Submitted by Darcy Higgins on Thu, 04/04/2013 - 01:26
The Local Food Act was introduced in the Legislature on March 25 with a good introductory debate on local food need by the three parties. It passed first reading and now goes onto further debate and committee work, in which we will push forward our recommendations (see previous blogs). We wanted to share the debate, including a mention in the House of Food Forward and Sustain Ontario, and the Premier's commitment to us for a stronger Act:
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: It’s a great honour and pleasure to be here in my role as Minister of Agriculture and Food to introduce the Local Food Act, and I welcome all of our guests. Thank you very much for being here to witness this. Thank you so much.
This bill supports, promotes and celebrates the good things that are grown, harvested and made in Ontario.
J’ai le plaisir et l’honneur d’être ici, à titre de ministre de l’Agriculture et de l’Alimentation, pour présenter la Loi de 2013 sur les aliments locaux. Ce projet de loi donne son soutien aux bonnes choses qui poussent, qui sont récoltées et qui sont produites en Ontario. Il en fait également la promotion.
I’m committed to reintroducing this important piece of legislation. I committed to that because, if passed, it will form part of a comprehensive local food strategy that will strengthen our agri-food sector and will help more people find, buy and eat food that’s made and grown in Ontario, which is very important to our government.
The legislation would do this by allowing the minister to consult with stakeholders and industry to establish goals and targets to help increase local food awareness, access and sales. It will allow the minister to work with public sector organizations to share information on their progress and their results towards these goals. It would also proclaim a Celebrate Ontario Local Food Week, and it would require the minister to produce a local food report on its activities to support local food.
As I mentioned, this bill is just one part of a broader strategy to promote local food. So, outside of this legislation, beyond the legislation, we’re also proposing more education about the benefits of local food; more support, including financial support, for communities and regions working on local food innovation and initiatives; and a commitment to consult with stakeholders on the best ways to promote local food.
We’ll lead by example, through an Ontario government policy requiring ministries to consider local food for procurements under $25,000.
Mr. Speaker, as we all know, although we won’t sing right now, good things grow in Ontario.
Interjection: Sing it.
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: We could sing it. I don’t know if that breaks a protocol in the Legislature.
We want the people of Ontario to reach for local food at home, in restaurants, at work or in schools. I actually believe that the people of Ontario are eager to do this, that they are actually ahead of us on this. They want to buy locally grown food.
Nous voulons que la population de l’Ontario puisse obtenir des aliments locaux à la maison, dans les restaurants, au travail et dans les écoles.
We want to strengthen the connections between rural and urban Ontario; we want to create jobs and economic growth, and this bill will contribute to that. By building a strong local food industry, we also increase Ontario’s export potential, delivering the good things grown and processed here in Ontario to the world.
There are consumers who understand and appreciate the benefits of locally grown food, and there’s more retail interest than ever. And I would just say that I think there is probably a better understanding about locally grown food than there is about locally processed food. So I’m glad that the processes are here, because it is definitely part of the conversation about how we raise awareness about processing as an important part of the agri-food business.
With countless skilled farmers and food processors here in Ontario, the time is right for this legislation. That’s why I’m calling on every member of this Legislature to support this legislation and, by doing so, to support local food. We want everyone to know that good things grow in Ontario.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Responses?
Mr. Ernie Hardeman: The Ontario PC caucus are strong supporters of local food. Many of us come from rural ridings that have a significant agriculture sector. We know the farmers; we know how great the food they produce is and the challenges that they face. That’s why we were so disappointed in the Local Food Act that was introduced last fall and the version introduced today, which seems, after a quick look, virtually the same.
Last fall, when this government introduced the Local Food Act, agricultural organizations and local food groups were hoping for a bill that would address some of those challenges and make a real impact on our food system. Although the preamble laid out great goals, there was nothing in the bill to achieve them. Local food group Food Forward said that the Local Food Act “must be strengthened.” Sustain Ontario said that it had “missed many opportunities.” Even our now Premier acknowledged the act’s shortcomings when she promised to reintroduce a strengthened food act, and yet the bill introduced today is almost the same as the one introduced six months ago.
There is one change, Mr. Speaker, in that Local Food Week is moved to the week before Thanksgiving. Premier, everyone involved in agriculture knows that’s Agriculture Week, and has been for 15 years. It’s great to celebrate local food, but you seem to have forgotten where it comes from. Replacing Ontario Agriculture Week is insulting to our agriculture community.
We believe that for a food act to have impact, it must address the entire food system from field to fork and have real, meaningful changes. That’s why in our recent white paper, Respect for Rural Ontario, we proposed a comprehensive food act which would support local procurement and help our farmers, food processors and agri-businesses by reducing red tape and supporting Ontario’s food system. Our Ontario food act would include a dedicated fund for risk-management programs and one-window access to government for farmers and agri-businesses.
Four months after our leader, Tim Hudak, announced that we would reduce red tape for our farmers by implementing one-window access to the government, the party opposite copied our commitment. We appreciate the acknowledgement that it was needed, but a year and a half later, they have taken no action to implement it. I had hoped to see that in this bill.
Our white paper laid out a number of other actions that would strengthen the food system and promote local food, and I had hoped to see them in this bill as well. It’s not enough for government to simply set targets for local food procurement; they must ensure that they have conditions for procurement to succeed, such as our proposal to create a regional food terminal to build on the success of the Ontario Food Terminal.
In their recent green papers, the Greenbelt Fund stated that “lack of access to products from Ontario farms is a fundamental barrier to increase the amount of Ontario food in public institutions.” They identified that one of the barriers to government procurement of local food was that the supply needed to be aggregated. This mirrors what we heard from Michigan about their experience with Buy Michigan First.
Two locations we would consider for a regional food terminal would be in southwestern Ontario in London or in eastern Ontario near Ottawa. In both areas, they have locally grown food that is being loaded on trucks and shipped to Toronto, only to have some of it trucked right back to the region it came from. By creating a regional food terminal, we would reduce our carbon footprint, create jobs, improve market access for farmers and have a reliable supply for restaurants, retailers and food processors.
However, Mr. Speaker, the most significant challenge in our food system is excessive paperwork and government red tape. This government claims they have cut red tape, but 77.2% of farmers tell us it is increasing. That is similar to the results from last year’s OFA survey. The problem is not just on farms; 76% of food processors and 86% of agri-businesses also said that red tape was increasing.
This government continues to implement policies without any regard to impact on farmers. The most recent example is the outrageous increase in Ontario Tire Stewardship fees for agricultural tires. For instance, the cost of a tire for a John Deere 9300 has increased from $61.16 to $729.12. For a John Deere 9770, the tire fees increased from $91.74 to $1,644. It’s not enough for government to hold photo ops and introduce a bill with a great name; we need to take real steps to decrease the challenges faced by our agriculture industry.
I’m very disappointed that in six months we have not made progress toward a real food act that would make significant improvements to our agriculture industry and our food system, and that our agriculture industry now gets so little respect that it has been demoted to a part-time minister who is replacing Ontario Agriculture Week with the food act week.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Further responses?
Mr. John Vanthof: It’s once again an honour for me to stand in this place and speak on behalf of my New Democratic colleagues on a subject that is very near and dear to all of us: food—proudly grown, processed, sold and enjoyed right here in Ontario. I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome all our agri-food guests this afternoon. Specifically, the topic is the reintroduction of the Local Food Act.
The Ontario agri-food sector contributes more than $34 billion to the provincial economy and employs more than 700,000 people. It’s the cornerstone of our provincial economy. The agri-food sector is incredibly diverse, from large commercial vegetable growers in the Holland Marsh to community gardens in Davenport; from Maple Leaf Foods to Creative Meats in Warren; from Kraft to Thornloe Cheese; from Loblaws to the local farmers’ market; and from McDonalds to the local breakfast restaurant. Agri-food business comes in all shapes and sizes. The one thing that unites all in this sector is the goal to provide families in Ontario with tasty, healthy food. This sector has proven to be incredibly stable, actually growing through Ontario’s recent economic downtown.
The New Democratic Party has long supported the concept of local food. That’s why our leader, Andrea Horwath, has proposed a private member’s bill which called for hard targets on the amount of Ontario-grown food purchased by provincial government bodies. Not only did we want to set an example for the private sector, but our initiative would have kick-started many local food initiatives by providing at least one solid anchor customer: the Ontario government.
The reintroduced Local Food Act appears to have some of the same intentions, although it lacks any hard targets or achievable objectives. It appears to be a plan to make a plan, a conversation about food, a great press release about motherhood and apple pie, but maybe not much else.
Mr. Mike Colle: What have you got against apple pie?
Mr. John Vanthof: And I like apple pie.
Some would accuse the bill of being a paper tiger, but, if passed as written, its vagueness and lack of detail will actually give the government wide powers to do whatever it wants in this sector, and that should cause widespread concern in the rural community.
Farmers across the province have all had to deal with solutions created by Queen’s Park. There is widespread distrust in the rural agricultural community regarding their urban neighbours pushing issues of which they have little understanding or misconceived perceptions of how food is produced.
The New Democratic Party welcomes the introduction of the Local Food Act, not because we believe that the act, as drafted, will be of much benefit to growers or consumers but because it will bring the issues faced by all levels of the food chain to this floor for debate and to committee, if it passes second reading.
These issues need to be addressed. For example, small abattoirs are being forced to close because the regulations imposed on them have little to do with the level of risk. Food safety should never be compromised, but many of the regulation changes that mom-and-pop shops face every day have more to do with the government creating rules to solve problems instead of actually looking at what caused the problems in the first place. There are lots of examples, and I’m looking forward to the debate.
Over time, a rift has grown between urban and rural Ontario. It has been intensified by government actions like the Green Energy Act and the recent decisions regarding the horse racing industry. The reason that rift is so big is because people in the country didn’t have a voice before those decisions were taken, and that has got to change.
If the Local Food Act continues on this path of dictating to the countryside what the city thinks is best, it will be a failure, an ultimate failure. It will be up to the government to prove that it really wants to listen to the farm community.
The reintroduced food act does have one change. It’s one action item: the creation of a Celebrate Local Food week, and the day has been changed from May to the week before Thanksgiving. That does overlap Agriculture Week, and that is maybe a problem, but agriculture and food are the same thing.
But once again, who asked? Who asked? Agriculture Week has been here a long time. Did anyone who drafted this act call anybody up and say, “Would you like to have it the same week as Agriculture Week?” You see? So, again, please—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Order.
Mr. John Vanthof: Hopefully, urban and rural Ontario can start to work together, but we have to stop dictating to the people in the country. We’ve had enough. Thank you.