Speaking Remarks - Minister
of Rural Affairs
Rural Ontario Summit, Keynote Address
Date: March 3, 2014
Location: Best Western Inn, Cobourg
First of all, I'd like to thank everyone here today for taking
time out of your busy schedules to attend the first-ever Rural Ontario
One word we will hear a lot today is: partnership.
Because we understand that progress goes hand in hand with the
partnerships we build in communities across Ontario.
And I consider you, and the organizations you represent, important
partners as we continue to work together to strengthen our rural
communities and businesses.
I'd also like to thank the Rural Ontario Institute for making today's
summit a reality.
One of my first meetings as Minister of Rural Affairs was with
And they brought forward insightful ideas on how to best engage
and represent our rural communities. I'm thankful for their advice
and their continued efforts to better serve rural Ontario.
One question often raised within government, and amongst our partners,
is: "What is Rural Ontario?"
As many of you know, when it comes to funding programs and providing
services, the approach has been to define "rural" as a population
of 100,000 and less.
But, quite frankly, it's not that simple.
Rural Ontario is varied and diverse.
No single definition exists, particularly in relation to people's'
perception of what it means to be "rural".
Many of the folks living in the countryside, in villages and hamlets,
rely on the services that towns like Cobourg, Port Hope and my hometown
of Peterborough provide.
This includes basic services like grocery stores and pharmacies,
but also essential social service such as hospitals, doctors' offices
and employment assistance.
But the biggest reason "rural" remains so hard to define is because
its most significant quality, a sense of community, is difficult
A sense of community often embodies the resources, beliefs and
common values we collectively share. And our rural communities are
made up of close knit, collaborative partnerships.
Residents of Ontario, regardless of where they live, deserve equitable
access to government programs and services. However, some small
and rural communities face challenges related to health care delivery,
skills training, infrastructure investment, and local economic development.
All elements key to the vitality of any community.
At the same time, there are many examples of success in rural Ontario
we can all learn from, and build upon through good public policy
developed in partnership with our small and rural communities.
This summit is an important opportunity to discuss the social and
economic infrastructure issues that will shape rural Ontario's future,
- Promoting innovative business development initiatives and creating
- Providing opportunities to enhance our rural workforce, including
youth, immigrants, and rural residents;
- Addressing the challenges rural communities sometimes face in
promoting sustainable economic growth and job creation.
- And the importance of rural health care to support strong rural
How we work together in our rural communities is fundamentally
different when compared to larger metropolitan centres.
Let me give you an example.
All levels of government, and organizations across the province,
face fiscal challenges.
And we all know there are important services we must maintain,
and continue to improve, like healthcare.
Healthcare consumes over $48 billion, or about 42 per cent of Ontario's
total program expenditures.
It's important to understand that in Ontario 1 per cent of complex
patients' use 33 per cent of our health care dollars. These
complex patients represent 5 per cent of Ontario's population, but
use about two-thirds of our health care budget dollars.
And 50 per cent of us, the healthiest 50 per cent of us, use only
1 per cent of health care dollars. So rather than addressing
our fiscal challenges the traditional way, by looking line by line
what we spend on hospitals, on medication, on long-term care,
etc. we need to shift our focus to better serve the patient's
Often times, this incurred cost is due to the duplication in services
patients receive, and the frequent usage of these services.
Receiving additional health care services doesn't necessarily improve
patients' health outcomes.
This often results in increased care requirements and reduced access
to doctors, specialists and other community support professionals.
In some cases, patients become frequent visitors to ERs because
they don't know where else to go.
These unplanned ER visits are where our health care costs skyrocket.
And that's why our government is moving forward with Community
This model of care breaks down silos ensuring providers
work collaboratively with patients. It's an innovative initiative
fundamentally built on partnerships.
Say, for example, you're a senior citizen with early onset dementia
or diabetes, receiving support from social services.
In all likelihood, you would have multiple providers responsible
for your care.
But that's not all.
You would have to remember the guidance previously provided by
those multiple providers, and participate in multiple check-ups.
On top of this, you must take your medication on a regular basis
and adhere to specific dietary needs.
Meanwhile, the providers involved in this circle of care aren't
communicating with each other to ensure the patient receives the
best possible care.
And when things get really bad, the patient may have to visit an
ER or a hospital, resulting in the most expensive care our health
care system has to offer.
Our government has developed the Community Health Links model,
whereby the patient receives an individualized care plan developed
with input from a team of health care providers.
The Community Health Link model is an important initiative for
First, it's an example of the government learning from what is
already taking place in our rural communities.
In fact, this model of care was originally based on a partnership
between the Change Foundation and Northumberland Hills Hospital,
located right here in Cobourg.
And this model is now being implemented province-wide. So, when
I say I want to hear about what you're currently doing in your community,
you now know why. It's unique, homegrown ideas like this that can
be a game changer for the entire system.
Secondly, Community Health Links would not be possible if our smaller
communities did not have the close-knit partnerships that already
When you need to care for a patient, and the patient has multiple
providers, it helps to have kids enrolled in the same school.
My point is: we know each other better in our rural communities,
and work well together.
Providing excellent care through modern healthcare infrastructure
has benefits well beyond improving patient outcomes.
It contributes to a community's overall health. A community needs
strong social infrastructure like hospitals, schools and social
service providers to succeed and prosper.
Collectively, our communities' social infrastructure, especially
our schools, serve as community hubs and are key sources of employment.
This social infrastructure contributes to communities' overall
strength. And it also influences a community's ability to drive
economic growth and be investment ready.
This brings me to the topic of economic infrastructure.
One of the greatest challenges we face in rural Ontario is to remain
competitive in today's highly globalized economy.
Rural Ontario alone contributes $106 billion in GDP to the provincial
economy, and is vital to our province's future success.
There have no doubt been challenges faced by many communities.
A company employing 10 full-time folks may be peanuts for a large
But this company is the bread and butter of rural Ontario. So when
we have a medium to large sized company based in a rural town, the
community itself is dependent on its success.
Many communities face challenges retaining these companies.
And in some cases, these companies are forced to close down their
What we do to prevent those job losses, and how we work together
in partnership to recover from them, while attracting new companies,
is key to our future success.
As government, we have an important role to play to ensure these
local businesses succeed. This includes modernizing our tax system
to make our economy more competitive and addressing hydro costs
that affect businesses' bottom line.
That's why we extended the Capital Cost Allowance to 2015.
This will encourage Ontario manufacturers to invest in their operations.
It will also cut taxes to businesses by $265 million by 2016.
In addition, we extended the program that allows businesses to
write off the cost of machinery and equipment, and cut the tax rate
for new business investment in half.
The general corporate income tax rate was also cut, and is now
lower than the combined federal/state tax rate in every U.S. state.
We've also reduced the corporate income tax rate for manufacturing
and processing, mining, logging, farming, and fishing
And eliminated the capital tax, a barrier to new investment.
As a result, Ontario businesses are saving more than $2.1 billion
That's not all
Since 2009, we've cut overall business taxes by $8.5 billion a
year by lowering corporate tax rates, as well as eliminating the
Even though it was a tough issue politically, introducing the HST
was the right decision.
It will keep Ontario competitive, save Ontario businesses $4.6
billion a year in embedded taxes alone, and save $635 million in
Because of these measures, in 2011, Forbes magazine ranked
Canada as the best country to invest in, specifically crediting
Ontario's reformed tax structure as a key factor.
We know the provincial government must continue to be at the table
to invest in new jobs.
That's why we created the Eastern and Southwestern Ontario Development
These funds allowed us to invest in companies like Answer Precision
Tool in Kitchener, Protoplast in Cobourg, NutraBlend Foods in Cambridge
and Flying Colours in Peterborough.
In total, we have committed over $100 million dollars in regional
economic development through both these funds, leveraging a total
investment of close to one billion dollars.
This is helping create and retain over 24,400 jobs in communities
Since its launch in October 2012, the South Western Ontario Economic
Development Fund has committed over $36 million, leveraging over
$340 million in business investment, and helping create over 1,800
new jobs, while retaining over 7,200 existing jobs.
Since its launch in 2008, the Eastern Ontario Development Fund
has committed over $68 million, leveraging over $655 million in
business investment, helping create over 2,900 new jobs and retain
over 12,500 existing jobs.
We also need to ensure our hydro rates remain competitive.
My office recently met with local leaders to discuss this, and
we will continue to look for ways to address these concerns.
There are several ways to address hydro costs
For example, as of last year, through the Industrial Electricity
Incentive, eligible companies now qualify for electricity rates
that are among the lowest in North America in exchange for creating
new jobs and attracting new investment to Ontario.
Ensuring our communities are well-positioned to protect manufacturing
jobs, and attract new ones, is fundamental to rural Ontario's future
Benefiting from some of the lowest corporate taxes in Canada, our
larger companies, including manufacturers, contribute a significant
amount of support to local governments, as well as the provincial
Their success, in turn, directly benefits our ability to fund essential
social services such as education and health care. In fact, 30 per
cent of tax revenue across all levels of government comes from manufacturing.
But our work isn't done
Your advanced knowledge of the manufacturing sector is imperative
if we are to work together to develop successful rural-focused manufacturing
We also need to recognize that Ontario is an export economy. An
example of this is Global Med in Trenton, a company that exports
to 30 countries and employs 200 people.
We as a government must also create the right climate to ensure
our businesses continue to thrive.
This includes engaging with potential trade partners and landing
deals to sell our products and services both within Canada
Local leaders, like yourselves, are already actively engaged in
promoting your community abroad
And that's why we want to hear from you to ensure we, as a government,
continue to provide the support you need.
It is also why the Premier challenged our agri-food industry to
create 100,000 new jobs by 2020, and launched the Local Food Fund
to help achieve this ambitious goal.
We also need to ensure that rural Ontario's 79,000 small and medium
sized businesses continue to grow and prosper.
Because we all know that entrepreneurs are the backbone of our
And that's why we cut small business taxes from 5.5 to 4.5 percent.
We also know that investing in a knowledge-based economy will give
Ontario a competitive advantage both today and tomorrow.
That's why we moved forward with implementing full-day kindergarten
to provide our kids with the best possible start in life and better
prepare them for the future.
It's also why we launched a Youth Jobs Strategy to create employment
opportunities for approximately 30,000 youth, while promoting innovation
And we will continue to invest in jobs skills and training programs
to get people back to work.
Ten years ago we were working to get telecommunications up and
running in rural Ontario.
Since then, technology and community needs have changed.
To grow local economies and be investment-ready, Internet connectivity
remains a basic fundamental.
If we want entrepreneurs and companies to be successful in rural
Ontario, we need to provide them with the appropriate tools. That's
why Broadband is essential.
And, since 2007, we invested nearly $120 million in rural broadband
This means that ninety-five percent of residents in eastern Ontario,
more than half-a-million residents and businesses in southern Ontario,
and twenty-six First Nations communities in northern Ontario, collectively,
now have access to high-speed broadband.
Thanks to the leadership provided by the Eastern Ontario Wardens
Caucus, broadband is now readily available in their region.
This is another example of government working with its partners
on the ground who know, first-hand, what their businesses need to
In my own area of Peterborough, I often highlight the challenge
that communities along Highway 7 face between Peterborough and Ottawa
Over the years, this area has been less traveled following the
expansion of the 401 and 417, resulting in a loss of tourism and
local traffic that previously sustained these small communities.
That's why prudent economic development planning should remain
at the centre to promote a municipality's future success.
It's also essential for municipalities to adapt to today's changing
And that's where initiatives like the Rural Economic Development
(RED) Program come into play.
Since 2003, Ontario has invested $167 million in 418 RED projects,
generating more than $1.2 billion in local economic activity and
creating more than 35,000 jobs.
RED community revitalization projects have leveraged $9.5 dollars
for every $1 dollar invested, and have created or retained 261 jobs
for every $1 million invested.
Since I became Minister of Rural Affairs, we re-launched the RED
Program. I don't need to tell you that this program - the only kind
in government - makes a meaningful difference for rural communities.
And there are two new RED projects I would like to announce today
We are providing $100,000 in new funding to the Town of Port Hope
to develop a strategic plan designed to:
- Develop a business mentor training program that will enhance
- Help local entrepreneurs develop and implement business plans
and marketing strategies to grow their operations; and
- Create tools to boost the local economy, including a guide to
starting a business downtown.
Port Hope is good example of a municipality using my ministry's
suite of tools, and the funding to back it up, to undertake prudent
economic development planning
Through the same program, we are also providing the Town of Cobourg
with $125,000 in new funding to launch a community improvement initiative
- Develop a master plan, including a comprehensive survey of local
heritage sites, to create a revitalized downtown core that reflects
the town's identify;
- Design a web-based, virtual tour to attract new residents and
potential developers; and
- Generate a plan to innovate and revitalize arts and culture
destinations in the downtown core.
If successful, Cobourg's initiative could be used as a province-wide
It's another example of how working together and listening to local
communities we create good public policy that will strengthen our
My Ministry is also ready to work with any rural municipality seeking
advice or assistance on how to attract new investment and create
We have advisors that are trained to assess economic development
needs on a local and regional basis.
These advisors, in turn, work with a community every step of the
way - through initial assessments to program recommendations and
continued follow up.
Another service available to rural communities is Analyst, a web-based
tool that provides access to current and accurate regional economic
data, and makes it easy to use.
140 economic development organizations, to date, have accessed
Analyst to support 190 different economic development initiatives
These services are available to help all rural communities across
the province, and I encourage you to explore how they might be of
help to your community.
Many of you here today are already familiar with these programs,
and as part of today's deliberations, I encourage you to comment
on how they are working for you, and what improvements could be
Rural Ontario, to me, quite frankly, embodies opportunity.
Seeing the folks gathered here today, I know that, collectively,
we can pool our resources to strengthen rural communities for today
Despite the challenges we face, Ontario is strongly positioned
Our province has gained 95,800 new jobs in 2013 alone. And I am
here to talk up rural Ontario, not to sink to the depths of negativity
We are actively promoting Ontario's many strengths to attract jobs
and investment, while continuing to leverage our competitive advantage
in world-renowned research and development.
We are also focusing on the foundations of social infrastructure,
providing better healthcare and enhancing learning opportunities
for our kids.
And it is my sincere hope that you believe, as I do, that your
work, creativity, innovation and love of this province will continue
to impact what we do as a government.
I believe in working with my partners and standing by my commitments.
That's why when municipalities come to me and say they require
sustainable, predictable and permanent infrastructure funding.
I have a one-word response: yes.
To be investment ready, communities require funding for critical
infrastructure like roads and bridges.
And how we measure progress and identify challenges will be based
on the best available evidence of what works.
That's why I'm pleased that two leaders in rural development are
here with us today, Dr. David Freshwater and Dr. Robert Greenwood.
But Ontario can only be successful if its small and rural towns
And as Minister of Rural Affairs, it's good to know you have an
advocate in government to give voice to rural Ontario's unique needs.
One area of focus for me, as Minister, has been rural proofing
policy at the Cabinet table.
We are here today because you're on the front lines living and
working in rural Ontario every day.
You understand the challenges we collectively face, and have overcome
obstacles head on.
What I need from you today is to hear more about what you are doing.
We need to learn from your successes. And we also need to better
understand your local strategies to better address the economic
challenges you currently face.
I know that working together, we will be far more successful in
creating a healthier and stronger rural Ontario.