Rural Ontario ignored in budget, women’s group says

People living in rural Ontario usually get short shrift from their provincial govern­ment, and the budget of March 25 offers more of the same, according to a group of uni­versity researchers focused on helping rural Canadians.

Ontario’s 2008 budget paid scant attention to special needs of rural Ontarians, and dem­onstrates the govern­ment has no comprehensive policy for dealing with rural issues, said the University of Guelph’s Sus­an Turner.

"Governments tend to look at rural issues as just part of a larger whole," said Turner, who coordinates the research group Rural Women Making Change. "The problem is, what works in cities often does not work in small towns and rural municipalities. We need economic development strategies that recognize the special nature of rural regions and the people who live and work there, and this budget has not provided them.”

Rural Women Making Change is a research project com­­bining academic research with work on the ground by community groups in On­tario. Its goal is to identify and im­plement innovative ways to improve the lives of women living and working in rural Canada.

"People living in rural Ontario face unique problems, especially women," said Turn­er. "We believe that by improv­ing programs for women in rural Ontario and across Can­ada we can improve rural life for their families and commu­nities as well."

The government recognizes we are living with a rising cost of living and an economy in trouble. What it needs to recognize, said Turner, is the challenges are even greater for rural municipalities. While the 2008 budget has merits, including a focus on skills training and the promise of money for roads and bridges outside Toronto, it lacks any overarching rural pol­icy that sees the rural poten­tial across the entire province.

“Ontario has the largest rural population in Canada, and ‘one size fits all’ policies for urban and rural citizens just do not work,” she said.

"for the dif­ferent jobs there. Our research is finding that rural women face barriers just getting access to training programs.”

Child care access and trans­portation are huge issues. In cities, public transit is avail­able, and most users of public transit systems are women. Rural areas need provincial strategies to provide safe and accessible forms of trans­porta­tion that help women get to child care, to job training, or to work. Right now, those strate­gies don’t exist.

“In rural Ontario you need a car to get around, and yet own­ing a car makes you ineligible for some government pro­grams,” she said. “That’s the kind of discrepancy that needs attention.”

Rural Women Making Change research has shown urban and rural employment differences can be stark. Unemployment is higher in rural areas, and higher for women than for men. Women are more likely to be part-time workers, and face challenges becoming eligible for employ­ment assistance and other related training benefits.

"We have plenty of evi­dence that women in rural Ontario face unique hurdles when it comes to training, transportation, and employ­ment. What we don’t have is evidence that governments are paying enough attention to that," said Turner.

“The bud­get’s priorities for infrastruc­ture and skills training provide a real opportunity for this government to reach rural communities and rural women.

“There are innovative solutions to rural problems.”