The majority of rural Nova Scotian communities are struggling to survive as residents die off or migrate to larger urban centres, a 2006 Statistics Canada census report said Tuesday.
Figures showed 14 of the 18 counties in the province experienced a drop in numbers. Only the city of Halifax and Kings, Hants and Colchester counties saw an increase.
The communities most at risk are those located farthest from large towns or cities and lack a large employer, a public institution or private business, said David Chaundy, senior economist with the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, an independent research and policy organization.
"If you're fairly close, you can be in a commuting belt or people travel from the city on tourism or you can maintain strong business links. We also have to look at the economic base of these communities. You can't draw businesses into an area where those employers can't find the workers."
For example, Cape Breton Island experienced a 3.5 per cent drop from 105,968 in 2001 to 102,250 in 2006. That follows a 7.6 per cent decrease in population between 1996 and 2001.
More than two-thirds of the country's population lives in or around 33 major urban centres, while less than 20 per cent of Canadians live in small towns and rural areas, the census found. A century ago, about 60 per cent lived in rural areas.
"Certain communities within the province are experiencing a long-term decline. How to we manage that transition and continue to provide people with public services such as health care and education? Do we consolidate them and force people to travel long distances to attend school or to get to a hospital? These things have to be addressed."
Liberal MLA Manning MacDonald said the new census numbers emphasize the need for Nova Scotia to create a department dedicated to rural economic development.
He said the fact 14 out of 18 areas in the province have dropped in population should be "a wake-up call for the government."
"The evidence is out there that supports our contention that the government is not paying attention to developing rural Nova Scotia and I include Cape Breton," the Cape Breton South MLA said Tuesday.
He said a department focused solely on the rural areas could provide payroll rebates and other incentives for businesses to set up shop in areas outside Halifax Regional Municipality.
Tourism Minister Len Goucher, acting minister for economic development Tuesday, said on Tuesday that the Office of Economic Development is doing a good job in bringing jobs to both the urban core and rural areas. He said the office and Nova Scotia Business Inc. have been working closely with the regional development authorities around the province to strengthen rural economies.
"We want to keep people in their own communities."
Source: Chronicle Herald, The (Halifax, NS), Mar 14, 2007, pA4