QUEEN’S PARK — Funding to increase rural Internet access was the highlight of the recent provincial budget.
Both the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and Grain Farmers of Ontario had good things to say about the budget submitted last month. For the OFA, the big news was the announcement of another $680 million for rural broadband, bringing the provincial investment in getting rural areas on to high-speed internet (50 Mbps download speed and 10 Mbps upload speed) to nearly $1 billion.
“We’re singing from the rooftops about broadband,” said former OFA president Keith Currie. It’s been a hot-button issue for the organization for years.
Ag also got $25.5 million in funding to beef up COVID-19 protections on-farm, and the province chipped in $5 million to support local ag societies, which have been struggling with the cancellation of most of the rural fairs.
The Grain Farmers of Ontario had their own salutations to offer: an extra $50 million in Business Risk Management funding and an amendment letting unused monies in the program roll over to future years. That way producers can use RMP more like insurance, saving cash in good years for a rainy day.
Overall, the budget is, unsurprisingly, not balanced, with the province forecasting a $38.5 billion budget deficit. That’s expected to drop to a $33.1 billion deficit in next year’s budget and then $28.2 billion the year after that.
Said a statement from the budget: “While Ontario’s current levels of spending are critical to get through the pandemic, the government recognizes that this is unsustainable over the long term, thus the focus on building a foundation for recovery fuelled by economic growth.”