax system for Ontarians.

Firstly, the overwhelming public outcry against the now-cancelled Schedule 10 of Bill 66—the Open-for-Business Planning Bylaw—demonstrated how concerned Ontarians are about protecting our source water, precious farmland and green space from urban sprawl. We recommend a formal and comprehensive review of municipal revenue sources and expenditure responsibilities to remove any distortions so municipalities can be supported in responding to broader social preferences.

Secondly, the release of the new Canada Food Guide tells us clearly that the healthiest diet is too expensive for many people living in Ontario. This example drives home the urgent need for not only social policy reform, but also basic income and tax reforms. Ontario needs to deal with its provincial income disparity problem.

The CFFO is urging the provincial government to invest in modern planning tools that will help policy makers assess the best methods for achieving prosperity and sustainable growth.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. That’s why the CFFO recommends investment in building a framework that can link forecasting models, data banks and mapping systems across government departments. Accurately tracking changes in our province’s natural capital assets (like our soils), will help decision-makers assess policy options such as where best to expand housing supply and public infrastructure, how best to steward good farmland, how to manage emissions to air and water, among others. We need to know the likely social, economic and environmental – triple bottom line – impact of all public decisions. That’s very simply the foundation of public accountability. Integrated modelling tools exist and are used elsewhere, so we need to use them here, too.

If Ontarians know the most likely triple bottom line impact of, for example, development, zoning and density target policy decisions on what we value, including farmland preservation, then we can better decide what is best overall.

Finally, the CFFO requested increased investment in research to support improvements in natural capital including soil, water and air quality.

We cannot exist on this land without having some impact. For this reason, we need to undertake the best possible stewardship of our natural capital. The government has the duty of care to society now and into the future to ensure environmental sustainability. This requires an ongoing commitment to improving how we all impact the environment and how we can best minimize harm. In short, we need good research and more of it.

The CFFO calls on government to invest more in research that will enable farmers to be the best possible stewards of the land. We gain a double dividend with this research because it will do double duty by helping us fulfill our international commitments for Great Lakes water quality and other environmental issues.

With requests for tax reform, integrated modelling systems, and more quality research, the CFFO is asking the province to invest in the long-term. Certainly, these requests will be costly, but the expense is only one side of the equation. Investments in a sustainable long term will generate ongoing benefits for Ontarians. Good data and good tools for making decisions are needed today so we can better choose a path to sustainable prosperity.

Brenda Dyack is Director of Research & Policy for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXFM Chatham, and CKNX Wingham. It is also archived on the CFFO website, CFFO is supported by 4,000 family farmers across Ontario.