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Ontario’s ag industry shows unity

Ontario’s ag industry shows unity

Minister Hardeman demonstrates ag leadership as national gathering starts

By Owen Roberts

All eyes will be focused this week on Quebec, site of the 2019 federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) agriculture ministers’ meeting.

But to me, it’s the 2020 gathering in Guelph that offers the potential for agriculture to once again unite the country like no other sector can.

A big reason is because of the leadership of Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs.

I saw him step up to the plate twice last week in very laudable ways.

First, he had a huge group of industry leaders join him Wednesday afternoon in Guelph to announce the city would be the site of the 2020 FPT agriculture ministers’ meeting, which his ministry will host.

Hardeman had brought the leaders together earlier in the day to discuss Ontario’s priorities heading into this week’s event in Quebec. Then he took the opportunity to show unity among the sector when he invited them all to the podium to join him for the 2020 announcement.

It was huge group, three deep in some places and 20 people across. It was way too wide for a photo op… and it wasn’t.

Rather, it seemed like a genuine coming together from the sector’s members. They were behind the minister’s efforts and they wanted to show it. These leaders know Guelph has become renowned for its amazing advances in agriculture.

Further, in the provincial release that followed about the 2020 FPT meeting, the first quote in the piece came from Hardeman’s federal counterpart, Marie-Claude Bibeau.

“As a world class hub of agri-food innovation and a winner of the Smart Cities Challenge for their Circular Food Economy proposal, Guelph is a perfect venue for the annual conference of Federal-Provincial-Territorial ministers of agriculture," the federal minister of agriculture and agri-food said. 

As federal-provincial relations go, that move is a classy one by Hardeman. Try to imagine other instances where the federal minister would be quoted first in a provincial government’s release.

And I don’t sense any less passion for making sure Ontario’s concerns are heard at this week’s FPT meeting. For example, on Friday, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) publicly provided the minister with the issues it would like to see discussed there. The OFA’s list included rural infrastructure, mental health, food policy, farm labour and farm business risk management. These issues are hardly lightweight stuff.

The minister’s other effort which transcended FPT politics occurred Friday with the Foodland Ontario pork and beef campaign announcement.

The province declared its support for beef and pork “in response to China’s current trade restrictions.”

The campaign is timely. It’s BBQ season, and the beef and pork sectors each account for $2.9 billion in GDP.

But this initiative was more than a buy-Ontario parochial move.

“I stand with our farmers in the province and those across the country,” said Hardeman, “and I support the federal government's efforts to resolve this situation."

Supporting farmers across the country? Supporting federal initiatives to resolve global issues? That’s exactly the kind of ag leadership Ontario needs.

Some segments of the industry might lean towards a more antagonist, we-versus-they partisan approach. And that’s to be expected, as political lines are unavoidably drawn with the federal election approaching.

In agriculture, though, that’s not how things are done. The minister is showing great leadership, moving ahead for the betterment of the entire sector, coast to coast to coast. 

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