WHEREAS provincial government services and investments focus primarily on urban centres due to population; and
WHEREAS the Government of Alberta does not officially consider the unique challenges and needs of rural communities when determining access to provincial services; and
WHEREAS rural and remote communities have been relegated to a second tier of service provision due to distance to services, remoteness of individuals, low population and low density; and
WHEREAS funding in the form of grants, and collaborative services and initiatives is not available to many rural and remote communities due to a pre-existing lack of services;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta urge the Government of Alberta to develop a rural and remote lens to better understand the context of, and mitigate the unique challenges of, geographic remoteness, low population, and service accessibility/density faced by human service programs in Alberta’s rural and remote communities.
The RMA (formerly AAMDC) adopted the “Rural Still Matters” position, which recognized that “…more than land, rural Alberta is a vital part of this province’s economy, culture and future. Rural Albertans are as diverse and unique as their urban counterparts.” It also states that “local governments in this province deal with myriad complex problems on a day-to-day basis.” The stance also recognizes that “rural municipalities are expected to provide a comparable level of services as their urban counterparts but without the advantage of economies of scale.” This challenge is not exclusive to infrastructure services, but human services as well.
With the increased centralization of services and collaborative requirements for grants and programming, rural communities are being excluded from access to services and supports from which urban or centrally-located citizens benefit. Developing a protocol or standard wherein the Government of Alberta is required to review programs, services and initiatives against the backdrop of rurality and remoteness could improve the quality of life for rural and remote residents, and improve the ability of rural and remote communities to provide such services.
The health and wellness of the residents of rural municipalities impacts the economic and social assets of their communities. When people are not well, socially, emotionally, or economically, and have little to no access to services to enhance their wellness, local communities are tasked with finding solutions. If there are no local resources to support individuals, they, and the community, can flounder. Expecting individuals to uproot themselves from their community of choice, extended social supports and family, to have access to supports in urban centres relocates problems, and can exasperate them. Services that are local and designed based on the assets and challenges of communities will allow communities and individuals to thrive.
ER3-17F: Effective Representation for Rural Albertans in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Government of Alberta amend section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act to establish up to three new electoral divisions to accommodate the need for effective representation of Alberta’s growing urban population, while not sacrificing current rural representation; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) urge the Government of Alberta to prioritize effective representation for rural Alberta by not approving a reduction in the number of constituencies in rural Alberta; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the AAMDC request the Government of Alberta to not implement the Alberta Electoral Boundary Commission’s final recommendations until the following principles are prioritized:
DEVELOPMENTS: The government response to the resolution indicates that no additional changes were made or will be made to electoral boundaries and that the changes were codified in legislation in December 2017. As such, the resolution is assigned a status of Intent Not Met. RMA will continue to advocate for effective rural representation in future reviews of Alberta’s electoral boundaries, and work with urban MLAs to ensure issues important to rural Albertans are understood and acted upon in Alberta’s legislature.
The Government of Alberta recognizes the importance of understanding and responding to the unique circumstances and concerns of rural and remote communities, and is committed to continuing to work with Rural Municipalities of Alberta and others to ensure government decisions do not reflect a “one size fits all” approach.
While some other jurisdictions, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, have adopted official “rural lens” policies, those policies in practice are not dissimilar to the existing robust policy development process already in place in Alberta. The policy development cycle that is part of the decision-making process in the Government of Alberta ensures the impacts on communities of all sizes, both rural and urban, are carefully considered.
The Government of Alberta response indicates that although Alberta does not have a specific “rural lens” for evaluating policy decisions, community impact is a formal component of the provincial policy development cycle.
Based on the endorsement of the resolution, the current community impact measures used by the Government of Alberta are inadequate in addressing and mitigating the unique impacts that provincial policy decisions may have on rural and remote areas of the province.
In recent consultations related to the Police Act and the delivery of victims services, RMA has emphasized the importance of ensuring that provincial legislation, regulations and policies allow for local service delivery and community input to be adequately flexible to reflect the unique needs of rural and small urban communities, and that a “one-size-fits-all” or centralized approach to service delivery and input will often not meet the needs of diverse communities across the province. At this time, the outcomes of either review are not yet known.
The 2015 Government of Alberta Rural Health Services Review – Final Report identified several concerns with mental health services in rural Alberta. Firstly, the report points out that service availability is much more limited in rural areas, with demand often outweighing availability, resulting in long waits and travel times for both acute and primary services. The report also identified unique challenges with continuity of care, as service providers may only be available in rural areas temporarily or inconsistently. The report also points out that certain stigmas regarding mental health services may exist in rural areas, which require targeted education strategies. A report from Ontario identifies similar rural service issues, suggesting these trends exist across jurisdictions.
This resolution is assigned a status of Intent Not Met and RMA will continue to advocate for the Government of Alberta to more deliberately consider the impacts of policy changes on rural and remote areas of the province.