City mouse, country mouse… the same, only different

Posted on July 05, 2022 | By Richard Woodbury | 0 Comments



For decades, we’ve pitted rural versus urban as if one way of life was better than another. Isn’t it time we valued our geographic diversity?

When noted academic Donald Savoie published an op-ed late last year in The Globe and Mail on Canada’s urban-rural divide, the response was immediate.

Hundreds of people posted comments on the story, and many contacted him directly. For Savoie, who has published books on public policy, public administration and federalism, and regularly publishes op-eds in different publications, the reaction was different. The Université de Moncton professor knew he’d struck a nerve. “Rural Canada reacted to the op-ed,” he said. “They think they don’t have much of a voice. So whenever they see a voice that speaks for rural interests, it grabs their interest.”

Atlantic Canada’s population has a different look than the rest of the country. According to a February 2022 Statistics Canada report, it has the highest share of people living in rural areas. The Atlantic Canadian province with the smallest rural share of population is Newfoundland and Labrador at 40 per cent, while P.E.I. was highest with 54 per cent in 2021. Nationally, it was 17.8 per cent.

Savoie said that as Canada’s population has become increasingly urban, so too has political power. Urban Canada is also home to provincial capitals, many universities and corporate headquarters. “If you go through the power structures of our country, urban areas always sit on top,” he said. “Rural areas don’t have anywhere near the voice urban areas have.” Savoie said this contributes to divides between urban and rural areas across the country.

He’s long been an advocate for working together, so much so that he’s the face of the Maritime Union, an idea that would see the Maritime provinces consolidate to reduce duplication, improve public services and become more competitive. But Savoie said he’s a “lonely cowboy on the meadow” because there’s not much support for the idea.

Karen Foster is a sociology professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax. She’s the Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Rural Futures for Atlantic Canada. Foster said it’s important to remember that rural areas help provide necessities such as food and natural resources, which are needed for urban living. “We need each other,” she said. “We’re fundamentally connected.”

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