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Cream cans and egg crates

The numerous initiatives to revitalize rural Saskatchewan are hopeful signs, but they have not yet taken the rural economy back to the healthy state of diversification that characterized the pioneer era.

The numerous initiatives to revitalize rural Saskatchewan are hopeful signs, but they have not yet taken the rural economy back to the healthy state of diversification that characterized the pioneer era.

Then, the people of local communities banded together to identify their own needs and found ways within their own financial and human resources to meet them. Now, even those surviving communities in which citizens have carried their struggle for survival and growth to the limits of the possible, efforts are being impeded by decisions made in other places.

The most recent horror story (Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Sept. 22) details how massive laboratory cuts ordered by the Saskatoon Health Region threaten the long-term health of people in Nokomis, Cudworth and Watson. The cuts in the availability of medical testing in the three communities range from 16 hours in Cudworth to 32 hours in Nokomis. Obviously, these cuts seriously affect the ability of medical practitioners who serve, or might hereafter serve, to provide those communities with the level of primary care to which they should be entitled.

The recruitment of medical professionals to rural areas is also jeopardized. For most of the past century, the people of local communities governed themselves in all aspects of community life where they could reasonably have the power to do so. This latest SHR decision only reaffirms what has been painfully evident for a long time. When decisions-making power is taken away from a community, so is the control of its own destiny.

Despite an economic boom and rosy predictions for the future, we can still see the ruin created by remote decision-making - ghost towns, empty rail beds, empty schools, empty churches, a skyline empty of grain elevators. Less than a century ago we grew much of our own food and made many of the things we needed. The journey back to that kind of self sufficiency has barely begun.

In 1939, the southern prairies were, to borrow a book title, an Empire of Dust. During the Second World War, better markets, wetter weather and innovations in farming practices brought about a dramatic change. The Empire of Dust became the Empire of Wheat. The change didn't come suddenly. A decade after the war ended, many farmers still found it profitable to ship cream and eggs by rail. Farm-churned butter was still being bartered at local grocery stores.

The Empire of Wheat was firmly entrenched 20 years later and agriculture in Saskatchewan was virtually monoculture. Wheat and more wheat. The emphasis given to this new economic model made it easy for remote decision makers to rip up the stable fabric of rural living. Market forces and changing technologies were thought to be responsible for rural decay and depopulation. Not much was said about decision-makers who were misreading the import of the signs of change.

In an effort to deal with, or to appear to deal with, the complexities of public school financing, the previous NDP administration removed the tax-free status of charitable organizations and service clubs which owned land and buildings. As a result, the beneficial activities of these groups in supplementing local services provided by governments have been hampered. Whether or not this draconian move produced any benefit for the school divisions is open to question. When local clubs are unable to pay their tax bills their properties revert to the village or town and become tax free again.

Maintenance of their former properties becomes a charge on the budgets of local government and the benefits of volunteerism are diminished. This was a flawed decision

It should not be allowed to stand.

If Saskatchewan is to gain the high levels of rural diversification which now seem possible, no flawed decision which affects rural living should be allowed to stand. The people who make decisions about what happens in the countryside should be the people who are most affected by those decisions.