Enabling rural economic development in Ontario

I’m a little disappointed in myself for not immediately noticing the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s (MMAH) release of new draft policies for the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) on September 24th.  After all, who doesn’t love digging into a newly issued list of land use policy statements the minute they’re released? I know, I know – only the planners have to worry about the policies, right?

Not necessarily. The new policies should be on the radar of economic developers in Ontario. The PPS outlines Provincial perspectives on land use and development that municipal planning documents and decisions need to be “consistent” with, especially concerning strong and healthy communities (including strong economies), the wise use and management of resources, and the protection of public health and safety. From that perspective, there are a number of new policies in areas like aboriginal engagement, strategic infrastructure investment and protection, employment lands planning, the diversity of settlement areas, and the protection of natural heritage features – all issues that shape economic development prospects in our communities – which economic developers would be wise to review along with their community’s planners.

But MDB’s work in a number of more rural and near-urban regions across the province lately has highlighted the importance of these and other provincial policies to an increasingly important issue – the ability of these communities to support new types of economic development in their rural and prime agricultural areas (e.g. agri-tourism, agriculture-related commercial/industrial uses). Though there’s a range of new policies to support economic development in the PPS, it’s here where I think the new policies offer some additional flexibility that could change the ways economic developers in the rural and near-urban areas are permitted to encourage and support economic development.

For example, the draft PPS includes new policies related to “agriculture-related uses” and “on-farm diversified uses.” The former – already permitted in prime agricultural areas – has been revised, removing “small-scale” from the definition and requiring that uses “provide direct service to farm operations as an exclusive activity.” This adds new elements of flexibility associated with size, but more clearly limits the use to support of farming activities – thus likely limiting land use conflicts associated with attraction of ‘external’ (i.e. non-farm) customers. New policies associated with on-farm diversified uses, more clearly scoped than “secondary uses” previously allowed, permit small scale ventures that are “secondary to the principle use of the property and help support the farm”, such as home occupations, home industries, agri-tourism uses (also more clearly defined in the new PPS), and uses that produce value-added agricultural products from the farm operation. In short, the PPS more clearly allows farmers to explore additional avenues for revenue generation from their businesses.

There are additional policy challenges to contend with in some areas of the province (e.g. the Greenbelt and Places to Grow in the Greater Golden Horseshoe), but the proposed changes to rural and agricultural policies in the PPS appear to take a step towards a more flexible provincial environment for supporting and allowing economic development and diversification in rural and agricultural areas of the province.

Interested in hearing more about the draft PPS?  The MMAH is holding a series of regional workshops across the province in October and early November. Want to let MMAH know how the policies align with your priorities and the needs of your community? Learn about submitting comments here.