Wednesday, July 25, 2012

CITY MOUSE, COUNTRY MOUSE: DO NOT WRITE OFF RURAL NEWFOUNDLAND


_________________________________________

  “The government policies that have been
 in place in this region, for far too long, have
 been to try to maintain this urban-rural split,
 instead of letting the natural laws of migration 
take hold, as they have in the rest of the country,
 where people move to the opportunities in 
their own provinces. Trying to prop up 
 communities which are not financially viable,
 with trying to attract businesses that never 
stay in these communities, or governmen
t programs that never work, all we’re doing
 is throwing good money after bad. We have 
to admit that the world has changed and if
 we’re going to be successful, we have to be 
more urbanized.”

Don Mills
Corporate Research Associates

_________________________________________
 


I really enjoyed the lead editorial in the July edition of the St. John's based The Navigator. 

The Navigator is a monthly magazine serving the fishing and marine industries in Atlantic Canada and the Eastern United States. The Navigator speaks directly to the subscribers it serves in a language they understand, focusing editorial content to address the issues that matter in their lives. 

City Mouse, Country Mouse, by Editor Jamie Baker offers a though provoking take on the real value of our rural communities.

I am interesting in your thoughts regarding Baker's arguments and observations!

Coming from a rural community, it never ceases to amaze me how ignorant some people can be about the value of small towns and communities as part of the Atlantic Canadian identity and economy.

A few months ago there was an event held in St. John’s, NL, at which a fellow by the name of Don Mills spoke. I don’t usually yammer on about topics from months previous but this is one that kind of stuck with me so please, dear reader, bear with me.

Mills has built a heckuva pollster business at Corporate Research Associates (CRA) by, among other things, calling up a few hundred people up once every three months and asking them what politicians and parties they like the best and then releasing those polls publicly. It is a quarterly event that has caused political types around these parts to wet their good trousers with anticipation. 

Oddly enough though, during the event in question, Mills didn’t talk much about political polls. 

He talked about the rural and urban divide — you know: that increasingly large gulf between the mentality and reality of those who dwell in the city and those who dwell in the rural areas? It’s the city mouse, country mouse fable played out in real life.

Anyway, Mills talked about how 80 per cent of Canadians now live in urban centres of 1,000 people or more (1,000 people is considered an urban area? Really? Really?). 

He talked about Atlantic Canada, where that number is lower — like in Newfoundland and Labrador where only 58 per cent of people live in what he classifies as an urban centre (1,000 people? For real? Seriously?).

Had he left it at the numbers it could have provided some food for interesting thought.
But no, he couldn’t help himself.

He then waded into the same idiotic swamp as so many before him by linking those urban-rural splits with the Atlantic Canadian unemployment numbers: “It’s easier to some extent to create jobs in urban areas than it is in rural areas.”

Classify that under blindingly obvious, but we can classify the solution he proposed under blindingly stupid.



The best way to tackle joblessness in rural areas, he suggested, is to move all hands into the cities — in other words, resettlement. At least that’s my interpretation of it. You can judge for yourself. This was what he said as recorded by The Telegram newspaper in St. John’s:

 “The government policies that have been in place in this region, for far too long, have been to try to maintain this urban-rural split, instead of letting the natural laws of migration take hold, as they have in the rest of the country, where people move to the opportunities in their own provinces. Trying to prop up communities which are not financially viable, with trying to attract businesses that never stay in these communities, or government programs that never work, all we’re doing is throwing good money after bad. We have to admit that the world has changed and if we’re going to be successful, we have to be more urbanized.”

It’s easy to pick on Mills for saying something that grossly short-sighted and uninformed. Sadly though, what Mills said is actually something that you hear whispered a lot around government offices and office towers where bean-counting bureaucrats and the business and cultural elite spew their daily wisdom while sucking back $5 low-fat lattes.

Why should we pay all this money to provide services to rural areas, they ask? Let’s just move all those country bumpkins all into the major urban centres (or towns of 1,000… wow, I mean, seriously? You’ve got to be kidding — right?) and call it a day.
It’s a perfect plan. Right?

For any of you who have had that thought, please take a seat and pay attention because I’m about to give you a pearl of wisdom that rural Atlantic Canadians already know: Without us, you are nothing. You could not even exist.

Let’s say we wiped out rural communities. Great, now we’re getting somewhere, you say. No more doling out dollars for roads to the middle of nowhere and healthcare for the seniors and sickly in the far flung bergs of Atlantic Canada. Think of the savings!

Not so fast, slick.

Let’s start with the basics. Pray tell, without rural communities, just where the hell is your food going to come from? You can forget fish, vegetables, beef, pork, chicken (the normal, non test-tube kind anyway), and all those sorts of thing because — gasp! — it all pretty much comes from rural areas.
You can also cross lumber, building supplies, gardening supplies and anything “natural” or “organic” off your list, outside the produce from an occasional backyard city hobby garden.
On the economic side of things, the Atlantic Canadian fishery and its $3 billion in value each year is off the table. 

Commercial level agriculture is pretty well finished too.
Moving right along, we can also forget about tourism and the billions of dollars that generates, because that’s over. 

And we can probably stop talking about silly things like culture and heritage because rural communities are the soul for both whether the city folk want to admit it or not. In fact, sit there and think about how many cultural and heritage items stem from rural communities. 

Go ahead. We’ll wait.

Had enough time to dwell on that? Humbling to think about, isn’t it?

In the middle of all this foolishness, however, there are forward thinking people who know the value rural communities create for people as a whole, no matter where they might get their mail.
In fact, some of these people believe that rural areas and the people that live in them will and are becoming MORE important to our cultural and economic reality as time moves on. 

I’ll give the final word on that issue to Fogo Island businesswoman Zita Cobb, again, as quoted by The Telegram.

“I really believe we are coming to a time that’s the time of the outports. I think modernity, in a way, has become a victim of its own self. In our human quest to find comfort… I think we’ve found that the comfort, maybe hasn’t given us the nourishment that we thought it would. And so there is this kind of longing for the meaning that has been lost because of the disconnections, the social integration and cultural upheaval and disorientation that’s happened when people have become separated from the natural and from community.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How about this one from FFAW President Earl McCurdy on the 20th anniversary of the closure of the cod moratorium "I think we should all resolve, starting at 12:01 am tomorrow, to examine our fishery and figure out where we go from here."

The union, the industry and government have had 20 years to figure out where the Fishery is going.

Not much results so far. Overfishing other species while not examining the structural issues of seasonal employment, diminishing resources and international trade pressures.

That's what they have done over the past 20 years.