The words 'Keeping it Rural', alonmg with pictures of carrots and a trail, on a green background

2023 ‘Keeping It Rural’ Conference

While young families have been migrating to urban centres for decades, in recent years there has been a trend in the opposite direction. The BC Rural Centre asks ‘’What does it take to entice young people away from big cities to small towns?’ Every two years they host a major international conference to profile successful and innovative rural development initiatives. This year’s conference was held on June 1 and 2 at the Hampton Inn, in Kelowna

Regional Director Robyn Mawhinney of Area C gave the Strathcona Regional District Board a brief report at their June 14 meeting. 

In addition to being a Regional Director, Robyn Mawhinney is a member of the Quadra Island Trails Committee and one of the past organizers of the Fall Fair

The text that follows is a transcript of her presentation taken from YouTube recording of that meeting: 

“At the beginning of June, I had the good fortune to spend two days with rural leaders from across the province at the BC Rural Centre’s ‘Keeping It Rural Conference.’ We discussed forestry, agriculture, watershed management, rural innovation, mega projects, healthcare, reconciliation, and the erosion of the right to be rural and how to restore it.” 

“Most of us around this table represent rural communities, connecting with rural leaders across the province, highlighted the similar challenges and opportunities, many areas face.” 

“The Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Health, Jennifer Rice and Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Development, Roly Russell, brought provincial perspectives to the conference. Until now, I didn’t know these two rural advocates existed. It was excellent to meet them.”

 Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoysoos Indian Band discussed rural economic development, hard work, land back and the difference between profits and maximizing profits, which is ‘what got us into this corporate mess.’ 

Chief George Lampreau of the Simpcw First Nation highlighted their nations holistic approach to environmental assessment and that his nation is working toward an MOU with municipalities within their nation’s geographic area to build a better future for all.” 

“We heard from forestry operators working to achieve margins through value added, not driving prices down and about community forests from a First Nations perspective.” 

“The Agricultural Panel questioned what the culture of food growing is in our regions, ‘because we all need to eat,’ and discussed food hubs and small scale meat production.” 

At the Rural Innovation Panel, I learned innovation is best when working with place-based strengths. Then it’s a social process, which can be a catalyst for economic development and diversification. It was stated that the reality for rural innovation is there are proportionately higher costs, and it’s best to think of it as a marathon, not a sprint.” 

“Broadband infrastructure was mentioned as key to supporting innovation and Connected Coast was highlighted as an example of great work, connecting rural communities to the world.” 

“The conference was held in Kelowna, an area central to much of BC and a non-rural location was deliberately chosen because the pressure of a conference on a small rural community could present unwanted challenges to that community and I thought it was a valuable learning experience.”

There were few comments after Director Mawhinney made her presentation to the SRD Board, but Cortes Island Director Mark Vonesch expressed interest and asked for a copy of the transcript.

Top image credit: Poster for the 2023 ‘Keeping It Rural’ Conference

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