Friday, 6 December 2013

Losing Importance Bit by Bit, Day by Day

We're hanging on by our fingernails here on PEI, but nationally and internationally you see signs everywhere: a growing lack of interest in rural issues. That's bad enough, but it's now being replaced with disbelief and derision.   This week mocking headlines for a UK export deal with China:

"British Prime Minister David Cameron was in China for the past three days for a trip that has seen some controversial moments. However, there’s at least one clear success: The United Kingdom has signed a deal to export porcine semen to China that will net British farmers a reported £45-million ($73-million) a year.
Yes, pig sperm."

The news, then the mock.  

The CBC has chipped away at its interest and reporting in rural issues. At one time there were national agriculture reporters in both radio and tv.  George Price was the Parliament Hill reporter on farm issues and reported daily to Radio Noons across the country. Country Canada was a Sunday afternoon staple on television, the Food Show just as popular Sunday morning on CBC Radio.  CBC Radio did have Tooth and Claw this summer which at least explored the idea that the food we eat is alive and goes through "something" to get to the dinner plate, and that even in nature (outside of Walt Disney)  there is death leading to survival.  These were interesting shows.

Few noticed but when CBC bought up a cable channel called Country Canada, it promised to program for rural communities.  First it moved curling on the channel creating storms of protest from curling fans and players across the country forced now to pay to watch. Then (without CRTC approval) it turned Country Canada into Bold, an arts channel. It sold Bold earlier this year, and, even in news stories on the sale, the fiction of catering to rural communities continued:

"Bold carries a broad range of different programming that it describes as "focusing on the lives of rural Canadians."
Some of the series that airs on its channel include repeats of Party Down, a comedy about a catering company, and Skins, a dramatic series following a group of British teenagers dealing with a culture of sex, drugs, school and friends."

I understand why this happens. Rural communities are declining and aging, and not a demographic of much interest to anyone trying to make a buck.   The lack of interest is one thing, but it leads to something else more pernicious in the media(something it share with First Nation stories). It only gets attention when there's trouble, so the general public only hears farmers who are angry, scared, or defensive.  As stories became shorter it was always the emotional clip that would make the cut, anything that would provide context, or turn the person into a more real human being was left out. I did it myself for years.

I think we saw this lack of interest in rural issues last week with the release of Horace Carver's report on the Land's Protection Act  This had many of the same elements as the debate over the fixed link,  and Plan B: let's call it  "economic and industrial progress vs. conservation at all costs",  "responding to the competitiveness of the marketplace vs. wishing the environment didn't have to pay a price so people could stay in business" or something like that. These are very real PEI issues that have dogged the province since the development plan in the 1960's.  Throw in people having to leave in order find a better life (as they have for generations btw) and the conversation gets even more interesting.  I'm not saying either side is right, I'm saying that the discussion is an important one, the tension between the two ideas matters to our future, and there was a lost opportunity to have it. 

We're a little, broke, vulnerable province surrounded by powerful political and economic forces.   I'd love to live retired in a rural Disneyland but know we have to find ways to pay the bills (healthcare costs alone will continue to be crippling).  It's finding the right way to do things, offering the right incentives, but having some sticks to bring out when needed.  These won't be right unless we talk about them. Horace Carver made an honest effort to get at these issues in his public hearings, and in his report. He deserved more attention.

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