The government’s plan includes $680 million in broadband spending over four years
By Diego Flammini
Farmers and rural Ontario should be pleased with some of the measures outlined in the Ford government’s 2020 budget, the provincial minister of agriculture said.
“I think it’s a very good budget for rural Ontario and for our agriculture community,” Minister Ernie Hardeman told Farms.com.
Broadband was a major discussion topic in rural Ontario during budget consultations, the minister added.
The Ontario government is prepared to invest in broadband connectivity.
Finance Minister Rod Phillips’s budget, Ontario’s Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover, included $680 million in spending over the next four years in broadband infrastructure.
Combined with prior commitments, Ontario is investing $1 billion to ensure communities across the province are connected.
“It’s great news for getting broadband in all the houses and all the farms in the province going forward,” Hardeman said. “That’s a really good-news investment.”
The Ford government is also investing in ag innovation and safety.
The Agri-Food Prevention and Control Innovation Program will receive $25.5 million over three years to reduce disruptions related to COVID-19 while also supporting the sector’s capacity to provide high-quality food.
“This (funding) will help with productivity, technology and innovation in our sector and in the processing sector to bring it back to the same efficiency it had before COVID-19 hit and still be able to follow the protocol required to prevent COVID-19 from spreading,” Hardeman said. “The number 1 thing we all want is to keep everybody safe, and we think this program will help do that immensely.”
Industry organizations are pleased with the broadband and innovation funding.
“We’re singing from the rooftops about broadband,” Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, told Farms.com. “We’ve been pushing this for probably a decade. Connectivity is a requirement of our operations and provides job opportunities as well. We have services in our communities that service our businesses, so it’s good for rural and urban communities.”
In terms of the $25.5 million for ag innovation and COVID-19 prevention, this money will help farmers make proper adjustments, Currie said.
“COVID-19 knows no boundaries, so this funding is very much welcome,” Currie said. “Producers know there are going to be some additional costs and changes in the workplace in general, so these monies will go a long way to helping these changes along.”
In addition, the provincial government is supporting local agricultural and horticultural societies.
Ontario will invest $5 million in these societies to help them offset losses from having to cancel events because of the pandemic.
It may not seem like a big investment within the overall budget, but these organizations are important to the fabric of rural Ontario, Hardeman said.
“When you have so many issues to look after, small things can get missed,” he said. “These societies are great partners in our rural economy and part of our rural heritage.”
“I don’t think some people understand how important these societies are to rural Ontario,” Currie said. “They really highlight what community spirit is and what volunteerism is, so we were pleased to see the government take care of these important organizations.”