Rural issues were a running theme during last week’s Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) 2018 annual conference.
Councillors Bill Roberts and Kevin Gale attended the conference, which took place May 31–June 3 in Halifax.
Roberts told the Gazette the conference featured workshops on several key rural issues including affordable housing and infrastructure.
“There was a good thread throughout the FCM dealing with rural municipalities,” said Roberts.
The FCM released a comprehensive report on the state of rural communities across the country titled Rural Challenges, National Opportunity: Shaping the Future of Rural Canada. The report details issues such as rural development, growth, and infrastructure.
The introduction to the report indicates improved high-speed Internet availability and affordable land mean people can work from anywhere and more and more they’re starting to look to rural communities. However, with limited financial resources — the document says municipalities are responsible for 60 per cent of the country’s public infrastructure while receiving eight to 10 cents of each tax dollar — rural governments face significant challenges.
The 2016 census data indicates 90 per cent of Canada’s municipalities are outside of metropolitan areas. While rural Canada is growing as a whole, it’s growing at a much slower rate than the Country’s overall growth rate at 5.5 per cent between 2001 and 2016 compared to 16.9 per cent. The report says it’s also clear that not all rural areas are growing as most of the growth is happening close to cities. Rural communities as a whole saw job growth of seven per cent between 2001 and 2016. Close to 23 per cent of Canadians worked in rural communities in 2016 and the report indicates rural communities generate 27 per cent of the national GDP. Still, the most significant challenge facing many rural areas is insufficient financial and human resources. About 60 per cent of municipalities across the country have five staff members or less and the report says that lack of capacity is one reason why successful urban programs don’t work in rural regions.
Rural communities are also facing demographic changes. The report says rural municipalities are attracting a growing number of retired Canadians while facing a decline in youth. Citing Statistics Canada data, the report says the population between the ages of 15 and 19 declined by 10 per cent between 2011 and 2016 in rural Canada.
The report also puts forward a number of recommendations to address those key issues. They include applying a “rural lens” to eligibility criteria for all federal infrastructure programs and designing rural infrastructure programs that provide long-term predictable funding.
The document also suggests committing long-term predictable funding to the expansion of broadband Internet access in rural, northern, and remote communities, and recommends that consideration be given to affordability when developing that infrastructure.
Additionally, the document comments on affordable housing, recommending that government should ensure there is accessible funding through the National Housing Strategy so rural communities can repair and retrofit existing social and affordable housing, and ensure new affordable and social housing can be constructed on a meaningful scale.
Aside from releasing the report, Roberts said the FCM conference spoke to other matters largely particular to rural communities, such as agriculture.
“FCM made the point, for example, in one workshop, that Canadian farmers support pretty close to 350,000 jobs across Canada, contribute $30 billion to Canada’s GDP and deliver close to $7 billion in tax revenues to all levels of government,” Roberts said. “There was a pretty healthy discussion about the role of agriculture.”
Partnerships with First Nations were also discussed, Roberts said, with FCM encouraging municipalities to participate in its new Building First Nations-Municipal Community Economic Development Initiative.
“It’s a very interesting toolkit for municipalities and indigenous communities that neighbour each other to create effective partnerships,” said Roberts. “They have a toolkit, they have a well-developed process, they have a number of case studies that municipalities can look at.”
Given Prince Edward County’s proximity to the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Roberts said it’s an interesting economic development opportunity the municipality may wish to explore.