Western Ontario wardens set priorities

The Western Ontario Warden’s Caucus (WOWC) has set its priorities to focus on this year and in 2024.

The caucus wants to collaborate with federal and provincial politicians to address the housing crisis, the workforce shortage, as well as mental health, addictions, and homelessness.

WOWC Chair Glen McNeil said those issues were consistently identified as the primary concerns for small and rural municipalities in Western Ontario. He explained members of the caucus conducted extensive research and significant discussions over the past few months to determine the topics most in need of advocacy in Western Ontario.

He also stressed the importance of having the support of regional MPs and MPPs to further advocate on Parliament Hill and at Queen’s Park for their priorities.

“The WOWC members, along with the MPs and MPPs, agreed wholeheartedly on the importance and urgency of collaborating together on these critical issues, and speaking with one united voice on behalf of the 1.5 million residents we collectively represent,” added Chair McNeil.

When it comes to housing, the caucus continues to focus on increasing the supply of all types of housing so all residents in the region have a safe place to call home regardless of income level. They’re asking for a target number of new homes expected to be built in rural areas, and how the province will support needed infrastructure upgrades that go along with new housing. The caucus welcomes significant investment from both upper levels of government, but wants action after the Building Homes Faster Act removed municipal development charge revenue, which normally funds housing-enabling infrastructure. And the caucus needs details on the federal Housing Accelerator Fund, including specific funding and clarity on the definition of small and rural municipalities

The Western Ontario Workforce Strategy predicts there will be an estimated 214,000 jobs to be filled across the region between now and 2030. So they want a faster transition for temporary foreign workers to become permanent residents, along with additional training for skilled trades for residents already living in the region.

McNeil pointed out mental health, addictions, and  homelessness are putting unprecedented strains on vulnerable populations and the health care network in our small and rural municipalities, but have fewer resources that urban areas to tackle the growing crisis.  The caucus wants specific and increased funding for small and rural communities to tackle these issues.

“The WOWC looks forward to continuing this important work through its significant research and ongoing collaboration with regional stakeholders, including directly with MPs and MPPs,” concluded WOWC Vice-Chair Wade Mills. “With our collective regional power, and the commitment from our federal and provincial partners, we can advocate and collaborate on these key priorities at multiple levels and find much-needed solutions for our residents and our communities.”

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