Editorial – Pt2: City vs country

Jeff Burgar

Last week, we commented on a real estate “boom” happening in many small cities and big towns across Canada. It’s all due to sky-high home prices in some places, combined with business and government willing to accept “work from home” policies.

Is this whole transition sustainable in the long run? In places like Fairview and Peace River, Alberta, it is nice to think so.

Populations in most rural communities are flat, or barely growing. The smallest of hamlets and villages, unless based on a lake or mountain recreation area, are dwindling away as farms get bigger and bigger. Slightly larger centres are hanging on, partly because of low living costs,. Plus, their nearby larger centres increasingly have the shopping and service “amenities” people want, and the major recreation opportunities are also close by. Make no mistake, there is a great life to be had in much of rural Canada.

But for many, the first and biggest attraction in a community is employment. It makes no sense to live in Canmore, or Jasper, if one does not have money coming in. All Five Pillars of a Community do not all go hand in hand. Living off the grid deep in the bush might appeal to certain people. But there are no schools or health care. Maybe recreation is fantastic, and the “community” has no crime, and living off the land is fine so no job is needed. The lifestyle just isn’t for everybody.

Jobs however, can turn the most remote of communities into bustling places. This is proven time after time when resource communities are created from scratch. For many of us, small towns are perfect. That was the case in Vegreville, Alberta. Vegreville was home to a great experiment in government job creation. Almost 300 people worked at a big federal government remote work centre there. This was the Citizenship Case Processing Centre, or CPC. The CPC pushed paper for a huge number of people immigrating to Canada. All business handled by mail, internet or telephone. What could go wrong?

As it turned out, upwardly mobile bureaucrats didn’t like working in Vegreville. They also didn’t like living in Vegreville. It was the weekends and evenings that were the killer. In fact, even on workdays, one could not socialize and rub shoulders with other government fast movers while living in a town of 5,000. So they lobbied upper management to relocate to “big” Edmonton. Constantly. Many worked their way into another federal job in Edmonton. Many new hires simply refused to leave Edmonton. In the end, whiners got their way. Gold plated pensions, big expense accounts and top shelf paychecks were just not enough.

A lesson here? Maybe one day bottled and sold? A better job selling the lifestyle needed? Maybe there needs to be a Sixth Pillar in any community. Upward Opportunity perhaps? More needed, it appears, if remote working is ever going to be the real success it could be. Make no mistake. It’s coming. Making those sky-rocketing crazy home prices some places irrelevant.

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