There’s absolutely no reason a city politician can’t represent rural issues, premier-designate Kathleen Wynne said Wednesday after confirming she will appoint herself as agriculture minister when she’s sworn-in as Ontario’s premier next week.
“I know that there have been people that have said, ‘How can you possibly take on this ministry when you live in downtown Toronto?” said Wynne.
“My roots go deep into rural Ontario, and even if they didn’t, we need to understand as urban people how interrelated we are, and so in some ways it’s a really good thing that an urban member is taking this on.”
Wynne confirmed she would keep the promise made during her campaign for the Liberal leadership by naming herself minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs after meeting with farmers in Bradford, about 70 kilometres north of Toronto.
Her job is to ensure the needs of both rural and urban residents are met, added Wynne.
“I have really avoided saying that I understand farming because my family comes from a farm, but the reality is most of us are not that far from rural Ontario,” she said.
“I’m going to be more informed, I’m going to have a whole different understanding of how rural communities and agriculture communities work, and that’s a good thing for my urban constituents and vice-versa.”
When one reporter challenged Wynne’s knowledge of farming by asking if she knew what a heifer was – she correctly said it was a young cow – the premier-designate then asked the media if they knew what a spent hen – was – and of course they didn’t.
The premier-designate said she heard about many issues from the farmers she met with, including people upset over the growing number of giant wind turbines popping up across rural Ontario, an issue that cost the Liberals seats in the 2011 election.
“I have heard a lot about the siting of wind turbines, and I want to make sure that we have the right blend of progress on the Green Energy Act but also municipal autonomy, and it’s an issue that was raised again this morning,” said Wynne.
“I don’t have specifics on that, but it’s something that I’m concerned about.”
Another big issue in rural Ontario is the growing urban sprawl with new subdivisions eating up prime agriculture land, something Wynne said would continue to pose challenges for the government as the province copes with more growth.
“It’s a balance between how do we make sure that land values are preserved and at the same time we have the economic driver of the agriculture industry,” she said.
“And we recognize that there are going to be increased need for places for people to live.”
The Opposition predicted Wynne would face a “steep learning curve” as minister of agriculture.
“Adding that (job) onto the premier’s responsibilities and Question Period and being up on all the various ministries - this is a very ambitious undertaking,” said Progressive Conservative critic Julia Munro.
The New Democrats said they hoped Wynne wasn’t trying to “pay some sort of lip service” to rural Ontario by naming herself minister of agriculture.
“The difficulty is when you come from outside and have to learn it all, it’s going to take you a while to get up to speed before you can really start making some decisions about how you can effect change,” said NDP house leader Gilles Bisson.