As we start a new semester of teaching, and continue to work with a variety of community partners on research, planning and knowledge mobilizations projects, I am also given an opportunity to reflect upon the many changes, opportunities and successes of the past year. Naturally, the first Rural Alberta Innovation and Learning Commons was a major highlight of 2015, as were other events and conferences like the Network Leadership Symposium, the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation Annual Conference in Summerside, PEI and the ongoing work of the Rural Policy Learning Commons (based at the RDI in Manitoba). While Alberta (and Canada) saw major political changes, we are still uncertain as to where rural communities fit within the emergent policy and budgetary structures of these new governments, but I remain highly optimistic that our work, and the work of rural communities across Canada, will gain in priority and attention. This is driven home for me by the many rural communities and organizations who continue to seek out and foster partnerships and collaboration with post-secondary partners (whether at the University of Alberta or elsewhere), and the willingness of these partners to contribute their time and resources to initiatives that matter in their communities!
On the policy front, I was honoured to have the opportunity to speak to a number of different audiences (ranging from teaching and school board members to newly elected provincial politicians to community members, local business owners and Alberta Parks) last year on the importance and challenges of rural development and sustainability, and to see that there is interest, engagement and concern about rural people, rural communities and the future of both. This year is already shaping up to be a busy year, with new collaborations focused on water in rural municipalities, watershed governance in the Canadian north, and ongoing partnerships looking at economic development, continuing care, youth retention, aging, sustainability planning and policy, and the health and well-being of rural populations. There are also new and recurring events to look forward to - the RAIL Commons will take place again in the fall of 2016, and there are plans for other events linking water, Aboriginal communities and rural communities across Western Canada. Please check our newsletter, website and facebook page for details on these events, and other opportunities, as the year progresses.
Wishing you all health, happiness and prosperity in 2016.
Lars K. Hallstrom, PhD
Director, Alberta Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities