We’re asking all provincial election candidates to learn more about the long-term benefits of investing in our agri-food sector and our rural communities, as a way to boost economic growth and prosperity for all Ontarians.
Distributing economic development will boost economic growth, create new jobs, new affordable housing options, ensure food security and contribute to environmental stewardship.
- Barton Report
The agri-food sector – from farmers to our diverse food processing industry – is an economic powerhouse for the Ontario economy. To keep this sector profitable and productive, we need strong and vibrant communities, and the infrastructure to support them.
Distributing development investment across the province is the solution to the growing challenges that face rural and urban communities. Ontario can produce greater prosperity for the entire province by distributing economic activity to rural and urban areas.
In rural Ontario, farms, businesses and communities are struggling to stay competitive and sustainable, because:
In urban Ontario, our large urban centres are facing increasing pressures, including:
"Funding formulas tend to favour urban areas, the higher costs of delivering equivalent services in rural areas are not fully considered nor funded, and a variety of programs, such as public transit, support for universities and funding for major cultural facilities, are only provided in urban areas. The result is a policy system that too often inherently advantages urban areas, and that can contribute to slower economic growth in rural regions."
- Growth Beyond Cities: Place-Based Rural Development Policy in Ontario by David Freshwater
How can distributed economic development drive growth in rural Ontario?
Spreading investment across the province will meet the needs of the agri-food sector and rural communities, and provide solutions to the issues facing urban centres. It’s a win-win.
OFA has identified the key benefits of distributed economic development for all of Ontario
Ontario’s rural economies are much different than urban economies. Consideration must be given to the needs of different people in different places across the province.
New investments in Ontario’s rural communities will grow existing businesses, attract new companies and boost opportunities for regional economic development.
Ontario’s agri-food sector is a leading economic engine for the province.
Agriculture contributes $13.7 billion to Ontario’s annual GDP
Ontario’s farm sector generates $1.4 billion in provincial tax revenues
158,000 jobs are generated by the farm sector
$8.1 billion in wages and salaries are supported by Ontario farms
Rural Ontario needs affordable energy. Natural gas is the single most important investment that will give farms, businesses and rural residents the competitive edge to drive growth. If natural gas was available across the province, Ontario farmers, business owners and rural residents could save more than $1 billion in annual energy costs.
Rural Ontario needs roads, bridges and proper drainage to support the growth and transportation of our goods and services.
Reliable internet supports farms and rural communities. Without it, our businesses, residents and schools are at a disadvantage.
Rural schools are essential to attract and retain local employees by providing quality education and local community hubs for the next generation of Ontarians.
When we improve the prospects and infrastructure in rural Ontario, we open up new opportunities for working and living in smaller and mid-sized communities across the province.
Rural communities will provide new lifestyle and home ownership opportunities.
Click here for full survey results of OFA's Opinion Polling on Ontario's Agri-Food Sector
Investing in rural communities will strengthen Ontario’s agri-food sector. By supporting a strong domestic agri-food industry, and investing in infrastructure that promotes activity across the province, all Ontarians will have access to high quality, safe, local food.
Ontario farmers have a long history of practicing sustainable stewardship and protecting our ecosystems. Farmers conserve land and preserve soil, while growing the food we all need. Sound public policy to create economic opportunities must be paired with thoughtful land-use policy that protects our vital resources like water and soil for future generations.
Add your voice to the Producing Prosperity in Ontario campaign - send your partner request to firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about the growth potential for rural and northern Ontario from the Rural Ontario Foresight Papers - a collection of six academic papers that were commissioned by the Ontario Rural Institute as part of the Measuring Rural Community Vitality initiative.
Each paper explores a topic impacting our province, including an academic view of the current situation in rural and northern Ontario, and provides a look ahead at the direction stakeholders, government and non-profits can follow to foster vital rural development. These papers also offer an opportunity for rural stakeholders to understand the authors' perspectives and consider the implications for their organization's work or within their own communities. Each paper includes a corresponding northern commentary by the Northern Policy Institute.
Excerpts from the report Growth Beyond Cities: Place-Based Rural Development Policy in Ontario by David Freshwater that supports distributed economic development.
"Efficiency arguments recognize that because resource endowments vary across space, transport costs exist and can be significant, and preferences are heterogeneous, there is a clear spatial distribution of economic activities. Consequently, if some regions are not performing at a high level, investing in raising their performance can provide a higher rate of return to society than simply abandoning these places. Further, equity concerns recognize that different people and places can aspire to different futures, and a spatially blind approach may not suit these diverse aspirations. As a result, imposing undifferentiated policies may treat people equally but not equitably."
"A national or provincial government can supplement its broad general purpose forms of support with spatially targeted assistance that is designed to address the particular needs of specific types of regions."
"For example, in rural regions there is no school choice and access to school may entail a long bus ride to and from home. Similarly, while both urban and rural residents may have access to health care on equivalent financial terms, rural residents will have fewer options in terms of doctors and facilities and will have to travel long distances to an urban area for tertiary care services or access to specialists."
"As the OECD has observed, a small number of large-population urban regions, like the GTA, account for a disproportionate share of economic growth across the OECD, but an even larger share of growth comes from the very large number of small-population regions that account for the vast share of territory and the majority of the population (OECD, 2012). If economic growth can be enhanced in those smaller regions where it is currently weak, this not only leads to clear benefits for the residents of these regions, but also for the provinces and nations in which they are located."
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) researches economic development and, more specifically, the requirements and the potential of rural economic development.
The OECD has recently released a Policy Note – Rural 3.0: A Framework for Rural Development. The policy brief outlines the case for focusing on rural areas as engines of national prosperity and how policies should leverage this opportunity.
The OECD states that rural regions will play a central role in meeting the major global opportunities and challenges of the 21st century. This includes innovation in food production for a growing population, developing new energy sources that meet our climate challenge, and the provision of natural resources that will enable the next production revolution (i.e. digital transformation).
The OECD provides the following necessary consideration for rural economic development:
Rural regions are not synonymous with decline, but places of growth and opportunity.
The OECD Policy Note also identifies the following important elements of rural development:
Rural Areas are at an Unfair Disadvantage. Structural shifts in manufacturing and natural resource-based industries, combined with population loss and ageing, means some rural communities are being left behind. In an OECD study on well-being, while rural areas scored higher on more affordable housing and better environmental conditions, they ranked much lower than urban on broadband access, safety, health and education. With less access to services and infrastructure than their urban counterparts, while some rural areas are able to adapt, they are faced with substantial shortcomings.
Rural Areas are Places of Immense Opportunity. Rural regions make a significant contribution to national prosperity and well-being across OECD countries, with diversified economies, one-quarter of the population, and the vast majority of land, water and other natural resources. Rural areas provide valuable ecosystem services and new energy sources to mitigate and adapt to climate change. While rural regions are individually small in terms of their level of regional gross domestic product (GDP), mobilizing their growth potential can make a significant cumulative contribution to national GDP.
The Problem with Traditional Policy Solutions. A major shortcoming of traditional regional development policy is the foundational assumption that wealth from richer regions will be redistributed to poorer regions; a trickle-down effect. However, OECD states that place-based rural development policies will be critical to delivering on the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals that “no one is left behind”.
Why Agri-Food Holds the Solution. Trade in food and agriculture, along with mining and resources, forestry, and tourism have always driven the prosperity of rural people. While rural economies often have a strong primary industry base, the foundations of a robust and resilient agri-food sector can be leveraged to diversify, innovate and grow rural economies in an increasingly interconnected world. The outcomes will generate new products and services, contributing to rural prosperity and well-being, while meeting the demand for innovative, safe, high-quality products Ontarians are well-known for delivering on a global scale.
Policy Needs to Increase Rural Competitiveness for Sustainable Outcomes. Focusing on rural competitiveness and productivity will increase the contribution of rural regions to national performance. In turn, this enhanced economic contribution will improve the social and environmental well-being of rural areas and enhance national economic performance.
Policy Needs to Focus on Long-Term Growth, Not Short-Term Sectoral Support. The rural economy has fundamentally different growth opportunities and constraints than urban areas, and thus requires a new set of policy prescriptions. Instead of providing short-term, reactionary sectoral support, governments must focus on infrastructure, human capital, and innovation to enable sustained long-term growth.