This is the full text of Premier Doug Ford’s speech at ROMA – Rural Ontario Municipal Association Conference this week:
Thank you for having me. I always appreciate the chance to talk with our rural mayors.
And this year’s theme of ‘Rural Opportunities’ is one that’s very close to my heart because I know that our small towns and communities are the lifeblood of this province.
So, before I begin, I need to give credit to all of you for the tremendous job you’re doing to keep everyone safe during this pandemic.
We have counted on you to do a lot of heavy lifting – for the good of your neighbours, your communities and all of Ontario.
You’ve never let us down, and I can’t thank you enough.
But I know Omicron has been hard on communities throughout Ontario and rural communities have not been spared from the effects.
It has shown us again why we need to treat this virus with the utmost caution and always stay ready to react quickly to protect our people, and our hospitals.
But speaking with you today, while there will still be challenges ahead through the winter months, we are confident that we can handle what is yet to come through following our plan, and always staying disciplined and cautious.
But the pandemic has made it clear that we must not stop building the modern hospital capacity this province needs.
So, we will continue to deliver more hospitals all across Ontario, making the largest investments in provincial history to ensure that people can get the health care they need regardless of where they live.
We also have a plan for building a stronger economy, an economy that works for everyone.
Never forgetting the small, rural communities that are the backbone of Ontario.
The Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund is just one way our government is building all of Ontario.
Through this funding, we are supporting modern and efficient public infrastructure that is critical to building a strong provincial economy.
And not just in the big cities and towns.
These infrastructure projects will create local jobs and support small businesses and suppliers all of which are critical to a strong economic recovery for rural communities.
And a critical piece of this infrastructure is connecting all Ontarians to modern broadband Internet.
We are investing nearly $4 billion over six years beginning in 2019-20 in broadband infrastructure to ensure that more communities across the province have ready access to the opportunities of the future.
Another of the most pressing issues facing Ontario today is housing and the lack of supply that makes home ownership slip further from people’s reach every year.
This is a crisis that has been in the making for decades as previous government’s put ideology over the needs of Ontarians and allowed the supply of needed housing to fall far behind what’s required.
I spoke to the big city Mayors about this last week.
But it’s an issue that effects rural Ontario just as much.
For example, it is projected that Ontario will see a population increase of more than 2 million people over the next decade.
In and around the Greater Golden Horseshoe municipalities like Simcoe County could see a 17 per cent population increase which would require over 35,000 new homes.
Or Wellington County – with 18 per cent growth, needing 8,100 new homes.
We can’t – and won’t – wait any longer to address this crisis and we will deliver the housing options that all Ontarians need.
And in addition to building the homes for our constantly growing population, we are making the largest investments in provincial history to ensure our roads and highways are ready to keep Ontarians moving.
To achieve this, we are delivering two desperately needed new highways, the 413 and the Bradford Bypass.
After years of being ignored by previous governments, rural Ontario will remain a priority for us, today, tomorrow and every day after that.
We will leave no region behind as we build all of Ontario for the future.
Before I close, I want to say how truly grateful I am for the ongoing support and help of our rural and municipal leaders throughout this past year.
Our progress as a province would not be possible without you, and your leadership.
You stood tall in our time of need and did yourselves very proud.
I look forward to our continued cooperation to build a better tomorrow for our rural communities and all of Ontario.