Sky-rocketing cottage prices are hot news across Canada. Survey after survey predicts this sellers' market will continue through 2005 and beyond. Yet, in the midst of double-digit increases in the value of vacation real estate, all is not well outside Canada's urban areas.

When you've found your dream cottage or a spectacular waterfront vacation home, investigate what's happening beyond the property boundaries to be aware which services are, or are not available to support your new second home.

Public transportation may be nonexistent. Water treatment and sewage treatment capacity may be threatened by seasonal population pressures. Rural tax bases may not support infrastructure upgrades. Hydro, telephone and policing services may be inadequate. Finding a family doctor may be all but impossible and the nearest emergency room, which may be kilometers away, may not operate 24/7.

Canada's transformation to an urban society has not been a smooth one for those living the country life in rural and Northern Canada. Struggling with many of the environmental, social and political challenges faced in developed areas, rural communities find these problems compounded by low permanent populations, less money, fewer services and less political clout.

In an effort to build stronger, sustainable rural communities, the federal government has developed a coordinated non-urban policy. The Canadian Rural Partnership, a federal initiative charged with finding solutions to rural challenges, consists of representatives from 32 federal departments and agencies. The Rural Secretariat, within Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, provides the overall leadership and coordination for this cross-government approach. Find out what's happening in your chosen area.

The recently-formed National Rural Research Network, designed to support good local decisions, will receive $250,000 over three years from the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF). Although the government promotes a belief "that vibrant communities and a sustainable resource base are the foundations for a strong rural Canada," rural and recreational property owners have a vested interest in ensuring the rhetoric becomes reality.

Sometimes there is a gap between what's being promoted and what has actually been implemented. For example, the high-profile federal initiative to provide high-speed Internet access to remote communities gradually slipped off the political agenda after 2001. The projected broadband networks linking rural and remote areas across Canada by 2004 didn't materialize as planned although some areas have seen initial progress. The current federal political turmoil may again delay the recently-announced revitalization of interest in extending high-speed access to rural and remote areas. Many rural businesses, communities, and residents continue to be at a disadvantage.

The needs of permanent residents may not spur governments on as quickly as demands from the vocal and well-off Canadians, accustomed to easy Internet access, who flock to recreational areas each summer. Locations that support summer and winter vacation populations may see even faster connectivity improvements.

Seasonal owners want connectivity to enable them to telecommute and extend cottage visits, or take early retirement. Without Internet access equivalent to that in urbanized areas, rural and remote residents lose out on everything from healthcare to employment. High-speed access is essential to telemedicine, distance education, e-commerce, and tourism -- a vital economic driver for rural areas.

Government programs are not a panacea. They usually require applicants to obtain a percentage of their funding from municipal governments, which may not have the means to contribute. Many rural areas are unincorporated so they don't qualify for funding. How is your chosen community managing to balance the overwhelming demands of the summer population boom with the ongoing needs of isolated winter residents?

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