Wanderings – The forgotten part of the world

When I was a kid growing up near Gananoque, the running joke was: if you want your road paved, run for township council. The perception was if you were on council, your road would be plowed properly in the winter, and be pothole free in the summer.

That perception was unfortunately reinforced by a roads program the year after the election. The roads of all but one member of council were paved or tar-and-chipped. The running joke then was the council member left out was the black sheep of the council. Perceptions stick. And it is not just at local levels.

I’ve lived in Eastern Ontario for most of my life, and the perception has always been that this part of the province is forgotten. Draw a line on the map between Kingston and Ottawa. Everything east of that could fall into the St. Lawrence River and no one in government circles in Toronto would know the difference, except at election time.

Eastern Ontario is where the impact of manufacturing layoffs was hardest felt as international trade agreements, modernization, and globalization gutted small town industry. Eastern Ontario is where replacing a $30/hour paper mill job with a $10/hour call centre job was considered progress for the better part of 20 years.

It’s difficult to not sound dour in a land where the perception – and often reality – is that Toronto gets everything, and everyone else gets to pay for it.

We get a double-whammy living close to the Nation’s Capital. Chronic under-funding by Toronto-based provincial politicians means land ambulance response times suffer as all our ambulances are stuck at Ottawa hospitals. If you are lucky enough to have a family doctor and have lived here less than 20 years, you’re probably driving 45-60 minutes whenever you need an in-person visit.

It is a sad perception when you have to elect the correct MPP from the right party to get provincial spending to trickle into your community.

The only alternative is to live in an Eastern Ontario riding that is considered a “battleground” and ripe for a flip. Government coffers will open in that case at election time to buy votes. But who picks where to live based on the political battlegrounds and machinations of provincial politics?

It is fair to say that the mental gymnastics of determining what politician can bring what largess to a riding or municipality if XYZ party is in power is beyond the interest of most voters, and rightly so. Surely there are reality TV shows or watching paint dry that are more interesting than that.

Still there is the issue of fairness and treating all parts of the province equitably. That doesn’t mean equally like dollar-for-dollar: rather that all the needs are provided for fairly.

Much to the surprise of the provincial brain trust, there are other areas of Ontario besides Toronto. When doling out funding for housing, long-term care, hospitals, roads, or education – all parts should be looked at fairly, regardless of who voters picked in some election sometime ago.

Ottawa politicians are feeling it now too, that they are ignored like the rest of Eastern Ontario. Recent increases in homelessness funding saw the capital receive a pittance of increases compared to the center of the province – despite Ottawa being the second largest city. But it’s not Toronto. Welcome to the club City of Ottawa. The dunce cap is in the corner.

We’re not alone in being ignored though. Northern Ontario is more often ignored than Eastern Ontario.

Ontario is a big province and it is getting bigger. Over 450,000 people moved to this province in the last year. While many moved to Toronto, many did not. All parts of the province, not just Toronto, should be treated fairly. If not, regional disparities will continue to grow.

Originally published in the May 3, 2023 print edition of The Morrisburg Leader.