Saskatchewan agriculture minister Lyle Stewart has urged rural municipalities to prepare for more agricultural investment and diversification.
In a strong message last week to the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, he said the province has to capture more agricultural value, and to do that it needs more investment.
Saskatchewan competes with other jurisdictions across North America for investment that could secure the future of rural communities and the province, he said.
“I recognize that recent economic and population growth has strained all levels of government,” he told the delegates.
“I appreciate the work RMs have done to accommodate and encourage this growth. We’ve made a good start, but I believe there is potential for much more.”
Stewart said there are tough issues that governments, including RMs, need to get right.
For example, RMs can develop land use plans that accommodate future agricultural growth such as farm expansions, intensive livestock operations and value-added operations. Equitable and competitive tax policy is important, as is proper funding of rural infrastructure maintenance.
“RMs have the ability to set tax rates, enter into service provisions and develop community and RM plans that encourage and permit agricultural activity,” Stewart said. “We have an interest in supporting and promoting new agricultural developments and diversification, and that has to be more than words on paper. We need to walk the walk at both levels of government.”
In an interview, Stewart said there’s always someone who says, “not in my backyard,” and he hoped RMs would keep their eyes on the big picture, which is economic growth of the province.
SARM president Ray Orb said he believes Stewart wanted to make sure RMs are doing the proper groundwork for that growth.
SARM tried to set up a symposium to talk about best practices in other jurisdictions on issues such as land use policies and planning statements, but interest wasn’t strong and it didn’t go ahead.
“I think our mistake was that we didn’t let the RMs know what we were trying to do,” Orb said.
He said this process wouldn’t be a lot different from Clearing the Path, an initiative SARM launched 10 years ago to align bylaws and procedures to support economic development in rural areas.
“But a lot of things have changed,” he said. “Some of the recommendations we’re still following. Maybe we need a Clearing the Path 2.”