By MPP Toby Barrett

The 2.2 million people working in agri-food boosts Ontario’s rural and small town economy, and that of the entire province for that matter.

As the Opposition Critic for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, I co-chaired a provincial policy committee of farmers and others last winter. It didn’t take long and it wasn’t hard to identify gaps left by the current government.

While travelling Haldimand-Norfolk, farmers and small businesspeople tell me they need help, especially with the new minimum wage. We voted against Bill 148 and proposed 25 cents a year so we’d hit $15 by 2022. We advocate cutting business taxes by 28 per cent and income taxes by 22.5 per cent. Tax cuts create jobs.

Outside urban areas, broadband access is only at 85 per cent — a gap we feel is long overdue for one-time funding of $100 million.

Natural gas is one quarter the cost of electricity. We must enable privately-funded natural gas expansion to more communities.

Rural and small town Ontario faces challenges when it comes to paying for and maintaining infrastructure. As well, like farming and business, municipalities are fed up with bureaucratic regulation and red tape. Ontario has 380,000 regulations; almost double that of some other provinces.

As Opposition, we support supply-management, orderly marketing, and risk management. We argue the risk management program cap be increased by $50 million, and unused portions roll over to the next year.

As in Alberta and British Columbia, we are committed to rebating 80 per cent of the carbon price paid by greenhouses.

By rebating the Hydro One dividend, putting a moratorium on new renewable energy contracts, and renegotiating or cancelling existing contracts, we will save Ontario families 12 per cent on their hydro bill. This is over and above the existing 25 per cent rebate.

Government must force wind project operators to track bat and bird deaths, and restore local planning authority over renewable energy projects. We will scrap the Green Energy Act.

Government cancelled the slots at racetrack program, which gave tracks access to the revenue generated by on-track slot facilities. This saw 23,000 thousand jobs lost and nearly 30,000 horses put down. We want to get horseracing back on track by creating a horseracing scratch ticket, and by reviewing and fixing the sharing agreements between Woodbine and community tracks for off-track wagering revenue.

Government ministries must be required to demonstrate a strong public need to encroach on private property rights.

We commit to initiatives to cleaning up our Great Lakes, as well as taking action against sewage dumping into lakes and rivers.

Urban and rural schools have closed all across Ontario without proper oversight or proper guidelines that take into account the local economic impact. We need a moratorium on all school closures until the funding formula is properly examined.

Farmers and industry experts should play a key role in making the decisions that impact them the most. We need consultation on everything from the location and need for a new Ontario Food Terminal, to reducing red tape, and increasing farming in Northern Ontario.

Ontario needs a special agricultural task force with direct access to the Minister of Agriculture and the Premier’s office.

Farmers should be making the decisions on issues that impact them. They are the experts in the agricultural field.