NDP Leader and Leader of the Official Opposition at Queen’s Park Marit Stiles was able to take home some Renfrew County produce during her visit to the riding on Monday. Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Scotch Bush – The relatively new leader of the provincial New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Leader of the Official Opposition at Queen’s Park was in the riding on Monday, and on a visit to a farm she heard about sustainable farming concerns and the importance of ensuring local producers don’t get lost in the shuffle. 

NDP Leader Marit Stiles was in the riding meeting constituents, getting to know the area and also looking for input on ideas to take back to Queen’s Park and issues to push action on. 

“What can we be talking about that is bold?” she asked a group of mostly farm-related individuals during her whistle stop at Ottawa Valley Farm to Fork on Monday morning. 

It was one of many stops throughout the day in the riding, which included a walk-through in Renfrew with Mayor Tom Sidney, a visit with Pembroke council members and a tour of that community, a visit to Algonquin College, chatting with representatives of the Local Immigration Partnership Network, touring the Pembroke Airport and a stop at Melissa Bishop Park where she was the guest of Mayor James Brose of North Algona Wilberforce Township.

As part of her stop on the farm, Ms. Stiles enjoyed some local treats, including butter tarts, and was able to take home some Renfrew County produce with some local garlic and zucchini. 

For local NDP supporters, having the leader in the riding was a major boost and source of encouragement. Dorian Pearce of the local riding association said it is the first time there has been a leader in the riding in recent memory with some noting it is likely the first visit since 1999. 

“So none since the last century,” he joked. 

At the Scotch Bush farm of Ottawa Valley Farm to Fork, representatives from both the National Farmers Union (NFU) and Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) shared concerns and were part of the advocacy the NDP leader was looking for. She said seeing farm organizations work together on other issues shows how important they can be as advocates. One issue she was referring to was the paving over of the Green Belt which has caused the Conservative Government of Doug Ford a lot of bad press and headaches as various groups band together in opposition. 

“The historic way agricultural organizations come together to push back on these issues has been very insightful,” she noted. 

“I look at their voting base and I think, ‘who is going to vote for you?’,” she said. 

One of her jobs in opposition is holding the government to account for its actions and this has been forefront recently with concerns raised by many people who are worried about food security. She noted the Greenbelt development seems to be a push to get votes by the Ford government, but it may backfire. While the vote rich area with the area code of 905 is part of the lure, many there are opposed to this move. Speaking to residents in Brampton and Mississauga, many of them come from agriculture and farming backgrounds and they see the need for agriculture, she said. 

“Those folks are just as concerned about what is happening in the greenbelt,” she said. 

Ms. Stiles said her role as the Leader of the Opposition is not only to challenge the government but also to hear from Ontarians what they are looking for. 

“Where do we go and what are the problems we should put first?” she asked. “The OFA and the Farmers Union (NFU) and mayors and reeves do an incredible job to bring this to the front to us.” 

During the break in the provincial legislature, she has been criss-crossing the province to hear from Ontarians, she said.

 “One of the greatest frustrations I hear is there are a whole lot of people who feel left behind, especially in rural Ontario,” she said. “We have to be listening and connecting.”

With a background in a small farm in Newfoundland, she said she understands rural life. She came to Ontario to study in university, but she grew up on a hobby farm which her parents started in the 1960s. 

“I grew up with that, but it is very removed from my reality today,” she admitted. 

Ms. Stiles represents the riding of Davenport. 

Farming Concerns

As the host of the day, Marshall Buchanan of Ottawa Valley Farm to Fork, explained he had turned a 19th century farm into something that can make money in the modern age and part of his focus was Agri-education. 

“And bring transparency to the food system so people can discover new ideas,” he said. 

The local food chain also has some gaps when local agencies can’t buy local products because they are buying in bulk for mass producers, he said. 

“The value chain has some gaps,” he said. “It is hard for producers and consumers to connect.”

There is an urban/rural divide, he said. One example was the protest and trucker convoy.
“This was an example of how politicians fail to connect with the rural area,” he said. 

He also pointed out the value of living in a small community like the Ottawa Valley. 

“If you drive down Scotchbush Road and have a flat tire, anyone would be there to help you,” he said. 

There needs to be more knowledge of rural areas and concerns, he stressed. 

“We need a lot more compassion for rural living and the infrastructure we need,” he said. “It is a huge strategic resource for food security and mental health.”

Other concerns he raised were the tax break on fuel which he said does not help rural residents enough. 

“Support sustainable agriculture and give farmers a break,” he remarked. 

There needs to be an influx of people in farming, he said. Having new models of sharing the land is one option, he said. Farming is not a job like others, he stressed. 

“You might die trying to save the farm,” he said. “If you quit farming, it is like you gave up.”

Jen Doelman of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the provincial director for the zone, who also operates Bonnechere Haven Farm and Farmer’s Daughter Honey near Douglasraised concerns about ensuring farming continues in rural Ontario. She said it can be challenging making a living as a farmer and this is something provincial politicians need to be aware of.

“Biodiversity and income in an area are inverse to each other,” she said. 

Urban residents benefit from rural production, but they want it cheap, she explained. 

“They want that dinner served to them for under $20 and delivered to their door,” she said. “The problem is that the product is born on family farms and small businesses in rural areas don’t have those luxuries.”

While rural landowners are encouraged to be good stewards of the land, they are not being financially compensated, she said. 

Renfrew County has a proud history of innovation, she pointed out mentioning Renfrew County VTAC, community paramedicine and other initiatives. She said the same could happen with agriculture. 

“As stakeholders, we can come up with new ideas,” she said. 

One issue is how expensive it has become to purchase a farm. She pointed out in 2003 an acre cost $2,100 and the mortgage interest rate was 3.78 percent. In 2023, it is $12,000 an acre and the mortgage interest rate is eight percent. This makes adding to a farm or buying a farm too expensive for most small farmers to consider, she said.

“I have done everything I can to make it happen but I can’t beggar my children,” she said. 

While there are urban centres who feel farmers are not paying their fair share due to the farm tax which is 25 percent of other property taxes, this is not the case, she stressed.
“You don’t need police for a cornfield,” she said. “You don’t need a teacher for a cornfield.”

These pressures are tremendous on farmers, she said. A saying is that farmers live poor and die rich, she noted.
“It all speaks to family farms disappearing,” she said. “Who is going to make the food?”

Farmland preservation is important and having good farmland paved over makes no sense, she added. 

“We value good food and a good environment,” she said.

By Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 01, 2023 at 09:45

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eganville Leader   Eganville, Ontario
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