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  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 Ontario.

"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 Ontario.

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 areas' viability.

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 courage.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute and Consumer Policy Institute, divisions of Energy Probe Research Foundation. E-mail: LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com.

BACKGROUND SOURCES

 

 

 
 

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:

 

 

Phase-out city standards in rural Canada

 

Randy Hillier
Financial Post
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 democratic process.
   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

 

urban standards and regulations upon rural residents and their businesses.
   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 clean countryside.
   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.


 National Post 2004

 

Terrence MacLaurin
Financial Post
Monday, May 03, 2004

   Rural Phase Out suggests that financial support to rural areas in Ontario be phased out because "most of rural Canada cannot sustain itself."
   The comment goes on to applaud the government of Ontario's Panel on the Role of Government, saying its report has spoken with rare courage and clarity.
   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 entertainment.
   All irony aside, we don't have to look far to find programs that heavily burden the taxpayer. Some

 



 tax-supported programs or services should be eliminated immediately, namely the Ontario government's Panel on the Role of Government.
   This panel 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.
   The motive 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 rights.
   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.



 National Post 2004
 
 

The rural burden

 

Frances Thurlow
Financial Post

Monday, May 10, 2004

Re: Lawrence Solomon's Rural Phase-Out, April 21.

Slowly 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.

Rural 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.

The 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.

Farmers 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

 

You 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
Financial Post

Financial Post


 

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