LETTER FROM ONTARIO
A wave of government intrusion

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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July 23, 2004: Greenbelt Task Force Discussion Paper, Planning Act Reform and Implementation Tools, Ontario Municipal Board Reform, Provincial Policy Statement Draft Policies, Drinking Water Source Protection Act, Nutrient Management Act, Growing Strong Rural Communities Consultation Paper, Safe Drinking Water Act – all these provincial government initiatives have the potential to reinvent our countryside. No doubt, every project is well intentioned: urban sprawl needs stopping, large livestock farms need to document their stewardship of our environment, studying the population decline in rural communities is elemental, and confidence in our drinking water needs to be restored.

But, will this wave of new rules and regulations create a more viable and dynamic countryside? I fear not.

One, the draft Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act limits permitted land uses in rural areas to resource-based activities. In prime agricultural areas the permitted uses are even narrower: agriculture, adding value to what is produced on a farm and home businesses. These cannot maintain a vibrant countryside economy. The production of raw materials – food, fibre, gravel, lumber -- has become technology work and attracts a shrinking share of consumer dollars. A countryside limited to resource-based enterprises will continue to lose relevance to the larger economy.

Two, designating good farmland for agriculture in government documents will not guarantee that farming will thrive. Up to 85% of farm families are already involved in economic activities other than primary food production. A growing number of these enterprises have no relation to agriculture, but do contribute to the viability of the farm and a reasonable standard of living for these families. Farm families have already identified what it takes to keep the countryside economy vibrant as resource-based sectors decline in significance. We need to allow a full range of economic activities on our farmsteads and rural properties. A family on a one hundred acre farm should be able to earn a reasonable family income from activities on the property. Farming enterprises are a contribution to family income – often a small contribution.

Three, none of the proposed rules and regulations recognize the public good and environmental services that society reaps from well-managed farms and the stewardship of rural lands. Our countryside needs a new deal from the millions who value local food, wild life, verdant landscapes, fresh air and clean water. Government intrusion needs a guiding principle: public goods that the public wants and needs must be paid for by public money.

This wave of rules and regulations designed to create a greenbelt, protect farmland and safeguard drinking water can only succeed if it also makes the Ontario countryside a great spot to live and a rewarding place to work.

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Bill 27, Greenbelt Protection Act, 2004 can be found at: www.ontla.on.ca/documents/Bills/38_Parliament/Session1/b027rep_e.htm.

The Greenbelt Task Force Discussion Paper can be found at: www.mah.gov.on.ca/userfiles/page_attachments/Library/
1/716171_greenbelt_discussionpaper_e.pdf
.

Planning reform consultation and discussion papers can be found at: www.mah.gov.on.ca/userfiles/HTML/nts_1_17365_1.html

Proposed legislation to protect drinking water sources can be found at: www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/news/2004/062301mb.htm

The Nutrient Management Act and supporting documents can be found at: www.gov.on.ca/OMAFRA/english/agops/index.html

The consultation paper on Growing Strong Rural communities can be found at: www.mah.gov.on.ca/userfiles/HTML/nts_1_17601_1.html

The Safe Drinking Water Act and supporting documents can be found at: www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/water/sdwa/dwsr.htm#tech

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