Regarding AgriGab writer Tom VanDusen's suggestion that I should "lay down the lance and simply give credit where it's due." I feel as President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) we have done just that.
In a budget that had wide sweeping tax cuts to many Ontario residents, we feel the budget missed the mark for Ontario farmers. We can, and have, given credit for the investment for rural affairs and look forward to working with municipalities to find farm-friendly projects like water and natural gas distribution.
The announcement for increased money for busing helps some school boards, but OFA's goal was to have the funding formula for education in rural Ontario schools revised so these schools don't close, not to expand busing. The tuition fee reduction for doctors who go to rural areas and Northern Ontario may offer some relief that will be realized a number of years down the road.
OFA congratulated the government for restating its commitment to safety nets, but most know this was announced a number of months ago, as was the money for Healthy Futures which was last year's $90 million program which has yet to become operational.
The point you are missing, Mr. VanDusen is that farm incomes for 1999 are the lowest since 1973. Incomes have collapsed from the 1985-89 period of $1.1 billion annually to $281 million in 1999, and this includes all government support funds.
Income tax and corporate tax cuts are of less value when your income has decreased by 75 per cent, and OFA felt greater balance would have been achieved by the elimination of the Retail Sales Tax on farm business input items. Some modest changes were announced, but an opportunity to increase net farm income by 12.5 per cent ($37 million) was missed by the provincial treasurer.
Farmers have very limited ability to pass on taxes since consumers pay no tax on food, and the market is very competitive. Farmers in Quebec, the Maritimes, and Alberta pay no RST on their business inputs and farmers in British Columbia have a much more extensive list of exempt items, so we, at OFA, felt it was time for Ontario to change its RST legislation.
The provincial government has advocated reduced red tape and taxes, and OFA proposed the RST as a perfect candidate to make this goal a reality for farmers. In the past the province has broadened the list of exempt items and OFA felt it was time to eliminate the RST on farm business inputs.
OFA was disappointed that the budget had not gone further. We appreciate and have thanked the government for improvements to safety nets and on other fronts.
Don't expect OFA to be happy with a farm income less than that of 1973, and we do not apologize for wanting more for Ontario farmers.