Agriculture spending in Ontario’s 2020 budget

·3 min read

The big takeaways for agriculture in Ontario’s behemoth $187 billion 2020 budget are funding for rural broadband infrastructure and the Agri-Food Prevention and Control Innovation Program.

The provincial government has made available an additional $680 million across four years to bring reliable internet connectivity to rural and underserved areas of the province.

“We look forward to seeing that infrastructure actually put in the ground,” said Peggy Brekveld, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s newly elected president.

Over three years, the budget allots $25.5 million to the Agri-Food Prevention and Control Innovation Program. The cost-sharing funds are available for projects to mitigate disruptions to farm business from COVID-19 through technology.

Brekveld said she believes the funds “will help us continue to find ways to innovate and invest in new technologies” to push back against COVID-19's effects on the sector.

The budget reads that innovation funding will lead to “increased efficiencies and productivity” while supporting “resilience and long-term sustainability and growth in the agri-food sector.”

Bill George, chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, also highlighted the innovation funding as the budget’s main appeal for the agri-food sector. “There’s not a lot really other than that,” he said.

Only a small element of the budget, there’s also $5 million set out for Ontario’s struggling agricultural and horticultural societies.

For the societies, who put on many of the province’s fall fairs (there are three in Niagara put on by agricultural societies) the funding is significant.

Speaking to Niagara This Week for a November story on the funding, Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies manager, Vince Brennan, said he’s never seen anything like it before and called it the “single largest influx of dollars for our organizations.”

For the 2020-21 fiscal year, a record provincial deficit of $38.5 billion is projected in the budget. Reflected as a percentage, the net debt of the deficit makes up 47 per cent of all of Ontario’s economic production or gross domestic production (GDP). Ontario’s GDP is also projected to fall 6.5 per cent during 2020.

Two deficit outlook scenarios are presented, one for slow growth and another for faster. Under a fast growth projection, the provincial deficit by the 2022-23 fiscal year would decline to $21.3 billion. Under slow growth, the projection for the same period would be a decline to $33.4 billion.

Currently, the 2020 budget projects the deficit to decline to $28.2 billion for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Of the total $187 billion in spending in the 2020 budget, $12.5 billion is forecasted to be spent on paying interest on government debt. There is also $2.5 billion being kept in reserve to weather any unforeseen circumstances.

There was no plan presented to balance the multi-year budget, as is required by law, and the province will be seeking a pause on the requirement given the "volatile and uncertain economic situation” of the pandemic. The province plans to table a path to balance in the 2021 budget.

Jordan Snobelen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara this Week