Assessing the Capacity of Municipalities to Respond to Evolving Rural and Agricultural Issues

A Greenbelt Focus


Dr. W.J. Caldwell, Professor,
School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
University of Guelph


Elise Geschiere, B.A., M.Sc. Candidate

Emily C. Sousa, B.A., M.Sc. Candidate

Regan Zink, B.E.S., M.Sc. Candidate, OPPI Candidate Member

sponsored by

The Greenbelt Foundation

executive summary

A thriving agricultural sector in Ontario is dependent upon a knowledgeable and supportive municipal sector. As the nature of municipal government and agriculture evolves, municipalities need to ensure that they have the capacity (staff, time, expertise) to respond to new and emerging agricultural issues (including climate change, cannabis production, agritourism, etc.). It is equally important that municipal elected officials understand the needs of agriculture and are well positioned to make timely, relevant decisions in support of the agri-food sector and the economy of rural Ontario.

Research examining municipal capacity and rural and agricultural outcomes is relatively sparse, the most recent comparable study being conducted in the late 1980s. Davidson (1988) provides historical context to the varied efforts of Ontario municipalities in relation to rural issues. His research examined the capacity of 13 upper-tier planning departments and determined a variety of challenges (staff resources, outdated policies, expectations) impacting rural areas and rural economic development. Many of the issues identified in Davidson’s research persist in the present and point to a sustained relationship between municipal capacity and the ability to deliver on critical planning mandates; the study being undertaken by Dr. Caldwell aims to build on this research and contribute to a more complete understanding of this relationship.

The research area includes  67 upper and lower tier municipalities across the Greenbelt Region. A mixed methods approach will be used in the research, including: surveys and interviews with municipal planners and elected officials, in addition to a literature review and policy analysis. The deliverable of this project will be a report for the Greenbelt Foundation detailing the research findings and providing recommendations for how to better position municipalities to respond to and support the agri-food sector in the planning process. As the project progresses, Dr. Caldwell’s website will be updated to include the final report and supplementary materials such as lessons learned, best practices and training materials.

A copy of the final report for this project can be found below. If you have questions about this project, please reach out to a member of the research team:

Wayne Caldwell |
Elise Geschiere |
Regan Zink |

This project is focussed on understanding the capacity of municipalities in the Greenbelt to respond to agricultural and agri-food priorities. This presentation was part of Dr. Wayne Caldwell’s 2021 Research Advisory Committee Meeting.

For more information about this project, please contact