Rural strength lies in ability to make quick decisions on issues

Necessity is the mother of invention and rural Canada knows about both necessity and invention, a group of rural panelists agree.

It has to be agile and innovative to get things done.

Why it matters: Rural municipalities are often left to figure out what’s best, with fewer resources than cities.

“Rural municipalities have this great advantage and that is that we’re nimble,” said David Mitchell, mayor of Bridgewater, N.S. “We tend to be able to pivot quicker to address the challenges that we face.”

Mitchell was among four speakers who participated in a recent webinar, Strength and Innovation in Rural Canada, organized by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

“We’re not in the same spotlight or receive the same funding support from other levels of government, which means we tend to need to find alternatives and innovative solutions to issues that we face and many times we need to have made-at-home solutions for these because we just can’t draw the larger companies.”

Paul McLauchlin, president of Rural Municipalities of Alberta, said the strength of rural Canada, and the stewardship that its citizens provide, tends to be underrated.

“Rural Canada actually can provide the mitigation for floods. We can address some of the issues related to drought,” he said.

“As stewards of the land, it’s something that we just do, and I think that it’s interesting because your average farmer really isn’t considering the great services they are providing to the rest of Canada and to the rest of Canadians.”

The webinar was presented in collaboration with egg, chicken, turkey and hatching egg organizations, all of which operate under supply management.

Tim Lambert, chief executive officer of Egg Farmers of Canada, said stability provided by supply management has been a major advantage during the pandemic and will remain so in its aftermath.

He said the early days of COVID-19 showed the fragility of supply chains and the strength of local production.

“You’ve got stable farms right across the country so you have that local stable supply of food, and coming out of COVID I don’t see that being a lesson soon forgotten by Canadians,” Lambert said.

The alternative to strong Canadian rural communities is not palatable, he added. Low farm profitability in the United States has hollowed out rural America to the point where people have migrated to larger towns and cities that host major farm commodity processors.

He also said the stability of the supply-managed sector has allowed its businesses to continue supporting local and rural-based suppliers such as feed mills, equipment dealers and veterinarians even when other agricultural sectors suffer. When the latter sectors rebound, the infrastructure remains intact to serve them as well.

Kathryn Doan, a turkey farmer from Ontario’s Oxford County, supported the point.

“Farmers, by and large, still value relationships,” she said, and believe in supporting their business communities.

That in turn provides jobs, attracts residents and keeps schools open.

“When I look at expanding… I look to our local network knowing that it creates that economic activity.”

One major hindrance to rural economic activity and health is no surprise: access to high speed internet, as well as reliable cellular service and electrical stability.

“If a storm looks at you funny, your power is out,” said Mitchell, noting rural Canada can’t participate in the world if it is not connected to the world.

Doan said it is difficult to recruit and retain staff without dependable broadband, which is now a necessity.

McLauchlin said rural Canada also needs to increase its value-added processing to increase efficiency and reduce reliance on other countries.

This article was originally published at The Western Producer.