43e législature, 1re session

L154B - Tue 7 May 2024 / Mar 7 mai 2024


Report continued from volume A.


Strengthening Accountability and Student Supports Act, 2024 / Loi de 2024 pour renforcer la responsabilisation et les mesures de soutien aux étudiants

Continuation of debate on the motion for third reading of the following bill:

Bill 166, An Act to amend the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act / Projet de loi 166, Loi modifiant la Loi sur le ministère de la Formation et des Collèges et Universités.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): It’s now time for further debate.

Ms. Aislinn Clancy: I am happy to be here today to talk about this bill and the concerns we all share about rooting out hate and addressing mental health concerns on our university campuses and our college campuses.

I was lucky to be on the committee to hear feedback from different student groups, from individuals, from partners, from our academic partners and leaders in our community, and I’m here to share their voices on what they see would improve the legislation to make it have a good impact.

I think that this bill has good intentions. We heard about many Jewish young people experiencing anti-Semitism on their campuses and not having accountability, not feeling supported and heard, and not having the steps to go through to address the hate that they experienced.

We also heard from Palestinian students who felt that their speech was suppressed and that they were under surveillance on their campus and not free to speak about their experiences as Palestinian students.

That, on top of many other forms of hate—I am concerned with, especially, at the U of W this fall, we witnessed a stabbing in a gender studies class that was rooted in transphobia and homophobia of a student online.

I want to start by focusing on the anti-hate and racism legislation. There seems to be a wish for us to understand a broader context of racism. Maissaa, an academic at U of W, said she’s worried that we aren’t addressing systemic and cultural racism. So mental health impacts and racism impacts kind of overlap.

We heard from Naomi, who is a social worker on campus and part of Independent Jewish Voices Canada in my community, who’s looking for us to be proactive, to root out hate and look into the underpinnings of where the hate is coming from. So while we have a hammer that will look for many nails, we need to actually look at the plant and address the root causes of these concerns, especially the rise in anti-Palestinian racism and anti-Semitism since October 7.

What I’d like to see—and I proposed these amendments in the committee—is a better job of trying to ensure that any directives or any action taken on university campuses ensures that there’s thorough consultation from all the different partners, whether that’s student groups, academics and other support staff on campus. We know that these mental health programs exist, that these equity offices exist. We should be bringing them into the fold, bringing them into the conversation to ensure that that happens.

I am also concerned about the lack of funding. While we saw money in the budget dedicated towards mental health, we know that that’s only $57,000 per campus. If any of you have done the math on what $57,000 does to address mental health, as a school social worker, I’ll tell you it’s not much. We need to ensure that if we truly want these achievements, if we want these outcomes, we have to adequately fund those supports, and that means addressing the $2.5-billion ask. It means going beyond $57,000 for mental health supports. And there were no dollars attached to anti-hate supports for colleges and universities.

I tell my kids all the time, there are no fairies. If the dishes are clean, someone washed those dishes. We have to ensure that the funding is available if we truly want to address hate. As someone who has worked in this, we need to pay experts. We need to build the capacity. We need to fund these programs because fighting hate isn’t something that’s done for free. We need expert professionals to do this.

I also want to show concern about the academics I talked to, about overstepping. We do have a ministry that’s called cutting red tape. This is a bill that adds red tape without funding to address that. So I do have concern because those academics, those colleges and universities, say that adding red tape equates to a budget cut. Somebody has to crunch those numbers. Somebody has to make those reports. Somebody has to do this work. So while I agree that we need accountability, that we need to make sure there are measures so that colleges and universities are addressing these deep concerns we all share, we need to be sure that if we’re going to add red tape, we need to fund that.

Going forward, I hope that the government will ensure that the voices of all partners on campus are included in any directives that are made because I want, first, as Jordana, a Jewish faculty member in my community, said—she said, “Let this legislation do no harm.”

In equity work, we talk about intent versus impact. I hope if none of you remember anything about what I say today, with all the heads down, that you remember that there are two different parts of equity work: There’s intent and there’s impact. We see what is happening on our university campuses right now. People are struggling to deal with equity work, and we need professionals involved. We need to bring in experts to ensure that any intent that we have ensures a good impact and that no harm will be done.

In closing, I hope that you will include all these voices, you will do your best to not cause further division and you will create olive branches to ensure all voices are included in this work going forward.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): It’s now time for questions.

Mr. Ric Bresee: I very much appreciated the presentation from the member. I spent 20 years working at St. Lawrence College, and I fully recognize that at post-secondary institutions, freedom of speech is intertwined with the academic mission. And yet, and I’ve seen this personally, too often, fears of professional or even personal retribution stand in the way of individuals expressing the views and opinions they carry. So what should the government be doing to protect freedom of speech on campus?

Ms. Aislinn Clancy: Thank you so much. That’s a really brilliant question. I think one concern that we were hoping to get in committee was adequate definition of the different forms of hate. I think the worry is that if we don’t agree on what hate speech is, we can’t protect freedom of speech because people don’t have assurances on what is considered hate speech and what is considered freedom of speech. So that’s why a lot of the folks that came forward urged us to ensure we define anti-Palestinian racism as part of this umbrella work, to be sure that folks who have had their voices suppressed, and their critiques, are protected, and they know where that line is. I think a lot of students, young people who are in colleges and universities, need to know where that line is, need to know what’s acceptable or not. Finally, we need to go online because there’s so much happening all the time that gets unaddressed.


The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): Questions?

Mme France Gélinas: We were both on committees together when we did clause-by-clause. I was there partly for when the deputations were done. I would ask, of the people who came and did deputations, of the people who asked to make changes and amendments to the bill, would you agree that most people agreed we should have a mental health policy, that most people agreed that every college and university should have an anti-racism and an anti-hate policy, but they also wanted the independence of the university, of the different campuses to be respected by the government and they would not take kindly to the government telling them how to enact those policies? Would you agree?

Ms. Aislinn Clancy: I think we see a concern about control and political interference in colleges and universities. Studies show that when a political lens gets interfering into colleges and universities, we actually see less patents. It compromises the reputation and integrity of our colleges and universities when there is political interference on campus. So not only do we not see any data and process of why this came about, what was the work done that led to the creation of this policy, but we didn’t see assurances about how it will be used. The term “directive”—there were no comments made. It was very much avoiding clarifying what the directives would be and how they would come about, which was a big concern to the students and partners in our institutions.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): Further questions?

Mr. John Fraser: I’d like to read something here and ask the member if she agrees with it: “It’s up to the dean to govern his own university. I think we shouldn’t get involved in that. That’s my personal opinion. Like I said, there’s lots of tools that ministers have that they don’t use. It’s up to the people. That’s what we believe in.” That would be the Premier from April 18. Does the member from Kitchener Centre agree?

Ms. Aislinn Clancy: I was grateful to hear the Premier say that because I think it acknowledged the autonomy of colleges and universities. Just a few months ago, we gave colleges and universities the ability to do their own planning. They have massive governance structures in place—Lieutenant Governor in Council—and that was kind of what the voice of our Ontario colleges and universities had shared. They say, “We have this framework. We appreciate the intent. Of course more can be done.” And that’s what they shared. It was funding that was needed, but they agree with the Premier that it is their autonomy that they see as most important and the respect for that governance structure they have in place.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): Further debate?

Mr. John Vanthof: It’s always an honour to be able to speak in the House today—it’s always an honour every day—but today on Bill 166, the Strengthening Accountability and Student Supports Act, 2024.

I always try to make things personal—not personal angry but personal so that people actually don’t fall asleep. My friends at home would find this very funny, that I am speaking about post-secondary education, because to know anything about post-secondary education, you should actually attend post-secondary education. I never did. I found out the hard way that to attend post-secondary education, you actually have to finish high school, something else I never did. I had to make a decision. I don’t recommend it to any young people who don’t have to make this decision, but at the point when I was 17, my father was either going to sell the family farm, whether or not—he couldn’t do it anymore, and I had to make that decision. I made that decision. I’m proud of that decision.

But I have to say that we have worked very hard to make sure that all four of our kids had the opportunity not only to finish high school, which they all did, but that they could pursue a post-secondary education, as long as they—what they wanted to do, so they could pursue their dreams in life. They all went to post-secondary.

I have one daughter who is completing her PhD as we speak, and another daughter who is a lawyer here, downtown—

Interjection: No.

Mr. John Vanthof: Yes. There are quite a few lawyers I don’t like, but I love my daughter.

My son went to Fleming College. He is a commercial diver, and he dives all across the province. That course has just closed. There’s soon going to be a huge shortage of divers in the province.

My other daughter works for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. She did her master’s at the University of Toronto.

Where I dreamed of going, because I always wanted to be in agriculture—and I did want to do post-secondary, but I never had the chance—was the University of Guelph, because the University of Guelph is the agricultural university of the province, of the country.

They’re actually having a reception here tonight. I can’t speak at the reception tonight because I have to speak to the private member’s bill, which is also about agriculture. The Ontario Agricultural College, which is now part of the University of Guelph, is celebrating a very important milestone this year: 150 years. That is incredible. I met with Dr. Van Acker today about the university.

Some of us in rural Ontario think that the University of Guelph is just about agriculture, and that’s absolutely not the case. The University of Guelph is very important for agriculture. The Ontario Veterinary College is part of the University of Guelph. The Ontario Agriculture College is still part of the University of Guelph. But actually, the agriculture-oriented programming, I believe—and I’m just going by memory from my meeting today, so I might be a few percentage points off—is only 12% or 15% of their actual total student body. So although they play a huge role in agriculture, they play a huge role in other parts of the province as well.

One thing we discussed about the University of Guelph is that like many other post-secondary institutions, they are facing a funding crunch. The government announced extra funding at the same time that they brought forward this bill, but the extra funding is certainly not enough to actually address the full problem. The University of Guelph, which is taking big steps to control their budget, as opposed to some post-secondary institutions, did not rely heavily on foreign students—I believe it was 5% or 6%. The vast, vast majority of people who attend the University of Guelph are from Ontario, so their soon-to-be deficit problem is not based on that. That’s one of the reasons that they came. They wanted to meet with me because they knew I’m a big supporter. The University of Guelph, with ARIO, does research in the New Liskeard area regarding agricultural crops in northern Ontario. That’s one of the other reasons they wanted to meet with me. But they wanted to make sure that I understood that this crunch was coming up and that, any chance I got, I could talk about this and further the case. That’s why I’m doing this today.


Mr. John Vanthof: I’m actually happy that the Minister of Colleges and Universities is here. I always find it very respectful when a minister is here when a bill is being debated. Thank you for that. I do find that respectful.


I had to explain, too, to the people from the University of Guelph today that I’m hardly ever scheduled to speak; I just speak if we need a speaker and we need to fill time, and then they throw me in—and that’s what they did.

Where my kids went to school, there were 1,500 people total—not in the school; in the town. I think Englehart High School peaks at 200 kids—maybe 150 now, maybe 200. Three of them went to the University of Waterloo for their undergrad. Going from a school of 150 to a school like the University of Waterloo is a major culture shock.

This is a weird place to do this, but I have to acknowledge our oldest daughter, Stephanie. She was 17, and we dropped her off at the University of Waterloo between milkings. We drove down, and we left her there all by herself. I really feel guilty about it now, looking back at how much she had to cope with. We didn’t know. Hopefully, we did a much better job with the kids coming farther down. To her credit, Stephanie did well, but looking back, it was an incredible shock.

I think we have to acknowledge that for many kids——and not just kids, because adults attend post-secondary—it’s a huge shock, and it’s a lot to cope with. The member from Nickel Belt, in one of the responses, talked about that too.

The closest I’ve ever come to coping with that is when I got elected—I had never lived in a town, I had never lived in a village, and I got elected, and all of a sudden I had to live in Toronto part-time. I was an adult—some people would still question that—but it was hard. When you’re teenagers or young adults, it has got to be incredibly hard.

Often, people, when they go to post-secondary—and I’m a big believer in this; some people have the incredible opportunity to go to university in their hometown. I’m not knocking that. That’s great. But at least in northern Ontario, when you’re going to go to college or university, it’s not very often that it’s next door; it’s always a long ways away. They spread their wings, but it’s dangerous to fly.

We supported this bill on second reading; we’re—I believe the critic mentioned it already—opposing it on third. We took the time to listen to the people who came to committee. We’re not questioning the need for mental health supports. The issue is, despite the fact that universities are self-governing, have their own support systems—and I know they do, because my kids participated in those support systems—this bill has a directive that the government knows better. And do you know what? Sometimes—and no disrespect to the minister or to a future minister, no disrespect at all, but sometimes elected officials don’t know better—sometimes. And I think this is one of those times when they might not know better. Over history—and again, I’m a high school dropout talking about history. But over history, free thought—what you really go to university for, in my opinion. And I recognize that here. Sometimes when I hear other people speak—I respect this place a lot, and I like to listen to other people. I sometimes don’t agree with their views. I’m sure sometimes people don’t agree with my views. I’m okay with that. But sometimes people, in their speeches, will have a different thought process than I do, and I appreciate that. And sometimes it’s because they’ve had the opportunity to learn how to experience things differently.

My kids, having gone to university, they learned subjects and they learned an occupation, but they also learned—their horizons broadened. Their thought process broadened. And I’m leery of having a government, a political entity, that has the final say over what people can think or can learn. I hope and I believe that universities—I’m focusing on universities—as long as they have the access to the support system and the access to the funding, have the breadth and the capacity to gauge what is safe and what is not, what is the difference between free speech and hate speech.

No one wants their children or their brothers or their sisters to be exposed to hate speech. I think we can all agree on that. I’m sure that we don’t all agree that it should be the minister of the day that decides—and again, no disrespect to the current minister at all, but that it should be the minister of the day deciding that. That’s a big red flag for us. The supports should be in place so those institutions of higher learning can provide the supports to the people whose minds they’re helping to develop, because that’s a big part of the university experience, but it shouldn’t be dictated. It doesn’t need to be.

I think that’s the issue. It doesn’t need to be dictated by the political will of whatever government has the power of the day. Because the one thing we have to realize, and sometimes I think this government has—I think all governments have difficulty understanding this: You’re making law that will hopefully last longer than your government. So the next—


Mr. John Vanthof: I’m getting heckled, but I will predict that you’re not going to make the 40-year dynasty that the Conservatives did. I’m willing to predict. I’m willing to predict that that’s not going to happen. And something else I’m willing to—I don’t think we should gamble in the Legislature, but I’m willing to put money on, that in the 40 years the Tories were here before, that you’ve rescinded more bills in six years than they did in 40. That would be a good research project, you know?


Mr. John Vanthof: I wouldn’t be too proud of that. But I’m getting way off-topic.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): I apologize to the member. It was riveting, but the time is up.

It’s now 6 o’clock and time for private members’ public business.

Third reading debate deemed adjourned.


Private Members’ Public Business

Growing Agritourism Act, 2024 / Loi de 2024 sur le développement de l’agrotourisme

Mr. Rae moved second reading of the following bill:

Bill 186, An Act to limit the liability in respect of agritourism / Projet de loi 186, Loi limitant la responsabilité à l’égard de l’agrotourisme.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): Pursuant to standing order 100, the member has 12 minutes for his presentation.

Mr. Matthew Rae: Good evening, everyone. I appreciate you all staying. I appreciate the member from Timiskaming–Cochrane for staying as well. I know I met with the University of Guelph earlier today as well and, because we are here this evening, I am not able to go downstairs, but hopefully there will be some time at the end of this to go. As a proud Guelph alum, I know it would be great to see friends again.

It’s an honour to rise today, Speaker, and to speak about some of the important work Ontarians are doing in my riding and across the province to connect urban and rural communities to promote our world-class agriculture industry through agri-tourism operations.

Speaker, Ontario is growing and, as our communities grow in size, our farms continue to play a key role in growing the food that we all rely on. Whether you live in a big city or a small town, or in the north, south, east or west, or anywhere in between in our beautiful province, we must all recognize that it is farmers and agricultural operations across this province that keep us fed each and every day. That is why it’s so important that we build bridges between urban and rural communities, particularly through first-hand on-farm experiences where Ontarians can both enjoy themselves and learn about agricultural production in this beautiful province.

Bill 186, the Growing Agritourism Act, would facilitate such experiences, allowing farm operators to mitigate risks while providing consistency across the sector, Speaker. It will also ensure that we’re removing barriers to investment in agri-tourism operations. As I mentioned, it will provide consistency across Ontario and ensure that our farm operators are able to offer these diverse experiences to many Ontarians.

That could include—just to name a few, but it is very diverse, Speaker. It could include pick-your-own. I know many people experience the lovely—we’re in the spring. I don’t know about anyone else in this place, Speaker, but it’s a wonderful time of year. It’s very green outside because of the rain we’ve had, beautiful sunshine as well. I encourage all my members to take a walk around this building when they have an opportunity to do so, ensuring that they enjoy this beautiful weather. But that beautiful weather also brings opportunities to visit some of our local farms, whether that’s for pick-your-own orchards in the fall, wine tours and tastings, or other educational and now even culinary and entertainment experiences as well.

Speaker, when I talk to farmers and farm operators in Perth–Wellington and other parts of the province, one thing is clear: Agri-tourism is a space ripe for growth. It’s both an opportunity to inform Ontarians and to generate economic growth and development for our rural communities in particular. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has noted in a survey that more than 40% of those surveyed members indicated that they already sell value-added products ranging from baked goods and wool to preserves, as well as providing on-farm experiences—already, Speaker. Providing these opportunities allows them to diversify their farm income and raise awareness of the farm and agricultural sector with our urban neighbours.

More importantly, as well, within that same survey, they found that 38% of their members who participated indicated that they would consider adding some portion of an agri-tourism activity to their operations. Speaker, this figure is indicative of a very real demand for this bill in the broader agriculture sector itself. As farm operators continue to look for growth opportunities, agri-tourism opportunities can help individual farms raise revenue and reinvest in delivering high-quality food for Ontarians, while also enhancing our rural-urban relationship.

Speaker, I have received many, many support letters, as my colleagues will know, whether it’s from Farm Fresh Ontario—and I want to thank Kevin in particular and Darlene, the chair of the board, for their advice and guidance on this process in developing this bill and this legislation. Also, as I mentioned, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture has been a great supporter as well. And most importantly, to show the diversity of groups that are coming behind this bill, the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario has also recognized the important opportunities for economic growth that exist in our agri-tourism sector. I’m very thankful for their support on Bill 186 as well.

Speaker, as our province is one of the most heavily focused on agriculture production, it’s an interesting fact to note that agriculture in Ontario, especially in southern Ontario, is now, GDP-wise, larger than Alberta. Everyone thinks of the Great Plains as a big agricultural producer, which they are, of course, but the heavy amount of GDP per capita in economic growth is in Ontario. It just speaks to the strength of the sector and the importance of it, both for domestic and global markets and the competitiveness that they have on the world stage.

Obviously, when you are offering agri-tourism activities on-farm, there are liability exposures. This has been a challenge for TIAO, Farm Fresh Ontario and OFA members. It creates barriers to investment and, by extension, impedes the growth of the sector at large.

Through the Growing Agritourism Act, members of TIAO, OFA and Farm Fresh Ontario will benefit from a standardized set of practices to promote safe and responsible agri-tourism engagement, while at the same time improving investment opportunities in the sector.

The connection between feeding Ontario and rural economic growth cannot be more clear. Last year alone, as many in this place will know, 2,000 people came to Ontario per day, and regardless of where they choose to call home, it’s our rural communities that will ensure that we will maintain food supply and security in this province for generations to come.

Recognizing that, agri-tourism provides a crucial opportunity to connect urban and rural communities—those new Ontarians and Canadians that have come to our shores—to demonstrate how healthy and nutritious food gets from farm to table to fork to feed Ontarians, ensuring that whether you are from Toronto, Ottawa or Thunder Bay, the families in Stratford, Brockville and Grimsby are providing the healthy food that is on your plates.

I think of many agri-tourism operators in my own riding, whether it’s Stonetown Artisan Cheese in St. Marys; McIntosh Farms; Lynn River Farm, which offers an on-farm dining experience; whether it’s newer ones like Blue Sky Beef, outside of Arthur; the Middle Farm as well, which was started by one of my high school alums; as well, Applebottom Orchards, a brand new business in Perth–Wellington, agri-tourism, offering pick-your-own in the fall. Now, for those who may want to get a gift for Mother’s Day, they are selling asparagus online, Speaker. So if you need to get a gift for your mother, they offer that fresh farm produce for those individuals.

At its core, agri-tourism offers an opportunity to connect diverse communities, support rural economic development and tourism, and ensure that rural communities can make the most productive use of their land in the spirit of both economic and environmental stewardship.

As many will know, I’m very proud to have grown up on a family farm. I’m proud to represent rural communities here at Queen’s Park. In Perth–Wellington, we know how important agriculture is to our communities. At the same time, it is true for rural communities right across the province. It’s an important responsibility of mine to impress upon my more urban colleagues—whom I value very much, Speaker—the importance of farming and agriculture to Ontario’s food supply and economic viability.

I encourage everyone in this place to support the Growing Agritourism Act, and even further, obviously, a wide-open invitation, as I’ve mentioned many times to my urban colleagues, to come visit us in Perth–Wellington, or any other rural community—I know we have many rural members in caucus—to visit one of these agri-tourism operators, to experience first-hand the work that goes into preparing the food that may be in your corner store or grocery store in your riding, ensuring that they understand what it takes to grow that apple or grow that pumpkin that you get at Halloween in the fall time, ensuring that they see the benefits that this provides to our rural communities.

It’s just one component, Speaker. I know we speak often of the manufacturing investments, but it’s a whole-of-government approach, and this is just one approach to ensure that we continue to invest in our rural communities and allow our farm operators to have some of that, as I mentioned: to provide consistency, mitigate inherent risks with farming and ensure we remove barriers so that investment continues to flow to rural Ontario.


With that, Speaker, I thank you very much.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): Further debate?

Mr. John Vanthof: It’s always an honour to be able to stand—I just said that five minutes ago. It’s always an honour to be able to stand up in the House and talk, to represent, in this case, the official opposition regarding Bill 186, the private member’s bill put forward by the member for Perth–Wellington, I believe, regarding agri-tourism.

We are fully in support of this bill going forward. The agriculture industry is a big driver in Ontario, but there are a lot of people who don’t fully understand agriculture, and the agri-tourism sector is incredibly beneficial for helping that. One of the barriers they are facing is insurance, because there are inherent risks in agriculture and there are—let’s be frank—inherent risks sometimes in agri-tourism.

Although I have never operated an agri-tourism business, when we had the dairy farm we did an awful lot of school tours, Beavers, Scouts, Brownies; we did all kinds of tours, and it was great. You tour through the farm, you have a little campfire at the end and you roast a few marshmallows, and the kids learn a lot. In our little town, people talked about it a lot. It was a highlight for kids, and we thought it was great.

But there are risks. We learned of one of those risks. This actually wasn’t an organized tour of the farm, I’ve got to admit. It was a party, a teenage party on our farm. It wasn’t wild—you know, the campfire. One of the partygoers—my wife had a horse, a very, very friendly horse. The horse had his head over the fence, looking at them. The horse was involved in all our little tours, and that horse gave a lot of horse rides and stuff, so one of the participants in the party decided to kiss the horse. At that point, we all realized that he was very allergic to horses, and his face just went whoomph. It involved a trip to the hospital.

But that experience made us be much more, “Do we do this?” It made a decision on the teenage party thing really easy, but “Do we do school tours on a regular basis?” We had to think about it. And we didn’t do it for business; we just did it to—

Ms. Teresa J. Armstrong: Educate.

Mr. John Vanthof: To educate, to increase understanding of the way we made a living. We lived in a rural area, but even in that rural area most people had never really had access, had never seen cows being milked, had never petted a calf. All those things that we took for granted I think in many cases changed their lives, so it’s really important.

We look forward to this bill going to committee, to make sure that there are standards so they can get insurance, so that the risks for the liability—that there are reasonable grounds. We’re very much in favour.

On the flip side—and I think this will be part of the discussion; Farm Fresh and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture are very cognizant of this, too—this bill is not meant as a get-out-of-jail-free card for bad safety practices or bad business, right? I think we agree on this. I see the mover nodding, and I have no—that’s really important, too. This is a good bill. I’m happy to support. We’re happy to support.

And I’m hoping—I’m going to go on a little bit of a tangent here, but I was a municipal councillor for years. Municipal councillors would also like fairer rules for insurance, so they’re not liable for everybody else’s problems. I see some former councillors going—that’s a complete tangent, but I went there anyway.

But we can’t underestimate how important getting people exposed to agriculture is. I’m the agriculture critic, I’ve farmed my whole life, but because of this job, I’ve toured agriculture facilities and agri-tourism operations where I learned things that I didn’t know. I’m not one of these people who pretends to know everything, but I speak the language, I know the people, and I learned.

When we did the farm tours and we had the kids going through, just the looks on their faces, the looks on those kids’ faces. The older ones—we had a milking parlour, and now a lot of people milk with robots, but we had a milking parlour. It was eight cows, and you were kind of in a basement, kind of like here. When the kids were in grade 6 or 7, we let the kids put the milkers on the cows’ udders. It was pretty amazing.

I think we actually got a few really good employees that way, because they’d call up: “Hey, I was at your place. Are you looking for some part-time help?” They’d start by coming on the weekends and sweeping the aisles, and some of them worked for me, worked for us, for a long time.

But also, if you think, in agriculture we face the same challenge that many other industries face. We’re facing a labour shortage, and that’s one way to introduce people to agriculture. If you really think this through, it’s not going to get you a bigger labour force tomorrow, but it certainly will down the road. I know that from personal experience, from the kids who came through. We had the dairy farm for 35 years, and we must have done those tours for a good 20 of them. It was a great experience.

And we were lucky: We never ran into an insurance issue. But man, when that kid’s face ballooned—whoa, right? It came as a complete shock to everybody—including the horse, I think. I think the kiss came as a complete shock to the horse.

But anyway, I’m not going to belabour the point. We are fully in support of this bill. We hope that it goes to committee as quickly as possible, and we look forward to having it come and actually helping the agri-tourism businesses flourish, because it’s a good bill. Often, the government says that we never support their initiatives. That’s patently false. When the initiatives make sense, we’re very happy to support them. This one makes sense, and thank you for presenting it.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): I recognize the Associate Minister of Housing.

Hon. Rob Flack: It’s a great honour to speak to private member’s Bill 186, and I want to commend the member from Perth–Wellington and the parliamentary assistant to municipal affairs and housing for (a) the great job he’s doing in presenting this bill and (b) for the great work he does for agriculture—growing up on the farm, I know, a dairy kid as well—doing a great job, so thank you for presenting this.

You know, Speaker, I’ve said it before: Ontario is really the Garden of Eden in this country. When you think of the weather, climate, the Great Lakes, soil, people, innovation, universities, we are world-class. Nobody is any better than us in terms of agri-food; we are a powerhouse.

We even had the University of Guelph today. I know the member from Perth–Wellington brought it up—a reception right now. I met with President Yates. I might point out they are celebrating their 150th year this year as an educational institution. It’s the place where I went to university and graduated, and I’m very proud that they’re here. I will say that for every agri-food graduate out of that institution, there are five jobs waiting for those kids, so if anyone is concerned about what they should do in the future, your kids or grandkids, send them to Guelph to get a good agri-food education. They’ll have a great job and career waiting for them. We’ve talked about how $50 billion in this country is produced in the GDP. It is a great, great industry.


In my riding, there are 23 farm markets, gardens, equestrian centres, pick-your-own berries, pick-your-own fruit. Stay at a farm, whether it’s a bed and breakfast—unbelievable business. It’s part of our powerhouse in Ontario. Limiting liability is key for those people to succeed.

What I’m going to do, Speaker, as I conclude my quick little vignette of support in Bill 186, is talk about the best reason the country comes to the city in this province. It’s called the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. It has been around for 101 years now. It really does marry the country and the city, so you can come to Toronto once a year, the first week of November, to see the sights, the sounds and the smells of what makes Ontario great, of what makes Ontario the heartland. Even greater, it supports our farmers, supports their families, supports the future of agriculture.

This is a great bill, and I support it 100%.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): Further debate?

Mr. Ted Hsu: I’d like to start just by giving a shout-out to agri-tourism in my riding of Kingston and the Islands. I’ve been to the Wolfe Island corn maze and Waddell Apples with my family, and the Fruition Berry Farm. There have been things like the Taste of Wolfe Island food tours and many other events. In fact, different events are created all the time, and sometimes combined with arts and culture, but it’s all because we have that agricultural resource in Kingston and the Islands.

Agri-tourism is a great way to increase value-added production in Ontario. In 2022, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture conducted a survey of their membership, and 38%, or over 14,000 members, said that they would consider offering agri-tourism experiences. This province needs more value-added opportunities, and that’s what farmers are asking for. Investing in value-added processing facilities like selling cheese instead of just selling milk, or selling sauerkraut instead of just selling cabbage, can help farmers to transform their raw produce into higher-value products, catering to niche markets and increasing profitability. Value-added agri-food uses of land should be encouraged but without losing prime agricultural land.

This legislation does benefit agri-tourism by reducing business risk. If, say, a you-pick farm operation puts warning language near the entrance, on either a sign or a written contract, the farm cannot be held liable for harm that comes from picking the berries or apples or pumpkins, like bee stings. This would encourage more farmers to enter the agri-tourism industry.

But this bill does not hide the fact that this government has given little support to farmers recently. Take this year’s estimates, for instance: $3 million was cut from the agri-food processing fund compared to last year. Diversifying farm operations and starting new value-added enterprise costs money. The costs of labour, research and resources for these initiatives should not be underestimated. If this government were serious about helping farmers get access to more value-added opportunities, why would they cut millions in support? Why was agriculture like an afterthought in the 2024 budget?

Value-added opportunities are also more appealing for farms that have limitations, like a restricted land base. We all know that farms are having to get bigger to survive, but expansion can also be up the processing value chain.

You’d think that this government would be on board with helping farmers capitalize on value-added opportunities, but apparently this is not the case. Instead, this government is keen to pave over prime agricultural land. It started with the greenbelt. Now it’s prime Wilmot farmland.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the farmers whose land may be expropriated in Wilmot, farmers who have generational businesses but who received a sneaky, insulting buyout offer and threats of expropriation. Prime agricultural land is being sacrificed for some unspecified industrial plant.

But as far as this bill goes, Madam Speaker, it’s a very good start. But like much of what this government does, it doesn’t seriously meet the challenge. For example, it does not propose direct, tangible resources for those wanting to expand into the agri-tourism industry. We will support this bill, but this government must do more to prove that they care about farmers.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): Further debate?

Mr. Trevor Jones: I’d like to thank the member from Perth–Wellington for the opportunity to share a story. Founded in 1874, my beautiful community of Leamington is often referred to as the sun parlour of Ontario. With uniquely fertile soil to grow a multitude of fresh field and orchard crops, the area boasts long, warm summers and mild winters with an extended growing season tempered by our Great Lakes. With its strategic location and close proximity to major markets, it’s no wonder the area remains a leader in agri-business.

Over the years, many of our area’s family farms have diversified. Some began to propagate their own field crops in small greenhouses. Others experimented with new crops, flowers and year-round growing. One such multi-generational family, called Thiessen Orchards, was originally established in 1934. The Thiessen family was inspired after many successful years of farming to create a new experience of attracting its customers to the farm to share in a variety of family-friendly activities that included picking your own apples and pumpkins; market sales of fresh baked goods, fresh foods, preserves; on-site corn mazes; tractor, wagon and barrel rides; giant slides; putt-putt golf; a picture at a sunflower field; live entertainment; and of course a professionally staffed high-calibre haunted house throughout the Halloween season.

In late summer and early fall, customers travel from as far as Windsor and Metro Detroit, from well beyond London, to experience this wholesome outdoor fun and learning that is Thiessen Orchards. This story of how a small family farm, greenhouse flower operation and apple orchard became an annual must-attend event for locals and tourists alike during the fall harvest season is a lesson in family values, entrepreneurship, economics and innovation. It’s a story that can be told by many family farms across Ontario. It is one rooted in sustainability.

Farmers are subjected to market forces, weather events, price fluctuations, input costs, carbon taxes, labour pressures, insurance costs—most of which none of us would be able to bear. The success of the hard-working Thiessen family is a testament to the resilience and market intelligence that modern farming families must have to survive. This is precisely why Bill 186 is both relevant and critical to the catalogue of common-sense red-tape-reducing legislation that Ontario needs to maintain the strong economy and for family farms to thrive.

The economic diversification of a family farm business that can generate alternative revenue through value-added goods, entertainment and experiences fortifies the primary farm operation and insulates it from external market forces that might otherwise make it vulnerable in times of extreme weather events and external market pressures.

The additional income generated by these value-added products, services and experiences further stimulates investment, employment opportunities and generates real additional economic activity to create more opportunities for lodging, small businesses and broader regional tourism.

The story of Thiessen Orchards is one of resilience, sustainability and diversification. It’s precisely why all members in this House should strongly support this bill.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): Further debate?

Mme France Gélinas: I’m happy to give my support to this very good idea of a bill and boast a little bit about some of the farms in Nickel Belt that do tourism already. I’ll talk about Maple Hill Farm, which is in Hanmer. They focus on maple products of all kinds, and they have people coming from all over. You can walk through the farm. You can see how they gather the sap, how they make the syrup, the taffy, taffy on snow. They are very good.


We also have a Triple Star Acre Farm. This one is in Blezard Valley. They guarantee non-GMO-fed meat and poultry and, same thing, you get to see the animal, you get to see where they live, where they’re fed, where they’re taken care of.

Then we have Ruby Berry Farm, where people come from all over to pick strawberries. I’m willing to take visitors from all over to come and taste those strawberries because they are amazing. They may not be as big as the strawberries down south, but they have a whole lot more flavour.

Then we have Freskiw Farms in Garson in my riding. They have huge, huge greenhouses. I was there last week buying plants. It is just amazing. They have a couple of very sweet dogs when you come in and, again, they are open to anybody. There are very, very knowledgeable people who work there who can explain everything there is to know about plants for your garden, vegetables etc.

Then we have Josephine’s Vegetables, which is open in the summer only. Everybody is welcome to come. She has started a little mini-putt, so when you come to the farm, some of the kids, if they want to play mini-putt, but the rest can visit the farm and see how it works.

Then I’ve already told everybody about Poulin patates—the biggest potato producer in northern Ontario is in Azilda in my riding. And it’s the same thing: They have a big building when you come on to their property and they welcome anybody who wants to know as to how their potatoes are produced, how they are harvested, how they are packaged. They also do French fries that they sell—clean, put in bags and sell to all of the grocery stores. You can go and learn about all of this and they welcome—same as what my colleague was saying—a lot of kids from schools, and buses of tourists that come through can stop.

Beaulieu Farm—this one is in Chelmsford—also focuses on potatoes. There’s a lot of potatoes growers in Nickel Belt. All of them would be happy to participate and welcome more tourists to come and see what they do, and interest them in agriculture.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): Further debate?

Mr. Steve Clark: I’ve got three minutes, but I could probably take 300 minutes to talk about agri-tourism in my riding of Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.

First, I want to thank the member for Perth–Wellington for Bill 186, because, from a farm perspective, it provides exactly what my riding has asked for, and that’s the risk mitigation, the consistency and the opportunity to grow investment.

In my time, I’m going to talk about three businesses. The first, briefly, is a local farm-to-table food champion, Wendy Banks. She operates Wendy’s Country Market and Furnace Falls Farm in Lyndhurst, continuing a tradition of her parents, Neil and Gale Banks. Their farm was called Corn Acre Farms—still operates, over 60 years. Wendy has been celebrated for innovation, started a number of companies, including a mobile market that served restaurants for a period of time. If you’re in the Lyndhurst area this summer, it’s the events that take place at Wendy’s market that really set it apart—second to none.

The second business I’m going to talk about is a business that is very close to where I live in Brockville. It’s the little berry patch that grew and it grew and it grew some more. It’s one of the favourite farm landmarks in my riding, the Tincap Berry Farm. It’s operated by the Dentz family. It started as a pick-your-own berry, but obviously it grew. It’s got a signature red barn with white trim that you can see—very recognizable from Highway 29.

I want to do a shout-out not just to Iris and Robert, but their kids as well, Terri and Jesse. They’ve really done a great job. We reached out when PA Rae tabled this bill, and Iris sent me a nice note back and she said, “Just wanted to send a quick note to mention that we certainly support this bill and we would like to see it passed. Liability concerns are always top of mind and further protections would be invaluable to our small business.”

Speaker, I want to thank Robert and Iris. They started back in the mid-1980s, in 1986. They’re really a great success story. I look forward to coming and visiting them soon.

Finally, a farm that’s in the little community of Lombardy—it’s on Rideau Ferry Road, very close to PA Jordan’s riding and mine. They’ve been farmers over 125 years. They’re fourth-generation farmers. Obviously, it started as a pick-your-own berry, but also lots of fruits and vegetables. They gave me a long quote, so I think I’m going to end my speech this way:

“As active members of Farm Fresh Ontario (FFO); and generating the majority of our income from our roadside farm market and” our pick-your-own “strawberry operation, we have been following the journey towards this private member’s bill” and “echo the sentiments” of “Darlene Downey of FFO….

“In the present-day world where people seek to assign liability to others every time something goes wrong, this is a much-needed piece of legislation.

“If passed, it will give us and our colleagues, welcome peace of mind as we continue doing the work we love, while inviting the people of Ontario to experience it alongside us.”

Thank you, Shannon and Robert Miller from Miller’s Bay Farm.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): Further debate?

Mr. Sam Oosterhoff: I want to begin by just acknowledging the incredible leadership of the member for Perth–Wellington for his incredible contributions to the agri-tourism sector through this bill. I think of all the areas in my riding that are going to benefit.

I recently had a meeting with Tom Moyer. The Moyer family have been around for a very long time. Every time I go to their Remembrance Day services, I hear their names read out at the roll of remembrance. They have Cherry Avenue Farms. If you have ever had a chance to go down to Vineland and visit Cherry Avenue Farms, you would be joining hundreds of thousands of others who have done so. They have been around since 1799—225 years this year. They have been growing incredible products and ensuring that people come from across the province and across the country to see the incredible work that they do.

I think of Tigchelaar berries in Jordan. If you’ve had a chance to go and pick your own berries at Tigchelaar farms, I know you know the incredible way that they care for the land, that they care for the products they produce and that they care for their employees.

If you’ve had a chance to visit the DeVries Fruit Farm, you know the delicious peaches that grow in Niagara. I encourage all members in this House to come down to Niagara in a few months’ time to enjoy those peaches.

The reason I mention those particular individuals is because this legislation in some ways—I’ll be very candid—might come across as a bit of legalese, you know? You’re changing some insurance law. You’re changing a little bit here and there on some pieces around that. No. This is about impacting the lives of hard-working families who for decades, and in some cases centuries, have been pouring their heart and soul into producing incredible products and want to know that the government of Ontario has their back.

Through the leadership of the member for Perth–Wellington, in every corner of this province, families like the DeVrieses, families like the Tigchelaars, families like the Moyers are going to be able to wake up and know that the legislators here in this chamber have their backs and will ensure that they’re able to continue growing that product for another 225 years.

Come down to Niagara West and check it out because of this bill. Thank you very much, Speaker.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): The member for Perth–Wellington has two minutes to respond.

Mr. Matthew Rae: Thank you to the members from Timiskaming–Cochrane, Elgin–Middlesex–London, Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, Niagara West, Chatham-Kent–Leamington, Nickel Belt, and Kingston and the Islands for their remarks this evening.

Speaker, I want to mention that if this House—it sounds like there is support. Colleagues, I just want to point out: Please don’t say the member from Perth–Wellington doesn’t bring us together. I’d like to point that out. I am bringing all of us together—even the member from Kingston and the Islands this evening—to support this very important piece of legislation.

But I want to mention to those who are here and watching online, if it passes and this legislation goes to committee and continues on that process, Ontario and our government and this Legislative Assembly will be passing legislation—the first of its kind in Canada. We are leading the country in this, if we choose to pass this legislation to ensure that we support our agri-tourism sector, which is growing year over year.

In my own area of the world that I represent in this place, there are over 100 agri-food tourism operators, and more each year are coming on-line. So I know it is very vital that we support them, ensuring we remove barriers, mitigate some of the inherent risks associated with farming and provide consistency so that more Ontarians and new Canadians can enjoy the beautiful bounty that is rural Ontario.


The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): The time provided for private members’ public business has now expired.

Mr. Rae has moved second reading of Bill 186, An Act to limit the liability in respect of agritourism. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I deem the motion carried.

Second reading agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): Would the member share which committee he would like the bill referred to?

Mr. Matthew Rae: The Standing Committee on the Interior, please.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): Is everyone in the House in favour of the bill being referred to the Standing Committee on the Interior? Agreed. The bill will be referred the Standing Committee on the Interior.

All matters relating to private members’ public business having been completed, we now move on to a late show. Pursuant to standing order 36, the question that the House do now adjourn is deemed to have been made.

Adjournment Debate

Water quality / Land use planning

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): The member for Kingston and the Islands has given notice of dissatisfaction with the answer to a question given by the Minister of Health. The member has five minutes to debate the matter and the minister or parliamentary assistant may reply for up to five minutes.

I recognize the member for Kingston and the Islands.

Mr. Ted Hsu: The following question was asked this morning and not answered: Will the government promise to keep open the public health laboratories in Peterborough, Orillia, Hamilton, Kingston, Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins? Yes or no?

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): I recognize the parliamentary assistant to health.

Mr. Nolan Quinn: I’m surprised that the member from Kingston and the Islands isn’t satisfied with the response earlier, despite being crystal clear that well water testing continues to be provided free of charge through Public Health Ontario. Speaker, I feel like I’m having déjà vu. Two weeks ago, I was here answering the same question from the member from Beaches–East York, but I like the practice, so I’m going to enjoy it.

No one has any intentions of changing the well water testing, and our answer hasn’t changed in two weeks. Our government has been clear: Despite what the opposition member is inaccurately suggesting, Ontarians are not charged for biological testing through Public Health Ontario for well water testing. There is no one in the province of Ontario or in this Legislature who believes in putting well water testing at risk.

Earlier today, the Minister of Health said, “I have regularly and consistently reinforced the value and importance of well water testing in the province of Ontario. I grew up on a farm in rural Ontario. My riding is primarily served by well water. I absolutely understand the value and importance of having well water testing available through our public health units. We will continue to do that, as we have, for decades to come. More importantly, we will also invest in Public Health Ontario, something that the member opposite under their leadership, did not do.”

As I have stated in this House as well, I am on a well also, and most of my community is. I will take my water testing to my local health unit.

So I repeat: Public Health Ontario provides free testing of water samples collected from private drinking water systems, such as a well and other private drinking water systems, including water from cisterns and treated lake water. The member from Kingston and the Islands heard this response this morning that clearly answers his question and he wasn’t satisfied.

The minister also wrote a letter directly to the member from Kingston and the Islands. Let me read it to you, Speaker:

“Thank you for writing to me regarding the Auditor General’s recommendations about Ontario’s public health laboratories.

“As I have stated in the Legislature multiple times, we have not made any changes to the testing of private drinking water samples, and services continue to be performed at all of” Public Health Ontario’s “laboratory sites.”

The minister goes on to say, “There are thousands of Ontarians that get their well water tested, including in my own riding.

“To be clear, I am not considering any changes to” well “water testing.

“Should you have concerns about the Auditor General report I recommend you raise it directly with the Auditor General’s office.

“Thank you again for writing to me.”

Signed Minister Jones.

As has been stated very, very, very clearly, there are going to be no changes to the well water testing in Ontario, Speaker, so I have to ask: Does he want a different answer than we do not charge for well water testing? No government website says there’s a charge for it, no public health unit says you must pay, no Ministry of Health notice says you must pay—


Mr. Nolan Quinn: As the member from Kingston and the Islands is chirping, no government website states there will be any laboratories closed at this time, so I don’t know where he’s finding that information. If you have the information, please send it to me.

Yet, the member from Kingston and the Islands keeps fearmongering with statements that are inconsistent with what they know to be true. Why, you ask? Because their new leader, Bonnie Crombie, and the member for Kingston and the Islands—

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): I caution the member for the unparliamentary language.

Mr. Nolan Quinn: Pardon—know the people of Ontario are tired of the old Liberal ways, the Liberal way that starved the health care system for over a decade, that closed hospital beds, cut residency school spots and fired nurses, and now they’re resorting to fearmongering about publicly funded services. The people of Ontario are tired of the old Liberal ways.

It’s disappointing to hear the member from Kingston and the Islands resort to the tactics and methods of Bonnie Crombie and the Liberals. So if his constituents or someone watching from home are looking for well water testing, we recommend contacting your local public health unit. They test for the bacterial contaminants E. coli and total coliforms. This is important because well water can affect the health of everyone who consumes it. Groundwater is generally a clean, safe, sustainable source of water, but it’s important to test the water for bacteria.

At Public Health Ontario, they test for the indicators of bacterial contamination for free. Public Health Ontario looks for coliforms. These bacteria are often found in animal waste, sewage as well as soil and vegetation. If they’re in drinking water, surface water may be entering a well. Public Health Ontario also tests for E. coli. These bacteria are normally found in the digestive systems of people and animals.

Speaker, I know this experience first-hand as well water is what we drink at home. In fact, myself and my family have lived off it for a decade.

Under the leadership of Premier Ford and Minister Jones, our government will continue to ensure a strong—

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Donna Skelly): There being no further matters to debate, pursuant to standing order 36(c), I deem the motion to adjourn to be carried.

This House stands adjourned until 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.

The House adjourned at 1847.