In a curious twist of fate, I stumbled across a small Ontario town called Lower Shebawnigan. Anybody heard of it? Let’s have a show of hands. Wait a minute, I’m in print, so I can’t see your hands, but I’m assuming that no hands popped into the air.
This is a place that no-one has heard of, and no-one cares about. Occasionally, people visit there, and they quite like it. But in the great scheme of things, they’re kind of a wasteland of a town.
They get no attention from the provincial government, because who needs rural Ontario wasteland votes?
When Queen’s Park looks at them – since they consider everything outside of Metro Toronto to be the ‘the rest of Ontario’ – they assume Lower Shebawnigan has subways and sophisticated bus transit systems. They have a sense that LS is surrounded by wide open, unused vacant land, just waiting for the government to take it over, if they have a use for it. Or they can sell it to Holiday Inn, for a modest five-storey hotel. Or to any developer who wants to build a suburb, to become a ‘bedroom community’ of nearby Metro Toronto. Or build wind turbines to serve city people who have no need to conserve – as rural people do – because they have loads of money, and they don’t know or care where the ‘magic power’ comes from.
Lower Sheb does not need a hospital, because people can just take the subway to the nearest hospital-equipped community. Or flag a cab on the street.
Of course, we are Lower Shebawnigan.
The provincial government does not ‘get’ us, because they are unable to see a world outside of the Big Smoke. The County might better be a weird cult of some kind, in the eyes of a city-centric government.
“Hey, there’s land there not doin’ nothing,” they say. “Let’s sell it!”
Wait a minute, there’s endangered species there! “That’s okay! MOE and MNR work for us, and if they like their jobs, screw the endangered species!”
Yes, that’s right. In Ontario we have two sets of laws: One that serves the government and the corporations, and one that governs the common man – those of us in that place no-one cares about, Lower Shebawnigan.
Here’s proof: If I gathered together my battle gear – knives and shotguns – and headed to Ostrander Point right now to kill whip-or-wills and blanding’s turtles, the Ministries would descend on me like a plague. I would be fined heavily, and possibly serve jail time. I don’t think I need to run that example any further … you get the point. Two sets of laws.
The province says: “Hey, why do these people need a hospital, when they can take a cab, or the subway or, at enormous cost-savings, have them airlifted to Kingston using our foolproof helicopter program?”
See us through their eyes, and we might have a better opportunity to fight a government which considers Prince Edward County to be just under the Sahara Desert on their list of priorities.
As a fellow Shebawnigan, I share your pain. As polite, law-abiding Canadians, most of us wait for the next election, in the vain hope that the next government will give a crap about us.
Hasn’t worked so far.
Some people place hope in the New Premier, who openly acknowledges her party must heal the wounds inflicted on rural Ontario. We’ll see. And it had better be soon … the Republic of The County becomes more of a possibility each time the province tightens the screws.
But, like all premiers before her, she will realize where the votes are. And they won’t come from Lower Shebawnigan.
A friend of mine once said: “Steve, you’re under the mistaken impression that rural Ontario has voting power. That might have been true 20 years ago, but not now. The cities now far exceed the rural population … and that’s where the votes are.”
This is sad, but true. The concept of The County breaking away from Ontario is a good one, because we are no longer ‘on the radar’ as far as Toronto’s provincial government is concerned, and we might as well be speaking Spanish, without an interpreter, when we talk back.
It would be much easier if Toronto and the GTA decided to break away from the rest of Ontario, and form a new province which can address the concerns that are uniquely theirs. And they can take their debt with them.
Then we could all breathe a great sigh of relief, and build a new province based on the values we cherish: sense of community, enjoyment of our life and our land, less government control, laws built on common sense – not knee-jerk reactions to horrific criminal activity.
The County is adrift. Like Lower Shebawnigan, we are a voice no-one in power cares about.
We need voices on every front – but we all wonder whether it makes any difference in the Big Machine. My on-and-off friend Dennis Fox wrote a brilliant letter to one of the papers noting that our County Council is letting us down on the Big Issues, such as Ostrander Point.
I understand Council’s position, having been advised by their legal council that this was a no-win situation which would cost big County money. On the other hand, the true test of a Council is when they step up to the plate and set their stance, instead of sitting in the dugout chewing tobacco.
I hear that Council is fielding input on the hospital situation, but isn’t that always the Great Canadian Way? Fielding input does dick-all. It’s just an appeasement gesture. Everyone leaves happy, having vented their angst, and nothing gets done. How about Action?! How about saying what the Quinte West Mayor said: “No!”
Once again, like the IWTs, the matter is turned back to the community to fight for our hospital. And we will. But how about being backed by a Council who says, collectively: “No. This is not acceptable.”
We feel we need to coddle these heartless bean-counters from LHIN and QHC, by saying, “Yes, we realize changes need to be made in the Health Care system,” as all intelligent councillors and health care professionals state.
But this does not reflect the reality of NOW. And it certainly does not create a future that serves The County. County people know, this is simply wrong.
We saw this problem when peak-baby-boomers like me were babies. We saw it again when people ‘from away’ were arriving in droves to choose The County as their retirement home, knowing they would be supported as they aged.
We paid well for proper heath care all of our lives. Trying to fix an alleged $10M shortfall is simply another Monster Broken Promise by the province, which spent our money elsewhere.
And the victims? The people who gave the province our trust.
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