One final point about rural depopulation

The debate rages on. Outrage in the north. ‘Plain’ talk in the south. This corner still thinks there must be a better way.

So let me talk to my fellow Canadians that live outside these borders for a moment (the handful that read this thing).

At a time of unprecedented prosperity in Canada, a time of rapid population growth nationally, a time of record levels of tax dollars into government coffers:

Do we want to be the generation of Canadians that stands idly by why Atlantic Canada burns?

In this country’s early days, we spent what would be now billions of eastern Canadian tax dollars opening up the West for development by building railways, roadways and investing in building new communities.

We spent what would be now billions of taxpayer dollars building the St. Lawrence Seaway and effectively cutting of Atl. Canada as a trade route to central Canada.

Throughout history, the national government has made massive investments in an effort to connect this great country – rail, road, telecommunications, ports, etc.

Now, at our time of greatest prosperity, we seem content to let Atl. Canada drift into economic oblivion.

Population decline is the norm. Major industries that have been the bedrock of the economy for generations are in decline. Western Canadian governments are spending significant money to attract Atl. Canadians out west for work.

Atlantic Canada doesn’t need a few more Equalization dollars to be spent providing health care for a rapdily aging population.

What we need is a new partnership, a new deal, with the Federal government focusing on revitalizing the region’s economy.

Every one loves to quote this part of the Charter:

Parliament and the government of Canada are committed to the principle of making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.”

But how many of us know this part of the Charter:

furthering the economic development to reduce disparity in opportunities;

I have said it before and I’ll say it again. Atl. Canada should be viewed as the frontier. As we invested billions to build the West many years ago, we need to rethink our approach in the East.

Do we really want to be the generation that stands by and watches as communities that have existed for 200 years or more just slowly wither away and die?

How’s that for a legacy?

For the Fraser Institute and all the other Western Canadian (and some Atl.) think tanks, this is a natural extension of changing economies. They would say that EI and other support programs have just delayed the obvious and led to inefficient economic outcomes.

But I wonder if their tune would change if it were Hinton, or Canmore or Lethbridge that were imploding. I wonder if Alberta’s population were in decline and Equalization payments were increasing rapidly if Fraser would be saying ‘good riddance’.

My hunch would be that Fraser would be demanding federal government support and investment. That Canada’s economic well being is on the line.

It’s not Alberta, folks. But it is New Brunswick. And Newfoundland. And Nova Scotia.

These changes don’t happen over night. New Brunswick is not some remote mining town that just shuts down when the work is gone.

But slowly, over 30-40 years, the economic life is sapping out of this region. First it will be the rural areas but the urban ones are next. Possibly Halifax and a few other economic hubs will survive but the Alantic Provinces of 2050 will look dramatically different than 2007 – without considerable courage and commitment to this region.

When was the last time the federal government made a large scale (i.e like Bell Helicopter, Bombardier, Toyota, etc.) investment in Atl. Canada?

Just when it’s needed most, the Feds have all but disappeared. I am on the mailing list for Canada’s New Government and there are 3-4 major funding announcements per week involving direct support for companies – mostly in Quebec and Ontario – and literally none in New Brunswick.