Over the past few weeks, federal parties have been presenting their visions for Canada’s recovery. They’ve talked about creating jobs and economic growth. They’ve laid out how they’d protect Canadians from extreme weather, close the broadband gap, and improve people’s lives.
The one thing these issues all have in common is that they play out in local communities. These are the places where Canadians live, work, start businesses, and raise families. They’re where COVID-19 has turned all our lives upside down. And they’re where major national issues like the ones in this federal election can be addressed first, fastest and more efficiently.
As Rural Forum Chair for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM)—which represents more than 2,000 communities of all sizes—I know that doesn’t just apply to urban centres. Ten million Canadians call rural communities home. We’ve long been vital to this country’s economy and way of life. From agriculture to manufacturing to natural resources, rural-based industries drive nearly one-third of Canada’s GDP. And we’ve been front-and-centre in Canada’s pandemic response since day one.
To truly succeed, Canada’s recovery needs to take root in communities of all sizes. This is where local governments excel. We make people’s daily lives better, and we do it in ways that tackle major national challenges—from job creation to climate resilience to the housing crisis. That makes us essential partners in Canada’s recovery.
Earlier this month, FCM put forward a series of recommendations to build a stronger, more inclusive Canada. Our frontline solutions show what’s possible when governments work together. They offer a clear path to strengthening Canada’s front lines. And as you’d expect, rural communities play a big role.
Building an inclusive recovery needs to include closing Canada’s digital divide. COVID-19 has shown how critical broadband Internet is to our economy and our daily lives. Yet while millions of people have gone online for work, school and human connection, many rural Canadians still don’t have access to the reliable, high-speed Internet that’s made this possible.
Having that access means small businesses can sell their products online. It means farmers can find real-time data and doctors can access crucial patient records. It means entire communities can reach their full potential. Building on recent federal investments, we’re recommending concrete steps to bring fast, reliable and affordable Internet to all Canadians sooner—no matter where they live.
Creating jobs and meeting local needs
Getting people back to work will be key to Canada’s recovery. And like so much else, job creation starts locally. As the governments closest to Canadians, we see what’s needed on the ground, and what works. This is especially true in rural communities like mine, which often have unique challenges that can’t be solved with one-sized-fits-all approaches.
That’s why FCM is proposing the federal government permanently double the Canada Community-Building Fund. This is one of the best tools municipal leaders have to create jobs by renewing the infrastructure people rely—bridges, libraries, wastewater facilities, and more. By doubling down on this proven tool, we can support local economies in ways that respond to local needs.
When municipalities deliver frontline solutions, we tackle big national challenges as well. Take climate resilience. Communities of all sizes are on the front lines of extreme weather, and rural communities in particular make the most of very limited resources to keep people safe. More than ever, this country needs to better equip local leaders—everywhere—to protect Canadians from dangerous floods, heatwaves and wildfires.
The same goes for transit and transportation. The loss of Greyhound’s inter-community bus routes is devastating to many rural communities—and hurts Canada’s economy. If every community is going to thrive, rural transportation needs to be a national priority. Modern transit connects people and communities, supports economic growth, and moves Canada closer to net-zero emissions.
We’ve all learned so much from this pandemic. We’ve seen how unequally people struggle, and we’ve seen what’s possible when we work together. That includes rural Canadians. These are entrepreneurs and small business owners. Farmers and engineers. Nurses and pipefitters. Every one of them moves their communities forward, and every one of them moves this country forward.
And so, this election, Canada’s rural leaders are ready to work with every federal party to build a recovery we can all take part in.
Ray Orb is the Reeve of the Rural Municipality of Cupar, SK, and Chair of the Rural Forum with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). FCM is the national voice of local governments, with more than 2,000 members representing 90 percent of Canada’s population.
This op-ed was originally published in the Calgary Herald.