CANADA

FRAGILE ROOTS

CANADIANS IN THE COUNTRY FEEL ABANDONED BY A GOVERNMENT MORE ATTUNED TO URBAN VOTERS

GLEN ALLEN October 23 1989
CANADA

FRAGILE ROOTS

CANADIANS IN THE COUNTRY FEEL ABANDONED BY A GOVERNMENT MORE ATTUNED TO URBAN VOTERS

GLEN ALLEN October 23 1989

FRAGILE ROOTS

CANADA

CANADIANS IN THE COUNTRY FEEL ABANDONED BY A GOVERNMENT MORE ATTUNED TO URBAN VOTERS

The employment program reforms that Ottawa launched last spring were as welcome among the villagers of Newfoundland’s west-coast Port au Port peninsula as the season’s first gale off the ice-clogged Gulf of St. Lawrence. In April, the approximately 10,000 citizens of 20 communities dotted along the peninsula’s rocky shore learned that a federal job program was to undergo a major change: instead of subsidizing seasonal jobs during the local fishery’s off-season, the government would pay to train workers for permanent jobs. But, in the minds of many local residents, there was clearly a catch. Asked high-school principal Gerald Smith, volunteer president of the Port au Port Economic Development Association: “What permanent jobs are you going to train people for? Besides the fishery, there just aren’t any.” Last year, he recalled, the old program paid $337,837 to 52 idle fishermen—many of whose yearly incomes from fishing were as low as $6,000. This year, only 29 workers received help under the new rules—a total of $153,000. Concluded Smith: “People in the decisionmaking circles of this country are completely out of touch with rural Canada. Or maybe they just don’t give a damn.”

That was not the impression that Conservative Leader Brian Mulroney gave during his first election campaign in 1984. Then, Mulroney paid close attention to rural Canada, campaigning there on the slogan, “Small towns, big dreams.” But that slogan was not revived for last year’s campaign. And now, many rural Canadians across the country echo Gerald Smith’s lament. Indeed, some critics among the one-third of Canadians who live in communities with fewer than 10,000 people say that government policies designed to cut the federal deficit threaten to destroy the country’s hinterland communities. They cite a

host of recent initiatives: cutbacks in Via Rail; closings of rural post offices; tightened unemployment insurance rules; shuttered military bases; and reduced regional development grants. And more blows may be in store, they say, pointing to the threat of reduced regional CBC services and cutbacks in federal crop insurance and freight subsidies.

Still, there are some positive signs in the country’s small towns, outports and farming areas. An influx of refugees from Canada’s hectic cities has partly offset the exodus of rural residents who leave to seek their fortunes in urban centres. At the same time, some countrydwellers say that a new determination to wrest prosperity from adversity has set in. Despite those hopeful developments, however, many rural Canadi-

ans express a conviction that urbanites are flourishing at their expense. Government policies, says Mayor Jack MacLean of New Glasgow, N.S. (population 10,000), “favor big cities and Central Canada. They seem to forget us out here.” Echoes Cynthia Patterson, national co-ordinator of the three-year-old advocacy movement Rural Dignity of Canada, in Barachois de Marbaie, Que.: “The picture we are getting is that Canada is a triangle of Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, with a little slice of Vancouver thrown in.”

But few of those critics argue that Ottawa is deliberately making times hard for rural Canada. Fred Mor ley, a sen1 ior economist with the nonlt;; profit, Halifax-based Atlantic ® Provinces Economic Council Í for one, says: “It doesn’t 5 strike me that there is an

ideology at work here. What we are seeing is a combination of policy and circumstance that tends to clobber smaller communities.” But in Ottawa, no federal minister has direct responsibility for rural Canada. Instead, the Conservative government has split jurisdiction for economic development in the West, rural Northern Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada among four appointed agencies. At the same time, legislation that will redirect the existing department of regional industrial expansion (DRIE) towards industry, science and technology is before the Senate. And last week, both

DRIE Minister Harvie Andre and Minister of Western Economic Diversification Charles Mayer—described by a spokesman in his office as “the voice of Western Canada” in cabinet— refused to answer Maclean 's questions about Ottawa’s policies towards rural Canada. According to Newfoundland Liberal MP Brian Tobin, however, that lack of response reflected the low priority placed on rural concerns by the government. Said Tobin: “It is a dramatic, unspoken shift in policy. We are going to take people who have a lifestyle built on small, rural values and we are going to ghettoize them.” But such reasoning appears to be lost on the government’s critics outside Central Canada, most notably in Prince Edward Island. More rural than urban, with Charlottetown the only community in the province that is larger than 10,000 people, P.E.I. residents raised a collective howl of protest when the federal government’s April budget ordered the closure of Prince Edward Island’s only military base, at Summerside. The shutdown, now under way, is likely to eliminate 1,000 jobs and cost the local economy $34 million annually, according to

local officials. In a passionate speech in Toronto following the budget, Liberal Premier Joseph Ghiz charged that it would “strengthen the Central Canadian economy at the expense of the regions." Added Ghiz: “Islanders understandably wonder if their province, indeed all of Atlantic Canada, has been forgotten by our national politicians.”

But since then, Prince Edward Island has suffered more blows as a result of decisions taken in Ottawa. Early this month, Islanders learned that the bus service connecting passengers from the Island to Via Rail’s thrice-weekly train service to Montreal through Moncton, N.B., will disappear early next year. One day earlier, Canada Post Corp. announced that the post office in downtown Charlottetown was a candidate for closure; if it shuts, Canada’s smallest province will be the only one without a central post office. Asked Charlottetown Mayor Jack Ready: “What else can the federal government possibly take from us? Is there anything left?”

But rural Canadians in several provinces told Maclean ’s that the malaise goes deeper than post offices, to such basic economic factors as taxation policy and the interest rates set in Ottawa by the Bank of Canada. In Nelson, B.C., Mayor Gerald Rotering accused the central bank of setting those rates at a level designed to cool the overheated economy of southern Ontario by making money for investment

0 more expensive to borrow—at the 5 expense of rural communities where Z investment is badly needed. “Interest8 rate policy is scaring investors away,” 3 said Rotering. “Urban Canada doesn’t 8 have the slightest inkling about the

1 harsh economic realities of small-town z Canada.”

* Other rural Canadians said that the government’s proposed nine-per-cent Goods and Services Tax will have an unfairly heavy impact on smaller communities. Bridgewater, N.S., hog-farmer John Vissers, president of his province’s Federation of Agriculture, observed that, because the tax would apply to transportation, communities that ship goods to the big markets of Central Canada from either end of the country would suffer. Says Vissers: “We are bringing materials in and shipping them out. We will be paying tax on transportation both ways—coming and going.” In Whitehorse, Y.T., Paul Birckel, chief of the Champagne-Alshihik Indian band and president of its construction business, criticized the GST on telephone calls as well as transportation. Said Birckel: “It will make it difficult to compete with people in the South.”

Prairie farmers voiced similar concerns about crop insurance and freight subsidies. A federal commitment to reduce farm subsidies, which totalled about $3 billion last year, is especially troubling in Saskatchewan: the province has already lost 20,000 farmers in the last two decades and is now losing one resident

National Notes

CRITICAL WORDS

House of Commons Speaker John Fraser chastised the government over advertisements that it placed in newspapers across Canada in August, promoting the proposed federal Goods and Services Tax. Fraser told the Commons that advertising legislation before it has been passed by Parliament is “ill-conceived and it does a disservice to the great traditions of this place.”

ROYALTY IN THE HOUSE

In the first address by an Arab leader to Parliament, Jordan’s King Hussein said that Israel’s refusal to cede to Palestinians the territories it occupied during the 1967 Six-Day War was “the one remaining obstacle to a just peace” in the Middle East. Following Hussein’s two-day visit to Ottawa, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announced a $17.5-million aid package for Jordan.

A TRAGIC REUNION

An RCMP investigation continued into the deaths of 13 members of two extended families meeting for a reunion in Cap-Pelé in eastern New Brunswick. They were killed on Thanksgiving Sunday when a truck spilled a load of logs onto a hay wagon carrying about 50 people.

THE 11TH PREMIER

The Yukon cabinet gave Government Leader Tony Penikett the title of premier—a decision that Penikett said should remind the rest of Canada that “the Yukon is no longer a mere administrative appendage of Ottawa.” A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the decision—which Ottawa has the authority to reverse—was under review.

QUEBEC'S NEW MINISTERS

Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa appointed a new 30-member cabinet, including four ministers whom he identified as coming from “non-francophone communities.” One of the four ministers, Robert Middlemiss, minister of state for agriculture, food and fisheries, said that he did not consider himself to be Englishspeaking.

BOSCO CLOSES SHOP

The Bosco Homes treatment program for emotionally disturbed adolescents in Regina laid off the last of its staff and put assets estimated at $1.6 million up for sale. Bosco has been unable to raise sufficient funds following a report last month by the Saskatchewan ombudsman on allegations of physical abuse of residents of the Regina facilities.

every 23 minutes, according to provincial government estimates. One likely target of Ottawa’s enthusiasm for subsidy-cutting: roughly $720 million a year that it spends to underwrite the transportation of grain from Prairie elevators to seaports. Said Bill Sommer, a 71-yearold farmer near Gull Lake, Sask. (population 1,000): “The freight subsidy might be gone by 1991 or 1992. If that happens, a lot of people won’t be able to exist. There just won’t be any sense in trying to do the impossible.”

Still, some country-dwellers acknowledge that not all of rural Canada’s problems can be traced to government neglect. Floyd Dyke-

man, a specialist in rural studies at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., notes that the dispersed voice of small-town Canada is not heard well in the corridors of power. Said Dykeman: “When the city of Toronto stands up and speaks with one voice, it is as strong as the voice of all of rural Canada.” For her part, Lauranne Sanderson, a faculty member of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro, said that small towns are facing an “erosion of a way of life.” Sanderson cited the encroachment of urban sprawl into rural areas and the disappearance of many small farms as they are absorbed into larger ones. Another change: local businesses are often no longer rooted in the community. “When Ralston Purina closes your mill,” asked Sanderson, “what are you going to do? Phone St. Louis?” And others cited the loss of rural young people who seek greater opportunity in large cities or more prosperous provinces, taking with them valuable skills and education. In Saskatchewan, 7,000 of the 17,386 people who left the province between January and September were in their 20s. Said Nipawin, Sask., farmer Jack Scowen, a former backbencher in the Mulroney government: “Rural Canada exports its youth as it does its grain.”

But Rural Dignity’s Patterson, for one, also

noted the hopeful signs that rural Canada is fighting back. Declared Patterson: “There is a revival of spirit in rural Canada—a new breed emerging.” Patterson added that she is encouraged by the fact that a growing number of “transplanted urbanites fed up with the city as well as those returning to their roots” are settling in the country.

One refugee from a larger centre who voiced enthusiasm about her prospects in a small town was Dorothy Baert, who owns a bed-andbreakfast establishment in Tofino, B.C. Baert moved to the town of 1,000 people on Vancouver Island’s west coast at the Pacific terminus

of the Trans-Canada Highway from Vancouver two years ago. One attraction, she said, was that the people in Tofino are more in harmony with their surroundings than urban dwellers are. Said Baert: “They know their territory. They know every change that takes place in terms of the weather and the environment.” For her part, Joanne Perry, 30, co-owner of Eugene’s General Store in Tignish, P.E.I. (population 1,000), was bom in Toronto and worked in the city’s downtown Eaton Centre until moving to her husband Tom’s Island home town in 1986. Said Perry: “It was so monotonous in Toronto—get up, go to work, come home. Here, I’m involved in five community groups. I love it.”

And there is ample evidence that small-town enterprise is far from dead. Pinawa, a town of 2,000 about 100 km northeast of Winnipeg, was built 26 years ago as a research centre for Crown-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL). Shortly after the 1984 election, 200 people in the town lost their jobs as a result of a major streamlining at AECL. Then, last year, there was a further blow when the agency announced that it may close its entire Pinawa operation. Still, Mayor Marvin Ryz, an AECL employee, said that the setbacks have only made the town stronger. "All of a sudden we

were awakened to the fact that, hey, we are no different than any other community.” Forced to seek alternative employers, the town is now offering itself and its highly educated workforce as the site of a provincial hazardouswaste site. Declared Ryz: “I am confident that Pinawa will remain at the level it is.”

And in Brandon, Man., former newspaper editor Fred McGuinness, now a syndicated Prairie columnist, said that smaller communities cannot afford to wait for governments to repair the damage. For his part, McGuinness has already taken action: later this month, along with scholars from Brandon University, McGuinness is mounting a conference to study the loss of young people from small towns. The conference will also look at issues such as job creation, local investment and small-town cottage industries. For a long time, McGuinness observed, people in small-town Canada kept praying for a miracle, “but it never came. Only within the past couple of years have people started to say, ‘We have to save ourselves.’ ”

Still, many of those who live in small towns argue that they are an essential part of the nation’s fabric. Mount Allison’s Dykeman said that the country’s nearly 10,000 small towns “make a significant contribution to national I welfare. While Noranda is 1 based in Toronto, its real wealth is in Val d’Or or the

interior of British Columbia. ’ ’

Added Dykeman: “We have lost sight of the fact that our wealth is resource-based, and that wealth is in rural Canada.”

Last week, Dykeman offered one possible solution for what he described as the “huge and complex crisis” confronting rural Canada. Ottawa, he said, should establish a new agency or ministry devoted exclusively to rural needs and interests. And in Newfoundland, Gerald Smith urged Ottawa to understand that the needs of rural Canadians may not be the same as those of city-dwellers. “Just give us a chance to have some input,” Smith asked. “Don’t wait until after the fact when things have gone wrong.” Otherwise, Smith said, he fears that “in 15 or 20 years, we will be no more than retirement communities.” Like other rural Canadians, Smith can only hope that Ottawa—and the larger cities to which they have lost so many of their children—will pay greater attention to that message, if rural Canada is to regain its once-proud place within the Canadian community.

DEREK WOLFF

JEFF HARDER

DALE EISLER

MAUREEN BROSNAHAN

MARC CLARK

BARBARA MacANDREW

GLEN ALLEN in Halifax with DEREK WOLFF in Vancouver, JEFF HARDER in Whitehorse, DALE EISLER in Regina, MAUREEN BROSNAHAN in Winnipeg, MARC CLARK in Ottawa and BARBARA MacANDREW in Charlottetown