Coming back from Cape Breton yesterday I was reminded of my belief that Nova Scotia’s biggest challenge over the medium to long term is the lack of urban nodes around the province. I just don’t see how the province will be able to justify building and maintaining infrastructure – roads, police/fire, telecom, power, hospitals, schools, etc. to places like Parrsboro, Pugwash, Yarmouth and even Cape Breton if current trends continue.
There will be a continued political pull to continue to maintain services but it will be pulling against gravity. The problem, as I see it, is that the constant urban/rural struggle could end up undermining Halifax’s development over the medium to long term.
I think the province needs an urban node strategy – Halifax, maybe Yarmouth, Amherst, Sydney – growing urban centres that justify building and maintaining infrastructure between them – like Toronto – Ottawa, Moncton-Saint John-Fredericton, Montreal-Quebec.
I was at the Cape Breton Partnership AGM yesterday and Don Mills put forward the mistaken concept that Canada is only experiencing urban growth. In fact, from 2001-2006 the rural population increased by a modest 1%. More importantly the rural population in an urban influenced area increased by 4% or about the same rate as Canada as a whole.
This underscores the critical importance of urban development to rural development. There is mounting evidence that rural areas and small towns (think Sackville and Bouctouche) can be successful in the long term if they are in the range of a growing urban core. The more remote you go, the less likely for success over the medium to long term.
The only other option for all of Nova Scotia outside HRM is to settle for a new normal where the shrinking communities are populated with retirees and a few farmers/fisherman/forest workers that have minimal services and that need to be airlifted to Halifax for health care. There will still likely need to be schools but – again in the medium to long term – that will end up looking either like home school or ‘one room’ schoolhouses for grades 1-12. You already see this trend in the most remote parts of places like Manitoba and that is the fate of Nova Scotia, IMO, without an urban node strategy.