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(Frank Macdonald-Inverness Oran)

In the Oran’s editorial last week, Rankin MacDonald introduced readers to a book, 13 Ways to Kill Your Community, listing among those diseases, jealously of another’s success, of being un-welcoming to newcomers, of always living in the past, of rejecting every new idea.

13 Ways, co-authored by Albertans Doug Griffiths and Kelly Clemmer, is a timely publication that challenges the indifference, complacency and lethargy in which so many small rural communities languish like palliative care patients surrendering to the inevitable.

That ‘inevitability’ is the acceptance of the assumption of federal and provincial politicians, of bureaucrats, of large populations centers that those of us who have chosen a rural way of living are living lives of futility. Economically, the myth goes, rural towns and villages don’t possess the 21st century skill set, investment resources or corporate knowhow to be viable contributors to the GNP.

Bullshit!

That word in print may be offensive to some but for many it has become the slogan for a conference to be held in Georgetown, Prince Edward Island, on October 3-5 under the banner, Rural Redefined.

The conference’s website (www.thegeorgetownconference.ca) posts the position of its organizers and participants:

“The great myth of rural Atlantic Canada is that she is a region whose best years are behind her. For those of us who live and work here the stereotype is nothing new: We are too old, too dependent on faltering traditional industries, too reliant on government, too parochial.

Rubbish, we say.”

Okay, so they say “rubbish” but I say we’re both right.

What is absolutely right is that the time has come for rural towns, villages and regions in Atlantic Canada to come together in a forum such as Georgetown proposes and examine what is working. Rural Redefined, organizers explain,”is our region’s opening salvo at fighting back.”

Towards that end, 250 delegates from across Atlantic Canada will spend three days talking about what’s been working for some regions, exchanging ideas that can perhaps be translated into a useful tool to be implemented by some other region, listening to those who have success stories, listening to those people who have ideas for community investment or development that need to be heard and encouraged. In a nutshell, listening to ourselves talk to each other like the winners we expect to be, regardless of the expectations of those who have already judged us.

A unique feature of the Georgetown Conference is that no elected officials, no bureaucrats, no government agencies, have been invited nor will they be accepted (unless their credentials are like those of Albertan Doug Griffiths, a Member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly, but whose presence is welcome because of his community-based work reflected in 13 Ways to Kill Your Community).

It’s important for readers and for those attending the Georgetown Conference to understand that the decision to keep the conference politics-free is not a rejection of the role of governments in the future of Atlantic Canada, but to underline the independence of the process of self-determination the Atlantic provinces will be embarking upon at Georgetown. (Organizers hope it will be the first of a series of such conferences over the next few years.) Out of the conference the organizers hope for a manifesto, a document to which political parties or governments will turn for guidance in forming rural policies for their provinces.

I’ll repeat here a point once made by a newcomer to the Inverness area. Several of us had been sitting around a kitchen table lamenting to each other about the loss of so many of our young people, the best educated, the brightest, all lured to the opportunities and/or luxuries of urban living. The newcomer, she’d only been living here ten years or so, challenged our self-pitying meditations.

“I think it takes a lot more creativity and ingenuity to live here that it does to leave,” she said, shifting forever my own perception of ourselves. A quiet census of that kitchen table alone counted a modestly successful entrepreneur, two professionals who had found employment here at home, a working tradesman, and an artist eking out a bare existence from the wonder of her own pallette, brush and imagination.

I expect that in Georgetown we will hear that sentiment expressed in several ways, the belief that it takes a lot more creativity and ingenuity to stay in rural Atlantic Canada than it takes to leave it.

If Rural Redefined feels like a part of the future you want to participate in, submit an application, available on the website.