It appears the Local Food Act is back on the table and could be passed by the end of this Fall. The purpose of the Act is to do some pretty neat things:
- foster successful and resilient local food economies and systems throughout Ontario;
- increase awareness of local food in Ontario, including the diversity of local food; and,
- encourage the development of new markets for local food.
The focus is on expanding local food... bringing more to market, specifically through more marketing, and by the setting of goals or targets by the Minister of Food & Agriculture “with respect to” local food (assume they mean amount purchasing) at public institutions – ministries, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, municipalities, long-term care homes.
For a potentially groundbreaking Act on food, that isn’t very meaty. It also doesn’t address food access or sustainable agriculture, and doesn’t properly do what's within the government's power to help spur new jobs.
We’ve been asking, with hundreds of Torontonians and Ontarians, for the Local Food Act to be improved to create good jobs. The Government of Ontario shares the priority of job creation. This Fall, ministers have all been tasked with looking at their programs through a “jobs lens”, which is exactly what we proposed to improve the Local Food Act. We petitioned to do this by several means.
Our proposals were brought up positively multiple times in the Legislature by MPPs in initial debate on the Act. Sustain Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, and many others have also been calling for the Act to do more good. The opposition parties are also calling for more, and the government has expressed openness to these ideas. The NDP priorities for the Act have been stated – they’re great. So are the PC’s – they will be proposing amendments as well at Committee debate which could happen quitesoon.
In addition, the Government has launched the Local Food Fund, with ten million dollars per year that groups and businesses can apply to in order to support and improve local food all across the sector. The Fund is broad, exciting and could spark some really interesting work. The government has clearly listened in the creation of this Fund.
As political winds align to get the Local Food Act back on the agenda in the next month, let’s build on the success to further strengthen this Act so it works to address a more prosperous local, healthy, equitable food system.
In a letter to Food Forward before being elected, Premier Wynne promised just that - a strengthened Local Food Act that would "production, processing, distribution, sales and marketing of Ontario food”, as well as to “Streamline regulations that impact the Agri-food industry...and develop a single window information approach to government.
- Support entrepreneurs by conducting a review of small business regulations and creating a single window approach to ensure that small-scale food and farm enterprises have a level playing field and fair chance. Innovative entrepreneurs people in the City as well as farm country are having a tough time even finding out about regulations to meet, as they're busy trying to improve the food system.
- Create more local food jobs by mandating the creation of goals and targets to be set and defined, and put in place more support for institutions to meet them. Current language of the Act means it is up to the Minister of the day to create targets if they wish.
- Increase healthy food access by allowing farmers to receive tax credits for donating to food banks, and also to other community food programs including community kitchens, meal drop-ins, and active living programs for children and seniors. Food banks, community health and food centres, and grassroots programs are all in need for various programs, especially as the model of food banks evolve and the government improves social assistance.
The Committee on Social Policy will be hearing your voices on the Act. Please contact these MPPs to ask that such amendments be enacted.
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It's quite a time for food security, as the provincial government speaks to several ways of moving forward, criss-crossing policy reports, legislation, and ideas on food policy. We've also never had a civil society so engaged in working towards food policy change.
The government is finally planning to move forward on social assistance through the results of its review, which had key recommendations on employment and rates of support. We've participated in advocacy on raising rates from the Put Food in the Budget campaign, and hope it moves forward.
Meanwhile, a government commissioned report was titled "No Time to Wait"... it's a strategy released for policy actions for healthy kids, with a preventative health focus. and food is the main and most extensive set of its recommendations. One of the proposals is to ban marketingof junk food to children. Something already proposed in a private member's bill by NDP MPP Rosario Marchese.
Another of its proposal is to provide incentives for food businesses to support community-based food programs, which has been proposed in a private member's bill by PC MPP Bob Bailey.
Minister of Health Deb Matthew agreed that we they need to move now as the title suggests.
The PCs last week released an agriculture strategy with some excellent ideas on supporting food processors and local farmers with a new food hub, and a review of regulations, something we're also working to advance.
Further still, we are expecting the re-release of the Local Food Act, something Premier (and food+ag minister) Kathleen Wynne has committed to strengthening.
This approach to food policy coming from here and there and everywhere isn't new for governments at all levels, which respond to food through all sorts of departments and policies.
The benefits of integrating food policy however have been touted at all levels, by Food Secure Canada and Sustain Ontario, and has been done to an extent at the municipal level, with a Food Strategy for the City of Toronto.
Bringing the pieces of food policies on the table under a broader provincial food strategy would help streamline the solutions that could support everyone from farmers to eaters to develop a healthier province. It would also recognize the ability of one policy to have multiple benefits for several desirable social outcomes.
It's an excellent time to move on food policy for several reasons:
- New food policies meet Premier Wynne's objectives and throne speech, like supporting job growth in rural Ontario and supporting small businesses to create jobs in the City and suburbs, while also creating a more socially just province.
- Everything's coming together - food policies are making headway through all of these recommendations and the government understands the benefit of fast action.
- As parties begin to cooperate more (it's actually happening, a little!) in this minority government, we can take look to food policies that will get support from multiple parties like the ones we're advocating for. And all MPPs will see the differences these policies can make in their communities.
- A Local Food Act is to be launched from a Premier who says she is ready to listen to Ontarians... the more ambitious the Act, the more results we get for jobs and health outcomes.
Three policies we've landed on that would create jobs in good food have shown growing resonance from workers and entrepreneurs, organizations, and the people of Ontario who have signed on from across the province. We think these have great a chance of support from different parties in the Act and in the budget:
- Public institutions purchase of local, socially and environmentall sustainable food;
- A review of regulations that hamper small food and farm enterprises;
- Support and funding for community food programs and social entrepreneurs in low income communities.
Darcy Higgins is the Executive Director of Food Forward. You can contact him at email@example.com
Join good food heros, farmers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders from Amherstburg to Toronto to Ottawa who've signed our petition to Premier Kathleen Wynne on the need to create good food jobs through a stronger Local Food Act!
Click here to see who's just signed, read, sign, and email the petition to your friends and colleagues.