The NG Times Newspaper

The recent Rural Summit was a first step in a process by which we need to identify the issues and concerns of the rural areas of our Municipality. Reliable sources tell me that the summit’s agenda was primarily decided by Council, and staff simply implemented what they were instructed to do. There was, apparently, a fear that allowing too much public involvement in setting the agenda would lead to a session of complaining and grievances (though there was a catchy two-word description given that I won’t repeat in print).
In the event, everyone was very pleased that the interaction was generally very positive, that the public’s questions were not aggressive or negative. The event itself received mixed reviews, but, again, it may prove to be a first step along the way. We might do well to look at what’s happening in neighbouring municipalities, where Committees of Council exist, or are being established, to handle rural affairs specifically. North Grenville used to have such a Committee, but the Councillor in charge, Tim Sutton, chose not to call it, preferring instead to operate through the Economic Development Committee. Unfortunately, that Committee did not address rural issues.
The Province also held a Rural Summit earlier this year, and had to confine its discussions to just one issue: attracting and retaining youth to rural Ontario. More than 235 people from 50 communities gathered in Stratford to look for answers to that problem, spending the entire day devoted to the one subject. Clearly, having staff presentations in North Grenville’s Rural Summit from 8:30 to 1 pm could hardly hope to deal in the same depth with all the issues facing our rural areas.
That is why it might be a good idea to have a follow-up summit in the new year. The Municipality is planning another summit in two year’s time, but surely we can’t wait that long. But what if we hold a gathering in the Community Hall in Burritt’s Rapids, for example, at which the rural community would have an opportunity of having their input, building on the foundation of municipal staff presentations heard last week? Representatives of OMAFRA, those dealing with rural transportation problems, rural poverty, economic development, homelessness, rural isolation, the problems facing small producers, local food activists, the Twin Rivers Food Hub, the Kemptville Farmers Market, local farmers, farm organisation such as the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, or the Ecological Farmers of Ontario, for example, could present and provide a clearer picture of what is happening in our rural areas.
This is, after all, where the great majority of the population of North Grenville actually live. It would also be a forum to discuss the future of rural schools, hamlets facing the loss of jobs, local stores, basic infrastructure, etc. Somewhere in all of this, the future of the Kemptville College campus and its equipment and facilities might be addressed. We could talk about the possible impacts of the trade deal with the European Union on local agriculture and the price of food. Or even the likely impact of a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, if Trump goes ahead with some of his threats in that regard.
The fact is that a list of subjects for a rural summit to discuss would be a very long one, indeed, and it will require much more than a gathering every couple of years to adequately assess the situation as it is, much less strategise about possible future plans to deal with what is happening, and likely to happen, to most of our residents. It will definitely take more than a sight-seeing bus tour to get a proper understanding of what is “out there” in the rural community.
What becomes clear from even a superficial consideration of the subject is that we need a permanent and effective Rural Affairs Committee of Council. This should be made up, primarily, of those with expertise and experience in these various topics, and with the vision and energy to provide solutions, plans of attack, and projects which will have an actual and practical impact. The Municipality has recently made the point that they do not have the expertise or qualifications to make decisions about things like oil pipelines running through the community. I am sure they would be equally honest in saying that they also lack the necessary expertise and qualifications to make decisions about such a wide variety of rural issues and problems.
It is apparent to anyone living outside Kemptville that the urban area is growing, possibly beyond its capacity, and the rural areas are in a parallel state of decline. There has to be a better answer for rural North Grenville than simply building more and more houses there, once Kemptville is filled in. Now is the time to begin the process of identifying those solutions. We can’t afford to wait another two years.


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