OFA: Rural infrastructure investments pave way for prosperity

By Mark Reusser, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

OPINION – Pushing for sound public investments in rural Ontario is a priority for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). We know that investments in our rural communities will jump-start growth, farming, agri-businesses, and in turn stimulate the entire provincial economy. And it’s our job to remind government of these necessary investments – in roads and bridges, broadband, access to affordable energy, schools and healthcare.

OFA continues to advocate for strategic public investments in building rural Ontario’s infrastructure through our Producing Prosperity in Ontario campaign, securing distributed economic development throughout the province.

Our most recent opportunity came at the annual Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference earlier in January. OFA representatives, including board members and staff, attended the conference and met with Minister Hardeman and representatives from the provincial Ministry of Finance.

ROMA is made up of rural municipal governments and, similar to OFA, directs their activities to policy, research and advocacy. The organization focuses on matters that affect rural communities, bringing issues to the attention of provincial and federal governments.

Premier Ford attended the event, announcing a new intake round for the Rural Economic Development program to bring growth, jobs and local opportunities to rural Ontario. He also reminded conference attendees of Ontario’s commitment to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program – Rural and Northern Communities Funding Stream. OFA is encouraged by these, along with other recent government funding announcements directed at building rural Ontario infrastructure.

OFA is also encouraged by the recent federal and provincial government announcements that have committed infrastructure spending for broadband, natural gas and rural economic development. In 2019, the Ontario government announced extended support for broadband service in rural and northern Ontario. The Natural Gas Expansion Support Program continues to promise overdue support for access to lower cost energy. And the most recent announcements from the provincial government saw funding investments of $200 million to build and repair local roads, bridges, water and wastewater infrastructure in small, rural and northern communities, and proposed changes to the Drainage Act to reduce costs and paperwork.

These announcements align with OFA’s ongoing advocacy efforts and messaging to government. Every announcement and commitment to invest in our rural communities is an opportunity for OFA to engage with government to ensure programs properly consider farms, farm families and rural residents and push for long-term commitments. It’s our job to make sure these programs work for OFA members and rural communities.

The recent ROMA conference also provided a forum to demonstrate support for Bill 156, Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019 within agriculture and rural Ontario communities. OFA encourages all Ontario municipalities to join our farm community in speaking in support of Bill 156. Individuals can sign their letter of support through OFA’s Act Now campaign site.

OFA is heartened to see our advocacy for investment in agriculture and our rural communities is resonating with government and organizations like ROMA. We look forward to continuing the conversation about Producing Prosperity in Ontario.