Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, right, is given a tour of Gwillimdale Farms' packing facility by John Hambly, owner. Wynne visited Gwillimdale Farms in Bradford West Gwillimbury
Credits: MIRIAM KING/BRADFORD TIMES/SUNMEDIA
TORONTO -- Some of Kathleen Wynne’s best friends are farmers.
Seriously. Don’t think of her as the premier-designate.
Think of her as city slicker turned agriculture minister.
In Toronto, she’s the cool downtown gay negotiator.
In the country, she’s the Wellington-boot wearing, down-to-earth, carrot-packing agriculture minister.
Heck, she probably calls square-dancing in her spare time.
Wynne hauled reporters to Gwillimdale Farms in Bradford to tell us how much she likes farming and how her dad used to go to a farm every summer and how she still knows people who are farmers.
She likes them. She really likes them.
City slickers call it bafflegab.
Farmers call it horse manure. Or words to that effect.
Either way, it’s going to take a lot more than a photo-op with tractors for Wynne to undo the damage the Liberals have done to rural Ontario.
“I’m very serious about this,” she told reporters. “I’ve made it my business to get to understand what goes on in rural Ontario and in the agriculture community.”
Oh, please. The Grits have destroyed a way of life. The countryside has been blighted with ugly wind turbines that have not just destroyed the landscape, they’re part of the Green Energy Act that’s pushed up the price of electricity to astronomical levels and thereby pushed up the cost of farming.
The high cost of electricity is one of the key factors that caused the shut-down of food processing plants in Niagara.
Instead of getting our canned fruit from the Golden Horseshoe, we now get it from China.
The McGuinty government ripped the beating heart out of rural Ontario with school closures in small communities. Wynne, a former education minister, can’t distance herself from that policy.
More recently, the Liberals’ plan to pull support for the horse racing industry by changing a deal on slot revenues negotiated a decade ago has caused outrage.
The outcry from rural Ontario was swift and loud and the government was forced to rethink its policy.
In 2012, the racing industry received $345 million, representing 10% of proceeds from the slots. That means the racetrack slots were generating $2.6 billion for the OLG -- a fairly healthy income.
There are worries the transition funding announced by the government is just a stop-gap remedy that won’t be a long-term solution.
The urban-centric Liberals had no idea how vital that money was to the rural economy and it was yet another slap in the face to the rural way of life.
Take a look at the electoral map of the province and you’ll see why Wynne is so desperate to make nice with rural Ontario.
Cities voted predominantly Liberal or NDP.
The rest of the province is awash in Tory blue.
Conventional wisdom says Tory leader Tim Hudak will never form a government until he can make inroads into urban areas.
The other side of that coin is Wynne knows she’ll never get her coveted majority until she can woo back the rural seats.
The damage is already done.
You can’t spend nine years ignoring folk in rural Ontario, minimizing their concerns and foisting unwanted wind turbines on them and expect them to be flattered by all the attention Wynne’s giving them.
How patronizing and condescending it is for Wynne to expect that spending a year as agriculture minister is going to impress the farming community.
Here’s a better plan:
Instead, appoint a trusted minister who understands the issues already.
Treat farmers with respect.
Consult with rural communities before you close their schools and foist hundreds of giant wind turbines on them.
And, um, try to steer clear of the cowflaps.