Minister Ernie Hardeman’s Speech at the 2020 Rural Ontario Municipal Association Annual Conference

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Good morning everyone!

I’m delighted to join you today,

I’d like to thank Chair Allan Thompson, and all of this year’s organizers, for putting this great event together.

I’ve had the privilege of chairing ROMA, and I can appreciate how much work goes into making this event happen.

I want to say how pleased I am that Premier Ford is here joining us this morning.

I have some friends up from Oxford here today and even they want me to hurry up and finish so they can hear the Premier so I’ll keep this speech to a brief… 40-50 minutes!

In all seriousness, I’m so proud to have a premier that leads a government committed to rural Ontario.

Premier, thanks very much for being here.

This conference is a highlight of the year for me, as I’m sure it is for many of you.

It is another opportunity to connect and collaborate over both the challenges and opportunities facing rural communities.

I’m proud to say that this is my 39th year attending.

And each year I’m more and more impressed with the insights that our municipal partners bring to the table.

I know there have been times over the years when many have felt that rural Ontario was an afterthought at Queen’s Park,

And that rural concerns didn’t carry the same weight as others.

This is not the case under our government.

And that’s because we understand that Rural Ontario’s success is a big part of the province’s success.

We’re making sure the dollars we’re investing bring the maximum value for outcomes that benefit rural Ontario.

I’m glad to have the opportunity today to talk with you about the ways we’re working to support success in rural Ontario and for our agriculture sector.

I’ve also brought some slides with me, to show you the range of economic development initiatives in play across the province.

I think it’s helpful to see the range of rural economic development projects on maps and to get a real sense of all the great work going on right across rural and northern Ontario.

Now, I’d like to start by announcing a consultation on drainage red tape – something that has been an irritant for many of you.

As most experienced rural municipal representatives in the room will know, you don’t have to be on the job long before something involving the Drainage Act crosses your desk.

The purpose of our proposed amendments is to try to reduce regulatory burden and to streamline approvals under the Act while still maintaining our provinces high environmental standards.

We know that good drainage is essential to agricultural productivity.

And while it may not be a particularly glamorous subject,

Drainage truly is the workhorse of the agriculture sector.

It improves crop productivity and reduces nutrient loss and soil erosion while helping with flood control.

For those important reasons, it’s a key foundation for our agriculture sector.

And, of course, it is of significant interest for municipalities.

Drainage works are vital rural infrastructure.

And they are integral parts of our broader water management system that sustains rural communities and ecosystems.

Our proposed amendments to the Drainage Act are now posted on the province’s Environmental Registry.

There, you’ll find proposals that reduce the approval process from 9 months to as little as 4 months.

As well, our proposed changes will look to save rural communities an estimated 10 per cent savings a year for minor improvement project costs.

I strongly encourage you to share your input during this consultation period and submit your feedback on them.

We’ll use the input we receive to make sure our amendments to the Act do what they need to do to help reduce costs and paperwork for you as well as for rural and agricultural landowners and drainage contractors.

These objectives are in line with our government’s red tape reduction work.

Cutting red tape lowers business costs and it improves business competitiveness.

And when we streamline processes and remove barriers, we’re helping to ensure Ontario is open for business.

At the same time, we are committed to maintaining our province’s stringent regulations that ensure that our rural communities and environment are safe and healthy.

I also want to highlight a move we made late last year in direct response to meetings I held at AMO.

Last year at AMO, I met with the Township of Warwick who highlighted growing concerns in Rural Ontario with on farm trespass.

ROMA’s chair Mayor Allan Thompson connected with me multiple times to discuss the subject.

That’s why, just last month, I introduced Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019.

More than 60 municipalities passed or supported the Warwick Resolution which called for stronger protections against unlawful and dangerous trespassing onto farms and into processing facilities.

As you can see from this map, the support for this resolution has come from across the province.

This proposed Bill balances the safety and security of farmers, their families and our food supply while protecting the right for people to participate in legal protests.

Our government will always protect that right but that right cannot include trespassing on farms, in agricultural businesses or interfering with livestock in transport.

I look forward to carrying forward the proposed legislation through its next steps when the Legislature returns next month.

Our government understands the importance of a strong and dynamic rural Ontario as a pillar of the province’s economy.

That includes greater access to broadband and cellular connectivity in the province.

I know the Premier is going to be making an important announcement on that during his remarks that will be welcome news to rural communities in southwestern Ontario.

And through a range of initiatives that support economic development, we’re helping communities and businesses create and retain jobs for rural Ontarians.

This includes the revitalized Rural Economic Development program which is a particularly special program to me because I launched it when I was the Minister of Rural Affairs 17 years ago!

And much like my waist line, the program has grown since then.

Today, the updated program supports the implementation of projects that diversify and grow local economies.

I’d like to point out on this slide the RED program-funded initiatives in action across Ontario since June of 2018.

Each point shown on this map represents a RED-funded project that’s spurring on rural economic development at the grassroots level.

As the map shows, the program is making critical investments in townships and municipalities across the province and I’m looking forward to seeing this map grow in the future.

We’ve got a very exciting announcement on RED that Premier Ford will be making at this podium right after me so make sure you stick around, you won’t want to miss it!

The Canadian Agricultural Partnership is another vehicle that is driving success in rural Ontario.

On this next map, you can see illustrated the CAP-funded projects that have been implemented in the past year and a half.

Since June 2018, both the federal and provincial governments have committed cost-share support to approximately 2,500 projects through the Partnership to help eligible Ontario farmers, processors, businesses and sector organizations innovate and grow.

Our government has also invested in 18 agriculture projects in Northern Ontario through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund that have seen impressive overall investments into northern communities.

And since June of 2018, over $100 million has been committed in Ontario through the Partnership to support a variety of new projects to help farmers, processors, businesses and sector organizations to innovate and grow.

For example, we’ve leveraged a small investment of $530,000 in CAP money into the meat processing sector that stimulated a total investment of $1.7 million dollars.

Here we see the locations of the more than 50 abattoirs that are being supported through the Partnership for projects to improve food safety.

Not only are these investments supporting employment in this key sector, but they help to boost the competitiveness of the meat processing sector.

The Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund is making sure funding is targeted to where it is needed most.

The program provides funding to more than 420 small, rural and northern communities.

The funding helps them develop and renew their core infrastructure assets and support asset management planning.

You may have heard Friday’s announcement by the Premier of the province’s investment of $200 million in OCIF funds to eligible municipalities and Local Services Boards for the 2020 calendar year.

We know that by investing in local infrastructure projects we’re investing in strong and prosperous communities.

That’s why our government is proud to participate in the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program.

The program is a wonderful example of the collaborative relationship between the province, the federal government and communities across Ontario.

To date, Ontario has opened intakes for all four of these streams and nominated 351 infrastructure projects across the province to the federal government under ICIP, to get people moving and grow the economy.

So far, 84 of these projects have been approved by the federal government.

This includes 62 projects under the Rural and Northern stream, which prioritizes investments in road, bridge, air and marine infrastructure.

The province has also launched the Green Infrastructure stream in October last year.

This stream allows eligible applicants to put forward projects that address critical health and safety issues related to local water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

The application intake for this stream closes later this week – Jan 22.

These initiatives help to create jobs and open the doors to economic growth in rural Ontario while at the same time improves critical utility infrastructure across the province.

But investing in infrastructure is just part of our plan to build up rural Ontario.

Having great rural and agriculture infrastructure means nothing without the people to turn those investments into opportunities for their communities.

That’s why, I’m very pleased today to announce our government will invest nearly half a million dollars in funding to the “Building Leaders – Connecting Leaders” project at the Rural Ontario Institute.

The project aims to build and connect leaders in the Ontario agriculture and rural sectors.

This is the latest example of the kind of sector capacity-building work made possible by our partnership.

We believe this project will help to enhance competitiveness and innovation in the sector and in rural Ontario, and we are proud to back it.

Further along the vein of rural economic development…

I’m very pleased that yesterday, here at ROMA, my Parliamentary Assistant Randy Pettapiece held the first of 8 economic roundtables on rural economic development.

With representatives from ROMA, the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus, the Western Ontario Warden’s Caucus, AMO and others, it was a great kickoff to an important series of discussions.

In these roundtable meetings, we want to hear from representatives of Rural Ontario directly about how best to leverage its potential for economic growth.

And we’ll be providing updates on the roundtables as they progress.

As you can see from this map, we’ll be holding roundtables in a number of communities across the province and as always, my door is open if you have ideas you want to share.

Friends, once again, thanks very much for including me today.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you, and to be part of the ROMA conference again this year.

Let’s just say that I’m already looking forward to returning next year to bring my attendance streak up to 40 years!

And in the meantime, I look forward to continuing to work with you, and with every one of our partners who contribute in their own ways to rural Ontario’s success.

All the best!

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