This editorial was published in the December issue of The
Nova Scotia Policy Review. It is published here with permission.
Five thousand toques
This Christmas, the provincial government
will hand out up to 5,000 toques - not to the cold and needy, but to
well-dressed people in Boston and Halifax who are in no need of a new hat.
Worth $3.50 each to the taxpayer, they will be in bright shades and embroidered
with a provincial logo and Web site address. Why? To attract immigrants,
students, ex-pats and investment. The notion is that viewers watching the
televised events will see the Web site on the hats then log on to the "Come to
life" campaign on the Internet. Stacey Jones-Oxner, advisor to the provincial
marketing campaign, said the gimmick works.
we sponsored the BT [Breakfast Television] New Year's Eve event [in the Grand
Parade in Halifax] and handed out toques to some of the people in the crowd. To
help measure the success of that exercise, we look at the number of hits to our
Web site. Between December 24, 2006, and January 14, 2007, we had more than
500,000 hits to our Web site (novascotialife.com). There was a spike on
December 31st of more than 66,000 hits."
Most visitors to the Web site must be
ex-pats, or family or friends of people living in Nova Scotia. Or do other
people spontaneously drop what they're doing when they see an unfamiliar Web
site branded on a toque?
The world of "place marketing" is strange
indeed. It's been going on in Nova Scotia since at least as long the Dominion
Atlantic Railway began distributing copies of Land of Evangeline, like
so many Gideon Bibles. Even earlier, Nova Scotia mounted a postcard campaign
depicting rural idylls and tantalizing scenes for wealthy sports fishermen and
women, and steamship passengers. Eco-tourism was alive and well.
Back then, Nova Scotia wanted to be
charming, quaint and rural. Now that our young people have gone walkabout, the
Greater Halifax Partnership has been figuring out what "amenities" it has to
attract hip young things to drive the city's machines and lubricate its
creative cogs. Halifax wants to be "cool" and is willing to pay big bucks to
someone from somewhere else, who makes a living telling other cities how to be
cool, to tell Halifax, too. (It's odd, but city officials and boosters just
can't trust the market, or their fellow citizens, to create a bohemian, "cool"
city, perhaps because they don't fully appreciate the bohemian and cool people
living in their own city.)
The gentrification of run-down streets in
Halifax, or abandoned neighbourhoods in New York City, or any other city where
"marginal" inner-city real estate has been transformed, should show how the
vivid personality of a place can flourish without consultants or social
engineers. Or planners could take a look at Bridgetown - population 1,000 -
where I live. The recent history of this town, in Annapolis County, provides a
good example of how you can attract immigrants without trying.
The town's "amenities" include an
elementary school and a high school, a swimming pool, a soccer field, tennis
courts, a curling rink, a skating rink, a fire hall, a park, a river, children
everywhere, a health clinic (in need of a doctor), a library, five churches, a
women's centre, a mental health outreach centre, a Lion's Club and Legion,
seniors' homes and community housing, an array of essential and delightful
retailers (including two hardwares), a well-designed grid for walking, a
pub, good government, fresh food at the farm gate, a ring of mountains and a
host of community groups that knit people together, one stitch at a time.
Most particularly, the
town and county also have a stock of ridiculously cheap heritage homes to rival
those in other old port towns in the province, such as Windsor, Lunenburg and
Annapolis Royal. (The first houses were built here, at the head of
tidal navigation on the Annapolis River, in the 1820s.) Many of these homes were dumped on the market when major employers
in the region closed down, but in the last few years, they
have been re-inhabited with couples and families from Alberta, Manitoba,
British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, the United States, Britain and
Australia. Many of these recent immigrants left big, cool cities for something
else. Some cashed in on the price difference in real estate and converted it
into a business or a comfortable cushion. Some reached out to local development
agencies to find support and guidance for their move to Nova Scotia. But most
found their way here without gimmicks.
When my husband and I crossed the world 10 years ago, we
settled in Northwest Cove, on the Aspotogan Peninsula in Lunenburg County. We
later moved to Bridgetown - for the schools and footpaths, the fact that we
could walk everywhere and live in a pre-Civil War house with a comfortable
mortgage and river frontage, and buy most of our produce near or at the farm
gate. But both places gave us more. We had to hone our survival instincts (in
the absence of attractive, or even available, jobs). And our sharp edges were
softened by the strict accountability and congeniality of living in small
communities. And we decided to have our children here, where the task of
raising three sons to honourable manhood seems that much more likely.
How can the experience of a small town, and the personal
insights of immigrants, shape public policy? And how do they relate to the
marketing of this province? The answer to both questions seems to lie in a
renewed commitment to social policy, with an emphasis on building community
strength. Building stronger communities that can
attract, welcome and retain immigrants is essential if the benefits of
immigration are to accrue to the whole province and not just to Halifax. It also
means that the immediate response to rural atrophy - and to our economic health
- must be to look inward before we look outward.
High unemployment, diminishing population and eroding
infrastructure and economies in rural Nova Scotia mean that we must invest in
social infrastructure and services to prevent the demoralization of rural
communities and a decline in physical and mental health. Apart from the actions
of community services, schools and health districts, a renewed focus on social
policy should also support the "social market", by supporting volunteer
organizations that can wisely allocate scarce resources.
Fostering good, strong local government is another critical
component in rural renewal. The recent deal to relieve some of the provincial
costs that had been downloaded on to municipal government is a good step in
this direction. So is the reinstatement of a municipal concentration with the
Master's of Public Administration program at Dalhousie University (supported by
the province and the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities) to "provide future senior
administrators for municipalities undergoing steady attrition rates ."
But the province needs to get serious about rural renewal.
In December 2004, cabinet made a commitment to "clarify and articulate a common government/community vision for the
future of Nova Scotia communities ." It has reneged on this. In the absence of government action,
this issue of the Review sets out a compelling strategy for community
and social development that can drive economic growth for the province as a
UNSM bulletin, March 2007.
Nova Scotia Community Development Policy,
Note: After this issue of The Nova Scotia
Policy Review was published, the government released a social
policy "framework", which will be examined in the March issue of the magazine.
To download a PDF copy of this article - click HERE.