Ontario morphs into Ford Nation— who might end up as ag minister?

It’s been a wild few months for Ontario’s provincial leaders. From the sudden resignation of the PC’s Patrick Brown in late January, to the nail-biter of a leadership race between Christine Elliott and the eventual victor Doug Ford, and on to an election that saw Andrea Horwath’s fortunes rise even as Premier Kathleen Wynne conceded defeat before the votes were even tallied.

Yesterday, Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives pulled off a decisive win, capturing 76 seats for a solid majority. Horwath and the NDP form the official opposition, while Wynne’s Liberals ended the night with seven seats, losing official party status. Wynne did win her own seat, but later resigned as Liberal leader. For the first time, Ontario has a Green party MPP, as Guelph elected party leader, Mike Schreiner.

As the confetti settles and the lawn signs get recycled (right?!), speculation begins on who will be tapped to fill prominent cabinet posts. The PCs have a deep stable of experienced and long-serving MPPs to draw from, with a solid showing in rural ridings, as expected.

For agriculture and rural areas, all eyes are on who will step in to the role of agriculture minister. Ford has a long-list of capable, popular MPPs spanning several regions. Many within agriculture have mentioned  Lisa Thompson, from Huron-Bruce, Toby Barrett of Haldimand-Norfolk, Ernie Hardeman from Oxford, and Monte McNaughton representing Lambton-Kent-Middlesex.

Peter Seemann, principal and founder of Grassroots Public Affairs, agrees with that list. Of the 40-plus returning MPPs, 25 of them are PCs, and Ford has already said he backs an ag minister with a farm background. That makes the above list likely.

What can farmers and the agriculture sector expect from Doug Ford’s new government? Seemann says he thinks Ford will draw on these long-serving, experienced MPPs to shape decisions and policy and take a “different approach” to governing. But Ford is from Toronto — will we see an even-more T.O.-focused government that Wynne’s? In the interview below, Seemann says that’s unlikely.

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The next agriculture minister is set to serve an attention-starved industry. It’s not a stretch to say that agriculture has felt unimportant or even targeted under Wynne’s Liberals. From the introduction of a near-ban on neonics, to the scrapping of the Slots at Racetrack program, to the introduction of a carbon tax, crippling energy costs, and the increase in minimum wage, farmers and farm industry is feeling the squeeze on competitiveness in this province.

To that end, Ford’s platform promises to scrap the carbon cap and trade system. Grain Farmers of Ontario estimates this tax alone could cost Ontario’s farmers $85 million annually, with an estimated $30 million on fuel taxes alone.

“The removal of this tax on farmers will provide a level playing field for Ontario farmers with other farmers in provinces across Canada who have an exemption for farm fuel,” says Markus Haerle, chair, Grain Farmers of Ontario. 

As premier, Ford also plans to increase the business risk management cap by $50 million per year, expand natural gas access through partnerships, and increase broadband capabilities in rural areas.

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