The provincial Conservative government has found the first steps it has taken to reduce bureaucracy for farmers to be obvious and easy ones.
After consultations “the things that were brought forward we could do without difficulty to make life easier,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs in an interview to mark the one-year anniversary of the election of the Conservative government.
Why it matters: The provincial Conservative government was elected with strong support from rural Ontario and that support will be key to its re-election.
Changes to the Ontario Livestock Damage Consultation Program were one of the first targets for the government. With some discussion with the sector, the Conservatives changed the program to make it simpler to register and made some of the compensation categories fairer.
“That’s the general thrust of what we wanted to accomplish,” he said. “People are involved and feel like we’re open for business.”
The goals are to make things easier at an operational level. When a farmer applies for something with the government, they should have less work to enter the information needed.
Hardeman, who has been involved in agriculture as the owner of a feed store before his entry into politics, says he’s driven to help farmers.
“The thing I want the industry to understand is that I’m there to help with their problems,” he said. He used the challenges with vomitoxin in corn in last year’s harvest as an example. He brought together stakeholders to figure out the next steps and what needed to be done.
“At each meeting, we left with direction of who would do what to mitigate the problem. We all did our part and came up with reasonable solutions which mean there was considerably less challenge than if we had just left it.”
Risk Management Program funding jump for third year
Hardeman said he’s still counting on an increase of $50 million to the Risk Management Program (RMP) as promised in the provincial election campaign for the third year of the Conservatives’ mandate.
The Risk Management Program provides farmers with a measure of production insurance against unforeseen business challenges.
The program has been set at $100 million for years.
Hardeman said that the government is examining the program and committees have been set up to look at it.
“We’re starting to review the RMP to see whether it is actually serving farmers,” he said.
“We’ve been working for the $100 million that was in there and are committed to having it in there and it will be in there. Hopefully when we get to the third year, more will hopefully be added.”
OMAFRA cuts mostly complete
The government proposed millions of dollars of cuts to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs and Hardeman says most of those cuts have already happened, by eliminating one-time funding for programs and organizations and by not replacing staff, referred to as “attrition”. Indeed there are several positions at OMAFRA that are currently vacant.
“The majority of the changes in the budget are already implemented and were based on programs that were one-off programs at the end of their programs,” said Hardeman. Several provincially funded organizations such as Ontario Agri-Food Technologies and the Agri-food Management Institute faced severe cuts and some organizations have closed.
There were also changes in how infrastructure was budgeted – funds that would move through OMAFRA if they were rural are now going through the Ministry of Infrastructure.
He emphasized that funding for food safety programs remains.
“We were very fortunate to protect what matters most. The support programs are there if the agriculture community needs it.”
Mental health a focus
Hardeman also says he is proud of the consultations on mental health that have occurred and the funds put towards mental health by the Conservative government.
“It’s a stressful job and farmers are not the most likely people to speak up when they need help. People need to understand that when you need help, help is available and it is OK to ask for it.”