Representatives from rural economic development organizations from across Canada have agreed in principle to create a National Rural Network to advance the objectives of rural and remote communities.
Canadian Community Newspapers Association (CCNA) Executive Director Serge Lavoie represented community newspapers at the invitation-only event sponsored by the Federal Rural Secretariat.
The one-day meeting, held April 3 in Charlottetown, PEI as part of the Second National Rural Conference, attracted the participation of some 40 participants and featured two separate working sessions with Secretary of State for Rural Development Andy Mitchell. The larger conference included more than 400 delegates representing government and non-governmental organizations. The first such conference was held two years ago in Magog, Quebec.
The proposed National Rural Network is an initiative of both the British Columbia and Nova Scotia branches of the Coastal Communities Network. There is strong support from both the Rural Secretariat and the Minister’s office for the creation of such a network or coordinating body.
If there was a common theme running through the day’s discussion, it was the sense that rural issues are fast being overshadowed by urban issues, especially in light of recent Statistics Canada findings that 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban communities. Rural communities and organizations, by comparison, are small, isolated and lack the higher profile of their urban counterparts. The sector also suffers from the fact that rural issues are equated almost solely with agriculture, a problem for those communities with a different resource base such as forestry, mining or fishing, or those wishing to diversify into knowledge-based economies.
“It’s not clear yet what role, if any, CCNA can play in this new network,” says Lavoie. “Our members have told us that their businesses can only thrive if their communities are growing, so we set out to build the profile of small town and rural-based community newspapers within government and other agencies. Participants I spoke with were interested to learn just how substantial our sector is. They were especially interested to learn about our efforts at research, particularly the ComBase readership study. It turns out that research is a big problem for all rural-based sectors.”
An organizing community will move the network proposal forward and will organize another planning meeting in the near future. Documents from the conference will be prepared and CCNA will post them to its web site at www.communitynews.ca when they become available.