This year’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario annual general meeting and conference attracted over 2,500 municipal leaders, government officials, civil servants as well as other interested stakeholders. Among those other stakeholders were a wide range of companies and organizations who are connected to municipalities in some capacity – including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).
The event is one of the most important public policy conferences in Ontario, and as a farmer and former municipal leader, I was pleased to be part of the OFA delegation and have this opportunity to engage with participants at the event.
OFA advocates on behalf of farmers on a wide range of issues, from rural health care and energy policy to land use, economic development and more, and building relationships with related sectors can help deepen our understanding of those issues and lets us do a better job at advocating for the agriculture industry and rural communities.
For example, I had the chance to meet delegates who aren’t from municipalities but have strong interests in municipal affairs, such as natural gas supplier Enbridge and the Independent Electricity System Operator, which delivers key services across our provincial electrical sector.
Through our advocacy work, OFA interacts with government officials, particularly at the provincial and federal levels, on an ongoing basis, but this conference provides a unique opportunity to get to know many municipal representatives from across the province that we don’t otherwise have the chance to meet.
Many municipal delegates come from large, urban communities with little direct connection to agriculture and food production, for example, and are unaware of the many issues we have in common, from infrastructure, housing and healthcare to jobs, the food supply chain, and budgetary constraints.
They’re also often surprised at the level of farmland loss in Ontario – an average of 319 acres a day according to the latest census data – and interested in knowing more about how critical it is to all of our futures that we maintain our ability to produce our own food, fuel, fibre and flowers as much as possible.
Here are some of the main issues we were able to discuss with AMO delegates where we share common goals that support our collective economic growth:
Improving rural infrastructure and services:
Ontario’s rural economy relies on well-functioning roads, bridges and drainage to support the production and transportation of goods and services. Investments into transportation infrastructure, access to affordable energy, broadband and increased social services — including schools, healthcare and community centres — will keep businesses in rural communities as well as encourage newcomers to establish themselves.
The OFA can be a key partner working with government and local municipalities to identify ways and means to prioritize, build and maintain critical infrastructure that is needed in our communities. For example, OFA has partnered with six rural municipalities on Cost of Community Services studies to help identify costs and benefits of various land use types and support those municipalities in developing growth strategies that can provide a high quality of life for residents while also protecting natural resources.
Planning for housing affordability and long-term land use:
We support the government’s goals of building more homes over the next 10 years to address the housing supply shortage that affects all Ontarians including the agriculture sector. Our focus has been to encourage an approach that balances increased housing and economic growth with ensuring that we are protecting the agricultural and environmental lands we depend on for local food production and healthy communities.
Solutions include intensification of residential development within the existing urban footprint in the context of complete and liveable communities and supporting the distribution of economic development province wide.
Strengthening economic development and community health:
OFA sees tremendous value in developing and encouraging policies that enable direct farm marketing and agritourism to improve urban and rural connections and provide healthy outdoor activities and access to local food for families.
Last year, OFA conducted a local food and agritourism survey, where 38% of respondents noted that although they don’t currently offer agritourism experiences on their farms, they would consider doing so.
OFA partnered with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario on the 2022 State of the Ontario Tourism Industry Report. The report provides several recommendations for all three levels of government, covering topics such as the economy, labour, infrastructure, and the future of (agri)tourism.