Web Feature: End Rural Li(f)e

Web Feature: End Rural Li(f)e

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The Chairman, CEO, and Co-founder of Corporate Research Associates (CRA), a well known polling company in this country, was in this province talking to the St. John’s Board of Trade. Don Mills said he was here “taking the pulse” of rural Newfoundland and Labrador. Well, he managed to find a pulse, but according to Mills, (and I’m taking quite a few liberties with his words here) merely having a pulse is a poor excuse to keep on living.
While Mills admitted he normally tracks the popularity of political parties and their leaders, this time he felt the need to track changes in demographics, and how that affects the economy in this province. His findings? Governments can no longer afford to subsidize large rural populations.
According to a NTV news report, Mills pointed to polling data in this province that showed resistance to federal changes to the Employment Insurance program, and resistance to the idea of commuting to work.
It was that last part that got my panties in a twist. Did I miss some memo? Have we not been the poster-child province of long-distance commuters?
One recent government study found that in 2009 and 2010, as many as 10,600 of us worked in Alberta, while still ‘living’ here at home, mostly in rural regions. That’s a huge amount of tax money, and everyday spending coin, this province would be losing out on if locals packed it in and headed for more populated pastures.
But of course, like the mature woman I am, I untwisted my drawers and followed Mills’ train of thought for a moment. After all, Mills wasn’t refering to the folks who headed up-along for weeks or months at a time. He was refering to the stragglers left behind; the women and scatter few fellers who have decided to squeak out a living, working when there’s work to be had- a few weeks here, a few weeks there- while living the large life in rural parts of this province. Those rural buggers will soon have to bite the proverbial bullet and shift employment patterns, said Mills. But chillax, as my almost five year-old would say. That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to up and move to an urban centre. They would, however, have to “accept the need for long commutes to work.” Mills encouraged the province and the Board of Trade to support that notion. After all, someone with some authority, and some capable thinking skills, will have to have to tell those poor rural livyers what they should do. Mercy sakes.
“Bad public policy has allowed people to choose to live wherever they want and be subsidized in their choice,” NTV news quoted Mills as saying. There was more.
“I know a lot of people will hate me saying that, but it’s the truth, and we have absolutely lied to citizens in this region to say it’s ok, you can have everything that you can expect, your expectations should not be different no matter where you live.”
We won’t hate you Mills. That would take much too much energy. But let that point sink in for a moment. Outporters have been lied to!?And the entire time I lived in a seaside community, I never realized I had to drive more than an hour for medical care or exactly an hour to get the majority of my groceries. And the three hours I had to drive to get my teeth cleaned? I guess that escaped me too. Silly me. Does Mills, and others like him, think for one minute that it never dawned on me once in ten years that the world wasn’t at my outport fingertips? Living in a community of one hundred or so, I didn’t expect it to be. Get a grip number crunchers. Rural livyers might live somewhat simple lives, but they are far from simple minded. There was no “lie” involved. Having not much in a ‘Have’ province is something rural folks are very much aware of. And that reality has been, for the most part, expected and accepted. If rural folk wanted to live in Fort Mac, or some other urban center, they, like so many before them, would be there.
While Mills was here, his company released some other CRA survey findings, like this one; 58 per cent of us believe they live in a “have” province, while 34 per cent believe they live in a “have not.” And guess what? Those living closer to St. John’s were more likely to believe they live in a “have” province. Say it ain’t so.
We might live on a rock, but that term doesn’t apply to what’s in our heads. Could that possibly be earth shattering news for anyone?
On January 1, 2012, Statistics Canada reported that the majority (86%) of people in Canada lived in the “big ones”; Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta. Between 1992 and 2012, the percentage Canadians living in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia increased while the percentage living in all other provinces, like ours, declined. But that’s nothing new. The proportion of Canadians who have moved to urban areas increased steadily since Confederation. In 2011, more than 27 million Canadians (81 per cent) lived in urban areas, an understandable reversal from over a century before.
That same year, Stats Can found the urban-rural distribution was uneven across the provinces and territories. Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta, for instance, all had populations with urban proportions higher than the national level. Other provinces and territories had rural populations significantly higher than the national average, ranging from 28 per cent in Manitoba to 53 per cent in Prince Edward Island. 59 per cent of the people from this province live in rural areas. And guess what? That makes them the majority.
Look, I’m no idiot. I now live and work in an urban area myself. I have for the past year and a bit. But that wasn’t because I didn’t love rural Newfoundland or because we couldn’t scratch out a living there. The main reason we left? We had the only female child in the area. To find our daughter a playmate, I had to drive past four other rural communities. That didn’t seem like a fun way for anyone to grow up, so when an opportunity came to change that, I did.
But just because we moved to an urban centre doesn’t mean we’ll live happily ever after.
If Mills really wanted to take the pulse of this province, he’d go talk to the roughly 6,200 (2010 stats) or so who are employed on fishing boats in this province, folks whose roots run deep in outport Newfoundland and Labrador. He’d talk to the woman of work-aways who have the pleasure of raising their children in a crime-free community. Or to folks who have discovered that a mortgage-free roof over ones head, and weekly meals of moose, trout and squid ($2 a dozen if you’re willing to clean them yourself) is mighty fine living.
No Mr. Mills, there has been no rural lie. The truth, in this particular case anyway, is very much out there just waiting to be told.

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Pam is the Managing Editor of The Newfoundland Herald. As the mother of two, she proudly writes about a life lived simply at home on 'The Rock.' When not interviewing or writing about NL's finest, Pam can be found spending her time in the great Newfoundland outdoors.

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