Friday, April 20, 2012

Major blow to rural Canada - recent federal cuts

I have recently heard the news about the significant cuts to Canada's Rural and Cooperatives Secretariat in the recent federal budget (see more details).  While I understand the need for cost cutting measures in government and recognize that everyone will find reasons to defend something someone else would cut, I cannot help but wade in on this one based on my work, experience and observations of relevance.

While most of the response out there has been from the Co-operatives movement (all good points covered in the link provided above), I will focus my comments more on the rural nature of Canada's Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat. Developing mechanisms to support the revitalization of rural areas in a country as large as Canada is challenging to say the least. And while some might question the role of government in rural revitalization, I do not. We have long lived in a country where rural has been equated with agriculture and where supports are targeted at subsidizing sectors in rural areas. Both of these misguided assumptions and strategies has failed to produce the types of impacts that have been desired in rural areas - not just in Canada, but in other countries that have done the same.

There are however, great minds at work that have not only questioned these attempts but have provided new potential solutions to create prosperity in rural areas (with the highest links to poverty - yes, even in Canada).  In Canada, the minds that were behind the steering wheel in government are/were in the Canadian Rural and Cooperatives Secretariat.  Despite being a small unit, this is a mighty one and I have enjoyed opportunities to work with them in past projects. I found that the emphasis on evidence based decision making, innovation and collective prosperity was not only refreshing, but very relevant.  In my work in the field, when many communities members often pick on government representatives, they seemed to speak differently about the folks in the CRCS. They knew them by name, they had met them, they knew of their programs, they benefited from their interactions with them and they were fond of their programs. I guess I mirrored these responses.

I guess I am left with a few questions right now....
  • How can we create a climate of innovation and prosperity for rural Canada when the hard work and forward thinking "low cost" Departments such as the Canadian Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat are so drastically reduced?
  • What happens of the great work on the three priority areas that people had been working on for the past few years?
  • Who will lead the charge in thinking holistically about rural Canada as we move forward?
  • What "innovative" strategies or policies are being proposed for rural Canada? By whom?
  • Is there a role for a Rural and Cooperatives Secretariat? If so, what is it and can it be achieved with what is left?
But maybe more so, I am lamenting the fact that once again - the relationships and trust built by myself and the many community members that have benefited from the programs of the CRCS are, like most major government shifts - lost in the chaos. When ALL good community economic development approaches are based on this one pre-condition, how much will this major shift cost us collectively?  Thank you to all of those in the CRCS for your work and best to you in these times of uncertainty.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Signage study underway

I saw this post on the BC Rural Network post today:

"HOW DO TOURISTS FIND THEIR WAY IN YOUR COMMUNITY?  Be part of the review of service and attraction signs and way-finding in B.C.  Tourism British Columbia (part of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation) and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure are conducting a review of the Provincial Service and Attraction Signage Program and tourism-related signage within municipal boundaries. As part of this review, incorporated municipalities will receive an email from NRG Research Group with an invitation to participate in a survey. We encourage each municipality to complete the survey as your input and participation is vital to help inform future directions of tourism service and attraction signage in B.C at both the provincial and local levels. Please watch your email inboxes for more information and a link to the survey during the week of April 10th, 2012. Questions about the project or the survey can be directed to: Amber Crofts, Senior Tourism Development Officer - Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Phone: 250-356-6976 Ross McLean, Manager Provincial Sign Program - Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Phone: 250-371-3808".

This is a topic that I have worked on over the past few years after rating it as the most pervasive issue for rural tourism in BC after years of consecutive fieldwork around the province.  In 2006, we decided as part of the TRIP project to develop a manual for communities to enhance their signage and pointed out mechanisms, like doing an audit, to help them improve wayfinding.  This manual, more than any other piece of work of TRIP perhaps, was taken up by communities across the province and beyond. Since then, with partners from UNBC and TRU, we have developed assessment tools to perform community audits of signage. In total, I would estimate that we have done about 15-20 of these ranging from business site signage to islands, small communities and regional routes.

This year, I was asked to work with the MJTI to update the manual and turn it into a Tourism BC manual. I look forward to this happening and to those communities that haven't read our manual or taken advantage of the audit expertise at the Universities and Colleges - you may want to grab it free off the TRIP site at (see resources, manuals).