On the Road: Cape Breton Island

These last few days we have been traveling through Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. This morning we are in Baddeck, N.S., in a bed and breakfast fast by the water.

During our trip climate change has been a consistent topic of conversation with the people we have met along the way. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are very dry. Many of the rivers are running low, some much lower than at any time in recent memory. This follows a non-winter. Locals report lakes that consistently froze over in the past now remain open all winter. Ways of life that have been consistent for many generations are changing with the climate.

An odd piece of these conversations has been the reticence of people to assign cause to climate change. Even when a cause is assigned, say coal generated power plants, locals seem reticent to pursue that conversation. Perhaps the topic is too charged to discuss with vacationing tourists.

Nonetheless, here in central Cape Breton folks are yearly digging deeper wells as the ground water table lowers. Part of the issue appears to be an ever shrinking snowpack. (The year before last was an exception, as it was in much of northeastern North America.) Folks talk about the changing conditions with curiosity, and a hint of anxiety.

We have yet to find the language that would allow a thorough airing of people’s concerns, hopes, and fears. Perhaps we will. We’d like to. We’ll see.

Another topic that people are quick to raise, often with considerable heat, is the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. They present a lengthy list of concerns, including reductions in environmental safeguards and research, the favoring of corporations over people, and the slashing of social funding. The later is particularly troubling here in Atlantic Canada where many people are seasonally employed. Recent reductions to Unemployment Insurance programs dramatically impacts those working in seasonal industries, and most employment in rural Atlantic Canada is seasonal. This has, in part, fueled a mass exodus from rural communities to the cities. The result has been a growing “depopulation” of rural areas.

Another reduction has come in the form of diminished rail service. Rail service to Montreal and beyond has been an essential lifeline for many small communities here. The railway is also a key source of employment. Now the central government has decided to chop passenger rail service by more than half.

Even though these very challenging issues lurk in the background, we have found the people of Atlantic Canada to be warm and engaging. We look forward to more conversation, and wish them well.

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