The Ministry of Rural Affairs has released a Rural Roadmap that summarizes the Government’s priorities for rural Ontario in 2014-2015.

The document highlights a number of the policy priorities that both AMO and the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) have identified as ways to help strengthen Ontario’s rural communities.

Of note, AMO and ROMA welcome the Ministry’s commitment to formalize a rural lens process that would allow the government to better understand potential implications of new policies and programs and how they may affect rural communities before they are implemented. A Voice for Rural and Northern Ontario was developed by ROMA in 2011. This document identified key issues and provided a "lens" process to shape policy and programs by highlighting northern and rural circumstances.

The key issues identified include municipal fiscal health, infrastructure needs, access to broadband, fostering local food production and processing, supporting natural resource economies, and supporting people (aging, health care, education, immigration, and child care). It is gratifying to identify these same themes as the foundation for the Rural Roadmap.

The Rural Roadmap is based on consultations that the Ministry undertook with many stakeholders in rural Ontario, including AMO and ROMA. Priorities identified by the Ministry include investing in roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure; promoting growth, job creation, and regional economic development; attracting and integrating newcomers to rural communities; improving skills/trades training, youth retention, and employment; and improving access to rural health care.

We will be attending the Budget lock up on Thursday, May 1 and will be using this list to determine how the budget supports the Rural Roadmap and what it means for our rural membership. Beyond the issues identified in A Voice for Rural and Northern Ontario, AMO and ROMA were instrumental in shaping the thinking around the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) to include a new concept of rural.

Further, the Ministry responded to the input by producing rural and northern primers to illustrate how the PPS is intended to be interpreted differently in these parts of the province. ROMA, as part of the AMO Rural Caucus, working alongside other AMO caucuses support policy areas that are of concern to all municipalities – such as increasing human resource costs, particularly in emergency services; the need for a better framework for interest arbitration; a new approach to joint and several liability, among other matters that all municipal governments hold in common.