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UPDATE: Rural struggles brought to Charlottetown on Islander Day

Islanders march up Queen Street during a rally to highlight rural struggles that was held in Charlottetown on Monday.
Islanders march up Queen Street during a rally to highlight rural struggles that was held in Charlottetown on Monday.

The struggles facing Islanders who live in rural communities were brought into the capital city of Charlottetown Monday.

Organizers said that 500 individuals from communities across the province sent a message of “rural strong” during a rally held in the province’s capital on Islander Day.

The event saw individuals waving signs and chanting “we are rural, we are strong” while marching from Peakes Quay up Queen Street. Speeches were then held outside of Province House.

“We are no longer separate communities. We are rural strong and we have found one voice,” said Janet Payne of Kinkora.

Organizers said that 500 individuals from communities across the province sent a message of “rural strong” during a rally held in the province’s capital on Islander Day.

The event saw individuals waving signs and chanting “we are rural, we are strong” while marching from Peakes Quay up Queen Street. Speeches were then held outside of Province House.

“We are no longer separate communities. We are rural strong and we have found one voice,” said Janet Payne of Kinkora.

One rally participant holds up a sign pleading with the province to spare the five P.E.I. schools that have been recommended for closure. The main focus of the rally was on education and health services in rural P.E.I.

Although the rally was organized largely by parents from Georgetown Elementary Home and School Association and spurred by the possible closure of five P.E.I. schools, the event didn’t focus solely on education.

Speakers said that rural P.E.I. communities are being ignored by the government on other issues such as health care while the province centralizes services to Charlottetown.

Alan MacPhee, of the Islandwide Hospital Access Committee, said rural Islanders deserve better services than what they now receive.

“We are rural strong and the myth is government supports rural areas with taxes and jobs. That myth is not true, what we do know is true is rural gives much more in taxes than it takes in services,” said MacPhee. “We’re here today to say rural schools are not closing, rural hospitals are not closing and rural communities are not closing.”

Participants make their way down Water Street at the "Rural Strong" rally held in Charlottetown on Islander Day.

Former Souris schoolteacher Fred Cheverie said he could see many similarities between the levels of education and health care in rural communities.

“We see the argument used for closing small schools as economic, we heard the same argument in trying to cut services and eliminate hospitals,” said Cheverie, who felt that the end goal is centralization of services rather than saving money. “What they’re talking about in money is peanuts. It’s nothing and it’s ridiculous to use that argument.”

Islanders hold up signs outside Province House on Monday during the "Rural Strong" rally.
Islanders hold up signs at the “Rural Strong” rally outside Province House on Monday, including one which shows Premier Wade MacLauchlan with text reading “rotten apple of education.”

Part of the rally’s message was also that “all of P.E.I.” is rural, with several speakers pointing towards the province’s reliance on the agriculture, fishing and tourism sectors.

“(Those living) in our municipal communities have come from roots in the country side and therefore reflects the norms, standards and values that we learned in our rural upbringing,” said Georgetown resident Brian Pound. “And that makes us all rural strong.”

Participants in the “Rural Strong” rally make their way up Queen Street in Charlottetown while being led by banner-holders, from left, David Weale, Georgetown mayor Lewis Lavandier and Georgetown Home and School president Mallory Peters. Organizers said the rally saw 500 participants.

Stacy Toms, a small business owner and volunteer with Georgetown Home and School Association, conveyed a similar message.

“P.E.I. is a special place but it remains small and rural. Despite what Charlottetown and Summerside think, there is no rural-urban divide. It’s all rural,” said Toms. “We should remember that when government pits one against the other. We are all rural Islanders who live on a very small Island. We’re an intricately linked cultural, familial and economic unit.”

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