By Mark Wales, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA)
Recently the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) criticized the provincial government’s Standing Committee on General Government for rushing the review of the province’s Aggregate Resources Act. The Act is the piece of legislation meant to balance the need for aggregates such as sand and gravel with the protection of other important resources such as water and agricultural lands. From an agricultural perspective, the Aggregates Resources Act is in dire need of more balance with due consideration of our soil as a strategic resource to be protected. Most aggregate resources are extracted from Ontario’s rural areas and a lot of that from under good farmland.
Unfortunately, the committee scheduled four days of hearings during prime planting season, when most of its biggest stakeholders – Ontario farmers – couldn’t possibly attend. OFA maintains that timing for the review of such an important piece of legislation is too tight. Nevertheless, OFA representatives have presented to the standing committee and made a 10-page submission on the issue.
The Aggregate Resources Act is important because although Ontario covers a vast and diverse area, a mere 5% of the province’s land base is suitable for agriculture. Of that, a small proportion includes class 1, 2, 3 or 4 soils. It is critical that aggregate extraction be prohibited on prime agricultural land (class 1-4) including special croplands. Loss of productive soil by any means is simply not a sustainable practice, and as the stewards of highly productive agricultural land, Ontario farmers have a keen interest in ensuring public policy does not jeopardize or destroy that perpetual resource. Ontario’s farmers require and deserve the assurance that the presence of aggregates on or adjacent to a farm will not be the end of that farm.
Too often, prime agricultural land is sacrificed for societal needs including urban uses, aggregates, recreation and natural heritage. Current aggregate policies ignore the long-term costs to agriculture, the immediate and ongoing loss of productive land and the loss of production from lands under extraction. And there are social costs; displaced farmers either exit the industry or relocate, while farm supply businesses and services lose a portion of their customer base.
When land is used for aggregate extraction, OFA insists on a stronger commitment to rehabilitation in general, and rehabilitation back to agriculture in particular. There must be a financial penalty for operators who fail to achieve their rehabilitation commitments, and a stringent inspection regime to verify rehabilitation actions and achievements. As a province, Ontario must minimize activities that lead to a loss of our agricultural lands and endeavour to strike a more appropriate balance between the need to protect agricultural land and the need for aggregates.
OFA’s written submission to the Standing Committee includes 17 recommendations that are available online at www.ofa.on.ca