The Ontario government has big plans for the province’s rural municipal partners.
Premier Doug Ford’s government said in a press release that it is working with its rural municipal partners to build housing, encourage economic growth and development, reduce red tape, strengthen the agri-food sector, and promote rural municipalities as attractive places to live.
This marks the latest move in Ford's ambitious agenda to ramp up housing supply across the province, slashing red tape at every corner.
“Our government has a plan that’s building all of Ontario,” Ford said. “No matter the size of your community or where you live, we’re making sure every inch of Ontario benefits from our investments to support economic growth and protect jobs, including by building infrastructure in rural communities. We want every part of Ontario to be the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”
Notably, during the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference -- currently taking place at the Sheraton Centre Toronto -- Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, announced that the government will provide more than $936M to municipal service managers and Indigenous program administrators in 2023-24 and 2024-25 through initiatives under the National Housing Strategy. The goal, he says, is to maintain and create more community housing in these rural communities. This includes an increase of over $23M in funding under the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit for women and children fleeing violence, says the Province.
The Province says the funds are the result of Ontario’s ongoing talks with the federal government to help ensure its partners in the housing sector have the resources needed to protect, renew, and expand community housing across Ontario -- right down to its smallest (often neglected) communities.
Clark also announced that the province is extending the deadline for implementation projects approved under Intake 3 of the Municipal Modernization Program (MMP). The program aims to help municipalities streamline, digitize, and modernize their services, which, not surprisingly, includes managing and approving applications for residential developments. The MMP program is set to receive up to $125M over four years, aimed at helping small and rural municipalities.
Meanwhile, Ontario also said it would be extending the deadline for final reports for projects under the Streamline Development Approval Fund, for which Premier Ford announced more than $45M at the Housing Summit in January 2022. The 39 municipalities that are eligible for the Audit and Accountability Fund can also access the Streamline Development Approval Fund, which can be used to modernize, streamline, and accelerate processes for managing and approving housing applications.
“Rural communities are the backbone of Ontario’s success and key to the province’s economy,” said Clark. “Our government sees a bright future for rural Ontario with opportunities for growth, enhanced education and training, and increased workforce productivity -- all while providing a high quality of life and housing options that Ontario families can afford.”
Lisa Thompson, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs also announced the launch of a new intake of the Rural Economic Development (RED) program, which "supports projects that help increase economic opportunities, create and retain jobs, and support the economic growth and resilience of rural and Indigenous communities." Applications for the new RED intake will be accepted until February 23, 2023, says the Province.
This year’s ROMA conference was held in-person for the first time since 2020, and offered a chance for rural municipal officials, ministers, associate ministers, and parliament to talk shop face-to-face. According to the Province, they "exchanged ideas, discussed opportunities, and identified ways to address some of the key priorities facing rural municipalities today." This includes increasing housing supply, strengthening local infrastructure, tackling homelessness, improving mental health supports, and economic development. The conference comes six months after the Ontario government was re-elected and marks the first time Premier addressed municipal leaders since the fall legislative session.
“Rural Ontario has always played an essential role in the prosperity of this province," Thompson said. "The Rural Economic Development program provides rural municipalities, Indigenous communities, and not-for-profits with the tools they need for projects that contribute to local economic vitality. Going forward our government will continue to build on rural successes.”