By Seth DuChene
With local MP Mike Bossio as his tour guide, Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau visited rural Lennox and Addington today to get a better handle on the economy outside the big cities.
“My goal was to understand a little bit better the challenges and the opportunities of both small towns and rural Ontario,” Morneau told the Beaver moments after visiting Bon Eco Design in Tamworth, and after visiting Tweed earlier in the day. “Mike Bossio really set up a program that would give me an expansion of understanding.
“I’ve see opportunities in Tweed, I’ve seen opportunities here in Tamworth to really build a really great lifestyle for families and people if they want to choose that approach, and really gotten a sense of how people could live in a very sustainable way in parts of the country that are outside of major metropolises,” he said, shortly before heading to MacKinnon Brothers Brewery in Greater Napanee for a meet-and-greet.
One of the issues raised with Morneau during his Tamworth visit was access to capital, and the fact that small businesses often have difficulty getting loans from financial institutions to get off the ground or to expand their operations.
Morneau admitted that might be an issue the federal government needs to examine further. He said that while the government has been “keenly focused” on improving access to venture capital by increasing investments into the Business Development Bank of Canada, and in creating a $1 billion business growth fund in co-operation with the large banks and insurance companies to help businesses expand, smaller businesses might not benefiting as much. “What I’ve heard today is there is also, at least in some places, a gap around small businesses that are just starting up and getting access to seed capital. That’s something that we’ll have to continue to think about how we can be engaged in that,” he said.
Morneau said that the government’s investment in infrastructure should have a positive impact on rural small towns, with a $2 billion fund set aside specifically to benefit rural Canada. “What I heard earlier today in Tweed was that one of the challenges is that they just don’t have the sewage facilities to grow the community. So, that’s one of the things that we think about when we think about infrastructure: how do we create infrastructure that allows us to sustain communities and grow communities that are great places for Canadians to live,” he said.
The also said the government has allocated increased funding to improve rural communications infrastructure. “Mike (Bossio) has been quite instrumental in encouraging us to think about how we have an approach to ensuring that there is good ability for people to communicate,” he said.