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Monday, March 30, 2020
Their View / Opinion

Broadband and bridges, all in the same breath

It’s never been hard to convince rural Ontarians of the value of investing in capital infrastructure. They understand the need for the likes of dependable roads, highways and bridges – they use them daily. If this infrastructure is ailing or broken, they’re sunk.

However, some urban politicians find the topic of rural infrastructure a real snoozer. They’re reluctant to support a capital investment that is unlikely to grab at least a few urban headlines … that is, until they drive to their cottages, or go camping, or follow a food route to a farmers’ market. Then, they get it.

Rural Ontario supports urban Ontario in dozens of ways, and infrastructure is vital for that support. True, it’s not all one way: the same roads, bridges and highways that let urban Ontario get in also help rural Ontario get out, to jobs and leisure for example most easily found in urban parts of the province, at least right now.

But a key here is that efficient and effective infrastructure also helps rural Ontario get food to its urban counterparts. Nothing makes the investment more worthwhile.   

Food production on modern farms increasingly requires technology. There are fewer farmers, fewer labourers and higher demands on the shrinking farm population. All the while, the urban population grows.

That’s why it’s great to see the province mentioning rural broadband in the same breath as transit, roads, schools and hospitals, and investing in it. Rural Ontario has long campaigned to have better broadband service. It knows that without it, farmers have a hand tied behind their backs, and new business – let alone new residents – will be reluctant to invest and set down roots in rural Ontario.

Likewise, it’s encouraging to see the province and Ottawa committed to working together to invest more than $140 billion in infrastructure through this new decade of ours. On Monday, Premier Doug Ford trumpeted that support and cooperation when he spoke to the annual meeting of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association.

“Every part of our province … should have the opportunity to share in our prosperity,” he said. “We need to ensure everyone, no matter where they live in Ontario, has access to a good job, the opportunity to start their own business, start a family, and the chance to build a better life for themselves and a better future for Ontario.”

And those opportunities require infrastructure.

The premier also announced a new intake round for a rural economic development program to support economic growth, attract more jobs, and create more opportunities in communities throughout rural Ontario. It’s another one of those initiatives that won’t make headlines itself, but the results of it will – through this fund, the province covers up to half of the cost for eligible projects that help remove barriers to job creation and attract investment and skilled workers that will allow regions to grow.

And finally, the fund also covers up to 30 per cent of the costs for eligible minor capital projects to spur economic growth. The premier specifically citied restoring museums and heritage sites, setting up community hubs and streetscaping as examples of projects that could be supported. Maybe open for business also means more open for culture than originally thought.

The premier credited Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ Minister Ernie Hardeman for his role in this initiative … a nod perhaps to the growing recognition of the intrinsic connection between agricultural and rural matters.

So hang in there, rural Ontario. If this all works out, there are better days ahead, at least when it comes to infrastructure.

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