A vi­sion of Cape Bre­ton Is­land in 2040 AD

En­vi­sion­ing a bold way to reach a brighter fu­ture

Cape Breton Post - - OP-ED - Margrit Gahlinger

It was a stroke of the pen that had set her in a dar­ing new di­rec­tion. The province had granted her ‘spe­cial is­land sta­tus’ with the abil­ity to con­trol more of her own af­fairs and a share of the rev­enue to do so.

It was an end­ing of sorts, to a rip­ple sparked by a chance com­ment from a mem­ber of a com­mis­sion gath­er­ing ideas for a new econ­omy. The mem­ber was from a fish­ing vil­lage fac­ing the same dis­may­ing fu­ture as those gath­ered: ‘ You know, the way things look, it’s re­ally go­ing to be up to us to fig­ure things out.’

Those there knew it was true. No one had wanted to know. Ev­ery­one had got used to the province and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment look­ing af­ter ev­ery­thing as they had the last 50 years or so, mak­ing life a lot eas­ier.

Now the province it­self was un­der siege, rid­den with debt, its young leav­ing in droves, its in­fra­struc­ture de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, its coun­try­side lit­tered with aban­doned farms, plac­ing its hopes on suc­cess in a highly com­pet­i­tive global mar­ket.

At the same time, the planet it­self was un­der siege with droughts and earth­quakes and weather ex­tremes. The ocean, the true lungs of our planet, sat­u­rated with car­bon diox­ide, our con­sump­tion bring­ing us ever closer to the point of no re­turn. And all of it pick­ing up speed.

Kitchen meet­ings turned into vil­lage meet­ings, then re­gional meet­ings. ‘ What should we do?’ They looked to the land. Most of the food, ex­cept for the seafood, came across the cause­way. As did fuel and build­ing ma­te­ri­als, boats and gear, cloth­ing and fur­ni­ture and elec­tron­ics and ev­ery­thing else. The is­land supplied al­most noth­ing of what she needed.

Back in 1900, the is­land had supplied most of what she needed, and bartered for the rest. All but five per cent of her peo­ple lived in the coun­try­side. The only gov­ern­ment help was to the for­eign own­ers of the coal. The is­land stood on its own two feet.

The kitchen meet­ings touched on all mat­ters – the econ­omy, roads, wa­ter and sewage, waste, postal ser­vices, health, ed­u­ca­tion, se­cu­rity, ac­count­abil­ity. The work­ers shared their ex­pe­ri­ences and ideas, the old brought their knowl­edge of tra­di­tions, the youth their fire and cre­ativ­ity.

The stroke of the pen al­lowed the is­land to face the fu­ture in an is­land way she knew best, with a strong coun­try­side and a com­mit­ted peo­ple.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the coun­ties sat around a ta­ble in the Is­land cap­i­tal of Syd­ney. The new Cape Bre­ton Coun­cil set the is­land di­rec­tion, a sus­tain­able one. The goal was to bring life back to the coun­try­side. The brunt of the work, and the rev­enue, needed to be in county hands.

Just one gen­er­a­tion gave the is­land a whole new look.

All ages helped with the stock tak­ing of the old fields and or- chards, streams and wood­lots, the mon­i­tor­ing of the lakes and coasts, univer­sity staff lead­ing. The Is­land Coun­cil and the county coun­cils played a full role in co-man­age­ment of the com­mer­cial fish­ery.

County coun­cils had staff to ad­vise on gar­den­ing from win­dowsills to farms, on bee­keep­ing, pre­serv­ing, man­ag­ing wood­lots. The coun­ties held com­mu­nal equip­ment for re­claim­ing the land. There was heavy sup­port for farm­ers mar­kets. With the Is­land Coun­cil, they turned aban­doned farms into crofts, en­abling those will­ing to work the land to rely on part time in­comes.

Com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ers helped bring ed­u­ca­tion, health and fit­ness back to the vil­lages as well as light­ing the way for cot­tage in­dus­tries. Com­mu­nity cen­tres be­came busy hubs – classes for the younger chil­dren, for adults in the win­ter months, health clin­ics, cul­tural events and lessons, fit­ness classes, in­door/out­door sports, meet­ing rooms.

Health costs plum­meted, liter- acy rates rose.

The Is­land set her own cur­ricu­lum, span­ning grade pri­mary to univer­sity. Much of the ed­u­ca­tion took place out­doors. High schools re­stored their cadet pro­grams. Some youth went on to serve in the new is­land reg­i­ment ded­i­cated to global dis­as­ter re­lief.

Money was set aside to main­tain roads and bridges. The is­land transit sys­tem – buses, shut­tles, vans, suit­ing all man­ner of need – in time paid for it­self. Most were elec­tric – the is­land was self-suf­fi­cient in energy. Rail­ways played a lead­ing role.

Emer­gency and se­cu­rity be­came one, teams of night watch­men work­ing with fire de­part­ments, first re­spon­ders and the is­land po­lice force, is­land youth com­ing up the ranks. Ex­tra food and other crit­i­cal sup­plies stored in the win­ter months.

Cape Bre­ton Is­land was on her feet once more, her youth her glory.

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