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.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Forgotten Minority

This article is a repost originally published by 'Rural' elsewhere in 2006

We, the rural population, are in my view, rapidly being viewed as irrelevant by both much of the urban (particularly large urban) dwellers and many of our Provincial and Federal Leaders. We have seen of late very little attention given to our farm families despite a few vocal rallies at Queens Park and Ottawa, many of the urban population and indeed our leaders have the view that if you cannot compete in the “global market” dominated by the multinationals then you should simply quit! The “clean water” initiative to protect source water is at first glance a great move but if one looks closer we see that Conservation Authorities and rural municipalities are expected to regulate and police the new rules with little or no funding from upper levels of government. There is at this point no indication of how our cash strapped farmers , as willing as they may be to protect our streams, can afford the time or money to comply with these changes. Many small communities are already struggling with the increased testing and filtration required for drinking water systems. In the past few years the formula regarding tax incentives for both farm and forest land have been changed to put an increased burden upon our local municipalities (and thus our rural taxpayers) to pay for this. Many programs mandated by the provincial or federal government are being funded in whole or in part at the municipal level and this often disproportionally impacts the less populated townships. There is much more, but in short, there is an ever increasing move to download the costs of programs and changes that benefit all citizens to the rural areas that have to implement them.

The above is hardly a surprise, we are after all governed by an electoral system that favors the majority and much as our representatives may endeavor to make rural points of view known when these changes come before parliament, but they too are a minority. If we look at some figures from StatsCan it can be seen just where things are going………

Across Canada the “rural” (StatsCan defines rural as centers with a population of less than 1,000 or with less than 400 persons per square km) population is just 20% of total population. In Ontario that drops to 15%, here in the Grey Bruce area it is slightly above 50%, which is why I suppose we are known as a rural area, but note that nearly half of our residents are in fact urban dwellers.
If we look at those that really comprise the working rural folk and attempt to make that area outside the urban areas productive and of benefit to us all, the story gets worse.
Farm families comprise just 2.4% of our total population and 1.6% in Ontario and the numbers are steadily declining total numbers being down 10 – 15% since 1996 (5 years, all the above being from the 2001 census being the last available info)
See http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/ for more information.

It can be thus seen why many of our political leaders who rely upon the MAJORITY to vote for them in order to get into power do not give much thought or effort to supporting rural and farm communities despite their importance to the health and sustainability of our Country.

How can we change this………………
Firstly communication, we must educate both our leaders and the urban population as to the importance of the well being of our Farms, Forests, Streams, Natural and Open areas and those that care for and own them. Most Farmers and rural landowners are very conscious of the heritage that they own and try and maintain in a sustainable and ecological manner as much as possible, but unless their income and lifestyle is sustainable they cannot sustain that which they care for. We must tell them that the Family Farm is crucial to the survival of many small rural communities, each are interdependent. We must tell our fellow citizens that the multinational corporations that would have control of our food supply from seed (or birth) to market to processing to retail, MUST have some limits put upon them. We must tell governments that regulate (and the corporations that compete with) the small farm cooperatives and farm gate / farmers markets out of existence that it is these places where the best product and value can be found and that every one gains not just the “middlemen”

We must support our rural communities by shopping at such places and encouraging what few independent food stores left to “buy local” wherever possible. Use those small local businesses whenever possible so that our cash stays in and supports our community, avoid those “big box” stores (easy to say but harder to actually do) whose profits not only do not stay in the community but often do not even stay in the country. Encourage and educate those tourists from the big cities who come to see our beautiful countryside, show them the crops, the cattle, the forests and the flowers, tell them how we care for this land that future generations may continue to enjoy the abundance that it provides. Tell them that we cannot continue to do so if we cannot sustain our community’s economy, if we must all travel to the city to find jobs for ourselves or our children or if our ability to care for our environment is compromised by a lack of resources.

We must start to beat our own drum and LOUDLY, we must get the attention of all those that would forget about us, not by demonstrating at Queens Park or blocking highways, but by constantly telling what we do for the area, Province and Country, even if that is only maintain a small forest to clean the air or a visiting garden to provide escape from the city. We must understand that by its very definition rural folks will always be in a minority (not everyone can, or wants to, live outside urban areas) and thus we can only change things by garnering support from those that do live in urban areas that understand the importance of sustaining our rural communities.

We must not become the FORGOTTEN MINORITY.

“Rural” is a local rural landowner and a retired Electrical / Mechanical Technician who maintains a small forested area under a Managed Forest Agreement and who has lived in rural areas in Canada or Britain all his life. Although not a farmer, he has a great deal of respect for what they do and believes that we must move towards self sufficiency not away from it, both individually and collectively.