Growth in rural N.L. unlikely: pollster

James McLeod
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Don Mills advocates economic policy centred on urban areas in Atlantic Canada

Don Mills

Don Mills says people need to change the way they think about rural economic development. For starters, he says, think about the fact that rural economic development just isn’t going to happen.

Mills, the CEO of Halifax-based Corporate Research Associates, is giving a speech today to the

St. John’s Board of Trade, as part of a message he’s been delivering across Atlantic Canada.

He said he’ll be talking about a whole raft of political and economic trends he’s seeing from CRA’s polling data, but he sat down with The Telegram to give a preview on one of the key themes.

“We need to change the conversation,” Mills said.

“We need to stop the lie that we can find employment for people living in rural areas,” Mills said.

He said there’s definitely a rural-urban economic divide in Atlantic Canada, but it goes beyond the big cities like St. John’s and Halifax.

“There are big swaths of the province that are not participating in that prosperity, and you see it in our numbers.

“You see it in the consumer confidence numbers that we’re tracking. You see it in numbers related to whether people feel this is a ‘have’ or a ‘have not’ province,” he said. “What we can do is provide economic centres where we can provide jobs.”

Mills said Statistics Canada defines an urban area as any community of more than 5,000 people, and that’s what people should be thinking about, too.

“They have enough amenities to be sort of self-reliant to some extent, but they can also form the centre of what I would call an ‘economic zone,’” he said. “In Atlantic Canada we tend to think about urban areas as mainly the cities, but there are other, smaller, urban areas. We have to think about them as urban areas — self-contained, good economic units.”

The fact of the matter, Mills said, is that year-round jobs and economic development in true rural areas just isn’t possible.

Instead, people need to embrace the concept of regional centres, and a possibility that they are going to have to commute.

He has a map that shows

75-kilometre circles around towns like Marystown, Gander, Deer Lake, and Clarenville.

“There’s a reason why there's 200,000 Chinese moving every week to the cities in China. It’s because that’s where the economic opportunity is,” he said. “I’m not suggesting that people move, but I do suggest that we have to think about where we get our services and where we get our jobs, and we have to be able to be prepared to commute some reasonable distance to take advantage of those opportunities.”

At its core, he said, is the fact that economic activity just doesn’t happen in rural areas in the same way, and with large numbers of people living in rural Newfoundland, it’s a major drag on the economy.

“There’s not the critical mass,” he said. “There’s no reason for the economy to be there. This is the reality of today’s world. That’s why in Canada we have 19 per cent of people living in rural parts of the country. In Newfoundland we have 41 per cent.”

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Corporate Research Associates, Board of Trade, Statistics Canada

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Don Mills, Halifax Newfoundland Marystown Deer Lake Clarenville China

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Recent comments

  • Dave Kitchen
    June 26, 2013 - 19:52

    This article could very well have been written before the poll was taken. Regional economic development zones have just gone through 16 years of total failure. Yet this is what Don Mills is stating should be done. Sounds like another Rip Van Winkle . Polls are one thing ,reality is quite a different thing.

  • lonenewfwolf
    June 26, 2013 - 16:27

    two of the problems that stand out are lack of access to resources and corporatization of our public services. gov't must stop handing out public money to corps and put it back into communities to help diversify the economies. we have what city people want...clean fresh air, healthy soil to grow food in and safe communities to raise children. there is a shift back to our roots happening, we should not let these corporately minded cynics steer our societies evolution.

  • C Roberts
    June 26, 2013 - 13:44

    I left three months ago for the second or third time in 20+ years.. For the very same reasons articulated by Mr Smith. While there are a lot of mega projects ongoing or slated for Nl and while the jobs associated with these projects pay very well, and are probably chiefly responsible for the economic boom, for the most part they are temporary construction jobs and only a small fraction of these will remain afterward and you will once again see mass out migration to other parts of the country. In the meantime, jobs in the support, services and hospitality industries that underscore and even support these projects remain low paying marginal income jobs. I live and work in BC now where the cost of living is very high, but wages and salaries are higher too and there's the balance that doesn't exist back home...

  • Bill Smith
    Bill Smith
    June 26, 2013 - 11:11

    And there's a reason why many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians continue to move out West to find work, it's because NL based businesses do not tend to pay good wages that people can live comfortably on. With the "economic boom", the cost of everything increases while wages tend to stagnate for years. I myself am planning to leave for Alberta this fall, and I'm 30 years old, I should have left years ago.