by Keith Currie
The Rural Ontario Institute (ROI) commissioned and recently released six Foresight Papers addressing a variety of issues related to rural development. This is an issue that the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is currently pursuing as Ontario heads towards an election in spring 2018. We need to ensure that investment in rural development and growth is part of the election platforms.
The introductory paper, in particular addresses broad public policy issues affecting rural economic development. Growth Beyond Cities: Place-Based Rural Development Policy in Ontario was written by Agricultural Economics Professor David Freshwater. The paper explores the need for spatially-based policies and provides suggestions for stakeholders, governments and nonprofits that will foster growth and development in Ontario’s rural communities.
Freshwater’s paper is not without controversy in terms of policy solutions. He notes that Ontario has become a highly urbanized province over the last 50 years. Despite the significant remaining rural population, provincial policies are mostly urban oriented. This is unfortunate because he also notes that policies designed to improve the economy of rural areas will have beneficial impacts at the provincial level.
Place-based policy is a key point in the paper, noting conditions in specific regions and communities across the province require different policies and investments so they can better contribute to the provincial economy. Freshwater notes the sheer size and diversity of rural Ontario means that for any policy to be effective, it has to deal with different types of rural circumstances in different ways.
Before any policies or changes are addressed, the paper suggests government must improve its understanding of the nature of rural Ontario by identifying how areas of rural Ontario differ from each other, and identifying their challenges and opportunities. Obviously, this will require a great degree of involvement at the local level in self-determining what will work best, given the assets and opportunities that exist. It will also require an honest inventory of and investment in the assets needed to facilitate growth.
The paper illustrates the complexity of the relationship between rural and urban Ontario, and the true potential of rural Ontario to help drive the province’s economy. The ideas put forward provide backing for OFA’s provincial election campaign goal of Producing Prosperity across Ontario. The paper reinforces the notion that distributing economic development across Ontario will benefit all of Ontario.
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