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Letter: Redefining Resettlement

['Packet file photo<br />When people moved from the islands of Placentia Bay to places like Arnold’s Cove during the Smallwood government’s resettlement program of the 1960s, some of them brought their homes with them, floating them across the water to be set up in their new home.<br /><br />']
When people moved from the islands of Placentia Bay to places like Arnold’s Cove during the Smallwood government’s Resettlement program of the 1960s, some of them brought their homes with them, floating them across the water to be set up in their new community. — Packet file photo

They don’t call it “resettlement” when a townie leaves the province. Nevertheless, when any Newfoundlander or Labradorian moves upalong, the broad result is much the same as that of what we would normally call resettlement — a population is losing its culture, its human capital, its youth — and therefore losing the power to determine its own future.

I, and many of my peers — both bayman and townie, have had to look east, west or south to gain some form of quality of life. The place we love is no longer able to provide the basics of a decent living for most. We have watched our little world become smaller and smaller, the possibilities growing ever more limited.

Ultimately, resettlement is coming for all of us. We only have the power to choose the shape it takes.

We can choose to let urban-rural begrudgery paralyze our decision-making, or we can work on patching our wounds and determining a sustainable model for our future. This will likely result in compromises and sacrifices on both sides of the overpass. It will certainly involve a lot of difficult conversations that will require developing empathy for the other side and objectivity regarding our own.

The first step in this process will need to be for each group to stop chiding the other into submission with the same tired arguments. Townies — let’s stop pretending that all rural communities are part of some parasitic monolith. Baymen — let others have a voice in the discussion; your way is no more than ours a “pure” or valid way of being a Newfoundlander or Labradorian.

Ultimately, resettlement is coming for all of us. We only have the power to choose the shape it takes.

The province’s survival (if that is indeed what we want, and I hope we could mostly agree on that point) is a matter of structure and strategy. In order to get there, we have to be willing to consider all policy options, even those that may seem far-fetched or controversial. Should we adopt a county system for service provision? Should we move the administrative capital to another region? Should we reduce the size of House of Assembly and devolve certain functions to local authorities? Create programs to grow clusters of a select few strategic sectors that are non-resource based?

In order to find out, it’s time to summon up the courage to admit that we don’t have the answers, and that finding them is more important than arguing one side over another about this ferry, or that school, or paving this road or that one. Moreover, we should recognize that these granular decisions themselves are secondary to the development of a coherent, focused plan that will result in Newfoundland and Labrador still being here in 20, 50, 100 years.

Finally, to those who’ve been able to stay — please don’t mistake our leaving for giving up. To those who’ve left — Newfoundland and Labrador is still there for us, but only if we are willing to be part of its future.

 

Danielle Coombs

Dublin, Ireland

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