Acadia president presenting at Georgetown Conference
By Jennifer Hoegg
Ray Ivany jokes he’s going to Georgetown because Wade MacLauchlan asked him.
“If Wade asks, my answer is ‘yes',” Ivany says with a smile.
The president of Acadia University and chairman of the Nova Scotia Commission on Building our New Economy has a serious answer, too: he cares about rural Atlantic Canada.
“I think in the Atlantic provinces, (with) our connection to place, our history, if we want to preserve these wonderful communities and have them be vibrant, healthy, prosperous places, we are going to have to come to grips with a complex set of factors,” he said.
One of those factors is the meeting of the trends of globalism and localism.
Atlantic Canadians are “passionate about our rural communities, (but) we’re not immune from the trends."
Thinking through the challenges with other likeminded people, is something he’s looking forward to doing, he added.
“There are the ties that bind us – we’re coming together as a region that is more powerful even than coming together as a province.”
Working through a paradox
Theorist Benjamin Barber’s 1996 bestseller, Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World, was prescient, Ivany said. While the world has become more interconnected and globalized, there has also been a pressure to retreat into smaller groups.
“I think we’ve seen both things happen. The paradox is something that did emerge,” he said. “I think we’re at a point now where that framework needs to be deconstructed. We need to think about what’s on the other side of that?”
A farm or a university in the Annapolis Valley can be locally excellent, but it also has to compete with a farm or university in the rest of the country, continent or world.
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“We’re here in an intensely local, beautiful area, but our success and future prosperity is going to be based on how we’re connected,” Ivany said. “There’s no way to artificially to turn off the forces of globalization."
Localism and globalism are not separable, he said, but they both bring opportunities.
“I don’t see the buy local movement, which I absolutely enjoy and partake in, I don’t see it as inimical to global opportunities at all,” he said. “You think of some of the companies and some of the products we enjoy because of their locality but they’re so good that, guess what? People elsewhere in the world will want to take part of them as well.
“I hope this is something we end up discussing at Georgetown,” he added.
“We have to be tough-minded about this. You can’t romanticize your way to having success really in any aspect.
“During the commission meetings I was fond of saying, not in any sharp way, ‘hope is not a strategy,” Ivany added.
“I’m a hopeful person but the things I hope for I really try to build really good plans and strategies so they will occur.”
Work the assets
“In last 100, years, last 50 in particular, the forces on us had us only looking only in our little area and there was competition with the area next to you,” Ivany said.
Looking outward beyond political boundaries in order to leverage community assets can help with economic development. For example, unlike rural areas of northern Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario that may face similar challenges of an aging population and outmigration, the Valley has a lot going for it, Ivany points out.
First, the eastern part of the region has the economic benefit of being within an hour of Halifax. Second, has assets that can attract people and economic interest: a university, community college campuses and a regional health centre, for example.
“You aren’t dealing with the same set of rural issues as if you had exactly the same economic and demographic circumstances, but you didn’t have those assets,” Ivany said.
Look at what is available within a 30- to 60-minute drive, he suggested.
“Because of the artificial boundaries of counties or town, you don’t think of that way – you’re not thinking of an asset map in a circle around you – you think about what it’s in your area.
“Change the lens,” Ivany said. “You see something different.”
“If you do take that view, you have a lot more to work with right from the get go.”
“If the eastern part of the Valley can achieve even more of the potential than I believe it has, then just like Halifax it will have that carry on effect for areas around it,” Ivany said. “You get other nodes of prosperity and, guess what? They’ll start carrying some distance.
Ivany will moderate the opening session of the conference on “rural community commitment and success” Oct. 3. Session will be webcast on the Georgetown Conference’s website.