Rural minister should bring cabinet clout

If the newly created rural and economic development ministry, led by MP Bernadette Jordan, is effective and can earn some clout in cabinet, it may bring a healthy new focus to rural issues in Canada.

Jordan represents the riding of South Shore-St. Margarets in Nova Scotia, and as earlier reported in The Western Producer, is a former development officer for the local health services foundation in Bridgewater and a former president of the Atlantic Community Newspaper Association, so she has a background in rural issues.

Her ministry will work out of Infrastructure Canada, and she will have use of the department’s staff.

Her mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, released Jan. 29, says her “overarching goal will be to champion middle-class job creation, economic opportunity and quality of life in rural Canada.”

Among some of the specifics mentioned is to lead the work to increase high-speed broadband coverage in rural Canada.

More than two million households nationwide do not have internet service that is considered broadband — 50 megabits a second for downloads and 10 mps for uploads.

Digital connectivity can lead to job creation in rural areas, and agricultural enterprises could become more efficient, opening up more opportunity.

As well, a fully realized digital infrastructure that serves rural areas can provide access to mental health services. In fact, that recommendation is one of the key suggestions underpinning improvement in mental health services in rural areas.

Interestingly, there is also a reference to working with the immigration ministry to encourage more new Canadians to settle in rural areas.

Take the community of Prince Albert, Sask., for instance, with a population of 35,102 based on the 2016 census. Only about eight percent of the population lists a mother tongue that is not English, French or Indigenous, compared to 22 percent nationwide.

I have lived in areas throughout the country with small pockets of immigrants; they bring culture, cuisine and energy to a community. They also find ways to get involved and enrich their communities.

It remains to be seen where Jordan will focus her energies and where she will be successful.

But the time for such a focus on rural development, with clout at the cabinet table, actually came some time ago.

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