Rural communities across British Columbia are pushing towards stronger futures and a new report co-authored by Selkirk College’s Dr. Sarah-Patricia Breen provides valuable insight into the way forward.
Released last week, the fourth edition of the State of Rural Canada report takes a deep dive into trends, challenges and opportunities in every province across the country. The British Columbia chapter in the report is co-authored by Breen and Okanagan College instructor Dr. Danielle Robinson.
“It is really challenging to pick a small number of key topics when considering something as vast and diverse as rural BC,” says Breen, the BC Regional Innovation Chair in Rural Economic Development who is based out of Selkirk College’s Applied Research & Innovation Centre in Castlegar. “We pulled together some of the threads that stretch across the province and worked to highlight both commonalities and differences.”
Dr. Sarah-Patricia Breen (top right) is the BC Regional Innovation Chair in Rural Economic Development working out of Selkirk College’s Applied Research & Innovation Centre. She is the co-author of the British Columbia chapter in the recently released State of Rural Canada report that brought together experts from across the country as seen here at the official release of the document.
A long-time member and past president of the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation, Breen has been involved with the State of Rural Canada since it’s inaugural edition in 2015. In the latest report, Breen and Robinson explore the recent past and near future of rural BC by digging into the implications of climate change, the changing forest sector, the digital economy, COVID-19 and Indigenous reconciliation.
Traditional natural resource sectors continue to be what most rural BC communities depend upon, but the report outlines growth in economic opportunities from tourism, cannabis, technology and remote work that are contributing factors to increased diversity. An example of the current reality is that sparse populations and access to natural environment are attractive in counter-urbanization patterns, a trend that has only increased over the last 20 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though an opportunity for growth outside traditional sectors, it brings challenges with increased real estate competition and rising housing prices.
Record wildfires and floods have taken a heavy toll on rural BC over the last few years. Though natural disasters are outside the direct control of rural community leaders, the report encourages proactive planning and capacity building. By building regional networks and working collaboratively with senior government, rural communities will be able to adapt better to situations brought on by climate change.
Breen, who is also working on research projects related to connectivity, observed that the ubiquity of connecting digitally in all aspects of daily life makes rural broadband access critical. The report asserts that it is unacceptable to have clear unevenness in the level of services across the province.
“There have been notable periods of stability in British Columbia’s past, but this is no longer the case today,” says Breen. “The pace of change is too rapid. What would have previously been seen as once-in-a-generation shifts in technology now occur regularly. Change and uncertainty is our new normal. BC’s rural communities have shown resiliency and have the potential to continue adapting and thriving into the future.”
The entire State of Rural Canada 2021: Opportunities, Recovery & Resiliency in Changing Times report can be found online.