What’s really on rural Ontario’s mind
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.