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Part 1/5 – Privatization of Health Care – The Backgrounder

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 1

April 27, 2011 12:07 PM

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Region: Ontario Topics:

The backgrounder

By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, ON)

 

amy-macpherson-hs-2.jpg  I couldn’t have picked a more complicated beast to wrestle and it’s no wonder we don’t see health care in the headlines very often, but I humbly plead for your patience as I attempt to explain our conundrum. This impacts the Simcoe-Grey riding more than anyone realizes, because our voters may play a large role in deciding the fate of this truly dear, Canadian treasure.

We’re already familiar with challenges to our public health system. Private surgery clinics and medical facilities in British Columbia have admitted to double billing the government and patients (see Cambie Clinic); as well as privately billing convenience fees that allow patients to jump the queue. Up to five provinces (including Ontario) allow this transgression, resulting in a culture of for-profit health care. Although this practice is illegal according to the Health Canada Act, under the Harper government these clinics are not being prosecuted.

In fact, Stephen Harper has taken every opportunity to promote the privatization of health care since his early days with the NCC:


This position was maintained throughout previous elections and includes the 2011 Leaders’ Debate:


That’s the easy part out of the way, but you’ll have to bear with me through the next stage of explanation. As it might not be readily apparent, the following are facts you’ll need to navigate through Part ii.

Dr. Kellie Leitch is our official Simcoe-Grey, Conservative Party of Canada candidate. Her arrival on our scene was also a source of ruffled feathers. The local riding president teed off with the PMO over having Leitch “parachuted” into their meetings. These are not my words; they’re from the party itself. At the time it was all the talk around town, as many were demanding answers for Guergis – and still are.

In an act of solidarity the riding president quit at the onset of elections, as did many others in the local executive. The split doesn’t appear to be amicable, as they went public with their opinions and didn’tmince any words. On a positive note however, this left the association free to re-establish itself with new support at the helm.

This wasn’t the only divisive controversy though. For weeks a saga dragged on between the mayor of Wasaga Beach and Dr. Leitch’s election campaign. On every local radio station the mayor gave interviews. On television and in newsprint the battle continued. It was a he-said, she-said dispute about the legitimacy of candidate endorsements. Leitch defended herself in turn and after a month of bickering, the two camps finally compromised.

The good doctor endured a challenging welcome upon unveiling to locals, but she’s remained steadfastand generated a swelling of support to her credit. Dr. Leitch continues to dominate our front page on consecutive weeks with visits from high profile Conservatives. Senator Hugh Segal attends consistent events; Defense Minister Peter MacKay was the guest of honour last week and former OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino has most recently joined the Simcoe-Grey campaign alumnae.

Needless to say when national personalities frequent the back woods, there’s a ripple effect amongst residents. Waiting in line at the convenience store can lead to chatter. So too can the gas station. The coffee shop, gymnasium, pharmacy, grocery store and dog park are a list of places you can share your two cents worth. Our townsfolk are still debating whether Helena Guergis should have been kicked out of her party and the majority I’ve spoken with are sympathetic to her plight. You could say there’s been a tug-of-war between loyalty and star-power either way.

Now you have the basis of how we came to meet Dr. Kellie Leitch. She is greatly esteemed in her craft and was appointed as Health Canada Advisor on Healthy Children and Youth. In Part 2, I’ll elaborate on the pertinent, professional contributions that tie our local flavour to the title of the story. Thanks again for your patience.

– Part 2

Part 2/5 – Privatization of Health Care – Dr. Who?

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 2

April 27, 2011 12:07 PM

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Region: Ontario Topics:

Dr. Who?  By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.) 

amy-macpherson-hs-2.jpg  To look at the players in this movement to privatize health care, we need to examine Kellie Leitch, our Simcoe-Grey Conservative candidate. Again, these are just the facts that constitute pieces of the puzzle our riding has been fumbling with.

Leitch, a pediatric surgeon, holds numerous professional positions, and I applaud her courage to take on so many projects.  She is a professor at the University of Toronto; regular adviser toHealth Canada; board member of Genome Canada; trustee at Dundee REIT; chair of pediatric surgery at Children’s Hospital of Western Ontario; assistant dean at the University of Western Ontario’s school of medicine and dentistry; pediatric -orthopedic  surgeon at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto; and chair of the UWO business school ‘s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership. She maintains part-time medical practices in at least three different regions.

LeitchDebate_AmyMacPherson.jpg  If only I could squeeze that many hours in my day, I would begin to feel a deeper connection with Wonder Woman. (I borrowed that line from a dear colleague because I could certainly relate.) Clients of community resources must often rely on assistance from elected officials to work out some of their difficulties.  It might involve expediting a birth certificate, advocating grants for a women’s shelter, managing relations with Veterans Affairs or trying to obtain information about income tax.

If you’ve ever tried to call a government office and sat on hold for two hours, you should understand how valuable an MP’s time is. Can Leitch really juggle so many responsibilities at the same time? At the onset of campaigning, she sought additional hospital privileges in our area and promised to run a clinic out of Orillia, Ont., as well. If she made the leap to politics, we could lose the precious services of a doctor.

Throughout the course of our riding debates, however, constituents changed sentiments. The public is a finicky bunch. Once the crowd accepted she would remain engaged in health care delivery, they began to pressure Leitch on her role as parliamentarian. Her response at recent events has changed to say she will now be a full-time MP. Depending on your point of view, some groups would have to be disappointed with her decision. Regrettably, no one can be all things to all people.

As Kirk Whitlock, a newly graduated teacher, says, “I am concerned how a professional with such extensive external demands elsewhere (volunteer, chairperson, dean, director and surgeon) can truly commit to being our full-time MP.”

Prior to Leitch’s bid for office, she advised Health Canada, helping the Conservative government develop their proposed fitness tax credit. It’s unfortunate this benefit won’t be expanded until the deficit is eliminated, but it shows her good relationship with the party.

Sitting on the board of directors at Genome Canada, another of her positions, is no small feat. They’re working on human DNA, genetically modified fish, plants and food. Some locals are particularly curious about this endeavour, and it doesn’t help that their questions have gone unanswered. Kirk told me his “queries have been dismissed and I confess it makes me uncomfortable.”

But it’s Leitch’s position at UWO’s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership that concerns us most, and I’ll address it next.

Photo above: Kellie Leitch at 2011 candidates debate in Collingwood, Ont. (credit: Amy MacPherson)– Part 3

Part 3/5 – Privatization of Health Care – The Know How

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 3

April 27, 2011 12:08 PM

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Region: Ontario Topics:

The know how

By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)

 

amy-macpherson-hs-2.jpg  Leitch’s post at UWO’s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership, an institution that seeks to provide health care professionals with a degree in business health, has seen her become a driving force in translating entrepreneurial pursuits to the realm of health care. In an official white paper she states, “Since the health of a population is directly related to its economic productivity and global competitiveness, then health care delivery must be viewed as an economic engine and not a cost.  The health care sector in Canada is the largest ‘business sector’ in the country, yet few think of it in this way.  More often, health care is seen as an extension of government or public service, and not as a key component of our economy capable of producing greater wealth and prosperity.”

Leitch and her co-authors go on to say the Canadian health care system is adverse to her innovation and requires new policies to accommodate it.  She claims UWO’s health innovation centre was created to “remedy these problems.”  The paper mentions renegotiating health care funding in 2014 and includes quotes from Tony Clement in support of her proposal. It goes on to argue for two-tiered funding that would allow private “financial drivers” into our system, but oddly, Leitch denied these very notions to our local newspaper as recently as yesterday.

The health innovation centre’s plan is to create “living laboratories” of the basic elements of health care: everything from paramedics to the doctor’s office, from the emergency room to the operating room. They especially would like to engage “consumers of health care” in technology. The white paper broaches the subject of health information technology in particular. It mentions expanding e-health into personal health records that patients can access from Microsoft, Google, Facebook or even their smartphones.

When I first heard this suggestion, I found myself quite alarmed. What about safety, privacy, fraud, misdiagnosis and cost to the patient? Overall, I thought it must be a theological argument. That was until Leitch made national headlines with her proposals.

The Financial Post article describes Leitch’s scenario of “a mother waking up to find her baby with an odd-looking rash. In an ideal health care environment, the mother can upload a picture of the rash to a website using her smartphone, be connected to live video conference with a doctor and have the proper ointment prescribed which she can pick up on her way to day care, without ever having to visit a hospital or clinic.”

Residents who’ve read the article have taken issue. Wasaga Beach has many senior citizens who aren’t always comfortable using smartphones. A lot of other residents are unemployed and can’t afford a cellphone or medical apps to receive service.

“Low-income families will not be able to access doctors through smartphone applications.  The Wasaga Beach and surrounding area is already battling with severe unemployment, and many of the clients I work with have a hard time putting food on the table, let alone paying for internet,” says domestic violence worker Kim Stubbington. “I also work with older clients who wouldn’t be comfortable operating a smartphone or talking about their problems in the open.”

Then there are some who wonder how many times that rash could be misdiagnosed or medicine prescribed that may cause an adverse reaction. Would everyone know the difference between flesh eating disease, skin cancer and gout from a smartphone picture? Could it decipher between a sprain and a fracture? Apparently other companies have already seen the dollar signs and created a smartphone plugin that can detect cancer for just $200.

The UWO health sector MBA program that Leitch oversees seeks to cross-train our doctors, nurses and researchers as partners to big pharma and corporations with vested interest. The core curriculum consists of: pharmacoeconomics; intellectual property, licensing and the regulatory environment of health; health care management; financing private health care sector enterprise; managing the political and economic environment; and private health sector strategy.

Considering the names of the courses, I don’t think there’s any denying a private push for health care, and this is making a lot of folks uneasy.  Leitch’s white paper also asserts we should discourage accomplished health professionals from leading our institutions if they haven’t completed her program.  Controversial, indeed.

In Part 4, we’ll add Telus, TD Bank and the University of Toronto to the mix.

Part 5/5 – Privatization of Health Care – When Corporation Meets University

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 5

April 27, 2011 12:10 PM

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Region: Ontario Topics:

When corporation meets university
By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)

amy-macpherson-hs-2.jpg  In changing society’s mindset, it is best to start with schools and educators. This is one of four goals emphasized by Kellie Leitch and the UWO’s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership conference. In a separate presentation by the doctor under the University of Toronto brand, she sheds light on how these plans may impact students here and throughout Ontario.

The presentation lays out definitions of innovation and commercialization. Innovation means to introduce a new idea, device or novelty. Commercialization, according to Leitch, is to “manage a business for profit and to leverage quality for more profit.”

I asked Angela Regnier, executive director of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, about the presentation. She criticized it: “It’s very disappointing to see faculty at the University of Toronto unabashedly engage in profiteering of research. Selling off university research to private enterprise skews the goals of university research, by creating an atmosphere of misconduct and preventing research for the public good. Our faculty and universities should be accountable to the public, not for-profit corporations.”

After a passionate and personable conversation, Regnier provided a report that details student concerns with the commercialization of education and research. It’s titled Public Risk Private Gain, produced by the Canadian Federation of Students, and it’s certainly worth the read. It would appear private enterprise has been a challenge to our higher learning institutions for some time, and they are consistently fending off corporate interference.

So I guess we know where the vote mob stands. The final nod will be up to Simcoe-Grey residents on May 2. The bigger question remains: Do all of us know the choice we’ll be making?

An Election Hangover – The Morning After

CBC News  Politics

Wasaga Beach: An election hangover

May 4, 2011 9:10 AM

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Region: Ontario Topics:

By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)Amy-MacPherson-52.jpg  Simcoe-Grey has handily elected Conservative candidate Kellie Leitch, a pediatric surgeon, with 49 per cent of the vote. Results came in quickly, placing the NDP’s Katy Austin in a distant second and independent Helena Guergis and Liberal Alex Smardenka roughly tied for third. Green Party candidate Jace Metheral was dealt a blow, losing 2,000-plus supporters compared with the election before. The Liberals lost nearly 4,000 votes while the NDP made gains of around 5,000. It was a historic moment for the Orange Crush movement in our riding, as it nearly doubled support and cracked a glass ceiling in Conservative territory.

Although voter turnout was 66 per cent for the riding, it seems Wasaga Beach still has a few bumps to work out itself. Nearly half our polling stations present challenges for people with disabilities, an issue that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Elections Canada volunteers. Central poll supervisor David Trafford says, “Anyone in a wheelchair wouldn’t be able to open the steel doors. And first they have to make it across a gravel parking lot to reach the doors. I intend to include this in my accessibility report.”

amy1-election-night.jpg

Around noon, there weren’t any lineups and plenty of parking was still available. By dinnertime, the flow had increased, but voters continued to be in and out within five minutes. Accessibility may have been an issue, but so too was voter response to attack ads. Resident Billy Burch confessed, “That’s why I didn’t vote!” But he continued to praise Leitch’s medical qualifications and hopes: “She encourages kids’ fitness with ideas like tax incentives to get involved in sports.”

amy2-election-night.jpg

Perhaps adding to voter frustration were the locations of and lack of signage identifying polling stations. One of our polling centres was situated deep within a private, adult gated community that is normally off limits to the public and requires a security code to enter by vehicle. It was meant to serve surrounding neighbourhoods on election day, but there was no indication the public could attend for this special occasion.

amy3-election-night.jpg

So the mood seems mixed following the ballot-box tally. Personal support worker Melanie Lopes was a bit more cynical in her assessment, lamenting, “Hopefully, I get my surgery before health care is taken away!” Small-business owner and stonemason Darren Ellis was disappointed after voting NDP because “everyone else seems to have ego in the way but [Jack Layton’s] transparent.” It will be his first official summer as an entrepreneur, and he’s at odds with how a Conservative agenda will impact his pursuits.

Speaking with those who are happy with developments, we see a boatload of hopes pinned on Leitch’s ability to translate social and health care into politics. Private foster care operator Leslie Listro gave her nod to the local Conservative because “the lack of resources and supports for this community is significant,” and she was impressed with the doctor’s verbal response to her concerns. Candice Labuick adds, “I want to see us reduce more debt and regain stability in our government.” Only time will tell which group hedged their social investment well.

Before I go I’d just like to thank everyone at CBC for this wonderful opportunity to get the grassroots more engaged in the electoral process.  If you’d like to stay up to date with all things Simcoe-Grey and social issues in Ontario, please follow me on Twitter via MsAmyMacPherson.  Cheers to my fellow bloggers and the CBC community for a job well done!

Photo credit: Amy MacPherson.

Gap Between Rich & Poor – A Photo Essay

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Before you vote, a real picture

April 30, 2011 8:50 PM

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Region: Ontario Topics:

Amy-MacPherson-52.jpg  By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)

With the aggrandizement of party leaders and political personalities this election, I have to say we may have let them off the hook regarding the issues themselves.

Essentially, all our cares collaborate to represent one thing: How government translates to the family pocketbook at the end of each week. We have our ideals addressing foreign aid; hopes to find a party that can translate policy into real jobs; forethought to protect our army and additional worry for staples like health care, child care and education.  In the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs however, these are all secondary and dependent upon a family’s ability to carry the burden of fulfilling these goals.

On the frontlines and amongst social service advocates, we’re painfully aware of the gap between rich and poor. We’ve been watching this unfold and don’t need to hear from statistics to endorse our beliefs.  The pictures I’d like to share with you are inspired by the families I help through Wasaga Cares (community resource) and demonstrate their story beyond any thousand words I could choose.

The only context I’d like to offer is that Wasaga Beach doesn’t offer much in the way of affordable housing.  Our working poor live in little boxes and many are forced to take up residence in cottages throughout the winter.  The lowest rent for any of the properties I’ve photographed is $650 per month, which is well above the maximum income for a single person on welfare.  To compound their woes, we have a 0.9 per cent rental vacancy rate in our area and 25 per cent of our population is now surviving on the food bank.

And then, there’s the middle class, which should be better insulated better from the recession. Their homes have appeared for sale in pairs as neighbours come to terms with financial hardship.  When we speak about the gap between rich and poor, this is exactly the group we’re talking about – although 7,000 sq. ft. mansions are abandoned just the same. What you won’t see in the photographs are rows and rows of election signs.  There may be one or two noting property forfeiture, but not anyone praising a politician.

The Lewis family is one group who’s spent the past few years living in motel.  Mike counts his blessings saying, “I’m just lucky to have a position that helps me pay the rent.”  He’s the property manager for Bay Breezes and estimates fifteen families live there permanently.  Remaining units are rented out to passersby and tourists.

MikeLewis_AmyMacPherson-300.jpg
Mike Lewis, property manager of the Bay Breezes Motel in Wasaga Beach, Ont. Mike is photographed with his children, his children Mariah, left, and Ethan. (Amy MacPherson)
Despite the absence of a playground, his children Mariah, 9, and Ethan, 7, entertain themselves in the parking lot.  At the sole low-income housing complex across town, you’ll see what those kids get for play equipment.  And let us not forget that current government direction has turned a great deal of families away from bricks and onto thatch.  If this doesn’t tell us tax cuts aren’t working, I don’t know what will.

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Federal Election 2011: Sparks Fly At Simcoe-Grey Debate

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Sparks Fly At Simcoe-Grey Debate

April 23, 2011 3:21 PM

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Region: Ontario Topics:

Amy-MacPherson-52.jpg  By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)

It was standing room only – as far back as the foyer, where the late crowd could only listen by loudspeaker.  Electricity could be felt amongst the candidates, so tangible even a light exploded!  The audience was a tad unruly, although entertaining with their hoots, hollers and odd heckle for good measure.  Simcoe-Grey [voters] are vocal participants in their politics.

Instead of characterizing and paraphrasing, I’d like to share some of the more pointed moments with video.  It helps that we have a supply of political Hollywood in our riding, but I think the mood and personalities all do a wonderful job of speaking for themselves.

Conservative (CPC) candidate Kellie Leitch tested constituents with the party line on coalition governments and took a dig at her opponent, Helena Guergis (Independent Conservative) about who was the real deal.  The audience offers its opinion on negative attacks in our debates, though.

Helena Guergis, embattled by bitter and false attacks on her reputation, was admirably poised in her response about mistakes and forgiveness.

The night included a hotbed of issues, including abortion and women’s rights.  Jace Metheral of the Green Party was charming and witty, surely winning best quote of the night.  When questioned on age and experience he offered the he was “only 22 and had the least time to be corrupted”!  Everyone laughed heartily, but when confronted on the topic of pro choice his answer seemed to waiver.

The recession impacted the Georgian Bay area so severely that we lost a vast majority of all factory work, never to be replaced. This led to questions regarding the different party strategies to help struggling families.  Responses were wide ranging and in some cases went beyond the party line.

Liberal Alex Smardenka believes the Competition Bureau should play a great role in alleviating the family burden:

NDP candidate Katy Austin believes the solution involves caps on credit card interest and chastises Smardenka for comparing family struggle to the cost of golf magazines:

Conservative Kellie Leitch wasn’t shy on using the family to invoke the coalition argument again.  Still the audience remained unmoved.

I was perplexed there were no questions asked about poverty or affordable housing.  Instead there seemed to be much ado regarding illegal immigrants for some reason.  Independent Conservative Helena Guergis melded immigration with bringing seniors back into the workforce.

Jace Metheral of the Green Party, used the issue as a segue into affordable housing by contrast.  He was the only candidate to broach the idea of a national housing strategy.

The NDP’s Katy Austin was also alone in mentioning the word poverty, sadly.  She bravely addressed the gap between rich and poor, challenging the strategy of corporate tax cuts.  With emphatic quotes from both Jesus and Robin Hood, Ms. Austin managed to solicit a joyous round of applause.

The event started out with a big bang and as you can see there was a regular exchange of mortar for the duration.  You’re welcome to visit thisYouTube channel to view the full menu of Simcoe-Grey debate clips, but please be forewarned the audience felt like this by the finale:

The Art of Promising an Un-promise

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: The art of promising an un-promise

April 15, 2011 5:55 PM

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Amy-MacPherson-52.jpg  By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ontario)

Like countless others I tuned into the English Leaders’ Debate and managed to be one of the four million who absorbed the performance from beginning to end.  I choose the word “performance” carefully in that lines were for repetition, shoulders squared for the correct camera, and hand movements choreographed as if conducting the words that followed.

All cynicism aside, I think it would have been worth the ticket price had they changed the event to a “Leaders Debate on Ice.” Just imagine the improv we might have seen if they were handed skates and a hockey stick.

Social media, on the other hand, was forthcoming with opinion and – as expected – the airwaves were vibrantly a-Twitter. I soon found I was not alone in my reluctance to embrace the event. Few watchers enjoyed the constant finger wagging or how very few of the questions were actually being answered. A query about immigrants was quickly flipped by Stephen Harper to suggest Quebec was somehow separating. If that didn’t make any sense then neither did Duceppe’s response that Harper signed a coalition in 2004. In any event, six million viewers and the overwhelming majority turned the channel for some reason.

Those who remained were treated to a very special lesson in the art of promising an un-promise. I have never seen a campaign based on programs that might start five and ten years down the road, but that’s the platform the Conservatives were offering. We would have another election before then and even longtime supporters have been wondering who this mandate benefits.

In Simcoe-Grey riding we have numerous small business owners, especially geared to cottage country. I spoke with Tim Wardell of Wasaga Beach, Ont., who has a shop in town. Traditionally he has always identified with right wing ideologies, but after watching the leaders’ debate he’s decided to change his vote. Here’s what he had to say:

The Conservative Party is offering tax breaks for the middle class, but only after the deficit is paid. They’re offering art credits and fitness credits, also after the deficit is paid. The only things they’ve budgeted in the next term are jetssubmarine bombsprisons, Quebec’s HST subsidy, andcorporate tax cuts. Harper has been very clear about where our money is going, except he uses a certain way of describing it: tax cuts!

It’s a very catchy phrase, but if you try to say it too many times you’ll stumble on the words before long. The biggest problem with this picture is these tax cuts are for corporations and not at all for the family or the little guy. The reality is we have a record deficit and it’s only the richest of the rich who stand to benefit. Anyone else will need a good psychic to peer through the next decade to see what happens.

Along with these long range promises for middle class relief, the Conservatives have spent 10 years into the future. They’ve put us on a rent-to-own plan for purchasing the F-35s, with an unlimited price tag upon completion of contract. Unlimited. We just don’t know. The seller can demand any amount it wants.

So how will families ever get their tax cut if we have to carry this burden for another 10 years? By that time Suzy will be in college and her dreams of ballet school will have fallen by the wayside. George will be 70 instead of 60 and never made it on a treadmill to strengthen his heart.

Corporate tax cuts are proven historically ineffective for job creation. We’re already lower than the U.S. and most G8 countries. In the process we’ll remove billions of dollars from our tax base at a time when baby boomers are starting to rely on health care.

Stephen Harper’s pledge to families relies on a number of different variables: If he is elected two more times, in addition to the current vote; If we have a surplus of money after the F-35s are paid in full; If there are no disasters in the meantime; If our health care system can sustain the pressure of an aging population; If the world recovers from a global recession in our time frame; If we don’t commit to any more wars; If wages match food and energy inflation. Only then will the family unit be considered.

As far as I can see it’s campaigning on the hypothetical, the art of promising an un-promise.

Wasaga Beach: Where Two Worlds Collide

CBC News Politics

 

Wasaga Beach: Where two worlds collide

April 11, 2011 11:42 AM

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Region: Ontario Topics:

By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)

Amy-MacPherson-52.jpg     The world’s longest freshwater beach, one of the most photographed sunsets and water so clear you can see your toes a mile out; where salmon, trout and prehistoric sturgeon still roam and you might wake up to a porcupine or wild turkey in your yard – where are we?
Wasaga Beach of course and the place I call my home.  We’re a beautiful part of the great in-between that accounts for most of Ontario. We enjoy two million visitors a year to help boost small business and the tourism industry, despite the fact Wikipedia still hasn’t updated that we fully recovered from the fire!  It’s truly a family playground every season of the year.  From caving to boating, tanning, fishing, clubbing, snowmobiling and skiing – we’ve got the whole R & R itinerary covered.

Wasaga-Beach-by-Amy-MacPher.jpg      With so many great features to boast, it’s no wonder our population tripled overnight. One day there were 6,000 and they soon became 17,000 in what seemed like the blink of an eye. We were the fastest growing town in all of Ontario and the third fastest in Canada. You’ve got to admit, that deserves some bragging rights. It was a heyday in construction at the very least.

Thousands of houses went up as many of our forests came down. No longer was the drive into town lined by towering pine trees with green puffs on top. They were replaced by sidewalks with people busily riding bicycles along them. Up popped a doggy park, Walmart and the Y.  Goodbye to Wakestock, rock concerts and Blue Light weekend in the trade off.  I guess you could say suburbia had arrived.

Times were good and there were plenty of life sustaining wages. We were surrounded by factory employment in addition to massive infrastructure projects like water, sewer and roads.  We built and they came, that much is true. The families happily signed on to new mortgages and our community transformed beyond the seasonal nature of a tourist town. But once the projects were completed, the price of gas went through the roof and a harsh recession came to bear.  We lost Good Year, Alcoa, Barber Glass, Kaufmann Furniture, a printing press and any contract work that was coming out of Honda. In a nutshell, we lost all gainful employment. Literally. All of it.

Today brings us challenges no one could have foreseen. If you look at the raw data we only have a 48.5% employment rate, meaning the other 51.5% may need to rely on government support of some type. In fact, when we step away from averages and look at each demographic closely, more than half our seniors, disabled, Natives and immigrants are living in poverty. I’m sure these numbers must also reflect that 43% of our population doesn’t have access to a vehicle for employment purposes, nor do we have a transit system to overcome that obstacle.

Altogether there are only 786 jobs in Wasaga Beach itself. The vast majority are seasonal, minimum wage and part time. The portion of our residents who are doing well survive through small business, terribly long commutes or coveted pensions. The rest have begun migrating at excessive rates and over the past few years up to 30% of our working age demographic may have left the area in search of greener pastures. This is contributing to a predominantly senior population and serves as a good example of things to come, as baby boomers transition into retirement.

Less than half our families have kids at home, although one-third of our food bank users are children.  We don’t have any subsidized housing, apartment buildings, homeless shelter or soup kitchen.  For those on public assistance market rent is impossible to afford. We see numerous examples of families who cope by camping in a tent during summer (renting a site) and paying discounted rates to stay in beach cottages for the winter. As soon as the May 1 tourist season begins, they’ll be back outside to accommodate vacation rentals.

Like many other in-betweens our growth was started and came to an abrupt halt.  It’s left us in limbo with so many people and little way for them to be productive. As a result they’re leaving and with them go my grandmother’s hairdresser, auntie’s Red Cross driver, the dog walker, Meals On Wheels lady, aquatic instructor and their favourite coffee barista. In all earnest I say to the leaders, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye or you’ll create rural pockets of senior populations with no one to serve them adequately. A community can’t thrive when it’s missing vital parts – and those parts are regular, hard working families. They’re working any available hours at minimum wage and don’t qualify for tax cuts. Their EI has run out and many are on welfare now. You just can’t share 786 jobs amongst 17,000 people even-handedly.

Politically speaking the Simcoe-Grey riding has voted provincially Conservative for two decades without fail. Federally they’ve waivered between Libs and Cons as the boundaries were renegotiated. The NDP continues with a solid support base and Greens are starting to make a presence. I’m concerned I haven’t heard a word about affordable housing yet, a strategy for sustainable employment, or a candid talk about health and home care. More emphasis is given to whether Helena Guergis got a raw deal from the PM or if Kellie Leitch is his new pet and parachute candidate. More on that another time though – keep reading and cheers!