Illegal tobacco brings farmers ‘to their knees’

COURTLAND — Life after tobacco was on the minds of many a constituent out to see Progressive Conservative MPP Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk) at his New Year’s levee.

“Our area down here has really been kicked in the teeth,” Barrett said. “Our farm economy has taken a beating over the past three or four years.”

Barrett said the illegal sale of tobacco supplied by smugglers has brought Norfolk tobacco farmers “to their knees.”

“No one can compete with an illegal market like that, especially on such a high-prized item like tobacco,” Barrett said. “These guys aren’t paying any taxes and they’ve got close to half the market now.”

Yet Barrett says he has seen signs of optimism in people as the recent recession fades while ‘main-streeting’ in Courtland and Delhi.

Voters have told him they are mainly concerned about finding jobs and feel they are paying too much in taxes.

“More recently I hear from many people who are very anxious about the price of electricity,” Barrett said.

On Friday, PC leader Tim Hudak criticized Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government for hiking residential electricity rates 75% since it took power and claimed another 46% is yet to come.

Hudak says a Conservative government would offer Ontarians a choice between smart meters and a flat hydro rate.

Mark Bannister, once a successful tobacco farmer for 25 years, has embraced solar energy as a supplement to his income under Ontario Green Energy Act’s Micro FIT (feed-in tariff ) program.

It’s a program that allows him to sell the solar energy generated by cells set up on his farmland to the province over the next 20 years for “a guaranteed income.”

“It’s not a lot, but it helps,” he said.

“One of my concerns is what is the PC’s (Progressive Conservatives) view of renewable energy moving forward,” Bannister said. “I see renewable energy as being a good fit for the area.”

In his view, Bannister said there isn’t much worthwhile the Liberals have accomplished under McGuinty, but he applauded the Green Energy Act.

Should the PC party oust McGuinty’s Liberals from power, Bannister would like to see a cus on renewable energy initiatives because of the job growth they bring.

Bannister says it’s time the area take cleaning up its awful air quality reputation more seriously, a goal he believes would be aided by more green energy projects.

“When we look to our kids and grandkids down the road, I think it’s time we need to be a little more concerned about the environment and get it cleaned up so it’s a better world to live in,” Bannister said.


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