By Bevan Hamilton 
BELLEVILLE – The federal government’s new National Rural Caucus will go a long way in helping small communities overcome their unique challenges, says the local MP who has been named its chair.
Mike Bossio, elected Liberal MP for the Hastings-Lennox and Addington riding in the Oct. 19 election, was selected to head the caucus on Monday night.
In an interview with QNet News Wednesday, Bossio said he had requested the formation of the new caucus, which could have anywhere between 40 and 70 MPs. One reason for his request, he said, is the large size of his riding, which includes 18 municipalities, two county levels of government and a Mohawk territory , all in rural areas. In contrast, Toronto has 40 MPs who each have jurisdiction over just one municipality.
“My role is helping my colleagues and the government recognize that these unique challenges exist for small, rural communities,” Bossio said. “Once we’ve established that they exist, then what remedies can we put in place to overcome those challenges? Some of the challenges are common to all rural communities and then others are unique. But the key is to take a more holistic approach to create long-term, sustainable rural communities.”
One reason a caucus was so necessary, Bossio said, is that the current federal funding formula shuts out rural areas from even applying for money for projects they need.
The federal Liberal government’s Small Communities Fund  “applies to communities that have under 100,000 people. Well, there are only 33 municipalities in the country that have over 100,000 people and there are over 5,400 that are less than 100,000. So how does a Desoronto or a Napanee compete against a Peterborough for the resources?”
One solution Bossio proposes is to redefine what a small community is. Right now, it’s based on the population of the municipality. But Bossio said he hopes the caucus will agree to redefine a rural community as being fewer than 50 people per square kilometre.
Two other issues that are likely to be on the caucus’s agenda are digital infrastructure and economic development for small businesses. But the caucus also won’t forget about the traditional areas – agriculture, fishing and forestry – that are suffering right now in rural communities, Bossio said.
The group held its first meeting on Monday night, and selected Bossio as chair. Northumberland-Peterborough South Liberal MP Kim Rudd  was among those who nominated Bossio. She told QNet News that his idea to redefine what small communities are convinced her that Bossio is the person for the job.
“When someone sees a problem and takes the initiative to do what Mike did, I see that as a leader,” she said.
The National Rural Caucus is very important for Canadians, Rudd added.
“It’s often been a bit of a challenge to get a very strong rural voice at the national table in terms of resources and a number of other things.”
Since being elected, Bossio has been emphasizing the importance of a caucus whose specific role is to address the unique challenges that small communities face. Because rural MPs are so busy, their voices can be fragmented, he said Wednesday. But he believes that’s about to change:
“As a united caucus of 50 to 70 MPs, we now have a very strong voice.”