Handed down March 29, the Ontario budget contains a pleasant surprise not covered in the federal budget which preceded it by a few days... something for the agricultural sector, a "game-changer" in the words of one lobbyist.
It's something substantial designed to make the Liberal government some new friends and perhaps capture some extra farm country votes in next October's provincial election.
Friends such as Wilma Jeffray, chair of Ontario Pork, who noted the fact the province decided in its budget to extend and expand the Risk Management Program (RMP) in tough fiscal times without federal participation makes the announcement "that much more significant."
Acknowledging that volatile markets for unprotected commodities can make it difficult for farmers to manage business risks, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan announced the provincial government will bolster the current pilot RMP for grain and oilseed farmers; implement a new RMP for cattle, hog, sheep and veal farmers and provide a self-directed RMP for the edible horticultural sector, otherwise known as fruit and vegetable farmers.
"Ontario strongly encourages the federal government to partner with the province and farmers in these important programs," Duncan stated.
Ontario farm groups are of the same mind. Banded together as the Ontario Agriculture Sustainability Coalition, they'll press federal candidates to follow the provincial lead and provide support so that farmers will receive the benefits of a fully funded program.
Ontario Grains and Oilseeds chairman Leo Guilbeault said federal participation would permit establishment of a permanent program giving his members the confidence they need to make the long-term investments necessary to succeed.
It's all about establishing predictability, stability and bankability as farmers move their businesses forward, said OFA president Bette Jean Crews.
Who knows! The Ontario move to reinforce the RMP for non-supply managed commodities may prompt the federal Conservatives to promise likewise before the current national campaign comes to a close.
But it's unlikely. With commodity prices soaring and much of the rural vote predictably Tory no matter what, the Harper-ites may feel they have bigger, more urban policy fish to fry.