The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) was budgeted for a cut of more than $200 million by 2020 in the recent provincial budget.
The first budget from the provincial Progressive Conservative government included modest increases to health and education budgets, but cuts to most other ministries, including agriculture.
The actual budget for OMAFRA in 2017-2018 was $1.06 billion. The interim budget for 2018-2019 is actually up at 1.1 billion, but in 2019-2020, the budget is for $839 million. The amount of infrastructure funds slated to be flowed through the OMAFRA budget is also expected to be cut by almost a two-thirds.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) didn’t put much emphasis on the OMAFRA budget cuts.
It did however, mention several other areas related to rural policy.
One of the key items missing from the budget is the $50 million increase to agricultural risk management programs promised in the 2018 election, although more consultation on risk management programs was mentioned in the budget.
The province has budgeted $315 million to improve access to broadband internet in the province.
“Overall, OFA is encouraged with many aspects of the 2019 budget and will continue to work with government to ensure Ontario’s agri-food sector is recognized for its importance to the provincial economy,” says OFA President Keith Currie. “We are concerned with the OMAFRA budget cutbacks and will be reviewing these details carefully once spending estimates are available. We’ll also be advocating to ensure rural Ontario sees its share of investments in vital infrastructure including hospitals, schools and mental health care.”
Other areas of interested to the agriculture sector includes the mirroring of accelerated capital cost allowance put forward by the federal government, that brings Canadian farmers closer to American farm tax regulations and a focus on reducing Ontario’s deficit. The budget also confirmed a pause in the formal Liberal government’s proposal to create a high speed rail system between Windsor and Toronto that would have cut through many farms and cut off rural communities from each other.
However, the Ford government didn’t cut as deeply in some areas as expected, and the deficit is slated to continue until into the mandate of the next government.
“We applaud the government of Ontario for taking a pragmatic approach to the province’s fiscal situation,” says Currie.