Renewal of Rural Economic Development program good news, says FONOM president

TORONTO—The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) is pleased with the provincial January 30 announcement to renew the Rural Economic Development (RED) funding program at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference—its first stand alone conference in many years. The conference put a spotlight on energy costs, rural economic development and the fiscal future of Ontario’s municipalities.

“It is all good news,” stated Al Spacek, FONOM president referring to the renewal of the RED program. Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the renewal of the RED program, and a $100 million Natural Gas Grant Program for municipal governments that currently do not have service, at ROMA. ROMA has been advocating for natural gas expansion and awaits more information on how the new grant program will be implemented. 

Announced in the 2016 budget, the RED program was to be suspended and integrated into the Jobs and Prosperity Fund. “While we appreciated the government examining ways to improve service delivery and create efficiencies, we were concerned that it would create an environment that would see rural capacity building projects competing for funding against larger projects in urban areas,” said Mr. Spacek.

“Our rural members have highlighted that there is a continued need for a program that is designed specifically for their geographic and demographic realities.”

The RED Program is focused solely on rural community economic development projects that will attract investment, create jobs and boost economic growth in rural communities.

“FONOM, along with member communities, requested that the program continue and we thank the government for listening,” said Mr. Spacek. “We look forward to hearing how more communities are benefitting from this funding.”

“Many homes and businesses in rural and Northern Ontario rely on electricity for heating, which is much more expensive than natural gas,” said Ron Holman, chair of ROMA. “We welcome natural gas expansion and are looking for a flexible program that reflects the fiscal realities of different communities.”

Ontario is expanding access to natural gas for communities that do not currently have service, including those in rural and Northern Ontario and First Nations communities. Funding of $100 million is being provided.

The province has heard from people who have asked for service to be expanded to their communities to support greater consumer choice, economic growth and new jobs. In response, Ontario is launching the new natural gas grant program to support the building of natural gas infrastructure. Municipalities and First Nations communities will be able to work with utilities and natural gas distributors to bring forward proposals under a competitive intake process.

“We are pleased with the announcement by the province of $100 million for the natural gas program,” said Mr. Spacek. “But we are trying to determine what that all means. Two years ago $230 million was made available by the province for natural gas expansion, but we don’t know if this has been spent, if this new funding is in addition to that or they are actually reducing the amount being provided for this program.”

The program will begin accepting applications this spring.

Applications for the RED program will be accepted from rural communities, indigenous communities and organizations and not-for-profit organizations.

“It is important that we invest in building up our vibrant rural communities, so that they can grow and support the creation of good jobs both now and in the future,” said Jeff Leal, minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister Responsible for Small Business. “The renewed RED program will support rural Ontario in identifying and addressing barriers to long-term growth and help shape a strong future for our rural communities.” Funding of $5 million is being provided by the province on an annual basis.