Rural areas matter, too.
It’s a message we want all levels of government to hear loud and clear when it comes time to allocate infrastructure funding.
The hue and cry from Canada’s major cities recently has been overwhelming as they urge Ottawa to act quickly on releasing money for infrastructure the Liberals promised during the last federal election.
The federal Liberals promised $60 billion would be spent on infrastructure over the next decade. More recently, federal infrastructure minister Amarjeet Sohi has said the first $10 billion would be spent on maintenance projects during the next two years.
A few smaller urban projects are already underway, and Alberta($700 million) and Saskatchewan ($300 million) were promised quick money to help sustain their faltering economies. It is not yet known how the money will be divvied up.
There are no doubt many deserving projects in cities across Canada, but the lack of discussion about a plan for rural areas is alarming.
A real potential exists for rural needs to become lost in the clamour and jostling.
Many rural roads, bridges, culverts, water treatment issues and other projects have been put on the back burner for years, delayed by lack of funding.
The isolation that many small communities and farms face often mean that a washed out road or collapsed bridge can turn a five minute drive to town or to a neighbour’s farm into a detour of 30 minutes or more to traverse the closest available alternate route.
It is not a matter of driving three or four extra blocks to get around an obstacle when you live in the country.
If you’re talking about emergency services — first responders, ambulances or fire fighters — then the added time to get around a detour could potentially cost lives.
Besides that, rural roads provide vital business links, sometimes the only business link, to isolated areas.
For farmers, it’s about making money. They need a reliable road network to carry heavy equipment all season long from seeding to harvest. You can’t waste a day’s work driving the combine around a long detour when time is paramount to bringing in a good crop ahead of a fall frost or rain.
If you own a small country store and the road into town is out, how’s your business going to do? What if you need a part for your furnace? The work-around solutions are usually much more complicated for rural residents than their urban counterparts.
That’s why it’s important that higher levels of government resist the temptation to send the money where they think it will impress the most voters. Doing the right thing in this case does not mean making the biggest splash.
In this case, fairness is not based on sheer population. It must be based on need.
And rural residents, because of the distances between them and the lack of good alternatives, demonstrate an immense need. Their dependence on a sound and useful road network is disproportionate to their numbers.