Are rural Canadians real Canadians?

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Today, we view our society under multiple fracturing – we divide ourselves between immigrants and non-immigrants, among racial types, left-to-right political positions – all the dimensions into which we force our communities, slicing and dicing ourselves. One big divide we rarely hear about is the rural – urban split.

Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Today, we view our society under multiple fracturing – we divide ourselves between immigrants and non-immigrants, among racial types, left-to-right political positions – all the dimensions into which we force our communities, slicing and dicing ourselves. One big divide we rarely hear about is the rural – urban split.
Canada shares the world’s move to the cities – humanity seems determined to over-populate this planet, which means we’re determined to crowd ourselves into ever-larger cities. Our rural regions are de-populating, as opportunities, jobs, entertainment and services also flow to the cities. People follow their social
infrastructure: jobs, services, opportunities. We convince ourselves that it is in concentrations of more and more people that we will find happiness and fulfilment.
Meanwhile, today’s equally significant swing toward social divisions, and even violence, is rarely attributed toward this feedlot-style concentration.
And what affects real lives – not our images, not our digitally-spread dreaming, not our ideological divisions and even entertainment – what affects us just as much as the people around us is the natural world around us, what the Japanese call our daily “bathing” in our environment.
If our environment is asphalt and tall buildings, apartments layered on top of apartments, or suburbia’s wasteland, how are we being shaped by our environment, individually and collectively?
We are all living a major population shift, the urbanization of Canada. We wonder where the people are coming from who continually flood into Aylmer, Gatineau and Ottawa: they come from rural areas, from Canada’s small towns as much as from foreign countries. And this migration to cities, into unmanageable concentrations, is not just a phase, it’s the new normal. Construction, road building, loss of food land, all this will continue. There’s a mathematics at work. And we become different, individually and as Canadians.
We may suspect or feel or want to believe that we ourselves won’t change and aren’t affected by this social change, but who can deny that our society itself is
changing? And, frankly, if the whole country is changing, why do we each believe that we, ourselves, are above these influences and changes? Because we can’t see the social changes ourselves, we suspect they don’t affect us?
Successive provincial and federal governments have all bought in to the inevitability of densification and urbanization. No matter who forms our governments, the trend continues, encouraged by government spending and priorities. Civil servants explain their attitude as serving people where they happen to be – filling new subdivisions, new condos and even the slums of tomorrow.
Our leaders want merely to serve the greatest number of people, to fill the needs created by this population shift. Taxpayers deserve to enjoy the services their taxes create – and if there are hermits or recluses scattered across the rural environment, let them enjoy their peace. Without libraries, pubic transit, drinking water, and so on.  But have our leaders been paying attention to rural needs? Where are Pontiac’s electric vehicle charging-stations? Where’s universal internet and cell service? Rural public transit? Why do pipelines avoid cities, but not rivers and farmland? Why are radioactive waste dumps built in rural areas, not in the cities which are served by the nuclear generators? We have nuclear power because of cities and population concentration. Forests are clearcut, but cities get new parks. Dams flood farms and First Nation lands, yet cities get more swimming pools, more asphalt.
Wouldn’t a land-fill in downtown Montreal convince people of the need to recycle and re-use better than hiding dumps in rural areas? Isn’t this an argument for storing nuclear waste in the cities which produce it?
We readers of this newspaper largely live in rural areas, underserved and ignored except for photo-ops and electioneering. We rural people are told that a re-surfaced section of Highway 303 is progress, while schools are closed and health services “centralized” (to fill urban needs).
Time we identify ourselves as rural-dwellers? It’s wonderfully generous of rural people to nod and smile about a new LRT system in Ottawa, costing billions, a new bridge in Montreal, widened freeways – all feeding our self-image of being in this Canada all together. And yet we’re not.