My reflections on the conference: A Spy in Georgetown

There were moments when I felt like an interloper, a spy, hiding my laniard so people wouldn’t know that I was from an urban area.  After all, I was infiltrating a conference on redefining rural Canada, and the truth be told, I did not belong.

I had heard about the conference from the President of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, Churence Rogers, and he had encouraged me to attend. Given that I am the Mayor of the province’s second largest city,  I thought my chances of being accepted were nil.  But I gave it a shot.

To my surprise I was approved and before long I was walking down the historic streets of Georgetown, Prince Edward Island, headed for the playhouse theatre.  I was going to spend two days there engaged in the most intense discussions I have ever witnessed – all focused on redefining and growing rural Canada.

Delegates wanted to challenge the conventional wisdom that seems to permeate this country that rural Canada is some kind of economic and social basket case headed for the junk yard and challenge it they did.

Zita Cobb from Fogo Island was there and she talked about her big business/cultural experiment on the little island off our shores.  Her plan is expansive, and daunting, but I was caught up in the enthusiasm she brought to the stage and to her project. If her idea’s have any chance of working, I would intrust them to no one else.

Donna Butt, talked about Rising Tide Theatre and her first visits to the little outport of Trinity.  She was entertaining, as I expected, but bringing her vision to life was an amazing story.  These days, her rural business is a huge success and like most Newfoundlanders, no summer goes by without a visit to the bite, to see a play, to eat some food and talk with tourists.

We even heard from an Alberta politician, Doug Griffiths.  He did a presentation on his book, 13 ways to kill your community.  For rural or urban Canada his points are equally valid.  What a learning experience that was for me.  Want to kill your community?  Don’t paint.  The guy was amazing.  His advice – pure gold.

Where did they find Pam Mood?  She is the newly elected Mayor of Yarmouth, NS. This is a small town facing some big challenges. She was electrifying in her address and she let us know that in Yarmouth they have not given up on paint. Her clarion call to citizens “All hands on deck!!!” resonated in her home town and it resonated throughout the play house as well.

There was so much going on and so little time that I forgot I was a spy.  My face was as sad as any when this amazing conference came to an end.

What did I learn in Georgetown? Rural Canada is in good hands and we need to appreciate the value rural Canada brings to the great Canadian banquet.

What is my plan?  Some of the lessons I learned in Georgetown are universal.  My city is going to paint more, we are going reach out to our rural neighbors more and see if we can’t join hands a little more for the benefit of us all.  Maybe we should start thinking in terms of regions a little more and not so much about the rural/urban divide.

Oh, and if you hear that the Mayor of Mount Pearl has called “All hands on deck” to deal with some important community matter, you’ll know where I stole it.

Randy Simms, Mayor of Mount Pearl