Resuming the debate adjourned on April 29, 2013, on the motion for second reading of the following bill:
Bill 36, An Act to enact the Local Food Act, 2013 / Projet de loi 36, Loi édictant la Loi de 2013 sur les aliments locaux.
I can't help but reflect on some of the comments that the Minister of Agriculture and Food shared in her opening comments. There was one particular phrase. She asked a question: "How do we best increase demand for and access to local food across the province?" Well, ladies and gentlemen of the House, I suggest to you that the minister has reflected upon how she wants to have respectful conversations. Well, she needs to start engaging with our agri-food stakeholders because what she's proposed in this particular act just isn't going to cut it. If she actually had respectful conversation with agri-food stakeholders, she would learn that less regulation, more research, better support and a focus on how to minimize cost to production is what our stakeholders are really looking for.
When I talk about less regulation, I think of Gerhard Metzger; he's got a wonderful abattoir business. I was just speaking to him Monday morning and he was reflecting on the fact that with the burden of regulation, it's getting harder and harder to make a viable business. Further to that, he actually recognized the lack of skilled trades as an issue as well. He doesn't want someone just to come into his operation and cut meat; he wants someone to come in and be educated and have an appreciation for food science. We've talked about that in our white paper, the PC white paper called Respect for Rural Ontario. We need jobs in our agri-food industry and we need a system that promotes that so that we can develop local foods and embrace what there is to offer in that regard.
In terms of more research-you know, some of you might crack a smile when I talk about this, but in her comments, again, the Minister of Agriculture spoke to the fact that they want to be responsive to foods-"from ethnically diverse foods to foods that address special dietary needs like nut-free and gluten-free." If she was listening to the Grain Farmers of Ontario, she'd come to realize that research is needed. The Grain Farmers of Ontario have been consistently asking for dollars with regard to a seed breeder. Some of you might smile when I say that, but we need research to determine how we can develop the gluten-free grains so that we can address the local foods that our new populations require.
In terms of better support and cost of production, on Monday morning as well-I thought it was rather ironic-I received two emails from folks from home. One was Heather Ritzema. She sent an email because she's worrying about running her dairy operation-her dairy farm-while enduring skyrocketing electricity costs that ultimately come back to each and every consumer of milk in this province. If we can't get our cost of production under control, then our products are going to go up in price and people won't be able to afford to buy local food.
I also got an email from Jason Emke, from District 2, OSMA-Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency. He was sharing his stress over the fact that Ontario sheep producers have fewer vaccines, while Australia, New Zealand, the US and now the UK are all exporting lamb into Ontario and they have many drugs available for use that are not available for Ontario flocks. These countries have many different dewormers-combination drenches-that put us, in Ontario, at a great disadvantage.
So we have to take a look at how we can best position our farmers in Ontario to produce, in a cost-effective manner, the most effective, good-quality local foods we can.
I'd also like to focus on comments that the Minister of Agriculture and Food shared with regard to the need to increase education and awareness. You know, it kind of made me scratch my head a little bit, because I really wonder how well the Minister of Agriculture and Food knows her file. It's a flag for me, and I'm concerned about it.
I used to work for OMAFRA. Yesterday, we heard the minister recognize the 125th anniversary of OMAF. There was a body within OMAF: Ontario Agri-food Education. It was agriculture in the classroom, traditionally. That program was managed by a couple of wonderful ladies; Marjorie McDonald comes to mind, Joyce Canning.
Then, in the spirit of recognizing a need and getting government out of the way so an organization could grow and excel, OAFE spun into a not-for-profit organization that provides great support for agriculture in-classroom initiatives. OAFE is all about developing curriculum-based resources that articulate a clear agri-food message.
Ernie Hardeman and I will be travelling there later today. We've embraced this in our white paper, and I hope the government does as well. Thank you.
One comment I'd like to bring forward in this House is that last night, at the Dairy Farmers of Ontario reception, the Minister of Agriculture, the Premier, acknowledged-she said there are a lot of things we can do to make this bill better. I think we should take this opportunity to actually make this bill into something that agriculture and people all over the province can be proud of and can benefit from.
A few of the things: We need a real, honest discussion about where Local Food Week should be placed in the year. It shouldn't just be, "Oh, we decided to put it here, and we're going to bump somebody else. So we're going to go over another-we're going to go over Agriculture Week." That's one thing we've got to change.
We need, in this act, especially for small processors who are the backbone, along with farmers-but small processors are actually the backbone of local food-some kind of framework within this act that's actually going to show how we can make regulation make sense for small processors. That has to be included in this act.
We need food literacy included in this act. We need a framework on how we're actually going to improve access to local food; how we're actually going to do it. We need to set those goals and objectives, not three years after we pass the law, Mr. Speaker; we need to set the goals and objectives, and especially the framework on how those goals and objectives are going to be set-before or while the act is passed into law, not three years after. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
But more importantly, this bill-I think in her remarks she said it's a lot to do about nothing. It actually doesn't do anything, unfortunately, where in fact the suggestions that she brought to the table do suggest things that we could do to improve the plight of agriculture in Ontario.
There's another sad point to this bill. It actually attempts to expunge from the public record the great work done by the member from Perth-Middlesex, I think, Bert Johnson. Now, Bert Johnson brought in Agriculture Week; I believe it was in 1998.
This bill seems to try to superimpose on that this whole ideal of feeling good about the Local Food Act. Really, what I think is important is to pay respect for agriculture. They grow the food that we eat. Get to know a farmer. Visit a local garden. Visit a local market. You'll see the great work that's being done, not just in the GTA, but across Ontario. Our member brings that. Huron-Bruce is another area widely respected for agriculture, not unlike my riding of Durham, which I'll be speaking about. I hope to have an hour this morning to speak about my riding of Durham and the great leadership in agriculture there.
The member from Huron-Bruce, as I said, knows what she's talking about, has a lot a lot to offer, and I commend her remarks to everyone's attention.
My colleague from Timiskaming-Cochrane was speaking about the importance of doing food literacy in schools. This is so common sense. This is something that we should be debating here. How are we going to do this? There is so much opportunity for this to happen. Unfortunately, this debate is not happening in these chambers about how we could do that.
There are people who are inspired around the province. Sustain Ontario is asking schools in Ontario to report out-have students report out about how they're using food in innovative ways. They want to know about student nutrition programs. They want to hear about cafeterias and culinary arts programs. But, Speaker, there's not enough support from this government to help those programs happen. So I'm afraid that those reports are not as exciting as they could be if we actually had a government that would work with communities, work with our school system, work with students who want to bring food into their schools and do this work.
Clearly, we're going to pass this on to committee. I hope at that point civil society will come in and make some of their recommendations to this government. But I hope, too, that the government is listening. It's unfortunate that we don't have more to talk about in these chambers about what could be done when it comes to local food in Ontario.
Agriculture in the classroom has been around for some time. Prior to coming to this wonderful House on October 6, 2011, I'm very proud to say I was vice-chair of Ontario Agri-Food Education. I just want to give a shout-out to them, because in case the Minister of Agriculture and Food or the rest of the people in the House aren't familiar with what they do, I want to share that OAFE has reached over and provided over 43,000 agri-food educational resources to classrooms. OAFE is sponsored by all the commodity organizations throughout Ontario, as well as a number of financial institutions and individuals. OAFE also reached more than 16,000 teachers who in turn reached out to more than 326,000 students in 2010 alone. They're great partners in huge traditional rural activities that we embrace, much like the granddaddy of all fairs, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, and the International Plowing Match, with which the member from Timiskaming-Cochrane became very familiar as he managed the education tent there. I really appreciated the efforts he put forward there.
But in the end, ladies and gentlemen, the Local Food Act needs so much more work. Our agri-food industry deserves respect and we need to really get this into committee to give that. Thank you.
In regard to Bill 36, I'm very supportive of the concept of a Local Food Act. Farming and agriculture is a rich part of our history and the history of my riding. That not only fuels growth and job creation but contributes significantly to our local, provincial and federal economies. In Ontario, the farm sector contributes close to $3.5 billion in tax revenues, it generates over $7 billion in salaries and wages, and it has created over 165,000 jobs and makes up roughly 13% of Ontario's gross domestic product. So I think we can all agree it's a very, very important industry.
While I agree with the premise of supporting local food-who wouldn't?-in terms of the health benefits, the economic benefits and the common sense of it all, there are some weaknesses to this particular Liberal bill that have not only been brought forward by the opposition parties but by various stakeholders that I want to briefly discuss here today.
One concern for us is the loss of Ontario Agriculture Week, to be replaced with a Local Food Week. As was said earlier by my colleague from Durham, Ontario Agriculture Week was brought forward by a former colleague, Bert Johnson from Perth, and it's been a huge success since he brought that forward in the 1990s. Now the Liberals somehow want to discard that and replace it with Local Food Week.
Agriculture Week has always served to underscore how much we continue to rely on agriculture and the products made by the agricultural industry in our daily lives. It has always been a week we could reserve to pay tribute to the entire Ontario agricultural industry and all those who work within it. This includes everyone from sod and potato farmers in New Tecumseth in my riding, corn and cabbage producers in Clearview, and apple growers in Clarksburg, to name just a few. They all deserve this special recognition and grateful acknowledgement and are why we do not want this important week replaced.
If anything, we believe Ontario Agriculture Week and Local Food Week should be separate weeks to allow us to recognize both the contributions of our farmers and the importance of local food, including the many people and organizations involved in Ontario's food system.
The second weakness of this legislation is how little it actually does much of anything, as my colleague Lisa Thompson indicated in her remarks. It has a great name, it sounds great, but if you look to the meat and bones of the bill, there's very little substance. In a CBC radio interview last October, the former Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ted McMeekin, even had a hard time explaining the purpose of this bill. The announcer repeatedly asked him about the targets and goals of the act, to which Mr. McMeekin had no reply except to say basically that the act would allow for further discussions to eventually establish goals and targets to "aspire" to in respect of local food. I mean, come on, do we really need an act in the Ontario Legislature to do that? This is common sense stuff here.
For a Premier who prides herself on her devotion to rural and agricultural issues, her reintroduction of this bill is an insult. For this to be the first bill-and so far the only bill-for her to introduce to address the issues that plague the agricultural community, it's certainly clear that our part-time Minister of Agriculture is falling short of her responsibilities.
Stakeholders and the PC caucus have put forward a number of proposals that would have strengthened our food system, increased access to local food and helped our agriculture sector. But instead of listening, the government has chosen to ignore these initiatives and reintroduce the same weak legislation as they did last fall that doesn't do much of anything.
In a letter to the Premier dated March 28, 2013, stakeholder groups outlined their concern with the shortcomings of this legislation. The letter was signed by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, FoodShare, Sustainable Food Production, Sustain Ontario, Food Forward, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association, Ontario farm fresh, the Organic Council of Ontario, Holland Marsh Growers' Association, Toronto Food Policy Council and Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation.
Let me read a couple of highlights from this letter, as the Premier has seemed to neglect to read it herself:
"Premier, we also feel the Local Food Act can and should do more than promote awareness and strive to improve procurement. We believe the key to really accomplishing the goals of stronger food systems in Ontario lies in improving the basic food literacy for all Ontarians. In the short term this means food awareness programs including nutrition and food preparation programming. A longer term investment includes a strong food literacy component in our school curriculum. We go as far as to suggest hands-on food skills training in our school system."
It continues: "Likewise, a Local Food Act should also address the very fundamental issue of food access-the ability of all Ontarians to procure nutritious and culturally acceptable food at all times....
"Premier, we hope that you will also extend the focus of Bill 36 to encompass regional economic development opportunities. A well-crafted Local Food Act will help strengthen Ontario's food and agricultural sector, resulting in social and economic benefits for communities all across Ontario....
"Finally, we feel that it is important to emphasize that Bill 36 can realize several environmental goals. We aspire to have a Local Food Act that would include measures to further incent producers and processors towards environmentally sustainable practices."
Mr. Speaker, I would like to note that many of these suggested reforms are also the reforms we suggest in our PC white paper entitled Paths to Prosperity: Respect for Rural Ontario, which is on the Ontario PC website. I would encourage the Premier to have a look at that discussion paper.
Also I would note that just a few days ago our critic for agriculture and food, Mr. Ernie Hardeman, from Oxford, and our education critic, Lisa MacLeod, from Nepean-Carleton, announced that when this bill gets to committee-which it will soon-we'll be putting forward an amendment to do exactly what the people asked for in the letter I just read, in bringing in food literacy in the curriculum in our schools.
A third concern with this bill is its failure to address the various challenges Ontario's food system and agriculture sector is facing. The impact of red tape, hydro rates and the latest tire tax are some of the issues that need to be addressed, and in most cases are due to policies that need to be reversed.
The number one problem PCs found during a thorough consultation process with farmers, food processors and agribusinesses was red tape and the unnecessary regulatory burden forced on the sector. Of those surveyed, 77% of farmers, 76% of food processors and 86% of agribusinesses reported that needless paperwork is hindering their operations.
In my riding, Miller's Dairy in Creemore provides an example. Their on-farm milk processing plant was delayed by various government regulations, including the requirement to build a receiving bay for milk trucks to transport unpasteurized milk. On-farm milk processing means milk is pasteurized on-farm and that both a milk truck and receiving bay aren't needed. Mr. Speaker, I had to intervene personally in this thing; it was the stupidest thing in the world.
They wanted them to build a very, very expensive truck cleaning station, a truck receiving station and other facilities to deal with trucks. Well, there are no trucks moving milk on Miller's farm, but it took us months to explain to the bureaucrats-because they had these regulations they had to stick to-that we're going to put a pipe from one barn where the cows are milked; the milk will go into a holding tank and then that pipe will take it over to the next barn, where it will be pasteurized and bottled. There are no trucks. But that was a very strange concept for them. They couldn't understand that a four-inch pipe would replace trucks.
Yet the government at that time-the Minister of Agriculture was running around saying, "We need more on-farm processing and value-added on the farm," and "Sell it at the farm gate." Here we were doing exactly that in Creemore at Miller's Dairy. I am happy to report that they are up and running, and they are selling wonderful milk products in our local stores in the riding and just outside of the riding. Of course, their milk is featured on many restaurant menus.
There's also an example I have of local food. I've got a bistro in Alliston called Bistro Burger Joint. The owner-chef is Jay Klausen. He has recently been told that he has to take the word "local"-he has two restaurants in town, and he tries to source local. Well, because he has been buying his carrots from Holland Marsh, over 30 kilometres away, he can no longer call his food "local" because of federal red tape. So, I think the minister, rather than this food act, should be dealing with the federal government and getting rid of that piece of red tape. Thank you.
I think the member from Simcoe-Grey brought up some very good points. Specifically, I'd like to spend a minute on the on-farm processor of milk he has in his riding, Miller's farms. It's a prime example of where there has to be something in the Local Food Act, some kind of framework, where the regulation makes sense for the size of the processor and for the individual conditions of the processor. A truck-washing station for a dairy that gets bulk milk trucks is a necessity. It has to be a regulation. How much hot water? How much pressure? Those things all have to be in the regulation, because that keeps people safe. But that regulation, quite frankly, does not fit for an on-farm processor. An on-farm processor needs different rules to make sure that it's safe. They're not the same. If you want to promote more local food processors, if you actually want to protect the local food processors that are here now, we have to have some kind of framework, a definite legislative framework that's talked about in this House, to make sense for those processors. He brings up a very, very good point.
I also listened to the interview from the previous minister. In fact, the bill has changed somewhat. It's being brought forward now by the new minister-but actually it's being made worse. Moving Agriculture Week-trying to supplant or moving Local Food Week on top of Agriculture Week isn't an improvement. Having goals and objectives to be set three years from now is not an improvement.
Ontario Agriculture Week was and is an opportunity not only to have a harvest celebration, but also to recognize the complexity-that's why it's called Agriculture Week-the secondary products that are created, the value-added through keeping processing in our communities and the issue around abattoirs. All of these things go up or make up the economy of agriculture and its contribution to Ontario. When you look at Local Food Week, not only as a set-aside time but also as part of this bill, this is an urban focus.
There's more to eating that goes on in agriculture. Obviously, that's the most important part of agriculture, but there's an entire area that is ignored by suggesting it can be replaced by Local Food Week. I would argue that the best time to do it is actually at planting time. If we were to have the week set aside at the time when people are working, in some cases 24 hours a day, to get planting done, maybe there'd be a greater appreciation of the risks between planting and harvesting. Now, that is a local food issue.
Manitoulin Island has farmers like Linda, Ted, Max and Glenn, who are thriving on Manitoulin Island, bringing their businesses to fruition. They're counting on the season to start, and they're looking forward to it. Businesses owned by Alain, France, Richard, Sue and Garry are just waiting for those people to come into their businesses and their restaurants, as are the farmers-bed and breakfasts, gift shops, hotels, jobs, the farmers' market. The farmers' markets measure their success based on the amount of tourism that comes to the island.
But you know what the problem is? The Chi-Cheemaun ain't going to run this year because it's late. These people's lives are being put in danger because this government is not going into action to help them. What they're doing is they're throwing the hot potato back to the federal government, telling them, "It's your fault; it's your responsibility." They're throwing it back: "Well, we got a legal opinion. It's your responsibility. You deal with it." And they're throwing it back: "Well, we're doing everything we can. Let's have a chat about it."
Let's stop having a chat. These lives are really being put in danger. I'm always going to continue to come into this House and talk about the people of Algoma-Manitoulin. Their lives are really being put in danger by the inaction that is happening by this government.
We really need to promote a food act. Let me tone it down here. It is a good thing. But I will always speak on behalf of the people of Algoma-Manitoulin and about the inaction of this government to help them. Stop passing the hot potato; get to the pot. Get the deal done for these people so that they can promote their Local Food Act.
The Chi-Cheemaun needs an adjustment to its fenders-how difficult can that be?-so that people can get access to the island and indeed enjoy it. There are some wonderful restaurants, and there's a wonderful inn over there and lots of great spots. Maybe they could enjoy local food if they could only get it over to the island. Maybe they'll have to canoe it over, Mr. Speaker; it's back to the Dark Ages. It's something that their government should stop fighting about. It's about $100,000 in repairs. The Owen Sound Transportation Commission can't afford to do that themselves, so it will take government intervention. Certainly people do deserve that.
So congratulations to the member from Algoma-Manitoulin. I hope, no matter what the topic is today and for the rest of the time that's needed to get the government to respond, that he does take that time.
I just want to give another plug for an amendment that we're bringing forward to the Local Food Act. Mr. Hardeman, our agriculture critic, the member for Oxford, and Lisa MacLeod, our education critic, the member from Nepean-Carleton-food literacy. We believe it's an essential part of any food act because it's vital that our children have knowledge of healthy food and understand where it comes from. There's an astounding statistic that we received from the Farmers Feed Cities organization. It found that only 41% of 18- to 34-year-olds said they knew where their food comes from. That's astounding and it's embarrassing, and it needs to change. Hopefully, this act, when properly amended, will do something to change that rather low statistic, Mr. Speaker.
The reason that I say that is because anyone who would review this bill would realize that it does nothing. Our critic Mr. Hardeman, who spoke to this bill, was very articulate in pointing out that anything-anything-that this bill is proposing to do by legislation can be done today without legislation, without regulation. The only thing that is required in this bill that needs legislation is the very cynical motion to do away with Agriculture Week. That, I think, is most disrespectful.
I would hope that it is perhaps because the Premier, who is now the Minister of Agriculture, simply wasn't aware of the fact that our former colleague in this House brought forward legislation that has been celebrated, that has been honoured, throughout Ontario for the last number of years as Agriculture Week. That celebrates agriculture from the farm to the table, and it honours the work that farmers do every day. It honours their contribution to our economy. It respects an industry that is making a major contribution to this province but, sadly, is certainly not being recognized by this government. As the Premier goes through her apprenticeship in agriculture, hopefully, she will take the time to recognize that this bill, in many respects, is actually an insult to the industry.
We've heard many recommendations coming forward that will no doubt be made more substantively at committee. There is an opportunity to make some substantial changes-amendments-to this bill that will actually be meaningful. Certainly, we will, as the PC caucus, be bringing forward a number of amendments. I know the third party will as well, and, hopefully, members of the government.
Hopefully, the minister herself, the Premier, will at least take the time to read the Hansard of the remarks that are being made and will participate in those committee hearings. Speaker, as she appeared at the committee investigating the power plants scandal, we would hope that she would make herself equally as available to participate in the committee hearings that deal with this bill.
I'm proud to represent the riding of Newmarket-Aurora. Over the course of the last 18 years, I've now represented three separate ridings in York region due to redistribution, ranging from Oak Ridges, which included the very rich farmland of Stouffville as well as the northern part of Markham. People don't perhaps realize that there is still some very rich farmland encompassed by the urban boundaries of Markham.
I represented the riding of York-Mackenzie. I was the first and last member to represent York-Mackenzie. That included the township of King.
Today I represent Newmarket-Aurora. While there is little farmland left there, I can tell you that we're very proud of York region, which today has 972 farms comprising some 67,000 hectares of land. In York region alone we contribute some $147.2 million in farm cash receipts; 24,730 jobs throughout York region are supported by agriculture.
Speaker, I know that my colleague Ms. Munro has mentioned in the past the Holland Marsh as Ontario's food basket. The Holland Marsh produces 95% of Ontario's celery, 66% of its onions, 80% of its carrots, 90% of its Asian vegetables-still very rich farmland. While that land is under attack, I also want to go on record, and I'm very proud of the fact, that it was the PC government and myself and my colleagues in the PC caucus who advocated for the Oak Ridges moraine legislation, which, as we know, when it was implemented, protected permanently literally thousands of acres of land across the Oak Ridges moraine from development for generations to come, a proud accomplishment. It's for that reason that we continue to stand with those in agriculture who are making such an incredible contribution to our province.
I want to take this opportunity to make reference to the fact that in Aurora as well as in Newmarket we have a farmers' market that I have the opportunity to attend from time to time. The farmers' market in Aurora actually opens up this Saturday. From 8 o'clock until 1 o'clock every Saturday through to October, people can purchase locally grown produce. There are bakery items and meats, meat products and preserves and crafts, and I invite people to attend that. It's located on Wells Street at Metcalfe in downtown Aurora.
Newmarket, as well, opens their farmers' market this weekend. It also runs from 8 o'clock until 1 o'clock in the afternoon. It's located at Riverwalk Commons, which is at Doug Duncan Drive and Timothy Street-again, locally grown produce and meat products. And when we talk about encouraging locally grown food products, there's no better place to enjoy that than in our local farm markets.
Speaker, I've made my comments about this bill. I'm not going to speak any more about it because, quite frankly, there is little to say. The only action words in this legislation are "review," "set targets," "consult." It does nothing. But I can tell you what we will be making our amendments based on. The PC caucus has published our discussion document on agricultural policy. It is entitled Paths to Prosperity: Respect for Rural Ontario and it makes this commitment, Speaker. I will quote from the document: "We would introduce a comprehensive Ontario food act that would support local procurement and help our farmers, food processors and agribusinesses by reducing red tape and supporting Ontario's food system. To have an impact, the legislation needs to address our entire food system from field to fork and contain real, meaningful changes. This act would also include our proposals for a dedicated fund for the Risk Management Program and the one-window access to government for farmers and agribusinesses."
Speaker, what we need in this province is real action. What we need is a substantive approach to ensuring that our agricultural industry cannot only survive but that it can prosper. Unfortunately the bill that we have before us does none of that. In fact, as I indicated, I really do believe that it shows a great deal of disrespect for this industry. Thank you.
So we've had a government here that had a bill about supporting seniors, and it did nothing to actually support seniors. But they can now go into an election at some point and say, "We passed a bill to support seniors, and we passed a bill to support local food."
We spent months here talking about bullying in the province, which is a huge concern for people-clearly everyone's against bullying-but the net result was anti-bullying week. In my experience this has not actually stopped bullying in my community or in Ontario, and neither will just naming a week in October "Local Food Week." Will that actually create sustainable food systems in Ontario? It's good politics; it's poor policy.
I was happy to hear the member from Simcoe-Grey, however, talk about the support from the Conservatives for food literacy in schools. That is something that's really important. It's something we could do. I hope that they'll actually provide resources for this stuff, too, because just saying "food literacy" isn't actually going to create food literacy.
We know the cost of poor health and of poor nutrition in Ontario. We all pay for it with our tax dollars. Nobody wants to waste taxpayer money, but we're wasting it when we don't do the upfront investment to make sure that people have access to good food. We could do this through this bill. We could actually support schools to have good food in their schools.
I hope that all parties will work on this and actually make the necessary investments to make this a healthier province.
I do agree with all the comments from the member from Newmarket-Aurora-
Anyways, I guess the issue that I have with this whole act-I've heard this from my farmer friends in Perth-Wellington-and why it's brought out words like "aspire" and things like that, is that their job is very difficult. They have a lot to look after; they have a lot to read, but unfortunately a part-time minister can't do the job that we think they should be doing.
Agriculture in Ontario is the second-largest industry in Ontario. All the jobs, all the economics it puts back into this province, and we have a part-time agriculture minister. Well, she can't keep up with it. It just doesn't work. We need a full-time agriculture minister in this province. We've always had one, and we should have one right now.
I'm also very disappointed that they would choose a date to replace Agriculture Week, which is the week leading up to Thanksgiving, which was passed under the leadership of a former MPP from my riding, Bert Johnson. That's disappointing. It shouldn't be there, and in committee we need to change that.
I just want to point out, I remember when I was growing up on a dairy farm, if my father had said at 6 o'clock in the morning, "Would you aspire to go out there and milk those cows? Would you go do that?" I probably wouldn't have gotten out of bed-
I'm very proud to be able to stand here on behalf of my NDP colleagues, on behalf of the farmers, farm families, small processors, big processors, and talk about the number one industry in Ontario. It was number one 125 years ago we found out yesterday, and it's number one today. That's why someone in the ministry should have spent a lot more time looking at this Local Food Act when they brought it forward the second time, and said, "Gee, you know, we could maybe make this better. We could actually be discussing a real-a meat-and-potatoes act here before-
In our policy document, Paths to Prosperity: Respect for Rural Ontario, there are some numbers. I want to put those on the record. The first one is 51,950; that is the number of farms in Ontario. The next one is 164,400; that is the number of Ontario jobs that are generated by the farming sector in this province-13% is the value of the rural economy to Ontario's gross domestic product; $7 billion is the value of the wages and salaries tied to Ontario's agricultural industry; $3.4 billion is the Ontario farm sector's contribution to federal and provincial taxes.
Over 30-that is the number of pieces of provincial legislation that are governing Ontario agriculture; 386,251 is the number of provincial regulations on the books in Ontario that are affecting the agricultural industry; 154 is the hours spent by the average farmer filling out government forms; $11 billion is the cost to business to comply with Ontario's regulatory burden.
But anyway, the fact is this-
In fact, for those viewing or listening today, I think it's important to read what the bill is intended to do. I'm actually reading from the bill. It's a couple of pages. There's really very little in it. Here's the explanatory note:
"1. The week beginning on the Monday before Thanksgiving Day in each year is proclaimed as Local Food Week.
"2. The Minister of Agriculture and Food may establish goals or targets to aspire to in respect of local food." Think of the soft, mushy words there: "may," "aspire to." "The minister must engage in consultation....." That means travel around Ontario. "The minister may direct a public sector organization to provide information...."
There are no objectives, no measurable goals nor measurable outcomes. This is a shame and an embarrassment, and that's in that context, Mr. Speaker, that I meant to the member from Newmarket-Aurora. He has put on the record the contribution that agriculture makes in Ontario, and I think that's the point he was making, and it's the point I'm commenting on.
My riding is made up of three large communities: Uxbridge, Scugog and Clarington. Within each one of those communities, there are many agricultural communities-tier 1 communities-that I think make Ontario the strong base that it is today.
I've had the privilege of serving in that area for about 30 years-about 18 here, and prior to that as a municipal councillor. I have great respect for the leadership in agriculture in my riding of Durham. In my remarks, I will certainly put on the record the names of those farms that I am familiar with.
In fact, it was just last week that I was on a farm tour, which started with a poultry farm. The next one was a blueberry farm, and the next one was a dairy operation.
As I said, my riding is a world leader in agriculture, and probably the largest sector would be the horticultural sector. I'll list a few for those here today.
Willowtree Farm in Port Perry is another regional award-winning farm of excellence in agri-food innovation. This is a family-owned market garden run by the Mckay family, including Rod, Marlene, Jordan and Alex.
Then there's Steve and Lisa Cooper, who are the 2010 national winners in Canada's Outstanding Young Farmers Program. They are the owners of the Cooper's CSA Farm and Maze near Zephyr.
Just yesterday, there was an opening I was unable to attend, but I know them generally as the Ing family-they have an organic farm, and they had their grand opening yesterday.
Wilmot Orchards is famous for their blueberries and apples-that's Charles and Judi Stevens-and they are featured in a recent farm tour.
Algoma Orchards is Kirk Kemp, president; Mike Gibson, CEO-innovators in agri-business, not only as growers, but also as packagers of apples, producers of apple juice and operators of a farm market near Newcastle. They now provide to Sobeys as well as McDonald's for most of Ontario, if not part of Canada.
Watson Farm is Ted and Paul Watson-a family farm for many years. In fact, my children, in the summer, before they were in university, worked on the farm. Watson Farm offers extensive pick-your-own products, as well as a roadside market in Bowmanville.
Archibald Orchards and Estate Winery-Fred and Sandy Archibald-are award-winning fruit wines, orchards and markets. In fact, they are so talented in agriculture and leadership in agriculture, that I believe Fred's brother Bruce was the Deputy Minister of Agriculture here, and federally as well. Fred and Sandy are both thoroughly involved in agriculture and, in fact, in agri-tourism as well.
Ocala Orchards, which is Irwin and Alissa Smith, is a historic family farm that is home to a vineyard, orchard, winery and retail shop. Formerly, it was a dairy farm, and they have transformed it to high-level, high-value agriculture.
The Found Family Farm, operated by Stan and Mary Ann Found and family, are proud to carry on an agricultural heritage that began with their family four generations ago on a Courtice farm-all meat, eggs and poultry. I would say that this farm here is the leader in agriculture education in my riding, and indeed in Ontario. They are involved with the royal winter fair. The head of the royal winter fair, the president, was Don Rickard, from Rickard's farm.
The list goes on, and I would say that there are farm markets in Port Perry and Uxbridge, as well as Clarington.
The Yellowlees Family Farm-Karen Yellowlees is the representative for the Durham agricultural advisory committee; I believe it's the Federation of Agriculture that I think she's the adviser for-have raised sheep, grown wild bird feed and produced home-baked goods on their farm for over 20 years.
Durham Farm Fresh promotes local food by bringing together farmers, farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture, chefs and restaurants in Durham region. There is a list of 50 farms marketing local food-almost all farms in Clarington, Scugog and Uxbridge within my riding.
In fact, the story of agriculture could be told every day by families that I try to represent effectively here in Ontario, but what I want to also put on the record is what this current government is not doing. I'm looking here at one of the petitions that was presented to me, and this is on the tire tax-the stewardship fee-being raised by 2,000% on farm or off-road agricultural-for their tires. That's just one example, as the member from Newmarket-Aurora stated, of the 154 different regulations and red tape, the 154 hours that farmers put into-I think that's the comment he made-working on red tape in agriculture.
This bill really is kind of a shameful experience of exploitation of agriculture. When I look at it-I think, if you look at Ontario, for instance, Ontario spends $745 million per year on food for its institutions like universities, colleges and hospitals. That's 80% of the population, almost. The largest public sector institutions' cafeterias in Ontario should be required to use Ontario food. That's the problem; there's no strength.
Yesterday the Dairy Farmers of Ontario were here, and I'm sure they gave her an earful just about her position on chocolate milk-this sound-good, feel-good-she thought that it wasn't a healthy food. I can't believe the disservice that we hear in agriculture. I think the farmers in my riding of Durham should be respected, because my final remark would be to refer to one of the people that I consider a mentor to my activity in public life.
He was a fellow by the name of Garnet Rickard, who is in the Order of Canada, and he was in an agricultural farm family for years. He told me that you could see all of the class 1 farmland in Ontario from the CN Tower, and that's part of my riding. What they've done to it is shameful. In fact, the 407 goes right through some of the prime property, and those farmers are now being evicted. They're not being properly compensated for the farmland that has been taken from them to build a highway, and I believe that that kind of attitude towards agriculture is why I get so frustrated. A feeling of lack of respect for agriculture emanates from this current government.
For those of you who don't know, it's a diamond. It's a diamond in the rough, Manitoulin Island, and I challenge you all and I welcome you all to come and visit the island. There is so much diversity on the island, with First Nations culture, with various artists, with communities, with museums and with a whole agricultural sector that is there, that is thriving and that is looking to diversify itself.
Last year, I had a nice chuckle at one of the farmers' markets. Over the last couple of years, as I've been going out to these farmers' markets-and these farmers' markets, you have to remember that it's a family-oriented business; it's really "my neighbour, my community," and they move around. You have to understand that there's a cycle around Manitoulin Island. Every weekend is identified for a particular activity, so you gear yourself to get to that activity in order to promote your farm, in order for you to sell your vegetables, in order for you to make a living.
Not only that, the hotels, the accommodations, the bed and breakfasts really count on that tourism coming to Manitoulin Island. Their umbilical cord is the Chi-Cheemaun, and unfortunately, every single day that the Chi-Cheemaun is not running, we are putting these people in a critical financial hardship and situation throughout the island. It is unfortunate to see that, because it is such a fantastic place.
Again, I challenge everybody to come there. But at the same time, pick up the phone, and why don't you get some of our ministries at the provincial and federal level to stop passing that hot potato, in order to get a decision to get the Chi-Cheemaun running so these families don't have to worry about feeding their kids? That's part of the Local Food Act, and if you can't promote it, it's going to be very hard to get to that island.
I just want to comment on the inspirational speech that the member from Durham delivered today.
I just want to say-Dairy Farmers of Ontario. Will Vanderhorst, a director from my riding, has a wonderful dairy farm just south of Norwood. He's very supportive of the Premier also being the Minister of Agriculture, and he had nothing but laudatory praise yesterday when I met with him. And I'm glad that Kawartha Dairy was present yesterday-a great regional, local food producer.
In Peterborough, along with our folks from Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, we have a phenomenal branding called Kawartha Choice, all local food. Get it in the Peterborough market every Saturday morning, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the afternoon. It's a great spot. Everybody's welcome there. The member from Timiskaming-Cochrane paid a visit to that market, and he thought it was one of the best in Ontario.
I'm blessed in Barrie. We're an urban community. A lot of people don't realize this about Barrie: We don't have one farm in our community. However, we're surrounded by farms that feed us in our city. It's a unique situation, where we have a lot of restaurants in Barrie that specialize in serving and preparing local food, and local food means exactly that: It's actually very localized food. We have pig farms, dairy farms, all sorts of different farms in the area, and it's great to have that.
You know what? It's a big piece of our economy. My children go to a school where most of the kids who go to this school in the city of Barrie actually come from farms on the outskirts of town, so they get an opportunity to go out and see and actually learn food literacy, understand what it takes to put food on the table, whether it's milk, beef, crops or whatever it is.
The point of this is that there are so many issues that need to be addressed by this bill, and it runs woefully short of addressing the serious issues that need to be addressed by the agricultural sector in Ontario. It just seems to me that it's okay to put another bill forward-the Liberals say it's okay to put another bill forward that has a nice name and has good intentions but does nothing.
It can't be that difficult, with all the people we saw here yesterday and other sectors in the agricultural industry coming here and telling us what they need, to give it to them. We're not even talking about money, in a lot of cases. We're talking about resources and we're talking about organization of the things that are already in place.
Let's start getting down to business, getting the backbone of our economy-which is agriculture-back on its feet and making sure that it stays on its feet for all the years to come.
I'd like to branch out a little bit to the rural community as a whole, because for many people, and especially in northern Ontario, it takes more than-to create a local food economy, you need a lot of services, and in a lot of places, rural people are much more spread out.
We're facing an issue now where the TSSA-that's the semi-autonomous group that regulates gas stations and oil tanks. You know what? They do a valuable job. I'm not complaining. They serve a purpose. But in a riding like mine, they don't inspect gas stations for 10 years, and then they inspect them all in a row and everybody has to be fixed within a month and a half. These people want to keep up the code, but when you do that, what you end up doing is closing mom-and-pop gas stations in towns where you have one gas station. So you close that gas station; the next gas station is 50 clicks, 60 clicks, 70 clicks-in northern Ontario, 100 clicks. There are local food producers around that gas station. That's where they get their diesel fuel, and all of a sudden it's not there anymore. And we wonder why-
And while the Tories go on about red tape, they created the TSSA, which is not responsible to government; and that's part of the problem. We can't rein these people in and say, "Okay, we want everybody to be safe, but the rules have to make sense for the size of the operation." Does the mom-and-pop gas station have to be safe? Yes, but I've got a station that sells 40,000 litres a year, and they're going to be shut down because they need the same system as somebody who sells three million litres a year. It's crazy, Speaker.
I think I've got a good reference here. We can all criticize, but I think it's important, in my concluding remarks, to look at what recommendations we've put forward. Our critic Ernie Hardeman, the member from Oxford, as part of a consultation with rural Ontario, has put together a document referred to as Respect for Rural Ontario. In that, there are several recommendations that deal with some of the comments with respect to red tape and tire stewardship fees, as well as regulations like the TSSA that was just mentioned. This is having respect for rural Ontario, and that's-really, if you look at it, rural Ontario is under a lot of stress because farms today aren't 100 or 200 acres. Farms today, to be economically viable, are-in my riding, some of them are 3,000 to 5,000 acres. I think of Youngfield Farms as an example of two young, intelligent brothers who farm. They have all the latest technology. They have, I think, 3,000 or 4,000 acres themselves. So that's affecting rural Ontario. They can no longer have the small stores, and that's because instead of being 100-acre farms down a concession road, you have one farmer who owns the whole concession road. So rural Ontario is shrinking.
I want to put one more farm on the list here that I didn't take the time-Hank and Lisa Mulder have Link Gardens. It's a hydroponic operation. Now, this is a young family where he came from Holland about 20 years ago. He has built a thriving, successful business on his own, on his own knowledge, using the resources and innovation that agriculture in Ontario is famous for.
Second reading debate deemed adjourned.
The House recessed from 1013 to 1030.
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