By Joanne Rodgers, Bruce Peninsula Press
A cross-section of the community from Tobermory to Chesley filled the Rotary Hall in Lion’s Head on February 10 to hear their local politicians discuss the future of the Golden Dawn, rural transportation, affordable housing, local schools and ways to ensure young people can find work and raise families in the area. The meeting was organized by Sharron Colter of the Northern Bruce Peninsula Community Support Advisory Action Committee.
Bill Walker, MPP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, said the provincial government is focused on reducing the budget deficit and streamlining processes/programs to offer better value to all Ontarians; the challenge is balancing the demand for more services while protecting the things that matter.
Alex Ruff, MP for the area, invited the audience to reach out to him to discuss their concerns so he can better represent their interests in Ottawa.
Gloria McNair Baillargeon, a 90-year-old resident of Golden Dawn, asked if local municipal tax dollars could be spent to support the Golden Dawn instead of subsidizing County-owned retirement homes in Wiarton and Walkerton. Walker said the funding models are decades-old and have to change. He indicated that more discussions are needed to understand the challenges to update, renovate and fund the Golden Dawn.
On recruiting and keeping medical personnel and support workers, Walker explained that the province is looking at ways to encourage more doctors to be general practitioners, change the scope of nurse practitioner duties and assist Personal Support Workers.
A PSW, working at the Golden Dawn, said she was seeing an increase in mental health cases, making her job more difficult. Walker responded that a Mental Health and Addictions Division within the Ministry of Health has been created to improve assessment, diagnosis and treatment, and to offer support to people on the front-line.
Walker advised local communities to consider innovative ways to deal with transportation issues, maybe along the line of an Uber model since traditional bus services have not proven to be successful.
Walker stated that to encourage more affordable housing, the province is considering changes to home ownership laws to allow co-ownership.
Yvette Roberts of The Meeting Place in Tobermory suggested that seasonal workers, including those being displaced due to the closure of the year-round mobile home section at Happy Hearts Park, could be offered accommodations by residents. In turn, these workers could provide companionship, help with shopping, maintenance around the house and other chores. Walker said this is the type of out-of-box thinking needed in rural communities.
Wendy Perkes of Tobermory asked if North Bruce could receive Northern Designation, based on geography, this area having less in common with the more populous southern Ontario. Walker responded that there was no support in the legislature.
Walker said he is committed to keeping schools in rural communities; and he fully understands the negative ripple-effect a school closure would have on a community.
He visualized a simplified taxation system to encourage businesses to stay in the riding. Encouragement of more workers in skilled trades would enhance the business environment. In turn, more jobs and investment would attract people to stay and work in Ontario.
Ruff saw rural broadband as key to creating viable economies in rural Ontario. With the advances in technology/internet access, many would be able to work from home and would serve to keep whole families in the community.
A health-care provider expressed concern about the readiness of the health services of North Bruce to deal with the coronavirus and about the level of mis-information available. Walker stated that the Ontario Ministry of Health is tracking this situation closely; Ruff and Walker reminded the audience that the governments’ websites should be the primary sources of information on COVID-19.