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Friday 29 April 2011

We Hate Democracy

The Federal election is literally just around the corner and NL's are set to chose what seven poor souls we will send off into the Upper Canadian wilderness, rarely to be heard from again. It isn't all their fault, 7 out of 308 is a tough ratio. In this province with maybe one or two exceptions most of the seats will likely be very strong, and obvious, victories. The real interesting numbers coming from the vote will be for the voter turnout.

The advance polls tell us we seem to care enough to get off our cushioned backsides to exercise what so many have died for and so few appear to appreciate. But when it comes to election day this video entry from the online version of The Independent indicates that we won't have to do much to improve on past efforts.

First, I have to take umbrage with the fact that The Independent seems to forget that it's Newfoundland AND Labrador. There are multiple references to just the island portion of the province, especially in the graphics. That complaint aside, I appreciate what they're doing here. They are highlighting an issue that I have a personal issue with. NL hates democracy.

OK, maybe hate is a strong word, but we're certainly aren't very fond of it. At least the current generation has good historical evidence to say that it's nothing new. And I'm talking about a long history. From the beginning of European exploitation of the fishery there was never an intent to allow settlement here. In fact settling was illegal and only became allowable because it was too much trouble to get rid of the settlers. Them comes along the days where the Fishing Admirals ruled the sea, and the land as it turned out. They were the local authority in NL for many years and they were sent here just to fish by companies and governments in Europe. Note the lack of democracy thus far.

We finally made to responsible government(AKA Actual democracy) in 1855 but for rural people they may as well have still been under the Fishing Admiral system. The Truck system of bartering goods kept fishermen under the thumb of the local merchant so thoroughly that it can still be felt today. Democracy was here, but it wasn't really understood. Then in 1933 we got tired of this new idea and went backward to having people appointed to make decisions for us during the Commission of Government years.

When we had the chance to really strike out on our own and truly chart our own path we instead decided to let the politicians in Canada do that for us. And in the first referendum vote over 22 thousand people figured that the appointed gentlemen still seemed like the way to go. Eventually we got used to this democracy thing and started slowly moving to the polling booths on election day. Thank goodness there were a few brave souls who understood the power of democracy and fought hard to ensure that their children would have that right. Like these very brave folks.

We are now in an age where we love the idea of democracy, but we're not be fans of having to practice it. Well unless it's over some kind of online vote linked to Hockey.

I remember speaking to bureaucrats in Iceland a few years ago and they were telling me how they were becoming incredibly concerned that their voter turnout was getting down toward 80%. I tried to stifle an outward laugh, while shedding a small inward tear. Unfortunately we are an apathetic bunch. Choosing not to vote as a protest is certainly a valid statement, and believe me when I say I understand that people feel disenfranchised from government and the electoral system. But Voting is the only way to change that.

Democracy is messy, painful and slow, but as Sir Winston Churchill is quoted to have said "Democracy is the worst for of government except for all the others that have been tried." It might not have the flare of a Royal Wedding, but democracy has the power to change your world. On May 2, get your butt out to vote!

Tuesday 26 April 2011

A NL Musical Interlude

I'm not sure if it's inborn in all people who came from this amazing province but I can truly say that hearing well written traditional music about NL pulls at my heart strings like very little else can. It can raise the spirits and bring a tear to the eye of the sternest of men. In the spirit of celebrating the things that make NL a great place to be from and an even better place to live I give you a few of my favorite NL tunes.

Up first is the newest song to catch my attention. I kept hearing it on the Sunday morning traditional music shows and at first I thought it had a catchy tune, and then when I really started listening to the words it struck me as quite profound. By A Crowd of Bold Sharemen, my first selection: When We Was Boys.

A list of favorite traditional NL songs is not easy to compile. Well, I should say it's not easy to whittle down to a short list of songs, as there are quite a few to pick from. From my childhood I recall favorites like Aunt Martha's Sheep by Dick Nolan, Sonny's Dream by Ron Hynes, and of course the holiday classic The Mummers Song by Simani. Very few musical groups will ever have the impact on NL music as Ryan's Fancy, and below you can hear them perform an old NL classic by Art Scammell, The Squid Jiggin' Ground.

Of course there is at least one NL musical group that continues to have incredible impact on the music scene. They write and perform music and comedy for people across Canada. Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers have captured the hearts and the funny bones of many people from this province, and for good reason. Their most popular song captures a small part of the magic of living in NL, and those of us who know what they're talking about can only smile and know that to truly understand you have to experience what they are singing about.

Rarely can I claim a personal connection to a great piece of NL history, let alone NL musical history but there is one instance where I am proud to say that I can. Ryan's Fancy was popular enough that in the 1970's into the early 80's they had their own CBC program and a number of musical specials. One of those specials took them on a trip down towards Bonavista on the Bonavista spur line of the old Newfie Bullett. Thank goodnes it did because in the piece of film below you will see an older gentleman with grey hair and glasses striking a matchbox on his elbow and his knees, in time with the music. That gentleman was my great-uncle Cliff Keats. Unfortunately he passed away when I was quite young so I don't have many real memories of him, but thankfully I can always tune in to see him on the Bonavis Line.

Thursday 21 April 2011

NL Budget: A Rural Analysis, Part 2

Part 1 of the analysis addressed a few of the general aspects of the budget that might not be directly related to rural NL but are important in the bigger picture. Here in Part 2 we will dig into some of the issues that have been specifically discussed here at The Rural Lens and that are directly related to rural NL.

The first note here is the fact that Labrador is the only region of the province that gets a specific address in the NL budget. In the coming weeks there will be a blog entry on Labrador and why it deserves special attention, but for now I’ll just agree with the fact that it has it’s own section of the budget. There is significant spending allotted to Labrador with about $70 million for roadwork, $24 million for the Labrador West hospital, and $20 million for the coastal community energy subsidy program.

The budget has indicated $8 million to “…help address gaps in broadband availability in under-serviced areas and to further develop an advanced internal telecommunications network.” There is a tremendous gap in highspeed internet access in rural parts of NL as discussed briefly in this CBC story. There has been past investment in some areas under programs such as Smart Labrador but it is very unclear as to how much of this money will go to rural broadband. And in this story the Minister indicates they are still determining what areas might benefit from the funding. It’s about time we invest properly and get the infrastructure in place to serve the whole province with highspeed.

The two highest spending areas of this budget are education and healthcare (as they should be) but there is not a great deal of funding earmarked to deal with rural healthcare issues. There’s $700k allocated to improve accommodations for medical students in rural locations, and $1.2 million to continue the resident bursary program. Will this significantly improve things for people who can’t find a family doctor? The issue of Doctor shortages has been talked about across the country but with very little in the way of solutions. On this weeks election edition of White Coat Black Art on CBC Radio the Canadian Medical Association President Dr. Jeff Turnbull was one of the guests. He says that perhaps the problem isn’t not enough doctors but the way we deliver medical service. He suggests that if we had medical teams with a doctor, nurse practitioner, nurse and perhaps others working in partnership then we could provide better service at a lower cost then just hiring more doctors. Sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

The total allocation for the agricultural sector identified in this budget is $750,000. $500,000 is earmarked for new equipment at the provinces Animal Health Laboratory, and the other $250,000 to assist new entrants into the sector. NL can be a difficult place to get some things to grow but yet we still have a reasonably strong agriculture industry, but $750,000 hardly seems appropriate to invest in one of the industries that helps to keep rural NL alive and has the ability to help us deal with our food security issues. For some perspective remember that this same budget has allocated $1.5 million to the Republic of Doyle TV show (a decision I support) but only half of that, $750,000, for an entire sector of our economy. Oh Yeah.

There is mention of approximately $10 million over three years, in investments into the provinces fishery in the NL budget. The majority, $6.6 million, is destined for new technologies while $3.1 million will support the Workforce Adjustment Program. So where is the investment to fishery restructuring? It’s only the backbone of the rural parts of NL, and the foundation of our settlement and culture. Not like it’s important or anything….

Municipal Sector
The two key areas in the municipal sector that are mentioned in the budget are infrastructure and Municipal Operating Grants or MOGs. On the infrastructure side the provincial contribution has increased from $135.5 million in 2010 to $140.8 million in 2011. Sounds like a good thing, yet somehow the total infrastructure spending will actually go down. Municipal infrastructure is cost shared between federal, provincial and municipal sources and this total investment number has dropped from $225 million in 2010 down to $219 million in 2011. Not great news.

On the other side are the MOGs. For years municipalities received significant operating funds from the province until they began to trail off and had not been increased for many years. Some have argued that for the small towns, operational funding is more valuable then infrastructure funding. The budget indicates an increase in MOG spending of $4.6 million and a reevaluation of the MOG formula. The news is welcomed but it’s not the move that is really required. This is like putting a band aid on a broken leg. We need a complete structural overhaul, but the apatite does not seem to exist to get it started. So we will continue to provide palliative care to a slowly dying patient.

The trendy thing is to provide a grade to the current budget, and as a teacher I just can’t help myself anyway. While there are some good spending initiatives, there really are huge gaps such as alternate energy production, fisheries restructuring, municipal restructuring, agriculture, and somehow we still don’t have a provincial land use plan. And to make matters worse we are not adequately paying down the provincial debt and in fact we are dipping into our $1.5 billion in savings by overspending by about $750,000 according to Allison Coffin, an economist at Memorial University as quoted in this CBC story.

From the rural NL perspective I have to say that the 2011 NL budget is worth the Grade of C. And that’s about it.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

NL Budget: A Rural Analysis, Part 1

The NL provincial budget has been announced and the coming days will be filled with various analysis by politician and commentator alike. Here at The Rural Lens will be no different, only for the angle of the analysis. This is Part 1 of that analysis.

If you are a regular visitor then you will already have read about some of the areas that I feel we should be investing in rural NL such as rural infrastructure, especially water more water, and wastewater, solid waste, the fishery and of course municipal restructuring. I’ll work through the budget to asses how or if it addresses these, and other issues of importance to rural NL.

To begin we have to realize that despite the difficult conditions in some rural areas, the NL economy has been booming. This is largely due to oil revenues and will lead to a forecasted surplus of $59million in the 2011-12 fiscal year. While this is good news, there is another figure that we cannot ignore and that is the $8.2 billion in projected provincial debt. That’s billion with a B. We are paying down the debt, but one of the criticisms of this newly drafted budget is that we could, and should be paying it down much faster, as interest rates are forecasted to rise in the coming years.

In part 1 of the analysis we will examine some more general aspects that may not be as directly related to rural issues but are important to note just the same. The approach is to touch on certain sectors as they stand out in the budget. To read the complete 2011 budget you can find the main budget page here, where you can get the speech, the highlights and the estimates by department.

Tourism & Culture
The budget identifies a variety of tourism and cultural investments totaling $6.5 million, ranging from Arts and Culture Centers, the Colonial building, NL Arts council and a cultural economic development program. The one stand out investment is in the CBC program The Republic of Doyle for $3 million over the next 2 years, for a total of $7.5 million invested in the program. This has some tongues wagging as it is a significant investment. While it is a significant amount, I would argue it is worth it, and not just because I’ve been an extra on the show a few times, but because it is promoting NL in a positive way throughout the world.

Fire Services
The budget commits almost $5 million to the purchase of fire fighting vehicles and equipment. This is a significant investment that is both needed and welcomed! There is also the introduction of a firefighter tax credit that will provide a small benefit to a vital group of volunteers in NL.

$348 will be invested in the crown corporation with the majority intended for the Muskrat Falls development project. This project is beginning to concern me as the numbers and justification don’t seem to add up, but that is a post for another time….

Investments into MUN and CNA for $37 million over 2-3 years for upgrades to various laboratories and facilities, and $6.4 million to maintain the tuition freeze at booth institutions. Good news for post secondary students but no new ideas included around grants or free tuition programs.

The budget includes an investment of $140 million toward the NL Poverty Reduction Strategy, which brings the total investment up to $620 million since 2006. Poverty reduction is a noble cause but $620 million is a lot of money, are we really making any progress? Can we see a difference?

The budget identifies $12 million to continue the Residential Energy Efficiency program to help people make their homes more energy efficient. This is a great program that should be considerably expanded.

There’s a note that $14 million is budgeted for waste management over the coming year. The current Gas Tax Agreement allocates about $10 million for waste management so I guess we’re putting in an extra $4 million? This process needs to be examined to see if the investment is really going to benefit the people of NL.

Energy Rebate
The budget includes a home heating energy rebate of 8% for all residents of NL. This amount is the equivalent of the provincial portion of the HST and will cost government $38 million and will take effect a few weeks prior to the election in the fall. This rebate is a mistake. As a taxpayer I don’t mind paying reasonable taxes as long as the money is going to valuable services and this rebate will make such a small cut in heating bills that the vast majority of people won’t even notice. It would be approximately equal to $75 per person for the year. I say take my $75 and invest it in healthcare so that the next time I need to go to the emergency room, I don’t have to wait for 4 hours. That’s easily worth $75.

So far the largest criticism would be that there are no new approaches identified here. It's all the same old stuff. Where are the cutting edge ideas and new approaches that might actually get some results?

Stay tuned for NL Budget: A Rural Analysis, Part 2 where things start to go astray...

Saturday 16 April 2011

The Seal Hunt

I have been lucky enough to have been in various positions that have allowed me to express my opinions through various written means. About 6 years ago I worked with an environmental not-for-profit, The Protected Areas Association,or PAA, and I was a regular contributor to the seasonal newsletter. With the annual seal hunt in the news again recently it reminded me that I had written an article regarding the hunt back in 2006 for the PAA newsletter. A quick search led me to the Spring and Summer edition of Fresh Tracks that you can find here in PDF.

A quick read through the article and I was reassured that I still agree with my position in 2006. So, to reiterate my original points I am posting the original text of that article, simply titled The Seal Hunt.

As the summer months draw closer there are a few certainties residents of this province are familiar with. The summer won’t be a warm or as long as we’d like, tourists and cruise ships will come, and maybe, just maybe we won’t have to hear about the seal hunt for at least seven or eight months, if we’re lucky. Complaining about seal hunt protestors is starting to be a regular tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The call-in shows are blocked, Letters to the editor are written in anger and journalists across the province and the country prepare for the battle. The problem with battles is that lines get drawn and assumptions get made. Being an environmental organization is never easy but It gets even more difficult during the seal hunt. During the hunt one of the first questions people often ask is if we're affiliated with any of the animal rights groups and even though we're not, we often get tarred and feathered right along with them.

Any accusation of unsustainable harvesting of any species is a concern to the Protected Areas Association. DFO has set this year's commercial hunt limit at 325,000 animals, or about 6% of the estimated 5.82 million animals. Animal welfare groups contend that the herd is much smaller and that the harvest level is far too high. The dilemma is who to believe? No group besides DFO has published a science-based population assessment to challenge the estimate of 5.82 million animals. No assessment has been carried out on the long-term sustainability of current harvest levels.

If one assumes that the harvest level is in fact sustainable then why and how is it different from any other animal hunt in the world? This hunt is perhaps the most watched and documented on the planet, yet accusations for and against the hunt abound. Animal welfare groups claim that the hunt is inhumane and continue to use images of whitecoat seals. It has been nearly 20 years however since Canada banned the hunt of whitecoats. As for the idea of a humane kill there have been studies that state that a sharp blow to the head or a bullet to the brain are both methods to inflict instant death with a minimal amount of suffering. A special report in the September 2002 edition of the Canadian Veterinary Journal titled Animal Welfare and the harp seal hunt in Atlantic Canada concludes that, “… the large majority of seals taken during this hunt are killed in an acceptably humane manner.”

If that were the end of the accusations very few Newfoundlanders and Labradorians would be upset. But perhaps the most disturbing dimension of the seal hunt controversy is the celebrity-sponsored international smear campaigning against sealing, sealers, and the province as a whole. Not surprisingly, celebrity protest appears to have only further entrenched public support of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians for the hunt.

With the price of harp seal pelts reaching $105 each this year this is not an issue that will soon go away. Some hunters will always have less respect for life but the continuing challenge is to monitor and assess the activities in the seal hunt to ensure that animals do not suffer and that harvest levels are sustainable over the long term. People will read the articles, watch the videos and listen to the commentary and decide for themselves what side of the argument they fall on. Of course this is an issue that spurs an emotional response both for and against the hunt and as long as emotion clouds the facts, this new tradition of Newfoundland and Labrador life will be kept alive and well.

Points of clarification
1. The current Harp Seal population is estimated at 9 million according to DFO numbers as seen here. That's an increase of over 3 million in 5 years. Hardly an endangered species.

2. The total allowable catch for the 2011 Harp seal is 400,000, as seen here.

3. The current price for seal pelts is approximately $21 per pelt as seen here.

4. The report "Animal Welfare and the harp seal hunt in Atlantic Canada" can be found here in PDF.

5. This article represents my opinions on the seal hunt and I am no longer employed by the Protected Areas Association, and I am not aware of, nor claim to represent, their views on the seal hunt.

Based on the information that I have found from unbiased sources, the seal hunt in Canada is undertaken on a very healthy population of animals, using reasonably humane techniques and as long as those two criteria are met, I will continue to support it. Not because I'm a Newfoundlander and Labradorian, but because I prefer to make those decisions for myself, based on science, and not be convinced by fear mongering propaganda.

Friday 15 April 2011

Cooperation: The new buzz word.

Check out this story over at The Telegram about a discussion session and a related project that involves some research from MUN and some municipalities in NL. The Memorial Presents session was held by The Leslie Harris Centre at MUN and was also related to a day long discussion on regional opportunities in the Northeast Avalon area.

Cooperation is the new buzz word for good reason. It is being recognized as one of the key ways to address many community and regional level issues in a time of limited municipal resources.

The project that is referred to in the article is discussed in detail over at the Municipalities NL(one of the partners) website here, and I'm proud to say that I played a small role in the early stages when I worked with MNL. Two MUN Profs are directly involved in the project, Dr. Alvin Simms, and Dr. Kelly Vodden, both with the Dept. of Geography.

One of the most interesting outputs will be an online tool that provides GIS data for all parts of the province based on labour market flows and "functional regions," or in other words, where people live, go to work, to school, to buy groceries and so on. I asked Rob Greenwood (Director of The Harris Centre) when the tool would be live and useable online and he assured me it would be running by September. I plan on holding him to that!

Wednesday 13 April 2011

The Linchpin of Rural NL

Wikipedia defines linchpin as "... a fastener used to prevent a wheel or other rotating part from sliding off the axle it is riding on." In other words it holds it all together. And after 5 years of working with the municipal sector I can say that municipal administrators easily fit that definition.

April 6-8th, I had the pleasure of attending the 39th Annual Convention of the Professional Municipal Administrators or PMA of NL. These are the staff that take council minutes, collect taxes, ensure services are maintained and in general they are responsible for keeping the lights on. When it comes to the issues that rural NL faces, the administrators see the focused results every day. Broken infrastructure, shrinking populations, changing demographics, disappearing volunteers and serious shortages of financial resources make the day to day work in a town council office a constant challenge.

NL currently has in the neighborhood of 276 municipalities and based on a 2007 Census Report released by Municipalities NL the average full-time permanent staff compliment for approximately 75% these towns is 1.2. What that basically means is that the majority of towns have one staff person who is responsible for most all the work that towns are responsible for.

This recent PMA Convention had over 20 new administrators, and each of the last 3 years had 25-30 new administrators as well(If my memory is correct). While new blood can be a great thing for any sector, this turnover of over 100 staff over the past 4 years is indicative of the stressful working environment in small town NL. Administrators in NL are generally overworked, undertrained, underpaid, and not offered the appropriate, and required support systems.

This certainly doesn't apply to all administrators but it does apply to far too many. Over drinks, stories are told of administrators who deal with regular abuse from residents and from elected councillors. On the other hand there are those administrators who are not properly trained or who appear to have chosen a career that does not match their specific skill set.

The municipal sector in NL is in serious need of restructuring and there is no doubt that administrators will have to play a key role in that process. Unfortunately there are serious issues that will arise with regard to properly trained staff who can handle planning, financial analysis, and a series of skills that are currently in short supply. They are the linchpin to the current system, and will be just as important to any new municipal system.

Administrators are vital to the survival of rural towns and they are rarely appropriately thanked for their contribution. I know one administrator who is the only full time employee of a town, and he also happens to be the volunteer Fire Chief, collects the garbage, plows the roads and in general keeps at least one town running. He deserves a huge thank you.

Monday 11 April 2011

Straight Talking Rex Murphy.

While not directly rural related, certainly relevant! The only question I have is when will we start demanding better?

In case the video doesn't work click here.

Red, Blue, or Orange? Part 3

The Canadian New Democratic Party, or NDP, have recently released their platform document and it appears to be much more of a lean, mean approach in comparison to to the other two major parties platforms. At 28 pages it is by far the shortest and contains very little in terms of flowery discussion and gets down to the the promises.(You know, the ones they will not have to follow through on)

A read through their platform indicates that they are not only streamlining but also taking a more holistic approach. They have major categories including climate change, economy and healthcare but nothing specifically dedicated to community, let alone rural issues. A search of the document reveals only one use of the word "rural." This makes it a little more complicated for comparison purposes but could mean that the approach is inclusive and not divisive.

Unfortunately the document doesn't really discuss many issues directly related to rural communities, but below is a sampling of the most "rural-relevant" headings from the NDP platform.

Investing in more family Doctors and Nurses
The Need in NL: More Doctors and Nurses!
The Promise: 1,200 new doctors over the next 10 years, adding 6,000 new training spaces for nurses over six years and substantially increasing the number of training spaces for other health professionals.

Expanding Care for seniors
The Need in NL: This is a huge issue for NL and especially for rural NL where the vast majority of the population are middle aged or older. The increase in the average age of residents has significant impacts on the ability of all governments to deliver services in rural areas.
The Promise: Includes1: Federal home care  and long term care transfers. 2: Double the Home Adaption for Senior's Independence Program.(See here) 3: Introduce a new program of forgivable loans, up to $35,000, to help renovate homes so that people can take care of aging parents in their homes. 

Investing in our shared cultural heritage
The Need in NL: We are in serious need of some additional programs that will continue the traditional knowledge and culture in younger people.
The Promise: Items including: Tax breaks for artists, matching grants for museums, historic buildings and lighthouses, Tax incentives for building preservation, increased support for CBC specifically for local programming.

Protecting the family farm (and food safety)
The Need in NL: Additional supports to ensure local farms are viable, safe and providing local products to local markets.
The Promise: Farming mentorship program, 200 new food inspectors, new business risk management programs.

Recognizing local Heros
The Need in NL: Support for volunteers who keep rural communities alive.
The Promise: Service based volunteer firefighters tax credit, establish a "hero's benefit" for families who loose a family member who is a firefighter or police officer in the line of duty.

Ensuring all Canadians have access to broadband and a robust digital economy
The Need in NL: High speed internet access is vital to small businesses in rural areas. NL is still a long way from being able to offer high speed to all communities.
The Promise: All Canadians will have access to high speed internet. Eliminate usage based billing. 

Fair treatment for the provinces
The Need in NL: Support in establishing ownership of the resources that belong to NL: Fishery, mineral, oil and gas. And a fair Federal transfer system that consider the rural nature of NL.
The Promise: Money for Quebec, no repayment for BC, both with regard to HST/GST.

So, while the NDP do appear to recognize some of the rural issues, they are grouped with all other issues. There is specific mention of support for the Lower Churchill project and bringing that power to Nova Scotia, but that is an issue that requires and entirely different post!

All things considered, each of the 3 major national parties do show some understanding of the issues faced by rural canadians but it really only at a cursory level, at least when it comes to their policy platforms. But then again according to Stats Canada reports that a mere 20% of Canadians live in rural areas.  The big 3 will certainly want to court the urban vote if they expect to get elected. And that won't leave many promises for the rural folks...

Red, Blue, or Orange? Part 2

 A few days have passed and the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC)have released their platform document for the upcoming election.

The 67 page document is a mix of "we have" and "we will" and covers a gambit of topics seen as important by the Canadian Conservative Party. For our purposes we need to dig deep, and see what the promises are for rural parts of our country, and specifically for rural NL. Reading through the Table of contents, following listing on topics of the economy, tax issues, armed forces and legal reforms you will find a section titled "Here for communities and industries." This is where you will find a mix of community and industrial commitments...because it makes perfect sense to cover community issues along with big business issues... Headings and commitments from the "Cities Towns and Rural Communities" include:

The Need in NL: As referenced in previous Rural Lens entries here and here, the need for rural infrastructure is continuously growing...
The Promise: We(CPC) will introduce legislation to confirm this permanent funding for municipal infrastructure through the Gas Tax Fund.(This money already exists and it should have always been permanent)

The Need in NL: Our rural communities remain alive based on the efforts of volunteers. They operate in environments with very limited resources and shrinking volunteer numbers. They need resources. And this is Volunteer week!
The Promise: Social Impact Bonds (?), Simplifying funding agreements and reduce red tape, test new ways to engage the private sector, develop a volunteer matching service. (All sounds pretty vague but could be good if we knew details and they were followed through on)

The Need in NL: While we have youth at risk, gang activity is thankfully not an issue, especially in rural NL.
The Promise: We (CPC) will renew our support for the Youth Gang Prevention Fund, and make it permanent.

The Need in NL: We need more Doctors and Nurses!
The Promise: We (CPC) will help attract new doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners to these communities, by forgiving a portion of federal student loans for those who agree to practice in under-served rural or remote areas. (This could actually help and has been talked about for some time)

The Need in NL: We've started this already. See here.
The Promise: We (CPC) will ensure that every recreational hockey arena in Canada has a defibrillator, and we will support training for attendants in using them.

The Need in NL: All volunteers need support, including Firefighters 
The Promise: Tax break based on minimum hours of service. (Good idea)

The Need in NL: Not sure we really needed the registry but it cost a lot of cash and it seems to be operating just fine.  
The Promise: Scrap it completely. 

The Need in NL: Hunting is very important but I don't see how a new committee will help? 
The Promise: Create a new advisory panel to the Minister. 

The Need in NL: As this is specifically with regard to the Species at risk Act I have not heard of any issues of that nature in NL.
The Promise: We (CPC) will strengthen the rights of landowners, by reviewing the Species at Risk Act with a view to ensuring that when compensation is owed, compensation will be paid.

The Need in NL: New money for trails sounds good. No $ value identified though...
The Promise: We (CPC) will (provide) additional funding for upgrades and new trails.

The Need in NL: How is this a National issue? Really.  
The Promise: Relocate its head office to a centre or centres appropriate to all the regions of the province. 

The Need in NL: I can't even to begin to describe how this is dangerous for NL. It specifically mentions Old Harry and the Gulf of St. Lawrence...   
The Promise: We will implement the accord on Quebec’s offshore resources, by tabling the necessary legislation in Parliament.

So after a long list of issues identified there are a couple of points that may be of benefit to rural NL but in general it looks like more of the same...

*Please note that you should see the original document for full details, as these are merely snippets taken from the platform document.*

Monday 4 April 2011

Red, Blue or Orange?

The Federal election is now less then a month away and we have already been subjected to a full week of promises and rhetoric. Since we have four more weeks of this stuff we may as well take a good look at what's being promised by whom. Of course, here at The Rural Lens we want to delve into the depths of the rural aspects of the policy platforms for each of the three major parties. We'll take each party platform and spend a few minutes to see exactly how they feel about rural issues. Today we'll start with the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC).

This platform document contains various positions on education, fiscal policy, health care, public pensions and yes even rural Canada. The section on rural issues is titled "Rural Canada Matters." Sounds like a good start. Lets see how much rural Canada matters to the LPC.

The document states "A Liberal government will commit to narrowing the gap between rural and urban Canada starting with new measures in five major areas." Those areas are:
*NOTE that The Need in NL notes are added by The Rural Lens to provide perspective*

Rural Broadband
The Need in NL: High speed internet is a vital part of small business and there are far too many areas in NL that still do not have high speed access.
The promise: 100 percent high-speed internet connectivity of at least 1.5 MB/sec for all Canadian communities within three years of being elected.

Rural Healthcare
The Need in NL: Healthcare in rural NL continues to be an issue, especially as rural populations continue to age.  
The promise: A Liberal government will introduce a new incentive by forgiving a portion of Canada Student Loans for doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners choosing to practice in a designated underserved small-town or rural community.

Volunteer Firefighters
The Need in NL: Volunteer firefighters keep rural NL safe. They are sometimes understaffed and undersupplied.
The promise: A Liberal government will introduce a $3,000 refundable tax credit...volunteer firefighters with a minimum of 200 hours of volunteer service during the tax year will be eligible.

Mail Service
The Need in NL: While there may be some minor issues I was not aware that this was a significant issue in NL.
The promise: A Liberal government will: Protect Universal Service. Restore and Maintain Rural Mail Service. Improve Community Consultation.

Food Policy
The Need in NL: One of our significant issues is that we import so much of our food supply. I have heard that the island portion of the province could only last for 3 weeks without food shipments. While rural areas can be more sustainable it does depend on the season and the location. For more information on food security in NL check out the Food Security Network of NL.
The promise: A Liberal government will: Conduct a comprehensive review of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency(CFIA), Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Invest an additional $50 million over four years to improve food inspection. There are also points around sustainability, environmental stewardship, and capacity building.

So, it would appear there is some recognition of rural issues by the LPC but these are but promises of a party that may never have to implement them. So what about the other two major national parties? Well, the NDP website has a "Platform" link that leads to a rather short page with 4 headings, and none of them are focused on rural issues. And the Conservative Party of Canada's Website has a link labeled "Policy." If you click on the link it just reloads the main page again. There is a drop-down link to the recent budget they proposed, including those cuts to ACOA. When both parties get their platforms developed and published, I'll review them in kind.

It's a start for the Liberals. As for the NDP and the Conservatives.....get your act together people. In case you weren't aware there's an election in a few weeks!