Speaking Remarks - Minister of Rural Affairs

Rural Ontario Summit, Keynote Address

Date: March 3, 2014

Location: Best Western Inn, Cobourg

Words: 3,290

Good morning.

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone here today for taking time out of your busy schedules to attend the first-ever Rural Ontario Summit.

One word we will hear a lot today is: partnership.

Because we understand that progress goes hand in hand with the partnerships we build in communities across Ontario.

And I consider you, and the organizations you represent, important partners as we continue to work together to strengthen our rural communities and businesses.

I'd also like to thank the Rural Ontario Institute for making today's summit a reality.

One of my first meetings as Minister of Rural Affairs was with this organization.

And they brought forward insightful ideas on how to best engage and represent our rural communities. I'm thankful for their advice and their continued efforts to better serve rural Ontario.

One question often raised within government, and amongst our partners, is: "What is Rural Ontario?"

As many of you know, when it comes to funding programs and providing services, the approach has been to define "rural" as a population of 100,000 and less.

But, quite frankly, it's not that simple.

Rural Ontario is varied and diverse.

No single definition exists, particularly in relation to people's' perception of what it means to be "rural".

Many of the folks living in the countryside, in villages and hamlets, rely on the services that towns like Cobourg, Port Hope and my hometown of Peterborough provide.

This includes basic services like grocery stores and pharmacies, but also essential social service such as hospitals, doctors' offices and employment assistance.

But the biggest reason "rural" remains so hard to define is because its most significant quality, a sense of community, is difficult to measure.

A sense of community often embodies the resources, beliefs and common values we collectively share. And our rural communities are made up of close knit, collaborative partnerships.

Residents of Ontario, regardless of where they live, deserve equitable access to government programs and services. However, some small and rural communities face challenges related to health care delivery, skills training, infrastructure investment, and local economic development. All elements key to the vitality of any community.

At the same time, there are many examples of success in rural Ontario we can all learn from, and build upon through good public policy developed in partnership with our small and rural communities.

This summit is an important opportunity to discuss the social and economic infrastructure issues that will shape rural Ontario's future, including:

  • Promoting innovative business development initiatives and creating investment-ready communities;
  • Providing opportunities to enhance our rural workforce, including youth, immigrants, and rural residents;
  • Addressing the challenges rural communities sometimes face in promoting sustainable economic growth and job creation.
  • And the importance of rural health care to support strong rural communities.

Social Infrastructure

How we work together in our rural communities is fundamentally different when compared to larger metropolitan centres.

Let me give you an example.

All levels of government, and organizations across the province, face fiscal challenges.

And we all know there are important services we must maintain, and continue to improve, like healthcare.

Healthcare consumes over $48 billion, or about 42 per cent of Ontario's total program expenditures.

It's important to understand that in Ontario 1 per cent of complex patients' use 33 per cent of our health care dollars.  These complex patients represent 5 per cent of Ontario's population, but use about two-thirds of our health care budget dollars.

And 50 per cent of us, the healthiest 50 per cent of us, use only 1 per cent of health care dollars.  So rather than addressing our fiscal challenges the traditional way, by looking line by line – what we spend on hospitals, on medication, on long-term care, etc. – we need to shift our focus to better serve the patient's needs.

Often times, this incurred cost is due to the duplication in services patients receive, and the frequent usage of these services.

Receiving additional health care services doesn't necessarily improve patients' health outcomes.

This often results in increased care requirements and reduced access to doctors, specialists and other community support professionals.

In some cases, patients become frequent visitors to ERs because they don't know where else to go.

These unplanned ER visits are where our health care costs skyrocket.

And that's why our government is moving forward with Community Health Links.

This model of care breaks down silos – ensuring providers work collaboratively with patients. It's an innovative initiative fundamentally built on partnerships.

Say, for example, you're a senior citizen with early onset dementia or diabetes, receiving support from social services.

In all likelihood, you would have multiple providers responsible for your care.

But that's not all.

You would have to remember the guidance previously provided by those multiple providers, and participate in multiple check-ups.

On top of this, you must take your medication on a regular basis and adhere to specific dietary needs.

Meanwhile, the providers involved in this circle of care aren't communicating with each other to ensure the patient receives the best possible care.

And when things get really bad, the patient may have to visit an ER or a hospital, resulting in the most expensive care our health care system has to offer.

Our government has developed the Community Health Links model, whereby the patient receives an individualized care plan developed with input from a team of health care providers.

The Community Health Link model is an important initiative for multiple reasons:

First, it's an example of the government learning from what is already taking place in our rural communities.

In fact, this model of care was originally based on a partnership between the Change Foundation and Northumberland Hills Hospital, located right here in Cobourg.

And this model is now being implemented province-wide. So, when I say I want to hear about what you're currently doing in your community, you now know why. It's unique, homegrown ideas like this that can be a game changer for the entire system.

Secondly, Community Health Links would not be possible if our smaller communities did not have the close-knit partnerships that already exist.

When you need to care for a patient, and the patient has multiple providers, it helps to have kids enrolled in the same school.

My point is: we know each other better in our rural communities, and work well together.

Providing excellent care through modern healthcare infrastructure has benefits well beyond improving patient outcomes.

It contributes to a community's overall health. A community needs strong social infrastructure like hospitals, schools and social service providers to succeed and prosper.

Collectively, our communities' social infrastructure, especially our schools, serve as community hubs and are key sources of employment.

This social infrastructure contributes to communities' overall strength. And it also influences a community's ability to drive economic growth and be investment ready.

Economic Infrastructure

This brings me to the topic of economic infrastructure.

One of the greatest challenges we face in rural Ontario is to remain competitive in today's highly globalized economy.

Rural Ontario alone contributes $106 billion in GDP to the provincial economy, and is vital to our province's future success.

There have no doubt been challenges faced by many communities.

A company employing 10 full-time folks may be peanuts for a large city.

But this company is the bread and butter of rural Ontario. So when we have a medium to large sized company based in a rural town, the community itself is dependent on its success.

Many communities face challenges retaining these companies.

And in some cases, these companies are forced to close down their local operation.

What we do to prevent those job losses, and how we work together in partnership to recover from them, while attracting new companies, is key to our future success.

As government, we have an important role to play to ensure these local businesses succeed. This includes modernizing our tax system to make our economy more competitive and addressing hydro costs that affect businesses' bottom line.

That's why we extended the Capital Cost Allowance to 2015.

This will encourage Ontario manufacturers to invest in their operations.

It will also cut taxes to businesses by $265 million by 2016.

In addition, we extended the program that allows businesses to write off the cost of machinery and equipment, and cut the tax rate for new business investment in half.

The general corporate income tax rate was also cut, and is now lower than the combined federal/state tax rate in every U.S. state.

We've also reduced the corporate income tax rate for manufacturing and processing, mining, logging, farming, and fishing…

And eliminated the capital tax, a barrier to new investment.

As a result, Ontario businesses are saving more than $2.1 billion a year.

That's not all…

Since 2009, we've cut overall business taxes by $8.5 billion a year by lowering corporate tax rates, as well as eliminating the capital tax.

Even though it was a tough issue politically, introducing the HST was the right decision.

It will keep Ontario competitive, save Ontario businesses $4.6 billion a year in embedded taxes alone, and save $635 million in compliance costs.

Because of these measures, in 2011, Forbes magazine ranked Canada as the best country to invest in, specifically crediting Ontario's reformed tax structure as a key factor.

We know the provincial government must continue to be at the table to invest in new jobs.

That's why we created the Eastern and Southwestern Ontario Development Funds.

These funds allowed us to invest in companies like Answer Precision Tool in Kitchener, Protoplast in Cobourg, NutraBlend Foods in Cambridge and Flying Colours in Peterborough.

In total, we have committed over $100 million dollars in regional economic development through both these funds, leveraging a total investment of close to one billion dollars.

This is helping create and retain over 24,400 jobs in communities across Ontario.

Since its launch in October 2012, the South Western Ontario Economic Development Fund has committed over $36 million, leveraging over $340 million in business investment, and helping create over 1,800 new jobs, while retaining over 7,200 existing jobs.

Since its launch in 2008, the Eastern Ontario Development Fund has committed over $68 million, leveraging over $655 million in business investment, helping create over 2,900 new jobs and retain over 12,500 existing jobs.

We also need to ensure our hydro rates remain competitive.

My office recently met with local leaders to discuss this, and we will continue to look for ways to address these concerns.

There are several ways to address hydro costs…

For example, as of last year, through the Industrial Electricity Incentive, eligible companies now qualify for electricity rates that are among the lowest in North America in exchange for creating new jobs and attracting new investment to Ontario.

Ensuring our communities are well-positioned to protect manufacturing jobs, and attract new ones, is fundamental to rural Ontario's future economic success.

Benefiting from some of the lowest corporate taxes in Canada, our larger companies, including manufacturers, contribute a significant amount of support to local governments, as well as the provincial government.

Their success, in turn, directly benefits our ability to fund essential social services such as education and health care. In fact, 30 per cent of tax revenue across all levels of government comes from manufacturing.

But our work isn't done…

Your advanced knowledge of the manufacturing sector is imperative if we are to work together to develop successful rural-focused manufacturing strategies.

We also need to recognize that Ontario is an export economy. An example of this is Global Med in Trenton, a company that exports to 30 countries and employs 200 people.

We as a government must also create the right climate to ensure our businesses continue to thrive.

This includes engaging with potential trade partners and landing deals to sell our products and services – both within Canada and globally.

Local leaders, like yourselves, are already actively engaged in promoting your community abroad…

And that's why we want to hear from you to ensure we, as a government, continue to provide the support you need.

It is also why the Premier challenged our agri-food industry to create 100,000 new jobs by 2020, and launched the Local Food Fund to help achieve this ambitious goal.

We also need to ensure that rural Ontario's 79,000 small and medium sized businesses continue to grow and prosper.

Because we all know that entrepreneurs are the backbone of our rural economy.

And that's why we cut small business taxes from 5.5 to 4.5 percent.

We also know that investing in a knowledge-based economy will give Ontario a competitive advantage both today and tomorrow.

That's why we moved forward with implementing full-day kindergarten to provide our kids with the best possible start in life and better prepare them for the future.

It's also why we launched a Youth Jobs Strategy to create employment opportunities for approximately 30,000 youth, while promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.

And we will continue to invest in jobs skills and training programs to get people back to work.

Ten years ago we were working to get telecommunications up and running in rural Ontario.

Since then, technology and community needs have changed.

To grow local economies and be investment-ready, Internet connectivity remains a basic fundamental.

If we want entrepreneurs and companies to be successful in rural Ontario, we need to provide them with the appropriate tools. That's why Broadband is essential.

And, since 2007, we invested nearly $120 million in rural broadband infrastructure.

This means that ninety-five percent of residents in eastern Ontario, more than half-a-million residents and businesses in southern Ontario, and twenty-six First Nations communities in northern Ontario, collectively, now have access to high-speed broadband.

Thanks to the leadership provided by the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus, broadband is now readily available in their region.

This is another example of government working with its partners on the ground who know, first-hand, what their businesses need to thrive.

In my own area of Peterborough, I often highlight the challenge that communities along Highway 7 face between Peterborough and Ottawa face

Over the years, this area has been less traveled following the expansion of the 401 and 417, resulting in a loss of tourism and local traffic that previously sustained these small communities.

That's why prudent economic development planning should remain at the centre to promote a municipality's future success.

It's also essential for municipalities to adapt to today's changing economic conditions.

And that's where initiatives like the Rural Economic Development (RED) Program come into play.

Since 2003, Ontario has invested $167 million in 418 RED projects, generating more than $1.2 billion in local economic activity and creating more than 35,000 jobs.

RED community revitalization projects have leveraged $9.5 dollars for every $1 dollar invested, and have created or retained 261 jobs for every $1 million invested.

Since I became Minister of Rural Affairs, we re-launched the RED Program. I don't need to tell you that this program - the only kind in government - makes a meaningful difference for rural communities.

And there are two new RED projects I would like to announce today…

We are providing $100,000 in new funding to the Town of Port Hope to develop a strategic plan designed to:

  • Develop a business mentor training program that will enhance customer service;
  • Help local entrepreneurs develop and implement business plans and marketing strategies to grow their operations; and
  • Create tools to boost the local economy, including a guide to starting a business downtown.

Port Hope is good example of a municipality using my ministry's suite of tools, and the funding to back it up, to undertake prudent economic development planning…

Through the same program, we are also providing the Town of Cobourg with $125,000 in new funding to launch a community improvement initiative that will:

  • Develop a master plan, including a comprehensive survey of local heritage sites, to create a revitalized downtown core that reflects the town's identify;
  • Design a web-based, virtual tour to attract new residents and potential developers; and
  • Generate a plan to innovate and revitalize arts and culture destinations in the downtown core.

If successful, Cobourg's initiative could be used as a province-wide model.

It's another example of how working together and listening to local communities we create good public policy that will strengthen our economy province-wide.

My Ministry is also ready to work with any rural municipality seeking advice or assistance on how to attract new investment and create jobs.

We have advisors that are trained to assess economic development needs on a local and regional basis.

These advisors, in turn, work with a community every step of the way - through initial assessments to program recommendations and continued follow up.

Another service available to rural communities is Analyst, a web-based tool that provides access to current and accurate regional economic data, and makes it easy to use.

140 economic development organizations, to date, have accessed Analyst to support 190 different economic development initiatives across Ontario.

These services are available to help all rural communities across the province, and I encourage you to explore how they might be of help to your community.

Many of you here today are already familiar with these programs, and as part of today's deliberations, I encourage you to comment on how they are working for you, and what improvements could be made.

Conclusion

Rural Ontario, to me, quite frankly, embodies opportunity.

Seeing the folks gathered here today, I know that, collectively, we can pool our resources to strengthen rural communities for today and tomorrow.

Despite the challenges we face, Ontario is strongly positioned for progress.

Our province has gained 95,800 new jobs in 2013 alone. And I am here to talk up rural Ontario, not to sink to the depths of negativity and despair.

We are actively promoting Ontario's many strengths to attract jobs and investment, while continuing to leverage our competitive advantage in world-renowned research and development.

We are also focusing on the foundations of social infrastructure, providing better healthcare and enhancing learning opportunities for our kids.

And it is my sincere hope that you believe, as I do, that your work, creativity, innovation and love of this province will continue to impact what we do as a government.

I believe in working with my partners and standing by my commitments.

That's why when municipalities come to me and say they require sustainable, predictable and permanent infrastructure funding.

I have a one-word response: yes.

To be investment ready, communities require funding for critical infrastructure like roads and bridges.

And how we measure progress and identify challenges will be based on the best available evidence of what works.

That's why I'm pleased that two leaders in rural development are here with us today, Dr. David Freshwater and Dr. Robert Greenwood.

But Ontario can only be successful if its small and rural towns are successful.

And as Minister of Rural Affairs, it's good to know you have an advocate in government to give voice to rural Ontario's unique needs.

One area of focus for me, as Minister, has been rural proofing policy at the Cabinet table.

We are here today because you're on the front lines living and working in rural Ontario every day.

You understand the challenges we collectively face, and have overcome obstacles head on.

What I need from you today is to hear more about what you are doing.

We need to learn from your successes. And we also need to better understand your local strategies to better address the economic challenges you currently face.

I know that working together, we will be far more successful in creating a healthier and stronger rural Ontario.

Thank you.


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Author: OMAF and MRA staff
Creation Date: 24 April 2014
Last Reviewed: 24 April 2014