By Laina Smith, York Simcoe Food Champion
The Holland Marsh’s Peaker plant dominated discussion at the York-Simcoe debate for the provincial election last Thursday night.
One member of the audience said it is located in protected countryside and on a flood plain. Green party candidate Meade Helman pointed out that if he constructed a building in violation of the law, the government would make him take it down. NDP candidate Megan Tay stated that there are many layers of regulations but they are not enforced. Conservative candidate Julia Monroe suggested that transparency in the process is important in order to ensure history is not repeated.
How to attract young people to farming was another issue that surfaced during the debate. All four parties suggested education as a key component. Tay had a number of recommendations including an apprenticeship program, training tax credits, and a Buy Ontario program.
Each party’s position on promoting tax policies to encourage long-term investment on rented agricultural lands was sought. Liberal candidate Gloria Reszler advised looking at longer term investment.
When candidates were asked how they would encourage municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals to purchase local vegetables, Monroe said the PC’s platform contains a Buy Ontario food policy for hospitals and schools. Helman addressed the economic benefit as well as the health benefit from purchasing locally-grown food.
All candidates said their parties would honour existing renewable energy contracts. Reszler remarked that the Liberals started the program and the contracts have been gobbled up.
Candidates were asked what they would do to ensure chain retail stores bought local produce. Reszler stated it is an education and marketing issue. She vowed to fight against produce “dumping” from Quebec in Ontario stores. Monroe said labelling requirements are a huge change themselves and they illustrate that stores are responding to public pressure.
The second last question of the night concerned farmland protection. Candidates were asked how they would ensure farmland remains farmland. Tay indicated that locals are often silenced and the NDP wants to strengthen voices as well as enforce regulations. Farming needs to be made a viable career option. Helman pointed out we are not making anymore farmland which is salient given more mouths to feed in this province and given the worldwide food crises. He suggested making farmland sacred, valued and called for an end to building on it.