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Rural Canada has a new voice, say rural advocates

New minister of rural economic development expected to oversee ‘the creation of a rural development strategy to spur economic growth and create good, middle-class jobs in rural Canada’

Nova Scotia MP Bernadette Jordan’s appointment to a new portfolio as minister of rural economic development is good news for rural Canada, say rural development experts.

Why it matters: Bernadette Jordan’s appointment is a dedicated federal portfolio for rural economic development.

Her appointment and the creation of this new office brings back a rural voice to the cabinet table, said Ryan Gibson, professor of economic development at University of Guelph, and past president with both the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF) and the Canadian Community Economic Development Network.

Prime Minister Trudeau announced the creation of the new office of Rural Economic Development during this week’s cabinet shuffle.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement about this announcement,” Gibson said. “This puts rural Canada in the federal government in a very visible way.”

It’s also the first move to do so since the Rural Secretariat was abolished in 2013, he added.

“We haven’t had a dedicated voice for rural since the discontinuance of the Rural Secretariat,” he said.

What’s hoped is that Jordan’s appointment will now bring focus back to the multi-sectoral issues facing rural Canada, and start connecting government departments that otherwise have a hard time handling rural Canada’s cross-sectoral needs, he said.

Gibson said additionally she will focus attention on the economic contributions communities now make, and help them pursue potentially unique and new ways to contribute.

Rural communities must be able to be competitive in a global economy, he said, adding that new technologies and infrastructure are needed to capture those opportunities in areas like value added or high tech.

“There’s an opportunity around exploring economic development activity that maybe rural communities have not been engaged in, in the past, or where rural communities have not been historically thought of as being home to those sorts of activities,” he said.

“I would encourage the ministry to start thinking about that.”

Jordan is expected to oversee “the creation of a rural development strategy to spur economic growth and create good, middle-class jobs in rural Canada,” the prime minister’s office stated in a release January 14.

She will also be working to bring high-speed internet to more rural households and businesses, and “working with municipalities, provinces, territories and Indigenous partners to meet the unique and diverse infrastructure needs of rural communities,” it said.

Jordan served as parliamentary secretary for the minister of democratic institutions, Ontario MP Karina Gould, until her appointment last week.

As an MP, Jordan has also chaired the Atlantic Liberal caucus and served a stint last year as chair of the Commons standing committee on fisheries and oceans.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, in a news release, hailed the creation of the new ministry as “clearly demonstrat(ing) the importance of our rural communities” and their businesses.

“As a rural-based industry, the competitiveness of Canada’s agri-food industry is intimately connected to the vibrancy of rural communities and critically important to Canada’s economic growth,” the CFA said.

“We look forward to working with Minister Jordan and discussing the CFA’s key rural priorities which include introducing long-term, predictable infrastructure funding with provisions to address the full breadth of rural and agricultural infrastructure needs,” CFA president Ron Bonnett said in the release.

Transportation “bottlenecks,” access to clean water supplies, Internet access and infrastructure for on-farm renewable energy production are key needs, the release said.

About the author

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Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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