A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Senate Report on Rural Canada

This is a repost of an article by this author published elsewhere in the summer of 2008.

The report entitled BEYOND FREEFALL: HALTING RURAL POVERTY runs to over 400 pages but is well worth reading. A report of that size is hard to summarize so I have shamelessly picked some extracts that were of interest to me in order to give you an idea of the scope and tone of this report. The text presented, which has been extensively edited for length, is a little long for this forum, but I hope will create some discussion.
The full report is available in PDF format here
The committee’s recommendations are premised on five guiding principles that should shape any future iterations of rural policy, namely that
1. Policy Needs to Respect Rural Diversity: Policy needs to recognize that “rural is not an absolute but a continuum. Canada’s policy needs to reflect that”
2. Policy Needs to Help Those Who Help Themselves: {Government}must focus assistance on communities that demonstrate a willingness to help themselves through {support} which have a realistic chance of achieving their goals.
3. Policy Needs to be Place-Based: The committee believes that policy needs to be place-based, a notion that embodies the idea that one size does not fit all……….
4. Policy Needs to Recognize that Rural Canada Doesn’t Necessarily Want to be
Urbanized: We have to guard against the kind of thinking and policies that are Premised …….on the belief that rural Canada’s problems are best addressed through policies that accelerate the merger of rural communities into urban ones………
5. Rural Policy Needs to Stop Looking for Magic Bullet Solutions: If rural
Canada is to break free from the vicious cycle of decline that has characterized so much of its recent history, policymakers must give up on the search for “magic bullet” solutions.

The Need for a Rural Champion
To drive this renewed focus on rural issues, the committee believes that the federal government should create a Department of Rural Affairs whose minister would sit at the cabinet table and thereby ensure that rural issues and concerns are always heard at the highest level of decision making.

Rural Transportation
For most rural Canadians, “getting around” means having access or owning at least one vehicle and sometimes two or three – an expensive proposition at the best of times but even more so in rural Canada because travel costs (for fuel and repairs) tend to be higher than in urban parts of the country. For the most part, public transportation is not an option and that represents a serious problem for seniors, disabled and low-income rural citizens………….

It is important to recognize that the major determinants of health span a much broader range of issues than mere access to the health care system. The “healthy communities” movement, {snip} argues that health is in fact largely determined by equitable access to such basic prerequisites for health as peace, food, shelter, clean air and water, adequate resources, education, income, {etc.} …………….. Most of this discussion emphasized however what the federal government can do for rural citizens rather than what rural citizens can do for themselves. {Section 4 emphasize’s what rural citizens and rural communities, with a bit of assistance from higher levels of government, can do for themselves.

A Healthy Small Business Sector
Rural businesses are mostly small in size yet are invaluable to the social and economic well being of rural communities. A local convenience store or gas station can mean the difference between easy access to basic supplies and having to travel long distances to buy a loaf of bread or fill up the gas tank.

Some of the recommendations are ……….

RECOMMENDATION 2-3: The committee recommends that the federal government work with provincial, territorial and municipal governments to identify ways in which a range of existing and new services might be delivered through existing rural infrastructure points such as rural post offices.
RECOMMENDATION 2-4: The committee recommends that the federal government move at least 10% of its existing large urban centre employees to
regional centres in rural Canada.
RECOMMENDATION 3-1: The committee recommends that the federal government reintroduce the Canadian Farm Families Options Program with modifications that take into account feedback from farmers……………
RECOMMENDATION 3-2: The committee recommends that the federal
government eliminate the tax on capital gains on the disposition of qualifying farm property of an active farming business to a child (as defined in the Income Tax Act) who commits to engage in an active farming business…………..
RECOMMENDATION 3-3: The committee recommends that, as part of the proposed long-term farm policy framework, the federal government introduce direct payments in recognition of the ecological goods and services provided by farmers and rural landowners.
RECOMMENDATION 3-4: The committee recommends that the federal government should…………. help organize and fund efforts to develop watershed agreements between urban communities and major stakeholders in relevant rural communities. These agreements should ensure that rural communities, including rural private property owners, are adequately compensated for their efforts to protect watersheds.
RECOMMENDATION 3-5: The committee recommends that the federal government provide stable funding to Environment Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk over a five-year period.
RECOMMENDATION 3-7: The committee recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada along with key producers conduct a thorough assessment of the impacts on the rural economy of the various government supports to the biofuels industry……………..
RECOMMENDATION 3-8: The committee recommends that the federal government, with the provinces and territories, change food inspection regulations to ease the entry of local producers and organic growers into the market………..
RECOMMENDATION 4-2: The committee recommends that the federal government provide incentives for sustainable forestry management practices on private woodlots through the Income Tax Act.
RECOMMENDATION 6-4: The committee recommends that the federal government commit to 50-50 capital funding for new rural transportation infrastructure. {and} study how to coordinate existing rural transportation services into a flexible network {that would}provide extra transportation services to rural citizens.
RECOMMENDATION 7-5: The committee recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency and Services Canada undertake to inform clients about the full range of programmes and tax benefits to which they may be eligible, regardless of which program(s) they applied for. {and shouls} automatically calculate an individual’s eligibility for existing and future tax benefits……..
RECOMMENDATION 7-6: The committee recommends that the federal government extend eligibility for its charitable income tax credit to bulk donations of food items………
RECOMMENDATION 8-3: The committee recommends that the proposed Department of Rural Affairs study any existing and potential rural-urban school partnerships, shared schooling services among rural communities, and options for using rural schools to their full potential.

Finally, it’s also about the fact that for some time now, policymakers have focused almost obsessively on urban issues, with one pundit opining recently that rural Canada “has become a so irrelevant demographically that it increasingly exists only in myth,” a view that does little justice to those who live in rural Canada. The consequences of rural neglect are manifest:

• Rural Canada’s population has stagnated – who could possibly want to live in an “irrelevant” part of the country after all? Surely not the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, labourers, and immigrants that rural Canada so desperately needs; surely not the sons and daughters of farmers, forestworkers, fishers, factory-workers and the like who feed and help shelter, power, and build the nation.
• Rural Canada is ignored in policy decisions – the federal government’s Rural Secretariat is tucked away in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and has to continually fight for funding; the federal government’s national homelessness strategy almost entirely bypasses rural housing issues {etc}
• Federal rural infrastructure funds often end up in larger urban centres – even programs ostensibly aimed at small towns such as the municipal rural infrastructure fund (MRIF), often end up funding projects in urban centres.
• Small farmers bear the full brunt of well-intentioned environmental policies and regulations that threaten to put them out of business – we heard time and again that these farmers pride themselves on the stewardship of their lands.
• Forestry workers bear the brunt of a high Canadian dollar and years of policy neglect around Canada’s forestry sector.
• Hundreds of fishing communities have seen their critical infrastructure – their wharves, their roads, their institutions, erode due to a lack of investment.
Originally Posted by Rural in 2008 with the following commentary.....

A few things really struck a chord when I first read this report, most that the senators “got it” and did understand the challenges facing rural residents and communities. This was best outlined by the Guiding Principals that are proposed as a guide to future policy decisions.
Respecting rural diversity, help those who help themselves, one size does not fit all, Rural Canada doesn’t want to be urbanized, there is no Magic Bullet. Then further in some of the observations reinforce that they really got to the nuts and bolts of the issue.

One such thing was Rural Transportation.
The fact that for rural Canadians ownership of a vehicle is a necessity, there is no other option, even for those in a small village where there may still be a local store trips to town will still be necessary for health and government services, banking, etc. And there is no public transportation even on major routes throughout rural areas, so fill up that car with gas. As for our youth (or for that matter any of us) holding down a job (if we can find one), a reliable vehicle is simply a must. A part time, minimum wage job in town is not an option, the cost to drive into town for 3 or 4 hours is as great if not greater than the take home!

Another item was the need for Rural businesses.
With the ever increasing pressure from the multinationals even small operations in town are finding it hard to compete, imagine then how hard it is to make a go of it in less populated areas. Out here in the “boonies” we have much lower expectations than the “big boys” but we still have to make enough to live and must try and keep our small businesses going so that everyone does NOT have to drive to town for every little thing or service.

These and several other things convinced me that they clearly saw the problems. But as for the solutions proposed I remain unconvinced. More government departments and bureaucracy will do nothing to change things, I do think that their core suggestion of a Rural Affairs Minister at the cabinet table would at least give us a little more “clout” when decisions are being made that affect the “rural minority”. The gradual removal of government services from small town Canada must stop however, and yes, by all means let us move some of those steady, well paying government jobs to rural areas. We do have telephones out here you know and empty school buildings looking for tenants! Those help lines to India or some “central” switchboard in Toronto would work just as well in just about any rural community.

From my point of view it was a good report that clearly outlined some of the problems and offered some possible solutions, I am less optimistic about the report actually making any difference to government policy, be it with this particular bunch of arrogant partisans or any other of our elected representatives.

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