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Growing rural NL and connecting Canada


MP Gudie Hutchings (Long Range Mountains) is the Minister of Rural and Economic Development. – File photo

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WEST COAST — On June 1 and 2, MP Gudie Hutchings, Minister of Rural and Economic Development, and MHA Andrew Parsons, Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology, collaborated on a two-day Federal Provincial Territorial (FPT) meeting in Rocky Harbour. Numerous representatives directly involved in rural economic development were present, with the intention of working together to help bring rural Canada more opportunities to grow and thrive. “So not only is it a chance for some great meetings and great discussion with my colleagues from coast to coast to coast, it’s a great chance to showcase western Newfoundland and Labrador. That’s not the main reason, but that’s my ulterior motive,” said Hutchings. Even though rural communities aren’t as interconnected as urban centres, it doesn’t mean they aren’t vital to the country’s economy. “Canadians in rural and remote communities all across the country—from small towns to isolated islands—are important contributors to Canada’s success. However, more can be done to support rural Canada, with its unique challenges and opportunities. That’s why our government, working closely with partners, is investing in rural Canada to ensure programs and policies are developed with rural realities in mind,” said Hutchings. “This week’s meeting was the first of its kind. A collaborative, co-ordinated approach to helping rural communities thrive means tackling key themes like economic growth and development, opportunities in the clean economy and climate resilience, and workforce challenges and opportunities.” Many representatives chose to remain for the entirety of the weekend, to participate in all of the discussions taking place. “It’s a good conversation. Many of the issues in rural and remote and Indigenous communities from coast to coast to coast are similar, so it’s great to be around a table. I’ve met with most of my counterparts before, but it’s nice to have us all in the one room and having a conversation around one table,” said Hutchings. The representatives involved in the FPT meeting came from all across Canada. “We’ve got representatives from provinces to territories across the country. Many are here in person; others are participating virtually. It’s great and people have traveled a long way. We’ve got people here from Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, PEI, Ontario, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and we’ve got people participating virtually from Quebec and BC. Some of our indigenous leaders are participating online and we have some local indigenous people in the room.” Having such a strong representation was imperative. “When rural, remote and Indigenous communities succeed, Canada succeeds. It’s as simple as that. I am grateful for all those who attended, in person or virtually, this important FPT meeting on rural economies. We had many positive and engaging discussions this week. I am looking forward to continued dialogue and progress on this front. We will continue to work with every level of government to achieve results for rural Canadians,” said Hutchings. Even after the first day, Hutchings was feeling very positive. “Day one was great, the weather was perfect. That’s not what we’re here for, but it always helps when the weather is good,” said Hutchings. “This is talking about the challenges, but more so talking about the opportunities and how we make sure that rural Canada is growing. Just under 30 per cent of our country’s GDP comes from rural Canada. We’ve got 20 per cent of the population. When you talk about feeding our country, when you talk about critical minerals, when you talk about mining, when you talk about the wind hydrogen potential for our country, when you look at forestry and, of course, fishing here at home, that’s all in rural Canada, so having conversations to say, wow, how important rural Canada is to our country is excellent.” Minister Andrew Parsons shared that positivity. “I thought it went well for a number of reasons. Primarily, it’s always really good to meet with your colleagues from across the country because sometimes it’s a recognition that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, we share the same challenges. And we’re talking to people in PEI and in the Territories or in the Prairies, and we face similar challenge when it comes to rural demographics and cell service issues, access to certain services,” said Parsons. “So you recognize that it’s not just a Newfoundland and Labrador thing, it is truly a national issue. But on the other side, I’ve always enjoyed FPTs going back to when I was in justice, because sometimes it’s just a really good idea to basically steal great ideas and programs from elsewhere and take them and mold them and fit them to something that can work in Newfoundland and Labrador and vice versa. I’m sure there’s people that may do the same, but I always really enjoyed being able to listen to what people were doing elsewhere and saying, ‘how can we make that relevant to our province from that perspective?’ And I’m sure from Gudie’s perspective, it was great to show off the Gross Morne/Rocky Harbour area to our colleagues throughout the country.” The hope is to have many more FPT meetings in the future. “I co-hosted this with the province of Newfoundland Labrador, of course. Minister Parsons came last night, and Minister (Krista) Howell was here yesterday, so hopefully, one of my provincial or territorial counterparts will put their hand up at the end of the day and say, ‘we’d like to host this with you the next time.’ So that’s a conversation for later today. But everybody is enthused, everybody is excited about the outcomes and the potential of growth in rural and remote and Indigenous communities, and I am too,” shared Hutchings. “Technology is great, but it’s wonderful to sit around the table and chat with people face to face. It’s the conversations around the coffee table. It’s the conversations around the lunch table that really help you explore even more doors that are open for opportunity. And, yeah, it’s making sure that we grow rural economies together. And that’s the important part.” Parsons agrees that FPTs would be successful in the future as well. “I’ve been doing them for eight years I’ve been in cabinet, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to meet colleagues throughout the country to hear and see what’s going on elsewhere, to compare it back to here, and the primary purpose for me has always been, what can we do to fix the issues that we face here? We went through a couple of years, obviously, where they were virtual and not as effective. I think virtual meetings have their place, but when it comes to meeting colleagues and to forming relationships which then can position us to have a beneficial relationship,” said Parsons. Helping rural Newfoundland and Labrador, and the rest of the country, to be more connected and to have equal opportunities, is of the top priorities. “When it comes to helping rural Canadians get connected, the Government of Canada is on track to exceed its goal of providing high-speed Internet access to 98 per cent of Canadian households by 2026 and 100 per cent by 2030. Today, 93.5 per cent of Canadian households have access to high-speed Internet, compared to just 79 per cent in 2014. We know that connectivity is the number one issue for growth across our country,” said Hutchings. “Our government continues to help rural communities from coast to coast to coast thrive and achieve long-term, sustainable growth through close collaboration with rural leaders, Indigenous partners, industries, researchers and all levels of government. By working together, we will make a difference for rural Canada.” Also announced during the FPT was the launch of the completely redesigned website for the Dept. of Rural and Economic Development. The website – canada.ca/rural – offers a guide for those in rural areas in Canada to the numerous programs, services, and resources available to them. “The interactive website is the result of feedback gathered from stakeholders over the last year and will continue to evolve as we expand our efforts,” said Hutchings. The goal is to offer insight into several topics of importance in rural communities such as connectivity, housing, skills and labour, and climate change, while offering programs and information specific to rural communities to help them achieve long-term growth.

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