It's great to be back at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association
and Ontario Good Roads Association combined conference. I want
to thank Ron Eddy, Chair, ROMA and Tom Bateman, President, OGRA,
and all the staff and volunteers who have worked so hard to
make this conference a reality. This is an event I look forward
to each and every year.
Having spent 18 years as a municipal councillor in Peterborough,
I appreciate and understand the types of challenges you face.
Your dedication to serving your constituents is second to none.
I commend you for the work you do. You are driving change and
helping make rural Ontario, and our province, stronger.
ROMA-OGRA encourages collaboration and productive conversations
between municipal leaders and government officials. These conversations
help us develop sound policies that work for rural communities.
Over the past few days, I've met with a number of delegations
from across the province on a wide range of topics. It is clear
to me that there are many common challenges we face, but there
are also many opportunities. Across rural Ontario, municipal
leaders like yourselves are empowering and enabling positive
change for your communities Events like ROMA-OGRA are an excellent
opportunity to learn and share these experiences.
In my role as Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs,
I have the great privilege of meeting and speaking with people
across the province. I often hear firsthand about the important
contributions rural Ontario makes to our province. In total,
rural Ontario supports 1.2 million jobs and contributes approximately
$106 billion to the provincial economy.
The idea that Ontario can succeed with a few large, economically
successful cities is not the case. Simply put, we are most successful
as a province when both rural Ontario and urban Ontario are
strong. The contributions of our rural communities benefit all
Ontarians: those who live in towns and villages, and those who
live in large cities.
It's why my Ministry provides a broad range of economic development
resources that support rural municipalities. Tools like our
updated Business Retention and Expansion Program, our Community
Economic Development workshops, and our Downtown Revitalization
program help communities evaluate and develop plans for future
I know staff from my Ministry hosted a 'Partnering for Economic
Development Success session' yesterday and spoke with you about
some of those tools. We talk lot about dollars and cents, but
it is important to recognize that rural Ontario is not just
an economic indicator. Rural communities have a unique set of
traditions and values, and a distinct culture all their own.
I'm proud to call Peterborough my home, and proud to represent
rural communities right across this great province.
I personally believe that responsible rural leadership means
ensuring the next generation can seek their destiny in rural
Ontario. Finding a good job or getting access to high quality
health care and education shouldn't mean having to move to an
urban area. While the needs of urban and rural Ontarians are
often the same, I'm sure many of you in this room are aware
that the way these needs are met can be very different.
Rural Ontario covers a vast area, has lower population densities,
and is sometimes farther away from commercial markets. As a
result, what may work in urban cities doesn't necessarily work
the same in a rural community.
Take transportation, for example.
In Toronto, the needs may call for more public transit options.
But in rural Ontario, those dollars are needed for reliable
roads and bridges. Both urban and rural Ontario have the same
challenge: moving people and goods from place to place. But
the solution is different.
We also know that there are many innovative projects underway
in our rural communities that we, as government, can learn from
and build upon.
Let's take the example of health care.
Coordinating care and ensuring health providers work as a team
is a priority.
It's why we are moving forward with Community Health Links
an innovative model of care built on partnerships found in rural
communities. Community Health Links break down silos
ensuring doctors, specialists and long-term care providers work
collaboratively to assist patients with complex conditions.
It is an example of how we can learn from the close-knit partnerships
that exist in rural communities.
I want to speak directly to you about the concept of a "rural-urban
divide". While there is no doubt there are things that
set us apart, there many more things that unite us.
At the end of the day, we are all in this together success
for one part of Ontario can and should mean success for the
I want to work with you to ensure Rural Ontario has a seat
at the table.
We need to ensure your ideas, challenges and opportunities
are an essential part of the conversation as we build a province
that works for everyone. We can't talk about meeting rural Ontario's
needs without discussing agriculture.
Rural Ontario is home to our dynamic, innovative agriculture
sector. It's where some of the best food in the world is grown,
and it's where our province's potential for growth shows no
limit. Agriculture and the businesses that support it are important
economic drivers for many rural communities.
In my job as Minister, I'm focused on four key priorities for
Ontario's agriculture and agri-food sector:
First, in return for supplying Ontarians with a safe, reliable,
domestic supply of key food products, consumers will support
producers in achieving a fair return for their work and investment.
Second, that we work collaboratively to grow the sector's economic
contribution and meet the Premier's challenge of 120,000 new
jobs by 2020.
Third, that the issues of food safety, animal welfare, sustainability
and environmental protection are addressed in a manner that
meets the needs of both consumers and producers.
And fourth, that we continue to provide producers with Business
Risk Management programs that meet their needs and support continued
food production in Ontario.
You and I both know, agriculture is extremely important, but
it isn't our only issue of focus. In order to look comprehensively
at issues and opportunities for rural communities, my Ministry
hosted the first Rural Ontario Summit in March, 2014.
It was an excellent opportunity to learn from rural leaders
in fields including health care, education and economic development.
At the Summit, we identified 4 key priorities: