Rural Canada puts food on tables and drives the resource wealth of our country.
But too many Canadians are leaving rural communities because they can’t find jobs or access essential services like healthcare, internet, or education.
A Liberal government will commit to narrowing the gap between rural and urban Canada starting with new measures in five major areas.
Canada’s First National Food Policy
Safe Food: Strengthening inspection and enforcement
Canadians expect all foods within Canada to meet the same quality, safety and environmental sustainability standards, regardless of whether that food is produced at home or abroad.
A Liberal government will:
- Conduct a comprehensive review of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency(CFIA), Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC),to ensure effective coordination of Canada’s food safety system tominimize risks and assure Canadians that the food on their tables is safe.
- Invest an additional $50 million over four years to improve food inspection by the CFIA and to ensure the same food safety standards set for Canadian producers are applied to foods imported into Canada.
Sustainable Farm Incomes – Supporting innovation and protecting against risk
Sustainable farm incomes, rural infrastructure and research and innovation are keys to ensuring Canada maintains a strong and vibrant food production system. Unfortunately, Canada’s farmers face a maze of confusing and unpredictable programs. A Liberal government will work in partnership with Canadian farmers to build farm programs from the farm up, not Ottawa down, including:
- A “Clean Slate Committment”, for a complete review of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada programming in partnership with farmers within the first year of a Liberal government, including business risk management programs, agricultural research, innovation and environmental programs.
- Restoring AgriFlex to its original mission of offering regionally flexible programs including practical, bankable business risk management to help farmers meet their costs of production. This could include programs such as the Risk Management Program in Ontario, Assurance stabilization des revenues agricoles in Quebec, market price insurance and improved crop insurance in the West, or a Buy Atlantic program in the Atlantic provinces.
Environmental Farmland Stewardship
Canadians know that our farms and our food are tied to our natural environment, and that a clean environment for the future means investing in clean energy and farmland stewardship. As part of our Clean Slate Commitment, a Liberal government will:
- Work with Canada’s farmers to strengthen Canada’s Environmental Farm Plans, support improved fertilizer and pesticide management, and introduce new environmental goods and services programs that reward farmers for environmentally-sustainable initiatives such as setting aside land for wildlife habitats or carbon sequestration.
- Invest in the development of clean energy from Canadian farms – biomass,wind, solar and geothermal energy – as part of the Liberal commitment to quadruple Canada’s clean energy production.
International Leadership: Opening new markets and building capacity.
Steady growth in fair, rules-based trade in agri-food will continue to be of vital interest to Canada. Our future competitiveness and opportunities for export growth rest on expanding our share of high-value markets where our reputation for quality puts us ahead. We also have a role to play in ensuring that some of the world’s poorest nations – particularly in Africa – have access to safe, healthy food, and can participate in international trade in agri-food. Therefore, a Liberal government will:
- Expand export opportunities by building Canada’s international brand as a producer of the highest-quality foods and beverages in the world.
- Support capacity-building in local food production and food security among world’s most vulnerable nations, particularly in Africa, by reassessing the Canadian International Development Agency’s priority nations list, and focusing on initiatives such as micro-lending, research, trade-related capacity building, and enhancing agricultural productivity and sustainability.
Rural Health Care
For many years, Canadians living in small towns and rural communities have expressed deep concern about the availability of Health Care services in their community. While some 20 percent of Canadians live in rural areas, only 10 percent of doctors practice there. Many rural families have to travel hours to get a family doctor for their children, find mental health services, or put elderly parents in care facilities.
In cooperation with provinces and territories, a Liberal government will introduce a new incentive by forgiving a portion of Canada Student Loans for doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners choosing to practice in a designated underserved small-town or rural community. Family doctors will be eligible for student loan forgiveness up to $8,000 per year to a maximum of $40,000. Nurses and nurse practitioners will be eligible for student loan forgiveness up $4,000 per year to a maximum of $20,000. Quebec does not participate in the Canada Student Loans Program, therefore a Liberal government will work with the government of Quebec to determine the best ways to meet the objectives.
A Liberal government will invest an additional $40 million over two years to improve rural health services in cooperation with provinces, territories, municipalities and medical professionals.
Canada’s economy is increasingly knit together through the internet. As jobs, education, and communication become more dependent on the internet, Canadians without access or relevant skills will be left behind.
In 2006, Canada’s Telecommunications Review Panel recommended the federal government achieve 100 percent high-speed internet connectivity by 2010. This goal was not achieved under the Conservative government. According to the CRTC, in 2009 close to 800,000 Canadian households (20 percent of all rural Canadians) still could not access high-speed internet. Although Canada ranked second in the world in internet connectivity in 2000, we’ve now fallen to tenth place. This threatens our economic competitiveness and quality of life.
Using proceeds from the upcoming spectrum auction slated for 2012, a Liberal government will set a goal of 100 percent high-speed internet connectivity of at least 1.5 MB/sec for all Canadian communities within three years of being elected. This commitment will increase the availability of affordable line and wireless connectivity, and improve mobile phone coverage in rural areas.
No matter where Canadians live, they should expect high-quality, reliable mail service within their communities. Many see their post offices as community hubs, but since 2006 the Harper government has overseen closure of 42 rural post offices, and cancellation of 55,000 rural roadside mailboxes from service.
Still more closures are likely unless a commitment is made to protect rural postal services.Therefore, a Liberal government will:
- Protect Universal Service. Canada Post will maintain a postal system for collection, transmission and delivery of letters, parcels and publications anywhere in Canada, and ensure that rural regions remain an integral part of its universal service.
- Restore and Maintain Rural Mail Service. A moratorium will be placed on the closure of rural post offices, and priority placed on re-establishing discontinued box-to-box, rural and roadside mail services.
- Improve Community Consultation. Six months before any changes in service or delivery methods affecting rural post offices or roadside mail boxes can be implemented, Canada Post will communicate with all affected customers and communities, and consult with local residents to explore options to address their concerns.
Over 90 percent of fire departments depend on Canada’s 84,000 volunteer firefighters. They perform a crucial service to their communities, particularly in smaller centres.
A Liberal government will introduce a $3,000 refundable tax credit in recognition of the costs Canada’s volunteer firefighters incur for their emergency public service. All volunteer firefighters with a minimum of 200 hours of volunteer service during the tax year will be eligible. This annual volunteer service would include time devoted to achieving and maintaining firefighter training in accordance with recognized standards. The tax credit would be made available to everyone who qualifies, regardless of income.