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Premier Doug Ford's Speech at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association 2020 Conference

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Premier Doug Ford's Speech at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association 2020 Conference

Office of the Premier

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Thank you for the kind introduction.

It's an honour to be here at ROMA with my team of all-star Ministers and MPPs at Queen's Park.

I love talking to our municipal leaders. You folks get it.

The challenges you face are very real and the solutions you bring forward are bold.

But for years before I got here, Queen's Park acted as if nothing existed beyond the borders of Toronto.

You didn't have a voice here.

Rural Ontario was written off. And that's unacceptable.

I'm proud to say that this is a government that works for each and every community in this province - and that includes the hard-working people of rural Ontario!

You know, I just love people from rural Ontario. They're the most down-to-earth people I've ever met.

Rural Ontario is an important engine of our economy. It contributes $109 billion a year to our GDP and supports 1.1 million jobs.

Some of you may have seen the latest job numbers. They're incredible.

Since our government took office, over 296,000 new jobs have been created in the province.

In fact, Ontario accounted for 76 per cent of all job growth in Canada over the past year.

Our economy is on fire.

Every part of our province - north, south, east, and west - should have the opportunity to share in our prosperity.

We need to ensure everyone, no matter where they live in Ontario, has access to a good job, the opportunity to start their own business, start a family, and the chance to build a better life for themselves and a better future for Ontario.

So that's why I'm proud to announce today, right here on this stage that we're launching a new intake round for the Rural Economic Development program to support economic growth, attract more jobs, and create more opportunities in communities throughout rural Ontario.

Starting today, rural municipalities, Indigenous communities, non-profits, and local services boards can apply.

We're offering to cover up to half of the cost for eligible projects that help remove barriers to job creation and attract investment and skilled workers that will allow regions to grow.

We'll also cover up to 30 per cent of the costs for eligible minor capital projects to spur economic growth, like restoring museums and heritage sites, setting up community hubs, and streetscaping.

This year, our government is investing $5 million into this program, so you have the resources that you need to invest in yourselves, and in the great people that call rural Ontario home.

Thank you Minister Hardeman for your leadership on this important program.

We also know many rural communities still lack the necessary infrastructure to attract the investment you need to grow.

That's why our government is investing $144 billion over the next decade in transit, roads, schools, hospitals, and broadband networks across the province.

Part of that is through the federal Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, or ICIP, which delivers $30 billion in new infrastructure across the province.

This is money that will help build and improve projects like public transit, roads, highways, bridges, and broadband.

In fact, the ICIP Rural and Northern Stream was the first stream we opened because we knew how important those projects were for many Ontario communities.

I'm thrilled the federal government has recently approved 84 of the projects we submitted, including 62 projects in rural and northern communities.

And currently, we're accepting applications until January 22 for the ICIP Green Stream.

This includes a $200 million investment in eligible water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure projects for municipalities with 100,000 residents or less.

I was just up in Parry Sound on Friday to announce the 2020 allocations for the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund with our incredible Infrastructure Minister, Laurie Scott.

We're providing $200 million for 424 Ontario communities to build and repair roads, bridges, water and wastewater facilities.

My friend Minister Mulroney also released the draft regional transportation plan for Southwestern Ontario on Friday. We're looking for your input before March 17.

In the meantime, we're going to increase the number of communities in the region with intercommunity bus service by 58 per cent over the next five years.

With safer, more reliable, and more connected infrastructure, rural communities can support new businesses as they grow, allow new homes to be built, and help get people to where they need to go faster.

We also recognize that a lack of fast, high-speed Internet and reliable cell service leaves many rural communities behind in the digital age.

You can do almost anything online these days - from banking to shopping to business development.

Access to better broadband means workers can upgrade their skills, businesses can modernize and compete, and residents can enjoy quality, reliable and high-speed service as others do in other parts of the province.

That's why our government is investing $315 million to improve and expand broadband and cellular coverage in rural and northern Ontario as part of our government's Broadband and Cellular Action Plan.

And today, we're taking another step forward towards that goal.

I'm pleased to announce that three rural broadband contracts have been awarded through the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology, or SWIFT, project.

These three projects represent a combined investment of $34.5 million from the province, the federal government, and private partners, which will benefit 11,000 homes and businesses in Norfolk, Wellington, and Lambton counties.

SWIFT is working to bring better broadband and cellular service to 50,000 more homes and businesses in total across Southwestern Ontario.

Our government also made a commitment to reduce energy costs for families and households, and that's exactly what we're doing with Phase 2 of our Natural Gas Expansion Program.

Today, I'm happy to announce that the Ontario Energy Board is in the process of finalizing guidelines and they will be issuing a call for applications soon.

We encourage all of the interested municipalities to partner with natural gas distributors on potential projects in their communities to best prepare for the application process.

Switching to natural gas can save a household up to $2,500 a year in heating costs.

It's one way our government is making life more affordable for the people of Ontario.

Finally, we will continue to work with our municipal partners to give you the tools you need to build for the future.

As you know, our government expanded the Municipal Modernization Fund to include small and rural municipalities.

It's one way we're helping 405 small and rural governments across Ontario find savings, modernize, and work smarter, so you can continue to deliver the services that people in your communities rely on every day.

My friend Minister Clark will have an important update on the fund later today, so stay tuned.

We're going to keep working hard to make sure our Plan to Build Ontario Together is delivering for you and for people everywhere in this great province.

And that includes building a stronger, more prosperous rural Ontario where everyone has the opportunity to build something better: a career, a business, a family, and a future - no matter where they call home in this province.

But we can't do it alone.

Working together, we can continue to build a strong, thriving Ontario.

The best place in the world to live, play, and work.

The best place to grow.

Thank you for inviting me. Enjoy the rest of the conference.

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Government Rural and North