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Rural Policy is Outdated!

Updated: May 25, 2020

As stated in my last blog, 70% of Canada is undeveloped or underdeveloped! A big barrier to this problem is the way policy and support systems are structured in Canada. This problem is further compounded when you are from a minority community and face barriers because of language and/or ethnicity. So where are we going wrong and why are the earmarked funds not changing the problems of outward migration, lack of development, and declining population in the rural regions. We believe it is a few major issues:

Rural adjacent versus rural remote

When governments are allocating funds, programs, and support to the rural population, they often concentrate on those regions that are adjacent, a drivable distance to an urban area. As a result, most rural services and money are put in areas that are not accessible to those living in rural remote areas.

Silo approach in government

The silo approach in the government does not work in rural remote regions. It is almost impossible for each little village to have individual programs and services available from the different government departments. As well as not being cost-effective, this individual approach creates more administrative work and less service work.

Project workers in rural remote regions have learned to work collaboratively and share their work progress and methods with each other. They often do the work of reaching out between government departments to make the services more relevant and effective in the rural remote region. It is our belief that if the government used a collaborative rather than a silo approach that services would be more effective and cost less!

The famous feasibility study

The most dreaded words out of the mouth of a government employee in a rural remote community are ‘feasibility study’. Government departments require these studies and rural remote developers provide the studies; and as a result, we can’t see over our desks but for the stacks of studies, catch up plans, feasibility projections, etc.! Along with the studies comes the host of firms, consulting companies, and engineering firms that at exorbitant costs carry out these studies in the rural remote regions. Can you imagine the frustration and moral questions that arise in our regions when we see outside experts analyzing, reviewing, summarizing conditions that we live in the midst of, charging exorbitant hourly and daily rates along with high travel costs in these rural remote regions only to come back with little or no action on the part of the government. This has been the exact condition since the inception of government involvement in our territory and when the application of studies began as a pre-condition for funding! It is nothing short of highway robbery! Producing studies that are over-priced and in most cases are not feasible to implement because they are not built on the rural remote reality.

Short term funding and grant structure

Another beast to tackle is the short duration of projects this can be anything from senior’s programs, culture programs to economic development programs. It is crazy the amount of time communities must spend writing pages of grants to get six months of funding. It is impossible to build sustainable programs, community members capacity in developing these programs when a disproportionate amount of time is spent on writing reports, writing grants, and meeting over the phone with government leaders. Rural remote regions are put on this treadmill of short-term projects and no one benefits, least of all the communities being served by the objectives of the projects.

As well, many grants require expertise in writing results-based management framework grants. Community members writing these grants don’t have the time or capacity to write these proposals and spend enormous amounts of time trying to find similar proposals to use as templates or work with consultants to write these grants. What happens? Frustration grows as communities are put on a relentless treadmill of short-term projects and grant structures that are not aligned with the needs or even accessible to rural remote communities.

Events and travel

The government loves to have consultations to learn about issues as they affect the grassroots. These consultations are sponsored by provincial or federal government entities. Sadly, and shockingly, provisions for travel costs are not considered in planning these consultations and often representatives from rural remote communities cannot afford to attend to make their voice and the communities needs heard among the politicians. So a consultation is held usually in an urban or rural adjacent area, decisions are taken and strategic directions are decided and the rural remote communities receive a nice shiny document with the new way to work on rural remote development! The people in the community wonder whoever came up with this plan because it is simply not implementable in their rural remote setting.

Waiting for superman

Rural remote communities all scratch their heads at what we call the ‘superman complex’. This is the person and/or politician that flies in either during an election or a time of crisis and then is never heard of again! It can be a crisis because of a mental health situation or an extreme economic downturn. There will be a big media splash and a chartered plane with a pile of “specialists” that arrives, makes lots of promises for change, and sometimes they may even put in some short-term services. But when the media spotlight goes away, the support and superman usually go with it.

So, what is the solution to breaking this cycle of mismanagement and poor policy?

The answer lies within us. We need to change the ‘way we do things round here’! We need to stop accepting the urban and rural adjacent models that are pushed on us and that we have proof do not work for rural remote areas, and we must promote our proven models that do work and where needed develop our own unique models not only for Canada’s remote rural regions but for all rural remote regions on the globe.

So what these new models look like?

Integration of services, programs, and manpower into an adaptable model

All government departments would work collaboratively and combine funds to solve complex issues. This would mean the public health agency of Canada, Health Canada, National Research Council departments, Economic Development Canada, Industry Canada, Agriculture Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans plus their provincial counterparts sitting down together with communities to design and implement programs and services that work together for the development of rural remote communities.

As well, they would have to work together on a design thinking development model. In design thinking you build a prototype and if you partially succeed, you adjust your prototype, enact it, and then continue to readjust as you implement it. This design thinking way of working is critical because rural communities are complex. Our challenges are different; our culture, assets, and skills are different; and our transportation channels are not the same.

Imagine the amazing work and the increased development and vitality that could happen if we collaborated and accepted our difference. The cookie-cutter approach simply doesn’t work and that is alright. If you want to read more on design thinking theory and how it works, I have included a reading list of books that have guided my learning. Books that I love.

I would suggest you also look at models that are being done by groups such as the Community Health and Social Services Network (CHSSN). As they use this approach of capacity building and collaboration to improve health access to the English minority community within Quebec and their work is truly groundbreaking.

Long term funding and no feasibility studies without implementation money

Funds need to be recurring and for a minimum of ten years to core funding programs so that development models can be built that include capacity building and training of the local people. Outsourcing of feasibility studies should be stopped! Instead, teams of specialists that want to live in rural communities should be employed. They could work cross collaboratively across the country.

A feasibility assessment should not be undertaken unless the government has the understanding that they have to follow through with implementation support. Also, the amount of infrastructure, marketing research, and development needs to be taken into consideration. A model of incubation and acceleration needs to be in place so that it employs rural remote communities’ greatest resource, their own people. Also, this model has to allow for public, private, and institutional funds to be put together so that corporate investment can grow as opportunities are opened up. This will allow rural remote communities to diversify their funding base to include industry and government partners.

Make it mandatory for consultations to first, include rural remote communities and small and medium businesses

The government must change the structure of their programs so that rural communities can participate in national, provincial, and international discussions. It should be mandatory that rural remote Canada is included in consultations and travel budgets should be allocated to allow them to attend consultations. Also, programs for industry development such as what is currently in place at Global Affairs Canada must be changed to have a rural remote development section. The way they are structured now does not work for most rural remote businesses. The structure of all the international business development funds is very urban-based leaving a big hole in the development of international relationships for rural remote communities.

Long term partnerships

I guess to end this week’s blog I would like to say that rural remote communities are not waiting for superman anymore. We are looking for government, institution, and industry partners that want to be true listening and collaborative partners and sit at the table with us. We want partners that believe in training and capacity building. We want partners for the long term and not for six months or two years but for ten years and more. The good news is we are starting to find partners that have the same values and goals as us. I will give great thanks to pioneers like the Coasters Association team, Simon Barnabe from the University of Quebec et Trois Rivere, Vincent Joncas and his team from the Commission Scolaire du Littoral, John Buck from the CEDEC, Jennifer Johnson from the CHSSN, Michael Cosgrove the Director of CedFob. I think their vision to come to the table and work with communities gives much hope that a new model can come into effect if we work together and build our own future.

We want to be part of the development of Canada because we are the people that are caring for 70% of the countries landmass and rich resources.

We have our historical ways of working, respecting the land and sea resources around us. We want to work together with government and industry leaders and partners, not for the short-term but for the long-term. We are changing ‘the way we do things around here’.

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