When politicians dream, they dream in roads. They dream of roads connecting cities and towns (especially their cities and towns) and that these roads will then bring more people.
More people means more tax dollars. More roads also means more infrastructure for businesses, and those businesses in turn will perhaps choose a better connected Kawartha Lakes as their home.
So when Jeff Leal, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs for the provincial government was at Kawartha Lakes City Hall this week, he announced funding of up to $35,000 for an advanced study to find out if improvements planned to Highway 7 will boost economic development in the Eastern Ontario Region.
Kawartha Lakes Community Futures Development Corporation (KLCFDC) will be leading the project, with the funding allocated from the Rural Economic Development (RED) program.
RED aims to help rural and Indigenous communities by attracting investment and tourism to grow their economies.
“This (study) will ensure real economic development happens,” Leal told a well-attended news conference.
The minister pointed out that after the Second World War, the development of the Trans Canada Highway occurred under the now legendary C.D. Howe, the so-called ‘minister of everything.’
(Howe moved the Canadian economy to a free-enterprise system, with minimal government controls, under Prime Ministers William Lyon Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent.)
Even back then, says Leal, “land was set aside” to ensure that not only the Trans Canada Highway would connect Canadians, but that other intersecting key highways would also one day flourish.
This included an envisioned highway “through the heartland” of central Ontario, connecting eastern towns and cities.
“Investing in local projects that help attract investment and create jobs is a vital component of our plan to boost economic growth in rural Ontario,” said Leal.
“These investments are helping shape a strong future for our rural communities,” he added.
Leal was joined at the press conference by local Conservative MP Jamie Schmale and City of Kawartha Lakes Mayor Andy Letham.
“As someone who travels Hwy 7 frequently, this certainly excites me,” said Schmale.
“I’d like to see it all the way to Carleton Place,” the MP said.
Schmale added that an expansion “will bring a better quality of life for people coming here.”
“This is a really good initiative.”
The mayor agreed.
“Good things happen when governments work together,” said Letham.
KLCFDC Chair Paul Reeds said despite Kawartha Lakes’ proximity to the Greater Toronto Area, “this area’s success is closely linked with that of Eastern Ontario, too.”
“Our businesses will benefit from great infrastructure. Highway 7 will deliver great benefits to the entire region,” Reeds says.
Reeds noted there were two previous studies done in 2012, and the new funding will allow for an updated analysis that will build on those previous studies.
“…transportation plays a key role in propelling the economic development and well-being of the Eastern Ontario region,” says Reeds.
This advanced study, adds Reeds, will determine if transforming Highway 7, “will significantly enhance rural prosperity.”
“A major infrastructure improvement such as this one first requires compelling evidence of its return on investment,” he says, making this money from RED essential.