Stemming the brain drain
There were few, if any, bombshells dropped at a special meeting of North Glengarry council last Tuesday evening in Alexandria. Council had gathered to hear Ian Duff, a representative of the economic development consulting firm, McSweeney, discuss the results of a survey it had conducted with more than 450 township residents.
Almost everyone who participated in the survey had great things to say about North Glengarry. They like the township’s laid-back and affordable lifestyle, the bilingual climate, and the community assets like parks, recreation centres and churches. They also appreciate the wide variety of merchants and restaurants, not to mention the hospital, schools, and nearby access to VIA Rail.
Predictably, however, those surveyed identified the same old situations that North Glengarry has been battling for years. Topping the list, according to Mr. Duff, was that Alexandria’s lagoons are at full capacity -- a problem that needs to be rectified if the town is to see any growth.
Further vexation is caused by our lacklustre and often unreliable access to high-speed Internet. In fact, Mr. Duff said that might even be more problematic than the lagoons.
“The more we probed, the more it became the number one priority,” he said. “If you don’t have high-speed Internet, you won’t get people to move here.”
Mayor Jamie MacDonald, who is also Warden of the United Counties of SDG, nipped that in the bud by stressing that improving access to the wide world web is a big priority and that the Eastern Ontario Regional Network is projecting 90 per cent coverage across the region by 2022.
Rounding out the top three issues was – big surprise – roads. Everyone has a horror story to tell about the decrepit state of their roads. A pothole
here or too many cracks there. At the same time, residents are concerned that their taxes are too high. While this might seem a contradiction – you need money to pay for road repairs and that money comes from taxes, after all – everything seemed to boil down to the fact that North Glengarry’s population is shrinking, which means that the tax burden has to be shared more heavily among those of us who still live here.
Indeed, Mr. Duff said that the township isn’t losing a lot of people, it’s just that those people are getting older. The average age here is now 46 as young people continue to do what young people do in small towns everywhere – they leave.
Deputy-Mayor Carma Williams expressed some frustration over this, saying, “I keep hearing that North Glengarry is losing young people but no one ever has an idea how to solve that.”
Well there were some potential solutions that were bandied about at the meeting. One of them was tracking young people. That doesn’t mean stalking them; it means forming a relation with them. Get to know them while they’re young, while they’re still here. Keep reminding them what an awesome place North Glengarry is.
Another solution is for smarter marketing. The same house in North Glengarry that sells for $300,000 might sell for a cool million in Toronto, but it’s important to remember the Toronto mindset when urging Torontonians to move here. They may be conditioned to think that a $300K house is a dump; North Glengarry may need to remind them that the house is priced so low because of different economic realities, not because the house doesn’t have any bathrooms.
Personally speaking, I, at 46, am the age of the average Glengarrian. I have lived here for more than 1/3 of my life and I like it very much. I am optimistic that some positive change is around the corner. I believe that – just like the Maxville Water Project – the lagoons will soon receive their much vaunted upgrades. At that time, I think we will see some real growth.