He served as president from 2016 to 2020
By Diego Flammini
The Ontario ag landscape looked quite different four years ago than it does today.
In 2016, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals held a majority in the provincial legislature and Jeff Leal served as the provincial minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs.
This government felt having its hands in different pots helped the economy operate.
“This government was of the mindset that the way to control things was through regulation first,” Keith Currie told Farms.com. “I’m convinced Minister Leal didn’t have the necessary support around the cabinet table and quite often what wasn’t taken into consideration was the impact (regulation) had on the ground.”
In November of 2016, Currie, who grows hay and sweet corn near Collingwood, Ont., was elected president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) for a one-year term.
He served as OFA president from November 2016 to November 2020, when at the organization’s latest annual general meeting, the board of directors elected Peggy Brekveld as its new president.
Currie remains on the OFA board as a zone director for Zone 13 representing Peel, Simcoe and York counties. He’s also the first vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.
Thinking back to his beginnings as OFA president, one of Currie’s first goals was cohesion among the sector.
Commodity organizations and representatives didn’t always agree on how certain items were handled, he said.
“I spent a lot of time early on talking with commodity organizations and their leaders because there was some fracturing of the groups from a collaboration aspect,” he said. “There was frustration from agriculture in general because of regulatory items and a general feeling of a lack of respect towards the industry. And when you’re dealing with people around the board (table) you’re also dealing with humans and (discussions) can become political.”
Currie put a heavy emphasis on communication and operating procedures.
Rather than address an industry issue unilaterally, speaking with the affected industry groups would help ensure the right messages are being relayed, Currie said.
“I wasn’t going to take on a pork issue as the OFA without speaking with Ontario Pork and asking them what they would like us to do or how we could help,” he said. “But something like that doesn’t happen overnight and there’s a trust factor that had to be built up.”
Currie is proud of some of the legislation he and the OFA worked with the government to help become law.
The Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS), for example, enacted on Jan. 1 of this year, and the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act (Bill 156), which received royal assent on June 18 of 2020, are examples of big wins for the industry that took hard work.
“These didn’t happen because the government wanted to be nice, it happened because we worked very closely behind the scenes with the government,” he said. “My mantra has always been to look at the goals industry wants, the goals the government wants, and how to bring them all together.”
Some topics, however, didn’t pan out the way Currie and the OFA hoped.
The previous Liberal government had promised natural gas expansion in budgets “for five years, but not a dime was spent on it,” Currie said. “Expansions are taking place under the Ford government, and we know governments can’t do everything, but we are moving the pebble up the hill.”
Mental health is another area Currie hoped would be further along than it is.
Rural Ontario needs more mental health supports for residents, he said.
“We’re generally lacking services in rural Ontario,” Currie said. “Mental health issues are much higher per capita in the farming sector than just about anywhere else. I really had hoped through the previous government and this one we could have moved the meter a little further. It’s something (OFA) gets calls on every day.”