Former Secretary of State for Rural Development Andy Mitchell once said, "Rural Canada is the future of Canada." I took his words to heart and since that time, some 16 years ago, I have traveled across the country many times in support of building a restorative, sustainable, and prosperous rural future for Canada.
I am often asked, "What is it about rural that is so vital to Canada's future?" In September 2006, before the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, I gave this answer: "Rural communities are the only places left in the world in which the notion of a proper scale can be expressed in its fullest sense. This understanding and acceptance of scale is what leads me to believe that Canada's smaller rural communities are diverse enough, resilient enough, and intimate enough to withstand the potential global shocks of climate change and international finance."
Our rural communities however are being adversely impacted from the inside by what I call internal disaffection and from the outside by external exploitation. Both disaffection and exploitation begin to occur when communities are unable to supply local needs from local sources. I believe that as our communities become increasingly dependent on outside sources for our basic needs, either from centralized governments or larger and larger corporations, we become correspondingly disaffected with our local businesses and our local governments.
As the provinces continue to download to local municipalities new demands and responsibilities without also downloading satisfactory legal and financial safeguards to manage these, we will continue to see a systemic failure of many of our municipal governments. The solution currently proposed -amalgamations - provides only temporary relief and does little to tackle the deeper systemic problems facing all levels of government. According to Jack Novack, a Dalhousie professor specializing in local government and author of Grassroots Democracy: Local Government in the Maritimes, "Instead of dealing with the underlying issue, amalgamation tends to bury it."
As a member of the board of directors I will take every opportunity to uncover and shed light on these underlying issues. I will ask FCM to provide additional insight and support to rural communities so that these communities can come to grips with the issues of external exploitation and internal disaffection.
I can tell you without hesitation that many rural communities are ahead of the curve when it comes to providing concrete solutions based on local skills, local governance, and increasingly novel approaches to local finance. Many of these solutions are replicable in other communities and FCM can have a strong collaborative role is so doing.
I believe it is both possible and desirable for FCM to promote local initiatives and lead Canada to a more hopeful, equal, and diverse future. And with FCM holding its 2018 Board of Directors Conference in Annapolis County, our council will be able to showcase our efforts to build a restorative and resilient economy.
Gregory Heming, PhD
Muncipal Councillor, Annapolis County, NS
Chair - Economc Development Committee