Provincial Budget Recommendations: Looking for Long-lasting Benefits
March 5, 2021 | Ed Scharringa
Ontario’s budget will be announced by the end of this month, after a series of pre-budget consultations early in the year. I was pleased to participate in virtual consultations last month, and CFFO also submitted our recommendations in writing.
Our response focused on key economic, social and environmental commitments that are necessary to support the vitality of the agri-food sector. We are looking for six things to show up in the budget on March 31st.
First, we have asked the province to finalize a revised Federal-Provincial-Territorial agreement on AgriStability based on the federal government’s current proposal. As it happens, a federal pre-budget report includes recommendations to reinstate AgriStability at 85 percent of reference margins, a request made by CFFO and other ag organizations early on in the pandemic. We are optimistic that the province will also look for ways to make AgriStability work for farmers.
Secondly, we encouraged government to continue the strides it has made in recent months to increase Ontario’s local processing capacity. Considering that a recent $4-million-dollar fund for meat processing plants was claimed within eight business days, there can be no doubt that there is opportunity in this sector.
Our third request was also related to supporting the economic vitality of the agrifood industry. Rural communities continue to need expanded rural internet access. Like other economic priorities we’ve identified, government is already making strides to meet these needs. We encourage the province to continue this vital work.
But the economy must not be our only concern. Rural communities also need improved social supports. In particular, CFFO has asked government to expand mental health supports for farmers. Farming is an increasingly stressful profession, but farmers can’t take just take a stress leave from their jobs. We need specific mental health supports that are adapted to the realities of running a farm.
We also turned our attention to the environment in our budget recommendations. Firstly, we urged government to protect productive farmland by focusing development projects on brownfield redevelopment rather than greenspace. Government support for brownfield development makes good sense for our long-term planning and food security needs.
Finally, CFFO has consistently requested support for the stewardship efforts of farmers and researchers to improve soil health and water quality. This year was no different. We recommended strategic investments in stewardship initiatives, research, mapping and monitoring of our soil and water resources.
Many of us in agriculture have fared well through these uncertain times compared to other sectors. It has been refreshing to see policy makers look to agricultural leaders for solutions to the challenges of COVID-19. In most cases, government response has been quick for those commodities facing real difficulties, such as labour issues and processing capacity.
With the public support and government collaboration we have seen as a result of the pandemic, I believe our industry is now well-positioned to seek long-term changes that will improve agriculture for many years to come. This is why we have proposed budget recommendations that will garner long-lasting benefits for our businesses, our planet, and our people.
Ed Scharringa is President of 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, CKXS Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and CHLP Listowel.