By Amanda Brodhagen, Farms.com
[Updated May 29, 2014]
Farmers have been eagerly waiting to hear if the four political parties in Ontario plan to talk about their support for agriculture in the election. In particular, they’ve been wanting to know if the parties are up to debate food and farm issues. After all, the agri-food sector is the largest employer in Ontario, contributing $13.7-billion to the province’s annual GDP.
The province’s largest farm lobby group, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), and the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors sent out an invite to the party leaders requesting their participation in a debate on food and farm issues.
According to OFA, Steve Paikin has agreed to moderate the event. However, a spokesperson from TVO said Monday, that at this time, The Agenda (TVO’s program) has no plans to participate or broadcast this event. Currently, there is no mention of it on Paikin’s personal schedule.
OFA’s general manager, Neil Currie said in a phone interview on Monday that organizers are still in the planning stages of hosting the event. He was unable to provide information about the location of the debate, but suggested it could possibly be held near London or Stratford, accessible to farmers who may wish to attend. OFA has agreed to share more details about the debate with Farms.com once new information becomes available.
Good news, all four political parties have agreed to participate. Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner told Farms.com in an interview that he RSVP’d as soon as he received the invite. A spokesperson for the Ontario Liberal Party, Gabe De Roche confirmed in an email that the Liberals will also be participating.
“Our relationship with both producers and food processors is very strong and we will continue to work with the agri-food sector to ensure a more prosperous future for the sector and for the families who rely on it for their livelihoods,” he said.
A spokesperson for Ontario’s New Democrats, Andrew Schwab, said in an email that if the other parties have RSVP’d that Andrea will attend. Meanwhile, Progressive Conservative spokesperson, Jacqui Delaney, confirmed that the PCs do plan to participate, but it will be Ernie Hardeman who will be debating, not Tim Hudak. Hardeman has acted as the party’s agriculture critic and served as minister of agriculture under the Mike Harris government.
Tractor Cab Telephone Town Halls
In addition to the televised food and farm debate, Grain Farmers of Ontario, the province’s largest commodity organisation, is offering tractor cab telephone town halls over the next three weeks. Planting has been delayed in many parts of the province due to the cool wet spring, therefore most farmers will be busy working the fields during the election campaign.
The town halls will provide farmers with the opportunity to call-in from the cab of their tractors, while planting. Farmers will be able to participate over the next three weeks. GFO says that it will post a schedule and details of the town halls on its website shortly.
The PC’s and the Liberals have confirmed their involvement in the town halls.
“Andrea will not be able to participate in the town halls, but the NDP will attempt to find a representative to participate. No one is confirmed at this point,” Schwab said in an emailed statement.
However, John Vanthof, a retired dairy farmer, who has most recently served as the agriculture critic for the NDP told Farms.com that he would be happy to participate in any agriculture debates if he is available.
A Green Party of Ontario spokesperson, Candice Lepage, said that she was unaware of the tractor town hall discussion, but said if invited, Schreiner would like to participate.
The first town hall will be held on Monday, June 2nd, 11:00a.m. - 11:45a.m. Ernie Hardeman (PC Party Ag Critic) has agreed to participate. A second town hall featuring Jeff Leal (Minister of Rural Affairs, Liberal Party) is scheduled for Friday, June 6th starting at 11:00a.m. A spokesperson for GFO, Debra Conlon said that GFO is still in scheduling talks with the NDP. Town halls will be wrapped up before lunch.
“There is a lot of interest from our membership to participate as it allows them to dial in directly from their Tractor cab – many of them are busy on the land after a long hard winter and late, wet spring,” she said in an email.
• 45 minutes in length
• Opening remarks - Henry VanAnkum (Chairman of GFO) will provide an overview of GFO’s election priorities i.e. the Risk Management Program, a Soy Innovation Centre, increase research capacity, and the regulatory process for agricultural technologies
• Party representatives will have the opportunity to share their key messages
• Phone lines will be open to five questions (related to GFO issues) - candidates will then respond
• Questions are provided in advance to the candidates
It should be noted that the town halls are for farmers only. Dial in number for the call is 888-886-7786.