Latest column in the local paper ... "I find myself in this constant tension between wanting to name some of the underbellies of the challenges facing our rural communities and simultaneously wanting to blow the loudest and most positive horn possible to attract people, business and progress."
My Mum and Dad were just over from England and we took them to the Nova Scotia International Tattoo on Canada Day. I had one of those straight up heart bursting “I’m proud to be Nova Scotian” moments. The MC, in the beginning, was getting everyone from different regions of Canada and parts of the world to cheer to show they were there. When he asked Nova Scotians to cheer, the roof was raised and I found myself unreservedly cheering too.
Still, I find myself in this constant tension between wanting to name some of the underbellies of the challenges facing our rural communities and simultaneously wanting to blow the loudest and most positive horn possible to attract people, business and progress.
I remember when I lived in Yarmouth and spoke about teenage pregnancy on Eastlink TV, I got a lot of pushback from leading people in the community. I was told that I was undermining the tourism prospects of the region - yet how could we not talk about this in a community that had one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy per capita in Canada at one time? It felt wrong to me to avoid the issue.
What is the line to walk here? If all we do is point out what is not working then we’ll end up in a downward spiral of negativity, yet if we only point to the positive we lose the opportunity to address the fundamental issues that hinder our communities chances of success.
It is similar to when I work in companies and there is a tension between truth telling and strategy. Speaking truth to power doesn’t always lead to the changes you want to see, it can just get your fired! In a tough economy, that’s a big risk to take.
The fundamental tension is that the circumstances that make the change necessary are the very things that make it so difficult. I have been struggling on multiple fronts recently to figure out how we move forward in environments that are simultaneously hungry for and hostile to change.
Immigration is a great example of this both locally and internationally. Brexit was an immigration vote, Australia and Austria’s elections have been fought over immigration and it has been central in the US presidential campaigns. It remains hot in Canada where we have accepted 250,000 people in the last year. Which sounds like a lot until you hear Germany took three million in the same time period.
The votes are going against immigration yet here we are in Lunenburg County needing more people! It’s like when I was a young man and heard about food mountains in the EU and the next article in the paper was about famine and hunger. We’ve got to connect the dots here.
How can we talk about both the benefits and challenges of immigration in a region and province that desperately needs people?
How can we keep that conversation dignified and productive?
How do we stay focused on how immigration can create opportunity and a good life for all Nova Scotians?
How can we forge forward with population growth and avoid the extremism that is happening elsewhere?
Not easy questions to answer but ones worthy of our time and the demographic circumstances we find ourselves in. Our population is declining and getting older. A dangerous combination. So, what is Taj Mahal’s Bait? What do we cheer for loud and proud? How do we attract people and at the same time stay awake to the real issues involved?
I think an attractive option is to show we are a progressive community dealing with the real issues of our times and simultaneously offering an unmatched quality of life. Let’s show Nova Scotia, and particularly Lunenburg County, as a progressive, outstandingly beautiful, business friendly place.
How about a promotional campaign bringing folks from across Canada and overseas to expand our talent pool and fill the vacant jobs?
We do not need to hide our issues. In fact showing that we are courageously moving on them is part of what makes this place magnetic. Whatever we are building here for our grandchildren, it is not superficial. It has depth. It is confronting racism, sexism, power dynamics and wealth distribution. A future where our kids can lead change supported by local adults - such as the incredible story of Stella Bowles and the LaHave River straight pipes. Let this be the beginning of youth leading the way.
The message is that this is a courageous place where people do not shy away when the going gets tough - they step up because family and community come first. That is just the Nova Scotian way. It is why I moved here. It is why my Dad wants to move here. It is why I unabashedly cheered at the International Tattoo.
Of course, this is not as simple as the rhetoric. This requires changes in our government structure and culture; our businesses to become progressive and attractive to the modern flexible workforce; top notch rural internet and decent public transportation!
I don’t think we are far away from a tipping point. The needs are becoming more and more apparent every day and the more we feel the need, the more we are all driven to take action. I am not talking about action that rooted is vague optimism or negative activism. We have the opportunity to build a future that faces reality head on and leverages all the beauty of this place and its people.
As Don Beck said:
“There are no more prizes for predicting the rain. There are just prizes for building the arks.”
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