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, April 26, 2014

Natures Carpenter?

Having finally had a couple of warm (above 20c, yahooo)  sunny days and with most of the snow cover gone we had our first walk around our forest trail since last fall. The heavy snow cover has seemed to protect the woodland plants in that within about 48 hrs of the snow uncovering the south facing hills they were covered with Hepatica in full bloom, the Wild Leeks and Trout Lilly were shooting up through and even a few purple stems of Cohosh could be seen. As we gently ( my back is still in winter mode and it may be some time before I am full mobile) strolled around the trail we noticed this:-

Kinda looks like natures carpenter forgot to clean up after himself doesn't it? Nope its natures  insect exterminator telling us that this maple may as well come down for next seasons fuel-wood. The Pilated Woodpecker has be very busy here recently......

Thats quite a days work there buddy! Some folks get really upset when woodpeckers of any sort start hacking at their trees but generals they will not do much damage unless the tree is already infested with insects and that means its already in poor condition. It is also somewhat amazing how long such a tree will continue to stand even after over half of the guts of it has gone. We have a basswood in the same condition (due to the same carpenter) that I am scared to cut down for fear of the top half falling on my head but even with all the snow and ice load and high winds overwinter its still standing. Nature is very resilient!

Now.... to get my back prepared for trail clearing, logging, gardening, equipment repair, grass mowing? Think I will just look at the jobs to be done for a few days........

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Another Rural Report.

Its been some time since I wrote anything about 'rural affairs' and government support, or lack thereoff, of our rural communities having be far more focused upon the road our federal government has been leading our counter which seems to be right over the cliff! See my other blog Democracy Under Fire for my views on the most recent antidemocratic move by the Harperites called the “Fair” Elections Act!

Anyway the Ontario Ministry of Rural Affairs recently held the first-ever Rural Ontario Summit in partnership with the Rural Ontario Institute and just released a “Rural Roadmap” document based upon their discussions. Whilst having this discussion was a very good first step in reengaging with rural communities and identifying areas of concern and possible enhancement the report was a bit of a disappointment to me. At 28 pages it 'goes on a bit' and for the most part if you are looking for that roadmap you can skip the first 26 pages and move to the summary, the earlier pages are just a typical government 'look at all the programs we have to help you' self congratulatory bit of bafflegap with no real details of the hundreds of programs named. I will however highlight a few bits that caught my eye.

The first bit that had me less than enthusiastic about reading the rest was the introduction letter from The Honourable Jeff Leal,Minister of Rural Affairs where he says:-
Working together, we have made a lot of progress over the past decade. Since 2003, rural
Ontario has benefited from the hundreds of schools and hospitals that have been built
or renovated. In addition, 68 Family Health Teams are providing high-quality care to over
458,823 rural Ontarians. In terms of infrastructure, we have built or rebuilt more than
7,900 kilometres of roads, constructed over 950 new bridges and provided millions of
rural Ontarians with high-speed internet access. But there is still work to be done”

Yes, new schools have been built – in the nearest town often a long bus ride from the closed local school which was the attraction for families to stay or move to that community. The 'centralization' of schools to larger towns does nothing to help with the demise of the smaller communities and from what I am hearing does little to improve the educational opportunities and services available to kids and parents. In fact it makes it more difficult for kids to attend after school activities and for parents to be involved with their child’s education.

Family Health Teams? Well maybe there has been some progress but it is still almost impossible for some folks to get timely health care at other than the Emergency Department of that (in town) Hospital.

Infrastructure? Again maybe, but with most rural areas tax base stable or declining and some bridges beyond their best before date it is still a big challenge for smaller rural municipalities to keep up.

As for High Speed Internet I can only repeat what I have said here many times before, if the best I can get here in rural SW Ont is 1MBS on a good day at high cost for anything over 3GB a month it is hardly comparable with those urban users who can get true unlimited high speed. Downloading video of any kind is simply not an option for me!

Now a couple of things from the body of the report:-
Since 2002/2003, funding for rural students has increased by 61 per cent. In addition to building and
renovating schools, our government is implementing full-day kindergarten across rural Ontario to give our kids the best possible start in life. “

So with the increased costs incurred for transporting, accommodating and teaching more kids, closing local schools and building new ones in town how much is actually an increase in funding available for actually improving education and is that 61% extra for rural schools or across the entire system?

Other than the availability of good local education the most important thing to maintain our rural communities is Jobs, jobs , jobs. The report goes to great lengths to talk of all the programs available to assist job seekers and employers but getting more details of such programs is much harder and for an employer or a job seeker to use these programs there must be a need for the services provided by the employer. A quick look at local Job listing will reveal that unless you are a professional in heath services or looking for a part time cashiers job you will be looking a long time (at least in this part of SW Ontario). Also many of the support programs require you to be 'eligible' for EI, something that those who have not had steady employment or have been unable to find work for an extended period may not be able to access.

I wish I had a solution to the lack of jobs which does not seem to be limited to just rural areas, the only think I can offer is that the answer seems to be in encouraging small businesses and self employment. Our own small municipality is doing this by once again hosting a low cost Business Showcase to let local businesses promote their services and goods.

There are some positives:-
Because information is a key part of fostering a dialogue and creating a unified vision, we need to create one central website to gather and share that information.”

I have long be advocating for an INTERACTIVE web site for rural citizens to interact with government and with each other. I will not go into great lengths here on MY vision but refer you to my earlier posts on this subject but suffice to say it must encourage dialogue within individual rural communities and not be a one way dissemination of government approved bafflegab. It must also be not restricted by the need for highspeed unlimited connections to access or interact on the site.

Finally, stakeholders were clear: rural regions have needs distinct from urban Ontario. Moreover, Ontario as a whole is stronger when we support rural areas — areas that contribute to the health and prosperity of the entire province. MRA has a mandate to work across government to assess the effect of relevant provincial policies and programs and ensure we achieve the desired results for rural Ontario”

This point has been made time and time again, even going back to a senate report decades ago, the needs of rural communities ARE entirely different from that of the urban majority. The 'summit' of Ontario Ministry of Rural Affairs with Rural Ontario Institute is a very good start but what government does beyond such discussions is the important thing. Will the rural minority receive a little more attention, will smaller municipalities get more help to upkeep their infrastructure, will that interactive web site see light of day (and more importantly will rural folks actual use it)? Only time will tell. All in all the report is more of a regurgitation of existing programs interspersed with a few promises which may or may not see light of day than a 'road map' for rural communities!

Thanks must go out in particular to the Rural Ontario Institute for hosting this event and for their work in providing links to hundreds of sites providing information for and about programs and reports for rural Ontarians

Friday, April 4, 2014

Still Looking for Spring

Just saw the first Robin of spring but he is just as confused as us whilst looking for worms in a frozen landscape.

I do hope that he has a better predictive instinct than that damned groundhog!