The ag sector is receiving millions of dollars in support to help defeat COVID-19
By Diego Flammini
Ontarians should be pleased with the contents of the 2021 provincial budget, the province’s ag minister says.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy presented the province’s fiscal plan at Queen’s Park Wednesday, which included billions of dollars in spending to help Ontario defeat and recover from the pandemic.
Ontario’s budget is placing a priority on peoples’ health, said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs.
“We still have a pandemic moving through the province,” he told Farms.com. “We’ve never had investments like this in long-term care to make sure everybody is protected. The budget looks after families, people who are struggling (and) small businesses who are struggling.”
In terms of items affecting Minister Hardeman’s portfolio, the provincial government has allocated money for program extensions.
The Enhanced Agri-food Workforce Protection Program, announced in June 2020, is being extended for one year with an investment of $10 million.
This program helps agribusinesses acquire the necessary PPE to keep people safe, Hardeman said.
In addition, the Ontario government is extending AgriRecovery initiatives by one year with a $5 million investment in 2021-2022.
This funding will be used for the livestock set aside program, Hardeman said.
“This will help pay to feed (livestock) passed their best due date, so their loss is not as great because of the overfeeding,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re ready in case something like that happens.”
The Ontario government is also investing in agri-tourism businesses like wineries and cideries.
Ontario will provide $10 million in grants in 2021 to help these businesses “get back the marketplace they lost during the pandemic,” Hardeman said. “The drop in the tourism and food service sectors has almost put an end to the market our wineries had.”
One broader item the Ontario government is investing in is mental health.
Part of the Ford Government’s commitment to mental health is to create four mobile mental health clinics across the province for rural, remote and underserved communities.
Stakeholders brought up access to mental health services multiple times during budget consultations, Hardeman said.
“It’s the number one issue,” he said. “There’s no time (for farmers) to go shopping (for services), people need to have them available. We need the services where we need them, and we can’t leave anybody behind.”
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) provided its reaction to the provincial budget.
“If I had to give it a grade, I’d give it a B,” Peggy Brekveld, president of the OFA, told Farms.com. “There are no program losses we can see but there are some lost dollars. It was about $100 million from the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund that was moved from (OMAFRA) to the infrastructure ministry.”
Aside from that shift in dollars, OFA is pleased with what the Ontario government presented.
One item OFA is specifically happy about is the government’s commitment to spend an additional $2.8 billion to bring broadband access to every region of the province by 2025.
Broadband investments have “been a long-time ask from OFA and we cheer that on,” Brekveld said.
The investments into mental health and the extensions of the set aside program and workforce protection programs are also welcomed, she added.
It’s a difficult time for the government, so the budget is acceptable given the circumstances.
“You’re always worried about program losses and we would’ve loved to see more dollars come to OMAFRA so the people there can continue doing the great work they do,” Brekveld said. “In a time when we know dollars are tight, I’d say we did okay.”