Iggy’s growing on me

Forget politics for a moment. Forget your preconceptions of Iggy’s background. Just ready this piece over – once or twice. I did and I am starting to like what I hear.

Mainly because I said almost two years ago that the increasing economic development divide is more of a threat to national unity than Quebec separation and Iggy concurs:

The growing divide between urban and rural Canada, between Canada’s metropolitan areas and her regions is the great undiscussed national unity challenge of our time.

I agree with him. Health care, roads and all the other promises thrown at us during an election won’t mean much if our population continues to erode and our economy continues to struggle.

New Brunswick is the only province in all of Canada without a dominant urban centre. We are the second most rural province in Canada.

Both these factors should be serious cause for concern. But I think they could also represent opportunities.

Here’s Iggy:

Michael Ignatieff in the Ottawa Citizen
Published: Saturday, September 16, 2006

Canada is the most successful and enduring multinational, multilingual liberal democratic federation on Earth.

The paradox of our identity is that our divisions are a source of strength, not weakness. We have built a common life of equal citizenship among peoples who speak different languages and who come from different cultures. We are among the most equal countries in the world. We are among the richest. With oil, natural gas, water, forest and mineral wealth, with world-class science and technology, we are a power among the nations of the world.

Yet hope and opportunity are not equally shared in Canada. There are regions of our country where hope is in short supply, and where opportunity is fleeing to the cities. The growing divide between urban and rural Canada, between Canada’s metropolitan areas and her regions is the great undiscussed national unity challenge of our time.

Seventy per cent of Canadians live in just six cities.

For many of those who live outside urban areas, in farming communities, single-industry towns, fishing communities, and in aboriginal settlements, there is anxiety. The local population is aging. The tax base is eroding. It is hard to attract and retain doctors and nurses. The young people want to stay, but they are forced to leave for the city, because that is where the jobs are.

Local manufacturers are hanging on: If the dollar increases further, they may go under.

On the farms, record indebtedness and declining incomes. Families are forced to work off the farm to make ends meet. On aboriginal reserves, there is sometimes despair.

We don’t call this a national unity issue. But we should.

We do not want a Canada where hope has fled our regions to the big cities. We do not want any region of our country — north or south, east or west — to be left behind.

We have spent the past 40 years working to ensure that no Canadian is denied health care on account of income. We now have health outcomes dependent on where you live. If there’s two-tiered health care in this country, it’s not between rich and poor. It’s between urban and rural. This is unacceptable.

The Liberal party must speak for all Canadians — rural or urban, in Atlantic Canada or Western Canada, in Windsor or in Whitehorse.

We must also stand up against the naysayers who maintain that jobs and economic opportunities are flowing away from the regions to Canada’s cities and that there is nothing we can do about it.

We need to work with our provincial and municipal partners to bring opportunity to all regions of Canada. Small towns and rural communities should be given the chance to flourish along with metropolitan centres.

Improving education in Canada’s regions and in the north is the key to economic development outside Canada’s major metropolitan areas. This is crucial if young Canadians are to remain where they grew up and to create new opportunities for their children.

We need to build on success: on the development of wind power in Matane, Que., and the new jobs it brings; on the potential for our farmers to develop new biofuels and biopharmaceuticals; on the capacity of our forest industries to develop new products for the housing market; on the capacity of rural communities to become centres for telemarketing and call centres; on the willingness of our medical schools to train doctors and nurses for service in the regions.

There are regional development strategies that work. In Kamloops, B.C., partnerships between municipal government, the local university and the Kamloops Indian band have brought new opportunity to the region; in Sydney, N.S., the Cape Breton Development Corp. has invested in call centres, in software development companies and a city has survived the closing of its steel mill and its coal mine.

Development strategies that work are ones that are created at the grassroots, by partnerships between all orders of government, local business leaders, community organizers and local stakeholders.

The federal government can become the national clearing house of best practice in regional economic development policy. It should provide national infrastructure to assist regions to grow, and it should bankroll research in environmental and technological innovation that creates jobs and opportunities.

It should sustain income and price supports for farmers and fishermen, and to fight for fairer conditions of trade against our heavily subsidized partners. We need a national food policy, to bring consumers, producers and processors together to co-ordinate strategies for reviving Canada’s ocean regions and our agricultural sector.

Farmers, fishermen, forestry workers need to know they have a friend in the federal government of Canada. They need to know that Canada wants them to succeed.

This is my Canada: a partnership among peoples, based on equality of citizenship. Let’s make sure all our regions are also equal in hope.

Michael Ignatieff is the member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore and a candidate for the leadership of the federal Liberal party.