Coastal Communities Network
The 1991 collapse of the ground fishery did more than change forever the lives of the people who fished for a living. It touched every aspect of every coastal community: schools, churches, businesses, they all felt the shock. Many people were left wondering if the coastal way of life would soon disappear as well.
Nova Scotians are no strangers to change, however and have a fierce determination to make their communities survive. It was in that spirit that Coastal Communities Network (CCN) was formed 15 years ago.
CCN’s goal of keeping the communities socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable was so inspiring, it brought together groups that traditionally did not work together. Differences and opinions were gladly put aside for the value of the community, and everyone joined in the effort to reinvent and thrive.
Today, communities, government, organizations and institutions all come together through CCN to share issues, influence policy, and generate ideas. This unique network started has also branched out to include non-coastal rural communities as well.
CCN’s work is already proving that smaller communities are a vital part of the province’s success. Their study of the economic impact of wharves in the province shows Nova Scotia is now number one in Canada for fish exports - in 2002 alone, fish exports were $1.2 billion.
A true grassroots organization, CCN calls itself the voice for rural Nova Scotia – and it’s a voice that is being heard all over. "We held a rural policy forum last February that brought together government, academics, and communities to discuss policies," says Coastal Communities Network executive director Ishbel Munro. "It was quite unique to have the policy makers and the folks affected by those policies sitting in the same room, discussing how we can make a healthier, more vibrant Nova Scotia."
Guest speaker Charles Fluharty, president of the U.S.'s Rural Policy Research Institute, was excited by what he saw. "He said 'Everywhere I go I say there needs to be an intermediary organization like this, and you guys already have one!” recalls Munro.
While Fluharty may consider it a ground-breaking approach to policy-making, Munro and the members of CCN prefer to think of it as a "common-sense approach." "It's amazing how well communities and government can work together," says Munro. "It's very positive."
This very "common-sense approach" to getting people to work together has resulted in a number of awards for CCN. In 2005 they were presented with the Excellence in Collaboration Award from the Nova Scotia Office of Economic Development at the Celebrating Innovative Communities Award and Banquet. Then in 2006 they were recognized again, this time with the Visionary Group Award presented by the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment. The council is a U.S.-Canadian partnership of government and non-government organizations that works together to maintain and enhance the environmental quality in the Gulf of Maine and to allow for sustainable resource use by existing and future generations.
Along with bringing communities and government together, CCN wants to keep bringing people together with Nova Scotia's breathtakingly beautiful coastline. "We don't want Nova Scotia to become like New England where people don't have access to the beaches and coast," says Munro. "That's why we're involved in issues such as coastal planning. We're also doing work to promote coastal tourism through our Close to the Coast website."
Now, thanks to CCN's efforts, recreational boaters have a wharf-by-wharf profile of the entire province that tells them where they can put a boat in, where they can tie up, and what facilities they can find at each wharf, such as nearby restaurants, the availability of bathrooms, fresh water, and who to call to tie up.
Boaters aren't the only ones who can benefit from CCN's online efforts. Businesses and community developers can, too, through the government’s Community Counts website (www.gov.ns.ca/fina/communitycounts/), which shows socio-economic, demographic, and other information about each community.
CCN provided resources at the early-development stages of this website through the Rural Communities Impacting Policy Project, a partnership with the Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre at Dalhousie University. With the click of a mouse, the viewer can see the make-up of a community and then assess the opportunities.
CCN is developing tools and workshops for community groups so they can better use Community Counts to enhance their community development, including project proposals and strategic plans. "A community may see they aren't losing population - it's changing. Retired people are moving in. And that could lead to the building of more senior care facilities and services," illustrates Munro.
Workshops that have been test piloted in partnership with the Pictou Regional Development Authority have received a fantastic response, says Erica de Sousa, spokesperson for CCN.
Bringing people together is a constant theme at CCN. Their monthly Learning Circles, another idea unique to Nova Scotia, throw the doors open and invite everyone to come and learn about issues such as wind power, water quality, labour trends, and climate change, or to share concerns in a respectful forum. Munro admits that at times there can be differences between organizations and communities or community members themselves. That's when she calls upon the mediation training she gained in Ireland on Dialogue for Peaceful Change. "(Mediation is a role) we take great care in developing as it reflects the trust our communities have in our ability to be supportive," says Munro.
CCN's On Common Ground project is an example of building that trust. The project brought together the African Nova Scotian, Mi'Kmaq, Acadian, and other European groups in Nova Scotia. "Through this project we learned that all of us share the same dreams," says Munro. "As a result, we came to guiding principles for a sustainable future."
A glance at CCN's website today reveals a membership as vast as the Atlantic Ocean. It includes everyone from the Black Loyalist Heritage Society and the Federation of Agriculture, to the Canadian Autoworkers and the Raging Grannies. As Munro says, for all their differences, they all 'share the same dreams,' and one of those dreams is the continuation of the coastal and rural lifestyle in Nova Scotia. "People here have a deep passion for their community. We've seen hard times before. We've pulled together and survived. And you can see the opportunities today. We get companies and people coming here from other areas who say 'it just makes sense to be here.' They feel safe and there are good values."
That sense of commitment and values is captured in the workforce, continues Munro. "There was a study done by the University of Victoria that showed we had the best employees in the country. We're loyal, dedicated, and we don't tend to switch jobs at the drop of a hat. It's about connections."
Strength through connections is Coastal Communities Network's main message: building stronger communities and stronger opportunities by connecting people, organizations, and governments. Thanks to their work, a successful, sustainable future is bound to be the catch of the day in coastal and rural Nova Scotia.