Agricultural land is a limited resource that, once lost, cannot be replaced. Therefore the obvious response to this issue is that protection of agricultural land should have highest priority. Ontario has a good agricultural resource base supported by a sufficient supply of water, a world-class work force, modern technology, environmental controls, and an infrastructure to manage the product. This resource should be protected through coordinated actions by all three levels of government.
A healthy agricultural industry and the ability to feed the local population should be a priority. The food produced in Ontario is of the highest quality, grown by a sophisticated work force under controls that are transparent and in the public interest. It would be shortsighted to let this industry decline and rely on imported food supplies that may not be of the same quality and are not within the control of Canadians. The land upon which the industry is based must be protected and the conditions to support the industry must be in place. This is the responsibility of both provincial and municipal governments.
To protect agriculture, it is not enough to just protect the land. The farming community needs to have some certainty that it can continue to operate under a clear and consistent set of rules, protected from conflict, and with a reasonable return for the product it produces. Unfortunately, neither the federal nor the provincial government has a clearly articulated agricultural policy. There needs to be a public debate about agriculture and decisions need to be made about the future of the industry. If we want to maintain the ability to produce our own food, we must create the environment in which it can happen. Preservation of agriculture requires federal and provincial support for farmers as well as for farms.
Protecting the land is one element of this debate. You can build a house almost anywhere; you cannot grow a peach anywhere. As part of the creation of federal or provincial policy on agriculture, there needs to be a review of what is grown where, what can be grown where, how much needs to be grown to satisfy the population's needs, and what strategy is required to achieve stated goals. Once this information is available, it needs to be evaluated in reference to competing uses. Until these steps have been taken, controls need to be in place to ensure that if and when the debate does occur, there is still a resource to manage.