In the recently released 2016 edition of its “annual update” magazine OFA Today, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture states that “while much attention is focused on infrastructure investments such as transit throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), the rest of Ontario can’t be ignored.”
Through meetings with policy makers at the different levels of government and OFA members, the OFA came up with a list of six areas the Ontario government should focus on when investing in infrastructure outside of the GTHA: natural gas, climate change implications, broadband, dedicated funding, northern Ontario expansion and electricity.
First on their list is natural gas, with the group saying they believe it should be the “provincial and federal government’s first priority when it comes to investing in rural Ontario.”
“Expanding affordable, accessible natural gas to rural Ontario will dramatically boost business opportunities by significantly lowering energy costs,” they write. “In 2014, the OFA welcomes the provincial government’s announced investment in natural gas expansion with $200 million in loans and $30 million in grants over two years.” In 2016, they’d like those grant and loan programs to be as simple as possible, while also recommending that the federal and provincial governments “enhance these investments into a more robust program.”
“OFA has asked the provincial government to expand the total funding of these programs, particularly the grant component,” they write. “OFA will continue to push for natural gas infrastructure in rural Ontario and advise on implementation programs.”
Second on the list of investment is “climate change implications.”
“OFA is recommending the amendment of building codes as needed to adapt to the impact of climate variation and extreme weather events,” they write. “OFA is also asking government to establish funding dedicated to rural communities for infrastructure projects aimed at adapting to climate change.” This would include funding being allocated for farmers to assist with the costs associated with adapting farm buildings to meet climate change challenges.
Next is broadband internet connection. “Access to reliable high speed internet is important, no matter where you live,” writes the OFA. Their ask of the Ontario government is “to invest in expanding the province’s broadband network to rural Ontario, providing a minimum standard of 5 megabits per second (mbps). Rural residents, farms and businesses must have the same access as urban areas.”
Dedicated funding for rural infrastructure, including amending the provincial gas tax program, and encouraging the “huge agricultural potential” of northern Ontario are also listed as priorities.
Last on the list is electricity. “Ontario has one of the highest electricity rates in North America,” they write. “These expenses are driving up the cost of doing business, and making it harder for Ontario farmers and farm processors to compete on a national and international scale. Ontario is the only province in Canada that does not have a designated electricity rate for industry extended to farms. Reducing the high cost of energy and electricity is a top priority.”