by Lauren Baker
Farming, food processing and food retail is the second largest economic sector in Ontario, generating sales of well over $40 billion per year. Yet farmers are going out of business, urban sprawl continues and farmland is being paved.
Growing rates of diet-related chronic diseases are driving our health care costs through the roof, and will add billions of dollars to the provincial health care bill into the foreseeable future.
At the same time, almost 40% of people who are fed by foodbanks are children, a shocking statistic that points to the chronic hunger and inability to access healthy food faced by some Ontarians.
Considering all this, it isn’t surprising that Ontarians are demanding a new approach to farming and food policy.
How are food and farm issues represented in the four elections platforms? What are the parties promising in relation to the future of food and farming in this province?
Sustain Ontario has done a very useful “report card” that allows visitors to the Vote ON Food and Farming website to read what parties have said about key farm and food issues. Quotes from the party platforms and the results of a survey administered to each party are offered so that voters can get a sense of where the parties stand on diverse farm and food issues. I encourage you to spend some time with this tool to see for yourself what the parties have promised.
As I read each of the policy platforms I was struck by how many of the issues important to the organizations and people working towards a food system that healthy, ecological, equitable and financially viable are on the agenda. The compiled promises from all four platforms could be considered a food and farm action plan for the next four years.
New Farm and Food Ideas for Ontario
Before getting into a review of what the four party platforms say about key farm and food issues, I want to highlight several of the new innovative proposals put forward by our provincial party leaders.
- The creation of a Good Food Fund aimed at scaling up community food initiatives (Green Party)
- A Local Food Act to promote healthy, local food choices (Liberal Party)
- Banning junk food ads aimed at children (NDP)
- One window access to the Ontario government for farmers to reduce their regulatory burden (PC)
- The creation of a provincial healthy school food program (Green Party)
- Childhood obesity reduction targets (Liberal Party)
- An Ontario Food and Farming Policy Council to advise the government on increasing the economic viability of the farming and food sector, and link issues across ministries and sectors (Green Party)
- The development of an Inter-Ministerial Food and Nutrition Policy (NDP)
All four parties address the economic viability of farming and food enterprises.
The parties support the expansion of business risk management for farmers and all express continued support of supply management. The Green Party and NDP would support new farmer training initiatives. The Green Party, Liberal Party and NDP mention the importance of supporting farm business succession planning.
All parties have committed to institutional food procurement programs or policies. The Liberals will continue the Broader Public Sector Investment Fund that aims to support the supply chain shifts necessary to increase local food procurement. Both the NDP and Green Party promise to set targets for local food procurement, and link these targets to local and sustainable production practices.
One of the key issues related to the economic viability of food and farming are the regulatory burdens faced by small and medium scale processors and farmers, and all parties promise to reduce this burden, red tape, and streamline the regulatory process.
The Green Party platform provides a detailed plan for improving the economic viability of food and farming, outlining initiatives and funding commitments related to tax credits, income stabilization, investment in local food infrastructure, marketing and distribution support.
Food, Health and Community
Another broad priority that emerges in the party platforms is the connection between food, health and community. The Liberal Party, NDP and Green Party all pledge increased funding for health promotion. The NDP and Liberal Party promise to support community food initiatives, with the Green Party proposing an investment of $200 million over four years for a Good Food Fund. To address poverty and hunger for low income Ontarians, the Liberal Party would increase the Ontario Child Benefit and introduce a new housing benefit. The NDP would introduce an Ontario retirement plan, increase minimum wage and introduce other measures to support the most vulnerable people in our communities.
The Liberal Party, NDP and Green Party make the connection between healthy food and healthy kids. The NDP pledges to ban junk food ads aimed at children. The Liberal Party would continue to support student nutrition programs and the Green Party promises to introduce a comprehensive healthy school food program. The three parties would strengthen food and nutrition education, with the NDP and Liberal Party acknowledging the role school gardens can play to improve health.
The Liberal Party outlines how they would chart a course for linking food and health with their proposed Local Food Act to promote healthy, local food choices. The Liberals set a target for a 20% reduction in childhood obesity within five years, through activities guided by a proposed Council on Childhood Obesity.
Food, Agriculture and the Environment
Connections between food, agriculture and the environment are also made in the platforms. The Liberals state they would work with farmers to craft environmental solutions, and both the NDP and Green Party promise to expand the Alternative Land Use Services program and provide detailed plans for doing so. These three parties also make statements about the importance of farmland preservation. On-farm energy generation would be promoted by the NDP through renewable energy targets and a feed-in tariff program, through the Liberal Party’s Green Energy Plan, and by the Green Party’s promise to improve grid access for locally-owned and community-based energy projects.
The Liberal Party, NDP and Green Party also address food governance. I have already mentioned the Liberal Party promise to create a Local Food Act and a Council on Childhood Obesity to connect decision-makers and generate farm and food solutions. The NDP propose an Inter-Ministerial Food and Nutrition Policy, and the Green Party proposes an Ontario Food and Farming Policy Council to advise the government and oversee creation of an Ontario farm and food strategy.
The Liberal Party, NDP and Green Party platforms demonstrate a commitment to strengthening the Ontario food and farm sector, as well as an acknowledgement of the many food connections between health, food, farming, environment and economy.
Post-election, farm and food groups must demand that the elected Premier’s team consider the best ideas from the four party’s proposals when creating their farm and food policy priorities.