September 16, 2013

Mr. Ernie Hardeman: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Premier. Premier, the International Plowing Match is taking place this week in Perth county, as you will know. My caucus colleagues and I are pleased to be attending and to meet with the people from rural Ontario. These people don’t ask for much and they certainly don’t get much from this government. One of the few programs that is available to them is the Rural Economic Development program. It is a program designed to assist businesses in communities in rural areas to succeed.

Premier, can you explain to the people of Ontario why you gave funds designated for rural communities to businesses in Toronto last week?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Mr. Speaker, I’m very pleased to have a question on agriculture and food from my critic. I think it’s fantastic. If it takes the International Plowing Match to get a question, so be it. It’s great.

I want to let him know that this morning I was at FoodShare in Toronto with farmers from all over the province talking about the $30-million investment that we’re going to be making in local food. That $30 million is going to support communities across the province, and it is an absolute priority of farmers and processors-so producers and processors-that, as a government, we support the local food movement and that we make sure that municipalities and communities across the province do everything they can to support local food. I’m very proud that we’re doing that.

Mr. Ernie Hardeman: Back to the Premier: Premier, it’s well and good what you did this morning. The question was about what you did last week.

Premier, after six months as Minister of Agriculture, I would hope that you could recognize rural Ontario. Many of our rural communities desperately need jobs. Your spiralling hydro rates are forcing businesses to close. We’ve lost over 9,000 jobs because of your government’s decision on horse racing. And now you’re giving money from the Rural Economic Development program to businesses in Markham, Woodbridge and Toronto.

Premier, would you consider Woodbridge part of rural Ontario?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Let me just say that I understand that investment in rural Ontario is critical. The rural economic development fund, $4.5 million available this fiscal year-those dollars are helping rural municipalities. We also have invested, since 2003, $167 million in 418 projects, and, as I said, the local food fund-$30 million that we announced this morning.

But Mr. Speaker, the premise of the member’s question is that there is an unbridgeable divide between different parts of the province, that somehow promoting local food or supporting food processing in a suburban or an urban area does not support the agri-food industry. We are one Ontario; we work together. That is why we’re making investments in local food.

Mr. Ernie Hardeman: Back to the Premier: Premier, it’s obvious from your answer that you don’t understand the premise of this question. I’d like to read you a quote from the Rural Economic Development program guide. Under “Eligible applicant(s),” it says, “For the purposes of the RED program, `rural’ encompasses all of Ontario with the exception of the greater Toronto area (GTA) and eight large urban areas.” That’s fairly clear to me, so when those projects were approved, in fact, they did not comply with the RED program.

Now, I can tell you that at the plowing match tomorrow, no one will consider companies in Markham as part of rural Ontario-or from Woodbridge or Toronto. Could you tell me what percentage of the program you are actually spending in those larger municipalities that are not eligible for that program according to the rules you put in place?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Again, Mr. Speaker, I think that to suggest that investment in food processing is not part of investment in the agri-food sector and doesn’t support producers means that the member opposite just does not understand how that $34-billion industry works.

In 2012-13, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food’s program investments and service investments led to $503 million invested, and created and retained more than 2,400 jobs. We are making those investments to create jobs, Mr. Speaker, and to support the industry. That is what those programs and investments are intended to do.

I hope the member opposite will support the Local Food Act, Mr. Speaker. I hope the member understands that making those investments supports producers, supports food processors across the province, across one Ontario.