Over the last week, Premier Doug Ford and several provincial ministers made statements dedicating funds and programming to help strengthen rural infrastructure, economies and communities
By Jackie Clark
Many individuals and farm organizations have been lobbying for the provincial government to invest in rural parts of the province to allow those communities and economies to prosper. Over the last week, officials have announced several initiatives and funding opportunities for Ontario’s rural communities.
On Friday, Premier Doug Ford and Laurie Scott, minister of infrastructure, were in Parry Sound to announce a “$200- million investment this year through the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) to help 424 small, rural and northern communities build and repair critical local infrastructure, including roads, bridges, water and wastewater infrastructure,” a Jan. 17 statement said.
This funding is distributed through the OCIF using a formula that takes into account the needs of the specific municipality, and is part of the Plan to Build Ontario Together, the statement said.
Ernie Hardeman, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, spoke about the province investing in rural municipalities at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) 2020 conference on Jan. 20.
“I know there have been times over the years when many have felt that rural Ontario was an afterthought at Queen's Park, and that rural concerns didn't carry the same weight as others. This is not the case under our government,” Hardeman said in his speech.
He also mentioned the government’s plan to introduce a “revitalized Rural Economic Development (RED) program, which is a particularly special program to me because I launched it when I was the Minister of Rural Affairs 17 years ago! And much like my waistline, the program has grown since then,” he added.
Ford confirmed this commitment in his speech at the same event.
“I'm proud to announce today, right here on this stage, that we're launching a new intake round for the Rural Economic Development program to support economic growth, attract more jobs, and create more opportunities in communities throughout rural Ontario,” he said.
He outlined the basics of the program, which was also announced in a statement the same day.
“Rural communities and regions, Indigenous communities and organizations, not-for-profit organizations, and local service boards can all apply for the RED program starting today through February 24, 2020,” the Jan. 20 statement said.
The province will cover up to half of the costs “for eligible projects that help remove barriers to job creation and attract investment and skilled workers that will help regions grow,” under the Economic Diversification and Competitiveness Stream, the statement said.
The program also has a Strategic Economic Infrastructure Stream which “enables the province to cover up to 30 per cent of eligible minor capital projects that help spur economic growth, such as restoring museums and heritage sites, setting up community hubs, and streetscaping,” the statement said.
The premier reaffirmed the government’s commitment to invest in infrastructure like roads, intercommunity bus services, and broadband in the remainder of his remarks. The details pertaining to Internet access were outlined in the Jan. 20 statement.
“The Ontario government is also working with our federal partners and the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project to provide a combined investment of nearly $35 million for a broadband pilot in rural communities across Ontario. SWIFT is taking the next step today by awarding contracts to successful bidders to help bring better broadband service to three counties in southwestern Ontario,” the statement said.
Finally, Steve Clark, minister of municipal affairs and housing, announced projects that would be funded throughout the Municipal Modernization Program at the ROMA conference and in a statement released on Jan 21.
“The application-based Municipal Modernization Program is open to Ontario's 405 small and rural municipalities to help them find better, more efficient ways to operate and serve their residents,” the statement said.
Broadband and roads and bridges were also listed as agri-food priorities in the province for the next decade by the OFA.
Farms.com has reached out to the OFA for comment.