Right in the Centre - Recipe for sustainable growth


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

It’s a well known fact that if something isn’t growing, it’s dying. It’s true for people, animals, businesses, organizations, cities, towns and municipalities. People and animals all eventually die, so that is a whole different discussion for another time and place. I am thinking this week more about businesses, organizations, cities, towns and municipalities. 

I have lived a fair amount of rural Manitoba history and studied a lot more. Sustainable growth is essential or else decline and decay set in. The most common example is towns and villages. An old map of Manitoba will show countless numbers of towns and villages that no longer exist. Hundreds of old farms and farmsteads have also disappeared.

So, is there a solution?

I believe there is. In spite of the constraints that are placed on sustainable growth, there are a great many things that we can do. To not do them is both sad and a dereliction of duty, not to mention squandered opportunities.

But first let’s look at the things we can’t do much about. When it comes to banking, the credit institutions have always been lacking in enthusiasm for rural life, businesses and farms. Better now than decades ago, but still lacking in vision or willingness towards supporting sustainable growth.

Every family has a story or two about Great-grandpa going to the bank to borrow $200 for a new plow or mower and being turned down. My wife’s Dad was turned down by one or two banks but did eventually get a loan from the Bank of Nova Scotia in Virden. He became a loyal customer for 60 years and my wife is still a customer. Unfortunately, not too many Bank of Nova Scotia branches are in rural Manitoba to help rural folks with their aspirations.

Banks are one thing but governments and corporations are another. In many cases, corporations are rural Canada’s worst enemies. Some corporations are Ok, but most have only one goal in mind; that is to pay shareholders as large a dividend as possible and every quarter. Never mind if they have to distort their original purpose or screw over a small town, they often refuse to acknowledge their mission and needs. Farm equipment and automobile companies come to mind, as many towns used to have dealerships but no longer. There is a huge move to centralization with companies and it’s blatant in government as well. Many little towns used to have Ag Department offices, full service hospitals and medical clinics but few remain.

So in spite of all the smothering of incentives by governments, corporations and banks, what can be done?

Towns, villages and municipalities need a plan and many don’t have one. They all want to maintain or grow their populations and services but if you ask what the plan is, you may be met with scarce details or silence. 

The first step is for the community and elected officials to take is realistically list the advantages. Most places will say they have friendly people, a rich history and great scenery. While those are all nice attributes, does the area have ample and good quality water. Is there piped water available to land along with sewage services? Does the town or RM have a plan for development or do they even want development? Is there decent cell service and internet?

Once a plan, or at least a well-worded hope list, is in place, does the community have a way of approaching banks, developers and local residents about encouraging development. One thing for certain is that projects almost always cost more money and take way longer than expected.

All that said, every town, village and municipality should be looking at how to develop more housing. I have heard dozens of stories from people who want to move out of higher priced and congested areas to have a home that is in a quieter, more rural setting that is hopefully safer than a city.

There are hundreds of undeveloped lots in rural Manitoba and many unused farm houses and farmsteads that are begging for a new family to live there. How to bridge the gap between demand and completed home or acreage is a challenge that can’t be met by any one person but perhaps it can be reached by vision and planning.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.