Rural Canada contributes 30 percent of GDP

The federal government’s definition of rural as communities with populations of 100,000 or less has been identified as one of the reasons why many smaller communities receive inadequate funding through the federal Building Canada program.  |  File photo

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities releases a study that recommends more funding for rural communities

Rural Canada contributes about 30 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

More than 10 million Canadians live outside metropolitan areas.

Nearly 23 percent of Canadians work in rural communities.

These figures are part of a report released last week by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Rural Challenges, National Opportunity: Shaping the future of rural Canada, was developed by FCM with input from Brandon University and the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation.

Ray Orb, chair of FCM’s rural forum, said he was surprised at rural Canada’s 30 percent contribution to the GDP, which indicates its importance to the economy. Given that, he said the report indicates a need for more funding aimed at rural Canada.

“We don’t believe that we’ve been getting our share of the federal funding toward infrastructure. Many of our municipalities didn’t get any funding, or very little funding, in the first round of Building Canada. By that I mean strictly rural municipalities. There are just a few that received money.”

He said FCM hopes for a change in the next phase of federal infrastructure funding. However, the federal government has already agreed to fund up to 60 percent of eligible infrastructure costs in communities with populations less than 5,000.

It’s a positive step given small communities have limited options for raising extra project funds. Encouraging provinces to contribute “a fair share” as well will assist rural municipalities, Orb added.

Part of the problem regarding funding through the Building Canada program was the federal government’s definition of rural as communities with populations of 100,000 or less. That forced Canada’s many small towns and cities to compete with much larger centres, often to their disadvantage.

The report encouraged the federal government to view policy through a “rural lens,” with an understanding that needs vary widely among rural Canadian communities.

Though Canada once had a rural secretariat, the report does not recommend its reinstatement.

Orb said the FCM promotes a federal rural secretariat and has broached the idea with several federal government departments. He also noted the Liberal party has its own rural caucus and its former chair, New Brunswick member of Parliament T.J. Harvey, has met with FCM in the past.

The FCM also recommended that the federal government commit long-term predictable funding for rural broadband internet access, and make it affordable.

Rural policing also requires more funding, said Orb. That particular topic has come to the fore recently given the Gerald Stanley case in Saskatchewan and other higher-profile incidents of rural crime.

The general consensus is that more RCMP officers are needed.

“The shortage is largely a funding issue because there is a cost-sharing arrangement between the federal government and the provinces,” said Orb.

“Both levels of government have to dedicate more funding towards that.”

The most recent federal budget allocated more funding for RCMP officer training, in part to prepare for pending legalization of marijuana.

“We believe there should be more visibility of RCMP officers and that’s really a funding issue and I think they’re struggling with that a bit,” Orb said.

On the disaster funding topic, he said rural areas don’t tend to receive much money through the national disaster mitigation program so changes are needed.

The FCM report indicated there was a seven percent growth in the number of rural jobs between 2001 and 2016, and the last census indicated a slight increase in the number of young farmers.

“It wasn’t a high increase but it was an increase and I think it may be a turning point. It’s a signal that agriculture is attracting young people and retaining young people and that’s a good thing. So I think I’m somewhat pleased with that number.”

Orb said the full report would be discussed at the FCM annual general meeting planned for May 31-June 1 in Halifax. So far the report has been well received, he added.

“Even the federal government, I think they realize that we are different. Rural people are different. We have different needs. We have different attitudes. We just have a different way of life and we have a big contribution to Canada and I think it’s time that we’re recognized for that.”

FCM members include Canada’s largest cities, small urban and rural communities, and 18 provincial and territorial municipal associations.

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