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.

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.

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