By MPP Toby Barrett
Small town and rural communities are the backbone of Ontario and are key to our social and economic life.
Last week, my caucus colleagues and I held virtual meetings with hundreds of municipal officials over several days at this year’s Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference. We discussed key priorities for rural municipalities, including economic growth, public health, resource development, housing supply, and support from the province. During the conference, more than 285 meetings were held.
In tandem, Ontario has announced investment that will help accelerate new housing, support modern and efficient public infrastructure, and boost economic development . . . critical to building a strong economic recovery for rural and small-town Ontario.
For example, Ontario is launching a new intake of the Rural Economic Development (RED)program to help rural Ontario boost economic opportunities and create jobs.
As well, there is $28 million for 322 projects through the Municipal Modernization Program to help small and rural municipalities find better, more efficient ways to deliver local services for residents and businesses.
Municipalities will also receive funding through the Municipal Modernization Program. Municipalities can use the funding to conduct reviews of local services and administrative operations to find efficiencies, including accelerating the creation of new housing through streamlining development approvals and working with neighbouring municipalities to share services. In Norfolk County, this will support the implementation of risk management software modernization and a third-party modernization of the county’s records and information management.
On the infrastructure front, Ontario is providing an additional $1 billion over the next five years to help build and repair local roads, bridges, water and wastewater infrastructure in small, rural and northern communities. This investment is part of the government’s Building Ontario plan to get shovels in the ground on critical infrastructure projects that support economic recovery, growth and job creation.
The province also continues to work with rural municipalities to make it easier for hardworking Ontarians and their families to find a home that meets their needs and budget. On January 23, 2022, Premier Ford and Minister Clark hosted a roundtable with rural, remote and northern municipalities to discuss the unique housing opportunities and challenges that these communities face and what additional supports the province could provide.
The Ontario government is providing $375.6 million to help 107 municipalities across the province operate and improve local transit. The funding is being delivered through the Gas Tax Program and can be used to extend service hours, buy transit vehicles, add routes, improve accessibility or upgrade infrastructure.
In addition, the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Community Building Fund has provided $92 million in operating and capital grants to support 834 community organizations, municipalities, Indigenous communities and non-profit tourism, culture, sport and recreation organizations across the province.
One thing that has come through loud and clear during the pandemic is the need for rural high speed Internet. To this end, the province is providing nearly $4 billion to ensure reliable high-speed internet for every community across the province by the end of 2025.
The government will continue working with ROMA and our municipal partners to protect the progress made against COVID-19, and continue to lay the groundwork for strong, thriving communities in every corner of the province.
Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk