Place emergence in rural Canada

Four themes emerged in our analysis of the case study regions. These include: 1) the significance of regional identity, 2) the structure of regional governance, 3) community versus regional initiatives, and 4) regionalism as regionalization. In tenns of links to our conceptual framework, the first theme relates primarily to issues of identity and regional identity formation; the next three themes relate to the participation and mobilization of regional development activities. For each theme, we refer to general case findings and highlight a particular example within each case region. It is within these themes that we will gauge the state of place emergence as part of regionalism across our case locations in rural Canada.

4.1 Regional identity

Questions related to regional identity are at the core of our place-based inquiry. As noted above, the conceptual framework suggests that a sense of regional identity is important for both activating efforts of resistance against the negative forces of restructuring and enabling the emergence of collaborative structures and initiatives to facilitate regional interaction. Our findings suggest that regional identity expressed in our case study interviews is weak. There are a number of possible reasons for this outcome.

First, despite being distinctive features on the Canadian map, in reality the case study regions each exist as multiple, overlapping boundaries of functional

Conceptual framework and political regionalism

Figure 6.1 Conceptual framework and political regionalism. Within and across the case study regions, regional governments, education regions, health regions, geographical regions, and environmental regions do not align along the same boundaries. This multitude of regionalisms may have impacted how, based upon their regional affiliation, interview participants identified with their area. For example, interview participants from Kittiwake, Newfoundland, provided a range of different answers when asked to define the region in which they live. Regional definitions are further complicated by the repetitive re-drawing of administrative regional boundaries by senior governments to serve different departmental functions.

Second, people remain strongly attached to their sub-regional community identities (as reflected by our interview participants). Community in this case is not strictly delineated by official local government boundaries, but includes sub-regional areas of incorporated or unincorporated communities, or multiple communities and their surrounding areas. This is not necessarily a negative influence on regional identity, since organized communities are a necessary ingredient for effective regional collaboration (Markey et al., 2012); however, it may become an obstacle to regional identity development and action by the absence of regional institutional structures, as we will discuss below. Our community interview participants spoke of their capacity to unite against external threats, but remained largely internally divided otherwise.

The Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute (RDI) is an example of rural regional innovation (see Case Study 6.2). It plays an important role in supporting the multiple identities within the Kootenays, while developing an overarching regional identity. By conducting applied regional research and producing regional-scale information, the RDI presents valuable information to citizens and decision-makers. This focus on the regional scale, linking together several subregions, helps to build a sense of an overarching regional identity, as well as facilitating evidence-based decision making and policy development. The work also plays an important role in helping to shape regional narratives about the Kootenays, thereby reinforcing a place-identity and sense of place in the region.

Case Study 6.2 Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute

The Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute (RDI) was formed in 2010 through an eight-year funding partnership between the Columbia Basin Trust and Selkirk College (CBRDI, 2018). The RDI evolved from two key initiatives: the Columbia Basin Trust’s State of the Basin and Selkirk College’s Regional Innovation Chair. The State of the Basin, launched in 2008, was a regional indicator report (Columbia Basin Trust, 2008). The Regional Innovation Chair is an endowed research position established in 2006 that focuses on rural economic development

(Selkirk College, n.d.). The RDI brought these two initiatives together and built on this foundation. Today, the RDI’s signature programs include the State of the Basin, the work of the Regional Innovation Chair, and the Kootenay Workforce Development Initiative, as well as a number of applied research projects (CBRDI, 2018).

As this original partnership ends, the RDI is now supported by a variety of funding sources (CBRDI, 2018). The purpose of the RDI is to promote and support informed decision-making and build capacity within the Columbia Basin-Boundary region (CBRDI, 2018). This includes monitoring economic, social, cultural, and environmental indicators and reporting on trends, responding to support requests, and conducting applied research on a variety of topics impacting the region (CBRDI, 2018). The region includes the Kootenay Development Region (i.e., the Regional Districts of East Kootenay, Central Kootenay, Kootenay Boundary), as well as Revelstoke, Golden, Valemount, and Columbia Shuswap Regional District Areas A and В (Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute, 2012).

RDI’s knowledge mobilization focuses on producing accessible, plain language documents including summaries of literature (knowledge briefs) and research (research briefs), as well as community profiles. Short “E-Focus” newsletters draw attention to news, activities, and successes within the region. Additionally, the RDI facilitates and supports collaborative partnerships within the region involving local governments, community organizations and networks, business and industry, and other post-secondary institutions.

The RDI illustrates a potential role for academic institutions within regions as close partners serving to benefit the region.

Visit the RDI website for further information and resources: www.cbrdi.ca/.

Finally, following community identity, interview participants spoke about identifying with “rural” as opposed to regional entities. In Newfoundland, for example, very strong patterns of community emerged, but were followed by provincial (e.g., Newfoundlander) and rural Newfoundlander identification before any sense of regional affiliation. The “rural” identification poses an interesting challenge and opportunity for regional development policy-makers. On one hand, it may encourage the continued focus of senior government on policy that is too blunt and contextually naive to be effective. On the other, it offers an opportunity to construct a more coherent and cohesive rural framework for policy to support wide-scale regional development.

4.2 Regional governance structures

Regionalist structures exist along a govemment-to-govemance continuum that can produce significantly different structures for decision-making (Douglas, 2005). At one end of the continuum, imposed structures of political and service boundaries may mandate some and facilitate other regional interaction within those boundaries. This may then spawn other forms of regional collaboration that begin to supersede the original mandates of the initial structure and assume other characteristics that are identified with new regionalism. Conversely, Peterson et al. (2010) point to the governance end of the continuum as the organic formation of regions within the new regionalist perspective such that:

[Rjegions have the potential to become significant functional spaces for the implementation of governance structures (Keating, 1998; MacLeod, 2001; Dredge, 2005), which can drive the cooperation of government agencies, the market, and civil society (Shaw, 2000; Wolfe, 2003; Scott, 2008), rather than the creation of a new layer of government at the regional level.

(p. 298)

Organic, or bottom-up forms of regional collaboration were present in our case regions. However, they lacked institutional capacity and seemed fragile by depending on key individuals and/or external forces (Markey et al., 2005). However, the informality of these structures may also give them some dexterity and flexibility to respond appropriately to local challenges and opportunities. These informal networks also aligned more closely with how interview participants defined their regions, rather than the imposed boundaries of formal regional institutions (Reimer et al., 2008).

Because of the rural setting, a number of interview participants commented that the relationships and modes of communication among actors did not need to be highly structured and formalized. It was clear, however, that they were not highly robust associations, both in terms of the level of trust in the associations by senior governments and citizens, as well as the lack of capacity required to play larger regional development roles. There was also limited evidence that these regional coalitions were particularly effective in creating substantive regional development outcomes.

The most robust form of regional development structure studied within the project exists in Quebec: the municipalites regionales de comte (MRCs or regional county municipalities). These serve as an example of top-down regional structure. During the early 1990s, Quebec established 86 MRCs and 18 territoires equivalents d une MRC (TEs or “territories equivalent to an MRC”). The boards provide a forum where municipal representatives meet to debate and make decisions about development issues, including social programs, territorial planning, economic development, and employment assistance. As Reimer (2010) notes:

Over the 20 or so years of their operation within this new regime, local municipalities have learned how to use the regional structures to voice their concerns, debate, negotiate, compromise, and collaborate with other municipalities. As well, they have learned to negotiate with the provincial government on behalf of their region and village or town. In turn, the provincial government has discovered the value in subsidiarity. It now allocates responsibility to the regional boards for a wide range of economic and social policy and programs, and (most importantly) it shows its confidence in the decisions and accountability of the MRCs.

(p. 269)

MRCs are clearly the most advanced form of regional development in Canada in terms of both structure and capacity. Even so, our case research suggests that attaining the new regionalist ideal of co-constructed and collaborative regional governance sets a high standard. Interview participants in our Quebec case study region spoke about the important role of the MRC, but also noted that it too suffered from top-down tendencies and tensions between urban and rural areas. In addition, the designated boundaries of the MRCs only occasionally aligned with local perceptions of the region.

The response of some interview participants to the MRC approach illustrates one of the potential challenges with new regionalism: an increase in the variability of government and governance standards. This may lead to more uneven development across provincial and national space. It has taken Quebec 20 years to build the capacity for subsidiarity, but the Rimouski case illustrates that it is an ongoing process. Again, as Reimer (2010) states:

The particular form of regional government found in Quebec may not be satisfactory for all provinces, but the value of the principles remains. Local participation and influence are critical to reflect the unique circumstances of each location. At the same time, such bottom-up development needs an institutional context of strong regional governance to make it work. The inevitable conflicts of interest that emerge among municipalities require multiple venues for the expression, negotiation, and compromise that must take place before action is possible. Accountability and representation are necessary ingredients for establishing an adequate level of trust that will allow the system to work. All of this requires the development of a common language and understanding for collaboration.

  • (p. 270)
  • 4.3 Community versus region

Within each region we witnessed considerable tension among the development ambitions and efforts of different communities (including both single incorporated municipalities or unincorporated town sites). There are existing patterns of regional collaboration, such as the sharing and use of critical infrastructure and service delivery. However, while full of potential to facilitate broader regional discussions and collaborations, these existing patterns remain relatively passive in terms of scaling-up toward more substantive and diversified regional action. As one interview participant stated, communities within the region exist in a state of “reluctant cohesion”, which is clearly not conducive to fostering a new regional sense of place.

Competitiveness continues to be perceived as a zero-sum game within most regions, emulating traditional local economic development patterns of inter-community competition (Markey et ah, 2005). Harvey (1996) argues that there is an inherent tension in place construction through political economic frameworks. This is attributed to the promotion of a place’s assets, often argued as a component of what makes a place unique, by entrepreneurs and local economic development actors in an attempt to ensure a continuation of place. The problem arises since over the past few decades, capital has become increasingly mobile and there have been intensified efforts at the local level to “sell a place”, as in the fashionable practice of “branding”. This can pit one place against another in an unsustainable mode of zero-sum competition. Such strategies of trying to “differentiate [places] as marketable entities ends up creating a kind of serial replication of homogeneity” (Harvey, 1996, p. 298).

In the Kootenays, communities within the region have no ingrained history of cooperation. They lack a legacy of collective action because there was simply no need to cooperate in the past. Instead of seeing themselves collectively, the strength of the resource economy, and the belief that resource booms would follow natural bust cycles, instilled a culture of individualism across the region—a behavioural response exacerbated by the physical geography. As described by Bradbury (1987), the resource economy structure also reinforced bilateral linkages between individual hinterland communities, the provincial metropolitan core (for public policy and management functions), and the headquarters of the resource industry (for employment and economic functions). Such a structure truncated the development of, and indeed the need for, inter-community dialogue and cooperation across the province.

Despite the inter-community tensions and parochial tendencies that continue to persist in rural regions, interview participants spoke about how the lack of regional collaboration serves both as a competitive disadvantage and an impediment to senior government engagement. If rural new regionalism in Canada is not at a highly evolved state, perhaps at least there is the recognition of what effective regionalism could contribute to development prospects.

4.4 Regionalism as regionalization

The fourth barrier to place-based regional affiliation is associated with the political administrative restructuring policies of senior governments. Regionalization is more often than not imposed and implemented as the creation of regional municipalities by senior governments, rather than regional development in a participatory manner. Over the past 30 years, this has included considerable removal and forced amalgamation of services at the rural regional level (Douglas, 2005). Under these conditions, regionalism is most consistently identified with a negative experience in terms of quality of life and infrastructure for rural and small towns. There is a fear that simply engaging in regional dialogue and planning may ultimately serve to spur further or new amalgamations—of communities and services. The regionalism agenda is seen to be someone else’s, driven by putative administrative efficiencies, cost cutting, downloading of services and other responsibilities, and a commitment to fewer and larger-scale local governments.

Interview participants spoke to us about how forced regionalization of government and services exacerbated zero-sum competition between communities and created false boundaries. The local political process also plays a role here, since local mayors and councils are judged by their constituents with respect to what they deliver—or lose—for their communities.

The location of key infrastructure represents the largest challenge to the realization of tenets of new regionalism in the case study regions. Traditional approaches have treated infrastructure as an issue of individual communities or regions—often reinforcing a competitive approach to inter-community development. From a new regionalism point of view, however, regional approaches to infrastructure should be seen as a complement, rather than competitor, to community development. This is where the various components of new regionalism need to be operating simultaneously, by linking place-based development with integrated planning and effective models of governance.

The case and impact of forced amalgamation in Eastern Ontario emerged as a good example of the implications for regional development. These amalgamations were initiated from the top down, coming from the Harris provincial government in the 1990s. The intention of the amalgamations was to reduce the number of municipalities, thereby improving efficiencies and saving money. There was little consultation involved in this process and the resulting amalgamations often saw mergers among communities divided along rural/urban, or English/French culture and language lines. In stark contrast to this is the endogenously created and managed Wardens Caucus, a made-in- Eastern-Ontario multi-municipal organization that collaborates across the entire region and represents the region in annual negotiations with the Province of Ontario.

Amalgamation forces communities to work together, and in some cases, there is more cooperation as a result. However, considerable mistrust and tension remains, particularly in areas with strong pre-amalgamation divisions. In these cases, where it is possible to work separately (e.g., community festivals, recreation activities), interests are focused at the pre-amalgamation community scale since hard feelings remain between the populations that were forced together. Fortunately, these divisions have been slowly reduced with time and the influx of new residents without knowledge of this history. The English/French divisions, however, remain strong. As a result of the legacy of these forced amalgamations, any discussion on regional action is generally viewed negatively since “region” has become synonymous with “amalgamation” as opposed to voluntary, functional collaboration.

 
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