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.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sites of Interest

Rather than have a blogroll and long list of other web sites cluttering up my front page I have created this post which I will edit as necessary to update my preferred sites. A permanent link to it will be placed in the sidebar. This allows me the room to describe each site for you, something that rural users with slow connections will find particularly useful in avoiding sites with “heavy” front page content that turn out to be of no real interest to the reader.
Note to Bloggers and Webmasters:- Please keep your home page “light” and avoid high rez pictures and video on the main page. Give us guys with dial up a chance to read your stuff without having to wait 10 minuets for your page to load. Put the “heavy” stuff on a link if at all possible!

Favorite Blogs. (in no particular order!)

Im Political
One of the best political commentary by a blogger in Canada, posts daily.

Another fine political commentary from Hamilton, Ontario.

Senator Elaine McCoy Hullabaloos
One of our Senators joins the blogging community!

Shane Jolley (Ontario Greens)
Shane kindly invited me to post on his blog some time ago, hope he does not regret it!

The Agenda - The Agenda Blogs
Part of TV Ontario’s web site, home of The Agenda hosted by Steve Pakin. (dialuppers have patience)

The Galloping Beaver
A collaboration of several great bloggers, a daily must for political junkies. (Text comes up first so read whilst waiting for pics)

The Green Corner
Monique from BC blogs about permaculture & sustainability.

Progressive Bloggers
A great aggregator of progressive blogging posts.

Canadian Green Bloggers
An independent aggregator for Green bloggers

Government and Democracy.

Harpocracy.ca —
One of the many sites counting Harpers record of misdeeds.

The Harper Index
More of the same about more of the same!

Elections Canada On-line
Just so you can see how few Canadians really care, did not vote, or voted against democracy.

Vive Le Canada
Home of the fight against integration and harmonization with the U.S. Much information on NAFTA and SPP if you dig deep.

Canadian Electoral Reform
A site exclusively about just that and why we desperately need some changes in out electoral system.

Democracy Watch (Canada)
A excellent site for information upon the attacks on democracy from within and without our parliamentary system.

Rural life & related information.

Birds of North America - Whatbird.com
If you don’t have a good bird identification book try this site (dialuppers have patience)

Ontario Wildflowers
A nice selection of pictures to identify wildflowers (dialuppers have patience)

LandOwner Resource Centre
A wonder source for landowners wanting more information on the care and upkeep of their forests and more.

Ontario Wildflowers - Home Page
One of the best privately created identification sites, includes trees, shrubs, grasses, and much more.

Nature Trails
Take a wander in the woods of the Klondike Hills.

Bruce and Grey Counties.

Bruce County Maps
Part of the Official Bruce County web site, links to more information about our area.

Maps of Grey County
Part of the Official Grey County web site, links to more information about our area.

Rural Gardens of Grey and Bruce Counties
A guide to the many Rural Gardens open to visitors in Grey Bruce, a must visit for those touring the area.

Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory
Situated in a lighthouse on the cliffs above Georgian bay staff and volunteers track our local bird population.

Owen Sound Field Naturalists - Welcome!
Promoting awareness of out flora and fauna members strive to protect our natural heritage.

Wiarton, Ontario - Forecast - Environment Canada
The best site to go to for accurate local weather both current and future.

The Owen
Owen Sound local news and views.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Energy use or energy waste?

In response to a post here http://www.albertasenator.ca/hullabaloos/?article&283&comment I posted the folowing, I intend to expand upon this theme as time and inspiration allow........

There is indeed much that those of us who do believe that human activity is indeed in large part responsible for climate change, there is little we can say to the deniers that will change their opinion. We am fortunate in being able to be more “sustainable” in our lifestyle in that we open and manage 30acres of bush under a Managed Forest plan and can therefore burn wood rather than oil to heat our home which was built in large part with pine from our own trees and “recycled” materials from deconstructed buildings. Given that the economic downturn and restructuring has just caught up with us in the form of permanent lay offs I look on it as an opportunity to be even more energy conscious.

When considering this subject it is the commercial and industrial sector that get my dander up. Consider this next time you go shopping in one of those mega stores or for that matter your average grocery store or mall. Never mind the heating cost or the acres of paved over soil or the miles the goods traveled to get there, just count the number of lights that are on from early morning till late evening. Each 4 lamp 8’ fixture consumes around 300 to 400 watts depending upon the efficiency of the fixture and the type of lamp, typically in a small store one row is the equivalent to leaving your electric stove on all day! Then drive away from that store at night and consider all the electric signs on the front of the buildings downtown or elsewhere, do you think there is room for some energy saving here?.

Yes we have to start somewhere and I applaud those that make the substantial lifestyle change and investment in going off grid, but even that contribution is minuscule compared with what our commercial sector could and should be doing. Make a statement by shopping at your farmers market, your locally owned corner store, your owner operated small business and other nearby and less invasive and energy hungry operations.

Additional Note – For those not “tuned in” burning wood is carbon neutral over the period it took to grow an burn the fuel (generally abt 20 – 50 yrs), the same is true of fossil fuels by the way, it just that the carbon is sequestered over thousands of years, if not millions, is released within a few decades! (Wood also naturally releases its carbon as it rots on the forest floor so we, by burning it, merely accelerate the process by a few years.)

It is now illegal to have an “open” fire other than between late evening and early morning within many areas of Ontario. I guess I am now a criminal! I regularly cook outdoors on a WOOD fired BBQ during the day, French Toast on the BBQ for breakfast after a hike in the bush is simply a delight that cannot be forgone! Supper is regularly cooked outdoors on a wood fire and is equally enjoyable with regard to both the result and the process.I must assume this is an attempt to reduce the fire, I have no problem with an education program to stop folks from lighting a fire in a situations that may create a hazard or high risk of a grass or bush fire, or even a house fire. I am in fact VERY aware of the risk I take when cooking outdoors, after all I have 30 acres of bush (much of it rather dry pine) of my own, but to make RESPONSIBLE folks criminals because irresponsible folks know no better seems like overkill to me.

It seems it is quite acceptable to run a propane BBQ using a non renewable resource and an open flame (and even use it in town and adjacent to you house) without any problem. But if I put wood (a renewable resource) into the same container it then becomes illegal! What is wrong with this picture?Truth be known, as things stand right now if you are using a fire of any kind for warmth or cooking the municipality, fire marshal, or even Ontario cannot stop you. So make sure you are responsible, be safe, water nearby, clear of any fire hazard, keep it small and keep a HOT DOG (or your food of choice) nearby. Then enjoy and tell the Politically Correct crowd to “take off”.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Raw milk or meat?

A few interesting observations can be found in a recent news article about Mr. Schmidt’s recent conviction on contempt of court charges for failing to stop supplying raw milk to his customers.

“Justice Cary Boswell said his ruling had nothing to do with whether or not people have the right to consume raw milk, but rather whether Schmidt knowingly defied the court order to stop selling it.”
Now whilst I agree with the judge that technically Mr. Schmidt was in contempt of court it should more properly be called contempt of both the food regulations and those enforcing them!
A few extracts may put things in perspective……..

“Selling unpasteurized milk is illegal in Canada because health officials say it can carry salmonella, E. coli and Listeria.”
“Schmidt said milk from his animals is regularly tested and that in 14 years no one who has consumed his products have been made sick. He said a recent series of foodborne outbreaks in Canada bolsters the public's desire for natural products.”

Given recent events at Maple Leaf and at a Barrie fast food outlet one has to wonder why selling “unpasturized” cold cuts is not also banned and exactly how effective such “bans” are in controlling pathogens that are all around us and can be introduced at ANY stage of the food chain. It has been clearly stated that these pathogens CANNOT be fully eliminated from our food so it comes down to what are reasonable and prudent actions to take to minimize the risk.

“The judge agreed Monday, noting that local health authorities had the power to test Schmidt's milk to see if was pasteurized or not, but failed to do so.”
They also have the capability to test for the things that they insist are going to be eliminated by pasteurizing!
It is quite reasonable to require some testing of foodstuffs at all levels of production but it should be a level playing field for all products and organizations. One of the reasons that we now have much of our food shipped miles away to be “processed” at huge packing plants is the difficulty for small suppliers to comply with all the regulations and paperwork required by government. One must also wonder if bringing together such large volume of foodstuffs from many suppliers could in fact make it more difficult to control and track problems with such outbreaks.

In short whilst Mr. Schmidt may have not had much luck in fighting the contempt of court charge I believe he has much ammunition on protecting his (and our) right to make informed choices about what we eat and from what sources it comes. If regulators were to require him to have his herd and product tested regularly and / or clearly label the milk with the fact that it is unpasturized and should be treated as such, this would be reasonable and prudent. However for government to dictate to consumers what they can and cannot consume when the product contains less harmful substances than much of the “processed” foods distributed on store shelves is clearly wrong. That Schmidt said milk from his animals is regularly tested and that in 14 years no one who has consumed his products have been made sick is further food for thought. How many of those “other” product suppliers can truly say that their product has that kind of history.

One final note on this, could it be that those who consume nothing but “processed“ foods and who’s kids never get to “play in the dirt” are doing themselves a disservice by not exposing their immune systems to a range of everyday pathogens. Is this why during a given outbreak some folks fall very ill and possibly die, whist others who have consumed the same contaminated food don’t get sick or get very minor symptoms?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Learning Curve

Having been a guest on annother blog for some time and finding myself wanting to be free to express a broader range of opinion I am going to try and start my own blog here. It will be a learning experiance and may take a while before I get it set up to my satisfaction so if you have arived here by mistake please pop back in later because right now it is still UNDER CONSTRUCTION!