Ontario throne speech speaks directly to agriculture
By By Keith Currie OFA VP
By By Keith Currie OFA VP
Sept. 16, 2016, Guelph, Ont. – The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) watched as the Governor General delivered a new throne speech on September 12 – a “reset” of the Liberal government’s direction for the next two years.
Throne speeches are, by nature, very general overviews of the new direction of the government. It was encouraging, therefore, to see specific references to food and farming and, in particular the acknowledgement that electricity rates are too high.
It’s no surprise the Liberals stayed steady on the commitment to building Ontario up through job creation and economic growth. The notion of new job skills training to help build the economy is good news for the agri-food sector, and has opportunities to feed into the overall growth challenge the Premier set for our sector at the beginning of this government’s mandate.
OFA is pleased to see the government’s continued commitment to infrastructure improvements. We’ll be monitoring the roll out for rural Ontario.
ELECTRICITY PRICES ARE STIFLING GROWTH
We all know electricity prices are stifling economic growth, and to hear the government recognize that rising costs are hurting household budgets across Ontario is a step in the right direction.
The proposed eight per cent electricity rebate and adjustments to the Rural and Remote Rate Protection Plan to add up to 20 per cent will at least help lower farm electricity bills in the short term. However, this initiative is about giving us back some of our own tax dollars and may further complicate balancing the provincial budget.
We know farming and the food sector rely on competitive energy, so we need real programs and policies in place to address the entire energy complex. For farming and rural Ontario, the real solution lies in building the infrastructure needed for natural gas across rural Ontario.
POTENTIAL SAVINGS WITH EXTENDED INFRASTRUCTURE
We will continue to remind government about the $1 billion per year savings in rural energy costs that would be realized if natural gas was readily available.
The speech reports that the Red Tape Challenge is continuing to help businesses save time and money, but the plan for reducing unnecessary regulations is unproven for the agri-food sector as consultations are ongoing.
OFA will continue advocating for the existing Open for Business initiative that is designed to reduce red tape for farming businesses.
Other than its new focus on high electricity costs, the government did not signal any big directional changes or promises in the throne speech. This reset for the Liberal government doesn’t significantly alter our direction. OFA will continue to advocate on the key issues that impact the ability of Ontario’s agri-food sector to thrive.
We will work to secure rural infrastructure improvement, competitive energy rates, a positive outcome for farming under the pending Cap and Trade system, and generally watching closely for the opportunities where our members can grow their farm businesses.
Keith Currie is vice-president with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.