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.
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