Wellington–Halton Hills candidates met for their third time in 24 hours on Thursday evening. Following debates focused on the environment and economic recovery, candidates sat down to talk about agriculture issues at the Halton and Wellington Federations of Agriculture All Candidates Meeting.
In attendance was Conservative incumbent Michael Chong, Green Ran Zhu, People’s Party candidate Syl Carle and Liberal Melanie Lang. The NDP’s candidate Noor Jahangir did not attend.
Moderator Janet Harrop, Wellington Federation of Agriculture president, opened discussion by asking candidates what, from their perspective, were the Ontario agriculture sector’s top two priorities.
For Chong, number one was finalizing a compensation program for supply management processors affected by the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Canada European Union Trade Agreements.
“Those commitments were made many years ago in some cases," he said. "And they still have yet to be delivered on.”
Chong also wants to “harmonize” foreign product regulations with the United States, and streamline federal slaughter regulations to allow local producers to use local provincial abattoirs to be certified to export their products internationally.
Carle said the carbon tax, which the PPC would scrap, “is the biggest issue facing farmers and consumers.”
He also said the federal government needs to improve processing capacity, particularly when it comes to hogs, which he said are sometimes shipped to China for processing.
"These could potentially be good paying jobs that Canadians could be doing," he said.
Zhu named climate change and its accompanying extreme weather events as the top issue affecting farmers.
“In 2021, the Canadian prairies are experiencing what perhaps is the worst drought in the history of the country,” Zhu said.
Unprecedented heat waves could have potentially devastating consequences for “farms in our region too and the communities that depend on them,” he continued.
Zhu also wanted to see Canada produce more agricultural products instead of relying on imports. He explained he wasn't talking about "bananas and oranges," but instead things that "could easily be produced in Ontario, Wellington–Halton Hills, but we have chosen, by way of our trade and economic development policies to source them elsewhere.”
Lang listed rural broadband and $10 a day childcare as the most important priorities for the agriculture sector.
Farm practices are becoming more reliant on technologies that require broadband, Lang said. Internet access is also important for mental health and connecting to critical services like counselling, she continued.
As for $10 a day childcare, Lang said it would allow women to play an even bigger role in farming.
“Women are playing more of an advanced role in farm management, operations, genetic stewardship, as well as harvesting,” she said. “Having the availability of childcare is going to allow them to fully step into operations without the personal conflict of (having) to balance those two roles and responsibilities."
The need for improved Internet access in rural areas came up multiple times over the course of the evening. Chong said while the current government had put in place some “good initiatives” on the file, “it’s been far too slow,” causing municipal and provincial governments to implement their own programs.
“This is a federal responsibility,” he said, highlighting the Conservative’s promise to deliver high-speed Internet to all Canadians by 2025. “The federal government needs to streamline the current morass that exists… so we can get the job done more quickly.”
Zhu said the Greens would establish “baseline quality of service” for the whole county, where private Internet providers had failed, perhaps by using satellite.
Carle said Canada needed to stop “catering to big players” and allow for more competition from smaller Internet providers.
Candidates broadly agreed that continued or increased investment in research to support innovation and improvements in the agriculture sector was needed.
Carle placed a particular emphasis on research focused on growing in a cold climate.
“We need to resolve our high energy costs so that we can grow in a warmer climate, that being inside a greenhouse,” he said.A recorded version of the full two-hour debate is posted on the Wellington Federation of Agriculture's Facebook Page.