Growing Strong Rural Communities - A Consultation Paper (Draft June 2004)
Strong rural communities are key to the health and vitality of Ontario. Ontario’s rural communities are diverse
and have different characteristics and unique needs. Rural communities include smaller centres adjacent to major cities, small towns and villages, First Nations communities and remote locations in the North. This diversity is the starting point for developing a plan for Ontario’s rural communities. The McGuinty government wants to better understand the priorities of rural communities to make the changes that are needed to ensure they enjoy improved prosperity, environmental well-being and a greater quality of life.
The McGuinty government wants to give rural residents and stakeholders a real voice in shaping a plan for growing strong rural communities. A plan for rural Ontario will articulate a shared vision of how we will work together to grow strong, safe, livable communities throughout the province.
WE NEED A PLAN FOR RURAL ONTARIO
Communities across Ontario face financial, economic, social and environmental challenges. Rural communities need a different approach than urban centres to address these challenges because they often cover broad geographic areas, and have smaller, more dispersed populations, smaller tax bases and a higher dependency on resource industries. Some rural areas are also without municipal structure making it even more difficult to address the challenges they face.
A plan for rural Ontario will provide a framework for the provincial
government to support the building of strong rural communities, reflecting
their diversity and uniqueness. It will build on the benefits of existing
policies, programs and services and provide a co-ordinated approach across
all provincial government ministries for developing new policies, programs
and services to address the future needs of rural Ontario. The rural plan
will also articulate strategic actions for the government and key stakeholders.
This plan for rural Ontario goes beyond past efforts that focused on
economic development. This is an opportunity to put forward a comprehensive
vision that takes into account the need for rural communities to have
sustainable fiscal capacity and infrastructure, strong economies, a healthy
social climate and a clean and healthy environment.This Rural Plan is
a key component of growing Ontario's strong communities.
We want you to help us shape a plan for rural Ontario. We need your advice to identify changes to improve the economic prosperity, environmental well-being and quality of life in your community. Your input will help us better understand the priorities of rural communities and key areas for action.
What’s working now? How could policies, programs or services be improved or enhanced? What new ideas do you have? We want to take advantage of what is already working and identify future directions and innovative approaches that can be pursued.
The provincial government is consulting on a number of initiatives over the upcoming months. Feedback from these consultations will help inform how the province will help grow strong communities.
In addition, the McGuinty government has announced a Northern Prosperity Plan to help northern communities attract and retain investment and jobs. This Plan involves a range of targeted initiatives to promote northern prosperity that responds to the challenges and opportunities of this region. The Rural Plan and the Northern Prosperity Plan complement one another in building strong and sustainable rural and northern communities.
A VISION FOR RURAL ONTARIO
To support this vision, the plan for rural Ontario will focus on four
themes. These four themes are inter-related and together contribute to
the development of strong rural communities. They are:
For each of the four themes, this consultation paper:
THEME: SUSTAINABLE MUNICIPAL FISCAL CAPACITY & INFRASTRUCTURE
Strong, healthy rural communities – built on a foundation of adequate and sustainable resources – offer residents a high quality of life. Municipalities with sufficient revenue are able to provide services and make necessary capital investments to meet the economic, social and environmental needs of their communities.
All municipalities face challenges in delivering the services needed by their communities. Rural
municipalities, however, face particular challenges in building the adequate capacity (fiscal, human resource, technical) to meet those needs and deliver services. As a result, they face difficult decisions on setting priorities and allocating scarce dollars to provide necessary services.
MUNICIPAL FISCAL CAPACITY
Since municipal operating budgets must always be balanced, a number of
factors shape municipal budget decisions on how to bridge gaps between
revenues and expenditures. These include:
For rural municipalities, there are additional considerations including:
Many rural municipalities have small tax bases with limited diversity, leaving them open to demographic shifts or market forces. Some rely too heavily on the residential tax class. Others have a high proportion of farm assessment, which is at 25 per cent of the residential tax rate. Others are particularly dependent on their industrial tax base, leaving them vulnerable when plants or industries close.
Rural municipalities tend to have low or declining assessment growth, which also affects municipal fiscal capacity. Insufficient development can result in less property tax revenue and higher local property tax rates. In the longer term, tax increases can cause a downward spiral in revenues since high tax rates may make municipalities less attractive to business and industry.
Different municipalities have different challenges with respect to fiscal capacity. Some municipalities reduce operating costs by forming partnerships, engaging in capital asset management and using new technologies (e.g. GIS technology). Others defer their capital expenditures, although this is not sustainable in the long term. Discussions related to access to revenues will form part of the government's broader dialogue with municipalities.
STRENGTHENING MUNICIPAL FISCAL CAPACITY
Here are some examples of how municipal fiscal capacity can be strengthened.
Can you suggest other approaches to reach the goals of sustainable fiscal,
human resource and technical capacity?
Much of Ontario’s physical infrastructure was built in the 1950s
and 1960s. Aging infrastructure requires increased maintenance and rehabilitation
investment for upgrading
Due to deferred maintenance over the past few decades, many hard infrastructure assets have declined significantly and now need replacement instead of repair.
Rural municipalities tend to have fewer professional staff and management tools dedicated to managing and planning for infrastructure activities. This affects their ability to access government funding and carry out good maintenance programs to help manage costs over the long term.
Clean drinking water and effective management of water and wastewater systems are essential to public health in all communities across Ontario. New government legislation and regulations regarding water quality create particular challenges for Ontario’s rural municipalities. Some find it financially challenging to implement water testing, water treatment upgrades or expand water and sewage systems in response to growth-related pressures.
Roads and bridges in rural Ontario are important regional links and directly influence economic development and growth. Some rural municipalities have increased vehicular weight restrictions or closed roads and bridges that they cannot afford to maintain. This creates economic problems as the flow of goods is restricted and raises public safety concerns as emergency service vehicles are obstructed.
Ontario’s rural areas offer a vast range of tourism, cultural and recreational experiences. Long-term tourism development can complement existing industries, boost local economies, create jobs and add to the quality of life in rural communities. But tourism and recreation also depend on infrastructure and many arenas, heritage buildings, theatres and community centres need repair or renewal. In addition, communities and small tourism operators find it financially difficult to comply with new water quality standards.
Addressing these infrastructure challenges can boost a rural community’s economic prosperity, help maintain public health and the safety of local residents, and offer them a higher quality of life. Some vehicles for assisting rural municipalities in addressing infrastructure challenges include the proposed Canada-Ontario Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund (COMRIF), the Ontario Strategic Infrastructure Financing Authority (OSIFA) and the Infrastructure Renewal Bonds.
ADDRESSING MUNICIPAL INFRASTRUCTURE CHALLENGES
The following approaches are part of existing government programs or
potential future directions that work toward the goal of adequate and
High-speed (or broadband) telecommunication infrastructure improves rural communities’ ability to access information and contributes to a higher quality of life for rural residents. This access is vital for ensuring that rural Ontario can prosper in the knowledge-based economy. Although the number of rural communities with low-speed Internet access has increased, there is a need to expand high-speed access to ensure that rural residents are on a level playing field in their ability to access information.
Market forces alone will not meet rural connectivity needs across the province. Rural communities often struggle to attract private sector investment for broadband infrastructure (both hard and wireless) because private investors do not see a business case for such investment. Small population bases and low population densities make it difficult to provide broadband at a reasonable cost. These impact on the range of services available to rural residents including health services such as telemedicine. As well, distance between regions and rough terrain present obstacles for putting hard infrastructure in place.
High-speed broadband connectivity (both hard and wireless) support business applications such as e-commerce, but also social services, entertainment and e-government. It enables people in rural communities to participate in a digital, diversified and innovative economy and strengthens the economic fabric of these areas by levelling the playing field for rural and urban communities.
Enhanced connectivity supports the attraction of new businesses and the retention of well-paying and highly skilled jobs in rural communities. Enhanced connectivity also contributes to a healthier social climate in rural areas. This includes improved access to medical and educational services and information.
EXPANDING TELECOMMUNICATION INFRASTRUCTURE
Expanding broadband infrastructure in rural communities can be accomplished
in a variety of ways. Some current and potential actions are outlined
below. Can you add to this list?
THEME: STRONG ECONOMIES
Strengthening and diversifying rural economies promotes local prosperity and supports a higher quality of life for residents through a range of employment opportunities including well-paying and highly skilled job opportunities. Among other benefits, sustainable and adaptable economies attract investment, new residents, and essential community and social services and amenities.
LOCAL ECONOMIES AND COMMUNITY CAPACITY
Strong economies attract and retain investment, bring in new residents and provide stable employment as well as cultural, tourism and recreational amenities.
The rural economy is an important contributor to the overall health of the Ontario economy. Employment in rural Ontario is generally concentrated in the manufacturing, government, social services and service sectors. Some rural communities rely on a single industry that is often resource based. Dominant resource-based industries include agriculture, forestry and mining.
A major crisis in a particular industry can severely impact a community
that is dependent on that sector. For example, trade sanctions imposed
by the U.S. and 30 other countries following confirmation of a single
case of BSE in Canada resulted in financial hardship for a number of industries
in rural Ontario. Feedlot owners suffered the initial impact and those
counties with the largest number of feedlot cattle were the hardest hit.
A ripple effect extended to other businesses in rural communities, including
livestock equipment companies, rural veterinarians, machinery dealers,
feed suppliers and other rural-based enterprises. Diversification helps
rural communities that rely heavily on one industry.
Communities can employ a number of economic development strategies to diversify and revitalize their economies, for example: business retention and expansion, export development and marketing the community to attract investment. Aboriginal communities can also take advantage of programs and services that form the provincial government’s Building Aboriginal Economies strategy (www.aboriginalbusiness.on.ca) to promote economic development in their communities.
Strengthening local economies may include community revitalization efforts. Community revitalization involves restoring downtown areas and waterfronts and redeveloping brownfields to make a community more attractive. Revitalization efforts may also include the maintenance and preservation of historical sites that help define a community and profile its cultural and heritage assets. Revitalized communities help retain and attract residents, businesses, investment and tourists. Many rural communities have aging downtowns and undeveloped waterfronts and brownfields.
Building prosperous and innovative local economies is most successful
when approached from the “bottom-up,” harnessing the unique
characteristics, strengths and potential of the local community. It is
important for a rural community to understand the requirements for success
in a global and knowledge-based economy and to have the community capacity
(e.g. leadership, skills, knowledge, resources) to engage in economic
development efforts. A partnership with neighbouring communities is one
approach to building capacity.
STRENGTHENING LOCAL ECONOMIES AND BUILDING COMMUNITY CAPACITY AND IN 2001
Listed below are some ideas for strengthening local economies and building
community capacity – some involve existing government programs and
others are possible future directions. How would these work in your community?
What other ideas could be tried?
Creating a self-assessment “tool-kit” for communities to provide
them with techniques and resources to assist them in successful economic
development efforts (e.g. objective assessments of community services
and assets to identify strengths and weaknesses, making a case for tourism
as an economic development strategy).
A skilled labour force is an essential component of a competitive and strong economy. The long-term supply of skilled labour is a concern in some rural areas where employers have difficulty filling vacancies in certain occupations or specializations. There is a need to increase the quality and quantity of skilled labour in Ontario, including tradespeople.
A number of factors contribute to the current need for skilled labour in rural communities, including the out-migration of young people and the challenge of attracting new immigrant workers and professionals (e.g. doctors) to rural areas.
There is also concern over the possibility of future skill shortages in rural communities. An aging population and a large number of anticipated retirements require rural employers to plan for possible future shortages.
It is often challenging for rural employers to offer training opportunities locally to help workers develop the skills needed to actively participate in an innovative and changing economy.
MAINTAINING AND DEVELOPING A SKILLED LABOUR FORCE
The following are some ideas for maintaining and developing a skilled
labour force. What is or would be their impact in your community? What
additional approaches can you suggest?
Identifying and addressing existing gaps in social, economic, cultural
and recreational services, networks and amenities offered in a community
(e.g. English as a Second Language and settlement services, education
and apprenticeship opportunities, and a broader range of recreational
and cultural services such as theatres and museums) to attract new immigrant
workers including agricultural seasonal workers, internationally-trained
individuals and skilled workers.
Small businesses make a significant contribution to job creation and economic growth in Ontario. In rural Ontario, the majority of businesses are locally owned and operated. Owners of small and medium-sized businesses face a number of challenges that limit the potential prosperity of their local economies. Rural Ontario businesses need the knowledge, skills and capacity to compete in a global and innovative economy.
One challenge that many businesses face is difficulty in accessing financing and information for start-up, expansion and innovative ventures.
Broadband telecommunication technology helps enable businesses to compete globally and opens up market opportunities nationally and internationally. Improving telecommunication capacity and skills of rural businesses and residents encourages telecommuting, promotes leading-edge business practices and extends access to information and services, which will help retain and attract businesses and workers.
Addressing barriers to business development can attract new investment and residents and build a stronger economic base.
SUPPORTING BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
What would you recommend to support business development in rural communities?
Some new directions and potential approaches are listed below. What other
suggestions can you offer?
ATTRACTING AND RETAINING YOUNG PEOPLE
Having a younger population in rural areas is important for growing stronger communities. According to Statistics Canada, people aged 15-24 are the most mobile demographic group. Their migration from rural to urban areas is not always balanced by new rural residents. The decline in the number of young people diminishes the local labour supply – this issue is of particular concern in Northern Ontario.
Many young people view rural areas to be lacking employment and educational opportunities, as well as the social, cultural and recreational facilities that attract a younger population.
ATTRACTING AND RETAINING YOUNG PEOPLE
Some opportunities for attracting and retaining young people in rural
communities are listed below. Do you have any other ideas?
Creating a community marketing strategy focused on a younger demographic
group – identifying community assets that appeal to a younger population
and highlighting gaps in existing educational, employment, cultural, social
and recreational opportunities.
THEME: A HEALTHY SOCIAL CLIMATE
A healthy social climate contributes to the quality of life in rural Ontario. Although access to health-care and educational services are key components, a healthy social climate also means that communities are safe and secure and residents have access to a range of recreational, cultural and heritage facilities and important social services. It also means that residents have a sense of belonging and pride in their community.
Strong rural communities will have:
Healthy residents and reliable access to health-care services are integral parts of a strong community. A strong community protects the health of its residents and promotes healthy lifestyles. Health-care services are sources of employment, and they contribute to the local economy while enhancing the attractiveness of the community to existing and potential residents, businesses and health-care professionals.
While most Ontarians have access to a family physician, there are some families in rural areas that do not. Communities with fewer than the required number of general or family physicians are considered "underserviced." In 2002, 136 communities in Ontario were considered underserviced. Most of these are in rural Ontario.
Residents without a physician or other health-care professionals may rely on emergency rooms for health-care services when many rural hospitals have decreased the delivery of emergency and specialized services. Rural Ontario's high proportion of seniors also places increased demands on physicians, hospitals (especially emergency departments), home care and long-term care facilities.
To provide health-care services needed by rural residents, a variety of innovative health-care delivery models have been developed. This includes telehealth and telemedicine services. The delivery of these services often depends on the availability of broadband in rural areas to provide residents with access to a range of quality health-care services. Other innovative approaches to addressing the shortage of health-care workers include medical schools that provide physician consulting expertise and support to rural hospitals and physicians, multi-disciplinary Family Health Teams and satellite health-care sites.
INCREASING ACCESS TO HEALTH-CARE SERVICES
Below are some ideas for increasing access to health-care services. Do
you see other ways of meeting rural health-care needs?
In addition to their educational programs, schools are integral to the fabric of rural communities; in some communities the school may be the only public institution. Schools help shape community identity and contribute to a high quality of life. A local school can attract young families to live, work and raise their children in that community.
Declining populations in many rural communities coupled with lower birth rates have put pressure on school boards to consolidate elementary schools and reduce courses offered in secondary schools. As a result of consolidated schools, some students must travel greater distances to school – public transportation is often not a viable alternative to student transportation. This heightens the importance of providing adequate funding for student transportation.
Post-secondary institutions also contribute to a high quality of life and to rural economic development. They offer local young people an opportunity to be educated near home while providing employers with educational services. They also open up innovative opportunities through research and development. For example, the Northern Ontario Medical School will have a strong research focus and will encourage young people to remain or relocate in Northern Ontario. It will also stimulate future economic opportunities in many northern communities.
MAINTAINING ACCESS TO QUALITY EDUCATION CLOSE TO HOME
Maintaining access to quality education requires a variety of approaches.
What other ideas might help rural communities such as yours reach this
Community well-being involves a community’s capacity to train and
sustain leaders and local champions, to develop non-profit and voluntary
organizations, and to encourage philanthropic donations. It also means
supporting community recreation, culture and heritage activities and facilities,
and fostering a sense of safety and security.
The rich culture and heritage of rural communities foster a sense of connection for those who live there. They also attract new residents and tourists, create economic development opportunities and provide for a healthier social climate.
Safety and security are also important to community well-being. All communities deal with safety issues. According to the Ontario Provincial Police, rural communities face unique challenges including theft of crops, timber, livestock, and expensive farm and recreational equipment. Some of the more prevalent offences affecting rural Ontario are break and enters and thefts, drug-grow operations and trespassing. Further, the increasing number of rural seniors and their affluence may make this demographic group more susceptible to becoming victims of crime.
STRENGTHENING COMMUNITY WELL-BEING AND SAFETY
What are your views on how to strengthen community well-being? How well
do existing programs and services work in your community? Are there other
approaches you could suggest?
THEME: A CLEAN AND HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT
Rural areas are home to many natural amenities: expansive forests, diverse
ecosystems and prime agricultural land, as well as meadows, moraines,
lakes, rivers, and groundwater sources. Protecting the natural environment
is important for long-term environmental sustainability, public health
and safety, and economic prosperity. Clean water, fresh air and attractive
landscapes contribute to the quality of life in rural communities. These
rich natural assets also provide jobs for rural residents through tourism,
recreation, agriculture and resource-based industries.
WATER QUALITY AND QUANTITY
An adequate supply of safe and clean drinking water is essential for strong, thriving and prosperous communities. This irreplaceable resource is threatened by population growth, scattered development, industrial and commercial uses and pollution. These activities negatively impact groundwater recharge areas. Protecting the quality and quantity of our water sources protects public safety and has long-term economic and environmental benefits.
Following up on recommendations from the O’Connor Report, the Ontario government has recently enacted new water legislation and standards. In addition, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) completed a consultation on their White Paper on Watershed-based Source Protection Planning in early 2004. Water protection will also be a component of the growth management and land-use planning review currently underway. Rural municipalities and other rural stakeholders face the added responsibility of dealing with organic nutrients. The Nutrient Management Act has established new standards for managing land-applied materials containing nutrients. Many of Ontario’s water sources are in rural areas, and rural communities bear much of the responsibility to protect both municipal and private water systems. Meeting the new water protection standards, however, is challenging for some rural municipalities and stakeholders.
PROTECTING WATER QUALITY AND QUANTITY
The following are a list of opportunities for protecting water quality
and quantity. Can you think of others?
Communities across Ontario face challenges in dealing with their waste, which is made more difficult as the province’s population continues to grow. Despite continued emphasis on the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) landfills are reaching capacity.
Changes in regulations regarding the management of untreated septage and biosolids are also under development. Dealing with these requirements may be difficult for many rural communities as sewage treatment facilities and capacity are limited, as is capital for new or upgraded infrastructure. Other pressures include increased costs to pump out septic and holding tanks due to higher transportation and disposal fees.
The following are some examples of possible future directions for managing
waste. Would these be effective solutions in your community? Can you think
of other ideas?
Climate change, smog and air quality are both rural and urban issues. The Kyoto Protocol, the escalating numbers of smog days, the use of coal-fired plants to generate electricity and the health effects of poor air quality have heightened the awareness and concern about air quality in Ontario.
This has resulted in new limits on air pollutants and reduced emission standards. The Ontario government has restated its promise to phase out coal-fired power plants and set targets for conservation and the use of renewable energy sources, such as ethanol, bio-diesel, and wind energy.
Fact sheets are available on how municipalities can encourage wind energy development in their area and explore the potential of such innovative economic development opportunities (www.mah.gov.on.ca). Alternative energy production decreases greenhouse gases and smog, and may open up new economic opportunities for rural communities.
Dealing with climate change could have a significant impact on rural communities, and agriculture in particular. Agricultural production is a major source of nitrous oxide and methane emissions but can also serve as a potential “sink” for absorbing carbon dioxide. Measures to curb these emissions will have economic consequences for the agriculture sector and rural economies. However, the agricultural sector is examining new technologies to use methane emissions as a source of energy.
IMPROVING AIR QUALITY
Consider ways that air quality could be improved in your community. The
following represent ongoing and potential opportunities.
NATURAL FEATURES AND LANDSCAPES
A healthy environment is important for all of Ontario. A healthy rural
environment means balancing economic opportunities (including tourism),
Urban sprawl puts pressure on resource industries and natural areas in rural communities (e.g. aggregates, agriculture and forestry). The ever-increasing demand to develop new residential, commercial, industrial and recreational land continues to threaten the balance between development needs, and resource protection and environmental stewardship. There are also activities related to resource extraction that occur in specific rural locations. These extraction activities are important to meet market demands and need to be balanced with competing land uses.
Rural-urban demographic changes have heightened concerns on land uses. To plan effectively for growth pressures and competing land uses, initiatives such as the proposed Greenbelt legislation and the proposed Golden Horseshoe Growth Management Plan are currently underway. Consultations on these initiatives are taking place in the spring and summer of 2004 and will help shape the proposed legislation and policies. The Provincial Policy Statement five-year review, which is also underway, will help to clarify provincial land use planning policies and protect matters of provincial interest such as water and other resources. These initiatives will have a significant impact on rural areas.
PROTECTING NATURAL FEATURES AND LANDSCAPES
The province would like to hear your suggestions for ways to protect
natural features and landscapes in addition to such current programs and
new directions for consideration as are listed below.
COMPLETING THE PICTURE
We need you to get involved. The ultimate success of the plan for rural Ontario will depend to a great degree on the quality and range of suggestions the province receives from rural residents and stakeholders.
This consultation paper is available online, as is the accompanying workbook. Respondents can detail their opinions and ideas through the website of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing at www.ruralplan.ontario.ca.
Submissions can also be sent by July 30, 2004, by mail or fax to the following address:
The Rural Plan
If you have questions or would like further information, please contact us toll-free at 1-888-588-4111 or (519) 837-6313, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our goal is to create a framework that will help Ontario’s rural
communities, and the people who live and work there, achieve new level
of prosperity and quality of life for years to come. Now is your chance
to help shape Ontario’s Rural Plan.
For more information: