A recent report focused on what rural municipalities across Canada face is being hailed as a major step for possible reform.
The Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) — formerly known as the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties — states a report that came from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) Rural Forum is an opportunity for rural communities to have their voice heard and challenges recognized.
The 28-page report, called Rural Challenges, national opportunity – Shaping the future of rural Canada, was released May 31 during the FCM annual meeting. It lists details of how important rural municipal contributions are and how unique the issues and problems these communities face.
Al Kemmere, RMA president and councillor for Mountain View County, explained that what is important in the report and what recommendations would be great to see come to fruition are two different things.
“What stands out are the contributions rural municipalities make to the economy in Canada. We have identified that from our point of view in the past, but now it’s being seen from a federal point of view,” he stated, adding rural contributions to the economy significantly outweigh its population.
“It puts a value in paying attention to rural municipal needs. The big things that we are hoping comes out of this is that when the federal government writes policy that they take the ‘rural lens’ into consideration how policy affects rural municipalities when they write policies to address city issues.
The report outlines six areas of focus — including proactive leadership, rural housing and investing in better, safer communities — with a total of 17 recommendations.
Among them are: supporting development of programs to address emerging rural issues; expand federal disaster and emergency preparedness programs with a comprehensive emergency management approach; ensure new social and affordable housing construction will meet rural affordability challenges; and, design future rural infrastructure programs to provide long-term predictable support for local capital priorities.
Kemmere noted FCM’s efforts are starting to pay off, as a recent federal-provincial bi-lateral agreement has a special category that sees the federal government contribute more, on a percentage basis, to municipalities with less than 5,000 people.
Another positive he stated is the support coming from larger, urban centres.
“In the resolution put forward (at the FCM meeting) to use that ‘rural lens’ in policy development saw 94 per cent showing support for it,” Kemmere said.
“And the urbans I spoke to were positive, saying, ‘You’re not saying to take anything away from us, you’re just wanting to make sure you’re considered. How do we argue that?’”
Despite the RMA being an advocate for counties and municipal districts, Kemmere added the recommendations will help small communities like the Town of Ponoka as well.
“Ponoka, for example, is rural under the context of these discussions. We are including these, because the challenges are those smaller municipalities don’t have the capacity, administratively or fiscally, as some of the larger centres have to deal with some of the upcoming policies,” he said.
The same rural lens that needs to be used at the federal level will also guide the RMA in lobby efforts with the province.
“We are seeing billions going into the needs of the two major centres,” he said.
“We will use these same discussion points with the provincial government and say listen. transit things are important but so are the things that take place on the rural landscape and we have the same needs,” Kemmere stated.