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  Side-swiped by redistribution

Perhaps nowhere in the province has the Fewer Politicians Act, designed to do exactly what the title suggests, had more of an unfortunate impact than in two redistributed ridings in the far east.

The act was designed to accomplish the commendable task of reducing the number of Ontario politicians to 103 from the existing 130, saving an anticipated $10 million by simply matching provincial riding boundaries to their federal counterparts.

Overall, that's got to be good. However, the process has caused a furor in some parts of the province, notably in Metro Toronto where opposition parties are complaining new boundaries will give the ruling Conservatives an edge, and in Northern Ontario where residents will lose a fair amount of representation, with total seats in the region declining to nine from 15.

And the mechanics of redistribution can't help but cause individual casualties as, in some cases, sitting MPPs are forced to go up against sitting MPPs in the fight for newly minted provincial seats.

Two classic cases exist right here in The AgriNews coverage area. In Renfrew-Nipissing- Pembroke, Sean Conway, a high profile Liberal member since he was first elected almost 30 years ago will saw off against Leo Jordan, the deputy government whip now sitting in Lanark-Renfrew; and in Stormont-Dundas-Charlottenburgh, OMAFRA Minister Noble Villeneuve, MPP for Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry and East Grenville, will go head-to-head against John Cleary, the former Cornwall Township reeve who's held Cornwall riding for the Liberals since 1987.

Through the vagaries of redistribution, four good men, four good elected representatives must face off with room in the shrunken Legislature for only two of them.

The AgriNews is generally impressed with the record compiled by the outgoing government. Perhaps its strongest recommendation is that, in an era when politicians and governments blow about like cornsilk in a stray breeze, the Mike Harris government did most of what it said it was going to do, often in the face of loud hostility... and the province's finances are the better for it.

More specifically where we're concerned, the agricultural files were given considerable prominence. Some accomplishments include strengthening the Farm Practices Protection Act, reforming the farm property tax, and establishing AgriCorp.

We're mighty curious to see what the government might accomplish if given a second mandate with most of the reorganization undertaken in the first term out of the way, and with the accent now focused on brand new creative policies.

We're also the first to agree that, in order to keep up the level of legislative debate, solid individual representatives should be returned to office no matter the political stripe. For example, while Leo Jordan has shown himself to be a good constituency man, it would be a major blow to the local electorate and to all Ontarians to lose someone with Sean Conway's experience, forcefulness and empathy for the rural issues.

Further east, Noble Villeneuve would be the first to tell you that redistribution has hit him hard. A rural-based politician with a feel for those issues and with rural interests at heart, he now must do exceptionally well in the City of Cornwall where the issues are altogether different in order to pull off a victory. On paper anyway, John Cleary might be in better shape; as MPP for the city, he has a strong urban base as well as an innate understanding of rural wants, serving as his party's critic for rural economic development and rural affairs.In a situation where only one good man can be picked, we feel Noble should be returned to office and hopefully to the OMAFRA portfolio where he's left his mark as a capable, compassionate and innovative minister.

Earlier in this commentary, we mentioned some of the agricultural accomplishments of this government, accomplishments we should add here wouldn't likely have occurred without the input and persistence of this dedicated minister. As one seasoned agricultural observer with Liberal leanings said to us, "farmers in Eastern Ontario wouldn't have got their ice storm cheques ahead of everyone else had it not been for Noble."

While his mandate as minister was province-wide, Noble didn't forget MPP duties in his riding as some ministers are prone to do. Always available to local media, business people, municipal politicians and anyone else who cared to ask, Noble kept regular hours in his Moose Creek riding office... a challenge when you consider the demands of his portfolio.

Two major local accomplishments which spring to mind are the minister's involvement in setting the wheels in motion to eventually make Winchester an agricultural centre of excellence, and his securing a $3 million provincial grant for the proposed Cornwall ethanol distilling plant, a grant which has been kept in place despite several setbacks.

Fully bilingual - he's also Minister responsible for Francophone Affairs - in a riding where 12,600 residents of 92,850 are French-speaking, there's no reason to believe that Noble won't be able to do for Cornwall what he did for his rural constituents... provide alert, aggressive representation and a fair share of the annual funding pie, both as an MPP and as a member of the new Cabinet.



Eastern Ontario AgriNews is published on the third Monday of each month. The printed version is distributed free by postal mail to farms in Eastern Ontario, Canada.

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