Glen Murray is not the favourite son of Ontario’s farming industry.
The Ontario Minister of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) has made few friends in the Ontario farm sector with his push to restrict use of neonicotinoid seed treatments, dismiss sound science, and impose the will of his urban-dominated government on the province’s farmers.
That’s the Glen Murray farmers attending the Ontario Federation of Agriculture annual meeting were expecting to hear from this week, but a different Glen Murray showed up at the convention. In a surprising 20-minute address, a contrite Murray apologized to the convention for his poor relationship with the province’s farm community and committed to mending his ways.
“I apologize to you for anything that I said that might have hurt or been offensive,” Murray told the meeting, claiming that many of the things attributed to him he did not actually say. “I will double down in my efforts to work with you and to sort through the problems… I hope this will be the beginning of the conversation, not the end.”
Hear Glen Murray’s apology, plus a discussion of the speech, here (column continues below):
Murray delivered the mea culpa after telling the audience that farmers are “the most important people” in his world as he and his government attempt to tackle climate change. He also lauded the ag sector for its economic prowess. “If every other sector of the Ontario economy had achieved the productivity gains and had achieved the level of innovation and adaptation of technology … that farming has achieved we would be by far the most productive economy in the world.”
The minister’s address left many farmers wondering what to make of it. But Murray’s pleas should not come as a surprise. The Ontario Liberal government has clearly pressed the reset button. Last weekend in Ottawa, Premier Kathleen Wynne acknowledged that most Ontarians are not happy with her or her party. She’s now the most unpopular premier in Canada with some polls showing provincial voter support as low as 14%. The party has also lost two of three recent by-elections in the province.
With soaring hydro rates and a host of other issues peeling away Liberal popularity, Wynne needs to build bridges and build them fast. Murray’s goal obviously was to extend an olive branch to farmers and try to build a bridge to rural Ontario. It’s a bridge that Wynne herself sought to build in 2013 when she appointed herself agriculture minister.
Is Murray the right person to resurrect relations with farmers? In his address he even issued an apology for not trying hard enough to build bridges on the neonic issue. But that apology only went so far: “God knows I tried,” he said.
In a media scrum after the address, Murray was asked if he thought farmers were doing a good job managing the farm environment. He told reporters that farmers are doing an excellent job, but they will have to deal with more regulation.
If it’s a nod to the recent Environment Commissioner’s report urging farm-level change for the sake of soil carbon capture (and chastizing synthetic fertilizer use), or the latest “consultation” with OMAFRA regarding soil health policy and regulation moving forward, we’re not yet sure. But if the neonic regs — which earned him the nickname of Hurry Murray — are any indication, new restrictions on farming could be broad and happen swiftly.
Murray says he wants to roll up his sleeves and work with farmers on environmental policy. He told the OFA crowd that he would amend parts of the neonic regs deemed uworkable (though failed to mention he has to, seeing as his government supported Bill 4, an opposition member’s bill that pointed out fatal flaws in the regs).
He’s started saying all the right things, but actions speak louder than words. And you can bet Ontario farmers will be watching and listening.
Want to hear Murray’s full 20 minute address? Hit play, below: