“First we eat, then we do everything else.”

M.F.K. Fisher

Everyone needs to eat.  But not everyone understands the complexities of producing the myriad of food options available to Canadians.

Our food comes from farms – Canadian farms, and faraway farms in distant lands.  I’ve learned that spending time on a farm provides a much deeper understanding of where our food choices come from, how they are created, and by whom.  

The latest Grassroots Greenhouse poll just confirmed that 70% of Canadians have never visited an operational farm:

Graph from National Agricultural Poll presenting data that seven in ten Canadians have never visited an operational, working or commercial farm.

Until recently, that number included me.

When I joined Grassroots Public Affairs in 2018, I started learning about issues impacting the Canadian agri-food industry, and visited various farm operations – fruits & vegetables, livestock, grains.  All of them were fascinating in terms of scope, on-farm activities, and day-to-day management.  I was repeatedly amazed by the integration of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence and block chain.  Until I witnessed it first-hand, I had no idea that a career in agriculture could be so interesting, innovative and important.

I suppose it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that only 30% of Canadians have visited a farm, considering the vast majority of us live in cities, where opportunities to engage agriculture and food production are simply not as accessible as in rural settings.

Let me ask, have you ever really thought about where your food comes from – before it lands in the grocery store, or on a restaurant plate?  

Think of travel for a moment (remember travel?…).  After you visit a different place and experience different activities within a different culture, you feel a much stronger sense of understanding and connection to that place, and the lifestyle there, because you experienced it first-hand

To experience food-production first-hand is to gain a meaningful appreciation for parts of Canada’s “farm-to-fork” supply chain, a critical network we now know is complex, and fragile.  

Since COVID started, it seems every time I grocery shop there’s a shortage of something I need – items previously found in abundance are missing from the shelves, “expected next week”.  

Without question, food prices are going up.  

I once read some great advice, “Never ignore the writing on the wall…

Living through a pandemic has taught me to appreciate many things, including the value of food.  It’s the foundation for everything else we do – as individuals and families, as a country, as a world, and as a species.  

In the interest of greater appreciation for Canadian food, and as part of the 30% of Canadians who have visited a farm – I highly encourage it!   

Granted, due to COVID now may not be the time, but in due course consider adding ‘farm tour’ to the proverbial bucket list.  Touring a modern farm is to witness the human ingenuity of age-old farming techniques, combined with the advanced technologies of the 21st century.  Touring a farm is to experience food production first-hand

While there may be a disconnect between food-production and the average grocery shopper, the 2021 Grassroots Greenhouse poll found the majority of Canadians (86%) endorse increased government support for the agriculture and agri-food sectors:

Graph from National Agriculture Poll with data illustrating that Canadians continue to believe the federal government should provide financial support for the agri-food sector.

Good timing.  Earlier this week, it was reassuring to see federal budget support for Canadian food producers.  Representing hundreds of thousands of farm families across the country, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture was pleased with several key announcements in this week’s budget, outlined in their subsequent News Release

Investing in domestic food production certainly feels right, given the events of the past year, and the uncertainty of the future.  

As Canadians, we mustn’t take our food for granted – 100% of us need it, to “do everything else...”


Lindsay Yaciuk, Grassroots Communications

(PS:  If you’re interested in Canadian agri-food, like we are at Grassroots Public Affairs, join us Wednesday April 28th for a complimentary: Presentation of Findings from the 2021 Grassroots Greenhouse National Agriculture Poll – register here)

TORONTO, ON – April 13, 2021 – The third annual national Agri-Food public opinion poll by Grassroots Public Affairs finds that Canadians continue to maintain very positive views about the current and future state of agriculture and food in Canada. 

In partnership with clients and other industry associations, Grassroots’s online survey measured attitudes, direction, and intensity of public opinion on a range of issues and policies affecting the domestic Agri-Food sector. 

Some of the more interesting survey findings include:

  • Canadians are extremely confident (91%) in food grown or produced domestically.
  • A strong majority of Canadians (86%) endorse increased government support for the agriculture and agri-food sectors.
  • 70% of Canadians have never had the opportunity to visit an operational farm. However, the impressions of the 30% that did visit were very positive.

“These findings confirm that, in these uncertain times, policy makers and industry leaders can build on the agriculture sector’s reputation as the most important contributor to the country’s economic landscape. Few other industries are viewed as positively by Canadians. This is a sector with enormous potential to aid in Canada’s economic recovery,”

Peter Seemann, Principal & Sr. Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs.

New questions for the 2021 poll gathered public opinion about:

  • Awareness regarding The Canada Food Guide;
  • Consumers and food labelling; and
  • Food allergies/sensitivities of Canadians.

Grassroots Public Affairs continues to believe strongly in the growth potential in Canada’s domestic food system. We will be releasing more detailed findings including demographic breakdowns on a variety of questions in the coming weeks.

View the 2021 survey results.

Methodology and Sample Size

The Canada-wide survey was conducted via an online panel of 1,001 Canadians 18+. Fieldwork for the survey took place between March 23rd to March 30th, and the survey was available in English and French. 

For media inquiries, please contact:

Lindsay Yaciuk

Communications, Grassroots Public Affairs

lindsay@grassrootspa.ca

905-715-2788


An annual snapshot of public opinion about Canadian agriculture and food.


As enthusiastic advocates for the Canadian Agri-Food sector, Grassroots Public Affairs is pleased to release our third annual agriculture and food research public opinion poll.

Our approach for 2021 includes COVID-19 pandemic-related food questions, as well as repeated questions from past years so we can measure any change in public opinion.

Key findings for this year’s research include:

  • –91% of Canadians are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ confident in the food grown or produced domestically.
  • –90% of Canadians are aware of the Canada Food Guide and its recommendations on healthy eating.
  • –86% of Canadians endorse government support for the agriculture and agri-food sector – down from 92% 2020.
  • –70% of Canadians have never visited an operational or commercial farm.
  • –59% of Canadians are not interested in trying ‘lab grown meat’ if deemed safe to eat by the federal government.
  • –47% of Canadians frequently check the labelling of a food item to inspect the ingredients or nutritional information.
  • –44% of Canadians believe that agriculture and agri-food is of ‘very large importance’ to Canada’s national security and critical infrastructure – down from 59% in 2020.
  • –43% of Canadians believe that agriculture and agri-food is of ‘very large importance’ to Canada’s economic landscape – down from 63% in 2020.
  • –37% of Canadians believe the agri-food sector is likely to grow in the future– down from 44% in 2019.
  • –24% of Canadians have a food allergy or food sensitivity.

Other key findings:

  • Canadians hold very positive opinions of agriculture and agri-food; however, the intensity of these opinions has decreased in the past year.
  • The majority of Canadians believe the most recent update to the Canada Food Guide increased the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables. Plurality believe meat and dairy recommendations were reduced.
  • Canadians see agriculture as having a positive impact on the environment.
  • Canadians continue to believe the federal government should place the greatest level of prioritization of financial support for fruit and vegetable commodities.
  • Canadians are consuming less red meat than they were a year ago, but are consuming more animal sources of protein such as eggs and fish.
  • Consumption of plant-based proteins such as legumes and seeds has risen at a greater rate than plant-based protein products (made with soy or pea).
  • Canadians are less willing to recommend a job or career in agriculture today than in 2019.

Special thanks to Food Banks Canada and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture for their participation.

View the ‘Greenhouse’ below:

Grassroots-Greenhouse-2021-Final-Report-compressed

For customized presentations on the findings, please contact us by email at info@grassrootspa.ca.

On Wednesday afternoon, Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy delivered the much-anticipated 2021 Ontario budget. After the COVID-19 pandemic delayed last year’s budget until the fall, the government is likely eager to get back on track as it moves towards the 2022 provincial election. Here are the highlights:

Primary Themes

As was leaked last week, the primary themes of the budget were “Protecting People’s Health” and “Protecting our Economy”. While the Ford government campaigned in the last election on a promise the eliminate the $15B annual deficit inherited from the previous Liberal government, any plan to do that has been dismissed due to pandemic impacts on the provincial economy. 

Minister Bethlenfalvy remarked that this year’s budget was similar to the one delivered by P.C. Finance Minister Leslie Frost in 1943, when Canada was in the midst of fighting the Second World War:

“COVID‐19 arrived on Canadian shores one year ago. At the time, few could have anticipated the devastating consequences, here at home and across the globe. Our loved ones, our economy, our education system, our main streets and our communities have all been impacted by the global pandemic. But from the first moments of this crisis, Premier Ford made clear that our government would protect the people of this province.”

Protecting People’s Heath – Commitments Announced 

  • Setting aside $16.3B over 4 years to battle COVID-related health care costs.
  • $1B for the ongoing vaccination of Ontarians.
  • Funding for existing and new hospitals across Ontario including Brampton, London, Mississauga, Windsor and Moosonee.
  • Almost $5B in funding to support Long-Term Care facilities and staff.
  • Additional funding to help and recruit Personal Support Workers by offering bonuses ranging between $5-10K.

Protecting our Economy – Commitments Announced

Normally, economic priorities take precedence when it comes to conservative government budgets. This year, however, the budget will play a necessary supporting role in protecting the health and well-being of Ontarians. That said, the government did announce a significant round of investments to assist Ontario businesses to rebound from what has been a very difficult year.

  • $3.4B in new funding for businesses through the province’s small business grant program. This program previously allotted up to $20K grants to eligible businesses due to pandemic-related disruption.
  • A new $260M job training tax credit. In line with the Ford government’s promotion of post-secondary trade programs, it grants $2K to workers looking to improve their skills for new career opportunities.
  • A commitment of $400M in new funds for Ontario’s beleaguered tourism industry over the next 3 years.
  • A commitment of $2.8B for rural broadband in communities lacking proper high-speed internet connectivity.
  • $117M in funding to support women and minority groups via training programs for those most impacted by pandemic-related job loss.
  • Another round of child benefit payments to parents of children under the age of 18. The government is estimating this will cost upwards of another $1B. 

Assessing the Numbers

While not surprising given the circumstances, the bottom line for this budget, and all budgets in the foreseeable future, is not pretty. As most people expected – Ontario’s budget deficit of $32B is much higher than the government would have anticipated when it was first elected in 2018. The good news is, that it’s estimated to be almost $5B lower than last year and progressively lower in years to come. 

Interest on the province’s debt, despite all time low interest rates, will cost the government approximately $13B and the total debt will rise to $439B in the upcoming fiscal year, and as high as half a trillion by 2023-24.

Looking much further into the future, the government’s long-term projections suggest that balancing the provincial books won’t be achievable until the end of the decade; 7 years later than the PCs were aiming for in their 2019 pre-COVID budget.

Despite the rebound from the economic collapse a year ago when Ontarians were faced with the first lockdown, there are still more than 300,000 fewer full-time jobs in the province than before the pandemic hit. 

And a final staggering metric is the province’s debt-to-GDP ratio, which is currently projected to be over 50% within 3 years.

Reaction

Reaction to the budget was mixed, with traditional allies to the PC government expressing support and those ideologically opposed to the government expressing disappointment in yesterday’s budget.

Business groups including the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Ontario Real Estate Association applauded the investments towards supporting business and making important infrastructure investments. 

Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath was critical of what the NDP viewed as spending cuts in public education, long term care facilities and healthcare. Liberal leader Stephen Del Duca expressed his party’s outrage towards the government on reduced support for Ontario students compared to increased funding last year when the pandemic first arrived. 

What This All Means

While the fundamentals of Ontario’s economy are still extremely shaky, the general public has largely supported the Ford government’s handling of COVID.  There has been some concern and frustration over perceived mismanagement around vaccine distribution, but the PC government is giving Ontarians what they want and need in this budget: a path and plan that the government will support the province on the road back to recovery. Expect to see government ministers fan out across the province and engage in some significant PR to sell the benefits of the budget to Ontarians in the coming weeks. Moreover, expect opposition parties to continue hammering the government to do more in support of Ontarians.

For more information on budget details, visit the full 2021 Ontario Budget document.

Grassroots will continue to monitor government plans as we head into the summer months. The ongoing fight against the pandemic will remain the focus for some time, but it won’t be long until we see clear signs of electioneering in anticipation of next year’s scheduled provincial vote. 

Since 2017, we at Grassroots have had the good fortune to partner with clients in the Agri-Food sector to measure Canadian’s attitudes towards our domestic food industry. Our findings have helped us advise organizations on how best to frame their messaging so that government and the general public are more receptive to their ‘asks’. 

This month, Grassroots will be re-entering the field to once again measure Canadians attitudes towards a wide range of topics related to Canada’s vast and diverse Agri-Food industry. We are excited to offer the opportunity for outside organizations and commodity groups to participate.

Our Agri-Food Omnibus polls from the last two years have uncovered a wide variety of interesting data. Here are a few notable findings related to agriculture and the business of food:

Agriculture is a key driver of the Canadian economy.

Overwhelming, the general public sees agriculture as one of the key drivers of the Canadian economy. 

Agriculture is important to Canada’s national security and critical infrastructure.

When compared with other major sectors of the Canadian economy, agriculture is seen as one of Canada’s most important industries, coming second only to health care, with respect to the role it plays in guaranteeing Canada’s national security and critical infrastructure. This bodes well for a sector that routinely feels ignored by government. 

The pandemic has changed the way Canadians act or think about shopping for food, but public trust in domestic food is high.

In last year’s poll, conducted just as the first lockdown was imposed, we learned that Canadians began thinking differently about how and where their food comes from. The pandemic exposed Canadians to the possibilities of food shortages and barriers to accessing food. More than six in ten Canadians believed food availability at grocery stores had worsened after COVID, and a third report experiencing greater difficulty affording food. 

Trust in home-grown food is high.

In comparison to other major global agricultural producers, Canadians trust food grown or produced domestically significantly more than food grown or produced elsewhere.

Quebecers are most optimistic about the future of the sector.

Another interesting regional insight is just how the Agri-Food sector is viewed differently across the country. According to last year’s survey Quebecers were by far the most optimistic and supportive about the future of the sector, while Ontario and Alberta residents were more pessimistic. The culture of food and firsthand connection to the industry matters significantly when it comes to public support.

As anyone involved in the agri-food industry knows, there have been many positive PR campaigns launched by industry stakeholders to help educate and influence consumers. These initiatives are needed, as the majority of Canadians increasingly have less direct exposure to farming and agriculture in general.

We look forward to releasing the findings of our poll in April. There is still time to participate and include a question or two focused on specific sectors of the industry in our poll. Check out the information on our website or email info@grassrootspa.ca for more information. 

Smile, spring is just around the corner!

Peter Seemann

Peter is the Principal & Senior Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Toronto. Peter can be contacted at peter@grassrootspa.ca.

As we begin the first quarter of 2021, with lockdowns in place and government struggling to combat a virus that just doesn’t want to go away, it may be challenging to stay optimistic. To say the recent holidays were abnormal would be understatement, and here we are, staring down the runway of a New Year with the impacts of COVID-19 still the primary focus on everyone’s mind.

Whether you feel ready or not, there is work to be done with your organization’s advocacy and government relations plans for the coming year. The pandemic has changed the playbook on how we move forward, so here are some opportunities to keep in mind:

Get your plans in order and manage expectations for the first quarter.

This winter is going to be challenging as government at all levels remain focused on dealing with the pandemic. The continued inability for us to do business face-to-face, meet socially at events, or look forward to the annual winter getaway you normally take, will make the cold, dark months of January, February and March particularly challenging this year.  Yet, things will eventually start to improve when the snow melts, so now is a great time to review your advocacy plans for the entire year.

At Grassroots we are taking time to re-evaluate the strategies our clients are using to engage government in a very different environment. Last year we were forced to adjust on the fly, not knowing what the next month or two would bring. We now know that communicating with government is likely forever impacted by the pandemic. This is a good opportunity to review your internal digital systems, marketing materials, and the overall tone of how your message may be received by government and other outside stakeholders, given the times we are in.

Smile, you’re on camera! Meetings are here to stay.

Understanding how to properly utilize video communications is now a must. Mastering it and using it to its full advantage may require an investment of time and money, but we believe this will pay off. Since the pandemic hit last spring, we at Grassroots have helped clients with many different projects, including livestream video events, and we are learning more and more about the do’s and don’ts of virtual communications. Throughout the recent holidays I saw some very creative seasonal greetings on social media. High quality professionally produced videos will help your message stand out.

Videos can be easily filmed and uploaded via smart phone, but that isn’t always the best approach. There are many great videographers and production experts out there who can turn a good message into a fantastic message.  At Grassroots we’ve had opportunities to work with several experts in the field that have helped us deliver enhanced value to our clients.

Schedule time to check in with people regularly.

As we focus on project objectives and deadlines, it is important to remember that every person we come in contact with is dealing with their own unique challenges related to the changes in lifestyle forced upon us. From staff and colleagues, to clients, to people working within government – everyone has experienced some level of disruption in the past 12 months. I find that regular check-in calls go a long way to strengthen relationships. While virtual meetings on Zoom have become common, old-fashioned phone calls seem to work best for check-ins like this, as people may not want to be seen when they aren’t feeling 100%. Make time to schedule check-in calls for the people that are important to you and your business.

Grassroots remains committed to supporting our clients through the challenging year ahead.  By thinking creatively together, we can ensure advocacy messages are heard by the right people, within the right level of government.

Happy New Year from all of us at Grassroots – here’s to health, happiness and success for you and your business in 2021!

Chris Gray

Chris Gray is an Associate Senior Consultant based in Ottawa who worked on Parliament Hill as a legislative assistant for the Liberals. Chris can be reached at chris@grassrootspa.ca.

With the January 20th inauguration date on the horizon, Grassroots connected with two key business influencers in Ottawa to get their perspectives on what Canada’s business environment could look like moving forward, with a Democrat back in the White House.

What does the Democrat win mean for our economy? Biden’s trade plans include bringing back critical supply chains so the U.S. are not dependent on other nations during a crisis, and promising to tighten domestic content rules, which may have implications for some closely linked Canadian manufacturing sectors. Some irritants will remain even under Biden. For instance, Biden promises more ‘Buy American’ policies, and perennial disputes like softwood lumber will not disappear.

Perrin Beatty

“From a Canadian business perspective, it will be good when we have greater clarity, not only about the Presidency, but also about Congress,” noted Perrin Beatty, President & CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

“When a President is faced with a Congress where one or both houses are controlled by another party, it becomes even more important for Canada to be present, not just in the White House, but also on the Hill,” Beatty continued.

From an industry specific perspective, President & CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada Derek Nighbor had this to say about the Biden victory: “Historically, the softwood lumber file has been challenging for Canadian producers under both a Democratic and Republican administration. This trade dispute doesn’t only hurt Canadian workers, but it also hurts American families – driving up the cost of lumber that they need and driving up the cost of housing. At the best of times, Americans can only satisfy 75% of domestic demand for softwood lumber. They need Canadian lumber.”

Derek Nighbor

Beatty continued: “We can expect to see fewer capricious trade actions against Canadian products, but we should not assume that, just because the current President has embraced protectionism, having a different party in the White House would mean that the U.S. once again embraces open trade. Both parties have supported Buy American policies, and they will be a continuing concern for Canada.”

“We remain hopeful that the federal government can advance a more productive dialogue under the Biden-Harris administration. More broadly, while we expect there will continue to be protectionist winds out of the U.S., we are hopeful that President-elect Biden’s commitment to dialogue and multi-literalism will help tone down some of the unhelpful rhetoric and bring thoughtful discussion and less unpredictability to Canada-U.S. relations,” Nighbor noted in relation to the natural resources sector.

“The Canadian business community believes it’s important to restore the special relationship with our closest friend and most important customer. We hope that we will see the United States resume its leadership role in the world, including in international bodies like the World Trade Organization. While there are always challenges in our bilateral relationship, they can be overcome if both nations treat each other with respect and understanding. We should never forget that other countries throughout the world envy what Canada and the U.S. have built together,” Beatty concluded.

Prime Minister Trudeau has congratulated President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris, setting the stage for positive relations moving forward, and Members of Parliament from all political stripes passed a motion unanimously on Monday calling on the government to invite them to visit Canada, post-pandemic.  The next two months will be interesting, given President Trump’s embattled position on the 2020 election results, amid the national transition to a different administration.

Peter Seemann

Peter is the Principal & Senior Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Toronto. Peter can be contacted at peter@grassrootspa.ca.

On Thursday, in a sparsely populated legislature, Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips rose to deliver the government’s provincial budget, almost eight months after originally scheduled. The incumbent PC budget features a record $187B in spending and forecasts a record $38B annual deficit. In a year like no other, fallout from the pandemic and a struggling economy has forced this government to bury their fiscally conservative tendencies in favour of increased spending to support Ontarians. 2020 continues to generate unanticipated events almost every day.

Budget themes

The budget is themed around 3 main pillars: Protect, Support, Recover, and the overall focus is supporting Ontarians through these tough times. Spending commitments include an additional $7.5B for healthcare to protect Ontarians. $2.4B in new money is allocated to support individuals and businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic. Another $4.8B targets recovery funding, including significant infrastructure investments such as $680M for rural broadband. Billions more are committed long-term and beyond this government’s current mandate to help businesses, and to better protect the healthcare system from future pandemics. Visit the Government of Ontario’s budget website to read the budget in its entirety.

Governing in troubled times

Overall this budget has been positively received; however, opposition parties still managed to criticize the government for not spending enough. In a week dominated by the U.S. election, Minister Phillips delivered his first budget in the midst of a crippling pandemic with comparatively little attention and/or criticism. This in itself is a good thing for a government now in the unfortunate position of power during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Governments across Canada and the world are dealing with an unprecedented sea of red ink. While Ontario’s deficit of $38B smashes previous records, it is dwarfed by the projected federal deficit likely to exceed $400B. Despite conservative government’s usual approach of reigning in spending, now is not the time and there is no benefit, not economically nor politically, for spending cuts right now. There are, however, some important budget aspects for business groups and organizations to consider as we look towards 2021.

Looking ahead

Like other incumbent governments across Canada, the Ontario PCs led by Premier Ford have enjoyed strong support from voters since the pandemic started last spring. Governments have been called upon to provide relief and support for people in times of crisis and that is exactly what Ford’s government has done. While it may seem like a long way off, people on all sides of the political spectrum are starting to look ahead to the 2022 provincial election. The PC government may have abandoned their short-term focus on balancing budgets and restoring Ontario’s finances, but we can expect a heavy focus on measures to promote economic growth in 2021, and a strategy to balance healthcare concerns with economic growth and job creation.

By all accounts this budget is a temporary stop-gap measure. Ontarians need and expect more government relief during this crippling second wave of the pandemic, and the government delivered. Finance Minister Phillips reiterated his commitment to see Ontario return to a spring budget cycle in 2021, and consultations for the next budget will start in a matter of weeks.

What does this mean for advocacy?

Governments have committed unprecedented amounts towards COVID relief, but there will be a limit to how much they can give. When that happens, the focus will be on the private sector to drive economic growth and create jobs. This is important to remember as your organization advocates for support moving forward.

Successful lobbying efforts must be accompanied by strong economic growth plans. More than ever, organizations and business groups must frame their government “asks” around the economic return they can provide. Governments employ a lot of people, but they themselves do not generate wealth, so it will be up to the private sector to help Ontario recover from the financial crater of COVID-19. Ensuring your message is developed with clarity, that it is communicated consistently across all channels, and delivered collaboratively by as many stakeholders as possible can greatly improve your chances of success. An effective grassroots approach to advocacy always pays dividends.

The legislature at Queen’s Park breaks next week for Remembrance Day. Expect government Ministers and MPPs to fan out across the province to sell this budget to Ontarians. With its majority status, the Ford government will pass this budget bill quickly and then focus its attention on what is anticipated to be a more detailed, and less generous, 2021 spring budget. There is work to do on all sides. Let’s just be thankful that the crazy year of 2020 has only a few weeks left!

Photo of Catherine O'Gorman

Catherine O’Gorman is a bilingual public policy and communications professional who works in public affairs, and in a thriving family-run business in Ontario’s agri-food sector. Catherine can be contacted at catherine@grassrootspa.ca.

Six months ago, I left my policy job with Ontario Public Service, packed up my life in downtown Toronto, and drove to 2.5 hours east to Prince Edward County to begin a new chapter in the agri-food sector with my fiancé.

During my time at Queen’s Park, I worked in the heart of policy development in the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) at the Policy Priorities and Coordination Office, and I loved it! I worked on diverse files including leading the ministry’s participation in municipal conferences, facilitating policy development workshops, evaluating funding applications, providing expertise on ministry priorities and Cabinet committee processes, and providing policy and legislative support to the Minister, Deputy Minister and senior ministry executives.

Last February, my fiancé and I took a huge leap of faith; I left my job at MTO and he left his law practice to move to his hometown and work in his family business, Sprague Foods. His parents are the fourth generation of Sprague’s since the company was established in 1925 and we now work alongside them as the fifth generation. Sprague Foods is family owned and operated and specializes in producing canned soups and beans.

COVID-19: A Surge in Demand

COVID-19 has drastically impacted demand for canned foods. At the beginning of the pandemic, due to supply chain disruptions, demand for canned goods skyrocketed to levels comparable to World War II. Little did we know when we moved in February that a tidal wave of change was coming for our business. Turns out, the timing for our move was perfect. The pandemic surge in demand meant that I quickly started learning about the agri-food industry from a manufacturing perspective and its range of challenges – from supply chain management and managing ingredient or raw material shortages, to regulatory and legislative procedures that are specific to food processing.

Melding Policy Skills with Food Processing

In this new environment I have learned about the importance of relationships across the supply chain, from farmers who produce our ingredients, to truck drivers who deliver finished goods across the country, to the frontline workers who put our product on grocery store shelves. Every part of the supply chain is integral to ensuring Canadians have access to food, especially during a pandemic. This new life gives me a unique opportunity to combine my hands-on agri-food experience with my policy background, which helps me navigate legislative and regulatory challenges and secure government funding.

For example, throughout my work across different levels of government, I often evaluated funding applications from companies and stakeholder groups for a diverse range of programs. Using this practical experience, I drafted Sprague Food’s application for funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and successfully secured $75,000 from the provincial and federal government for product development. Our proposal was one of 75 projects chosen across Ontario to help strengthen the province’s crucial agri-food supply chain.

Agri-Food and Advocacy

The combination of my prior government experience and current involvement with agri-food gives me a unique perspective as I support the team at Grassroots Public Affairs. I understand the challenges of the agri-food sector and the unbelievable stress the pandemic has put on the supply chain.  Now, more than ever, it is important that both the provincial and federal government support the food processing and agri-food sector to protect our food supply and support local growers and producers. It is vital that the agri-food sector is a government priority both during and after the pandemic. 

Peter Seemann

Peter is the Principal & Senior Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs and is based in Toronto. Peter can be contacted at peter@grassrootspa.ca.


Oh, what Premier Ford and his cabinet would do to go back a year in time…

Twelve months ago, the Ford government was focused on contract negotiations with Ontario’s teacher unions.  Last year’s fall economic statement indicated the government would fall short of its previous deficit targets, and the provincial deficit would take an extra year to eliminate. Compared to how this year has unfolded, 2019 was a cakewalk.

2020: A Challenging Year

2020 continues to be challenging for everyone, governments included. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Ford government to chuck the playbook from 2019 and essentially start from scratch. Governments have never been very good at planning long-term but nowadays, with the pandemic and changing priorities on a weekly basis, every government’s priority is focused on protecting the health and well-being of its citizens; while simultaneously doing whatever possible to help an economy that has been devastated since the lockdown.

Between the end of March and the legislature’s return to a regular schedule on September 14th, parliamentarians in Ontario had only 21 sitting days to deal with the business of running the province. During the spring lockdown only a skeleton number of MPPs, on all party sides, were scheduled to sit and debate legislature. Despite some MPPs sitting on shortened weeks in July, Queen’s Park was basically deserted, and all staff have been working virtually more often than not.

Government Priorities

Healthcare

From our perspective there are a few obvious priorities for the government for the duration of the scheduled fall session; the first being, not surprisingly, healthcare.

No ministers have accompanied the Premier at his 1pm daily briefing as often as Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott. While Ontario leads the country in COVID testing, there is an increasing backlog of tests to be processed. Premier Ford has always been recognized as a businessman first, so his rise in approval numbers during the pandemic and his focus on the well-being of Ontarians, has been an unanticipated bonus for him. Suffice to say, Premier Ford has impressed many with his leadership during these challenging times.

Education

After a long and trying closure of schools following March break, parents and students alike were eager for schools to reopen this September. Unfortunately, a full return was not possible and depending on where you call home, a significant number of children are not yet in the classroom on a daily basis. While schools and the education system seem somewhat better prepared to handle the health crisis compared to the spring, there is a growing teacher shortage and overall anxiety levels amongst educators and parents are increasing as the pandemic shows no signs of subsiding. The Ford government’s and in particular Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s worst nightmare is an outbreak amongst school children, sending kids back home and parents back to primary educators. Rumour has it Minister Lecce would welcome a change in role, but he’s done an admirable job in the position, so don’t expect him to be going anywhere soon.

Economic Recovery

The last and equally significant priority Premier Ford and his government face this fall is economic recovery. While the safety and protection of all Ontarians from COVID remains top of mind, the last thing Ford wants to do is declare another lockdown with virtually every business closed. Economists already predict sectors of the economy including hospitality, tourism and dining will take years to recover. Restaurants that haven’t closed their doors permanently yet are barely hanging on, and the colder weather won’t help.

Next Steps?

The spring lockdown delayed the spring budget, but Finance Minister Rod Phillips has committed to delivering a budget on or before November 15th. Long-gone are the deficit forecasts under $10B with estimates as recent as a month ago suggesting a record-setting $38B deficit as very probable for 2020. Like their federal counterparts, the PC government is focused on current pandemic challenges over potential long-term financial risks.

Practically speaking, things are far from normal at Queen’s Park. Lobby days and evening receptions remain suspended indefinitely.  Organizations and businesses that plan to lobby MPPs and staff in the coming months will be doing so virtually and by phone. Even when things eventually get back to normal, virtual interactions with government officials will be standard practice.

There have been rumours of the possibility of an early spring election, but don’t count on it just yet. Some will say Premier Ford has never enjoyed such high popularity, but he’s going to be very busy with economic recovery and unlikely to force an election that most Ontarians are not interested in.


The team at Grassroots will be closely monitoring events at the legislature for the coming weeks. Stay safe and stay positive. 2020 has less than 3 months left!