Len MacDonald

The sun was shining brightly and I was feeling ambitious, so I decided to walk to Georgetown, P.E.I. Lest you think that I have supernatural powers, I did not walk across the waters of the Northumberland Strait. No, I walked seven kilometers from the Brudenell River Resort to Georgetown, right around the time the first golfers of the day were teeing off.

I was attending the Georgetown Conference and wanted some quiet time to ponder the dizzying array of ideas coming out of this unique gathering of doers and dreamers from all over Atlantic Canada.

In case you haven’t noticed, the economy in this region of the country needs rejuvenation. Where better to look than among the clever and creative citizens of Atlantic Canada? At Georgetown, a diverse group of people assembled to speak, to listen and to share ideas.

I was offered a ride by many drivers along the way and I fear that some people thought I had taken a wrong turn. Or worse, that the conference had gotten the better of me and I was meandering home. Interestingly, instead of the usual road kill of raccoons or porcupines, the shoulder of the road was littered with lobster shells. I didn’t think that they could make it that far from the ocean.

Back at Georgetown there was a lot of firepower in the room and everyone, it seemed, had checked their egos at the front door as they entered the King’s Playhouse. It was obvious that people had not come for personal gain but for the betterment of the communities that they were representing.

There is no question that rural Canada is in crisis, and something needs to happen soon before many small communities roll up their sidewalks and close shop.

The economic landscape has changed here. There is little mining to speak of, and steel making is gone forever. The fishing, forestry, pulp and paper and farming industries are all grappling with significant concerns. Our American visitors are fewer in number as we, and they, come to terms with the new economy.

What are we to do?

As the Mayor of Yarmouth said so succinctly, “Quit whining and get your work boots on.”

The Georgetown Conference was a call to action. We can no longer expect governments to solve everything, or anything. These days, most administrations have crushing, long-term debt and are operating with a deficit. More importantly, how well do they understand the unique challenges faced by our stalwart communities?

If not the government, then who?

Us. You and me. And our children. It must start with a significant shift in attitude. We must dispense immediately with our territorialism and parochialism. We can’t stop and take a breather. We can’t be complacent. We can’t pass the buck on this one. We must act. Now.

We must listen to our young people. It is not enough to try and convince them to stay. They won’t. They need to get out and see the world. It’s a necessary component of their education. But we need to create a climate of understanding and respect so that they will come back when their wandering days end.

We must listen to our senior citizens because, by and large, they have time, the most precious of commodities. And many of them have resources, both intellectual and material. Wisdom can only be attained through time and experience. Let’s mine this resource fully.

We must educate people. For small communities to survive, people must seek out locally-derived products and services. Many of us could make do with fewer possessions. Less is more. Let’s buy them here and pay fairly for the time and resources that went into making them. People can’t keep up the practice of always shopping online or driving two hours to giant, heartless big box stores. Who will provide good jobs here at home? Who will support our arts and cultural activities? Who will champion the sports teams and charities that so need and deserve our backing if we don’t do business in our towns and villages?

We must educate every level of government to allocate our tax dollars to provide affordable food and housing. The vicious cycle of poverty needs to be arrested and the first thing we need to do is make available secure accommodation and food security. Everyone needs and deserves a roof overhead and food in their bellies. As a community we are only as strong as the weakest among us.

We must not adopt the mantra of learning from other communities’ mistakes. We must learn from their successes. And when local businesses triumph in the face of adversity let us not sit in the coffee shops and criticize and chastise these achievements. We need businesses to be successful. Replace jealousy with admiration. Be positive – be proud.

And above everything else, do something in your community. Do not leave it in the hands of others. The Georgetown Conference has left us with a clear and compelling call to action. We can all be part of the revitalization of Atlantic Canada. What are you going to do about it?