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Back to the Polls

Photo: Benson Kua

Torontonians have dealt with our municipal election and that means four years of Rob Ford but it also means that our next election is the provincial one on October 6, 2011.  There were some bright moments for food policy in the municipal election: farmers’ market organiser Mary-Margaret McMahon soundly defeated Sandra Bussin and Joe Pantalone–he of the wrong-headed attack on bistros who want liquor licenses–didn’t come anywhere near to winning.  I hope that food policy gets more attention during the provincial round of campaigning and I’m going to start right here with this post.

To fully cover the political issues that interest me and are relevant to this space I’m also going to include alcohol policy.  They’re sometimes very distant from each other but the two realms of policy do come together in our important restaurant industry but also cross when you consider how closely they’re both affected by a government’s willingness to play an active role in affecting consumer choice.

I have my own personal political history and biases but I would like to use this space to more objectively examine how the three major parties compare on some critical questions.  Hopefully the party leaders will at some point sit down with media and bloggers to discuss their policy on food and alcohol marketing and production but failing the specific answers that might come from that I’ll use these questions to examine their respective campaign platforms.

Will they exert more or less control over what Ontarians are legally allowed to eat? The McGuinty government outlawed hamburgers and other ground beef preparations that are not cooked to well done in restaurants; barely backed down from requiring that all sushi be frozen; sued farmer Michael Schmidt for selling raw milk; and mused about banning KFC’s Double Down.  Are there more of these restrictions in store for Ontario or will some be repealed?

What will they do to protect and support small, local, multi-species abattoirs? On her blog Sarah Hood has an excellent post about what we learned about this important question of public policy on our trip to Stratford last spring.  Food safety is something that voters want the government to play a role in but how will this affect small- to medium-size producers?

The Green Belt project has changed the face of development in the province but it has also had an effect on the economic viability of Ontario’s family farms.  How will they adjust the programme to meet these concerns?

How will alcohol be marketed and sold in their Ontario? Obviously, the question of whether or not to privatise the LCBO is the big-name question that has found its way into regular discussion but what about other ideas like allowing corner stores to sell Ontario beer and wine?  Or what about following the lead set by the UK by making it legal for those who are sixteen to drink wine or beer with a table meal when in a restaurant with their parents?

Will the LCBO’s Community Standards Committee be allowed to continue on its current course by our government? As well as preventing the sale of premium vodka because of its skull bottle this body is notorious for the hoops through which it makes producers jump in order to meet a nebulous set of standards that, frankly, would be more appropriate for the 1950s.  Will the composition, mandate, and workings of this committee be made more transparent?

That is, by no means, an exhaustive list.  Please add your own in the comments section below.   I hope you’ll join in this discussion that might help these important policy questions get the attention they deserve.

I know that the election is not going to swing on the issue of medium-rare burgers being illegal in Ontario’s restaurants.  But if Rob Ford proved anything other than the importance of clear political messaging it is that voters are willing to consider the question of how much control we want to cede to our government surely that applies to food and alcohol policy.

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4 Comments

  1. Excellent idea,

    I think the idea of ‘food safety’ has been driven to the point of being in excess lately. I hear of horror stories of plants shutting down due to over zealous inspectors and auditors. I have hear ridiculous stories of plants having to put ceilings into warehouses where no food is even held. It’s gone beyond the scope of food safety to such a point that we are now expecting our gov. to make choices on what food we can legally obtain in Ontario. At some point we need to take a step back and realize we can make our own decisions.

    I look forward to reading further comments.

  2. Sheryl says:

    The travesty of revoking the special diet allowance for people on social assistance is one that voters shouldn’t let go by without a fight. Sadly, since Rob Ford has made us all “taxpayers” instead of citizens, I worry that this attitude will carry over to the Provincial elections and people will side with the current government on this issue instead of helping people who are sick and in need of special food to either get better and back into the workforce or in the case of chronic illness, be less of a burden on the healthcare system because they’re able to keep themselves healthier through a better diet.

  3. [...] likely that the provincial election in 2011 won't hinge on food issues, but the folks in the big pink castle do have a habit of sticking their noses in where they're not [...]

  4. foodwithlegs says:

    Darryl: I think what you have touched on is one of the greatest failings of our information age democracies. With no real political mountains to climb elected politicians now always need to be seen as doing something and that, because of how our system is designed, transfers directly to civil servants like inspectors and those who write the food safety regulations. That being said, cases like the Alberta raw milk producers that were distributing bacteria-laden milk demonstrate to me that there is something to be said for medium-size producers being most in the public interest. I know it’s tough to draw an exact line between small and medium but it seems that just as there is a point at which a food operation is too large there is also one where it is too small and can’t afford the legitimately necessary safety measures and doesn’t have the same degree of investment that motivates the owners to ensure the business continues.

    Sheryl: I don’t know as much as I’d like to about the special dietary allowance issue. From what I do it sounds like a case of the government targeting a minor (fiscally speaking) line limit that goes to support a specific and probably under-connected constituency for the sake of distracting from more significant largesse elsewhere. Thanks for pointing out another case where the government should be held to account.

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