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Evan Saugstad: Forgotten but not gone

Yes, we rural people have climate change risks, but these risks are about the frequency and probability of events, and not about that they never happened in the past or won’t happen in the future, with or without climate change.  
Firefighting funds depleted: Record number of wildfires in national parks

In this, another summer of fires and drought for much of B.C. and Canada, our much beloved, but never quite understood CBC, writes the headline: "Climate change threatens remote and rural communities nationwide: report".

The story got hundreds of comments from all perspectives and narratives. Some saw the narrow-minded focus that dominates our national broadcaster’s agenda, while others pushed back on and about why their reporter did not write about the report in its full context.

The report, titled Canada in a Changing Climate is put together by Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) and is part of their National Issues Report, an ongoing series. Although this issue focuses on climate change and the potential impacts to rural and remote communities, it does touch on that our future, the future of the 90% of Canada that is not big city, has a much bigger problem than just climate change.

Yes, we will have challenges as some communities will burn and must rebuild smarter and better. Yes, some will flood and must move their infrastructure off the flood plains. Yes, some that were built at sea level will be required to move to higher ground. Yes, some will need to upgrade snow-clearing equipment to better address winter blizzards, and yes, some will need to revisit how tall they let their trees grow and require modular homes to be anchored to the ground to reduce damage from severe windstorms.

And they do acknowledge that rural people, by and large, are very knowledgeable about their living conditions and risks, and are continually adapting to and adopting change.

Yes, we rural people have climate change risks, but these risks are about the frequency and probability of events, and not about that they never happened in the past or won’t happen in the future, with or without climate change.  

The biggest risk to rural Canada (my view and not the report’s, as Minister Shameless must approve it) is not climate change, but government itself. The report acknowledges the laissez faire attitude by our federal and provincial governments to rural Canada’s needs are a huge risk to our viability to exist as prosperous and dynamic communities.

To illustrate this point we do not need to look far.

With a stroke of the pen, a Provincial Minister can remove thousands of hectares of forest from the timber harvesting landbase and eliminate the jobs that rural communities depend upon.

With another stroke of the pen, a Federal Ministerial order can send millions of juvenile farm-raised fish to their death and close dozens of fish farms, putting hundreds, if not thousands, of rural people out of work.

With another stroke of the pen, another Federal Ministerial order can stop a coal mining application in its tracks and move those thousands of rural jobs offshore and to other countries.

With another stoke of the pen, our Federal and Provincial governments can plan to double our parks and protected areas with little to no input from local communities on how this may affect their liabilities and livelihood of rural peoples.

With a stroke of the pen, our Provincial Minister can close the grizzly bear hunt (and allude to others to follow) and put dozens and dozens of people out of work.

With another stroke of the pen, our Federal and Provincial Ministers have so convoluted and complicated our Environmental Assessment process that the future of large-scale industrial projects is in doubt, and with that, thousands upon thousands of rural jobs.

It is not only about the stroke of the pen.

It is also about government inaction. Crickets on helping those affected by other countries’ bans on fur trapping or the seal harvest. Crickets on throwing the full weight of the law onto those who defy court orders and injunctions, and blockade rural people from getting to work. 

And all this before one even begins to look at the state of rural health care and education, two essentials to keep our communities viable.  

"Costs too much", they say, "to put Doctors and other health care professionals in rural communities. Why would we need operating rooms or locally based specialist when we can go to the big city and get a much better job at a much-reduced price to government?"

And why should government worry about what it costs me to get there, as I choose to live in these far away and out of sight places?

And, much easier to send our children off to the big city post-secondary institutions so they can all learn the same thing and learn to live there so they have no need to return.

And yes, governments can tell us that they are looking out for us and our everyday needs. Surprise surprise, rural landowners are now able build a secondary home on their rural farm property for their workers or relatives. And another surprise, surprise: livestock owners can now slaughter and process animals on site to improve their ability to stay solvent (albeit, with a few hoops and fees).

But as the cynic says, “all things we used to be able to do before government took them away.”

And, we can take heart that our Premier is looking out for us and our best interests by ensuring that we can have better government by reducing the number of rural MLAs and moving them to our smarter and more adept big city cousins.

But, we should take heart, and as the Report says, Canada (and by extension, B.C.) does need us, “Because the health of rural and remote Canada will affect the overall economic well-being of Canada.”

And to right the good ship Canada, all it will take is us rural people and communities to decide enough is enough, time to begin working together for our common good, and quit fighting among ourselves as we watch the cities of Canada suck the life out of the rest of us.  

It should be up to us to decide if we want a park, or a coal mine, or a fish farm, or pipeline or cutblock, and not up to those who live thousands of miles and values away.

Or, as our reality summed up in this comment posted on the CBC article said, “Too bad for you, you chose to live there.”

Evan Saugstad lives and writes in Fort St. John.