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Saturday 19 March 2011

Out of Balance

In many eastern philosophies the idea of balance is a very important concept and is often represented by the yin and yang symbol. It is a very common symbol comprised of a circle which is half white, half black and has a small dot of the opposite colour in each half. The idea is that all things contain yin and yang in varying degrees and when there's too much of one or the other the balance is off and there is turmoil. The idea carries over into many common themes such as light and dark, good and evil, but what about rural and urban?

It is occasionally argued by urbanites that providing services to rural areas is simply a drain on the economy and is not worth the effort. These folks often do not understand the entire system and are simply looking at one small aspect of a much larger equation. The initial idea is based in truth, it costs more money to provide services in rural areas. People are spread around and even simple transportation is an issue. Look at healthcare in NL as one example. It cost more money to recruit and maintain staff, buildings and equipment per capita in rural areas because the facilities are serving far fewer people then they are in the North East Avalon. The argument can be extrapolated to most services provided by any government and in fact is often used in this province when it comes to basic services like roads and ferries, healthcare, education and many other forms of financial transfers to local communities.

This can create an imbalance. Especially in some areas where residents rightfully argue that the resource revenue coming out of an area should be justification enough for government investment.
This has been discussed and lauded from many residents of Labrador for many years. And they make a good point. With the multiple mining operations and hydro generation alone the region contributes more then it's fair share to the provincial coffers but yet has a very poor transportation system to show for it. (This I can attest to from much first had experience!) So is there an imbalance between the rural and urban parts of NL? I believe there is, and it's getting worse.

Leaving the system to maintain itself there is a natural symbiotic balance that develops where the rural areas provide goods and services that urban areas use and vice versa. It is a constant flow of people, goods, services and ideas that keep the system functioning. However as soon as one side of the relationship looses sight of the value of the other half and begin to reduce their role in the partnership then things begin to fall out of balance.

Lets take the North East Avalon region as a case study to explore this a little further. The City of St. John's is the large urban leader in the region, and therefore has a great deal of influence and is home to the vast majority of services and service jobs. Dennis O'Keefe, the current mayor has argued that amalgamation for the region is both inevitable and ideal as stated here at the new online version of The Independent. One idea behind this debate is that residents of the surrounding area are using the infrastructure and services paid for by the City and that's not fair to residents to have to bare that burden. That is complete nonsense. Were is not for the residents of surrounding communities coming into St. John's to access shopping, education, healthcare and other services then the City would not have the required demand to house those services. If you were to poll the folks shopping at the Stavanger Drive Wal-Mart on any given day what percentage would actually live in the city of St. John's? And would there be three Wal-Marts in St. John's if it were not for those "outsiders" shopping there? Is the Mayor willing to forgo those business tax dollars to cut back on road repair costs? I doubt it. It's a symbiotic relationship that must be respected.

As a provence we have fallen out of balance because we seem to have forgotten the benefits of our mutual relationship between rural and urban. Urban areas provide shopping, education, healthcare, transportation, while rural provides recreation, lower cost lifestyles, natural resources, and of course food! As much as the "past the overpass" debate will always continue in NL we must recognize that we need rural areas to survive just as we need urban areas. One of the key aspects of yin and yang is that one cannot exist without the other. We cannot have good without evil, day without night, and we certainly cannot have urban without rural.

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