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Rural Canada

Michael Ignatieff commits to Liberal “Rural Canada Matters” strategy

Posted on April 6, 2011

COMPTON, QC – A Liberal government’s “Rural Canada Matters” strategy will provide Canadians living in small town and rural Canada – especially our farmers – with the tools to succeed, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announced today at the Compton Agricultural Co-op.

“A Liberal government will be there for flexible, bankable farm programs built from the ‘farm up, not Ottawa down,’” Mr. Ignatieff said at an announcement with Liberal candidate for Compton-Stanstead William Hogg. “That means we’ll have flexible funding for programs such as the Assurance stabilization des revenues agricoles (ASRA) in Quebec and the Ontario Risk Management Program, where Stephen Harper has told farmers ‘no.’

“Stephen Harper isn’t at the table for farmers,” said Mr. Ignatieff. “A Liberal government will support farmers with practical programs that give them the flexibility they need.”

The Liberal Platform’s “Rural Canada Matters” strategy aims to bridge the gap between rural and urban Canadians:

  • National Food Policy: working with producers to develop new programs to support sustainable farm incomes, research and innovation, environmental stewardship and opening new markets;
  • Rural health care: student loan forgiveness up to $40,000 for doctors and $20,000 for nurses and nurse practitioners who practice in rural communities;
  • Volunteer Firefighters: a new, $3,000 refundable tax credit to recognize their community service;
  • Rural broadband: 100% high-speed internet connectivity everywhere in rural Canada within three years; and
  • Postal service: protecting universal service by freezing further post office closures and putting a priority on resuming discontinued services.

The Liberal Party also released a new “explainer video” today to communicate the Rural Canada Matters policy (Broadcast quality version for download).

“Canadians living in small town and rural Canada put food on our tables and drive the resource wealth of our county – but too many rural families have a hard time finding a doctor or nurse, or getting internet access and cell phone service,” said Mr. Ignatieff.  “A Liberal government will address these problems, and protect rural postal services, recognize the hard work of our volunteer firefighters, and get more Canadian food on Canadian tables.”

The Conservatives’ failed budget attempted to copy from the rural health care and volunteer firefighters policies in the Liberal ‘Rural Canada Matters’ strategy.  But unlike the Liberal Party’s proposed $3,000 refundable tax credit that will help all volunteer firefighters, the Conservative volunteer firefighter tax credit is non-refundable, meaning many volunteer firefighters will not benefit from it – while additional Liberal measures to strengthen health services in rural communities have been ignored.

“We can strengthen rural Canada – without raising taxes on families – if we stop corporate give-aways, control wasteful spending, and focus on what really matters: giving every Canadian the tools to succeed.”

BACKGROUND
Rural Canada Matters

The Liberal Party of Canada’s “Rural Canada Matters” strategy seeks to ease the burden on rural Canadian families and bridge the gap between urban and rural Canada.

Canada’s First National Food Policy

A Liberal government will put in place Canada’s first ever National Food Policy. Developed in consultation with Canadian food producers, this policy will help Canadian farmers get more of their product onto the tables of Canadian families. The National Food Policy starts with five core areas for action:

1. Sustainable farm incomes, with a “Clean Slate Commitment” to build practical, bankable farm programs in partnership with farmers.  A Liberal government will restore AgriFlex with flexibility to support regionally responsive programs, such as the Assurance stabilization des revenues agricoles in Quebec (ASRA), the Ontario Business Risk Management Program, market price insurance for livestock or improved premiums for crop insurance in the West, and a Buy Atlantic program in Atlantic Canada. A Liberal government will also continue to support supply management;

2. Safe Food, by implementing all of the Weatherill report recommendations and investing an additional $50 million in improving food inspections and ensuring imported foods meet our tough domestic standards;

3. Healthy living, including an $80-million Buy Local Fund to develop local farmers’ markets and promote home-grown foods, a $40-million Healthy Start program to help 250,000 low-income children access healthy foods, introducing progressive health labeling and tough standards on salt and trans fats, and launching a Healthy Choices program to help Canadians make informed eating decisions;

4. Environmental farmland stewardship, by strengthening Environmental Farm Plans, improving fertilizer and pesticide management, and rewarding farmers for their role in clean energy production and protecting wildlife habitat; and

5. International leadership, to promote Canadian food internationally and expand Canada’s share of high-value export markets while also fostering food security in Africa and the world’s poorest nations.

More doctors and nurses in rural communities

While 20% of Canadians live in rural areas, only 10% of doctors practice in rural communities. A Liberal government will work with the provinces and territories to attract more doctors and nurses to underserved rural communities by forgiving the federal portion of any student loans incurred to a maximum of $40,000 for doctors and $20,000 for nurses and nurse practitioners choosing to practice in a designated underserved rural community.

As Quebec does not participate in the Canada Student Loans program, Quebec would be allocated an equitable share of the investment. Together with the province and local leaders the Liberal plan will support Quebec’s goal of advancing its Plans régionaux d’effectifs médicaux (PREM).

A Liberal government would also work in partnership with provinces and territories to explore other ways to strengthen rural health services, including:

  • Advancing rural-focused medical and nursing education;
  • Encouraging young Canadians in rural communities to go to medical school or study nursing;
  • Helping to find employment for the spouses of new doctors and nurses;
  • Boosting rural medicine extension programs; and
  • Improving internet access for rural health practitioners.

Refundable tax credit for volunteer firefighters

Volunteer firefighters provide an emergency public service in rural communities that is a full-time, paid job in urban settings.

Over 90% of Canada’s 3,492 fire departments are volunteer fire departments. There are approximately 84,000 volunteer firefighters in Canada.

A Liberal government would introduce a new refundable $3,000 tax credit in recognition of Canada’s volunteer firefighters and the emergency public service they provide to their communities.

The volunteer firefighter tax credit proposed by the Conservatives excludes low-income Canadians, while the Liberal refundable volunteer firefighter tax credit is available to all volunteer firefighters who volunteer for a minimum of 200 hours a year.

100% high-speed internet connectivity and increased mobile phone coverage

In 2006, Canada’s Telecommunications Review Panel (CRTC) recommended the federal government achieve 100% high-speed internet connectivity by 2010. This goal was not achieved under the Conservative government.

According to the CRTC, in 2009, 800,000 Canadian households – or 20% of all rural Canadians – could not access high-speed internet.

A Liberal government will commit to achieving the goal of 100% high-speed internet connectivity within three years of being elected, and expand mobile phone coverage for rural and remote Canada.

Using proceeds from the upcoming wireless spectrum auction slated for 2011, a Liberal government will invest $500 million to achieve connectivity of at least 1.5 MB/sec for all Canadian communities within three years of being elected.

With an interim target of 1.5 MB/sec, we would establish a universal availability target comparable with other industrialized nations.

Rural Postal Services

Rural post offices are hubs of activity for rural residents, but since 2006, the Conservative government has presided over the closure of 42 rural post offices, and the cancellation of 55,000 rural roadside mailboxes from service. Some rural residents now must travel several kilometres to get their mail – something that is difficult for seniors and those with disabilities.

Still more closures are likely unless a commitment is made to protect rural postal services.  That’s why 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.

Questions and Answers

Q: How will your investment in 100% high-speed internet improve mobile phone coverage?

A: Building Canada’s rural internet infrastructure means fixed wireless infrastructure would also be built. We would work with the private sector to concurrently support implementation of mobile phone antennas on this infrastructure to improve rural mobile phone coverage.

Q: How does the Liberal rural medicine initiative exactly differ from what was in the Conservative budget?

A: In spring 2010 the Liberal Party announced that we would launch a new program forgiving the student loans of doctors and nurses who practice in rural areas. The Conservatives stole the proposal for their failed 2011 budget.

The Liberal proposal also invests $20 million more per year in other initiatives to improve access to rural medicine, such as programs to help rural youth to go into medical or nursing schools, and supporting rural medical schools and programs to help find employment for spouses of rural doctors or nurses.

Q: How does the Liberal volunteer firefighters tax credit differ from what was in the Conservative budget?  How much is the Liberal tax credit worth?

A: In spring 2010 the Liberal Party announced that we would implement a refundable volunteer firefighter tax credit. The Conservatives decided to parrot this initiative in their failed 2011 budget – but unlike the Conservative proposal, which is non-refundable, the Liberal refundable tax credit will be there for ALL volunteer firefighters including those who have lower incomes.

We estimate the Liberal refundable volunteer firefighter tax credit will cost the federal government an additional $5 million per year – and the cash value of the credit will be $450 for every volunteer firefighter across the country, regardless of their income.