Minister Hardeman Marks One-Year Anniversary as Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
One year ago, I was honoured to be sworn in as Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. It is a great privilege to be able to work with this sector which is so important to me and has so much potential for growth. Equally as important, it is an honour to be part of a government elected to be for the people and a real partner for rural Ontario.
The time I've enjoyed the most over the last year has been hearing from the hardworking people in rural Ontario and the agri-food industry, and gaining your insight at meetings, conferences and other events. The many conversations about the challenges you face are the basis of the decisions I make every day. Our government is listening. We are committed to making rural Ontario and Ontario's agri-food sector open for business.
This year, we took action to get rid of unnecessary red tape while upholding the rules that keep Ontarians safe and healthy. We're making real progress. With your help and advice, we took immediate action to address farmers' concerns and updated the Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program to support those who lose livestock to predators. With these updates, our government has helped farmers deal with losses beyond their control.
We consulted with farmers and food processors at roundtables across Ontario on opportunities to grow their business. We heard you loud and clear - red tape is weighing you down with piles of paperwork, fees and added stress. That's why I'm working to streamline the licencing and certification processes for more than 20 programs my ministry delivers.
I have seen firsthand how effective we are when we team up to tackle some tough issues that face the sector. The recent challenge with deoxynivalenol (DON) required all of us to roll up our sleeves and work together. Last fall, I hosted two roundtables with industry representatives to discuss how best to support those affected by this disease. Working together, we took immediate steps to help farmers and businesses affected by DON. We all want Ontario farmers - and all those throughout the value chain - to succeed. That means working together to find solutions to help manage the kinds of problems nature can create.
I look forward to continuing to work with the sector as we look to modernize the province's financial protection programs for farm businesses. Ontario is a leader in providing risk management programs for farmers, and we're committed to making sure these programs are available to farmers when they need them. We're protecting what matters most to farmers and Ontario's rural communities so they can succeed now and in the future.
We're taking steps to expand natural gas access in rural Ontario and are investing in rural broadband to connect your homes and businesses with reliable and affordable high-speed internet access. We've also announced a redesigned Rural Economic Development program launching in late July to help our rural communities prosper.
Farming is a tough business. Dealing with factors beyond your control can take a toll on farmers and their families. It has been a challenging spring and I know how frustrating that has been for everyone. Farmers are some of the toughest people out there, but sometimes this also means it's harder to reach out for help. That's why I've made it a priority to help address the stigma that still surrounds mental health in the industry.
We're also supporting communities and those struggling with mental health and addiction by providing $3.8 billion in funding for mental health and addiction treatment over 10 years. I want to encourage you to watch for friends, families and neighbours who are struggling. If you or someone you know needs help, please ask for it.
When I reflect on this past year, I see a common thread running through our accomplishments - your contribution and input. I believe our farmers, processors and all those in our agri-food industry are the true experts when it comes to growing the sector, and I look forward to continuing our work together to make Ontario open for business and a place to grow. As I look forward to the year ahead, my goal is to make rural Ontario and our agri-food sector a place to grow and to have some sunshine!
- Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to Ontario
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