It’s a complex problem. Community officials tasked to plan for our future will tell you that the problem doesn’t allow for an easy answer. How do we prevent the death of our rural towns? It’s possible that a strategy has been identified, now the challenge is to get our municipal leaders to read it and buy in to the direction.
Recently, the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF) released its State of Rural Canada 2015 report. The report, developed in partnership with the Rural Development Institute at Brandon University, explores the challenges and opportunities of rural settings across the country.
In Manitoba, the report identifies that rural populations are growing as a whole, though unevenly dependent upon their proximity to urban areas. Farms have grown, but larger operations have edged out the traditional family outfits. This shift in the farming sector has eroded the status of agriculture as the primary economic driver and job provider for many communities.
The other troubling trend is that aging populations in rural towns threaten to negatively impact the perceived labour force. Additionally, some business services may be at risk where populations are sliding below the threshold to support these ventures – which may contribute to further migration of businesses to the urban hubs as a survival mechanism. Could this be because we’ve done such a great job of marketing small towns as great retirement settings? It would certainly explain some of the trends which still present as challenges.
So where do we go from here? The report identifies two recommendations for rural Manitoba to move forward pro-actively.
“Focus on population growth strategies such as immigration and youth retention and attraction strategies in areas where population has shown consistent decline” and to “Target growth opportunities in sectors outside of agriculture such as food and agri-product processing, tourism, recreation and other service industries.”
Upon the release of this report, I wonder how many of the 65 active community development corporations across the province are sitting down with this report? There are a broad scope of options to explore even with the two key recommendations alone.
Not to dismiss the intellectual wealth at the table on our local councils and boards, but let’s face facts – the core mission of every community is its own prosperity. That said, what’s being proposed here should at least be discussed. But is it? Or are our rural stakeholders sticking to “it’s a complex problem” as the party line and justifying their rationale to re-invent the wheel?
Vern May spent 20 years in the school of ‘hard knocks’ as a touring professional wrestler across Canada. Now retired from the ring, Vern grapples with the challenges of economic growth and resilience in rural Manitoba, serving as the Economic Development Officer for the Minnedosa and Area Community Development Corporation. He aspires to engage his generation to take leadership of the steps our communities take next.