A new provincial government, even if it’s simply a new version of an old government, must have a certain blank-slate characteristic about it. It’s the kind of trait that gives an electorate hope that issues raised with candidates on the stump will indeed surface at Queen’s Park. But mostly, the elected party proceeds either on its track record, with the approval of the electorate, or conversely, on a new platform.

When it comes to rural matters, the provincial Liberals didn’t have to worry about either their track record nor their hopes and dreams, because the other political parties couldn’t get meaningful agriculture, food or rural affairs issues (other than school funding) on the public agenda. So, the returning Liberals can now trot out their rural platform like it’s some brand new piece of work, if they’d like, because no one’s seen it yet or really knows what the Liberals stand for.

Check out the platform as it appears on the web, off the Liberal home page http://www.ontarioliberal.ca/en/default_home.aspx. Go to Our Agenda, then Our Platform and you will eventually link to the rural platform, which is worth a visit.

The Liberals know some rural powder kegs mercifully stayed quiet during the election. But they could be ignited any time. The sorrowful state of rural economic development in some parts of the province needs immediate attention. Rural unemployment and hopelessness breeds the kind of discontent that swells the ranks of anti-government groups and splinter groups that are convinced it’s either government inaction on matters such as job creation and economic development — or government intervention, in areas such as wildlife habitat preservation and public use of private land — that’s causing their problems.

And whether they’re right or not, there’s a true discontent in some parts of rural Ontario – such as the parts around Kingston that elected former anti-government advocate Randy Hillier to Queen’s Park, and in southwestern Ontario around Wallaceburg and Chatham, and in Tory strongholds in farming country north of here – based on genuine economic hardship and dwindling employment opportunities. There’s no happy face or easy fix for these areas. They’re desperate for assistance and need leadership.

In its rural platform, the Liberals say they will respond with a $20-million Eastern Ontario development fund to attract investment there. They also say they’ll increase broadband Internet service in Ontario, because a rural community served by dial-up only will not likely attract the kind of big-time investment it needs to grow.

Here’s more good news: The Liberals will put $13 million a year into Buy Ontario, to encourage local food purchasing and promote an Ontario-first culture. Plus, they’ll invest in farmers’ markets that sell real locally grown food. And they’ll help young farmers get established with loan assistance and financial incentives for education, training and support. There’s more on the Liberals’ website.

Given such a strong mandate, the government will be under pressure to deliver. One way it can respond, address the problems and provide solutions is through research that takes place as part of a unique and enviable partnership with Canada’s leading agricultural university, the University of Guelph. This $50-million-plus partnership sees the efforts of hundreds of faculty and staff at the Ontario Agricultural College and elsewhere at the University focused on agri-food, rural and environmental issues facing Ontarians.

This connectivity has been in place in some form since the University was created in 1964, and actually, since the late 1800s, when the college came to be. It’s one reason the blank slate of any new government can get out of the starting blocks quickly. Guelph research supported by the province continues addressing the health, environmental and food needs of Ontarians, and much more.