It’s the second time around for Ontario new agriculture minister Ernie Hardeman and he sees a lot of the same challenges in Ontario agriculture as he did before.
“Obviously the principles of what we want to do are the same — build on the good agriculture system we have in Ontario. But there is always room for improvement,” said Hardeman during an interview with Farmtario a few weeks into his job as minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs (OMAFRA), in the new Ontario Conservative government.
Ensuring the competitveness of the Ontario agriculture and food sector is at the top of his agenda, he said.
“There are concerns that it is getting harder to stay in business in Ontario, including in agriculture. We want to reduce red tape to facilitate so that agriculture can spend more time producing good food versus filling out paper work.”
He said he sees more focus on the whole agriculture and food supply chain and increased interest in how to add value, compared to his last tenure as agriculture minister in the Mike Harris government.
“Study after study show the agriculture sector is one of our greatest potentials for growth. We need to get that started and get that working properly,” he said.
Creating the environment for that to happen is where the government can help, including working with the investment community and farming community and eliminating barriers to investment.
Hardeman was part of a provincial-territorial-federal agriculture minister’s meeting shortly after his appointment as agriculture minister and he said it was a good chance for him to get to know the other ministers in the country early in his mandate.
He said the major points of discussion included:
- A commitment to support supply management.
- Agreement that red tape and expenses for farms including electricity and taxation need to be examined.
- The agriculture support program framework was signed, but there was discussion on how to create a next round of support programs that are more responsive to current situations. “In some areas the solutions are no longer sufficient.”
A review of business risk management programs will continue by the federal and provincial governments, although Hardeman said he was in favor of giving an industry panel more time to fine-tune its recommendations.
The support of rural Ontario for the Conservatives over the past three elections was rewarded as numerous experienced rural MPPs received positions in cabinet.
Hardeman didn’t put any stock in the value to rural Ontario of having extra rural members at the cabinet table, something rural Ontarians have been waiting for for several elections.
“Where they come from is not as important as their ability to understand the ministry and move forward with it,” he said. “I’m really really excited that he picked one member from rural Ontario and that would be me.”
Hardeman spent his career in agriculture before being elected as a provincial parliament member.