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Get to Know Ontario’s New Ag Minister

By Amanda Brodhagen, Farms.com

Only a couple of days into his new portfolio, Jeff Leal, Ontario’s newly minted minister of agriculture, says he is looking forward to taking on his added responsibilities as the Minister of Agriculture – he is now the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Leal who is the MPP for the riding of Peterborough, was the rural affairs minister for 13 months prior to the June 12 provincial election. Premier Kathleen Wynne appointed herself minister of agriculture for one year, a pledge that she made during her successful 2013 Liberal leadership bid, and at the time, she felt that in order to take on the role (in addition to being premier), she split the portfolio in half, spinning off the rural affairs portion to Leal.

The Liberals recently won their fourth election in a row, this time with a stronger mandate (a 58-seat majority) and a victory secured largely with urban seats in the Greater Toronto Area.  After this election, Leal was a shoo-in for the job of running the combined ministry. Not only was Leal familiar with the portfolio, but approximately 40 per cent of his riding is rural, which, while not a perquisite of the job, makes him far more relatable to farmers and rural folk.

“I want to build on the Premier’s legacy,” he said in an interview with Farms.com. “We had a number of very important elements in our platform relating to agriculture and rural affairs, and it will certainly be my role over the next couple of years to ensure that we get those initiatives implemented.”

One of those campaign pledges was expanding natural gas access to rural Ontario. The initiative was earmarked in the $100-million infrastructure fund for small, rural and northern municipalities. Natural gas access made it onto the Liberal’s agenda thanks to the efforts of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, who have been lobbying the government to champion its natural gas proposal.

“I think it [natural gas access] can be a real game changer in rural Ontario,” suggested Leal.

Another pressing issue that was put on hold pending the election, was the status of Kemptville and Alfred agricultural colleges.  Both of these, post-secondary institutions are located in Eastern, Ont. and are currently slated to close in 2015. In 1997, Kemptville and Alfred became part of the University of Guelph. But the university announced this spring, that it would no longer offer agricultural programing in the eastern part of the province, citing budgetary constraints.

Shortly after the university’s announcement to close down the agricultural colleges, the Liberals appointed two provincial facilitators, who will be tasked with putting forward recommendations on alternative service models to hopefully continue to offer agricultural programing in that part of the province.

When asked about when the facilitators will begin working on the file, Leal said that he anticipates that they will be getting to work soon.

“We know how important Kemptville is to the post-secondary element for agriculture in Ontario,” he said, adding that it is a file that he is particularly interested in, noting that several of his constituents are graduates of Kemptville College. “They [the farmers] are going to hold my feet to the fire as we move forward on this file.”

Besides the agriculture portfolio, farmers have turned their curiosity to the environment department, which will have implications for agriculture. The ministry has a new name - it was changed to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.  

Leal says farmers shouldn’t worry about the ministry adding climate change wording, arguing that “farmers are some of the best environmental stewards. They know about protecting the land and the environment and we look forward to them working with us on this particular file,” he said.

The legislature will resume on July 2 with the Speech from the Throne, and the May 1 budget which triggered the election will be re-introduced.

Quick facts about Jeff Leal

• Provincial Politics: Was first elected to the Ontario Legislature in 2003
• Municipal politics: Served on the Peterborough City Council from 1985-2003
• Education: Holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Political Science from Trent University and a degree in Business Administration from the University of Windsor
• Family: Married and has two children

Editor’s note: Farms.com looks forward to interviewing the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs again in the future. Communicating about issues that matter to farmers is our priority.


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