Hold Politicians to Account Post-Election, Rural Voters

Owen RobertsYou see them at election time, in particular — politicians jockeying to get a photo op with a farmer, diving into a plate of homegrown food or trying to support agriculture in some other camera-friendly way, such as driving a tractor.

Politicians should be a friend to agriculture every chance they get, not just at election time. Farming is a major economic engine and job generator. Farmers continually rank among society’s most respected professionals.

This election, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture has made it easier than ever for politicians to hitch their wagon to agriculture, by steering them towards a web-based campaign called I Believe in Growing Ontario.

“Show your support for Ontario farmers,” the website implores hopeful future Members of Provincial Parliament. “Recognize the strength and opportunities in the agri-food sector for Growing Ontario food, fibre and jobs.”

With that brief invitation, candidates join the campaign by completing an online form that gets their name among those who publically endorse Ontario agriculture. Their participation is then promoted by a tweet from the federation (e.g., Thanks @sebastiengoyer for joining OFA’s I Believe in Growing Ontario campaign!) to its 6,850 followers. Good exposure, for sure.

The quid pro quo for the federation is that when politicians join on, they become associated with support for the federation’s stated priorities this election for rural Ontario: access to competitively priced energy, more realistic property taxation, food literacy for schools and agri-skills training.

And even if this campaign is all the candidates ever consider about agriculture, they will at least get some exposure to rural and farm issues.

Another gift to candidates this election – albeit an inadvertent one – comes courtesy of the previous government.

In November, it passed Bill 36, the Local Food Act, which proclaims Ontario’s first official Local Food Week beginning next week, the first Monday in June.

That proclamation is designed to highlight what the bill’s preamble calls Ontario’s “robust and resilient local food systems — a highly productive agricultural land base, a favourable climate and water supply, efficient transportation and distribution systems, and knowledgeable, innovative farmers, food processors, distributors, retailers and restaurateurs.”

The bill says these resources help ensure local food systems thrive throughout the province, allowing Ontarians to know where their food comes from, and connect with those who produce it – that is, farmers.

When the bill passed in the fall, officials could not have predicted campaigning for a late spring election would be in full swing during Ontario’s first Local Food Week.

Likewise, it’s unlikely anyone connected the dots between the election campaign and Ontario Tourism Week, which takes place at the exact same time.

The election could steal some of the spotlight from local food and tourism. But farmers should instead make hay out of the opportunities it’s bringing to rural Ontario and agriculture. Despite its many assets, rural Ontario is not always such a draw as it is right now.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as

@theurbancowboy

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