Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rural input into land use

Management of natural resources has disproportionately fallen into the hands of experts (the civil servants and people within larger businesses) that have no direct connection with the land or the natural resources. The people making the decisions live in urban BC and are divorced from the natural world. They do not need to consider the implications to the communities in which the decisions they make play out.

Contrast this to someone that operates a small one town mill operation. They have defacto a social license with the community. Put glibly - “I can not screw up because everyone can find me and lynch me”. There is a stronger interest/incentive to keep the jobs going because the personal and social investment the small owner has in the town.

No where in the way civil servants make decisions is there a point at which anyone realistically raises “Oh don’t make the decision because you are going to have a negative impact on the small town”. Where is the social licence of the government to be allowed to extract the tax value from the land if they are nto considering the communities?

The engagement of the community in a meaningful manner in how the decisions are made in relation to natural resources is crucial to good land management. You have to get the people that have the real decision making power – forest industry and mining industry executives in downtown Vancouver and the civil servants to engage with the communities, they have to be in the small rural towns, they have to engage with the First Nations. There has to be a serious effort to get out of the board rooms and onto the land. Given our technology today, there is no earthly reason to base any of the resource companies in Vancouver (if you think capital markets are the reason, then you have to remember the money people are in Calgary now as part of that flight of big money and investors during the NDP era)

There is no relevant reason for a company like Alcan not to be based out of Kitimat. In the case of Lillooet, there is no earthly reason why Ainsworth could not be based there instead of downtown Vancouver. There was a time when Ainsworth was much more closely connected to the interior. The company started in the 1950s with a couple of Ainsworth brother’s being gypo loggers in the Cariboo.

Most people see First Nations as having had significant input into land use decisions over the last years and yes it has improved, but it is not because industry or government wanted to do First Naitons any favours - it is because the First Nations have fought tooth and nail to get something - anything. This has meant going to the courts to get the decisions that give them the rights to make government pay attention.

Every small town across this province should be sending letters of thanks and letters to support to the First Nations leaders that have taken the risk and pushed the issue against all the government and corporate might. These decisions on consultation with First Nations will eventually apply to the rest of the rural residents of the province. The First Nations legal decisions set the stage for a new era in consultation for all rural residents.

Consultation is more than just letting people know what you are doing, it is process of getting your information out in manner that is understandable for those you are consulting with and then taking their comments and making use of them or justifying why you would not use them. It is an iterative process that promotes an interest based approach and not a positional one.

Unfortunately government has rarely had any interest in consultation because it operates from a positional basis and is not really willing to consider how to use input in a meaningful way. A classic line is "We have our statuary decision maker" or "We can not fetter the minister" and bullshit like that. Coming in from outside and saying "we have all the power" creates a feudal like relationship between all rural residents and the government. We have become feudal like serfs on our own land. The message is not a new one, it is one that the First Nations have been trying to tell people for 100 years. In the last few years rural communities are beginning to learn the harsh truth themselves.

The plight of First Nations is the same plight of rural communities – there is a common cause of disempowerment and disenfranchisement from any meaningful input into land use. We need to have the rural communities and First Nations go out and reclaim the land so as to ulitmately create a fundamentally respectful and two way process when it comes to land use.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Doctors in rural BC

I just heard on the CBC that Williams Lake is losing one of their doctors. As a town, Williams Lake is not that small, but they have reached a point where they are having trouble recruiting doctors. The situation in smaller towns is even more acute.

There towns serving populations of 5000 people with 2 doctors. This means that a doctor is on call every other night. It means if one of them goes on a holiday that the other has to be on call 24/7. This ratio of population to doctors is worse than most of developing world - it is worse that a lot of rural areas in Latin America.

It means that people needing regular healthcare need to move to another location.

Small towns not having the doctors means that people need to move out of town for a birth. A pregnant woman in Lytton has to move to Kamloops in her 8th month because there is no place that she can give birth locally.

The elders of the community also need to leave to the care they need.

The only bright point I have seen is in Lillooet BC. The medical clinic has been proactive in recruiting doctors and therefore has maintained a reasonable ratio of population to doctors. No on needs to be on call too often, holidays are possible, and the lifestyle is good.

The Lillooet Clinic manages to recruit younger doctors because it can sell them on the amazing outdoors and a low cost of living combined with a practice that is interesting but not overwhelming. They have done this without the help of any level of government.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How far the North of BC has dropped

The part of BC from Cache Creek and northwards has had a significant population drop

  • 1996 350000
  • 2001 340000
  • 2006 320000

By looking at the whole region - Prince Rupert and the whole Hwy 16 corridor, the Prince George region, the Peace and the Cariboo, you remove the individual variations of towns and look at a province sized and diversified area.

the population fall is also a problem because the relative amount of BC's population that is in this area is falling. As of the 2006 census, this region has fallen to 7.8% of BC from 9.4% in 1996.

  • This region is the heart of Canada's forest industry
  • This region has the biggest expansion in mining in Canada at the moment
  • Oil and gas is big in this area.

And the population is falling......

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Census 2006

I looked at the 2006 census results, and they are horrific for rural BC. My own town of Lillooet (which I admit I left in 2004) has fallen to 2340 people. This is a drop of 800 people in town over the last 10 years.

I am going to try and go through and look as some of the numbers for the towns in BC. But they are are not good. Prince Rupert, Kitimat, William's Lake, Mackenzie and more towns that I feel are the life and soul of BC are declining. -15% has happened.......

Rural BC is dieing.