20% of people in Canada live in rural and remote environments. In some regions that number rises to nearly 50%. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, rural communities were struggling. For many years, these communities have been deprived of the resources and investments necessary to strengthen the basic foundations of strong and resilient communities. The challenges of rural communities include:
Lack of Infrastructure and Services – Municipalities are not permitted to run deficits, yet they own and are responsible for core infrastructure assets. Limited tax bases mean that rural municipalities struggle to generate sufficient revenue to upgrade ageing infrastructure and provide essential services, such as telecommunications, health care and public transport.
Ageing Population - the rural population is ageing faster than their urban counterpart. There are significant disparities between urban and rural health delivery for seniors. Research indicates that rural seniors have poorer functional health, higher risk for mental illness and more chronic illness than urban seniors.
Youth Retention - limited services in rural communities and greater access to learning and employment opportunities in cities have drawn young people away from rural communities. Once young people have left for urban centres, they often do not return: the population of youth aged 15 to 19 in rural Canada declined by 10 percent between 2011 and 2016.
Economic Challenges – An ageing population, lower levels of education, lack of youth retention, low levels of immigration and inadequate services and infrastructure are all factors that challenge rural economies. Rural incomes tend to lag behind those of urban communities, and unemployment levels tend to be higher.
In the aftermath of COVID-19, rural and remote communities will be some of the hardest-hit regional economies in the country. It is our job to provide place-based supports for communities and ensure that equitable resources are provided to help kick start the revitalization of these communities.
There are broad-reaching changes which can be made to improve the quality of life in rural communities:
- Addressing disparities in delivery, access, and funding in rural services
- Building the infrastructure which has been chronically lacking in rural communities
- Making the industries upon which rural communities rely more sustainable
Equitable Services for Rural Communities
COVID-19 has shown us how we must find new ways to stay connected in times of crisis. Rural Canadians are being left out as the gap in services between urban and rural widens. We must provide ways to connect rural and remote communities through better mass transit, access to the internet, affordable telecom services, and reliable delivery of essential services.
Establish a parliamentary committee to collect information on place-based needs in rural and remote communities. The committee will provide information on the state of funding for rural services, economic/social realities faced by communities, and work to provide a guide for how these gaps can be closed in a way which works at a local level.
Make investments to expand transit services and renew infrastructure; which will create jobs in rural communities. Access to rail, bus, and ferry services provide rural Canadians with a cleaner and safer alternative to driving. Mass transit has a much lower carbon footprint than individual methods of travel and is less likely to be affected by severe weather events. The costing of this was expected to be $610 million in 2019.
Expand the mandate of Canada Post to include banking, high-speed internet hubs, and EV charging stations. This will provide rural communities with high-quality public services that have been overlooked by successive governments. Increasing the salaries of Canada Post employees operating in rural communities (who are predominantly women) will ensure pay gaps between urban and rural services are closed.
Build up broadband infrastructure in rural areas to help revitalize rural economies and give communities greater access to the services they need. In 2019 this cost was estimated at 400 million. Breaking up telecom monopolies through changes to CRTC regulation will allow for more equitable treatment of rural consumers.
Reevaluating the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) so that rural communities are being covered with an equitable amount of funding to meet the needs of the communities.
Many adaptations to medical practices initiated during the COVID-19 pandemic are certain to remain in place. Such innovations will be an important part of the response to future crisis and to ensuring better, permanent health care access by various vulnerable groups.
Telemedicine/remote health holds great promise for service delivery in rural areas where access to care is a significant challenge. When rural residents cannot access services in a timely, they experience poorer health outcomes. Telemedicine services helps meet the needs of rural residents through remote consultations, in-home monitoring, outsourced diagnostic analysis, remote specialist consultations, and virtual consultations for urgent care needs.
Telemedicine benefits several specific rural populations, including rural residents with disabilities, substance use disorders and/or mental health conditions, and those with limited English proficiency. It also helps seniors and Indigenous communities. It would also be a critical part of the service delivery for people living in areas affected by climate disasters who require urgent care.
Natural Resources and Agriculture
Resource industries have been the backbone of rural communities for generations. In recent years, however, there has been a down swing in their profits, causing young people to leave their homes and poverty to become more common. At the same time climate change is creating an unparalleled risk to these sectors' future.
Assist farmers with debt by funding a Farm Grants Program through Agriculture Canada to provide loans to Canadian farmers. Rather than forcing farmers to go to commercial banks, this will give farmers a more equitable source of money. In 2019, a $50 million Farm Grant was proposed for farmers who switch from intensive conventional agriculture to organic or regenerative agriculture.
The Green Party of Canada supports the goal of replacing one-third of Canada’s food imports with domestic production. This would bring $15 billion food dollars back into our economy to foster economic diversification and rural revitalization.
Create land trusts to set-aside arable land across Canada to help control the price of land and protect it from being permanently removed as viable farmland. This method has been used in provinces to prevent commercial development from decimating urban adjacent farmland and will help facilitate the equitable transfer of assets to the next generation of family farmers.
Renew the National Environmental Farm Plan Program to help farmers protect wildlife habitat areas and marginal lands, maintain water quality in streams, lakes and aquifers, and retain and improve soil quality, increase carbon sequestration and decrease water requirements.
Fund an apprenticeship program administered by Agriculture Canada to connect young aspiring farmers with operating farmers. This will maintain and increase the workforce, knowledge, and skilled labour necessary to have a robust agricultural sector. In 2019 this was expected to cost $70 million.
Reinstate funding for a reinvigorated Canadian Model Forest Network (CMFN). The CMFN can establish a Genuine Forest Health Index (GFHI) to ensure the sustainability of forestry. It will give the government and industry better tools to plan for second and third growth cutting so we can move away from old-growth forestry.
Fund new value-added manufacturing facilities in Canada to create jobs and keep profits from our resources in Canada. Working with provinces, territories, and municipalities to make sure that timber, pulp, and paper manufacturing is sustained in rural communities is vital. Working to increase the number of manufacturers in rural and remote communities will cut down unemployment and emigration from rural communities.
Improve the collection of data on fish stocks to collect information that will help enhance fish stocks and protect endangered species.
Require all aquaculture facilities to use closed containment to protect wild species and limit pollution and provide financial and extension support to fish pen workers to make this transition. This is an important step in protecting the traditional fishing rights of Indigenous Peoples living in Canada.