| Jul 10, 2008

Editorial - July 10, 2008

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Editorial - July 10, 2008 What is rural life?Editorial by Jeff Green

We often talk, in these pages, about rural life, about its stresses and joys, about the pressures faced by small municipalities, and about how people in the cities just don’t understand us.

A couple of years ago, a background policy report was prepared for the Ontario Government. Entitled “Small, Rural, and Remote Communities: The Anatomy of Risk”, it outlined potential difficulties that rural communities will likely face in the coming years.

One of the authors of the report, Larry Bourne, told the News at the time that “the message of the report is that smaller and more specialized communities are at greater risk from economic downturns.”

“Lack of diversity can be a handicap,” he added. “This is particularly true of remote communities,” which he defined as those communities that are more than one hour’s drive from a major centre such as Ottawa.

Since that conversation took place, an “economic downturn” has come, as Bourne said might happen, but as well the price of fuel has increased dramatically, which he did not predict.

The assumption built into the one-hour drive that Bourne talked about was that people are willing to commute up to one hour for work. With current fuel prices, that may no longer be the case. That one-hour commute might be coming down to 30 minutes, because it is no longer only the time it takes to commute that concerns people, it is the cost.

This reality is borne out by the 2006 census. The only real increase in the Frontenac County population has been in South Frontenac, and most of that increase has been due to subdivision developments in the rim of Kingston.

Bourne talked about “lack of diversity” in some rural economies, and in this region we tend to be more dependent upon tourism than we probably should be.

As we head into prime summer tourist and cottaging season, the looks in the eyes of many local business people tell me that they need a good two months of business, perhaps more than in other years, and fuel prices and the overall drop in American visitors have left them more than a little bit nervous that the people will not come this year.

Save for housing costs, it is probably more expensive to live in Frontenac County than in cities such as Ottawa or Kingston.

Even with an increase that comes into effect today, the monthly fare for an adult to ride all of the Ottawa buses and trains, the “adult rural express pass” will cost $126 per month. For that price, it is possible to access services, shopping, etc. such as we will never see, and there are few among us who are paying less than double that to get around each month.

The truth is that these stresses are not new. Our communities have been stressed for at least 40 years now, and in spite of it all people continue to live around here, raise their families and enjoy a good life. It may be hard to make a living in this region, but life is certainly easier than it was 50 or 100 years ago.

We are no longer tied to the land in the way people once were. Few of us spend most of our time hewing wood and hauling water, as people in this region did in the past. Farming the rocky, shallow land that predominates north of Verona was never an easy way to make a living.

Now, we have people who run internet-based businesses, who have retired to the lake, and many who work in town, and commute back home every day.

The traditional ways of making a living are becoming part-time enterprises or hobbies.

The rural lifestyle is more diverse, more technology based; in short, less rural.

So is there more to rural life these days than simply driving further to the city, and paying lower mortgage costs and higher internet costs?

Over the summer we would like to explore what rural means in modern eastern Ontario, and what it might mean in another 10 years as we enter the era of high energy costs.

We will do this in an occasional series of articles throughout July and August. -JG

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