Could Investing in Rural Canada Make for Affordable Cities?

We know that housing prices – regardless of whether you buy or rent — are out of sight, especially in Canada’s major cities, and in particular, Toronto, where housing prices have jumped more than 30 per cent in one year.

As part of what’s called the Fair Housing Plan, announced Thursday, April 20, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is proposing a 15 per cent speculation tax on home purchases by non-resident foreigners and an expansion of the rent control system.

Who knows if it will slow down the market. But everyone says the government has to do something, so it did, as a lead up to the provincial budget being announced next week.

There’s no question housing price discussions are everywhere. For example, our 12-year-old came home from school on Wednesday with a group project to design what the teacher calls an “eco-house.” You know — high R-factor insulation, recycled building materials, etc.

But reflecting the times we live in, the teacher put a telling caveat on it: the eco-house has to be built for less than $1 million.

Even kids know that can’t happen in major cities. Their solution? Don’t scrimp on materials, but rather, build the eco-house in rural Ontario, where housing is still affordable.

Well done!

And in an odd coincidence, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture has also issued a timely pre-budget plea related to affordable housing options.

“It’s time to recognize that Toronto and the surrounding metropolis will never catch up with its infrastructure and housing needs at the current growth rate,” says federation president Keith Currie. “The viable, long-term solution is to stabilize Toronto’s growth rather than just the housing market. This can be done by distributing economic development initiatives across the province – build up and invest in our rural communities. Only then will we relieve the pressure on the housing market for the long term.”

To Currie, building up rural communities includes investing in infrastructure. This means widespread broadband, access to affordable energy with natural gas, and increased social infrastructure including local schools and medical care. “That will attract new businesses and new residents,” he says.

And let’s not forget jobs. New residents will need something to do, to afford even “affordable” housing in rural areas. They’ll need jobs when they get there. Beefed-up infrastructure is necessary to create the jobs that people will fill once they get there. That’s what the federation will be looking for from the upcoming budget

All sectors will be clamouring for support from the budget. But when it comes to agriculture and food, here’s the key: Only last month, the federal advisory council on economic growth singled out Canada’s agri-food sector for its “great potential,” in a report entitled Unleashing the Growth Potential of Key Sectors

The report cited the country’s large natural endowment of water and arable land, distinctive record of accomplishments in research, and exceptional base of companies and entrepreneurs.

It also said the sector also has exposure to favourable global market trends, including demand from fast-growing Asian economies where protein consumption is on the rise.

“These assets, coupled with the scale of the existing obstacles, provide the potential for material economic gains for Canadians while also providing a blueprint for how the government and private sector may work together to unleash Canada’s potential in other sectors,” it said.

OK, Ontario government (and federal government), the door is open, and the future is laying before you.

Do like the OFA, and our 12-year-old, suggests: invest in rural communities.


Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy


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