Governments across Canada struggle develop and implement robust, flexible, and effective rural policies and programs to meet the ever-changing contexts of rural communities. Turbulence, uncertainty, and transition are the new realities for rural development. The migration from Keynesian rural development policies to neoliberal- inspired development policies has re-constructed how rural development is defined, the role of the provinces, the implications for rural regions, and the desired outcomes. One of the key purposes of public policy in a market economy is to correct for market failures. How effective are provincial rural development policy interventions? How do we know if the intervention was a ‘good’ or ‘effective’ investment of public funds? These questions will be examined through this initiative. Examining provincial experiences in designing, implementing, and evaluating rural policies and program will serve to advance rural development in Ontario.

Over the past 15 years, rural regional development approaches in both North America and Europe have been driven by attempts to better participate in globalization. Advancements in transportation and communication technologies mean that rural regions are now competing with other regions around the world for their livelihoods. In an attempt to harness the benefits from globalization, central governments have embraced neo-liberal regional development strategies focused on market efficiency and competitive advantages. From this perspective strategies focused on competitive regions, innovation, agglomeration, and the creative class emerged. These strategies often require high population densities and small distances to markets; both factors hinder the participation of rural areas. Over the years, the vision of rural development as a cornerstone to address regional disparities has disappeared. Recent rural development approaches leave many communities and local development actors to perceive a retreat of government from rural regions and rural regional development.

Researchers and government policy analysts are examining the new rural development realities at the national and sub-national levels, however, there are few forums to provide an opportunity to explicitly examine the convergence and divergence of these new realities. This research initiative will examine how other provinces in Canada have defined rural development policies/programs, designed new initiatives, and evaluated their success. An inventory of rural policies and programs from each primary provincial department/agency responsible for rural development will be created from 2010-present. A content analysis will be conducted to identify convergence and divergence related to the catalyst for the intervention, funding, priorities, and evaluation metrics. Key informant interviews will be held with 4-6 provinces to further examine the nuances of their provincial rural policies and programs. Two focus groups will be held with provincial government policy makers to explore the implications emerging from the content analysis and interviews. The findings from this research will provide the government of Ontario evidence-based recommendations for constructing and implementing successful rural policies and programs.

Research Team

  • Rob Greenwood (Memorial University)
  • Sheri Longboat (University of Guelph)
  • Al Lauzon (University of Guelph)
  • Terri MacDonald (Selkirk College)
  • Sean Markey (Simon Fraser University)
  • Ruth Mealy (Manitoba Growth, Enterprise, and Trade)
  • Karla Uliana (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs)
  • Kelly Vodden (Memorial University)
  • Sarah Breen (Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation)
  • Bill Reimer (Rural Policy Learning Commons)
  • Ashleigh Weeden (University of Guelph)