Closure of 200 municipalities? Demographic Outlook and Territorial Dynamics
On July 11, the Quebec Institute of Statistics unveiled the demographic outlook for the period from 2016 to 2066 for all of Quebec and from 2016 to 2041 at the regional level. From these statistics, Pierre Bernier, president of the consulting firm Groupe Ambition, concluded that 200 municipalities bear the marks of a death announced by 2025.
It is dangerous to predict the death of a village
Such a prognosis is not without recalling the statements of André Bérard, former president of the National Bank, and Yves-Thomas Dorval, president of the Conseil du patronat du Québec. The first suggested in 1995 to close regions with chronic unemployment and a seasonal employment structure. The second, similarly inspired, proposed in 2015 to move families from devitalized municipalities to regions where there is employment, implying Montreal and Quebec.
Such comments by influential people are recurrent and can have an impact in a government that is not very sensitive to the issues of occupation and vitality of the territories, as the Couillard government has made a sad demonstration in abolishing the CLDs, the CRÉs, the National Policy Rurality, the Coalition Solidarité rurale du Québec and its network of rural development agents, the Devitalized Municipal Assistance Program, etc.
Oh there! What is this accounting reflex with regard to the regions? The occupation of the territory is not a commodity. As they are prompt these pseudo-experts to predict apocalyptic scenarios on the basis of statistical portraits, obnubilated that they are by the promises of demons singing of the city to unlimited growth. Stop blasting regions! I am familiar with the small towns and villages of Quebec and the meaning of the economic vitality index applied to them. For more than 40 years, I study their evolutionary dynamics and probe their heart.
Accelerated urbanization since the 1960s, and especially around Montreal and Quebec City, has contributed significantly to siphoning off the human and economic resources of Quebec’s regions, especially those in the periphery, and precipitating many rural municipalities and small towns in the spiral of devitalization. But surprisingly, the anticipated closures did not materialize. Devitalized, fragile, yes, but still alive.
social and cultural associations, etc. A melting pot of initiatives, solidarity and dedication that overcomes a certain normalized economic deficit. A dynamicunderground that “goes under the radar” indicators of the index of economic vitality. And dozens and hundreds of other municipalities that, discreetly, “inhabit” their territory, welcome new residents, including several young people, Mr. Bernier, and recomposed a rurality that reconciles innovation, living-together, productive economy, face-to-face economy and ecology. I salute here Gaspé, Amqui, The plateaux in Matapedia, Saint-Mathieu-de-Rioux, Coaticook and many others.
Everywhere in the region, there are women and men of belonging, people of conviction and courage, native citizens and newcomers who thwart the fatal destiny that “experts” read in the statistical series.
Evolutions conducive to a renaissance of the regions
But more importantly, there are ongoing changes that are giving new attractions to many regions of Quebec, including their small towns, villages and rural areas. Let’s think about the dematerialization of a growing part of the economy, the digital revolution, telework, the search for a better quality of life, which modify the logic of the choice of a place of implantation both in the companies and workers only in families.
The big city, with its many malfunctions (congestion, various pollution, stress, high costs of housing and office space, degraded environment, insecurity) no longer appears as the Grail of civilization. For many, small towns and rural areas offer an enviable alternative. There is the rise of a powerful “campaign desire” that leads to a reduction if not a reversal of the movement of rural exodus of the last six decades, giving rise to the new phenomenon of urban exodus which brings the seeds of a renaissance of the regions intermediaries and peripherals.
The closing of villages is not inevitable in the order of things. Let us dare to observe and understand the current upheavals that bring new models of occupation and vitality of territories. Imagine policies that will support emerging trends in favor of regions, as we have done since the 50s to support the growth of large cities. Let’s dare foresight and audacity in public actions.
There is no territory without a future, there are only territories without vision or projects.