Rural residents got a chance to voice their concerns to the official opposition earlier this week during round-table sessions at the Emo ag office with Liberal MPPs Frank Miclash (Kenora), Pat Hoy (agriculture critic), and John Cleary (rural affairs critic).
Miclash, who’s riding has been amalgamated with Rainy River for the next provincial election, brought his colleagues up north to gather information to help establish the party’s platform.
“It’s very important for them to get in the region and see the issues,” Miclash said, noting Hoy and Cleary were the fourth contingent of eastern and southern Ontario MPPs he’s brought up from Queen’s Park.
“It’s important for them to get a first-hand view,” he stressed.
“[Cleary and I] are both former farmers so we can identify with some of the problems people are having," Hoy noted. "This dialogue will help us develop a strong agriculture and rural policy.”
Emo was the second stop on their trip through the north. But Hoy said the concerns people have about agriculture have been the same so far.
“We’re hearing a rather consistent line of thought," he noted. "People are not pleased with OMAFRA services.”
“It’s coming out loud and clear about our infrastructure,” Cleary added, noting it, along with farming incentive programs, seem to be less than satisfactory to most.
One problem vented at a round-table session involving reps from the local dairy industry, Christian Farmers’ Federation of Ontario, and the 4-H association was the shuffling of services from OMAFRA to the Ministry of Northern Mines and Development.
“I find it frustrating to do anything with MNDM," noted dairy farmer Peter Brunner of Dryden. "There’s no 1-800 number. There’s not even a pamphlet around saying who’s doing what.”
Carol Angus, former president of the Rainy River District 4-H Association, said they have heard rumours their 4-H files, which are now being stored at the Emo ag office, are bound for the MNDM office in Thunder Bay.
“If they ship it out of our district, it will be pretty difficult," she said. "Right now, by having this office here, it’s here. You can count on it.”
Another problem with MNDM offices is that staff there seem to have very little training or knowledge in agricultural issues, Angus remarked, added on to the fact government agencies seem powerless to help when requested.
“It’s like, ‘We’re here to do things for you but don’t ask us for anything,’” she said.
“Since we’re so removed up here, it gets worse," argued Mark Husser, another dairy farmer. "We are cut two ways. First, we’re farmers. Second, we’re northerners.”
Once the round-tables are finished, the next step for Hoy and Cleary will be to sift through the information and look for similarities in creating a beneficial agriculture and rural policy.
“We’ve had good responses to a lot of issues to what the people think need to be done,” Hoy said.
“I’m a firm believer in protecting our agricultural land," Cleary added. "If we add value to what we grow here, we’ll create jobs here.”