Agricultural and Rural Policy:
Table of Contents
1.0 Description and Scope of This Theme
1.1 The Approach
1.2 Theme Description
2.0 Context and Background for This Theme
2.1 Context and Background
2.2 Key Trends
2.3 Other Trends
2.5 Issues and Barriers
3.0 Research Areas and Priorities for this
3.1 The Approach
3.2 Description of Research
4.0 Critical Success Factors
5.0 Other Related Considerations and
5.1 Other Recommendations
1.0 Description and Scope of this Theme
1.1 The Approach
Rural Policy is integrated with agricultural policy. However, this should
NOT lead to agricultural dominance of the policy sector as agriculture
and food are seen as components of rural development. This theme is more
appropriately viewed as 'rural development' policy.
Rural Policy research would benefit from setting out three to four overarching,
strategic components as a guide for the next five years. This strategic
approach will encourage linkages with other themes areas such as Agriculture
Policy and the Bio-economy/Industrial Uses theme, as well as collaborative
efforts with researchers at other institutions.
1.2 Theme Description
The Rural Policy research theme focuses on the nature of the changes,
challenges and opportunities facing rural Ontario including the impact
of current policies and programs. The strategic priority components are;
climate change, regional development, rural infrastructure, transportation,
and rural labour markets.
- Climate Change
- Regional Development
- Rural Infrastructure and Transportation
- Rural Labour Markets
Foundational, base-line data generation is vitally important to OMAFRA.
Meta-analysis could also provide a critical base of information for policy
development. OMAFRA requires statistical evidence of impact to help influence
the policy development in other ministries. Assessments of the impact
of government policies, including those policies that affect local government
and business are critical for sound policy development.
2.0 Context and Background for this Theme
2.1 Context and Background
Thriving rural Ontario, agriculture, and food sectors
Rural Ontario is a significant contributor to Ontario's economy as well
as a provider of social and environmental resources to rural residents
and their urban neighbors. Traditionally, resource-based industries, agriculture,
forestry and mining, dominated the economy and shaped the lives of rural
residents. Today, a diversified economy has emerged. In addition to resource-based
industries, manufacturing and services are no the main sources of employment
in rural parts of the province.
Like the rest of the world, rural Ontario is experiencing significant
changes to the way it generates prosperity and the rural way of life.
Altogether, the traditional sectors and the new cross-sector dynamics
produce a complex picture of contemporary rural Ontario: one that challenges
policy makers and planners to understand and to sustain. For example,
the new dynamic between agriculture and rural development represents a
convergence within this complexity. 'Rural' is the dominant context in
which agriculture, along with other economic activities takes place.
Rapid changes in agriculture and the emergence of "new" agriculture;
bio-economy, food for health, and the local food movement are having a
significant impact on the sector as well as on rural communities. This
represents a major challenge for policy development that will require
a comprehensive, integrated (rural, agricultural and urban) and flexible
formation of policy priorities.
The rural regions of Ontario and the communities within them are diverse.
Given that there are many 'rurals' across Ontario, the policy response
requires recognition not only of the complexities described above but
the need for 'place-based' approaches. Differences in population density
and travel distances for work and services demand new adaptable policy
and program delivery approaches. This represents an opportunity in rural
development. This is especially the case in northern Ontario where resource
dependent communities and remote Aboriginal communities present special
challenges. Thus new rural development requires new and creative forms
of policy research.
For policy development purposes, three types of policy research will
Big Picture Research -This involves
the construction of ideas about 'rural' and its place in the world. Big
picture research predicts what is likely to happen with national, inter-regional
or global trends and how the rural world works in relation to these trends.
Impact Research -This type of research measures the
impact of existing rural policies or policy and programs that affect rural
areas. It also compares the delivery of policy and programs in other jurisdictions
for potential adaptation to Ontario conditions.
Emerging Issues Research - This research examines
new issues that are emerging in rural areas. The policy aspect of such
research focuses on how the state and/or civil society can respond.
2.2 Key Trends
Urbanization will continue. Rural-urban systems will remain a prominent
part of rural development and should be studied in ways that consider
rural assets to be as valuable as urban demands.
The influences of urban centres on rural regions are not clear.
Economic development will remain a provincial and national priority.
The impacts of provincial and federal policies on rural municipalities
are not fully known. Provincial policies such as the "Places
to Grow", "Greenbelt" and "Species at Risk"
legislation have affected the economic future of many small rural
municipalities both in terms of restricting growth and in increasing
the costs to the municipality and the environment when too much growth
is encouraged. The impact of these policies should be assessed prior
to and post implementation.
The environment will remain a challenge for policy makers at all
levels and the issues brought forward will be complex in nature. Of
related equal importance is the issue of climate change and the impact
that this condition will have on current rural regions and livelihoods
Energy production and consumption will remain a key factor in rural
development for the next decade. Rising petroleum prices represent
both a barrier and an opportunity to rural development. New, innovative
transportation models offer a significant area for rural policy research.
While the future role of small and medium size enterprises is uncertain,
they are likely to play an important role in sustaining economic growth.
There is increasing importance given to immigration attraction and
retention in rural areas, but it is not clear what policy tools or
approaches would best promote the objective.
For all the above assumptions the question of 'subsidiary' (what
is the lowest level of government to deal with the issue) has not
been fully examined in the 'rural' context. Issues of new governance
revolve around the question of scale, regionalization and place-based
program delivery in the Ontario context.
2.3 Other Trends
The current state of high commodity prices is impacting the agriculture
sector and the surrounding rural communities and continues to add
uncertainty to the development of short and long term policy approaches.
The aging infrastructure across Ontario and the increasing cost of
maintenance and replacement will continue to challenge governments
at all levels to allocate scarce resources in an equitable manner.
The US-Canada border traffic continues to decline with the related
impact on tourism opportunities for both urban and rural Ontario.
The Aboriginal population in both urban and rural areas is increasing.
The focus of national and provincial aboriginal affairs is one of
Many of the assets of rural Ontario are being re-valued as commodities
(e.g. ground water taking) and this will provide greater opportunities
to focus policy research on rural sectors and on place-based (community)
assets of the Province. Climate change research for example will force
researchers to design integrated projects involving university consortiums
working across jurisdictions and disciplines that open up new avenues
of research. Complex dynamic systems research may have much to offer in
this regard as it joins human systems with ecological dynamics. Such research
could well link rural policy with emergency management for example.
2.5 Issues and Barriers
Limited funds and capacity will severely limit the effectiveness of rural
policy research in Ontario. There are very few publicly accessible data
sources available to researchers in Ontario.
3.0 Research Areas and Priorities for this Theme
3.1 The Approach
The following broad research components will allow several sub-themes
and issues to be addressed and many synergies to occur over the long term.
Policy research supplies 'policy intelligence' on strategic topics to
support OMAFRA policy and programming as well as rural policy 'proofing'
among groups of Ontario ministries.
3.2 Description of Research Areas
This research component is of international, national and provincial
importance. It has clear implications for rural municipalities also.
There are a growing number of studies globally on rural community
responses to the effects of climate change, many of them in the agricultural
community domain (Arkleton Trust, 2008). The objectives are to explore
rural communities' particular challenges, identify best practices
in community response, and consider how best to replicate these in
Climate change contains mainly environmental issues as the immediate
focus of interest, but has implications for human impact and agency.
One could apply climate change scenarios to almost everything, including
sectors, and places. Many ecologists have argued that making sense
of climate change requires working at the regional scale, ideally
at the 'watershed' scale of analysis.
Climate change has significant implications for policy as it challenges
all the intents and practices of policy and programming. It demands
clarity on what is the public good. It requires science to be interpreted
in the human interest. It will require bold and imaginative leadership
at all levels if civil society actions as well as the traditional
policy instruments of regulation and incentives are to 'make a difference'
in public choice.
The component is divided into climate change mitigation (prevention) and
climate change adaptation (adjustment).
Climate Change Mitigation: Examples of research areas
Local governance models and municipal infrastructure may
limit capacity to mitigate the effects of climate change.
How can this be overcome?
what is the rural-urban impact differential?
Will rural be disadvantaged?
Energy conservation - what opportunities are there for rural?
Energy production - convergence to green energy. What can
be done at the enterprise/community/household level? Is this
part of economic diversification?
Grid access. What would rural policy look like if farms and
rural businesses were able to generate green energy?
Fossil fuel replacement - impacts on rural economies.
Climate Change Adaptation: Examples of research areas
Reduced availability of water
Fiscal and social capacity for adaptation in rural communities
and how this can be mitigated
Assess impact on rural industries
Impact on rural tourism
Impact of invasive species
Such research will require information on micro-climate change and will
invite new technologies to be developed in the future.
These examples of research questions illustrate the 'bundle' of topics
which could be researched under the climate change component. They are
mainly technocratic in this list and many more prevail on the human and
institutional impact side of the equation. Adapting to climate change
will affect all aspects of rural life.
In the Ontario context, the term 'regional development' has a number
of definitions and understandings. While various models exist worldwide
and numerous research studies have focused on the nature, drivers
and outcomes of regional approaches to economic development there
is currently no formalized approach in Ontario. In Canada, only in
the province of Quebec are regional jurisdictions actively engaged
as integrators for both rural and urban economic development as well
as environmental and social programming.
However, a number of initiatives and policies are focusing on rural
Ontario in its regional context. The growth of regionally-relevant
legislation e.g. Greenbelt is creating impacts across municipal boundaries
as are the Growth Plans. The Lake Simcoe Act also provides
- An example of regionally-focussed legislation that is place-based.
Federal investments through the Community Futures Development Corporations
and the Eastern Ontario Economic Development Fund have also promoted
regional economic development approaches.
Little is known about the impact of regional policies and program
approaches on rural economies in Ontario. Literature is available
on regional development initiatives in the UK, the EU, and the USA.
These studies mainly focus on mandates, governance models, financing
methods, planning strategies and outcomes. This body of research is
worthy of analysis to discern lessons learned and their applicability
to rural Ontario. Of critical importance are the development of baseline
measures and the creation of diagnostics to assess economic sustainability
in a variety of rural Ontario regions.
Need to understand diversity of rural economies in the context of
multiple "rurals" and capacities.
New governance models including collaborative public/private/volunteer
sector/NGO's - co-governance models are required to address the management
challenges and the complexities in a regional approach. This should
allow for a discussion of the appropriate level for decision-making.
Any examination of regional development models should also consider
both the economic and social aspects of rural development.
The regional development research area provides an opportunity to conduct
impact analysis and new policy direction analysis.
Rural/regional innovation and competitiveness - comparative
The economic, human and social aspects of regional development.
Evaluation of current policy and programs - accomplishment
of expected outcomes and impact on regional economies e.g.
New Policy Direction
The development of an analytical framework for regional
economies that considers all of the physical, human, fiscal,
social, natural and cultural capital.
Development of models for regional collaboration including
new governance models.
Assessment of the various regional models that have emerged
over the past fifty years to gain insight into mobility
patterns - 'how people move about to sustain livelihoods'.
Transportation Infrastructure: "what is the impact of public transportation
issues on a sustainable rural Ontario?" Some of the impetus for this
crucial topic derives from the recently published Senate report on Rural
Poverty, (2008) in which the lack of public transportation in rural areas
appears as a crucial contributor to the many traps that the poor (however
defined) find themselves in. Lack of public transportation in rural Canada
was referenced in the Senate report 11 times:
Environmental impacts of continued (conventional) automotive transport
Impact of increased energy costs;
Impact on labor supply to rural labour markets, especially manufacturing;
Impact on rural, small town and remote area 'quality of life';
Assessment of 'city bus extension into rural areas' models;
Assessment of independent local bus system models;
Municipal cooperation models;
Collaboration among sectors and agencies;
Differential impacts of where such models will work well; and
Impact of accessing normal life for the (working) poor.
Municipal Service Delivery:
The deterioration of roads and bridges in some rural and remote
areas has seriously hampered rural development and will continue
to do so unless vigorous funding programs are sustained.
Gas tax contributions to rural constituents and regional scales
of infrastructure support might make more financial sense in rural
and remote areas.
Infrastructure development is important for rural construction
businesses in the creation of jobs.
Water, waste water and solid waste management infrastructure development
is critical in building a secure and healthy system of municipal
services and creating an attractive climate for economic investment.
Adequate telecommunications infrastructure and broadband access
is vital to the new marketing and business management realities
for small businesses, 'upskilling' and education opportunities via
distance education programs, and attraction and retention of investors
and professionals to rural areas.
Expand research areas to include brownfields redevelopment and
local cultural and recreational infrastructure.
Rural Labour Force
The availability of a well-trained and educated labour force in rural
Ontario is a critical component of attracting and retaining businesses
and industries in rural Ontario. Ontario's lead ministry, Ministry of
Colleges, Training and Universities (MTCU), has not adopted a regional
approach to labour force development.
The following trends require further exploration regarding the impact
of a changing demographic profile on labour needs in rural Ontario:
An aging workforce and the out-migration of youth lead to labour
shortfalls. In the interest of innovation and competitiveness, firms
are moving in the direction of making capital investments which minimize
their labour needs.
Greater integration of Aboriginal people and youth into the labour
Potential of new immigrants to meet rural Ontario workforce needs.
The demographics of rural labour markets are changing with the emergence
of nontraditional agricultural entrepreneurs, the migration of urbanite
early retirees, and displaced employees from manufacturing downsizing.
These changes need to be considered so that available skills can be
Opportunities for advancement, as well as a mix of employment and
skill requirements, attract new workers. Considerable emphasis needs
to be placed on the need for upskilling and continuing education for
rural workforce to adapt to changing needs of employers.
In Ontario, MTCU is addressing the generic labour market issues if temporary
workers, entrepreneurship, small-business training, e-learning, upskilling
and youth attachment.
There are other labour force issues which have a particular interest
to rural labour force research including:
Effective methods of addressing cultural barriers to re-skilling
Implications for rural workers and their families of reduced/eliminated
Evaluation of current e-learning models to meet rural training needs.
Facilitating upskilling of rural displaced workers to new opportunities
Challenges and solutions for attracting professionals (medial, allied
health, engineering etc) to rural areas
Attraction and retention of working aged immigrants and their families
into rural labour markets from urban centres
Impact assessment of the rising transportation costs on workers in
local/regional labour markets.
4.0 Critical Success Factors
Policy and program development requires access to critical data.
The discussion recognized that access to basic foundational data sets
was a key starting point but there was also a requirement for evidence-based
The research evidence is useable by other ministries and provincial
policies and programs reflect this input.
Is there political support for a rural research agenda?
Are there sufficient resources applied to rural policy research?
There was considerable discussion here about the current limitations
of the rural research budget.
Will rural stakeholders and others utilize the research?
Will there be evidence of stronger, more viable rural communities?
The expected outcomes should be specific and measurable.
OMAFRA funded research should be amenable to economic evaluation
e.g. calculation of return on investment or information that improved
information policy decisions.
Ultimately, does the rural policy research raise the profile/understanding
of rural Ontario?
5.0 Other Related Considerations and Recommendations
5.1 Other Recommendations
Understanding the complexities of regional economies is an important
first step in creating strong rural policies and this research requires
The importance of sector-based research e.g. rural tourism, rural
manufacturing, forestry, agriculture etc. to place-based research.
The areas of community and downtown revitalization e.g. the study
of the role of small downtowns.
Toll Free: 1-888-466-2372 ext. 64554