Walkerton – Déjà Vu

Recently some of my Northern region colleagues and I were discussing concerns regarding Doug Ford’s deep cuts to public health. Later as I was driving down the road after the meeting, a particular former politician’s image came to my mind followed by the name – Walkerton.

Even those too young to remember the horrific circumstances involving the contamination with the community’s drinking water by E. coli bacteria will be familiar with the history associated with that community. The contamination was directly responsible for 7 deaths and more than 2300 people becoming severely ill. In his scathing report in 2002, Justice Dennis O’Connor stated that contamination happened as a result of the Conservative Harris Government’s privatization, cutbacks and downloading of provincial responsibilities to municipal level governments. He stated unequivocally that the outbreak occurred because the Ontario Government failed to put in place necessary safeguards and supports after privatizing the water supply.

Ontario is once again being governed by a Conservative Government with Doug Ford at the helm this time. Ford, like Mike Harris, is hell-bent on cutbacks and privatization, no matter what the cost. Ford is cutting Public Health Units throughout the province by billions of dollars, and cutting the number of local units to just 10, down from 35. That includes Public Health Sudbury and Districts which could face a massive funding cut or be eliminated altogether.

Speaking about the cuts to public health, NDP Health Critic France Gélinas said, “Public Health Sudbury and Districts is vital to the health and safety of our families. Infectious disease control, overdose prevention, restaurant inspections and ensuring our drinking water is safe — Sudbury and Districts Public Health deliver all that, and more, and we shouldn’t have to cancel any of those things.”

Many are concerned that this cut will have devastating consequences for families in Northern regions including Sudbury and all of Algoma-Manitoulin. This decision ultimately puts our lives at risk. I cringe as I wonder if, as Yogi Berra said, this is “déjà vu all over again.”

Still thinking of public health and safety, Ford recently announced that Conservatives are cutting the number of ambulance services from 50 down to just 10. Communities across Ontario were blindsided by the government’s surprise decision. Paramedics have said loud and clear that they are worried about Ford’s plan to scrap local service. Paramedics say that the only way they can effectively meet the needs of Ontarians is for them to maintain local control. They say that this kind of centralization could mean that when you call an ambulance, it will have to come from much further away. (The term “further away” takes on a whole new meaning when you are a Northerner.)It could mean that there are fewer ambulances for already under-served rural and Northern areas. In could mean longer waits in emergency situations, – and we all know that can have dangerous, or even deadly consequences.

There is no question that Doug Ford’s first budget has hit Ontario families pretty hard, but it seems that Northern Ontarians are taking several extra whacks again which will make life even harder for us here in Algoma-Manitoulin. Our health, safety and access to basic services in the North should not be lesser.

As I’ve said before, Ford’s first budget attacked areas such as education, health care, community and social services and other public services that Northern families greatly depend on. Now it seems that Doug Ford is cutting funding for the Ontario Library Service-North by 50 per cent. His plan will see funding cut in half for the Ontario Library Service-North. By doing this Ford is cutting a vital service for our libraries to work together as one unit providing excellent service to Northern Ontarians.

Times have changed. Libraries are not just rows of bookshelves. They are hubs where we can access technology, the internet and other essential services. Anyone wanting to search for a job or even apply for a position needs access to the internet. And if they don’t have a job, chances are they won’t be able to afford internet in their home. People use library technology to access e-learning to improve their employment and education opportunities and access social benefits online. Library staff provide instruction and training free of charge for individuals who are not familiar with the equipment.

He’s making it harder for libraries to help students who need a place to study, learn and access resources — including technology — they may not have at home. Don’t forget that soon the Government of Ontario is going to make earning four high school courses through e-learning at home mandatory. But what about those students who live in areas that don’t have internet service or homes where computers and the internet are not affordable? Where will they turn to gain access to such opportunities?

Doug Ford doesn’t care about how his cuts affect our communities. He is obsessed with his downtown Toronto schema. Even as a city councillor, Ford vowed to close the smallest library in his own ward “in a heartbeat.” Even back then Ford brazenly declared, “Why do we need another little library in the middle of nowhere that no one uses?” It doesn’t seem that his views on libraries or understanding of the North have improved over the years.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected]or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.

Mike Mantha