Towns shouldn’t be kept on life support
“I was wondering if ... you are brave (or crazy) enough to write a column on the subject I am suggesting.”
Now, there’s an intriguing start to an email.
It came to me in early January, from a Nova Scotian reader frustrated by what he saw as government waste:
“(Perhaps) it is time that Nova Scotia took the initiative that Joey Smallwood did more than half a century ago. I suggest that many of our small communities (half?) throughout the province simply cease to exist — bulldozed, homes moved and the population moved to neighbouring communities whereby the population would be built up to a viable level. To take Middleton, Bridgetown, Annapolis Royal, we really do not need three state-of-the-art water and sewer systems for three communities in relative close proximity.”
It’s an abrupt solution to an obvious problem.
In Nova Scotia and other Maritime provinces, small, centralized towns used to serve the surrounding areas as commercial and business hubs. With improvements in roads and transportation (and with changes, for example, in agriculture to larger operations), those hubs are not as necessary, nor as successful.
Local smaller businesses and wholesalers fail, shoppers move to regionalized big-box hubs with cheaper prices, and the cost burdens on beleaguered town councils grow.
Yet the towns lumber on, sometimes as shadows of their former selves, with help from provincial governments who shore them up with a variety of kinds of municipal funding. The causes can be different — in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in some parts of other Atlantic provinces, a widely dispersed inshore fishery led to numerous towns running virtually all around the edge of the province, like a hem on a skirt — but the result is the same.
The problem, of course, is what happens when the resource that drives those towns — especially the smallest ones — disappears.
The writer is correct: whether it’s fish, forestry or small-town service industries, there comes a time when you have to start questioning the viability of towns, if not the viability of continued provincial support for them.
Paper mill towns and mining towns have known the truth for generations. Government can’t replace industry — it especially can’t replace resourcebased industry — and it shouldn’t even try. Should provincial governments actively shut towns down? Probably not — all resettlement did in Newfoundland was create a focus for opposition. It was seen as “something the government is doing to us,” and it remains that way, even generations later.
As well, bulldozing half the small communities in a province is some- thing no government that depends on rural-based voter support will ever undertake. The words “one-term wonder” spring to mind.
But nature should be allowed to take its course.
When governments look at propping up town services over the shortterm, they should also pragmatically consider the long-term. As hard a message as it is, a town with no reason to be is probably a town that shouldn’t be.
If your town lives by the resource, it can — and should, probably — also die by that same resource. Governments don’t need to bring in the bulldozers: they really only have to have enough political will to turn off the taps.
TRUCK CRASHES THROUGH SIGN — This Ford truck destroyed a wooden sign on a windy Tuesday honouring Victoria’s past success in a Tidy Towns competition. The driver reportedly lost control of the vehicle, which was heading towards Victoria at the time of the accident and came to a stop facing Carbonear. Damage to the truck was substantial. The driver appeared to be unharmed, but was taken to Carbonear General Hospital for observation.