The Ontario Liberals are spending big, but there’s not a whole lot in the 2017-18 provincial budget for agri-food and rural Ontario.
The Liberals are going to balance the budget but they are going to spend more than $140 billion in this fiscal year and push the provincial debt over $300 billion. There’s big money for health care, pharmacare, and education, affordable housing, and the previously announced $1.4 billion hydro rate cut is also in there.
With a provincial election scheduled for June, 2018, there’s no doubt that this is a very strategic budget for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government, which currently languishes a distant third in public opinion polls. It’s clearly designed to help the Liberals lay claim to the far left of the political spectrum and win urban votes.
That’s disappointing, says Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) president Keith Currie: “Generally speaking, overall we’re very disappointed in the budget. There’s really a lack of investment in agriculture, a lack of investment in rural Ontario.”
In this interview, Currie explains that a lot of the budget contents are re-announcements of recent policy. Currie says the OFA certainly applauds hydro rate and distribution cost cuts, but that’s nothing new. He noted that expansion of the grant program for natural gas – from $30 million to $100 million – will help with natural gas expansion in some areas of the province, but a much bigger strategic investment is required to bring the needed energy option to agriculture and rural Ontario.
Currie was pleased to see municipalities given the ability to lower property taxes on farm properties that are doing value-added production.
In comments released after the budget, Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, stated he was pleased that his government maintained its commitment to helping Ontario farmers manage risk.
“That is why our government increased spending in business risk management programs to address the dry weather conditions experienced in several parts of the province in 2016. In addition, our government continues to invest $100 million dollars in the Risk Management Program (RMP),” said Leal. Farm leaders had pushed for increasing this amount, but it remains the same.
The minister also reiterated the government’s commitment to lowering electricity rates for rural residents and Ontario farms by 25% and helping to control distribution costs for high-delivery cost areas.