What’s re­ally on ru­ral On­tario’s mind

The Woolwich Observer - - VENTURE -

AS THE PRO­VIN­CIAL ELEC­TION draws nearer, can­di­dates will in­creas­ingly be on our doorsteps, mak­ing prom­ises about mat­ters they be­lieve are im­por­tant to us. But are they? Have they iden­ti­fied mat­ters that are re­ally ru­ral On­tario’s pri­or­i­ties, not their party’s pri­or­i­ties or poll­ster’s sug­gested hot but­tons?

As men­tioned here last week, the On­tario Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture has a roadmap for can­di­dates who want to cham­pion pub­lic in­vest­ment out­side of ur­ban ar­eas.

Some say ru­ral devel­op­ment is a huge is­sue with peo­ple who live out­side ur­ban cen­tres.

To help can­di­dates un­der­stand this is­sue, the fed­er­a­tion cre­ated a cam­paign called Pro­duc­ing Pros­per­ity in On­tario. It calls for “dis­trib­uted in­vest­ment across ru­ral On­tario” which it says will pro­vide im­me­di­ate and on­go­ing eco­nomic and so­cial ben­e­fits.

Now, the Ru­ral On­tario In­sti­tute is like­wise shed­ding light on what’s im­por­tant, with a huge list pri­or­i­ties.

This way, no one has to guess.

It’s also help­ing equip ru­ral On­tar­i­ans with ques­tions rel­e­vant to th­ese pri­or­i­ties, so they’re more pre­pared when can­di­dates knock on their doors.

The in­sti­tute, ded­i­cated to build­ing vi­sion, voice and lead­er­ship for strong and vi­brant ru­ral and north­ern On­tario com­mu­ni­ties, con­ducted its pri­or­i­ties sur­vey to help can­di­dates and their par­ties take the pulse of the coun­try­side.

More than 600 peo­ple re­sponded.

This week, the in­sti­tute posted the top 20 con­cerns – and ques­tions as­so­ci­ated with th­ese con­cerns – on its blog.

If you thought en­ergy costs were a top con­cern, you’re right.

But they’re not the main thing on ru­ral On­tar­i­ans minds, de­spite what some peo­ple would have you think.

Rather, ac­cess to qual­ity med­i­cal ser­vices nearby emerged as pri­or­ity one.

No won­der. As the in­sti­tute notes, ru­ral On­tar­i­ans typ­i­cally live some dis­tance from ur­ban fa­cil­i­ties and ser­vices.

So, it sug­gests vot­ers ask can­di­dates about their party’s plat­form with re­spect to the ac­ces­si­bil­ity of health care and qual­ity med­i­cal ser­vices, whether they think the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is sat­is­fac­tory, and how their party’s ap­proach to health care would im­prove the lives of ru­ral and north­ern On­tar­i­ans.

The re­main­der of the top is­sues that emerged from the sur­vey are ser­vices for an aging pop­u­la­tion, wa­ter qual­ity in lakes, streams, rivers, cost of en­ergy and long-term care fa­cil­i­ties.

Af­ter that came broad­band in­ter­net con­nec­tions, farm­land loss, food se­cu­rity and fi­nanc­ing lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal in­fra­struc­ture.

That last one is huge. As the in­sti­tute says, mu­nic­i­pal fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity for ru­ral and north­ern com­mu­ni­ties is part of the fo­cus of much ru­ral ad­vo­cacy. It wants cit­i­zens to ask can­di­dates how their party, if elected, would han­dle cost-shar­ing be­tween lev­els of gov­ern­ment.

Ask this: What trans­fers or in­vest­ment pro­grams do you be­lieve re­quire change or con­tin­ued sup­port in the com­ing years? And are tax­a­tion pow­ers ap­pro­pri­ately bal­anced?

This will be tricky for any ur­ban-cen­tric pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to han­dle.

Ru­ral On­tario may have more of a pres­ence in the new gov­ern­ment. But let’s be real. The power – just like the pop­u­la­tion – is not go­ing to shift sig­nif­i­cantly to ru­ral On­tario. Ap­peals to the prov­ince for cost-shar­ing will still be weighed po­lit­i­cally and prac­ti­cally.

So if a can­di­date’s plat­form is based on cost cut­ting and tax sav­ings, where will the money for im­por­tant mat­ters such as ru­ral health care and in­fra­struc­ture come from?

Back to the ru­ral in­sti­tute’s sur­vey. Other is­sues raised by re­spon­dents in­clude de­vel­op­ing lo­cal food sys­tems, land use plan­ning, sup­port for pri­mary in­dus­tries such as min­ing, farm­ing and forestry, ad­dic­tions and men­tal ill­ness, youth em­ploy­ment and un­der­em­ploy­ment, work­force skills short­age and school clo­sures.

Take your pick. In ex­change for your vote, can­di­dates owe you an­swers.

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