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.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

What is 'Rural' ?

This is a repost of a article by this author originally posted elsewhere in May of 2009

The Senate report on Rural Poverty is much more than that and has sparked so many thoughts about the difficulties that rural areas face that I will be talking about this report for some time. I urge all of you, both rural and urban, to read it if for no other reason than to understand the diversity within that designation.
One observation within that report said :-
Sending a clear signal to rural dwellers in all provinces means finally recognizing the obvious fact that rurality does not just mean agriculture and that it deserves its own place in the government's decision-making process …………..”

This brings me to the question as to what exactly do we mean by “rural”, a definition that even the Senators had difficulty with. They, for the sake of simplicity, split it into near urban, far from urban, and remote. It is of course much more complex than that, I think that we in Grey Bruce, as a “rural” area need to understand and accommodate these subtle differences that make up our population. It is the melting pot, assimilation or multiculturalism debate on a different level!

Here in Grey Bruce we do not have any “remote” areas (although I suspect there are those in some areas of the peninsular that may have doubts about that.) and so I will try and describe some of the possible types of “ruralitys” in our area and what may be their focus. Let us see if we can find a common goal or two where we can all pull together for the betterment of all. For the purposes of clarity I will refer to those outside of any community (i.e rural route mail) as “RR rural”, those in small communities with minimal services as “near rural”, those within small to medium communities with most services available as “small urban” and larger communities will full services as “urban”. You will see right away that just trying to decide the differences in these areas and referring to them highlights the difficulties in simply referring to our whole area as “rural”!

Lets first look at “agriculture” and other “RR rural” businesses, their size, needs and sustainability vary greatly. From the Corporate owned or controlled large farm or intensive livestock operations to the small family owned and operated mixed farming or market garden operation, to the service and supply businesses large and small that primarily rely upon “RR rural” and agricultural customers, they each have different impacts upon their surrounding community. Do they employ local residents, do they buy their goods and services locally, do the practice sustainability in both their financial and ecological activities?

Next comes the “other” rural residents, they too are a mix. From the retired farmer or longtime rural resident to the urban retiree or commuter, from those that have found work in the local community to those who need or want to spend their days in larger urban centers, from the cottage crowd to the conservationist, each has their own take on what is “rural” and what needs to be done to sustain the area.! A similar mix will of course exist within the “near rural” villages and indeed the “small urban” villages, but I would suggest that as the available services increase, the definition of rural to them will change, as will their needs and wants. Is water and sewer available, are jobs & groceries available within walking distance, do they need more than one vehicle (or any vehicle), do they own a property they must upkeep or do they rent. Here we start to see more small business, corner stores, craft shops and so on. Some may even want it to become more “urbanized” You can see the dynamics are changing.

Finally we move to the “near urban” and “urban” (yes, “near urban” is included again for the difference is not clear cut.) where both the mix of residents and their needs and wants can be considerably different from that of their neighbors just a few miles down the road, and yet we all say that we are living in the “rural” area called Grey Bruce. You perhaps now see my difficulty in coming to grips with the term “rural”.

So my questions to each of you is this :- What does “rural” mean to you? Do you consider yourself a “rural resident”? What are the things that bind us, and the things that give us difficulty. What common goals across the entire area can we focus on to improve out “sustainability” without changing the “rurality” of our area. Do we need, or want to, protect the small villages and RR rural areas from development or disappearance?

I sign myself “Rural” so you can guess where I stand!

EDIT – Further information added in 2011...

Statistics Canada has introduced some new nomenclature to the world of Canadian population data. 
From now on small towns and villages as small as 1,000 will no longer be grouped together with places like Ottawa or Toronto and be classified only as “urban areas”.    
Places with more than a 1000 people and a density of more than 400 people per sq. kilometre will now be identified collectively as “population centres” these will be sub-divided into three groups as:  
Øsmall population centres being those between 1,000 and 30,000 people;
Ømedium population centres being those between 30,000 and 100,000 people; and,
Ølarge population centres being anything over 100,000.  

Rural areas” in the Statistics Canada meaning remains all territory not meeting the two tests of greater than 1,000 people and with a density of at least 400 people per sq. kilometre.   
Further explanation can be found at Statscan     

Rural Ontario Institute says 'This move is welcome and should help with better interpretation of statistics the agency provides.  (This won’t really help in any way with the misguided government  shift to do away with the mandatory long form census that occurred this past summer, despite widespread appeals to rethink the matter.  That is still going to be a problem for people seeking to understand rural realities.)    
We certainly regard rural Ontario as more than just the territory being farmed or sparsely populated northern geography – small population centres are certainly part of what we see as rural.  When we look around rural Ontario we view a rich fabric of small towns and communities interwoven with the countryside and surrounding forests, we see the interdependence of our social, economic and environmental systems and the many mutually beneficial relationships between country and city.  We understand the need for categories but have the perspective that people don’t divide their lives so neatly and many rural folk, the goods we produce and use, as well as the energy, air and water we rely on cross back and forth across those boundaries every day.   

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Federal Role in Rural Sustainability

Recently I was made aware of a presentation by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities made to the Federal government about The Federal Role in Rural Sustainability. Its conclusions are very similar to those arrived at by the National Symposium on How to Build a Sustainable Rural Canada which was held in Edmonton, Alberta last July. Not really a surprise as they quote extensively from that report and from the Senate Report on Rural Poverty previous to that, which I have referred to in several posts here and elsewhere.

Here are a few extracts from this report most of which seems very familiar, I am pleased that the FCM, the Rural Secretariat and others are continuing to bring these issues to the governments attention, I doubt however if there will be great change in the attitude of those in power towards the Rural Minority but this must not stop us from making both the public and politicians aware of the need for change. (Please note that these extracts contain major snips in order to keep the article to a reasonable length)

The Executive summary sums it up thus….

1. Rural Canada needs a champion at the federal cabinet table to drive and sustain change and to integrate and co-ordinate the actions of various federal departments. (Read “A strong, knowledgeable and independent voice at the cabinet table” Can such an animal be found?)

2. Rural communities need enduring commitments— a long-term plan—from the Government of Canada to ensure that rural priorities receive the sustained resources and attention required to tackle problems with deep roots and to implement strategies with longtime horizons. (As do ALL municipalities)

3. A one-size-fits-all approach to rural policy-making will not work; solutions must be tailored for and responsive to the diversity of rural Canada. (I have said before this is probably the single most important statement, one size does indeed “not fit all”.)

4. The Government of Canada must ensure it provides the appropriate departmental structures, mandates and resources to support an enduring, horizontal, collaborative and well-resourced commitment to building and sustaining rural Canada, now and in the future. (Is that horizontal as in sleeping?)

5. The vision and strategy for rural sustainability must be developed across departmental silos and in partnership with all three orders of government, industry and community groups. (What the H is a departmental silo? Wish these folks would speak english!)

It goes on to say…..
The 2006 Census showed that rural Canada’s share of the national population fell below 20 per cent for the first time in our history, furthering a long decline. With shrinking tax bases, limited revenue sources and rapidly aging infrastructure, rural municipalities are struggling to provide the basic services and community facilities their communities need to attract and retain residents and businesses.

As with the previous reports it highlights the difficulty in defining exactly what “rural” really means ……..

Between 1921 and 1931, Canada’s urban population surpassed its rural population, and today some 25 million people—over 80 per cent of Canadians—live in urban areas. Ontario saw its urban population surpass its rural population nearly 100 years ago. Ontario today is only 13 per cent rural. Statistics Canada has sought to update its definition of urban and rural areas. It defines rural Canada as “areas located outside urban centres with a population of at least 10,000.”

I have tried to tackle that issue before and have now concluded that it is better defined by the level of services available than by the population level of the area alone, further that a regional area that includes urban centers can still be called rural when referring to economic development! A very difficult distinction and one that I will try and define better in future posts.

Why should rural Canada matter to Canadians?

In “Rural and Urban: Differences and Common Ground,” Bill Reimer provides an answer. He writes: “Rural and urban Canada are inextricably linked. Rural places provide timber , food, minerals, and energy that serve as bases of urban growth. Rural places also process urban pollution, refresh and restore urban populations, and maintain the heritage upon which much of our Canadian identity rests.”

The maintenance, care and stewardship of natural resources will continue to require a local presence, such as game and forest wardens. Local infrastructure, such as roads, harbours, airports, and power lines and stations, must be maintained. There will always be a tourist demand for the great outdoors and spectacular scenery, including everything from whale watching, hiking, hunting and fishing to cross- country skiing and snowmobile expeditions. Again, infrastructure must be maintained and services provided. Public services, such as public administration, policing, education and health care, must be provided for local populations. As populations age, health care will become increasingly important.

(Much of the rural area seems to be increasingly a “retirement” choice by former urban residents some of whom may expect a much higher level of services than we currently enjoy.)

The rural voice in Parliament has been fragmented by the strong sectoral organization of political agendas. Most of the rural challenges—such as those related to population decline, reorganization of property rights, poverty , services and local governance—are multi-sectoral in nature, especially as they are manifested in specific places. Building a strong local economy , for example, requires at least regional diversification. That potentially places the interests of agriculture and forestry, fishing and tourism, energy and environment, or mining and health in conflict, as they struggle to fulfill their mandates or even survive in difficult conditions.

(Many rural residents do not expect or even want the kind of income that the typical unionized worker receives, we choose to give a higher value to things other than the almighty dollar. However we still need basic services within our communities and do still have to have sufficient income for food and shelter AND transportation, working in distant urban areas is often a necessity, not a choice.)

The Rural Infrastructure Challenge
Canada’s thousands of rural municipalities face an array of formidable challenges, including the provision of adequate public infrastructure—roads, bridges, drinking water and public amenities. They do not have the financial capacity to meet these challenges, because of the revenue bases available to them and the level of services expected of them.
Rural areas play a critical role in building national wealth, but some of these communities are losing their capacity to foster economic activity and maintain quality of life.
Programs and strategies to reverse this trend must avoid a one-size-fits-all approach by recognizing rural communities’ unique challenges and opportunities. The absence of broadband Internet significantly impedes rural economic development. Communities without broadband access are denied competitive advantages, such as electronic delivery of health and education services, and the ability to gain access to markets. Without adequate communications infrastructure, the service delivery capacity of these communities is much weaker than that of fully serviced urban areas.

Although roads and bridges will do much to get people to rural communities, quality of life will ultimately influence their decision to stay. Inadequate infrastructure to support health service delivery is a serious impediment to economic development in rural Canada. People in rural communities face major barriers to receiving health care because of their remote locations and the shortage of health professionals.

Apart from the Goods and Services Tax Rebate and the permanent Gas Tax Fund, most federal funding programs have been short term and ad hoc. For rural communities to plan and build for sustained prosperity and growth, long-term funding must be protected and expanded.

(Put quite simply most rural folks do not want a hand out but a recognition that we contribute to the well being of all Canadians , not the least of which is by providing a relief from the pressures of the city to many families who chose to visit us and we cannot continue to pay for ever increasing service requirements [some mandated by upper levels of government] with an ever decreasing population.)

The Rural Secretariat
Against this backdrop, the Rural Secretariat at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada tries to promote a rural perspective. The secretariat’s stated purpose is to act as a “focal point for the Government of Canada to work in partnership with Canadians in rural and remote areas to build strong, dynamic communities.” With limited resources, the secretariat seeks to influence a wide array of policy issues and a multitude of government organizations large and small, as well as submissions that go to cabinet. It must compete with other departments, agencies and secretariats, all of which are trying to influence federal policy and decision-making processes.
The secretariat also has another important limitation— it has limited staff to influence the federal government’s policy and decision-making processes, and the numerous policy proposals coming before cabinet every month. In addition, the secretariat resides within Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and must, at times, compete with its parent department for time to brief the minister before cabinet meetings, since it does not have direct access.

Having only recently become aware of the Secretariat I cannot say how effective they are in bringing rural matters to the attention of government but I can thank them for bringing this report to my attention. Thanks again Steve!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Just Blowing Steam

As my few regular readers (all 2 or 3 of you) know I am busy outside this time of year cleaning up our trails and repairing folks lawnmowers, thus the blogging thing kinda goes by the wayside! But feeling guilty for not posting anything for a week or so I WAS going to tell you of our gardening efforts and the like, but I started thinking about our MPs and MPPs workload and what they will be doing shortly. My best guess is “taking a break” after all summer is upon us, the federal government has had parliament sitting for now what, 4 months, thats way more than last year, and if in recession there could be no vote of confidence called. On our blog Democracy under Fire I try and be reasonable, non partisan and factional, but make no mistake I am just as pissed off at various political parties and individuals as the next guy and once in a while need to have a good rant. This personal blog allows me to do that whilst still retaining a modicum of self respect on the other one!

So that said here are my thoughts upon the parliamentarians workload and what they do for us, its not all bad, but I suspect that the guys we elect will like it less than their (generally) hard working staff who are the ones that deal with the electorate on a day to day basis (except when the electee is on “summer break” perhaps) Those who run the office for our “representatives” do deserve a thank you, for the most part they handle a wide variety of problems and enquiries in a professional and friendly manner, it is not I suspect an easy task. Their bosses however are a widely varied lot, some such as our own Bill Murdoch is an easy guy to talk to and will take the time to do so and even (gasp) give you his personal opinion on a particular issue. Others are less forthcoming, less open to public discussion and less available. Guess they need a rest from bad mouthing the “other guys” and being highly partisan when discussing legislation in committee, so expect them home for the summer. If you would all stop fighting and start cooperating and seeking consensus then perhaps, just perhaps, we might get somewhere.

Having watched with dismay the referendum on electoral reform go down the tubes in BC and being very concerned with the increasing arrogance of elected governments who seem to feel that once in power they have the RIGHT to do any thing they like without restrictions, I do hope that those guys will take some time to REALLY connect with the folks at home who are struggling whilst our leaders diddle! I do not mean spout the party line when asked a question and promptly start saying how bad the other guys are, but actually have a conversation with your constituents and listen to what they have to say about the way parliament and our government is reacting to the current “downturn”!

Regular readers will also know that in the last year or so I have been promoting and heavily leaning towards the greens, unfortunately our provincial representative has had a web site melt down of his local blog for some time now. It is starting to come back up, but it not there yet!

It seems to me that the Greens are the ONLY party with a real platform pushing electoral reform and increased democracy in the HoC. However even this up and coming party is not without its problems, some cannot decide if they want to be a political party or a environmental group, they, like all the rest are having internal squabbles as to how to run the organization, how to get more members, how to get more MONEY. It seems that the closer one gets to power the less open and accountable and the more “closed” becomes the party structure. I continue to seek some real solutions to our democratic dilemma but at times I wish I was just the typical uniformed, media spun, unconcerned, non voting “citizen”

The only thing I can say to our representatives, both those elected and those striving to be so, is this, if you cannot be open and accountable to those whom you represent (whether that be due to party pressure, media spin, opposition lies, or political expediency) then I have no time for you whatsoever! As for the rest of you, WAKE UP, its all going down the tubes (as evidenced, in part, by the less than 50% voter turn out in BC) and you haven’t even noticed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly neologism contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. (received via email and repeated here for your enjoyment and edivacation)

The winners are:

1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash
9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.
12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by Proctologists.
13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms
15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), The belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.
Here are this year's winners:

1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
2. Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
3. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
7. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.
8. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease.
9. Karmageddon (n): It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
10 Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
11. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.
12. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
13. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
15. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

And the pick of the literature:
16. Ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an asshole

Sunday, May 10, 2009

One Vision, Many Voices

It was recently pointed out to me that a National Symposium on How to Build a Sustainable Rural Canada was held in Edmonton, Alberta last July. Not having been previously aware of this I took the time to have a look at their report.

The Symposium came up with 30 priorities which you can see in the full 36 page report (3.9Mb PDF) however as I usually do with these things I have extracted some parts which particularly got my attention for your consideration. I have included my comments in italics.

Restructure power and authority to municipal government level
Workshop participants felt strongly that there is a need for a shift in power from the federal and provincial levels of government to the municipal level…
Clearly define levels of responsibilities
Development of a governance structure with clearly defined levels of responsibilities is essential before a shared governance model can be achievable. This includes looking for options to streamline operations and services at municipal, regional and provincial levels.

Indeed, its such a mish mash now that its hard to tell who runs or funds this or that (and the two are often not the same) Policing, Ambulance service and Provincial Court security are examples of a totally screwed up funding / provision of service dilemma that should all perhaps be funded and operated at a provincial level. However the downloading of power over LOCAL matters and thus control over LOCAL services must be accompanied by a similar downloading of funding.

Always consider a regional approach
To make the best use of existing resources and to avoid duplication
Develop and maintain infrastructure in rural areas.
Review appropriate levels of government taxation
Ensure industry development respects community standards
• Adjusting the current federal/provincial and municipal cost sharing arrangements to better suit the needs of municipalities.
…reduce bureaucracy and regulations that are barriers to municipalities…..reduce red tape without the expense of reducing accountability.

This all comes down to giving the municipalities the tools and the authority to support their community in the manner in which they feel is best. One size does NOT fit all and local councils should have the ability to make local decisions without running afoul of upper level regulations or funding restrictions.

Make use of new technologies
Tools such as teleconferencing, tele-health, video conferencing and electronic records are one way to attract and retain health, education, social services and private sector professionals. In order to do this, satellite offices that house this infrastructure should be reasonably accessible throughout rural Canada. For this and other technologies to work, it is also essential that rural Canada has reasonable access to high-speed Internet.
Provide adequate physical, social and cultural infrastructure
……expand the use of Internet-based technologies for application in rural and remote areas as much as possible

So much can be “done on line” if rural folks will embrace the technology and start using it as an alternative to enhance our communication with each other and with government both local and at other levels. It cannot however be an excuse for the removal of basic services from rural areas, health, mail, government programs etc etc must still be available in person within reasonable traveling distance. The senate report recommended that rural post offices be the hub for many such services, a proposal which I believe has much merit.

Pool educational assets
Rural municipalities should look at utilizing present school infrastructure for alternative uses such as trades training, short courses, evening courses and other educational opportunities. As well, by increasing educational institution partnerships in rural Canada (e.g., distance learning), citizens who would otherwise leave for post-secondary education can remain in their communities and train for local opportunities.

Having our kids educated locally is indeed important, kids spending 2 or more hours traveling each day to a distant school are at a distinct disadvantage compared with those who do not. Our schools should become community resource centers and be utilized more fully during times outside of classroom hours. Funding models must recognize the difference between rural and urban schools.

Improve communication and access to services
Services are not valuable unless people know about them. Communities must advertise available services using communication tools such as websites, brochures, newsletters and the local media.

A pet peeve with me, with local newspapers becoming a thing of the past and many rural folks not bothering with the cost of having them delivered, local TV long gone, and flyer production and delivery being quite expensive for a large area, we are left with radio (general doing quite a good job) and Internet (Slowly being embraced by rural folks despite lack of access to high speed). There is still a need for small community newspapers (on or off line) to promote local events and services but how to sustain them seems to be a problem.

Develop incentives for stewardship practices
Compensation for current ecological activities and incentives for new initiatives should be developed or increased. This would include rewards for individuals who demonstrate stewardship practices as well as incentives for ecological goods and services in policy development and wetland watershed protection.

There is quite a bit more along these lines in the report, it is indeed necessary for upper levels of government and urban dweller to realize that whilst the majority of rural folks do our best to protect the land, water and wildlife for the benefit of all there is a cost to this which cannot be borne entirely by the individual or by the local municipality.

Develop rural solutions for rural Canada
The best ideas about rural Canada come from rural Canadians.
Municipalities need to ensure that senior levels of government are listening and not providing solutions in absence of local representation.

This final Priority is probably the most important, and the one which most rural folks feel strongly about. Made Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton or Ottawa solutions not only rarely work for us but are rarely acceptable or even practical to those living far from the city.