Barrett visits district farm families

Toby Barrett, parliamentary assistant to Agriculture and Food minister Helen Johns, visited last Thursday with farm families in the west end of the district devastated by last month’s flooding.
“I’ve reported back to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing,” Barrett said yesterday.
“I think what certainly came through to me, and I know reports have gone in to the minister as well, is that very clearly there are a number of houses that are not habitable.
“I certainly saw what had happened with damage to buildings, equipment, and machinery,” he added. “I have a farm myself. I feel for them.”
Barrett talked to about a dozen farmers north of Stratton and Pinewood. While he couldn’t promise them anything, he will be making recommendations to the two ministries.
“I think what was impressed on me was that time is of essence,” Barrett said. “Obviously by mid-September, the cold weather will arrive so my recommendation has been to move quickly in particular with respect to houses that have had three feet of water.
“I recommended that as well, appraisers should have a farm and farm machinery background,” he added. “When tractor and electrical parts are submerged in water, some of those might not turn over again and those that do turn over will have ongoing problems.”
Ontario NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton is pleased with the progress the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program (ODRAP) is making, though reservedly optimistic.
“Property assessments have been speeded up. Some have happened in the last [couple of] weeks, which is a significant move,” Hampton said. “I’ve spent most of my time talking to the local office trying to get them to speed up to get some specific answers.
“The process has been speeded up but the inadequacies of ODRAP are being underlined, particularly when it comes to the plight of the Pinewood and Stratton farmers,” he noted.
Hampton said many farmers have received the $2,500 in interim emergency funding but it’s not enough.
“Unfortunately, as I expected, the outcome is a number of farmers are finding the financial assistance they received was so limited, in fact, that it underscores what a hardship situation they’re in,” he remarked.
“Some more work needs to be done on that.”
Farm families in the district recognize the provincial government is working on their behalf, but stress they’ve been waiting for answers for six weeks and are no further ahead than the day after the flooding in early June.
“I think [Barrett] did his best, to be honest, but what can he do?” asked Barb Miller. “My understanding of why he was coming was to find out for himself what the situation for the farmers was like and how best to lobby for us.
“He did say he would get a crop adjuster up here. That was one of the helpful things Mr. Barrett did,” Miller added. “I know even from last year, our adjuster did his research but he didn’t know what a bale of hay was worth so this would make his job easier.”
Miller understood Barrett couldn’t solve their problems overnight and generally was pleased with last week’s meeting.
“Maybe I’m not disappointed because I didn’t have any big expectations,” she said with a laugh.