Where Should We Look for Economic Recovery?

July 31, 2020 | Suzanne Armstrong

Where Should We Look for Economic Recovery?

One of the wins for agriculture in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region has been the implementation of the Agricultural System approach to land use planning. This recognizes the importance of the agricultural land base and the connecting network of processing, transportation, input suppliers, veterinarians and many others that are required for a successful agri-food system. Land use planning in the region is supposed to recognize the value of both the land base and the broader agricultural system as important economic drivers in the region.

Agriculture has proven to be resilient in recent economic downturns. It is an obvious place to look for opportunities to boost economic recovery. With COVID-19, there is increasing interest in ensuring better regional food security. This all seems like a win-win solution to build on the strengths of our high-quality productive farmland and to expand our processing capacity in the region where the growing population is both expanding market and potential workforce.

However, this is not the direction we are heading. The current government seems to have already decided that we will find the solution elsewhere. News release after news release sings from the song-sheet of economic recovery through expedited development. This includes promoting expediting highways and transit infrastructure, housing construction, school construction and long-term care home construction.

This leaves some obvious holes in the overall vision of economic recovery. One obvious question is who will staff these new schools and long-term care facilities? Constructions jobs come and go with the project, but when the project is done, it is the long-term jobs that we will need to ensure economic recovery. In agri-food, we should be looking for opportunities for long-term jobs in food processing and food system innovation, for example.

This push for expedited development is evident in the recent proposals to change the land needs assessment methodology for, and proposed amendments to “A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.” The proposed changes include removing the ability of municipalities to adjust for excess lands already set aside, or lower than expected growth demands. One of the key casualties in this situation will be that productive farmland in the region will be permanently lost to expanding industrial and housing development.

The CFFO has written with our concerns (see here and here) about the risks to our valuable farmland in the region if the proposed changes go ahead. Our voices are joined with many others, individuals and organizations, who share our concerns about the risks to farmland in this key region of the province.

Suzanne Armstrong is Director of Policy & Research 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, CKXS Chatham, and CKNX Wingham.