TORONTO — You can find it on YouTube. Many farmers have and it ticks them off.
It’s the March 26 exchange between PC ag critic Toby Barrett and the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal in the Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park.
In the exchange, Barrett asks a question on neonics and Leal evades. Then Barrett asks another question and Leal changes the subject.
While it is common in Question Period for MPPs to sidestep direct questions, in this case the minister of agriculture appears uninterested in an important concern of many farmers. The exchange follows:
Ag critic Toby Barrett (PC- Haldimand-Norfolk): Minister, on March 23 you released a draft regulation for an 80 % neonic ban on Ontario’s corn and soybean acreage. This is exactly what you proposed before Christmas, and, in spite of feedback — no change. Also on March 23, the USDA released its study concluding neonics are not driving bee deaths. The evidence for your ban is at best circumstantial and has not been proven in controlled scientific studies — certainly not from Health Canada’s pest management agency, where the true expertise lies. Your approach is derived from ideology. It’s irresponsible. It’s intimidating.
Minister, why did you allow emotion to trump science?
Ag Minister Jeff Leal (Lib.- Peterborough): I appreciate the question from the honourable gentleman from Haldimand–Norfolk. We do know that a healthy pollinator strategy is very important to the agricultural community in the province of Ontario. We do know that there’s a number of contributing factors to bee health. We’ve gone through two very severe winters in the province of Ontario. We do know that there’s a mite, the Varroa mite, that can impact the health of bee hives. We do know that appropriate management of bee hives in the province of Ontario is very important, and we do know that the use of some pesticides is a contributing factor to bee health. Indeed, working with my colleague, the minister of the environment and climate change, we listened, we had public consultations right across the province of Ontario. We had consultations through the EBR. We have taken all that information into consideration.
Barrett: Minister, we do know the crucial role of pollinators, and I have on my desk the Ontario pollinator health blueprint; you would as well. It comes from a task force of certified crop advisers, ag retailers, the seed trade, farmers, and beekeepers, with recommendations for increased communication between farmers and beekeepers; work on bee nutrition and habitat; and manageable and reasonable limits on insecticide use.
You asked for feedback, as you said. You asked the cash crop and the beekeeper community to meet you halfway. They have, and yet, despite all of this, you’re adamant on your neonic ban.
Minister, your proposed regs, in my view, are anti-agriculture. You’re supposed to be the minister for agriculture, to represent farmers. You’re at the table in cabinet. Why will you not speak up for farmers?
Leal: Well, Mr. Speaker, I heard the supplementary from my good friend the member for Haldimand–Norfolk. So let’s look at the facts. The agriculture sector of the province of Ontario: $34 billion in GDP; employs 760,000 Ontarians each and every day; 23 % of our manufacturing sector in Ontario is in the agri-food sector.
You know, I spend my time on the back concessions in Ontario and at kitchen tables. I know, this government knows, that the agri-food sector has a tremendous potential for growth, not the negativity shown by the official opposition.