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Recipes for recovery : creating innovative governance and economic development policy for Canada’s declining communities Holden, Virginia

Abstract

Coastal rural communities in Canada are facing rapid economic and social change. With the collapse of many natural resource industries and the globalisation of commodity markets, rural communities are challenged by unemployment, poor health, youth out-migration, and disappearing public services. Governments have attempted to address these problems by creating single programs or large subsidies while ignoring the interconnectivity of the issues. These types of methods are often ineffective because they do not take into account the complexity of the issues and/or they focus on resource extraction as the sole determinant of rural development. To address the intricacy of rural issues, governance policy must embrace innovative approaches to support economic and social renewal. Innovation in this sense not only means the creation of new ideas, but also the application of existing ideas in new ways or within new fields. An analytical framework for innovative governance is created informed by the literature in planning, sustainability and governance. This framework identifies eight principles that innovative governance should embody: local empowerment, democracy, ecological respect, promoting local economies, enhancing quality of life and health, creating opportunities for learning, preserving rural culture, and transparency and accountability. To identify specific policy and planning mechanisms that embody the principles of innovative governance, two economic development strategies are analyzed from the provinces of Nova Scotia and British Columbia. These cases are selected based on their comparable composition of coastal communities, economic and social similarities, and differences in their government's approach to rural revitalization and economic development. Five policy documents are selected from Nova Scotia that are part of an overall economic and community-development strategy - Opportunities to Prosperity (2000). One economic development strategy is selected in British Columbia case, the Heartland Strategy for Economic Growth (2003). The policies are analysed according to whether they reflect the principles outlined in analytical framework for innovative governance, and the specific policy mechanisms utilized by the economic policies that embody those principles are identified. Based on the literature for innovative governance and the case analysis, a comprehensive set of twenty-three implications for economic development planning is presented. The implications identify the need to build multi-sectoral and multi-level government structures to deliver policies, illustrates the role of public participation in designing macro economic policy, promotes the use of a 'community development lens' to assess impacts of economic policy, defines the successes of regional industry and learning clusters, offers the benefits of regional governance, outlines the use of 'learning communities' to enhance community learning, and the need for comprehensive benchmarking of economic policy. These implications for planning will help guide the future design and implementation of economic development policy that attempts to deal with rural decline.

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