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News Release

December 22, 2006

Tackling Rural Poverty Will Require Tough Action, Profs Say

Tackling rural poverty in Canada may require Ottawa to introduce a guaranteed annual income, offer transportation funding and promote rural tourism, according to three University of Guelph professors quoted this week in a new report on rural poverty.

Profs. Harry Cummings, Tony Fuller and Donald Reid, all from the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development (SEDRD), provided testimony to a standing Senate committee on agriculture and forestry that is looking at ways to reduce rural poverty in Canada. The committee, chaired by Senator Joyce Fairbairn, released its interim report, called Understanding Freefall: The Challenge of the Rural Poor, this week.

This is believed to be the first-ever federal report to focus on rural poverty. Recommendations will be included in a final report due next spring.

Rural Canadians, comprising at least 20 per cent of Canada's population, tend to have less access to health services and poorer living conditions than their urban counterparts, said Cummings.

"Farming is seen as a life with few prospects where depression, crisis and/or debt seriously impact many farm families," said Cummings, an expert in rural economic development who has helped counsel Ontario farm families in crisis. Quoted in the report, he said, "Youth are discouraged from entering the business and off-farm work is a mainstay."

The report says persistently low farm incomes have been exacerbated by recent problems, including mad cow disease, bird flu, droughts in parts of Canada, a strong Canadian dollar and falling prices for many farm commodities.

Poor rural Canadians – including single mothers, Aboriginal people and elderly, disabled or unemployed people –face different challenges than their urban counterparts, especially lack of transportation.

In the report, Fuller, who is an expert on developing sustainable rural communities, calls on Ottawa to provide funding for transportation services such as Meals on Wheels and Red Cross in rural areas.

Ottawa should consider introducing a guaranteed annual income, added Reid, who has studied community development and tourism in Canada and abroad. Cummings suggests that the federal government look for ways to promote rural tourism and support cultural and language programs for rural immigrants.

"We are tame in our promotional activities," said Cummings. "We are not innovative in the way we promote our countryside and our opportunities."

Prof. Harry Cummings
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53637 or 519 763-6262

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