By Ted McMeekin, Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough, Westdale MPP
One of the things I’m thankful for this year is the way Kathleen Wynne hosted the Premier’s AgriFood Summit last week. This important event has always enjoyed the participation of both the premier and the minister of agriculture, but never before in the same person.
Premier Wynne demonstrated once again how wise it was for her to take on this portfolio, because as premier she has a clear view of the enormous potential of the agriculture and food sector.
She recognizes it as a major player in Ontario’s economy, a driving force that has the unequivocal support of our government.
Speaking to the gathering of agricultural and agri-food leaders at the summit, she offered a stirring challenge, and a commitment.
“I’m challenging Ontario’s agri-food industry to double its growth rate and create more than 120,000 new jobs by 2020,” she said.
“Why? Because it is vitally important to our future… and because I believe in what we can accomplish together.
“The talented people in this room have a work ethic second to none.
“When faced with challenges, be it fluctuations in weather, or in the global marketplace – you roll up your sleeves and overcome those obstacles.”
How well I know the truth of this, not only from my time as minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, but also from the agriculture and agri-food sectors right here in Hamilton and area.
The premier’s description is spot on, and I believe she’s absolutely right about the potential for growth.
We have the country’s best agricultural land and most abundant clean water, skilled farmers and manufacturers, an enviable reputation for producing high quality, safe food and a diverse and talented population.
This gives us the ability both to increase our exports, and to grow our domestic market with more products grown and made in Ontario.
We can tap into consumers’ changing tastes, seizing opportunities in organic, food for health, ethnic foods, artisan and specialty goods.
Ontario can be among the top agri-food regions in North America, with farm sector cash receipts in the top ten. And our food and beverage processing sector can be in the top five.
But the premier didn’t just issue a challenge. She also made a commitment to work with the sector and help make the growth a reality.
For example, our government recently announced our $30-million Local Food Fund which will help boost consumption of local foods.
And remember – as you’ve heard me say before – if we switched just $10 of our weekly shopping bill from imported to local foods, it could increase Ontario food sales by $2.4 billion and create 10,000 jobs.
And we also worked with the federal government to make sure innovation was the central plank of the new Growing Forward 2 programs, which set aside $235-million to support innovative agricultural and agri-food initiatives over the next five years.
I fully believe the premier is right about Ontario’s ability to grow another 120,000 new jobs by 2020, making a future that’s both prosperous and tasty.
We absolutely have much to be thankful for.