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Challenges focus of online rural municipal conference

County representatives will connect virtually with provincial and municipal officials next week to explore ways of tackling the unique challenges faced by rural municipalities.

A delegation led by Mayor Steve Ferguson will join hundreds of participants at the 2021 Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) Conference Jan. 25-26.

In addition to attending sessions and workshops, County representatives are to meet with the Jeff Yurek, the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks – with an aim to improving provincial park regulations.

The mayor and municipal representatives met with Yurek and staff at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) Conference in the summer.

Ferguson states significant progress has been made on the recommendations put forward to improve provincial park operations.

“We look forward to following up with Minister Yurek and stressing the importance of clear and early communication with residents and visitors to implement positive change,” Ferguson said.

He also plans to take part in a roundtable focused on red tape reduction hosted by Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction.

“I will impress upon the minister the importance of giving small businesses and craft producers the flexibility to diversify their operations and pursue innovative ideas,” Ferguson saids. “I will encourage the province to support workforce development programs, a key aspect of the COVID-19 economic recovery. I will also ask the minister to reduce barriers so that the municipality can move forward infrastructure projects in a timely manner, which will create good jobs in our community and spur economic recovery.”

For the first time, the conference will be held entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sessions and workshops touch on everything from economic recovery to health care, broadband and environmental matters.

Key presenters include Ontario Premier Doug Ford, opposition leaders, and key provincial ministers. Other speakers include Maryam Monsef, Canada’s Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development, and AMO President Graydon Smith.

ROMA is designed to promote, support and enhance strong and effective rural governments. About 270 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities have populations of less than 10,000, while scores more are rural in character.

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