New Municipal Councillors Take Note: Rural Canada is Your Best Friend

Municipal elections took place this week in Ontario, delivering to us a whole new slate of wide-eyed municipal councillors. Many of them ran on platforms of change, hope, difference and progress, and I believe they meant it.

Typically, municipal councils are populated by well-intentioned people determined to help their own community. Municipal councillors don’t want to be the next premier or prime minister. They appreciate the electorate has given them the privilege of operating at the ultimate grassroots level – that is, within the boundaries their own neighbourhoods, taking care of their own streets, their own sewers and their own schools.

Many municipal councils are focused solely on urban areas. And most, if not all, will have at least a few first-time councillors…who, like most of the present councillors, won’t likely appreciate how they’re affected by the rural routes around them.

How could they? Hardly anyone tells them, at least not directly.

But it’s important to know. So, here’s a little primer, a little surface scratching about the influence of rural Canada on urban municipalities.

First, all councillors: think back to the evening at your election headquarters, when you heard results come in and it became clear you won.

To celebrate, I suspect you served to your supporters and family some measure of local food and drink. Maybe you had it catered locally, too.

Of course you did. As a municipal politician, you’re all about local, and outside of a shrimp platter or two, I can’t imagine you’d compromise when it comes to food and the people who prepare and serve it (i.e. your constituents).  

Now, some of that local food may have come from inside your urban boundaries.

But the truth is most of it comes from farms in neighbouring rural municipalities. You and your supporters (and most others) call it local, but that’s a convenient definition.

And spare another thought about not only its origins, but how it got from a farmer’s field to your constituents’ forks.

In this case, you can thank your neighbouring rural municipality for its generosity, for maintaining the roads and bridges over which local food is transported – infrastructure which eventually buckles, heaves and breaks down from bearing heavy loads, despite weight restrictions in the spring. Who pays the freight for those repairs? Not you.

Now, back to the party for a minute, and your caterer. On Wednesday, Restaurants Canada, a national advocacy group for the food services industry, forecast 2015 would be a record year for restaurants and others – especially commercial caterers, whose business is expected to grow more than five per cent annually for the next five years.

Many caterers are sourcing their food locally (like yours was, I’m sure) because that’s what clients want. Overall, caterers will help the food service sector add an additional 21,000 jobs across the country, and contribute to record sales of almost $60 billion (that’s billion, with a “b”).

Think that’s important to the local economy? I’ll say.

And finally, consider recreation, much of that happens in surrounding rural areas as well.

Municipal citizens demand certain recreational amenities. But councillors, nature can help you out here. Canada’s natural areas are as wonderful as they are anywhere. Within 10 minutes of your municipality I suspect there’s a favourite local getaway where your constituents go for an outdoors experience, when they can’t get to the beach or the cottage. That getaway may well be in someone else’s rural municipality.    

Rural Canada depends on urban Canada too, for services, entertainment, commerce, etc. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

But last municipal election, it seemed like politicians were much more fired up about rural issues affecting them. This time? Not so much.

So as another four-year term begins, let’s remember we’re in this together. When it comes to local, rural Canada is urban Canada’s best friend.

More from Owen Roberts:

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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