We have lots of challenges in rural Nova Scotia but the one that is most scary to me is the decline in population.There are 18 counties in Nova Scotia and 16 out of 18 counties have fewer people than seven years ago. Only two have increased in population in the past seven years. Halifax County had a substantial increase because of “centralization” and Hants County had a very slight increase….. the rest of the counties went backwards. Cumberland County and Colchester County both lost people.
This trend of centralization is not just a Nova Scotia trend but it is happening all over Canada and much of the world. In my opinion it is not a healthy trend and at some point in the future we will be sorry if we do not support rural areas. In the meantime it makes it difficult to maintain services at the same level if there are fewer and fewer people.
There are things governments can do to help.One is to lead by example and not abandon rural communities and centralize all government offices in Halifax. It is very troubling when the Department National Defence proposes to end their 100 years presence in Amherst by closing the Amherst Armoury. Meanwhile they are renovating the Halifax Armoury at an estimated cost of $146 million and building an addition for $66 million. That’s a total of $212 million … if the estimates are not exceeded.
Last week I met with Brigadier General Derek MacAulay and Captain Sarah McPherson in Halifax to outline my concerns about this plan. The Brigadier General is in charge of all army activity in Atlantic Canada and was interested to learn about Amherst. Neither he nor his executive assistant had ever visited the Amherst Armoury. However, he committed to come to see the Armoury and the unique military museum at the site. He also agreed to review the process which ended the use of the facility by the military. He took a lot of time to understand our community’s concerns.
Brig. General Derek MacAulay with Bill Casey
In the same week, I was able to meet with the new RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki about a proposal to move the RCMP Communications Center from Truro to Halifax. This is another example of centralization of a Government of Canada operation. Not only is this harmful to the economy and employees of Colchester County, but it is the wrong decision from everything that I can learn about 911 call centers and emergency service delivery. Three reports that I shared with the commissioner strongly recommended not consolidating emergency services at one location.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Bill Casey
I found the new commissioner very easy to talk to and I believe that she listened closely. I shared with her some ideas where we might be able to find a way to address the concerns of both the RCMP and of Colchester County. I intend to pursue this effort with her.
The federal and provincial governments should not allow consolidations in Halifax without an impact study on the community harmed by the move. Part of the problem is that the people making these decisions live and work in Halifax or Ottawa, and have no commitment or knowledge about the areas negatively impacted. In many cases they have never visited the communities affected by their decisions. That’s where governments and politicians should intervene.