New Ont. premier to become ag minister

Ontario’s farm organizations are hailing the Ontario Liberals’ choice of Kathleen Wynne as the province’s new premier, in light of her pledge to appoint herself as Ontario’s ag minister for at least a year.

Party members on Saturday chose Wynne — the MPP for the Toronto riding of Don Valley West since 2003 — as their new leader and premier-designate to replace the retiring Dalton McGuinty.

Speaking at Bond Head, east of Oshawa, during the leadership campaign, Wynne pledged Dec. 6 to name herself as minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs for at least one year, to “demonstrate my personal commitment to rural and small-town Ontario and to make sure that a government I lead gets it right.”

Wynne said her government would “empower our cities and towns, and our rural and northern regions. We need to move forward with a balanced approach celebrating all that rural Ontario can contribute to our shared prosperity.”

Her pledge already has the support of the incumbent ag minister, Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale MPP Ted McMeekin.

In Wynne’s release Dec. 6, McMeekin, the minister since October 2011, said Wynne “understands the issues facing Ontario’s rural residents and farmers (and) is committed to addressing those needs.

“This is the right plan for rural Ontario and I look forward to working with Kathleen to implement it.”

Wynne’s resume is relatively light in agricultural experience, however. A conflict mediation practitioner by profession, Wynne set up conflict mediation programs in over 60 schools in Ontario during the 1990s.

Wynne, who holds master’s degrees in linguistics and adult education, served in McGuinty’s cabinet in portfolios including education (2006-10), transportation (2010-11) and, from October 2011 until November last year, municipal affairs, housing and aboriginal affairs.

“We know the next few months will be extremely busy for (Wynne) as she manages her new role as well as the duties of minister of agriculture,” Grain Farmers of Ontario chair Henry Van Ankum said to Wynne in a release Wednesday.

“As the largest commodity organization in Ontario we would like to offer any help we can provide to aid your familiarization with rural opportunities and issues.”

GFO said its priorities in 2013 will include “the enhancement of renewable fuel opportunities, the ongoing availability of bankable business risk management and improving the production and business environment of farmers through jointly funded research and market development projects.”

“Perceived divide”

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, meanwhile, said Monday it plans to address four “areas of focus” with Wynne and Liberal policy makers in the upcoming legislative session: Ontario’s agriculture and food strategy, energy, “regulatory modernization” and investing in rural Ontario.

Wynne has said she would resume the provincial legislature, which has been prorogued since October, on Feb. 19.

Wynne “clearly recognizes the importance of the agriculture and food industry as an economic engine in our province, driving job creation on farms, at processors and through innovation,” OFA president Mark Wales said in a release.

The OFA, he said, hopes Wynne “will bridge the perceived Ontario urban and rural divide.”

For her part, Wynne pledged during the campaign that she would “continue Ted McMeekin’s good work by re-introducing an Ontario Local Food Act and working with farmers to bring more Ontario food to the table.”

She also pledged to “ensure a sustainable Ontario horseracing industry” in keeping with the model proposed by McMeekin’s horseracing transition panel in August.

She also said she would “work with local communities on developing community-based alternative energy plans” and “ensure increased municipal autonomy and local control on the siting of green energy infrastructure.”

Related stories:
Ontario set to legislate local food policy, Sept. 27, 2012
Ont. horseracing sector will need ‘ongoing’ funds, panel says, Sept. 1, 2012
Ontario names new agriculture minister, Oct. 20, 2011
Ont. Liberals win minority, lose ag minister, Oct. 7, 2011

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