MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FOOD
Wednesday 30 June 1993
Ministry of Agriculture and Food
Hon Elmer Buchanan, Minister
Rita Burak, deputy minister
Ken Knox, assistant deputy minister, agriculture and rural division
Len Roozen, director, policy analysis branch
Norris Hoag, assistant deputy minister, research and laboratories division
Charles Lalonde, director, meat industry inspection branch
Dr Tom Baker, program manager, meat industry inspection branch
Neil Smith, director, land use planning branch
STANDING COMMITTEE ON ESTIMATES
*Chair / Président: Jackson, Cameron (Burlington South/-Sud PC)
*Acting Chair / Président suppléant: Klopp, Paul (Huron ND)
*Vice-Chair / Vice-Présidente: Arnott, Ted (Wellington PC)
Abel, Donald (Wentworth North/-Nord ND
Bisson, Gilles (Cochrane South/-Sud ND)
Carr, Gary (Oakville South/-Sud PC)
Elston, Murray J. (Bruce L)
*Haeck, Christel (St Catharines-Brock ND)
Jamison, Norm (Norfolk ND)
*Lessard, Wayne (Windsor-Walkerville ND)
Mahoney, Steven W. (Mississauga West/-Ouest L)
Ramsay, David (Timiskaming L)
Wiseman, Jim (Durham West/-Ouest ND)
*In attendance / présents
Substitutions present/ Membres remplaçants présents:
Cleary, John C. (Cornwall L) for Mr Mahoney
Fawcett, Joan M. (Northumberland L) for Mr Ramsay
Klopp, Paul (Huron ND) for Mr Jamison
Murdoch, Bill (Grey PC) for Mr Carr
North, Peter (Elgin ND) for Mr Wiseman
Also taking part / Autres participants et participantes:
Jordan, Leo (Lanark-Renfrew PC)
Clerk / Greffière: Grannum, Tonia
The committee met at 1536 in committee room 2.
MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FOOD
The Chair (Mr Cam Jackson): I'd like to call to order the standing committee on estimates. Hopefully, we'll be able to complete our estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. The clerk advises we have approximately three hours and six minutes remaining. In this regard, I think there's been some mutual agreement among subcommittee members that we order up our business in a fashion that will allow us the opportunity to complete our estimates today.
I have assigned approximately 55 minutes to the Liberal caucus, 55 to the PC caucus and about 30 minutes to the NDP caucus, which --
Interjection: Is 30 minutes too long.
The Chair: Which is 30 minutes too long. So let me rework that, and as I do that, the second issue was that Mr Cleary has requested a change in rotation and that's been agreed to by the Chair. So for the next 25 minutes, we'll allow the Liberals to proceed.
Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall): Thanks, Mr Chairman. The first thing I'd like to talk about is BST. I have heard concerns about BST, the controversial growth hormone that boosts milk production. I understand an American study showed that if BST were used, production would increase 5% but consumer sales would fall 15% to 20%. BST has not yet been approved for sale here, and there's considerable opposition to it from many farmers I know, but I understand that at least one member of the Ontario Milk Marketing Board is strongly pushing it. I would like to know what the minister's thoughts are on the use of BST and if he intends to approve it in this province.
Hon Elmer Buchanan (Minister of Agriculture and Food): I have no plans to approve this. The licensing of BST is the responsibility of the federal government, Health and Welfare Canada. I have remained fairly silent on the issue. I've been waiting for the dairy industry and the milk producers to come to terms with the issue, and if it's their view that this is something that should be licensed for use in the province, then I would support it. If they chose not to, obviously I would accept that.
I'm fully aware, though, that there's a consumer issue here as well, and I think that's the issue you raise when you say there might be a decline in milk consumption which would hurt the whole industry. But we have no plans. We're waiting to see what the federal government's response will be.
The licensing in the US seems to be imminent, although there is some opposition, as I'm sure you're aware. There's a campaign being carried on against the licensing in the US although we're told it's probably going to happen there.
We will be having discussions with the federal government to see where it is going. At this point, I've not had any discussions with the federal people in agriculture, but we are going to a meeting next week and this is something that perhaps will be discussed, so I can get a sense of where Agriculture Canada is and from there we will move on, but at this point in time I have no plans. In fact, when I ask the dairy industry and milk producers to give me their view on this, they too have been quiet and haven't taken an official position, at least not to me.
Mr Cleary: I understand from what you tell me that you have a meeting with the federal Minister of Agriculture next week.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Next week there is a federal-provincial conference of agriculture ministers in Prince Edward Island. It will be an opportunity to discuss this issue and see if the federal officials have any plans to go ahead with licensing. But at this point, they have not communicated such to us.
Mr Cleary: The next thing I'd like to talk about is the Fair Tax Commission. I have heard concerns from all sectors over the establishment and efforts of the Ontario Fair Tax Commission. I might note that the commission was scheduled in our part of eastern Ontario on June 14; they tell me, which I'm not sure I believe, that it was cancelled due to lack of interest. I know many people are concerned about the level and extent to which they are taxed. It is my guess that insufficient interest reflects quite simply a disbelief that the commission would have any impact. The presenters probably know best.
Indeed, certain agricultural groups have expressed that the Fair Tax Commission produced its environment and taxation report without any consultation with representatives from rural Ontario. As the commission was established by the Minister of Agriculture and Food and Finance Minister Floyd Laughren, and as rural Ontario is concerned with the report, which it views as an urban agenda for farming, I would welcome the minister's views on the commission's recommendations for pesticides, land drainage, farm income support programs, corn and soybeans.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Just let me get this straight: This was the Fair Tax Commission hearings in eastern Ontario, or was it one of the subcommittees of the task force which was looking at some of the specifics?
Mr Cleary: It's my understanding that it was the Fair Tax Commission that was travelling.
Hon Mr Buchanan: There are a number of committees which are subcommittees of the task force that have travelled, in terms of property taxation. I talked to the OFA, who were here yesterday, and it made some representation to the commission; I believe it was here in Toronto that it had made a submission. I'm not aware of the cancellation of the meeting. We certainly have been supportive as a ministry and I as an individual of reform in taxation on land, especially farm land. There's a need for it. We all know what the problems are with the farm tax rebate program, which we've talked about earlier. There is need for reform.
However, I want to correct a little. We're not directly involved in terms of the financing and reporting. The commission does not report to us; it reports to the Treasurer. Our involvement is somewhat restricted to having input as opposed to receiving the report. But I'm optimistic and hopeful that we'll get something that's useful, that we can get some reforms in property tax for farm land, because it's something that badly needs reforming.
Mr Cleary: Am I correct, then, that you tell me that the commission was not established by you and the Minister of Finance?
Hon Mr Buchanan: No, it was just the Minister of Finance.
Mr Cleary: Oh. Your name was --
Hon Mr Buchanan: Being used?
Mr Cleary: A few places that I had read, anyway.
Hon Mr Buchanan: I see here that one of our staff from the rural organization services acted as a facilitator in some of the rural areas for the meetings, but we did not set up or establish the commission.
Mr Cleary: They're blaming the wrong people, then. I believe you.
Did you want to answer my question about pesticides and land drainage? I just said I would welcome the minister's views of the commission's recommendation for pesticides, land drainage and farm income support programs.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Go ahead.
Ms Rita Burak: Mr Cleary, I think you're referring to the report of one of the subcommittees in relation to the Fair Tax Commission. I believe it did make some recommendations that touched on the use of pesticides by farmers. We received a copy of it, just as the farm organizations did. The subcommittee is an independent advisory group that provided advice to the government. I believe, Minister, we received feedback very quickly from the farm organizations expressing their disagreement with the recommendations, but to confirm, the ministry had no input into those recommendations. This was advice by an independent group of advisers to the Minister of Finance.
Mr Cleary: Does the minister agree with what that group had suggested? Apparently, from what I read, they weren't happy with some of them.
Hon Mr Buchanan: There were obviously some things in there that we don't agree with. I don't like to give a blanket yes or a blanket no, but we certainly know there were some things in there that we don't agree with either, and the producers very clearly signalled to us that they had some major concerns. We're not quite sure why some of the comments were being made when they're looking at taxation, why they were getting into some other areas. Some of the things that were said, we have some concerns with and in fact do not agree with. I don't want to make it a blanket yes or no, but we did have some concerns.
Mrs Joan M. Fawcett (Northumberland): Could I have a supplementary on that? In view of all the stories we hear on the Fair Tax Commission, that it really didn't work and it's kind of on the shelf, could the parts dealing with agriculture also be not looked at right now and just be on the shelf somewhere? Is that why you haven't really got a clear indication yet of how you feel about the various recommendations made? Do you feel the Fair Tax Commission will be revived, maybe even under some other name or something? Maybe there are just too many other things on the government's mind and agenda these days.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Certainly, it was a goal of the government to look at the taxation issue and try to implement a system, not just in land tax but some other things, to make taxes fairer in the province --
Mrs Fawcett: Right, because it's been hanging around for years.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Yes, and that's a major goal to set for oneself. Given the current state of the economy and so on, in terms of concerns with deficit and already increasing taxes, it hasn't had maybe as high a priority as it might have had if times were better. It is something, though, that the government is still concerned about and committed to doing. I don't disagree with you that it would be nice if it could be --
Mrs Fawcett: It's sort of on a back burner right now.
Hon Mr Buchanan: -- moved more quickly on, but quite frankly, if you look at what has been said, a lot of people were able to identify the problems, inequities, in the taxation system and the unfairness when it comes especially to taxation on farm land. But unfortunately, we seem to be somewhat short on solutions as to what kind of taxes would replace them if you eliminate some that clearly are unfair.
That's where I would say that the commission and many of the people who presented have been not very good at coming up with the solutions. That's the tough part of it: If you're going to implement a fairer system, you need some ideas, and we haven't got as many ideas and solutions as we would like in order to implement them.
But it's something that needs to be done and I very much would hope we do it in the agricultural area in terms of tax on farm land: address the concern around the farm tax rebate. Hopefully, we can move that; I would very much like to.
Mr Cleary: I'd like to talk a little bit about the honey bee. As we all know, honey is a $10-million industry in this province and the pollination service is about a $600-million project to the fruit and vegetable industry. Mite infestation of bees has hampered their ability to pollinate four fifths of the crops of apples, peaches, cherries, pears, plums, prunes, strawberries, peppers and cucumbers, and I could go on. In fact, many people now accept that the mite infestation will remain a permanent menace for farmers.
Therefore, it was with some relief that the farmers learned that following the termination of its mite destruction program, the federal government had approved a chemical, and I think the name of it was fluvalinate, or something to that effect. Apparently, this chemical has been tested in the United States and has been proven to kill the mite without injury to the bee. Most recently, the province assumed full responsibility for controlling the pest.
While I am aware that the ministry has provided the beekeepers' association with a certain amount of money, I would like to know how else the minister will be ensuring a vibrant fruit and vegetable industry that may safely rely on healthy bees.
Hon Mr Buchanan: You're right. We have provided some money in terms of support to the Ontario Beekeepers' Association to help them in terms of training them to be able to inspect their own hives. It's sort of a self-inspection. There is at least one chemical that's of some use to them. We certainly accept the fact that bees are important to the horticultural industry and we would have a tough time without them.
One thing we are going to do, and this is fairly imminent. Agriculture Canada has announced that it's going to lift the ban on the importation of US bees. That is a major concern to us in the province of Ontario. The American bees are well known to have different kinds of mites. As to the two main ones here that we are aware of, the varroa and the tracheal mite, we have some real concerns in Ontario if they lift that ban, which has been in place for some years to help us control the mites. We import bees from Australia and New Zealand, and we did from Hawaii at one time; I don't know whether we still import from Hawaii or not.
I am going to be protesting to the federal minister next week about the lifting of that ban. We are considering what action the Ontario government can take to potentially stop those bees. I don't want this to be interpreted as an anti-trade issue or somehow against trade, but I am aware that if we allow this to happen and the mites are brought in with the American bees, we'll increase our problem, and it's going to hurt, as you mentioned, the horticultural industry significantly.
We are going to explore what options Ontario can take. I'll be talking to some of the other provincial ministers -- I understand that Manitoba is now also objecting to the lifting of the ban -- and I will try to get support from other provinces to ask the federal government to reconsider. If they don't, then I'm going to look at what we can do as a province. We'll have to canvass the support in the farm community, but I have some real concerns about bringing bees in which we know are more highly infested with mites than we have here.
Mrs Fawcett: Whatever that chemical was, is that effective against the diseases that the US bees would be bringing over? I know that was a real concern when the inspectors were cut out. I also wonder how successful your program was to train people.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Ken Knox is going to step up to the plate.
Mr Ken Knox: There are the two types of mites. The one that's of big concern is the tracheal mite, the little wee guy inside --
Mrs Fawcett: Yes, I remember that.
Mr Knox: -- and it's not treatable, but as to the other mite that the minister referred to, the chemical that is available is effective on those. We have areas within the province where we have quarantine areas to try and keep the bee movement down, and that's another means, without going to the destruction and the use of the chemical, to control them. That's one of the issues the federal government is raising in response to our trying to keep the movement of American bees out.
Mrs Fawcett: The association was very proud of the fact that we were relatively clean here, and had been.
Mr Knox: That's right, yes, and still are relatively clean. We do have some quarantine areas, but for the most part bees can move throughout the province. There's a small area down in the peninsula where we don't allow bees to move and between you two there's a small area which is a quarantine area. But for the most part, the province is kept clean, thanks to the bee association, which has done good work and has been trained successfully, in answer to your further question.
Mrs Fawcett: They really have picked up the slack, then.
Mr Knox: Yes, indeed.
Mrs Fawcett: Probably because they are so committed. I remember meeting with them and they were a very committed bunch.
Hon Mr Buchanan: I'd just add one thing in terms of the US bee situation. We're also concerned with bringing in the Africanized bees, which are in the southern US, that we really don't think we have any need for here in Ontario. We not only might end up with mites; we may end up with that other strain of bee which would be very bad for Ontario. I just wanted to put that on the record as well, that we have some concerns on that. It's not an anti-US or an anti-trade issue; it's very much safety and health of the horticultural industry.
The Acting Chair (Mr Paul Klopp): Four minutes.
Mrs Fawcett: Just a question on the stable funding: I think you said on the 12th possibly you would be trying to bring it forward. Then I was alarmed when I read in the Star this morning that the final vote on Bill 48 could take place as early as next Tuesday, allowing the Legislature to recess for the rest of the summer shortly after. I was very worried then that this bill wouldn't be coming forward, and I guess I was going to say, will you make your House leader bring this forward? Unless he does, then we're really in jeopardy of not getting it in this session.
I know that certainly the OFA, the Canadian Farmworkers Union and the National Farmers Union want to see something happen, and maybe some not so enthusiastically, but I think they really want to know. When I just saw that, I wanted to ask again if you know anything more than we do.
Hon Mr Buchanan: I know that we're not going to be adjourning for the summer next week. My concern is, will we here in August working away as opposed to adjourning early? There is a lot of legislation the House leaders are looking at that they would like to get passed. From my perspective, I'm quite interested in staying here to get this bill dealt with and then some others.
Mrs Fawcett: So am I.
Hon Mr Buchanan: I don't think we have to worry about the Star column in terms of the House adjourning next week. It won't happen.
Mrs Fawcett: Okay. In April you told the members of the Silent Majority and the NFU that under Bill 42, if the farmer sent in a cheque to a farm organization but marked it for direct deposit back to the farmer on the back of the cheque, it would still qualify for a valid fee payment. Now, is that true, and if so, do you still agree with that? Just what is the clarification?
Hon Mr Buchanan: There's a bit of a misunderstanding. I probably said something that led people to believe that, to say that. I think, in response to the question as it was put, which was put in a fairly detailed way, I said that we would be taking the cheque, registering the farmer and forwarding the cheque on to the farm organizations. We weren't as concerned about what was on the back of it perhaps as the general farm organizations would be.
Subsequently to that, we've talked to the farm organizations. Obviously, they are very concerned because of that story, if you will, that's out from the Silent Majority. We are now talking to the farm groups about how we prevent sort of deliberate foulup of the system. What we will probably do if the cheque is not -- if you're asked to send in a cheque, it has to be something you can deposit, and we may be sending those cheques back if they're basically not negotiable. But we are discussing that with the farm organizations, as to how to handle that problem. I am not standing by that statement.
Mrs Fawcett: So it's still up in the air.
Hon Mr Buchanan: In the general farm organizations, there's some concern about deliberate sort of foulups. I don't want to call it fraud, but deliberately trying to mess up the system. We will try to put something in place that will prevent that from happening because it could end up costing the farm organizations money in terms of dealing with those kinds of cheques. We are having a discussion, and I did not mean to say that I would accept cheques that were not negotiable.
Mrs Fawcett: Are you going to the meeting Monday night for the Silent Majority?
Hon Mr Buchanan: I'll be in Charlottetown Monday night, talking about safety nets and honey bees.
Mrs Fawcett: Your designate, Mr Klopp, maybe will be there?
The Acting Chair: No, I won't be.
Now we go to the PC Party from 4 to 4:20 and then the NDP from 4:20 to 4:40. Take it away, Ted.
Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): I have a question to the minister. This is an article that was in the Wellington Advertiser last week. I'll read you the article, from Wellington OMAF News, which is distributed as a service by our local OMAF office.
"We have had a good response to the SEWAP program for vegetable growers." I don't know if you're familiar with the term, the SEWAP program? "This program could be continued for future years. It has been suggested that other commodity producers, ie, swine, dairy, poultry etc, petition their member of provincial Parliament to have this program extend to them. Approximately $21,000 will be paid in this area to assist students with their summer wages."
Then it goes on and gives the telephone number.
I received a call just yesterday from a farmer in Peel township, I think -- Wally Sander is his name -- and he asked me if I would lend my support to this initiative, to extending this program to other commodity producers. I would just like to ask you in a preliminary sense, is there any reason why this program has just been strictly designated for certain farmers and excluding others, if there's any reasoning behind it, and secondly, why is it that all farmers couldn't be eligible for this program?
Hon Mr Buchanan: Just let me be sure here. We're talking about the summer employment that we are providing?
Mr Arnott: Yes. SEWAP is their acronym.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Some support for hiring students in the summer, or part-time people in the summer? Because it's not a great amount of money -- I mean, I would love to have many times what we have to OMAF -- we decided to target it to the commodities that we thought were under the most distress, and horticulture, we believe, is under more stress in the province than, say, dairy producers. We have attempted to target it to those who I happen to believe are most in need of support, and they also are in need of hiring workers: Horticulture usually hires a lot of people in the summer for harvesting and planting etc.
So it is a targeted program as opposed to a general program. If we watered it down and just made it available to everybody, that would be universal. That would be nice, but I've tried, because I have a limited amount of money, to target it to those who I happen to believe need it most, and that is the answer that I would recommend that you give to the --
Mr Arnott: In past years there was a wage subsidy program for all kinds of students. In 1989 I think it was suspended. I think the gentleman made a very good point, that if indeed there's a program there for farmers it should be accessible to all farmers, and it makes it difficult.
Hon Mr Buchanan: I understand. I would support the concept of universality as well if I had sufficient money to spread across the entire province, but feeling I didn't have what I would like for this kind of program, I decided to target it. We haven't been able to deliver safety nets. I just met with a number of farm leaders. The horticulture sector is very much interested in a safety net, what they're calling an enhanced NISA program. We've not been able to deliver that to them. They haven't had much in the way of provincial support. This is a small amount of money we've been able to help the horticulture industry with, and it's to make up for some of our failings in providing safety nets.
Mr Bill Murdoch (Grey): I'm here again today. Jim Wilson, one of our members, has asked me to put some things on the record and some things he's already brought up in the House. He understands that the minister hasn't had time yet in his busy schedule to get back to him, but he would like me to bring forward his concerns, which I will do, and I understand we have more time if I don't get it all on.
I'm going to read a letter that I think he gave to you, Mr Minister, and then we'll go on with this press release and things like that. It was to a Mr Patrick Russell, and it says:
"Dear Members of the Committee:
"On behalf of the farming community in the town of New" -- how do you say that?
Hon Mr Buchanan: Tecumseth.
Mr Murdoch: "Tecumseth, I write in response to some of the comments and options contained in the planning document entitled the Town of New Tecumseth Official Plan Draft Discussion Paper, revised February 17, 1993. Specifically, I want to make clear my support for the position taken by many of the constituents in the farming community to maintain the status quo by keeping the present agricultural-rural designation and policies as contained in the township of Tecumseth official plan. It is without hesitation that I extend my support for this position. I ask that your committee listen to and take seriously the concerns expressed by me and the farmers in New" --
Ms Christel Haeck (St Catharines-Brock): Tecumseth.
Mr Murdoch: Tecumseth. I get it wrong every time I look at it.
"It is my opinion that for far too long municipalities and governments at all levels have implemented laws and policies with little or no concern for the property rights of land owners and taxpayers." I can probably agree with that. "This is particularly true when you consider the" -- this one's got me tongue-tied.
Ms Haeck: Tecumseth, probably.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Tecumseth was a great Mohawk warrior.
Mr Murdoch: Yes, I know he was.
"...the proliferate use of the so-called planning guideline issued by the provincial ministries of Agriculture and Food and the Environment."
Ms Haeck: Do you want me to hold your cue card after this?
Mr Murdoch: I was just listening to Paul over there.
"Guidelines are no replacement for laws that have been duly debated and passed by the Legislature of the province. Instead, I argue that guidelines merely signal the wishes of governments that have not got the guts to debate and pass laws for fear of public recrimination. None the less, it is the case that we are stuck with food land guidelines and reasonable use guidelines that, in many cases, are enforced by the provincial government as if they were laws. The problem is, of course, that while these guidelines make for good politics, they tend, more often than not, to ignore the economic and social effects of their implementation.
"For example, the governments of Ontario have long had as a goal the preservation of agricultural lands. However, please keep in mind that these same governments have never moved to compensate farmers for restricting the use of agricultural lands."
Mr Murdoch: "In fact, just last year in the London annexation fiasco, the provincial NDP government effectively expropriated thousands of acres of farm land in Middlesex county without consideration or compensation to farmers."
I understand that somebody over there asked me a question, but I had to finish the paragraph. If you'd like me to finish, I will.
Mr Paul Klopp (Huron): Go ahead.
Mr Murdoch: That's good. "I've always maintained that prosperous farmers will jealously guard farm land, but the challenge of preserving agricultural land is compounded when you consider that most farmers are having a difficult time making ends meet, while at the same time their assets, primarily their land, are being devalued by overzealous planners who know little or nothing about operating a family farm."
I have to agree with that too. I didn't write this letter, but I agree with a lot of what's in it.
"The question before your committee, and subsequently before the town council, concerns the future designation of lands in the rural area of the town. To split the agricultural-rural designation, as suggested in the discussion paper, would have the effect of lowering the value of the farm. Needless to say, I am sure the local bank managers will want to re-examine their financial commitments to farmers if this split were to occur.
"Moreover, the authors of the discussion paper appear to place little value on the speculative value of farm land when they comment, on page 11, about the inflated values of farms. In many cases the only real value the farm has is contained in the speculative value of the land, and unless the town of New Tecumseth is prepared to compensate our farmers for the loss of this speculative value of their land, I suggest it is both immoral and unwise to change the status quo."
"The authors go on to suggest that devaluing farm land is a virtue because it will encourage younger farmers to get into the business of farming. I suggest the reasoning for this statement is illogical and, at best, naïve. Under the split scenario, it is agreed by the authors that the farms' value would decrease. It follows, then, that the farms' future viability is itself called into question. A drop in the speculative value of the farm land would effectively remove the saleability of the property.
"Given the already very low net returns in the farming community and the added financial stress that would be caused by the devaluation of their lands, I ask you, what younger farmer in his or her right mind would want to take over a farming operation? In other words, if the committee were to reject the status quo, I believe members would be guilty inadvertently of precipitating the elimination of family farms as we know them today in our area.
"In summary, the status quo must be maintained. The present agricultural-rural designation allows for other than agricultural uses of land. This flexibility must not be taken away from the farm land owner.
"Thank you for taking time to review my comments."
That was from Jim Wilson. Jim mentioned to me that he felt there hadn't been time yet for you to respond, but he felt I should read that into the record so that you will get a response. Now you know that I know about it. That's the first time I saw the letter, and I wanted to put it in for Jim.
I see that we still have 10 minutes.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Do you want me to answer that in the next 10 minutes?
Mr Murdoch: If you'd like to answer; if you don't, I have some other things I'd like to put in for Jim. I know we have another 20-minute shot, so I can always do that. Yes, if you'd like to have some comments, Mr Minister, I'd be the last one to not want to see you speak.
Hon Mr Buchanan: First of all, let's respond to the London situation. This is not something that happened arbitrarily from this government. Negotiations have been going on for some 10 years, as I'm sure you're aware, between the city of London and the county of Middlesex and the townships therein. London was looking for some additional land, and this debate had been going on and on. Finally, the minister said, "Look, if you can't reach a settlement, we'll appoint someone who will examine the issue and make the recommendations and you'll both have to live with the recommendations." So it wasn't the NDP government that imposed this, it was an arbitrator who was set up, and everyone was aware that his recommendations would be brought in as the rule.
I share your view in that much agricultural land was brought into the city of London. It's a concern of mine as Minister of Agriculture and Food. We're looking at working with Middlesex, and London indeed, to try to make sure that land, which is good agricultural land and should continue to be so, will be protected. We're doing what we can to work with the local authorities as well as with Municipal Affairs. I wanted to straighten that out.
On the Tecumseth situation, the official plan is still very much in the preliminary stages. We have had staff and we've been commenting on the preliminary. First of all, we compliment the fact that they are bringing in an official plan and trying to put things in place. However, it's difficult to maintain an agricultural-rural designation. I mean, it's either agriculture or it's not. That's why you have two different terms; I don't know how you can have both. A rural designation suggests you can have other kinds of severances and you can provide for housing and commercial and other kinds of things that can go into a rural designation, which you can't have in agriculture. It's a bit of an anomaly, in my view, to have it designated both. Why not just create a new designation and call it "open," do what you want with it.
Mr Murdoch: I've been accused of that many times in Grey.
Hon Mr Buchanan: I didn't make that accusation. I was just stating a viewpoint. I know it's tough. Having had that opportunity to have a dual designation, I can understand the frustration of the farmers and the people in the area who don't want to give it up. That's natural. But if we're going to have planning that means something and if we're going to do anything to preserve agricultural land, I think we have to decide what is good agricultural land and should be protected and what is rural and allowed to be developed. It's going to be a tough sell with the people in the area who've had that freedom in the past, but our job is to try to preserve the good agricultural land and allow other land to be developed.
I think we can get this worked through. I realize some things have been said in terms of farm land being affordable. I think it should be. Farmers should not have to compete with developers when they want to buy a farm, because what it's worth as farm land and land for houses obviously is quite different. Farmers can't afford, with today's prices, to be paying developer prices for farm land; that's a fact. If it's zoned agriculture, clearly the land would be cheaper and the opportunities for young people would be better in terms of getting a better price. I don't think that's necessarily bad, unless you're the person who happens to be selling the farm. If I'm the one who wants to retire and sell the farm, then obviously I'm going to be concerned.
We have to accept that, that some people are not going to like having that dual designation taken away. We know there are going to be some people who aren't going to be happy, and I've talked to Mr Wilson about the fact that it's going to be tough to continue to maintain the status quo, but I think we do have get on with planning, and I again commend Tecumseth for trying to get into an official plan and get on with planning.
Mr Murdoch: I want to make quite clear too that Jim Wilson would have liked to be here today. He was called home to a special matter up there and he couldn't come; sometimes that happens.
I might argue a bit with you on the London annexation. The only reason I won't argue with you too long is that it's over, but if it hadn't been over right at this point, I would almost have to say that the NDP government did do this. I know there were ongoing relationships between the two and they didn't seem to get together. But as you probably know, I spoke in the House that I didn't agree with the way you did it; I think there were other ways and better ways. I went through annexation in my own area; we were, to a point, forced to negotiate by the government of the day, but we did come to an agreement that we both could live with and there wasn't the dissatisfaction that there seems to still be down in the London area. I know there are a lot of people upset.
I have concerns. I know that you, as the minister, will work hard to see that the good agricultural land is preserved, but I feel that the pressures of development, once that land has been put into the city of London -- the excuse is going to be, "It's in the city now; it should be used," and that's some of our best farm land. You can see the same problem, and I've brought it to your attention in the House, in what's happening outside of Toronto, out of Brampton, when I delivered the presents I gave you some time ago, the good earth and the things that are being devoured.
I see that every day. I'll be going home in a couple of hours from now, and I'll drive by that same subdivision that is on some of the best farm land in Ontario. I know the excuse is probably used that it's already been annexed by the town of Brampton and it's serviced and stuff like that, "So hey, let's let it go." I'm just afraid that will happen in London. But as I say, I know you'll do your best to see it doesn't, and I guess we'll have to wait and see what history brings to us.
Hon Mr Buchanan: I want to respond to that very briefly, because we dealt with that in the House. A quick comment is that the houses springing up on some of that good farm land on the urban fringe in a number of cities is land that was rezoned and changed maybe 10, 18, whatever years ago. It's been sitting there growing corn, but it's been zoned residential and waiting for the right time for the houses to spring up. With the decisions we're making today in trying to help some of these municipalities in terms of zoning, hopefully the people won't be saying things like that about us in 10 years, that we just let all this land go into residential, so what we're deciding today will protect us in the future.
Mr Murdoch: We hope. It didn't work out there, and I'm sure a lot of the people elected back then are not around now; maybe that's part of the reason they're not around here any more. But they made that mistake then and allowed that land, and I'm just saying that London now has taken a big chunk and I'm really concerned about that land 10 years from now, starting to put high-rises or whatever, spread housing.
I see we've got another couple of minutes. Just one thing, and I'll go back to Jim's later on; I know we have another 20-minute time, and his is too long. Someone asked me in the hallway coming just down here: "You've got a question for Elmer. I wish you'd ask him what's happening to the tripartite system with the beef." In my area, I know there's some in it, but not a lot. I guess there are some problems, are there? Maybe you can explain it to me. If you can't, I understand, but is there a problem with that system, or what's happening?
Hon Mr Buchanan: Because of the countervail situations we've seen in terms of pork, the beef producers are concerned that they may fall victim to countervail activities from the US as well, so they're nervous about this tripartite for red meat and whether or not it's countervailable. They are somewhat anxious to get out of this, terminate the program and set up something else. They have some ideas. They're looking now at a value added income stabilization account, known as VAISA, which is a hybrid of NISA and that income stabilization account.
That's what they are now asking for, and they've asked me to take that request to the ministers in Charlottetown next week to see if we can get support across the province to terminate, wrap up the tripartite for red meats at the end of this year and start a new program. So we will be taking that issue to Charlottetown to talk to other provinces and the federal government to see if they're interested.
Mr Murdoch: Okay, I'll leave it in your capable hands to look after us.
The Vice-Chair (Mr Ted Arnott): That concludes your time, Mr Murdoch. Just by way of information, the Conservatives have another round of questions commencing in 20 minutes' time.
Mr Murdoch: I'd just like to thank Christel for her help, but the help from Paul Klopp didn't help me any.
Mr Peter North (Elgin): I would just like to ask the minister a few different questions. As the minister well knows, the area that I come from is southwestern Ontario. We have an abundance of people in the tobacco industry, people who rely quite heavily on the tobacco industry as a source of revenue and as a source of employment.
In the most recent budget there was a line that spoke to the issue of clear fuel. In the tobacco industry, the people who do not have access to natural gas use clear fuel in the curing process of tobacco. This is something that, to my understanding, will incur a 14% increase in tax on that particular fuel.
I was wondering if you as Minister of Agriculture and Food are speaking to the Minister of Finance or dealing with the Minister of Finance to put across our particular question on that issue to the minister. If so, being that we perceive it to be sort of sectoral, very specific hardship, is there some opportunity for waiving that particular tax on those people or some sort of certificate that they could get or something of that nature that would give them a rebate of some description?
Hon Mr Buchanan: My understanding is that the Ministry of Finance is reviewing that subject. But Len Roozen, the director of the policy analysis branch, who's done a lot of work, I would like to add, on ethanol, but didn't get a chance to respond to the ethanol question yesterday -- Len, could you respond to that? You're certainly very familiar with it.
Mr Len Roozen: Thank you, Mr Minister and members. I guess the issue there is that the recent budget has a line in it which allowed for the differentiation of coloured fuel so that the tax- exempt portion of the fuel could be distinguished from the taxable portion of the fuel. The issue here is that in curing tobacco that coloured fuel, the tax-exempt portion of the fuel, may well leave some residual which has an implication for the tobacco product.
The Ministry of Finance has been apprised of that problem and has been speaking with us, and now with itself -- I guess what was the Ministry of Revenue -- to establish whether there are other administrative ways of separating that tax-exempt fuel from the taxable fuel so that the coloration issue will not be a problem for the tobacco belt. We spoke with them yesterday and we expect to hear an answer back from them shortly, but they are sensitive to the problem and are prepared to seek out other administrative solutions.
Mr North: I just hope that the minister and the ministry realize that there is an urgency to this particular question, because quite obviously the tobacco industry is engaged in growing tobacco now and will soon be engaged in curing tobacco. I hope that we can get it cleared and clarified with the Ministry of Finance so that we don't end up with this problem lingering into the curing part of the harvest and incurring costs that they will in turn have to try to get back or have rebated at some point in the future.
If I could, I'd like to ask another question. My second question has to do with another for instance in my particular area.
Mr Klopp: Where do you get these questions?
Mr North: Out of my head. Last year, as you would well know, all over the province there were difficulties in agriculture, but in our particular area, a group that was involved with the Women's Farm Network set up, with a group of United churches, a crisis help line for farmers. They came to me a number of different times and spoke to me about some type of funding or some type of resources from the ministry to help them out with this particular issue.
Do you know if we have anything in the budget this year that would help groups of this nature? Second to that, are we working on any particular position from the ministry that would help these groups deal with the issues that come to light on the crisis help lines?
Hon Mr Buchanan: I'm going to get staff to answer the specifics. Ken, I guess you volunteered. One thing I would add is that the Women's Farm Network -- we value what they're doing in rural Ontario. It's a fairly new organization, and that's not knocking any of the organizations that have been around for a long time. They are a fairly active and fairly aggressive group that is out there working on behalf of family farms and the farm family. We are looking at possibly some ways of supporting them, not just in this endeavour. In terms of the specifics of your question, I'm going to let Ken Knox answer.
Mr Knox: The emergency assistance program of last year was a result of the culmination of two things that occurred. One was the very bad weather last spring and early summer and further low prices. The commodity council, particularly the grains and oilseeds industry, brought to the minister's attention that we needed some emergency relief. Part of that was to deal with the family crisis that was occurring in parts of rural Ontario because of the very difficult financial situation that farm families were in.
That brought about an assistance program for farmers, but particularly a component which was set aside to deal with the family crisis and counselling. Organizations within communities were invited to send in sort of a tender as to what they might do to assist the farm families in their communities. Some supplemented welfare for areas where farmers may not be eligible to do that, and other organizations, such as the one that you've cited, set up some system to provide crisis relief or crisis assistance and phone networking and so on. So that's the background and the program that was in place last year.
Fortunately, there was an opportunity at the end of the fiscal year, with some money still remaining in that fund, for organizations to agree if they wanted some funding for this year, and we were able to make arrangements for them to have funding. For the organizations that wanted to, at the beginning of April, there were funds set aside for them to carry on their work at least through the summer.
At this point, there isn't long-term funding available for the crisis aspect, but it would be our hope that under the rural economic development aspect, if organizations were looking for some funding to do these kinds of non-profit work, the parameters would be broad enough to include that. Certainly it was an excellent program that some organizations took on.
Mr Klopp: I'm sorry Len got back to his chair there. With the coloured fuel issue that the treasury changed, there has been the odd farmer who has talked to me and said he doesn't want to go to coloured fuel, for whatever reason. I think way back when we first went to coloured fuel, there was a bit of a mixup and some guys got scared with their diesel fuel tractors.
I was just wondering, since you're dealing with them on this issue, the tobacco, is it only the tobacco itself with regard to the fuel issue, or can I bring this up to your attention now with regard to some of these farmers who don't want to go to coloured fuel, for whatever reason?
Mr Roozen: My understanding is that the issue of coloration of fuel generally is not under consideration for change, but if there are implications as a result of the implications of the colorant itself on particular crops, they are prepared to look at alternative solutions. But I don't think they would limit themselves to tobacco in that regard.
Mr Klopp: This is actually to do with tractors themselves, the vehicle. I guess before he could get a rebate, he had non-coloured fuel to get the rebate. The change the other day with the treasury department I believe was more of administration. You just have to get coloured fuel. But it's been brought to my attention. I just was wondering if any other farmers had got to you on this issue. Is there anything we can do about it?
Mr Roozen: The discussion has focused on the topic of tobacco, but I will raise the issue of the other commodities when we next speak to the Ministry of Finance.
Mr Klopp: It's just strictly with tractors. I'll talk to you later.
The Vice-Chair: I recognize once again Mr North.
Mr North: I'm sorry to ask the minister so many questions, but --
Mr Klopp: These are good questions, though.
Mr North: -- there are a lot of people out there in our particular area who have a lot of questions --
Mrs Fawcett: If you're that sorry, I'll take your place.
Mr North: -- and look to our ministry and a number of other ministries to be of some service.
A question that was asked of me a short time ago, at a gathering of all different commodity groups, was a question that dealt with fish farming. It was not so much, "What is the ministry doing for people in the fish farming industry?" but, "Does the ministry take any interest in helping to market fish farming or market the products of fish farming, and are we looking at any sort of export opportunities for the people who are in that particular industry?"
Hon Mr Buchanan: We have tried to assist them in terms of some of the trade missions that we've had, in terms of export and in terms of marketing. There was a trout producers' co-op that wound up operations about a month or six weeks ago that experienced financial difficulty. They were trying to come together in order to market their product jointly to try and get a little bit more clout in the marketplace. That operation fell apart.
In terms of responding to the fish farming, one of the things we are doing which will be part of our initiatives in livestock diversification is that we have been talking to the Ministry of Natural Resources about allowing other species to be farmed. We know there are something like three species being farmed here in Ontario and in some parts of Europe and there are as many as 40 different species being farmed, and it's an opportunity for income in rural Ontario. It might provide in some cases not necessarily a full farm income, but it would be something that a number of people could be involved in on a small scale, and it would employ people as well.
We are looking at how we can urge the Ministry of Natural Resources to increase the number of species we can have in fish farms, because it's very restrictive now; we're probably the most restrictive in the world. There's opposition, I would add quickly though, from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, which does not want to see the list expanded. But as a ministry, we believe that it's an opportunity we shouldn't lose, because we are in need of additional income in rural Ontario and it would be an opportunity for people to get into fish farming with some other species for which there is a market.
There are people who bring things like channel cats right into downtown Toronto. They bring them all the way from the US. Channel cats are being brought in and sold in downtown Toronto. We can grow channel cats in a lot of the swamps we have in this province. That would be a good way to make some income from some of the wetlands that we're trying to protect. So there are some opportunities and things we're trying to do to assist the fish farming industry.
Ms Haeck: Just a quick supplementary on that issue: You indicated that the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters has some objection to expanding the list of species that could be produced or raised in this way. What are their specific objections?
Hon Mr Buchanan: Ken, I think, has volunteered.
Ms Haeck: Ken gets volunteered a few times.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Yes, I have to be careful. I'm liable to say the wrong thing. Ken will give a good answer.
Mr Knox: It's an interesting position that they're putting forward, comparing the animals and the diversification of the exotic animals, the deer farming as compared to fish. There's good logic there if you work your way through it, and I will attempt to. Animals can be compounded. They can be kept within fences. The issue with fish is that they're very difficult to do that to, particularly if we have them in an open body of water. Similarly, even if they're in ponds that are confined and away from creeks or rivers, they can escape through birds of prey that can pick them up and drop them in a river or creek.
The difficulty there is bringing in non-native species which could then cause great harm if they got into the wild, and the difficulty for the industry is to ensure that we can keep the fish from getting into the wild environment. That's the situation and why they're suggesting that they don't want to introduce new species here. What we're attempting to be able to demonstrate is that we can provide the security that would allow farmers to introduce these new species. That's the issue, I believe.
Hon Mr Buchanan: The other thing is that there really is a big hangup on disease, that the fish which are put into the concentrated environment, where you want to keep more fish in a smaller pond, if you will, that you increase the likelihood of disease, and through the water exchange that Ken refers to, you add diseases. There's a real concern every time we hear "fish farming," that they're going to add diseases to the natural environment, so they simply oppose, sort of a flat blanket opposition to fish farming.
The other thing they believe in quite strongly is they like to go out and fish in the lake with a pole and a line, and that's how you should get your fish, not go down to the supermarket and buy it.
Ms Haeck: Well, some of us who don't like to go out and fish might actually like to see some diversity. I can't tell you the last time I went fishing. It was many, many years ago, and it's not my kettle of fish. I'd much rather go out to the store and buy it.
Ms Haeck: Yes, it might be true.
The Vice-Chair: Any other questions from the government caucus? You have five minutes left in this round.
Mr Klopp: The member from all the farmers in Riverside.
Mr Wayne Lessard (Windsor-Walkerville): Windsor-Walkerville.
The Vice-Chair: Any further questions from the government caucus?
Mr Klopp: He's doing such a good job, what can we say about him?
The Vice-Chair: Mrs Fawcett, would you like to fill the additional five minutes in this round?
Mrs Fawcett: Yes, okay. If I could refer to the estimates book on page 85, I just have a couple of questions from the book here that I would like to clarify. I know there are probably absolutely excellent reasons.
The wages and salaries, if you look at the top line there, have increased, and then the employee benefits have decreased. I'm just trying to get that computed in my head properly, because normally they go hand in hand and one doesn't increase and the other one decrease. I wonder if I could have an explanation.
Ms Burak: I can get started. The salary increase would relate to this fiscal year's calculation of the collective agreement. I believe it was a 2% increase.
The reason for the reduction in employee benefits might be that overall there are fewer people, or it might have something to do with the fact that we did have a reorganization within the ministry and there may have been fewer benefit dollars required for this total vote and item, but we can get you the detail on that. But for certain the increase relates to the only --
Mrs Fawcett: Well, that one is fairly easily understood, but it's just, you know, to have such a decrease from last year in the benefits.
Ms Burak: It may have been that in this particular set of branches they might have had an overly rich benefits budget, and we're catching up with the reality of how many people are actually on the payroll this year.
Mrs Fawcett: Then, if you take the first page past 107, it starts at 1 again, the summary. Now, under "Operating," I guess it's the first four items there -- ministry administration, agricultural and rural services, food industry development and education, research and laboratory services -- there certainly has been a substantial decrease there, about $54 million, ballpark figure, and then if you go to ministry agencies, there's quite a major increase there.
It almost looks like the ministry is being disbanded and everything moved off into separate agencies where those people would be appointed, and I'm just wondering -- I don't like to say it -- is it creative bookkeeping, where then that expense looks like it has been taken away from the budget and just transferred over to something else, like some agency where it looks like you've really, on the one hand, saved money, but really it's still on somebody's books.
Hon Mr Buchanan: We believe that is money that actually went to farmers.
Mrs Fawcett: That's good news.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Yesterday, I think it was, the last day we talked about AgriCorp --
Mrs Fawcett: Yes.
Hon Mr Buchanan: -- which would be seen as an agency in terms of the GRIP and NISA payments, I think, which has increased and been kicked in in terms of NISA, which we're putting money into this coming year, we believe that is a separate agency which flows currently through the crop insurance concept. But AgriCorp is going to be a separate agency.
Mrs Fawcett: So AgriCorp would fit under the ministry agencies then.
Hon Mr Buchanan: To put the word "AgriCorp" there, that would be an agency, yes.
Mrs Fawcett: Okay.
Hon Mr Buchanan: When we get it set up, then it will be accurate.
Mrs Fawcett: I see.
Hon Mr Buchanan: We can say the money was sent to AgriCorp, whereas now we're operating as if there was an AgriCorp.
Mrs Fawcett: Right, okay. All right, I think I more or less understand.
Then I must as well just stay right in the book. Page 91: Minister, do you believe that the attendance really will rise this year at the museum? I guess, having been in education, and I know the constraints that education is going to be under, and the cutbacks, with school boards being cut back so heavily, will the school trips take place? Because it's a fair increase, you know, with the numbers, the actual and the estimated.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Are you referring to the numbers across the top in terms of the estimated attendance in school programs?
Mrs Fawcett: Yes.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Norris Hoag is the expert when it comes to colleges and museums. I would note, though, it's lower than the 1991-92 actual in terms of numbers. Anyhow, Norris has the answer, I'm sure.
Mr Norris Hoag: The proposal here is that the museum has been very creative in working out new programs. They are actively trying to work with the local school boards to develop new programs that will bring students in. I think that's the reasoning behind the increase that has been indicated there. The director at the museum has been working with the surrounding boards to tie into their outdoor education programs and has been making offers to the boards to have that happen.
I think the boards have been relatively receptive to it now because those programs have been very expensive for them to operate. So it's a very good opportunity for the ministry and for the agricultural community to expose young people to agricultural awareness so that they are aware of food production systems.
Mrs Fawcett: Oh, don't get me wrong. I think they're marvellous. I agree wholeheartedly that they should go, and I hope that you're right, that the schools will be able to make use of that facility. But the actual for 1992-93 was 38,000, and then you're predicting 43,000. Oh my, I hope that's true.
Mr Hoag: There has been a gradual incline of participation at the museum, and it's not just a visit to the museum. In fact we have worked with educators, we have established participatory programs where the students, when they arrive there, have very definite assignments. The teachers work along with them in small groups. We have people in period costume to work with the students. We have a school room there that was moved from just slightly west of the current site, as a matter of fact, and the students participate in a classroom exercise as they might have when that school was an active situation.
Mrs Fawcett: Well, then, what we'll have to do is petition the Minister of Education and Training not to cut back on all of the transportation money etc, to allow these students to make use of this wonderful place.
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much. Five minutes turned into ten minutes, so you may owe the Tories five minutes. Just keep that in mind later on. Go ahead, Mr Arnott.
Mrs Fawcett: They're easy to get along with.
Mr Arnott: Minister, I have a question and it concerns your livestock inspection branch. We've been talking about this earlier this week.
I had a constituent by the name of Frank Meyer, who is the proprietor of a firm called Meyer Meats in Wellington county near Guelph, who has come to me, and Monday morning on my way down to Toronto, I dropped in to see him. He's got a small abattoir -- a meat-packing plant, in other words -- which employs I think his two sons; it's a small family business.
They've been in contact with me on a number of occasions in the last few months, concerning new regulations that are coming into force with respect to these abattoirs. I guess in the past some of these small abattoirs have been exempt from licensing and your ministry has endeavoured to licence them all, in response to some concerns that were expressed through the auditor, I believe.
I agree that we should have regulation to ensure the quality and the safety of our food supply and our meat supply certainly, but I wonder about the degree of regulation. As our party's small business advocate, I'm concerned about small business, if the degree of government regulation is so excessive that it drives people out of business. I believe that the government regulations should not be so onerous such that small-scale operation of just about any enterprise is impossible. I think that small-scale operations should be allowed.
Most recently, the ministry sent Mr Meyer a questionnaire, 66 pages of questions, as to what was going on in his meat plant. I felt that when I looked at it, and he showed it to me, it appeared to be excessive regulation. I wondered what the importance of having information to that degree available to the ministry -- of what utility that would be. I know he was very, very concerned about it, and I've brought this to your attention verbally and in writing. I'd like you to answer those concerns.
Hon Mr Buchanan: When you mentioned this to me verbally in another venue, I didn't have the answer, and I made sure we had Charlie Lalonde, who is the meat inspection director, with us today, who can give us the rationale.
The Chair: Welcome, Mr Lalonde. Please introduce yourself and your colleague.
Mr Charles Lalonde: Charlie Lalonde, director of meat industry inspection branch, which was previously the livestock inspection branch. I have with me Dr Tom Baker from the meat industry branch as well; he's the program manager.
I'd like to refer the answer to Dr Baker because he did communicate with Mr Meyer this week and last week as well. He'll provide you with the information.
Dr Tom Baker: Yes, actually we had consultation sessions with Mr Meyer and a group of processors in his neighbourhood back when we were developing our regulations and we certainly value the input he gave us at that time. I was speaking to him earlier this week about this particular issue.
Unfortunately, in the meat processing industry, government regulations are a reality and the province is not entirely alone on this. There are many other food safety agencies at the federal level and municipal that we have to deal with. In this particular case, our branch has developed a plant profile and this, I guess, would be the 66-page document you referred to. It was not seen so much as a regulatory device as in fact a consultative extension service type device.
Many of these small plants such as Mr Meyer's don't have the resources to have a quality control department, for instance, and they're concerned about issues of multi-agency inspection, the federal Health and Welfare people coming in and so on. In order to assist them, we had our meat scientists and other experts in our branch develop a protocol that would allow a plant to kind of develop its own quality control procedures and be able to actually in the long run and medium term do with less inspection than they're perhaps receiving now and having more protection for the consumer, because the process in this case would be running their own show to a greater extent than perhaps now. We would still maintain the service that we have, but in terms of the processing of meat.
One thing that was an issue perhaps here is this was a plant profile that was developed for the entire province and obviously Mr Meyer's operation is not as large as some of the other provincially inspected abattoirs and processing plants, so many of those 66 pages will not be appropriate in his particular situation.
Mr Arnott: He indicated to me, and I certainly accept what he said, that his approval rating was something like 95% the last time his plant was inspected.
Dr Baker: Yes.
Mr Arnott: I assume that's 95% out of 100%.
Mr Lalonde: That's correct.
Mr Arnott: That's quite high. He'd run a pretty good operation. I'm sure if you talk to him you'd find that his input would be very constructive. That's what I found from him too. I understood from him, and I don't know if this is the message he received, that if he didn't fill out the form, there's a chance his licence would be revoked. Is that correct?
Mr Lalonde: No, I don't think so. The instructions that went out to our staff were to document the procedures in the plant when they were finished with the slaughtering activity. As you know, during the summer period the slaughter level dips, so we did have inspection time available at each of the plants to do the documentation for the plant owner.
First of all, Mr Meyer himself doesn't have to fill it out. Secondly, it's not a licensing issue, but we will be sharing the information with the public health units across the province so that we can ensure there's not a duplication of inspection in the future, so that only the licensed inspector will conduct the activity on behalf of the health units and the Minister of Agriculture.
Mr Arnott: Fair enough. Perhaps I did misunderstand him, so I need that qualified in that sense.
I think you would agree it's important that a small-scale operation of this sort of enterprise should not be ruled out because of excessive government regulation.
Mr Lalonde: No. That is a principle that we've recognized in the licensing of exempt operators.
Mr Arnott: In the letter you received from the ministry, it indicated that one of the reasons the plant profile policy was being extended was federal legislation that might be forthcoming. Could you indicate to me what sort of federal legislation may be forthcoming that would require this?
Mr Lalonde: That's correct. Health and Welfare Canada has indicated that every food processing establishment in Canada should have a document relating to good manufacturing practices, and that it would be legislating, within the next year and a half, mandatory record-keeping for all food processors.
We have currently a memorandum of understanding signed with Health and Welfare so that we conduct the auditing in provincially licensed plants so that there's not a duplication of inspection. It's our understanding that with the documents being completed at each of the plants, all of our 300 licensed plants in Ontario would be in full compliance at the moment the legislation would come into effect.
Mr Arnott: I guess the observation I would make, though, is that we're into a period where the federal government is almost at the end of its mandate legally and we're likely to have a federal election this fall. There could be a new government coming in. There will be a new cabinet, I expect, no matter who wins the election. There's the possibility that the government's priorities may change. I would question maybe, the thought that we might be a little premature in terms of anticipating what the federal government may be doing in terms of legislation in the next year, given the fact that there's going to be an election.
Mr Lalonde: That's one consideration from our standpoint. There were significant food safety concerns: for example, people who are making ready-to-eat smoked sausages or are using exotic species to make ready-to-eat products. We felt we were covering the liability of the plant owners by making them aware of those risks. Despite the federal agenda, each plant owner will benefit from this process.
Mr Arnott: You indicated earlier there was some sort of public meeting, or a meeting of the abattoir owners some time ago to discuss some of these issues, and that took place --
Mr Lalonde: There were several meetings. Our primary vehicle for consultation is through the Ontario Independent Meat Packers and Processors Society, which represents over 100 slaughter plants in Ontario. There are 300 licensed facilities right now, so it leaves another 200 that are totally unstructured in terms of consultative process. But in the case of Mr Meyer, we did meet approximately a year and a half ago at his abattoir with predominantly Wellington county abattoir owners to discuss regulatory issues, and as a result of that meeting, we considered changes to our regulations to accommodate some of their valid concerns.
Mr Arnott: Did you have another question?
Mr Murdoch: Just on the same topic, I know that some time ago there was a problem with an abattoir in my riding, or supposedly a problem. I brought the problem to Elmer's attention and it got looked after, but since then the same person has been told that since it's such a small operation, the inspectors don't really want to be bothered going out to inspect him, and they were going to close him down. He's brought that to my attention. I think you'll remember which one it was, but if you don't I can always do that again. But that's what he's been told now by the inspector, that he's too small to be bothered with.
That's bad to be out there, and I know that shouldn't happen, and I hope you keep an eye on things like that.
Mr Lalonde: Our inspection unit is half-day blocks, so we allocate half days to any operator, and we have several who are on a half-day schedule. What we did was that of all the plants in Ontario, we reviewed the number of hours that they had been allocated and some of them, for example, would be slaughtering two or three head, and they were allocated a full day. We brought those plants down to a half-day unit so that the same inspector can do two small facilities in the same day.
All of the exempt operators were given ample opportunity to come under inspection and we're satisfied that over 40 of them did come on the licence program. I'm not aware of anyone being denied service.
Mr Murdoch: I'll see that Elmer gets the --
Hon Mr Buchanan: Let me just add one point here, because we moved basically to upgrade and make sure that all plants were in fact licensed and inspected. You would recall, I'm sure, that the Provincial Auditor said that we had so much slippage or there was money that was being spent on inspectors that was being wasted. I'm sure you'll remember things being said about that. This was somewhat in response to not paying inspectors for a full day when they were only needed for an hour or two.
It has made it somewhat inconvenient that they have to schedule their kills to suit the inspection so that they don't have to have a full day. I think that's fair and reasonable. It's something that smaller plants obviously can live with, but it is a way of our saving money by decreasing some of the availability of inspectors and not just making it open-ended.
Mr Murdoch: I'm all for saving money and there's no problem with that. I just don't want anyone to be cut off because they are small, and it does make it difficult to get there. Hopefully, somewhere along the line you'd try to work out a solution with them.
Mr Lalonde: All of our licensed facilities have at least half a day of inspection per week, and then we have some that are seasonal and we allocate them extra time in the fall, when there's greater activity taking place.
Mr Murdoch: Just one quick one then: What are we doing with the Mennonites? I just came into this question sort of late, but there's been some problem. As you know, the Mennonites, in our area especially, do a lot of custom killing of chickens, but they can't refrigerate, because they don't have any electricity.
I think some time ago, Mr Minister, you mentioned to me that there were some problems with some plants in our area, and I'm sure some of them might have been some of the Mennonites, because we have a lot in some parts of my riding, and then further on down into Ted's and further on down again to Kitchener. Are we going to work on that problem? We do have a bit of a problem there. I don't know where you're at on it. I haven't had any complaints lately. I did have some concerns from some of them come into my office. I'll let you talk that out.
Dr Baker: Yes, that was certainly an issue during the consultation period that we had to think through. We have licensed, I believe, two plants at this point that are owned by Mennonite operators of the traditional Mennonite-Amish background. They have been able to get around the refrigeration requirement, in some cases by bringing ice in. In other cases, the well water was so cold that they were very, very close to being able to maintain the refrigerated internal temperature of the product. So there have been ways we've accommodated them. We expect to be licensing other poultry plants in the next period that are operated by Mennonites.
Mr Murdoch: Okay. As long as you're working on the problem. That's fine, thanks.
The Chair: That's it? You have a couple of more minutes, but if you want to --
Mr Arnott: I'd just like to make one additional observation to the minister.
When I first was made aware of the concerns of the meat packers -- there were about 20 of them who came to my office one evening before the House came back. I thought there were going to be a handful coming and word got around that there was a public meeting, I think, and they were all there. I listened to their concerns and I still think there might be some benefit to having some sort of a consultation meeting so that they can voice their concerns in our area with respect to some of the new regulations, and perhaps some of the problems relating to misunderstanding and so on. I think there would be some benefit to that and I would ask you to give consideration to that sort of a format.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Okay. We can probably talk further about that.
We were aware when we got into this that we were basically, I think, if my memory is reasonable, around 92, or somewhere in that neighbourhood, plants operating in the province that were exempt. They were not being inspected, they were not licensed and when you move to correct that situation, obviously there are going to be some people who are concerned. But I would say that the staff have tried to work it through and consult. We've tried to move slowly and we've also provided assistance. We've got another $1.4 million in capital assistance to help some of the people who can get up to standard so that they can be licensed and inspected.
We're trying to use the carrot and the stick here in terms of regulating and providing some assistance to get them upgraded. It's true there are some concerns and difficult situations out there, but I think that with staff and with the money we have for capital assistance, we're trying to do the best we can and maintain the consumer confidence in the meat industry, because that was the major concern we had.
I certainly was nervous about saying to that many people who were sort of in business that they would no longer be able to continue as an unlicensed, uninspected plant, but I think we've been able to do it by just taking our time and trying to provide some support.
Mr Murdoch: Yes. I just want to mention that some of those people at Ted's were from Grey too and they have concerns there. You may have some more slaughterhouses start up because of the shift in the stockyards with the sheep and stuff like that now that they may have to sell somewhere else, so you may have some problems there.
Mr North: I wanted to ask the minister another question. It's a difficult question because it's kind of a double-edged sword. In our particular area, a number of the different fruit growers and some of the tobacco people have come and talked to me about moves they've heard with regard to the federal government cutting back on or limiting the availability of offshore help. To be blunt, their concerns are that they won't be able to get their crops harvested. They don't, for whatever reason, and it's disappointing, feel they can get it done with local help and they feel very strongly about it.
I wonder if there's anything you could tell us today that is happening within the ministry, or discussions that have taken place at some point during the time you've been minister? First of all, are you aware that the federal government has any intentions to do this? Second to that, if they do, is there something we're doing as a ministry to try and help alleviate those local concerns?
Hon Mr Buchanan: I've met with the producers a number of times, and when I meet with the producers who use offshore labour they always make the case how important it is for that offshore labour, because it's dependable and they have depended on those people coming. I'm not aware of any cancellation. I believe the program is sort of not being expanded; it's sort of frozen at the current level so it's not expanding, but whether or not it's contracting -- I think I've got a staff person here who could probably answer this better than I. Len Roozen, I think you have drawn the straw on this one.
Mr Roozen: Thank you. There's no understanding on our part that the federal government has made any moves to curtail access to offshore workers under the foreign worker program. In fact my understanding is that the arrangements have been made for the supply of this year's labour and that the program continues to operate as always. If we were to understand that there were some efforts in that regard, we would certainly take steps to discuss with Ottawa what the implications of that would be for the fruit and vegetable growers in the province.
The organization that sponsors the arrival of the offshore workers, the farms program, has taken some great steps to try to improve the supply of workers and reduce the cost of the program itself by undertaking to establish its own travel arrangements, which in the past would have been handled commercially, and has been successful at reducing its costs and securing more certainty as to the arrangements. To our knowledge, there has been no move in that regard, and if we are to find out that there is, we'll take steps to see what can be done to alleviate the implications for the farm community.
Mr North: I have another question.
The Chair: We have no other speakers from your caucus, so go right on. You've got five or six minutes.
Mr North: My second question has to do with conservation authorities, and it's too bad that Mr Murdoch and Mr Arnott stepped out of the room for a moment.
Mr Klopp: They'll be back.
Mr North: I know it's a hot topic at this point right now. The conservation authorities, through the blueprint document that they have discussed, have pinpointed our particular ministry as one that they see some duplication in, in terms of delivering services at the local level. The self-proclaimed senior PA, Mr Klopp, and I had an opportunity to meet with some members of the conservation authorities and they identified this to us and said that they felt there was some duplication that could be alleviated by conservation authorities delivering services.
My question to the minister is, because I know you've met with the Minister of Natural Resources, is there someone in the ministry who's trying to identify what it is that the conservation authorities are pointing at and if in fact it is duplication? If it is, is there a way that this particular service can be delivered better?
Hon Mr Buchanan: I have, as I'm sure you have, met with my local conservation authorities. I suspect every member from the House who has conservation authorities has met with them in their ridings. I've also met with some of the provincial people and they've made the case that there was duplication, and it's not a difficult thing to convince another person that there is overlap and duplication. Due to the fact that there have been significant restraints in their transfer dollars, they are looking for ways of taking on, in my view, some responsibilities on behalf of the province, and they're looking at how they can help us as a government to cut down and eliminate the duplication. I'm aware of that.
I have committed to working with the ministers of Natural Resources, Municipal Affairs and Environment and Energy in terms of how we can work together, because those ministries are all involved in rural Ontario, along with our own of course, and we need to explore ways of cutting out the duplication and looking at how we can use, if that's the right word, conservation authorities to deliver programs locally.
I certainly have found that the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association has done a very good job in terms of some of the land stewardship programs that we've delivered, and I believe the conservation authorities certainly have a role to play in delivering some local programs.
It's a matter of cutting down on the overlap. When the Ministry of Natural Resources comes out and inspects a waterfront lot and the conservation authority comes out and looks at a waterfront lot and the health department comes out and Municipal Affairs and on and on it goes, the people of the province think that we as a government should do something about cutting out that overlap.
I'm committed to working with the other ministries to see what we can do. I work with the conservation authorities, and I commended them for the work they've done in putting forward a paper which outlines some of the things that they think they can do to eliminate duplication. So I will be continuing to work with them.
Mr North: They said to us very bluntly, as the association of conservation authorities, that they felt there was over $100 million in duplication across the board. They also said that they didn't have access to the numbers in the different ministries to be able to substantiate their own number of $100 million.
Are we, as a ministry, looking at the area that they claim there's duplication between our ministry and the conservation authorities to see if we can either substantiate or rebut the numbers that they're trying to attach to this ministry?
Hon Mr Buchanan: No, I don't have those numbers. We don't have as much duplication with our ministries. Basically we're talking when farms have streams or rivers, whatever, near them that we come into play, and that doesn't happen, it's not that frequent. It's more frequent with the overlap with other ministries. Ken, did you have a number in mind, or an idea?
Mr Knox: No, I don't have a number, but if I might, Minister, the overlap in part that might be being discussed is that we had some joint programs with conservation authorities, with the federal government, the provincial government and the local authorities to do some work in trying to clean up some of the local environmental issues under the SWEEP program, and that program has come to an end.
I'm not sure if those numbers might have been included, but they could have been, and there were substantial dollars that were available there to conservation authorities as well as grants for them to provide to clients within there. But certainly in the local field areas we're working more closely than we have to ensure that we're not duplicating effort. That is, if a farmer has an erosion problem, the conservation authority or we would go out and talk to the farmer about it, and we would make sure that we're not both arriving there to talk about the issue.
I think as we continue to streamline the operation, the sharing of information that does go on -- and it does because we've had these joint programs, so our staff are very familiar with the resources there and utilize the best resource we can to solve the problem. So if there has been duplication, Minister, I think it's largely been looked after in recent times from the point of view of erosion control and that part. The severance part and so on, I don't have expertise in.
Mr North: Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you. At this time, there's some additional time left if Mr Arnott wants it, and if not, then we'll go to the Liberals.
Mr Arnott: I have just one question, Minister. You're going to the conference of federal and provincial agriculture ministers next week, you hope.
The Chair: It's not in Vancouver, is it?
Mr Arnott: No. What are your key priorities in terms of putting forward issues on behalf of Ontario farmers at that meeting?
Hon Mr Buchanan: I just touched briefly on it earlier. We are looking at ways of delivering some support for the horticultural industry. One of the programs that's been on hold, if you want, for a while is the concept of an enhanced NISA program for edible horticultural producers. I'm hoping that we can get some agreement among the provinces and the federal government on that issue.
We also would like to resolve the whole safety net. There will be major discussions around safety nets, and we are continuing to support the existing safety nets and looking at what we're going to do with tripartite. Now, I've had an urgent plea about tripartite because there are major concerns from the Ontario cattlemen now about potential countervail. They would like to see the program terminated at the end of this year.
It's very unusual to have a commodity group that wants to terminate a program, but they do want it replaced with something, so I'm hoping that we can have some discussions about a potential replacement program that will be green in terms of GATT and hopefully we won't be putting something together very quickly that will not work or is unaffordable. Those are some of the main ones.
Another sort of informal discussion that I hope to have with the federal minister, who has just received enhanced responsibilities for food -- before, he was simply in charge of agriculture; his new portfolio parallels my responsibilities much more closely now, so he will also have some responsibility for food administration. It will be an opportunity to discuss some of the food industry side of things, which, quite frankly, has not happened in other ministers' conferences. It was strictly on the agriculture side.
He also has some responsibilities now for rural issues. I have a keen interest in terms of community and economic development and the revitalization of rural Ontario, and I certainly intend to ask him if he has any ideas or plans in terms of how we're going to do with rural Canada and how the province and the federal government might work together in terms of trying to maintain a reasonable economy in rural parts of this province as well as the country. That's something I look forward to.
Mrs Fawcett: The agriculture and rural services division of the ministry includes the land use planning branch. Possibly we went into this before, but I'd just like to get it back on. The Interim Waste Authority has proposed a number of landfill sites on prime agricultural land, and it's really of concern to a lot of people. I know that you have expressed strong statements in the past about the protection of agricultural land, and I'd just like to get your thoughts again on these sites that are really questionable, I guess, from an agricultural standpoint.
Hon Mr Buchanan: It's rather unfortunate that the criteria for landfill sites do not certainly have the fact that it's agricultural land, but it seems when they go through the criteria that they have when they're looking for sites, inevitably they seem to end up on good agricultural land because they're looking for a clay base.
It's very unfortunate. I don't like to see prime agricultural land used for waste disposal. I guess on the other hand, though, if you put garbage in an unsuitable site, without having some criteria, there's a great potential for the leachate to pollute the watercourses, which could affect all farm land. It's a very distasteful exercise, in my view. Unfortunately, it's happening across the province. Most counties -- it seems to me most of them, anyway -- are looking for landfill sites. I'm certainly aware of my own two counties --
Mrs Fawcett: Mine too.
Hon Mr Buchanan: -- and Northumberland and Wellington. I don't know what's happening in the far east, but --
Mr Cleary: Same thing.
Hon Mr Buchanan: -- all counties are looking for landfill sites. It's a very painful exercise. It's very expensive.
Mrs Fawcett: And costly, millions.
Hon Mr Buchanan: I often express my concern about what it's costing the province, and in some cases the municipalities and the counties, to find sites that are suitable. It's obviously a much more technical and scientific exercise than it was in the past. It wasn't too many years ago you could drive down side roads, at least in the part of Hastings where I live, and the dump was sort of at the end of the road. It could be a swamp or it could be whatever was there; that was the dump. We're obviously becoming a little more scientific.
But it is causing grief for me, and I know it's causing some grief in the farm community. Some of the farm organizations, of course, have responded by saying incineration is the answer. At this point in time, we have said as a government that we don't think that's the answer now. It may be in the future.
Mrs Fawcett: It's actually been a little stronger. You've said never. I don't know whether we should ever say never.
Hon Mr Buchanan: I have been consistent in my response, that it's not suitable now, and that's as far as I'm going to go. The technology may improve to the point where it is a viable option, and for the sake of farm land, I hope we do get some better technology.
But as I said yesterday, probably the long-term answer is to cut out the waste stream and get back to what it was when I was a kid, where if you had one small pail of garbage for the summer, it was a lot of garbage. Now we seem to create more than that every day in many families across the province because we've become a disposable society.
I think there are some things to be done on both sides of the equation. Hopefully, when we get done we'll be able to protect and save farm land and it won't end up being a landfill site.
Mrs Fawcett: When the IWA used its aerial photography and took the photographs in winter, to me, that really drummed up a lot of questions. Would your ministry have any input? Do you talk to the IWA? Can you have much input there as to the suitability of this? Do you really think those photographs were good ones and that the selection process was a good one?
Hon Mr Buchanan: We've got Neil Smith, whom we dragged out of another meeting to come back to respond to Mr Murdoch. He didn't make it to that question, so we'll let him respond. He's done a lot of work in the land use planning branch.
Mr Neil Smith: Our ministry has been involved in the IWA process throughout the beginning. Our role in that is to ensure that agriculture is part of the process and has an appropriate weighting and consideration throughout.
I can't answer the question about the photographs; I don't know.
Mrs Fawcett: If somebody could tell me that they were infrared and it didn't matter whether there was snow on the ground and the middle of winter or whatever and that this was good, maybe it would lend a little credibility. But these are the kinds of things that just drive people nuts, when they don't have the technical knowledge. I don't know: Was there any technical knowledge there?
Mr Smith: From my experience, they're using the best information that's available to them. They've redone all the soils maps. They've gone out and interviewed people left, right and centre and they field-checked all the sites. I think they've done a credible job in trying, to the best of their ability, to find the appropriate information.
Mrs Fawcett: It's just a shame when it ends up on prime land.
Hon Mr Buchanan: I don't think they used the aerial photographs to pick the sites. Obviously, they have soils maps of the various areas.
Mrs Fawcett: Have we updated classifications yet?
Hon Mr Buchanan: That's an interesting question which I sometimes hear, that decisions on land are being made that used another system or an old system. Neil, that sounds like your area.
Mr Smith: Their process is what they call a sieving process. They started off and they looked at the entire greater Toronto area. They put in various criteria that areas would be excluded: obviously, the urban areas, some of the wetlands and environmental areas. From an agricultural point of view, they tried to identify the lands of the best capability for agriculture, and they used the soil maps for that. Once they got through that process, then there were areas which were still open for possible sites. Through the various stages they continued to eliminate sites to the point where now there are four to six sites in each of the three areas. They only upgraded or reviewed the soil maps later on in the process, when the number of sites was a reasonable number.
Mrs Fawcett: I guess I wonder, are the soil maps old or are they up to date, that kind of thing? Have they reclassified? Gosh, a lot's been learned about soil testing.
Mr Smith: There's no doubt that in some areas of the province the soil maps are in need of revision, and there is a group in the ministry whose responsibility is, over time, to update the maps.
Mrs Fawcett: I'll turn it over to my colleague.
Mr Cleary: I was pleased to hear about your discussion on the conservation authorities. In my municipal life, I took on the authorities and the Ministry of Agriculture on a few drainage projects and I know there was a lot of duplication and a lot of extra cost. It's good if those two ministries are talking. Maybe they'll solve some of the problems and cost everyone in the province a lot less money.
Anyway, I have a few comments about the environment. It doesn't matter where you go any more, everything gets back to the environment. We hear the message about the need to control our transportation. We learn about some industries that may be harmful to the air, the water and the land, and certain household products prove damaging. Eating at a fast-food chain has its own share of implication on the environment. And there's no exception when we get to agriculture: environmental issues such as pesticides, commercial fertilizers, manure, soil erosion -- I could go on and on.
We talk about the environmental agenda, which encourages every farmer to prepare his own environmental plan. Despite all the interest, there are still some suggestions from the Environment ministry that sometimes even ag and food industry is willing to forfeit agriculture in favour of environmental concerns. Maybe that statement is not quite correct, but I do believe that farmers are good stewards of the land and they're very concerned about the way they deal with environmental concerns.
This government attempted to disguise itself as having an environmental conscience superior to others; however, that's not necessarily proven true. At this time, I might point out the, shall we say, relaxed approach to the long-promised Environmental Bill of Rights. We've even cut back on the land stewardship II program; in fact, counting the $1.3 million slashed last August, this program has been reduced by $5.5 million in less than a year. At this time, many farmers are speculating that other programs will be developed and this is sending a clear message that the minister is not willing to support soil conservation, pesticide storage, handling facilities and water control structures.
I would like to know what real and hard commitments the minister will be making to farmers with respect to the environment.
Hon Mr Buchanan: A couple of things: When the Environmental Bill of Rights was first mentioned, within about two months of taking this position -- the former Minister of the Environment, Ruth Grier, was talking about introducing an Environmental Bill of Rights. As I'm sure everyone in the room is aware, farmers became very concerned about what that meant, because they were looking at a bill that she had introduced as a private member's bill in the former government, when she was in opposition. They thought that was the bill and they thought it was going to be imminent. We've taken more time. The Environmental Bill of Rights has just now been brought in. There's been a lot of consultation.
One of the things I did very quickly was to call together a group of farm leaders to work on environmental issues and sit down and listen to what they had to say, what their concerns were, and helped to facilitate access to the Ministry of the Environment, so that I was able to hear what they were willing to do, what their concerns were, and feed them back into the Ministry of the Environment, now of course Environment and Energy.
I have to give some credit here to the farm leaders. They said, "Please don't bring in regulations; we don't like this concept of being dragged into court," and after we'd had a few meetings, they went out on their own through their organizations and came up with the concept of a voluntary environmental farm plan, which is voluntary on their part. They wanted to show that they were good stewards of the environment and do it voluntarily and show that they could polish up their image, if you want. Whether or not they had a problem I suppose is debatable.
You're absolutely correct when you say they're good stewards of the land. I think we do need to be a little more concerned when it comes to the water across all of rural Ontario. I'm not pointing any fingers, but we do have to be a little bit more conscious of water, because we don't see that quite as much. So they have responded.
We do have Food Systems 2002, where we work to cut down on the amount of pesticides by 50% by the year 2002. In terms of the land stewardship II program, I would be the first to say that it's probably one of the best programs we've had. Why did we cut it? It was a term program, for one thing; it was not a permanent program. Unfortunately, in our ministry it seems a lot of programs are brought in as four-year, five-year plans, programs, and then they terminate. They're not brought into the base. That program, as I'm sure you know, was going to terminate next year anyway; we were going to lose it in terms of the base funding. It was a very tough decision to make, to cut that as opposed to something else, but it was going to end next year.
My commitment in terms of the environment is to look at a similar kind of program once we can find the money, when it is available. However, what was involved in the land stewardship was a concept that farmers have gotten used to: the no-till concept.
I remember, when I was first minister and we talked about organics and no-till and low tillage and so on, it was sometimes tough to get people to listen and talk about that. But I was at a conference last fall, I guess it was, and there were some 400 or 500 farmers out to listen and talk about low-till and no-till agriculture; very popular. Going around the province now, I see a lot of corn coming up through the stalks, which five years ago you would not have seen in this province. Everything was plowed up in the fall and rooted around and we lost a lot of soil.
So I think the farmers have their own initiative. We need to continue to do our best in terms of assistance, but quite frankly, we don't have the money now to put into programs. But we are doing some things through education extension and supporting some of the conferences I alluded to, which will help. Obviously, if we can find the money in the future, those kinds of programs -- land stewardship II -- are good programs, but right now, we had to make some cuts.
Mr Cleary: You were talking about no-till. I can recall many years ago, when the Allis-Chalmers company came out with a no-till corn planter; in our part of Ontario it got considerable use. The only disadvantage of it was the spray you had to use. I don't know whether you were better off to no-till and spray or to work the land and get away from a lot of chemicals. I do know those planters came out a long time ago, and they're still around.
I want to talk a little about food safety, and I want to talk about British Columbia, which has recently reacted to an outbreak of hamburger disease, something that happened in the United States earlier this year. As a result, British Columbia restaurants will no longer be able to serve pink meat. I'm just wondering, Minister, do you have any similar intentions?
Hon Mr Buchanan: I don't have any. I don't think it's my mandate; it would be Health. We've got the inspection branch. People actually eat raw steak. Isn't steak tartare ground-up meat? I tried that once. I'm not here to recommend it to you, but people actually do see that as a delicacy. I don't know whether you would want us outlawing the eating of such things. Anyway, we've got Charles Lalonde with us again.
Mr Lalonde: The problem originated in the States in a company called Jack In The Box, which is similar to a McDonald's. The hamburgers being served weren't cooked to a sufficiently high temperature for long enough, so the hamburgers were raw. That's a problem that can occur anywhere in North America in our fast-food outlets.
The majority of the companies in Canada are quite aware of the potential problem of undercooked hamburgers. Health and Welfare Canada has a communication plan that goes out prior to every barbecue season so that individual consumers also are made aware of the potential of not cooking their hamburgers properly. There's quite a bit of awareness in our consumers presently.
Individual companies are reviewing their cooking temperatures, regardless of what provincial legislation or federal legislation is saying, in order to avoid possible liabilities.
I think that as we rely more and more on education, consumers have to learn to refuse consuming product they buy if it's not cooked properly. These sad examples that occurred in the States are just a reminder.
The Chair: Or at least be more careful when you say, "Have it your way."
Mr Lalonde: Yes.
The Chair: One more question, Mr Cleary.
Mr Cleary: Just one more?
The Chair: Just one more, unless it's a long one. Then you can have two of them. Please proceed.
Mr Cleary: I guess food safety is on everyone's mind. I sure learned that when the dairy inspectors were being cut, and I guess also the provincial inspectors in Ontario's small-scale abattoirs and butcher shops. I can see now that changes are happening with the closing of the stockyards here. As I travel around Ontario and talk to some of the farmers who ship their livestock to Toronto, it would seem to me that there are going to be smaller slaughtering houses, or whatever you might call them, popping up in different areas in the province. I just wondered what the minister's intentions would be on that.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Any new abattoirs will be required to be licensed and have an inspected operation. I believe there may be some opportunities in fact, and you're probably right, for some entrepreneurs to look at how they might open up abattoirs, meat processing, on a microscale, which I very much favour, a decentralized industry which hopefully can be competitive and viable.
But we know that in terms of the stockyards, about 70% or 80% of the livestock that was brought to the stockyards was trucked back out to other parts of the province for processing. A lot of it was going out. What will happen to the current processing that's down in that area of Toronto remains to be seen, in terms of what kind of investment. Some of the facilities are fairly old. Whether they will continue to be there or whether they will move outside of the city at this point in time we'll have to wait and see, because they're obviously all in private hands.
The Chair: You're beefing up small business, I see.
Mr Lalonde: Yes.
The Chair: Very good. One more, Mr Cleary, a real quick one. Mr Jordan has a quick one and then we'd like to move to the vote, if we can.
Mr Cleary: Kind of to wrap up, I would like to talk about the family farm. As we all know, the whole family works on the family farm. This being said, we continue to see large multinational companies buying into rural Ontario as a result, often dominating the small family operation. I was wondering if the minister would provide assurance that he will do everything he can to keep the family farm alive, but also a clear-cut action plan on how he might do that.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Do you want a brief answer to that?
The Chair: Well, I know it's not in your briefing notes. I think you can do this one off the top of your head.
Hon Mr Buchanan: It's the brevity part that's the problem with an answer of mine.
The Chair: It's your time, Minister.
Hon Mr Buchanan: I think the family farm is an important component of rural Ontario in terms of the economy. It was on that basis that many of the towns developed in agricultural areas to service agriculture, and it's become a two-way relationship over time.
Most of us have a warm feeling about the family farm. It's a traditional way of agriculture that has developed in this country and in the province. Given its limited sort of size, it probably is not as viable as it was 25 years ago. The people who are now trying to farm 100 acres or 200 acres are not able to return the same income or at the same level as they were 20 or 25 years ago.
Whether or not it's going to be possible, 25 years from now, for a family to live on what it can get from a 200-acre farm is, I would suggest, in some question. We have a Vision 2020 exercise where we're bringing the farm leaders and the food industry people together to talk about the future.
I, for one, obviously want to do everything I can in terms of support of the family farm. That has to be based, in my view, on money from the marketplace, and we have to look at creative ways of getting the consumer dollar back to the farmer.
I can remember the very first press conference I ever did where I said that people are going to have to pay more for food. That didn't go over very big, but I still believe that most people want farmers in this province and country to grow food here rather than import it, and I feel very strongly about that. I think in some cases they're going to have to pay a little bit more, but we've got to get that money back to the farmer somehow, and not lose it in all the chains that the food goes through.
I think we have to look at getting some "value added" dollars back to the farmer. I think we have to help governments have a role to play in assisting farmers individually and collectively in terms of marketing. As to the ones who are not involved in supply management where prices are set to give them a reasonable income, we need to be able to work with them to help them work cooperatively to get the maximum amount they can get out of that consumer dollar.
The consumer dollar at the checkout: I don't have numbers, but I suspect we're probably looking at somewhere in the order of 10% or 15% at best that goes back to the primary producer. It's a very low percentage of the dollars spent on food that actually gets back to the farmer. We need to look at creative ways of doing that if we are going to in fact save the family farm.
I think the other part that's important in this is to get some economic activity out in rural Ontario. I do not think that all businesses and all jobs should be created in Toronto or Hamilton or Windsor. I think we need to look at how we can have some economic activity. Let's face it, 80% of the farmers, either they or their spouses or partners, have off-farm incomes. It's an appalling statistic but it's there. If they're going to continue farming, someone in the family may need to have an opportunity for a job out near where their farm is, and if there are no jobs available for them, then the farm becomes uneconomical and they're going to get out of farming.
I think there's some combination of factors. To me, it's tied in with the whole concept of rejuvenating rural Ontario and not focusing everything on Oshawa, Toronto or the Golden Horseshoe.
I think governments, provincially and federally, have got to focus a little bit more on what's going on in rural parts of this country so that with that, we will see the family farm continue to be viable at some size. As I said, whether or not it's sustainable at 100 or 200 acres, I don't know, but if we don't do some of those other things, it sure won't be.
Mr Cleary: Do I get any more time?
The Chair: I gave you a lot more extra time there, Mr Cleary, and I thought you used it rather well. Mr Jordan, briefly?
Mr Leo Jordan (Lanark-Renfrew): I have a question to the minister. Relative, Mr Minister, to Bill 162 and the deer farming, how are we getting involved so much from the Ministry of Natural Resources aspect in what a deer farm is and how it should be operated? I'd just like to hear your views on that, relative to farming.
Hon Mr Buchanan: In terms of Bill 162, we have an LIDA, Livestock Industry Diversification Act, which is ready to go. We have agreement within the cabinet and government that if Bill 162 goes forward, we will introduce this livestock diversification act, which will provide regulations and monitoring of the alternative agriculture, if we want to call it that, in terms of deer farming, ostrich, emu etc, and that will be a companion piece with Bill 162.
I'm sure you've had people talk to you in terms of the game farm issue. There are a couple of groups out there, and I think we've all met with them, and we know that they're concerned about Bill 162. I, too, am concerned, but I have an act which I think will counterbalance Bill 162 and keep that particular aspect of agriculture, ie, game farming, under the jurisdiction of OMAF as opposed to under MNR.
We have agreed and signed an MOU that we'll cooperate. We'll try not to fight with each other, but we will cooperate. But it will continue to be under the jurisdiction of Agriculture.
The Chair: There is a little time. I was trying to --
Mr Jordan: Move on, were you?
The Chair: Yes, but that's fine, Mr Jordan, if you want to ask a couple of more quick questions.
Mr Jordan: Just a short question -- I'm sure he has the answer -- because I'm getting a number of calls in my constituency office. Two things on the stabilization funding: This thing of sending in my $150 and endorsing the cheque to be deposited to my account, to me, is just going to defeat the purpose of the bill, because the people who need the money will not be receiving it, and it's just a shuffling of paper in order to be registered.
Hon Mr Buchanan: Apparently, somebody's quoting me as having said that would be quite okay. Subsequent to those comments in circulation, we've had discussions with the general farm organizations. What we are probably going to do, if there's some attempt to destroy up front the cashability of the cheque -- and I want to be careful of what I say -- we will probably be returning the cheque, saying this is not a cheque because it's not something that you can cash. If you sent a cheque in to pay your bill, and you did it in such a way that the person couldn't cash it, then it wouldn't be considered legal tender.
We have discussed that concept with the farm groups, and we're going to come up with a plan that will deal with that issue and won't sort of turn the whole process into a bit of a shell game.
Mrs Fawcett: Mr Chair, is it possible to put, just quickly, four questions on the record, not to be answered by the minister now but by the ministry?
The Chair: I think we've had a level of cooperation that if you submitted those to the deputy, she'll undertake to have them circulated to the clerk, who will get them to all the members of the committee.
In the interests of time, though, I'd like to thank the committee for its first round of estimates, and I'm prepared to proceed with the vote if that's the committee's pleasure as well.
Shall vote 101 carry? All those in favour? Opposed? It's carried.
Shall vote 102 carry? All those in favour? Opposed? Carried.
Shall vote 103 carry? All those in favour? Opposed? Carried.
Shall vote 104 carry? All those in favour? Opposed? Carried.
Shall vote 105 carry? All those in favour? Opposed? Carried.
Shall the 1993-94 estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food be reported to the House? All those in favour? Opposed? Carried.
This committee stands adjourned, to reconvene on Tuesday, July 13, at which time we will commence the estimates for the Ministry of Housing.
The committee adjourned at 1750.