It is time to turn our attention to Ontario’s rural and northern communities.
Many communities outside of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) have seen rapid changes over the past few years. Talented youth are leaving their rural and northern hometowns for larger cities, and we are seeing a move away from more traditional goods-producing economies, which is contributing to stagnation in employment and community growth.
As rural communities enter into a new phase of uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic, a trend has emerged where Ontarians – no longer needing to live near their workplace – have begun to move away from the GTHA to areas where they can provide themselves and their families a better quality of life.
To capitalize on the momentum of the changing demographic trends across Ontario brought on by COVID-19, OREA has released a policy report titled Small Towns, Big Opportunities: Unlocking Growth in Ontario’s Rural and Northern Communities. Through the exploration of on-the-ground realities, such as the unique socioeconomic difficulties faced by rural communities, OREA’s new policy report identifies 15 recommendations that aim to address long-term solutions to housing, education, job creation, and access to rural infrastructure. These recommendations include:
- Embracing the policy of Opportunity Zones, which would provide preferential tax treatment for investment in these provincially-identified communities. This would include investments in commercial, residential, and industrial real estate activities.
- Closing the infrastructure gap by eliminating barriers to broadband installation in rural areas, including reviewing provincial easement rules and utility pole access, while also encouraging the federal government to pursue regulatory reforms that accelerate broadband funding. In order to live and work in remote areas, high-speed internet is essential.
- Developing a rent-to-own program for affordable units in the non-GTHA to promote greater accessibility to housing, encourage worker retention, and provide an affordable alternative for would-be home buyers.
- Continue improving natural gas access in rural areas by funding more natural gas expansion projects to lower the cost of business and the cost of living in rural and Northern Ontario and address vital infrastructure gaps in these communities.
The policy positions outlined in the report will ensure that the communities of rural and Northern Ontario are set up for success in the immediate aftermath of COVID-19 and for years to come. To support economic and community growth, we need to address current barriers to employment, the need for local infrastructure, and the challenges associated with creating affordable housing. In doing so, we will strength these communities and create new opportunities for those who live there already.
OREA is committed to ensuring that Ontario’s rural and northern communities are a priority for Ontario’s political leaders and policymakers. We will continue to advocate for policies that encourage growth in areas that need it most.
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