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Premier Dalton McGuinty was met Thursday by a group of angry farmers demanding changes to controversial legislation governing drinking water.
If amendments arent made, members of the local chapter of the Tri-County Landowners Association say they will help plow under the Liberal government in the October 2007 election.
McGuinty didnt give farmers any guarantees there would be changes to the legislation.
The premier was at a private barbecue hosted by Jim Harrison, a Quinte West city councillor.
Invited guests, mainly partisan Liberals, dined on roast beef and freshly harvested corn and tomatoes.
But the real beef was waiting for McGuinty on a one-way stretch of black-top leading to the Harrison family farm.
Association spokesperson Peter Archer described Bill 43, the Clean Water Act as a draconian piece of legislation that will impose severe hardship of farmers across the province.
The legislation is expected receive third reading this fall.
They (the government) cant keep putting land restrictions on us without any compensation, said Archer.
With this act the government will have the right to forceable entry on our properties if they believe there is a problem…thats not a free and just society.
McGuintys motorcade rolled down Harrison Road just after 5 p.m., greeted by association members wearing white t-shirts bearing the slogan: Back off government…this is our land.
About 20 minutes prior to the arrival, Archer was briefed by the premiers security detail on a face-to-face meeting.
We were told if its a reasonable conservation, with no yelling and shouting, he (McGuinty) will talk to us.
McGuinty stepped out of a black SUV and met with Archer, surrounded by other members of the association.
During an exclusive interview with Osprey News Network, McGuinty said he was looking forward to meeting with association members.
During the brief exchange with the premier, Archer said the legislation would place a severe hardship on farmers. What good will it do? he asked.
McGuinty said the government is moving ahead with recommendations contained in the Walkerton Report, adding clean water is in the best interest of everyone.
Give me the evidence it will put a burden on you, said the premier.
Archer replied saying another hardship placed on farmers by the provincial government is a hardship.
I came hear to listen…were charged with upholding the public interest, replied McGuinty. We are doing what is reasonable and responsible.
A series of public forum will be held across the province. Members of the association are registered to speak. The premier said the government is willing to listen
We want to see some major changes, Archer told the premier. We need more than listening.
He said theres a growing discontent in rural Ontario.
If there arent major changes, said Archer, Northumberland MPP Lou Rinaldi wont get re-elected.
Rinaldi, parliamentary assistant to Agriculture minister Leona Dombrowsky, was at the meeting.
I never turned my back on farmers, countered Rinaldi.
McGuinty added the government has heard from all kinds of people on many issues.
Its our job to uphold the public interest, said McGuinty. You do what think is right, and well do what we think is right….even at election time.
The session ended with Archer saying, well see.
After the meeting Archer wasnt sure if the government will make changes, even after public consultations and protests.
If they dont they (the Liberals) dont have a chance in rural Ontario.
During an interview McGuinty said the pending legislation is a result of living up to the findings by Justice Dennis OConnor contained in the Walkerton Report.
We have a shared responsibility when it comes to protecting the quality of our water, said McGuinty.
Rinaldi said theres been some miscommunication on the part of the landowners association.
McGuinty said he hopes farmers take advantage of making representations at public hearings.
We make no claim to perfection…were always open to advice, said the premier.
If theres something we might do to improve the quality of the bill..then were open to that.
McGuinty refuted claims by the association it would cost municipalities about $250 million through levies paid to conservation authorities, responsible for administering the legislation.
McGuinty said it was the first time hes heard the number.
Farmers claim there are already enough controls put in place by the government following the Walkerton tragedy.
Its not as if were about to embark on something thats dramatically going to increase costs for taxpayers and farmers, but we do feel we share responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure water quality, said McGuinty. If any individual feels they have good advice to offer us well receive it in good spirit.