by Jim McDonell
Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MPP
QUEEN’S PARK — This week Ontario celebrates Organic Farming Week to acknowledge the sector’s high-quality produce and the vital contribution it makes to our economy. Last November, I had the pleasure of introducing Bill 54, an Act to Regulate the Labelling and Certification of Organic Products.
In Canada, organic producers must be certified by an accredited certification body before they are able to use the Canadian organic logo or ship their products labelled “organic” across provincial or international borders. However, Ontario producers that distribute solely within the province are not required to be certified to label their products as “organic.”
The agri-food industry, including our vibrant farms in Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, is one of our province’s major employers, with the organic sector playing a significant role. When Ontarians choose to pay a premium for organic food, they want assurance that they are purchasing products that meet the high standards set by the Organic Council of Ontario. Bill 54 will provide consumers with this guarantee of quality, which will support the continued success of the organic food industry.
The results of a survey of small-scale producers by the Organic Council of Ontario show that 81 percent of the farmers expressed their support for the regulation in principle. Six other provinces have already passed legislation to protect consumers against false organic claims. It is time Ontario did the same.
It is our goal to provide certainty, which is essential to grow consumer demand. This will expand, strengthen and stabilize a significant sector of our agri-food industry – Ontario’s number one employment generator. British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have already adopted their own provincial organic food standards. With the passage of Bill 54, Ontario will catch up to this important market group. The government will be able to work with farmers and producers to promote Ontario’s organic food industry. The bill will increase food transparency and enhance consumer protection and confidence in the food they choose to purchase.
Ontario is home to Canada’s largest organic market, with over $1.6 billion in sales. For a growing number of consumers, buying locally produced food is important. It supports people and businesses in or near your community, stimulates the local economy and can promote sustainability and biodiversity. When you buy Ontario organic produce, you are helping to grow a thriving and resilient local food system—the best of both worlds.
I am confident that Bill 54 will provide balance in the implementation of certified organic standards while reducing unnecessary red tape and minimizing the costs to producers and job creators. Bill 54 has passed First and Second Reading and was sent to the Committee of the Whole House.
This week I also had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the Ontario East Municipal Conference held in Cornwall. The Ontario East Economic Development Commission hosted the event, which is designed to share municipal knowledge and best practices. It also generates economic opportunities and celebrates the region’s successes. The Honourable Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, opened the conference. He highlighted the upcoming public consultations on the new Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) and the building regulatory service transformation. Fellow Parliamentary Assistant, Parm Gill and I will be leading will be leading these sessions. On the final day of the conference, I was pleased to participate in a panel discussion on the next steps in furthering our region’s economic prosperity.
Next week, I will be attending the International Plowing Match (IPM) in the North Bay. I’m sure everyone remembers the terrific job done by our volunteers in hosting the 2015 IPM in Finch. I look forward to meeting representatives of the Ontario agri-food industry as they showcase their important sector of our economy.