Address by Bernadette Jordan Minister of Rural Economic Development to the Annual Conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities
May 31, 2019, Quebec City, Quebec
Good afternoon, everyone.
Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat people.
What an honour it is to be among such distinguished leaders from rural communities across Canada.
I want to start by thanking you for your service to the communities that you serve. Your communities, I would say are the backbone of our country. They represent our natural resources, our agriculture, and our spirit, among so much more.
As leaders of these communities, you know best your opportunities, challenges, and forward-looking priorities.
That’s why it’s such a pleasure for me to be here, to get to speak with you and listen to you.
Our government has made it a priority to work with Canadians, and help enable them to reach their true potential.
We recognize the important role that rural communities play in Canada.
Almost twenty percent of our population lives in rural, remote, Indigenous, coastal, and northern communities.
These communities contribute about thirty per cent of Canada’s economic output.
Over the last few months, my Parliamentary Secretary Marc Serré and I have travelled to rural communities in every province and territory across this country.
We’ve seen first-hand how communities are reinventing themselves to adapt to a changing world.
There is a real drive in rural Canada. No one is afraid to do the hard work to provide for their family.
Together, we are making real progress to enable the opportunities that exist for your communities, and with you we will build upon the success you’ve already created.
What I came to Ottawa to achieve
One reason I entered public life four years ago was to ensure that rural Canadians have a strong voice in Ottawa.
My riding is made up of rural communities along Nova Scotia’s south shore.
The people I represent fish for lobster, grow Christmas trees, and manufacture car tires. Quite the diverse economy, don’t you think?!
We are resilient, and we take charge when there are good opportunities available to us.
Rural communities like mine – and communities with challenges like mine – are found across the country.
Challenges like skills shortages and the pressures of global competition, and a lack of affordable housing.
Rural Canadians also face challenges with no one size fits all solution.
So when I was asked by the Prime Minister to be Canada’s first Minister for Rural Economic Development, I was deeply honoured.
Because these are the issues that matter to me, and these are the issues that matter to all of us in this room today.
Bottom line: your priorities are my priorities.
I am proud to bring the voice of Rural Canada to the Cabinet table, where decisions are made that impact us.
As per my mandate, I am working to develop a Rural Economic Development Strategy to respond to your priorities.
Allow me to share with you some of the major themes that have come out of my conversations with the people in your communities:
- Reliable and affordable high-speed internet is critical to removing barriers to growth and community well-being.
- Infrastructure is aging and needs repair or renewal.
- A lack of affordable housing is preventing growth in some regions, and making it hard to attract new workers.
- Rural communities are facing challenges attracting and retaining labour for the jobs they need to fill.
I’d like to speak about a few of these themes briefly.
Digital connectivity is the number-one concern
First, it’s clear that access to high-speed internet and mobile connectivity is at the top of everyone’s list.
It’s easy to take the internet for granted when you have it.
Canadians in big cities can start a business online and have the potential for immediate global reach.
Rural Canadians are just as driven, innovative, and ready to compete with the rest of the world.
But the smaller populations, remote locations, and challenging terrain of rural communities make it difficult to connect them to high-speed internet.
For this reason, only one in three rural households has access to high-speed internet service, compared to nine out of ten urban households.
Back home in Nova Scotia, the internet stops working at 7 p.m. because everyone in town is trying to access it at the same time, and the system jams!
In my community, physicians refuse to set up practice because they lack access to high-speed internet.
These connectivity issues have spill-over effects for social services, immigration, youth retention, and the ability to attract new investment.
In some rural communities, businesses can’t even install Interac machines.
Customers have no payment options other than cash or cheque.
Farmers with agri-businesses – some of the most technically-advanced businesses in Canada – still rely on phones and fax machines to run their operations.
Access to fast, reliable internet service allows rural businesses to adopt new technologies, which are increasingly important to the sectors that are at the heart of rural prosperity.
Connectivity creates all kinds of opportunities for rural Canadians to learn new skills, access essential services, and attract new talent and jobs to their communities.
Investing in rural Canada’s digital infrastructure
That is why our Government is making unprecedented investments in broadband and wireless infrastructure.
Through the Connect to Innovate Program, we are extending high-speed internet access to more than 380,000 households in 900 rural and remote communities.
That includes 190 Indigenous communities.
Canada’s telecommunications regulator, the CRTC, will be launching a $750-million fund to support infrastructure for fixed or mobile wireless projects.
Our government is also working with our provincial and territorial partners on Canada’s first National Connectivity Strategy which sets an ambitious new commitment to ensure that, over time, every single household and business in Canada has access to fast, reliable internet service.
It will also seek to improve access to mobile wireless services where Canadians live and work and along major highways and roads.
High-speed internet projects are also eligible for funding under our $2-billion fund to renew the infrastructure of rural and northern communities.
In addition, this year’s budget commits a further $1.7 billion in new investments to extend high-speed internet service to rural and northern communities.
The Canada Infrastructure Bank is now looking to invest up to $1 billion over the next ten years to extend high-speed internet service to Canadians living in rural and remote communities.
In the process, it aims to attract an additional $2 billion in private-sector investment.
With all of these investments; all Canadians will have access to: Reliable. High-Speed. Internet.
Attracting, developing and retaining talent
I’ve heard many of you talk about the importance of addressing the labour shortage that exists in your communities.
Improving broadband connectivity and renewing aging infrastructure will make it easier to attract business investment, newcomers, and help youth stay in – or return to – rural communities.
We have introduced pilot projects to encourage more new immigrants to settle in rural communities.
And we are supporting lifelong learning so when people change jobs, they have the skills and training they need to adapt.
In Budget 2019, we announced the $1.5-billion Canada Training Benefit program, which will give workers money to pay for training and provide income support to help them pay for living expenses while they are in schoolFootnote 1.
We are attracting more workers to the skilled trades by investing more than $23 million to support apprenticeship training and enhanced partnerships in the Red Seal trades.
Access to Affordable Housing
I have also heard about a shortage of affordable housing. Our government is doing its part to ensure that Canadians have access to affordable, high-quality housing.
Since 2016, the Government of Canada has invested close to $6.1 billion to give Canadians greater access to affordable housing.
These investments have helped almost a million people in need: families, seniors, women and children fleeing domestic violence, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, persons with mental health and addiction issues, veterans, and young adults.
Canada’s first-ever National Housing Strategy, which gives additional stable, long-term funds to the affordable housing sector, will protect the affordability of 385,000 existing units. It will repair 300,000 affordable homes, and build 100,000 new homes in communities of all sizes.
In all, these measures should reduce chronic homelessness by 50% and provide those most in need with a safe place to call home.
Investing in public infrastructure for economic growth
As you know, a focal point of our work as a government has been to renew our Country’s aging infrastructure.
Through our unprecedented $180 billion plan, we are doing just that and through that plan we are driving real economic growth.
This plan is benefitting rural Canada.
We are making our roads safer.
We are expanding our highways and building new bridges.
We are working together to prepare communities for the continued impact of Climate Change.
We are creating jobs.
Even our investments in the renewal of water and wastewater systems are helping communities grow.
With new investment in places like Selkirk, Manitoba we are helping enable the future development of almost 750 acres of land. That means, new homes, new business, and new opportunities to retain good workers.
This shows how federal investments in public infrastructure can create jobs and business opportunities for rural Canadians.
But there’s always more that we can do.
That’s why, as part of Budget 2019, we are giving a one-time boost of $2.2 billion to the federal Gas Tax Fund.
This top-up will allow your community to invest in your own priority infrastructure projects.
Project decisions will be up to you! The municipality!
That’s what our government means when we talk about working with communities as partners.
Working together to deliver better results for rural Canadians
We know that solutions that work in one rural community do not necessarily work in others.
Although there are commonalities, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that applies to every rural community.
Each community holds the keys to their own future.
I can assure you that this bottom-up approach to addressing the needs of rural communities will be well reflected in the Rural Economic Development Strategy.
We will ensure that Ottawa does better to adapt to the needs of rural Canadians, not the other way around.
Our government stands ready to continue working with you to ensure that all Canadians living in rural and remote communities can sustain their economy, improve social and community services, and access federal programs that meet their needs, when they need them.
That’s how together, we will ensure that rural Canada remains prosperous and vibrant for future generations, we will continue to create jobs and opportunities for all Canadians.
We’ve been to your communities to hear your ideas and solutions.
We’ve listened and we are developing a Rural Economic Development Strategy based on those ideas.
We plan to release it in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
Together, we will build an even brighter and more prosperous Rural Canada.
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