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.”