Premier is Sincere, but Can #Ontag Connect With Queen’s Park?

A sit-down with Ontario Premier Kathleen WynneIf you had 30 minutes to sit down with the leader of your country’s most populous province, what would you say?

When I was invited to meet with the Premier last week, there were no shortage of people with  suggestions about what I should tell her. Nothing that would’ve warranted much conversation I suspect and been anything she hadn’t already heard. Certainly not anything that could be covered in 30 minutes either.

Myself, I only wanted to talk about one thing: women’s role in agriculture, the biggest economic driver in our province today. Where we are likely divided on many issues, this is common ground. In true Girl Guide fashion, I also wanted to be prepared, so I sought out input from those who had more experience than I in specific areas related to agriculture and the public sector.

This was my second time meeting Premier Wynne. The first was at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show prior to the election. At that time, I was told to talk about what was new at John Deere. Instead, we talked about women in ag, so I suspected this was something she likely cared to discuss again.

So in an awkwardly decorated hotel bar in Waterloo, Premier Wynne and I discussed the knowledge divide between producers and consumers, the often-overlooked potential of working moms and the need for more positivity in politics. She was warm, sincere and excited about the agri-food sector. I was impressed and genuinely believe she really cares about a vibrant, prosperous rural Ontario bolstered by a strong agriculture sector.

You are probably asking, “How then, can she allow the neonic reduction to play out as it did?” I wonder this too. In fact, it’s obviously at odds with what one might expect from someone who cares about farmers. I don’t know the answer to this, and I didn’t ask.

My friend has a great question she asks after hearing any speaker address a group; “did you hear what he/she didn’t say?” As I thought about our conversation over the weekend, I woke up this morning thinking about what she didn’t say. In this case, she actually said it but it wasn’t with respect to neonics. She mentioned the challenge she issued to the agri-food sector last year to double its growth rate.

“A target gives people something to work towards and gets them thinking.”

Maybe the neonic strategy is the same? Farmers aren’t exactly quick to change. It may not be exactly the right focus, and we can assume some outside pressure resulted in the situation at hand, but perhaps this is a nudge (okay, more like a kick to the shins) to motivate farmers to act. It doesn’t ever hurt to look closer at our on farm practices and evaluate if we’ve become complacent or if there are other options. I also never knew any farmer to complain about cutting back on an input bill.

That doesn’t explain the poor communication. I do think, we have overestimated how much people care about rural Ontario and farmers. Not that our issues are any less important or real, but at the end of the day, we are so few voices, so far away from Queen’s Park. We think people should care, but we haven’t the slightly idea what pressing issues are on the minds of the residents of Scarborough, Etobicoke, Yorkdale or Regent Park to name but a few of Toronto’s neighbourhoods which are communities unto themselves. To them, their issues are no less important. Even if we somehow reached them in a manner they could empathize with us, they have their own challenges to worry about.

I do have a ton of respect and admiration for politicians. For the time they put in, the decisions they are trying to make with the best information they have at hand (which has been proven all to often lately isn’t always the right information), the public scrutiny they are subjected too and their families face, they do not have an easy job. I think Kathleen Wynne likely earns her pay cheque many times over throughout a year. Maybe we need to find a way to make it easy for politicians to engage with us by making it easy to do their jobs. What that means exactly, I’m not sure yet, but you can bet I’ll be thinking about it.

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