I’m going to make a wild prediction about the results of the October provincial election: The ridings on the rural side of where the freeway ends will be predominantly Liberal red; NDP orange will be concentrated in urban areas.
The urban-rural divide in B.C. is stark, it’s growing, and it’s a problem.
It’s hard to say whether this political fault line is a symptom or source of the increasing cultural, social, and economic divide that cleaves B.C. into two ever-more-distinct solitudes.
South of the border a somewhat similar divide has paralyzed the country, and given it the most incompetent political leader in U.S. history. There, fueled by dog-whistle politics, it has grown to extremes we might not have imagined a few short years ago.
I mean, HAVE YOU SEEN PICTURES OF PEOPLE WALKING AROUND ON THE STREETS WITH AUTOMATIC WEAPONS STRAPPED TO THEIR BACKS?!
The Institute for Research on Public Policy has warned that the failure to reconcile the different concerns of urban and rural Canada could reproduce the disconnect that has shaped American politics.
“The urban/rural divide in general and the growing population concentration in a small number of major urban centres is one potential seismic fault line that requires greater thought and care on the part of Canadian politicians and policy-makers,” Jamil Jivani, a visiting professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and a senior policy adviser at Our Ohio Renewal, and Sean Speer, a senior fellow at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy & Governance and a former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, wrote in IRPP’s Policy Options magazine in 2017.
“Increasingly our economic, political and social dividing lines may be found between Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and everywhere else.”
Sure, okay. So what can we do about it? That’s harder to nail down.
The authors focus on the important role of the media, pointing out that the decline of regional newspapers has exacerbated the problem. That has only grown worse.
“A first step can be for journalists and politicians to venture out beyond our major urban centres,” they wrote. “And this cannot just be about photo ops or media reports that treat nonurban Canadians like exotic animals spotted on a safari. There is a need to go and listen, and then to report and act.”
More working class, inner-city and rural voices in journalism and in politics would help, they point out, along with less “gotcha” political journalism and more informed reporting on regional and local issues.
In B.C. and around the world, one of the most urgent and divisive issues common to rural and urban alike: climate change.
I believe the lack of a clear, open plan to address climate change while recognizing the Beyond-the-604’s utter dependence on resource industries is at the crux of the growing divide.
This province and this country are making a transition from resource-based economies to modern marketplaces built on technology and services. As they must.
In rural communities, we’re afraid. We see a province where 55 per cent of the population lives in Metro Vancouver. They take transit to work and want bike paths, which they can use even in winter. They work in start-ups and Starbucks and high-rise office buildings. They want old growth forests – elsewhere, of course – and seem to think the oil and gas industry can just come to an end without a viable alternative in place.
Up here, we work in forestry and mining, in oil and gas industries, and on farms. We, too, are worried about climate change but in the immediate future, we worry more about making mortgage payments. In many cases, our people have been here for generations, the generations that built B.C. in mines and on cutblocks and over vast fields that they would have harvested by hand.
We resent being discarded, our resources and resolve spent; our futures uncertain.
And we’re frustrated that you can win power in British Columbia without understanding and taking into proper account those of us who live outside the 604. Indeed, sometimes it seems quite the opposite.
I hope each party platform will include a significant, long-term, realistic plan to address climate change that includes planning for an economic transition for the North, the Interior, the Okanagan and the Kootenays.
Resolution of First Nations land and title issues, equitable access to health care, support for idled forestry workers, and investments in agricultural industries are among the issues that resonate with rural voters.
There is an argument to be made that rural B.C. holds a disproportionate influence in B.C. politics when population is the only measure. It is not.
The urban-rural divide will not be bridged by a lessened presence of non-metro voices in the halls of power.
And a failure to build that bridge, as we have seen south of the border, can have devastating consequences well beyond election day.
Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo. Moore’s two decades in daily journalism took her as far afield as Kandahar as a war correspondent and the Innu communities of Labrador. She has worked in newsrooms in Vancouver, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Edmonton. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star, among others. She is a Habs fan and believes this is the year.
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