I made a brief return to the homeland (Nova Scotia) last week for a little business and family.
A cousin welcomed me for tea. She apologized for the lack of biscuits and explained her car had been stuck in the driveway since Feb. 28. Shopping on foot did not include biscuits.
I bunked in for a night with my Uncle Charlie who this year turned 94. I could only see the roof of his house as I drove in the driveway. It was smothered in an eight-foot snowbank. Didn’t seem to faze him in the least.
I must say, with more than 40 years of experience in Northern Ontario, I don’t remember ever seeing so much snow at one time.
It is the best of times and the worst of times in Nova Scotia. The town of Bridgetown (incorporated 1867) disappeared last week into the County of Annapolis. It just didn’t have the money to stay alive. A few years ago, all councillors just gave up and it fell into trusteeship. In LaHave, Nova Scotia, where I go in the summer, the cost of using the essential local ferry has been increased 165 per cent by a province trying to balance its books. The province also wiped out its Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, laying off some 300 people in its recent budget.
Amidst the doom and gloom, the failed subsidies, the diminished fisheries, the demographic tsunami, the higher taxes, the failed forestry policies, the outrageous cost overruns (the Bluenose), the potholes, and the belt-tightening, something else is happening.
A lot of people have had enough. They want change. Big change. They know what doesn’t work is giving more money away to pulp companies or anybody else to make jobs for them.
I attended an economic conference in Annapolis Royal (pop. 481). It was one of the most invigorating gatherings I have attended in some time, and I have survived many an economic development conference.
The fresh air started at the top.
Gregory Heming, who has lived around the world (including 10 years in the Yukon), holds a PhD in ecology and, among other things, is a member of the Club of Rome. Right now Gregory is a municipal councillor in Annapolis County and chair of its economic development committee. He founded the Centre for Local Prosperity (www.localprosperity.ca).
His partner in change is Robert Cervelli, a life science technology entrepreneur living in St. Margaret’s Bay, Nova Scotia, where he is chair of the St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association. He is a devotee of the E.F. Schumacher Society (remember “Small is Beautiful”) which is the backdrop to much of their thinking.
The conference was full of fabulous social entrepreneurs. One is Linda Best. She worked in health care as a microbiologist and medical researcher. Ten years ago, after retiring, she moved back to the Annapolis Valley. Five years ago, she was sitting around the kitchen lamenting the demise of local farming when she decided to do something about it. She co-founded FarmWorks Investment Co-operative Ltd., a Community Investment Development Fund, one of the more creative policies of the provincial government.
The idea was to lend farmers UNSECURED money to get started or expand, and lend money to new restaurants that agreed to buy from the new farmers or anybody else in the local farm food chain. She has raised a million bucks from her communities and has deployed most of it with astonishing result. She is a minor rock star and plans to raise many more millions. Her problem is time, not money.
This conference had three big themes: community power, local food production, and local energy production. Part of this absolute focus on self-sufficiency was evidenced by the Up!Skilling Festival the day before. Want to know how to build furniture, be a beekeeper, make herbal medicine, apply 3D printing to the sustainable economy, create an edible landscape, make natural fibre socks, build a solar greenhouse, and become energy self-reliant? Come on down!
Of course, all this seems cute until there is an ice storm or a storm surge. Then it seems astonishingly prescient.
We know this road in Northern Ontario. We can learn from them.