Organic on the Platform

The Organic Council of Ontario has been working hard this year to get organic on the political platforms of each party.  

In September 2017, we saw the introduction of Bill 153: the Organic Products Act, a private member’s bill co-sponsored by NDP MPP Peter Tabuns and PC MPP Sylvia Jones.  There was some interest from the Ontario Liberals to co-sponsor as well, but it never materialized.

The Bill passed 2nd reading in November 2017, followed shortly thereafter by a series of unrelated consultations by the Ontario government focused on the challenges and opportunities of the Ontario organic sector. In these consultations, OCO members clearly expressed their desire for organic regulation.

In March, Bill 153 died on the order papers along with all other bills when the legislature was prorogued.  OCO was pleased to see the Bill reintroduced as Bill 59 on April 24th of this year.  

“We had some small hope it would pass at the last minute before an election was called. This can sometimes happen with uncontroversial bills as a result of negotiations between House leaders,” says Carolyn Young, Executive Director of OCO. However, it seems no opposition bills were adopted in this session of legislature.

With the provincial elections taking place on June 7th, 2018, OCO wanted to find out what each political party would commit to in support of organic.  We asked each party three questions.

  1. If elected, what will your party do to support the growth of the Ontario organic sector?
  2. If elected, will you introduce legislation to regulate the organic claim within Ontario?
  3. If elected, will you work with the Ministry of Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that certification is accessible to farms and businesses of all scales?

OCO has shared our perspectives with each of these parties at the last two Organic Days at Queen’s Park.  We have provided extensive opportunities for parties to better understand Ontario’s organic sector, as well as the challenges and opportunities that need to be addressed.  

We gave each party a grade based on their responses.  The following is a matrix of how they were graded.

A B C D ?
Did the party respond to our questionnaire?
Did the party answer the question?
Did the party commit to some specific action for organic?
Did the party commit to a specific action that OCO is advocating for?


The Ontario Liberal Party

Over their past term, the Liberal government of Ontario has shown support for the principles of organic agriculture and the sector itself.  The Foodland Ontario organic logo was introduced under the Liberals in 2011. They introduced the Local Food Act, which sets targets for local food literacy, access and procurement.  They also restricted the use of neonicotinoid pesticides as part of their Pollinator Strategy.  Several Ontario organic businesses received the Premier’s Award for Agri-food Innovation Excellence.  Finally, in the last year, the Ontario Liberal government supported the creation of a Soil Health Strategy and hosted listening sessions with industry stakeholders to better understand the challenges and opportunities of growing the Ontario organic sector.  They helped pass Bill 153, the Organic Products Act, at 2nd reading and had MPP Ted McMeekin attend OCO’s 2018 AGM as part of OCO’s political panel.

You can read the Ontario Liberal Party’s full response to OCO’s questions.

Supporting Growth of the Organic Sector

Ontario Liberals recognize the contributions of Ontario’s organic food industry to the $37-billion farm and food sector. Over the past nine years, the Ontario Liberal government has invested more than $12 million in funding through various programs to help organic growers scale up and grow.

The Ontario Liberal government, along with the federal government, have committed up to $417 million towards the Canadian Agricultural Partnership strategic initiative to foster economic development, environmental stewardship,and protection and assurance within the sector. This five-year initiative features a number of funding opportunities that businesses and organizations in the organic industry could apply for.

The Ontario Liberal government also partnered with the Organic Council of Ontario to better promote Ontario organic foods. More than 50 organic growers and processors use the Foodland Ontario Organic logo that helps promote Ontario-grown organic foods to consumers.

The Ontario Liberal Government held four listening sessions in late 2017 to better understand the needs of the organic industry and to identify ways that industry and government can work to grow the organic food market. The report back on what was heard during these sessions was sent out to participants and posted on the ministry website on April 5, 2018.

The Ontario Liberal government is pleased to have provided Growing Forward 2 funding to the Organic Council of Ontario for their recently released report, “A Sector-wide assessment and Action plan for 2018-2022”, which proposes growth targets for the sector.

Ontario Liberals look forward to continuing to engage with the Organic Council of Ontario in follow up discussions, and to work together with industry partners to grow the sector.

OCO’s Comments:

  • Canadian Agricultural Partnership funding is cost-shared 60:40 between the federal and provincial governments and requires matching funds from industry.  There are small improvements in the CAP program application program that prioritize organic organizations.
  • While OCO is grateful for past supports and funding, these claims do not address how the Liberals, if elected, would support the organic sector to grow.  
  • The Liberals make the general commitment that they will continue to work with industry partners to grow the organic sector, but make no specific commitments recommended by the sector.  For that reason, we have given them a grade of “B” on their response to this question.

Regulating Organic Claims in Ontario

The federal Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for monitoring and enforcing organic product regulations across the country.  Organic products crossing provincial/territorial or Canadian borders, or those using the Canadian Certified Organic logo, must meet the Canadian Organic Standards.

Those same standards must be met in Ontario in order to use the ministry’s Foodland Ontario Organic logo. The Foodland Ontario program does recognize the Canadian Certified Organic standards when using the Foodland Ontario Organic Logo to promote Ontario’s Organic Food Industry.

OCO’s Comments:

  • While the Ontario organic sector is grateful for the Foodland Ontario organic brand and marketing promotion, this program does not address the lack of regulation in Ontario.  Specifically, there is less incentive for direct market producers to participate as the marketing materials favour packaging.
  • While the Liberals answered the question, they did not commit to any action. They therefore receive a C.

Ensuring Accessible Certification for All Scales

The Canadian Organic Standard is an important tool for the organic sector, and as the sector evolves, it is critical to consult with stakeholders to ensure that the standards continue to meet their needs.

In early 2018, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) announced it will be providing support for the 2020 review of the Canada Organic Standards to update organic production standards, and funding for the Canadian Organic Trade Association (COTA) to continue their industry efforts. Ontario Liberals look forward to the review findings and encourages organic stakeholders to provide the federal government with their feedback.

OCO’s Comments:

  • OCO is grateful that AAFC and the federal government committed to supporting the review process and continue to support the Standards Interpretation Committee.  Standards are required by the Canadian General Standards Board to be reviewed every five years, or they are archived. This review process costs industry a minimum of $250,000 simply to pay the CSGB fees, let alone consult the sector which costs an additional $250,000.  In other jurisdictions, such as the United States, the entire review process is part of the government’s organic budget.
  • The Liberals’ response demonstrates their understanding of the importance of national standards review process, but they do not explicitly commit to any action provincially.  For this reason, they receive a C on this response.

The Ontario Liberal Party: Summary

While the Ontario Liberals continue to champion important programs like the Foodland Ontario Organic brand and have shown initiative in meeting with OCO and other industry partners, their commitment to “engage with the Organic Council of Ontario in follow up discussions, and to work together with industry partners to grow the sector” is vague at best, and does not include any action toward organic regulation or accessible certification. Therefore, their overall grade is a C.


The Ontario Progressive Conservatives

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives have a shown great enthusiasm in supporting the Ontario organic sector by co-sponsoring Bill 153.  MPP Sylvia Jones from Dufferin-Caledon proved to be a consistent asset to the sector by continuously raising the issue of organic regulation in the legislature and articulating our needs by introducing petitions.  She also attended the OCO 2018 AGM policy panel. However, the Ontario PC party is the only party that did not respond to OCO’s platform questions as of May 30th, 2018, after several attempts to contact them.  They have therefore received an “?” for an “Incomplete” grade for all questions. 


The Ontario New Democratic Party

The Ontario NDP have been a leader in the push for organic regulation.  MPP Peter Tabuns was the only MPP that followed up with the OCO after our 2016 Organic Day at Queen’s Park with clear commitment and action.  MPP Tabuns took initiative by conducting research into and amending the Manitoba Organic Agricultural Products Act to create Bill 153, the Ontario Organic Products Act.  

You can read the Ontario New Democratic Party’s full response to OCO’s questions.

Supporting Growth of the Organic Sector

While the NDP did respond to OCO’s questions with some direct responses relating to regulation, they did not directly respond to this question with any specific ideas for promoting the growth of the Ontario organic sector.  They included several other ideas regarding rural infrastructure and agricultural policy including promises to:

  • Get rid of unfair rural hydro delivery costs while reducing hydro costs by 30 per cent.
  • Create a 10-year, $1 billion fund to bring broadband service to rural and northern Ontario.
  • Develop a Provincial Food and Water Strategy, to promote health through access to healthy food, and to strengthen Ontario’s food security and the resilience of its food systems in consultation with industry stakeholders.
  • Improve food safety rules to address the unique risks of large-scale factory production, while ensuring fair and appropriate regulations for smaller and less-risky local producers.
  • Work with farmers and municipal leaders to protect Ontario’s farmland from encroachment by land speculators
  • Partner with farming groups to ensure young farmers can get their foot in the door.

OCO’s Comments:

  • While some of these policies may support the organic sector, they do not respond directly to the question posed.  Since there is overlap between the three questions, we anticipated something beyond the introduction of a regulation.  For this reason, the NDP score a C on this question.

Regulating Organic Claims in Ontario

As mentioned in your letter, the NDP have a long history of recognizing the importance of organic products and producers in Ontario. For instance, we have worked with the OCO and other stakeholders to develop a Private Members Bill, the Organic Products Act, which was co-sponsored by NDP MPP Peter Tabuns. This Bill was meant to regulate the use of the word “organic” in Ontario and to amplify the value of the “organic” label– which can be used to pass off lower-quality products as the real deal.

As a majority government, the Liberals had the ability to pass this Bill as quickly as they wanted to. Instead, they let the Bill languish for months at the committee stage.  Ultimately the Bill died on the Order Papers in February 2017, when they prorogued the Legislature in a highly political move. The Bill’s sponsors were forced to reintroduce the Bill and start back at square one.

An NDP Government will move to regulate the word “organic” in Ontario, working to pass legislation to that effect. And unlike the Liberals, we will work to support farms of all scales and will ensure that certification is accessible.

We recognize and support the work that has been done on this issue to date by the OCO and other stakeholders, and we will put forth our best efforts to ensure that future legislation passes without further political games.

OCO’s Comments:

  • The NDP has not only stated their commitment to creating a provincial regulation, but they have demonstrated action.  For this reason, they receive an A.

Ensuring Accessible Certification for All Scales

As seen above, the NDP briefly responded to this question, albeit without specifics.  

An NDP Government will move to regulate the word “organic” in Ontario, working to pass legislation to that effect. And unlike the Liberals, we will work to support farms of all scales and will ensure that certification is accessible.

OCO’s Comments: 

  • Because the NDP don’t offer any specific commitments to ensure that certification is accessible, they receive a “B.”

NDP Summary

The NDP have been a leading organic advocate over the past two years and have taken the time to respond to our specific questionnaire.  Their responses are clearly informed by their platform and their commitment to organic regulation is solid. However, in some cases, their responses to specific questions lack detailed commitments.  


The Green Party of Ontario

While the Green Party of Ontario currently has no representatives in the Ontario legislature, the party received 8% of the vote in 2008 and is a publicly funded party running a candidate in all ridings.  Current polling has the party averaging 12% of the vote and party leader, Mike Schreiner, is currently poised to potentially win his riding in Guelph, polling at 31.7 per cent of the vote. Schreiner was co-founder of the sustainable food label Local Food Plus, and also an organic food business owner prior to his political career.  He also attends the Guelph Organic Conference annually, was an early endorser of the Organic Products Act, and attended the OCO 2018 AGM policy debate.

You can also read the Green Party of Ontario’s full response to OCO’s questions.

Supporting Growth of the Organic Sector

The Green Party of Ontario will implement a long-term Organic Growth Strategy that will support transition, small-scale certification, access to organic advisors and capital, and organic research and promotion expansion. We will also establish an organic check-off program to provide  marketing support for organic farmers. We will create incentives to reward landowners for increasing organic content in their soil, as well as invest in organic and specialty crops.

Regulating Organic Claims in Ontario

Yes. We support passing the Organic Products Act, which would establish a standard definition for Organic, so that any producer that uses the term can be backed up by third-party certification that they use sound organic practices that protect our water and soil.

Ensuring Certification Accessible for All Scales

Yes. We support the implementation of a long-term Organic Growth Strategy that will support transition, small-scale certification, access to organic advisors and capital, and organic research and promotion expansion for farms of all sizes. We need to ensure that small family farms are not disproportionately affected by regulatory changes and that there are supports in place to help transition to organic certification.

GPO Summary

The above commitments respond directly to the question, are specific, and fit with OCO’s proposed policy solutions. While the chances of the Green Party of Ontario gaining power in the short term are slim and their responses less at risk of requiring implementation, their answers demonstrate a deeper understanding of the organic sector and policy recommendations that OCO has proposed.  If Mike Schreiner does gain political office, we look forward to working with him to increase support for the Ontario organic sector among all parties.


Other Parties

OCO is aware that there are many other political parties running candidates for election.  In particular, one OCO member encouraged us to include the Ontario Trillium party in our questionnaire since elected MPP Jack MacLaren counts himself among their members.  However, given the lack of official party status of many of these parties, their lack of public funding, and the limited number of representatives running, we have limited our summary to the four parties above.  We did reach out to the Trillium party but did not receive a response.



The Results

Organic On the Platform

When it comes to the organic sector, not all parties are equal.  The results of this survey are not definitive; we will be sharing our results with parties and encouraging them to better articulate their policy commitments with the potential for improving their grades.  In the meantime, we encourage OCO members to reach out to their provincial candidates before June 7th and ask them to answer our three key questions.  

Sample Tweets:

Replace Jeff Leal with your favourite candidate’s twitter handle!

@JeffLeal_MPP: If elected, what will you do to #actONOrganic and support growth in Ontario’s #organic sector. Improve your party’s grade in @orgcouncil’s #ONelection2018 report card! #ONpoli #ontag

@JeffLeal_MPP what will you do to #actONorganic? If elected, will you introduce legislation to regulate the #organic claim within Ontario?  @orgcouncil and the #ontag community want to know. #Onpoli #ONelxn

@JeffLeal_MPP if elected, will you work with @OMAFRA to ensure that #organic certification is accessible to #ontag farms and businesses of all scales? Improve your #actONorganic standing with @orgcouncil.  #ONpoli

Members can also reach out to their current MPPs about regulation through our #actONorganic page, or use the template provided to email candidates that are not currently MPPs.  OCO looks forward to working with the next government, whatever their political stripe.

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