Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
February 28, 2001
New report says Ontario's rural communities face daunting challenges improving their economies
Ontario’s rural communities lack the wherewithal to maintain or improve their declining economic circumstances, and the problem is likely to become more widespread and intense, according to a new report by University of Guelph researchers.
“In many communities, the interrelatedness of economy, community survival and quality of rural life is the pivotal issue,” said Prof. David Douglas, School of Rural Planning and Development, director of the research project. “What we discovered is a dangerous picture requiring our immediate attention.”
The Guelph researchers note that Ontario’s recent economic prosperity has not filtered down to rural communities. More than two- thirds of communities responding complained of economic stagnation and population decline in the period 1996 to 1999.
The two-volume report, “An Integrated Analysis of Changing Municipal and Community Roles and Practices,” was released this month, part of a three-year research project called “Toward More Effective Rural Economic Development in Ontario,” and comes just before the expected release of a provincial government report on rural economic renewal.
The survey of all 495 of Ontario’s rural municipalities (128 responded) found that without provincial help, rural communities are flagging and at risk.
“As the provincial government has greatly reduced its support for rural municipalities, they have had to become increasingly dependent on their own resources to survive,” said Douglas. “The local economy is the single most important resource and plays an increasing role in the viability of these municipalities. If, in turn, they lack the wherewithal to carry out economic development, as we found, then it is inevitable that they suffer, as does the quality of life of their residents.”
The researchers also found that few municipalities are actively involved in community-based economic development, only 38 per cent have an economic development plan, only five per cent have an economic development officer and roughly half do not even have one part-time staff person in place overseeing economic development. “Local economic development in rural Ontario is under-resourced in terms of financial and organizational resources, and in terms of local know-how and skills,” said Douglas. “The municipal organizations and the communities they represent simply lack the capacity to carry out local economic development. We had a sense of that before; this new research confirms it.”
Douglas’s research team also included rural studies PhD student Sandra Chadwick and four master’s students. The three-year project is supported by the School of Rural Planning and Development, the University of Guelph/OMAFRA enhanced partnership, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Economic Developers Council of Ontario and FedNor, a regional development fund of Industry Canada.
Contact: Prof. David Douglas
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