Right in the Centre - Looking for answers


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

There is a huge uproar in rural Manitoba about Emergency Rooms and rightly so. The closure of ERs may not be the government’s fault regardless of party.

There is a shortage of rural doctors, period. Without doctors, you can’t have an ER.

Why do we not have enough doctors? I have heard some of the answers.

For whatever reason, we have not educated enough doctors in Manitoba.

Foreign trained doctors often don’t want to stay in rural Manitoba.

Even Manitoba trained doctors don’t always want to live in rural Manitoba.

We have trained too many 9-5 specialists instead of GPs. There are doctors in larger centres who aren’t doing all that well because there isn’t enough work I am told.

There are also too few patients in some smaller centres for a doctor to make a living. It’s sad, but many towns are still shrinking in population and a doctor’s practise needs numbers to survive.

It has been reported that there are 20,000 foreign trained doctors and 30,000 foreign trained nurses in Canada that have not been certified yet. There’s something wrong with that process. Both the federal government and the provinces must get that backlog cleared.

A writer could fill books about why rural communities shrink. In fact, many books have been written on the topic. Basically, people are always looking for bigger and better places to live. After WWII, the returning US rural servicemen demanded, “Build us roads and they will come.” The government answered the challenge and built 1,000s of miles of roads and “they left.” That happened in Manitoba too. If even a small portion of the people who left rural Manitoba had made the decision to stay, we would today have a lot stronger rural economy.

Large urban areas don’t contain all the glory they pretend to have nor what many rural people believe they will achieve. It has always been a mystery to me why there has been such a flocking to urban areas. For my generation, and for generations before me, people left rural areas. Life seemed easier in the city and in many ways it was. Hydro didn’t come to the farms until 1949, so electric lights didn’t exist. Radios ran on expensive batteries. There wasn’t much for electric heating. Our farm home went from a wood fired furnace and cookstove to an oil furnace and eventually electric heat. Running water depended on how fast you ran it from the well to the house or barn. Water for washing people or clothes was carried in and carried out. Toilets were primitive to say the least. Life-easing facilities were certainly an incentive to leave the farm.

But so much has changed. Water, sewer and home heating are pretty much the same everywhere. Well, everywhere except some First Nations communities and that is a problem long ignored by government. There are many good jobs outside of the cities and some very good options for food services and entertainment. So why do people still flock to the cities where crime and poverty are on the rise usually much faster than rural areas. Well, you tell me, as I would love to hear about it.

The decline of many small communities is a major problem and especially in the supply of medical services. Small communities need more people and there are many roadblocks. Zoning and building codes are too strict, for example. Some municipalities lack vision and often the skilled staff to build a progressive community.

Available capital is artificially scarce for small scale manufacturing and food production. We throw out thousands of tons of food every summer due to a lack of processing, handling and storage facilities. Silly example perhaps, but if all tomatoes grown in Manitoba were canned or frozen, a lot less tomatoes would be imported.

Rural Manitoba growth is hindered for all of the above reasons and perhaps many more. The above is admittedly a rambling mixture of cause and effect, but it’s up to all people across the province to make improvements.

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.