Agriculture parliamentary assistant and Beaches-East York MPP Arthur Potts, left, spoke at a lunch in Stratford Wednesday hosted by the campaign of Perth-Wellington Liberal MP Stephen McCotter.
By Dan Rankin
The MPP representing the Toronto provincial riding of Beaches-East York isn’t the most obvious choice for the parliamentary assistant on agriculture. But, as Liberal MPP Arthur Potts told a crowd in Stratford this week, Premier Kathleen Wynne selected him for that file as part of her vision to lessen a “big rural-urban divide.”
“When the premier made me [the parliamentary assistant] I was honoured because it’s a file that’s really important to her,” he said. “She wanted a rural member as the minister, Jeff Leal, and then an urban member as the parliamentary assistant. The idea being that farmers may feed cities, but cities enrich farmers.”
Potts was speaking at Montforte Restaurant in Stratford on Sept. 9 at a lunch hosted by the campaign of federal Perth-Wellington Liberal candidate Stephen McCotter.
“Over half of the jobs in agriculture take place in urban areas in processing and distribution,” he said, emphasizing the rural-urban mix in the industry itself, before adding: “I have a very specialized knowledge of a narrow segment on the agri-food value chain, in that I am a consumer.”
More than a consumer, Potts also has a background in waste management and diversion. Before being elected in the June 2014 election, he was president of BioWaste Treatment Technologies, which owned the Ontario rights to an Israeli-based anaerobic digestion technology that can divert as much as 75 percent of mixed municipal waste from landfills, while creating clean water, energy and compost. He also co-founded Woodwaste Solutions, a firm specializing in waste wood reuse and recycling.
Prior to attending the lunch, Potts said he went on a tour of a hog farm near Shakespeare.
“Part of my interest there is watching how the nutrient management aspect is handled,” he said. “Intensive farming waste, which some people see as an issue, I see as a potential for anaerobic digestion, waste management. BioGas can come from a digestion system, as well as clean fertilizers. A farmer sees it as nutrient to go onto the field, and not necessarily a waste product. That’s part of my thinking about waste issues; always look for opportunities.”
Asked about the latest on the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, Potts said “It’s kind of out of our hands.”
“We have people at OMAFRA who are advising the federal negotiators, but ultimately it’s a political call federally,” he said. “We’ll be prepared as a province either way. We’re committed to supply management and want it to continue with the products that are currently covered, but if there should be a change, we will find other risk management programs to protect and support our dairy industry, for instance.”
Potts also told the story of how he was able to win a riding that had voted NDP provincially in five election since 1999, and hadn’t voted Liberal in over 100 years.
“No one gave me a hope in hell of winning,” Potts said of his odds going against incumbent Michael Prue. “I beat a guy who was a politician in my neighbourhood for 26 years and never lost. He thought it was a walk in the park for him.”
In an election with about 43,000 votes cast, Potts topped Prue by less than 500 votes. He credits his win in the advance polls for his eventual election. “We were down to the last polls, and the second last poll was an advance poll,” he said. “In the advance poll 1,500 votes were cast, and I won them by over 450 votes. This demonstrates that we had a ground game to vote early. Not often – that’s illegal – but to vote early.”
Speaking on the 39th day of a 78-day election campaign, Potts stressed that voters interested in bringing change to Ottawa should do the same.