Does urban Canada hate us?

AuthorCirtwill, Charles
PositionThink Tank

The urban-rural divide is deeper than ever in Canada. My question is simple: why is this? Do "they" (urban dwellers) hate "us" (rural and small-town Canadians)?

I think the question needs to be posed in this way due to the venom that is being directed at rural communities, especially those involved in natural resource extraction. Reading national headlines, and social media, one can find very little sincere interest in understanding why rural Canada is gravely concerned. This has been the case for some time and it is getting worse, not better.

Albertans are depicted as knuckle-dragging rednecks tied to a dying industry and determined to sacrifice the health of the planet on the altar of profit, and bigger cowboy hats. The people of Northern Ontario are described as having their hands perpetually out while scarring the earth and clearcutting the forests.

Atlantic Canadians, while considered romantic and friendly, are seen as people living in places to be visited for nostalgia alone. Urbanites can then marvel at the progress to be found in the advanced cites, as opposed to the backwards country.

These are broad-stroke caricatures and, yes, there are lots of urban dwellers in the regions I just described, but the issue remains. There is a decided tone of moral superiority among urban-based policymakers around the types of lives and the kinds of people found in rural communities.

The message I take away from many encounters is, "If you were only smart enough to understand how great living in a city is, you would be here in a heartbeat." This is often promptly followed with, "And if you insist on living out there in the boonies, you get what you deserve if you can't call the police, or get health care, or access education."

I readily admit that, as an Atlantic Canadian, when someone tells me, "If you don't like it, just move," I react badly. As a Thunder Bay-ite, my position remains unchanged. As a policy expert, knowing as I do how Sweden made the conscious decision to deliver the same quality of service everywhere in their country, I have no time for arguments that it can't be done or that it would be "too expensive."

I also admit that the more vocal advocates of rural life and living have tended to be ... uncompromising. Ezra Levant and his concept of ethical oil come to mind. Levant's basic premise is objectively true...

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