May 4th, 2020

NDP pitches agriculture plan including lifting Risk Management cap, livestock security funding

TIMISKAMING AND HAMILTON — The NDP is calling for a suite of safeguards to ensure agribusinesses and rural economies can weather the COVID-19 storm — particularly since the provincial government has left the farming industry and rural communities to fend for themselves, weakening the food supply chain.

“Imagine finding out that the animals that your family worked hard to raise have lost their value. Imagine being told that the crop you have stored has lost its worth and has to be disposed of. Those animals and crops were going to pay your mortgage, feed your family, and cover input costs for next year's crop. This is the nightmare that Ontario's farmers are facing,” said Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Official Opposition New Democrats. “The provincial government hasn’t stepped up, and it’s really time they do – to support farms, and to keep the food supply chain from faltering.”

Horwath and NDP Agriculture, Food and Rural Development critic John Vanthof (Timiskaming—Cochrane) have released a plan and are urging the Doug Ford government to adopt the measures.

“Farmers and rural economies have been hit hard by the impact of COVID-19. We’ve seen incredible efforts made by our agricultural sector to produce our food, keep supply chains flowing and keep grocery store shelves stocked during this crisis,” said John Vanthof, who is also the Official Opposition NDP’s Deputy Leader. “But economy-wide problems won’t be addressed without a provincial plan.

“Farmers have little cash flow and are facing unprecedented risks. The timetable for the rural economy is set by nature and cannot pause or re-start easily. Ontario’s Risk Management Program was inadequate before, but is catastrophically inadequate now. Broadband costs are so high, people are getting cell and internet bills the size of car payments. And without support to hold livestock securely, the wasteful slaughters will continue. Farmers need safeguards to help them cope with these problems.”

Vanthof also said that the government needs to take action to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for agricultural workers, who have faced workplace outbreaks, putting their health and their families’ financial stability at risk.

The government broke its promise to increase the Risk Management Program cap by $50 million in 2020-21, actually cutting planned spending on demand-driven risk management programs by $160 million.

To safeguard the food supply chain and protect agricultural and rural economies, the NDP is urging the Ford government, in partnership with agri-food stakeholders and other levels of government, to immediately:

  • Completely remove the cap on the Risk Management Program to ensure as much stability as possible in Ontario’s food system during the crisis
  • Direct Agricorp to expand risk coverage for agriculture insurance
  • Provide funding so farmers can hold livestock humanely until processing space opens up, avoiding wasteful slaughter
  • Guarantee access to PPE and all necessary equipment, supplies, training and physical distancing measures for the agri-food sector
  • Take urgent action to save the restaurant and hospitality sector, key customers for Ontario’s food producers, including the 75 per cent commercial rent subsidy up to $10,000 a month for three months and banning commercial evictions during the crisis
  • Treat rural broadband internet as an essential service, working with carriers to lower costs and remove data caps on the limited broadband services currently available to rural Ontarians, and providing additional funding and leadership to greatly accelerate the delivery of permanent broadband and cellular infrastructure to rural Ontario
  • Encouraging the expansion of local food supply chains to fill gaps in imports/exports that have been fragmented due to the pandemic, with additional support for food banks and local food businesses
  • Providing enhanced funding to rural municipalities so they can keep workers on the payroll and continue providing essential services safely during the pandemic
  • Establishing procedures to identify and respond quickly to new threats to food security during and after the immediate crisis