What is rural policy today? A pan-Canadian scan of policies for rural spaces

Dr. Tamara Krawchenko, Brooke Hayes, Dr. Karen Foster, Dr. Sean Markey

Rural regions are at the forefront of change. As our great green places—with the vast majority of land and natural resources—they are central to climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

The rapid need to de-carbonise economies is leading to large new investments
in renewable energy infrastructure, transforming rural landscapes and coastlines.
Key industries, from agriculture to forestry, are pressed to adopt more sustainable
practices. As places with less diversified economies, the Covid-19 pandemic has
revealed how fragile many rural economies can be (e.g., those that are tourism reliant)
while at the same time reinforcing their critical importance as producers in
the wake of global value chain disruptions. Seeking more affordable housing and
more space, many rural regions have seen an influx of newcomers over the course
of the pandemic and yet, at the same time, these shifts have reinforced divides
between the attraction of those rural regions with high quality broadband, public
services and other amenities, and those without.

Rural strategies and plans serve to bring an important rural vision and lens to a wide
range of public sector interventions and investments important to rural places and
across its many complex dimensions—in a way that speaks to community diversity
while recognising the need for strategic actions. Rural development strategies
are important not just for rural communities themselves, but for local/regional
governance more broadly. Within the government/public sector, they serve to
highlight rural considerations, complementing the ‘rural lens’ approach to Cabinet
submissions for instance. Rural strategies identify opportunities and challenges
for the future, signify strategic actions and investments, and signify multi-actor
coordination, communications and engagement. Inherently, rural strategies have the
challenge of navigating scale and diversity.

What are the characteristics of rural policy today and how do practices differ
across Canada? This report shares a pan-Canadian content analysis of rural-related
provincial and territorial strategies, plans and programmes. This scan of government
websites has identified the lead departments responsible for rural development and
searches rural-related related strategies, plans and programmes across the thematic
areas of: economic development; climate, energy and natural resources, agriculture;
transportation and infrastructure; broadband and connectivity; tourism and
culture; and justice and social service (in both English and French). The resulting
information was coded in Excel and thematically analysed in order to develop
an overarching understanding of how provincial and territorial governments
approach rural policy; how departments coordinate and; whether there are
targeted interventions for communities facing economic transition. Rural policies
are constantly evolving and this content analysis was conducted over the period of
January 5, 2021 and July 30, 2021. It represents a point-in-time snapshot.

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