Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary
By Larry Davis, OFA Director
The first outcomes of Canada’s 2016 census show a growing population where big cities are getting bigger. Canada’s population grew to 35.2 million in 2016 from 33.5 million in 2011, according to a census report released in February.
Ontario remains the nation’s most populous province at 13.4 million with an increase of 4.6% since 2011. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are the three biggest metropolitan areas in Canada, and are now home to more than one-third of all Canadians with a combined population of 12.5 million. The census report shows almost one half of those big city dwellers live in Toronto and the surrounding suburbs.
It’s no surprise that Ontario’s urban cities and surrounding suburbia are feeling growing pains. Urban leaders are constantly referring to crisis in transit, infrastructure and housing. Ontario has a long way to go and may never catch up with urban infrastructure requirements on the current path. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has been reminding policy makers and politicians of the potential of rural Ontario communities to help with these growth pains in our major cities. With the right approach to roads, mixed affordable housing that encourages transit, hard boundaries and meaningful jobs, we see opportunity.
Any new development – urban or rural – must be planned using clear rules that will continue to protect surrounding farmland.
Realizing growth in rural areas will require investment by the government. People will need job opportunities, high speed internet, low cost energy options, local schools and social services. Rural economic development is affordable and will serve to boost our entire provincial economy. It starts with a new perspective, that being the realization that rural Ontario and our agricultural economy can drive growth. This scenario was recently recognized in the report titled The Path to Prosperity, created by the federal government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth. That paper suggested agriculture can become a global powerhouse if nurtured with strategic investment.
An investment in rural infrastructure including natural gas will help farming stay competitive and attract new investment, creating jobs. With strategic rural investment Ontario can continue to grow its economy while alleviating the intense growth pressures faced by our urban centres.
Ontario’s population has grown 5% since 2011, the highest rate of growth among G7 countries. OFA reminds government and policy makers that a new paradigm is needed to accommodate this growth. That new paradigm is to look beyond urban boundaries to invest in new opportunities for families in our smaller communities right across the whole province.