National Post April 21/2004
Rural phase out
by Lawrence Solomon
For the first time in memory,
possibly for the first time in Canadian history, a
prominent government panel is recommending that
unsustainable rural areas in Canada's heartland be taken
off life support and allowed to die a natural death.
Most of rural Canada cannot sustain itself. Rural
residents need help to cover basic needs, from airfare to
city hospitals for their medical needs to subsidized
energy for their homes. Rural towns need provincial
subsidies to cover up to 90% of their infrastructure
needs. Rural industries, agriculture above all, need
subsidies, too. If the subsidies vanished, so, too, would
most farming, logging and mining in remote areas.
Until last week, all of Canadian officialdom was in
denial about the de facto bankruptcy of the rural economy,
paying lipservice to the importance of rural industries
even as officials continued to sign cheques to prop up
rural institutions. Last week marks a turning point, at
least in one government's perception of the rural economy.
A major Ontario government report, produced by its Panel
on the Role of Government and praised by Ontario's
premier, dismissed the notion that the rural economy is a
bedrock. The panel concluded that much of rural Canada is
economically unsustainable, that it is futile to try to
artificially sustain rural industry, that population
decline is inevitable, and that the government should
abandon regional development programs. Instead, the panel
concluded, the government should retrain young people in
rural areas who are willing to move away from their
communities as part of a rural restructuring and – by
implication – an eventual abandonment of much of rural
"The province should phase out regional economic
development programs, such as the provision of subsidies
and tax incentives to businesses, which risk promoting
permanent government-induced dependency," the panel
states. "The province, in co-operation with the federal
government, should consider providing appropriate
transitional arrangements, such as those aimed at
retraining for those willing to pursue opportunities
beyond their home community."
The panel based its conclusion on "Small,
Rural, and Remote Communities: The Anatomy of Risk," a
background study it commissioned to tackle the politically
explosive issue of how to manage rural decline. Although
the background study couched its recommendations in gentle
language, it was often brutally honest in its assessment
of the prospects for rural areas, which it defined to
include most of Ontario, including much of Southern
Rural areas have a rapidly ageing population that
inexorably declines as young people leave, the study
states. These areas have few industries, thin labour
markets and little ability to attract either educated
workers, entrepreneurs or immigrants. Apart from low
housing costs, almost all consumer goods are expensive in
rural areas. Delivering government services is also
costly, and will become more costly as rural areas
increasingly become dependent. As for highly touted
panaceas for the rural areas, such as programs to bring
the Internet and broadband to rural Canada, the study
deems them all but worthless, and criticizes other
government bodies, such as the province's Smart Growth
Secretariat, for raising false expectations about rural
The real question for society, the study states, is how
to mercifully manage the decline of the rural areas. It
suggests doing so slowly, by maintaining basic services
for the mostly older, less mobile rural residents who
might want to stay in their home communities. At the same
time, it would cut off subsidies designed to develop the
rural economy, encourage the young and mobile to leave,
and even walk away from government's traditional
responsibility to provide public services in future
northern settlements. As a possible model for Canada to
consider, the study points to the success that Sweden,
Finland and Norway have had in shutting down unviable
rural communities by resettling residents in regional
centres. "An important issue of debate is whether
communities that cannot survive in the absence of
disproportionate senior government funding (when compared
to other urban areas) should exist at all."
The study's bottom line: "Most communities in the
periphery cannot be self-sustaining, economically,
socially or fiscally," making the fate of their residents
one of welfare dependency. For this reason, "hard choices
have to be made. The provincial government cannot provide
subsidies to everyone everywhere in the province. Nor can
all small communities survive, and provide a reasonable
minimum level of services and jobs, within a climate of
population and economic decline."
The Panel on the Role of Government has taken the
findings of the background study to heart. The future of
the province lies in its urban centres, the panel
concludes, but that future won't allow the government to
be all things to all people. "Against this fiscal
backdrop, it behooves us to acknowledge that if the
government were to commit to our priorities (or some
variant on them), it will only be able to implement them
if it is prepared to make a number of wrenching decisions.
The reality is stark. ... while fiscal reforms and working
smarter are important, they are unlikely to be sufficient.
[As a result], Ontario will have to face difficult
trade-offs in a number of areas, including support for
economically unsustainable rural and remote communities."
The panel had, as part of its mandate, the task of
determining for government "what and how it should start
doing, stop doing, or keep doing either on its own or in
partnership with others." On what the government should
stop doing, the panel has spoken with rare clarity and
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban
Renaissance Institute and Consumer Policy Institute,
divisions of Energy Probe Research Foundation. E-mail:
Phase-out city standards in rural Canada
Monday, May 03, 2004
Lawrence Solomon's column illustrates the contempt and
ignorance with which the far-removed urban and bureaucratic
mindset views rural communities (Rural Phase-Out, April 21).
It's no wonder the "Rural Revolution" started in Eastern
Ontario is gaining wide acceptance and broad support when
such people as Mr. Solomon have the government's ear and
common people and common sense are absent from our
The only dangers and obstacles threatening the rural economy
and culture are government intrusion: legislation such as
the Nutrient Management Act, which slowly starves family
farms; new Ontario water regulations that parch all rural
businesses of profits; the gun registry, which creates
lifestyle criminals; the Environmental Protection Act, which
cuts down our logging operations because sawdust is thought
to be toxic; and the Species at Risk Act, which endangers
all property owners with legislated theft of our lands.
These are but a few examples of the government's assault on
rural communities, but the list is as endless as a
bureaucrat's quest for meaningful tasks. Leave rural people
and communities alone and we will thrive and survive long
past the cities' demise, just as we have for hundreds of
years, and throughout history.
It is evident
the rural economy is being dismantled, and its people are
under siege, but this is being done by people such as Mr.
Solomon and urban bureaucrats who legislate misplaced
standards and regulations upon rural residents and their
Metropolitan legislation intended to protect urban dwellers
from the dangerous effects of an intensive and dense living
environment has no place or purpose in the wide-open and
The consequence of urban legislation on rural communities is
hardships and a dying culture and heritage.
Clearly, the same consequence would befall urban communities if
rural living standards were allowed in densely populated cities.
To suggest that rural residents and communities cannot sustain
themselves and require the guidance and support of the cities is
to have a complete lack of knowledge or understanding of rural
people and our lifestyle. It is a clear contradiction of
reality: It is the densely populated cities that need rural
people and their communities, in order to protect Canada's
environment, food supply, culture and heritage of democracy.
Government academics are building fences that divide rural and
urban, causing each to look upon the other with disdain, but
rural people know who will climb to the other side first.
The only question is will we in the rural areas let them in and
allow them to escape the culture of socialism that entraps them?
Or will we create a new rural province first, in order to
protect our rural heritage, culture, property and democracy --
and separate ourselves from the dangers of academic minds empty
of reality and filled with ignorance.
Randy Hillier, president, Lanark Landowners Association, RR2
Carleton Place, Ont.
Monday, May 03, 2004
Out suggests that financial support to rural areas in Ontario be
phased out because "most of rural Canada cannot sustain itself."
goes on to applaud the government of Ontario's Panel on the Role
of Government, saying its report has spoken with rare courage
To add to
the panel's courageous suggestions, perhaps the government
should examine a few other unsustainable programs. Welfare,
subsidized housing, breakfast programs in schools and drug
needle programs should be phased out. Employment Insurance only
encourages workers to take government-funded holidays and should
be abolished. Arts and culture programs, libraries, museums and
publicly funded recreational centres should be 100% privately
funded. The government cannot afford to support public
All irony aside, we don't have to
look far to find programs that heavily burden the taxpayer. Some
programs or services should be eliminated immediately,
namely the Ontario government's Panel on the Role of
has conveniently overlooked the high cost of supporting the
infrastructure of high-density urban areas and has focused on
the lightly populated rural areas with fewer votes.
for this report is transparent and serves only to alienate urban
and rural dwellers and further the government's attack on rural
residents. The government of Ontario is waging a war against the
rural lifestyle through studies such as this, onerous
environmental regulations and complete disregard for property
We will not
back down from the attack and will not surrender our rights. We
pay taxes, as do all other citizens, and demand the services and
respect normally expected by other residents. What we really
need is to phase out the government of Ontario.
Terrence MacLaurin, Woodlawn, Ont.
The rural burden
Monday, May 10, 2004
Re: Lawrence Solomon's Rural Phase-Out, April 21.
and methodically over the past years, rural communities
have had their post offices, schools and churches (all
community establishments) closed. The latest affront has
been the forced amalgamation of our townships. It now
appears the Ontario government's Panel on the Role of
Government is recommending relocation of communities.
areas are burdened with regulation heaped on regulation.
They are harangued by every conceivable government
ministry. They are tired of being the fall guys for major
pollution problems, which are actually traced to heavily
populated urban areas -- e.g., regular urban sewage spills
that are polluting our rivers lakes and streams.
Infrastructure in urban areas is so old and fragile it is
unable to contain the vast amounts of waste coming from
heavily populated areas. Urban centres seem to be allowed
to continue on their regular pollution kick without too
much government intervention. If that were to happen in a
rural area, the
authorities would sit on our doorstep and impose stiff
penalties or even incarceration. As for polluted air, just
step out in the city and take a deep breath.
panel suggests rural communities are not worthy to receive
funds for assistance. Let me assure them, urbanites are
just as quick to sidle up to the trough as rural folk.
Listen to the news, read the papers. Who cries for
financial assistance any more than city politicians? As
for giving support to rural communities, Mr. Solomon, our
hard-earned tax dollars are just as valuable as urban
money. We deserve good roads, education and health care as
much as any citizen of this province.
are the lifeblood of the nation. The slogan "If you ate
today, thank a farmer" should be emblazoned in every home.
Dedicated farmers work their soil, tend their animals and
harvest their crops so the likes of columnist Solomon and
other Ontarians will have food on their tables.
Frances Thurlow, secretary,
Frontenac Landowners, Godfrey, Ont.
© National Post 2004
keep Yonge St.: Two writers from Alberta take on
Lawrence Solomon's view that rural Canada is an unviable
drag on cities. What about all those urban subsidies?
George Koch And John Weisenberger
Saturday, May 15,
Lawrence Solomon has
written several columns about rural Canada. His
main points: the rural economy is grossly
subsidized, the resource sector -- also heavily
subsidized -- generates only 6% of Canada's GDP;
rural Canadians are fat and depressed; and both
the rural economy and rural communities should be
encouraged to die.
wholeheartedly believe the Canadian economy should
be de-subsidized and, above all, deregulated, much
of what Mr. Solomon has said is factually wrong.
First, the issue of subsidies. He seems to regard
the rural economy as singularly subsidized and,
therefore, a parasite on wealth-generating urban
Canada. But he's letting his urban idyll deceive
Let's spend a
night on the town and play "spot the subsidy" as
we go. After a hard day's column writing, we're
ready to cut loose with our thin urban
intellectual buddy. We eschew our cars, more
likely than not built in federally and
provincially subsidized auto plants, for mass
massively subsidized bus fares, we settle in for a
good read. One opts for Canadiana, published by a
house kept alive by federal subsidies and
protectionism. Another leafs through that other
national newspaper, whose owners benefit from such
anti-competitive measures as foreign ownership
through the charming inner city, we glimpse youths
breaking into an automobile -- no bus riding for
them dudes -- as we peer down an alley at some
ghost-like figures shooting up heroin and dealing
Ecstasy. In the city of light, you can never be
too thin or too happy.
On the great
white way lies our municipally, provincially and
federally subsidized concert hall. Tonight it's
gloriously lit, thanks in part to subsidized
nuclear energy provided by a tax-exempt Crown
monopoly. Inside, we rub shoulders with
professors, doctors, teachers and government
officials -- all owing their livelihoods to state
outlays. Some of the bureaucrats work for agencies
doling out subsidies, including to those fat,
depressed Ruritarians. Mr. Solomon chortles when
we point out the irony. The uniformly thin, happy
multitudes are delighted by the Heritage
Canada-funded musicians and singers.
Our point should
now be clear. Rural subsidies are dwarfed in
number and magnitude by the subsidization of urban
life and the urban economy. Nor are rural areas
singular repositories of social pathologies. Rural
people may be chubby and downbeat, but they are
far less likely to die of AIDS or be raped in a
Still we're unclear
why Mr. Solomon is obsessed with destroying a part
of Canada that, by his own reckoning, is so
inconsequential. There may be some aesthetic
elegance to rural depopulation, but it defies
economic and social realities. His underlying,
imputed urban-rural divide, while true for some
isolated communities, is typically not two
solitudes, but a continuum.
Look at Calgary. A
high-density business/residential core is ringed by
older neighbourhoods, in turn by vast, expanding
suburbs, then acreage developments and country-style
subdivisions, then former farming towns mushrooming
into bedroom communities, and finally still more
acreages and hobby farms. Hundreds of thousands live
in a rural setting, but work in an urban
environment, thereby supporting urban and rural
One of us lives on
an acreage. Some days he works in the city, others
he avoids the lengthy commute. Is he urban or rural?
Office work makes him fat and grumpy, while yardwork
and fly-fishing restore physical form and
contentment. Reading or watching the sun set over
the Rocky Mountains doesn't make him feel isolated.
He doesn't confuse solitude with loneliness. His
neighbours are farmers doubling as commercial
pilots, city travel agents married to rural
contractors and retirees -- are these rural or
The same false
dichotomy extends to the economy. Remove the
resource sector that Mr.
generates almost no wealth and you essentially wipe
out two major cities. The office workers shuffling
paper in the shiny towers are tallying all the oil
and gas the rural "rig pigs" produce and process.
And what about the
claim that Canada's entire resource sector generates
a heavily subsidized 6% of GDP. News flash: In 2003,
Canada exported $62-billion worth of energy. One
portion of one branch of the resource sector
accounted for 6% of national GDP. The entire
resource sector is much larger. By any measure --
revenues and profits, taxes remitted, employment
created, capital appreciation (including for urban
pensioners) -- resource industries generate enormous
wealth. The Hemlo gold deposit alone is worth
upwards of $6-billion -- and how much infrastructure
has been built north of Superior?
If subsidies are
out, then urbanites must choose: Either pay real
prices for hinterland products or import from
We itch to
annihilate Canada's nasty apparatus of subsidies and
subsidy-granting agencies, plus all the
anti-foreign-investment regulations. While that
should include killing farm subsidies -- not least
supply-managed poultry and dairy in Quebec and
Ontario -- our "night on the town" shows there would
be a vastly greater harvest downtown than on the
farm. The savings should enable major tax cuts.
grain farming is one of the few substantially
de-subsidized sectors. Begun by the Crow freight
rate phase-out in the 1980s, our grain farmers are
now much less subsidized than their counterparts in
Europe and the United States. This Western
contribution to balancing the Mulroney government's
budget sadly fell short in part because the same
bracing medicine wasn't administered to central
Canada's hugely subsidized aircraft industry.
rural areas" were "taken off life-support and
allowed to die a natural death," as Mr. Solomon
recently suggested, the consequences might surprise
him. Many rural communities, in Alberta at least,
are booming. Alberta's "Highway 2 Corridor" between
Edmonton and Calgary was recently named Canada's
most productive economic zone. This mixed area, from
farms to small cities, has an economy based on
energy, agriculture and related industries --
transportation, manufacturing, services. It's one
reason we fat, depressed rednecks can afford to
transfer a net $11-billion per year to Canada's
Don't all cities
spring out of the countryside? London, England,
began as a Roman military camp -- talk about
"unsustainable." Calgary was buffalo pasture 150
years ago. If we neglect rural areas, aren't we
aborting our next cities?
Fort McMurray in
Alberta's oil sands is the scene of the greatest
capital investment in Canada's history, with
investors worldwide awakening to the implications of
a 500-year supply of oil. In our lifetime, Fort
McMurray has soared from little more than an outpost
to a population of 47,000. If this is the
unsustainable rural economy, then Canada needs more
Cut off rural
communities' infrastructure funding, but allow our
big city mayors to subvert the constitution and get
their grubby fingers on federal tax dollars? It's a
false economy to crow about saving, say, $500,000 by
re-wilding McBride, B.C., if you then hand Montreal
$500-million in tax points.
specifically mentioned cutting loose northern
communities. Obvious political suicide, but he also
seems unaware that Canada's North is on the cusp of
becoming a net wealth creator for the first time
since the fur trade. This is thanks to diamond
mining, two massive planned natural gas pipelines,
possible oil development, hydroelectric projects
and, at long last, some highways. Canada's resource
sector has a lot left to give. What is needed is a
campaign to free up the machinery of wealth creation
George Koch and
John Weisenberger are Calgary-based writers.