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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

To Re-Settle or Not to Re-Settle, That is the Question

Many of us have heard the stories of how Joey Smallwood tried to re-settle rural Newfoundland and Labrador. How he tried to move everyone into the major centers of the day. There are still some around who remember it first hand. Today I’d like to open the discussion on this topic and whether you believe a similar process is under way again in our province.

Back in the day, Premier Smallwood openly tried to persuade and coerce entire villages to uproot their families, move their houses and leave the past behind in order to centralize the population. He did this in an effort to cut the cost of providing services in the province. It was his contention at the time that the province could not afford to provide roads, schools, medical hospitals and other government services to remote areas. He felt that we would forever have a two tier society. A society where those in larger areas like St. John’s would have access to a level of services, such as education, that would not be available to the rest of the province. The cost was just too high both financially and socially. Does this sound familiar?

Today we have the largest per capita debt in the country and arguably one of the most wide spread populations. We live in a geographically large province by any standard but we only have the population of a small city. The questions asked decades ago still exist. How can the province sustain infrastructure and services to such a large area? How can we ensure equality of services to all when there are villages of a dozen families living hours from the nearest larger town? How can we maintain our way of life in these small villages if we can’t afford to service them?

I have been hearing a lot of discussion lately on open line shows and in newspaper commentaries about a more subtle approach to re-settlement. Some feel that where Joey tried to openly force the issue, the current Premier is working in a quieter and perhaps more efficient way to accomplish the same result. There are those who feel that by closing schools and cutting hospital services in smaller towns or by moving them to larger centers along the TCH, the Premier is practicing a form of re-settlement where, over time, the population will shift toward those centers.

I don’t know if this is intentional on the part of the Government or not, but it would appear that this would end up being the ultimate result if cuts in the smaller towns continue to happen. What do you think? Can the province sustain the extremely high cost of maintaining services to outlying areas? Should they try or should they slowly move the population away from those areas? What will be the impact to our culture and lifestyle if this happens?

I’m on the fence on this one myself. Having lived in small town NL prior to moving to the Avalon later in my life, I can see both sides of the issue.

I understand that life in rural NL is like no other. That to have those areas die off would be a sad and painful thing to happen to our province. We would lose a big part of who we are and where we come from. Our songs, our love for nature and our innate ability to help others without a second thought, were all bred into us because of living in remote areas. Areas where we learned to live together and get along. We had to for survival.

I also see the reality of today’s world. We are living in a world where time and technology change things so rapidly, that if you are not on the crest of the wave, you’ll drown. A time when the priority for survival isn’t necessarily a helping had from a neighbour, but instead is based on efficiency and fiscal responsibility. Like the song says, “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a changing”.

I wonder sometimes if we will ever truly become a “Have” province. Can we if we continue to pour money into maintaining dozens of hospitals and health centers, countless schools, government services of every description and roads into communities, some of which have populations of only a hand full of people. I often wonder this, but I also look at what makes us who we really are and I wonder if the cost of becoming financially stable is too high.

What do you think?


Rick said...

This may not be a popular sentiment, but I think it eventually has to happen. The cost is just too much to keep these little outports going.

A sad day for sure, but necessary.

Rob in Buchans said...

I think the life we knew is gone forever. We might as well all leave the province to the moose and move to the mainland. There's nothing left for us here anymore.

MrChills said...

I lived the first 12 years of my life on the Avalon and then about 10 years "Around da Bay" as the townies would refer to it as before moving back into St. John’s, so I feel I have good living experience of what both areas have to offer.

As scenic as St. John’s is and everything it has to offer, St. John’s is slowly turning into a modern city which scenery and accents aside is not that different than any other Canadian centre. What defines Newfoundland and it’s people is being lost with the out migration of our outports. As much as I hate to see this happen, WHAT does rural Newfoundland have to offer anyone in terms of revenue? How can you continue to dump money into places that have no fiscal way of sustaining themselves?

If we ever expect our province to become a “have” province than the centralization of our services and spending will have to happen here.

Bayman at Heart said...

A sad day indeed. I can understand the problems but my heart is in the green hills and by the foggy bays of Newfoundland.