Thursday, September 17, 2015

OFA wants rural money, study says it’s needed

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is letting rural communities know they could apply for a share of $15 billion of Ontario investments in infrastructure outside of the Toronto area.

And on the same day, the University of Guelph issued a news release about a report by three of its professors who say rural Canadians have been neglected and “it’s time to reinvest in rural Canada.”

 “Without question, we’ve been ignoring rural Canada,” said Al Lauzon, a professor in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development (SEDRD), who helped write the “State of Rural Canada” report. SEDRD professors Wayne Caldwell and David Douglas are also authors.

The report was produced by the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF) and the Rural Policy Learning Commons, an international network funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

The study – issued during the Building Community Resilience conference in Summerside, P.E.I. – is intended for policy-makers seeking to better understand and work with rural regions and people. “We also hope it will help get rural on the federal election agenda,” said Lauzon, who is the president of CRRF.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s news release says “there are endless ways for how and where this $15 billion dollar investment should be divided to build up communities all across the province.

“OFA’s formal submission to the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure contains two key parts -- four guiding principles for any new infrastructure project, and OFA’s specific recommendations for how the dollars should be allocated outside the GTHA.

 “The four guiding principles are: minimize the loss of prime agricultural land, ensure rural Ontario businesses and farms have access to comparable services and infrastructure as their urban counterparts, use the proceeds from the sale of Hydro One to fund infrastructure in rural communities, and consider the needs of modern agricultural equipment with transportation infrastructure.

“We believe these important principles should be addressed with any new infrastructure funding program, ensuring agriculture does not pay the cost for community improvements.”

Rural Canada is vital to the nation’s economy, the university report says, citing food production, resource extraction, energy generation, clean water and air, and carbon sequestration.

But Canada has run down capital invested earlier in rural regions and has allowed community development to erode, the report says. Rural areas have also taken a back seat in policy development.
“Fundamentally, we have forgotten to invest in rural areas and small towns,” Lauzon said.

“We have work to do, at all levels, if we want a sustainable future for rural Canada in the 21st century.”
Challenges in rural Canada include an aging population, workforce shortages, and gaps in human and financial capital, says the report.

But rural Canada responds in innovative ways to low-cost global competition, and is addressing such issues as sustainability, food security, and balancing resource development and economic diversification.

Rural communities are re-imagining themselves to fit new aspirations and service needs, and they lead in reconciliation and wealth-sharing with aboriginal communities.

“There is a lot to learn from rural Canada,” Lauzon said. “People often forget how rural communities and regions contribute economically and culturally to Canada.