One of the perks of being director of a farm organization is meeting the movers and shakers in agriculture and politics. Over the years I have met many federal and provincial politicians. As a farmer and long-time director of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), I have also met many agriculture ministers, both federal and provincial.
In 1961, at the age of 12, I went with my father to the local town hall to hear the federal minister of agriculture at the time, Alvin Hamilton. Hamilton was Ag Minister from 1960 to 1963 in Diefenbaker’s PC government. His speech impressed me, and ever since that day my ears have been tuned to agriculture ministers. Back in those days, cabinet ministers spoke in small towns and each time it was a big event. Alvin Hamilton was a great politician.
April 12, 2016 was an interesting day as a group of local directors of the eastern Ontario federations of agriculture (wearing their Sunday best) went through security on Parliament Hill at 6:30 a.m. to meet MPs in the Parliamentary Restaurant for breakfast. It was the 12th annual Breakfast on the Hill and Lobby Day. The rest of the day was spent meeting MPs.
This year was somewhat different and more exciting than in previous years with so many new Liberal MPs. About 40 farmer representatives and members of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Quebec Farmers’ Association, L’Union des Cultivateurs Franco-Ontariens and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture attended the day-long event. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is the largest general farm organization in Ontario, representing 36,000 farmers.
This event provided an opportunity for Ontario and Canadian farmer representatives and members to interact and discuss key agriculture and agri-food priorities with Members of Parliament, including Hon. Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. Minister MacAulay addressed the attendees and spoke about the value of the Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector.
Key issues that were discussed throughout the day included Business Risk Management programs, Canadian food policy, investments in agriculture and agri-food and market access opportunities.
Some of the many important facts of Canadian agriculture that were brought to the attention of the MPs are as follows:
- * Agriculture has a tremendous role in Canada, contributing $107 billion annually to the national economy.
- * The agriculture and agri-food sector employs 2.1 million Canadians – one in eight Canadian jobs.
- * Canadian farmers utilize more than 160 million acres of land from coast to coast –approximately seven percent of Canada’s land resource.
- * 98 percent of Canadian farms are proudly family-owned and operated.
I was most impressed meeting the Hon. Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions. She arrived in Canada as an 11-year-old refugee, leaving Taliban-controlled Afghanistan with her widowed mother and two young sisters. In being elected to represent Peterborough–Kawartha, she became the first Afghan-born MP in Parliament’s history. She’s also the first Muslim Canadian to have a seat at the federal cabinet table and at 31 is the youngest member of Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.
A prominent activist in Peterborough, she boldly ran for mayor at 29 – and nearly won, finishing a close second to the incumbent. She won the Liberal nomination a year ago in May, narrowly edging out a former city councilor to represent the Liberals in an important bellwether riding.
I also got to meet and chat with the Hon. Lawrence MacAulay. He knows farming, having been a dairy farmer before he entered federal politics. MacAulay was born in 1946 in PEI and has represented the riding of Cardigan, Prince Edward Island in the House of Commons since 1988. On November 4, 2015, he was appointed the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. It’s great to have an agriculture minister who has milked cows and tilled the soil.
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