More than 100 dignitaries, professors and students packed the Brandon University library yesterday for a national announcement with local implications.
Minister of State for Science and Technology Ed Holder promised $2.5 million in federal grants over seven years to create the Rural Policy Learning Commons, which will network scholars, politicians and community leaders together to share information that directly affects rural areas.
BU received one of 14 federal partnership grants and was part of a much larger $44-million investment to support social sciences and humanities researchers at post-secondary institutions across Canada.
Wearing a BU tie and button, Holder said the money will increase the school’s access to research and researchers around the world, and that all Canadians will benefit from the partnership.
"Rural communities are such a critically important part of Canada," Holder said. "The impact these two world-class researchers — Dr. Bill Ashton and Dr. Bill Reimer — have through the work that they do, not just at the local, provincial and national level but at the international level, will help Canada understand better the issues we need to deal with rural problems and opportunities to resolve them."
Ashton, who has applied research on rural issues such as watershed management, housing needs analysis and community economic development, said the money will formalize partnerships, a process more than two decades in the making, that will help scientists collaborate more freely.
The federal funds are being added to an additional $2.7 million to create a $5.2-million international partnership aimed at strengthening the voices of rural and northern communities.
"It’s a fantastic day," said Ashton, who is the director of the Rural Development Institute at BU.
"For us it means we’re able to get connected so the issues on the Prairies, be it climate change, flooding or how natural resources are being used, all of those are being examined across Canada and around the world and this lets us connect with key researchers that are at the leading edge of the research and the practice."
Ashton said research is planned in areas such as labour market shortages and the role of immigration in rural areas.
Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire said the investment should help attract more people from outside the local area to BU.
"We are privileged to have Brandon University in southwestern Manitoba," Maguire said. "Many of our young people go to Brandon University and get their first start in life right here in our own backyard. This funding will help improve the quality of research that is needed to further develop our communities."
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed