By Amanda Brodhagen, Farms.com
Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario and candidate in Guelph, says he plans to continue to champion food and farm issues in the 2014 provincial election.
“I am a huge supporter of the food and farm sector,” Schreiner said in an interview this week with Farms.com.
Schreiner says one thing that has been driving him crazy this election is that while the other three main political parties are talking about their job creation plans, he argues that their plans ignore a key driver of the economy, the agricultural industry. “The largest employer in the province is the food and farm sector,” he adds, making note that the agri-food sector generates more than $40 billion annually to the provincial economy.
“It’s such an important part of our society in terms of our ability to eat, but also the economy,” he explained.
The Green Party leader has long taken a keen interest in agricultural issues. Schreiner grew up as a farm kid, on his family’s farm in rural western Kansas. He says that he moved to Canada for love, and is now happily married to his wife Sandy, they have two children. The couple moved to Canada in 1995.
In addition to Schreiner’s farming roots, the majority of his career prior to becoming leader of the Green Party of Ontario in 2009, was as a small business owner. He is the co-founder of WOW Foods, a food distribution company which aims to connect local farmers with consumers in the GTA region. And in the early 2000s he also helped to start up Earthdance Organics, a Guelph-based food production business.
Schreiner says he has always been interested in politics, but was tired of the three status quo parties. “The Green Party spoke to my values,” he said. “I don’t think that they [the other political parties] actually speak out very much in support of small business or farmers.”
The province’s largest farm lobby group, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture has been intent on sparking some dialogue about rural and agriculture issues this election. The farm group launched a campaign website, and has invited party leaders to participate in a debate on food and farm issues. Schreiner says he has RSVP’d to participate and hopes that the other leaders agree to join in on the discussion.
Green Party Calls for a Ban on Neonicotinoid Treated Seeds
Last week (May 15), Schreiner took a bold stance by calling for an immediate ban on neonicotionoid pesticides (neonics, for short). Most farmers plant neonic-coated corn and soybean seeds. It is thought, by some, that neonics are the main cause of widespread bee deaths. So naturally, bees and neonics are hot topics among those involved in the agricultural community.
“I am very concerned about bee kill offs,” he said.
Schreiner suggests that there is enough scientific evidence to link neonics to bee deaths.
“We are calling for an immediate ban,” he said. “But I also recognize that most farmers have already bought their seed.” He is advocating for a ban to come into effect for the 2015 planting season, as most Ontario farmers have already begun planting their 2014 crops.
As a kid, having come from a 2000 acre conventional grain farm, growing predominantly - corn, wheat and soybeans on a rotational basis, Schriner says he is very sensitive to the issues that farmers face. This year, the Green Party leader encourages farmers and beekeepers to work together to help mitigate any possible impact that neonic treated seeds might have on neighbouring bee hives.
“Respecting the tradition of farmers helping farmers, I would put a call out to grain farmers who are using neonic treated seeds to be sensitive to beekeepers,” he said.
Schreiner has his hopes set on knocking off incumbent Liberal MPP and Education Minister Liz Sandals in the riding of Guelph, and becoming the first elected Green MPP in Ontario.
Ontario voters head to the polls on June 12, 2014.