Rethinking Resettlement: Townies vs. baymen?
Or maybe it's Canada vs. Newfoundland and Labrador
Len Muise of Gambo had something to say about rural Newfoundland and resettlement that wasn't going to go over well with some people.
He said as much at the town hall CBC Newfoundland and Labrador held in his town at the end of November.
Still, Muise made sure to be the first one at the audience microphone, his hands moving up and down in front of his chest to emphasise his points.
"We as a province have to look at — I'm not going to call it resettlement — but a realignment of rural Newfoundland."
CBC-NL organized the Rethinking Resettlement town hall in Gambo to hear people's thoughts on a contemporary issue — one with lots of history to go with it.
Joey Smallwood, Gambo's famous son, embraced resettlement when he was premier.
The programs started in the '50s, moving people from isolated communities into larger ones. Memories of being displaced still pain some people.
'Rural Newfoundland is our culture'
But standing in the Smallwood Interpretation Centre, Len Muise was very much thinking about the present and the near future.
Muise referred to the province's all-too-real debt of $13.6 billion, plus the cost of running tiny schools in places where few students remain.
And of course he mentioned ferry service. CBC News reported recently that the cost of providing ferry service to the island community of St. Brendan's is close to $53,000 per person.
The overall cost of the marine service system is $73 million a year, "so 15,000 people can enjoy their life in an isolated community," said Muise.
Linda Lush of Gambo disagreed with that perspective:
"If we pave over rural Newfoundland, we will need to develop a new identity for our province," said Lush. "Because rural Newfoundland, it is not a town, it is not an outport, it is not a location. It is our culture."
'All these townies talking as if they know something about rural Newfoundland'
The audience of around 50 people in the Smallwood Interpretation Centre clapped, just as they'd clapped for Memorial University education professor Dennis Mulcahy.
His research concludes that small rural schools can be vibrant.
Mulcahy responded to a thread that emerged several times during the town hall: it's not uncommon to hear people in and around St. John's say that people need to move out of tiny, isolated communities in order to save the province money.
"You said there's an awful lot of talk in town about resettlement," said Mulcahy. "Well, there's nobody in St. John's going to be resettled. Why are all these townies talking as if they know something about rural Newfoundland when they don't?"
'Why don't you all move to Mississauga?'
Craig Pollett, the executive director of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, warned there's a danger in pitting one part of the population against another.
Pollett told the audience he sometimes travels out of province for work-related conferences.
He said that every once in a while, a person from Ontario will say something all too familiar to him:
"The comment I hear every now and then is, 'Well, in Toronto, we're paying for your ferry that goes to the island,'" said Pollett.
"'Why should we pay for that? Why don't you just pay for it yourselves? Or better yet, why don't you all move to Mississauga and we don't have to pay for that ferry at all?" he added, to low laughter rolling through the audience.
People travelled from communities including Port Blandford, Salvage, Centreville-Waheham-Trinity, Hare Bay, Dover and St. John's to attend the town hall.
Pollett said that at 275 municipalities, Newfoundland and Labrador has more per capita than anywhere else in Canada.
His organization says regional government would mean better services.
Improve those services first, urged Pollett, before any talk about whether resettlement on a wider scale is needed.
You can watch the full town hall conversation below: