Rural Quebec is losing jobs and power as institutions abandon rural areas and concentrate in urban centres, says the president of the provincial rural solidarity movement.
With the growing concentration of services like health care, banking and post offices in urban centres, as well as the exodus of natural resources which are shipped to industries in metropolitan areas, rural areas are suffering, says Jacques ProuIx of Solidarité rurale du Qudbec.
Proulx said an example of that is the lower North Shore which is the source of minerals and electricity, but those resources are shipped south rather than creating industries and jobs there.
Concern was also expressed about Hydro-Québec's decision to build a high-voltage transmission line, TransQuébec Maritime's plan to build a high pressure underground pipeline, and Magnola Metallurgy project to create a magnesium mill which will produce highly toxic byproducts.
"You don't have the right to do that in a democratic society," Proulx said, referring to the government's decision to allow the Hydro lines to go through without subjecting it to the usual public consultation and environmental assessinent.
"It's all in the way you do things," he said. "The government is ignoring its own institutions and regulations and that's not acceptable."
Proulx: said the government should have the courage of its convictions and explain the need for the project to the population rather than bulldozing though the region.
Commenting on the Magnola mill which has raised serious concerns among farmers and environmental watchdogs in the Asbestos region, Proulx said rural areas are also victims of economic woes which open them up to environmental abuse.
"You can't ask questions about Magnola in the region," he said. "It's like a life saver."
Proulx is on a tour of the province listening to a variety, of groups and individuals with concerns about the future of rural Quebec. Entitled Corvée d'idées, the title of the tour translates roughly to a 'work bee for ideas'.
"At a work bee everyone contributes their different talents and abilities and at the end you end up with a worthwhile product," he said, adding that after the tour he will be consulting with a variety of different rural organizations and some North American and European experts.
His group, which was recently recognized by the government as an advisory body on rural matters, is preparing a report to the govemment The report is supposed to guide the government in setting policies which affect rural areas of the province.
So far, Proulx said rural reslidents are mainly concerned by the global trend to standardize and regulate everything to death. They are also fed up with rules and regulations which are designed for urban populations but which fail to reflect the needs and realities of rural people.
"They want to get away from this trend to standardize everything so that no one recognizes themselves anymore," he said, adding that rural municipalities and populations want to see a greater decentralization of powers .so they can manage their own milieus.
"They don't want to get the problems without having the power to act," he said.
Proulx said that when you add up the population of hundreds of villages with a handful of inhabitants, there are as many rural residents as there are urbanites.
"Yet there is a notion that there are fewer rural people and they have little or no influence in government circles," he said, adding that there is strength in numbers.
After meeting with the media, Proulx spent the afternoon talking with a number of groups which presented briefs, and met later in the evening with the general population.
Among those groups presenting briefs was the Citoyens du Val St. Franqois Citizens, explaining how powerless they are before Hydro-Québec and the Parti Québécois government and seeking support from the rural solidarity movement.
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