Column by Bill Walker, May 25/18

Published on May 25, 2018

The all-candidates debate at Keady was an opportunity for me to talk about the Ontario PC party’s plan to reduce operating costs for farmers and bring relief to rural Ontario.

We are talking about lowering the cost of Hydro, reducing the price of gas by 10 cents a litre, cutting taxes for all, including farmers, to ensure their business can stay competitive, eliminating the Cap and Trade/Carbon Tax as it impacts input costs, ensuring flexibility in the labour market to meet the unique circumstances of farm work, and reducing red tape as this burden can translate into almost $6,000 in added costs per year.

In addition, we’re increasing the Risk Management Program (RMP) cap by $50 million annually to help farmers and other producers better manage risks outside of their control. This means more stability, income security and peace of mind for farmers, all of which is long overdue.

We’re talking about enabling private sector participation in the expansion of natural gas, which will help build prosperity in rural communities. In turn, this will free up savings of up to $100 million to partner with providers in order to deliver cellular and broadband expansion. Businesses and individuals rely on the internet now more than ever, and so this will mean better, more reliable connections, better opportunities to create and grow a business and better options to find a good job.

I spent some time during the debate talking about rural infrastructure needs. We need good roads, back roads, side roads and bridges to support farm production and transportation of our goods and services, just as we need strong community schools to attract and retain local employees and to support growth.

Bruce and Grey is home to over 300 bridges and culverts; 650 kilometers of roads in Bruce county, and 877 kilometers of roads in Grey county. It’s important to remember these were built many years ago, and they’re all going to require repairs and replacement that will have to be undertaken in collaboration with the provincial, municipal and federal governments.

Our party has for years fought for rural Ontario’s fair share of the gas tax. To us, it is about fundamental fairness. But we didn’t have support from the other parties. They rejected our legislation to spread the infrastructure money more evenly across Ontario, and as a result only 99 out of 444 municipalities receive money from the gas tax, despite the fact that every resident in Ontario pays into it.

All municipalities should share in a portion of the Gas Tax and spend it on their priorities, because for us in rural Ontario, our roads, back roads, side roads, county roads, and main streets in our villages and towns are our public transportation system.

Finally, we need to focus on skilled trades. In fact, we’re the only party that has consistently advocated for years for the government to bring agri-food career opportunities into the grades 9 and 10 Careers and Guidance curriculum. The lack of action is bad news as we know the labour shortage in the industry will double by 2025.

Our party has been a strong champion of agriculture and will continue to stand up for rural Ontario by providing real relief to farmers facing a rising cost of production.