It could al­ways be worse

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

On the bright side, we in the Far East of On­tario are ac­cus­tomed to mak­ing do with less.

It could al­ways be worse. When that ax­iom pro­vides so­lace we know that the sit­u­a­tion is not rosy. No­body should be sur­prised that pub­lic ser­vices in East­ern On­tario, of­ten con­sid­ered the for­got­ten re­gion of the province, will be dra­mat­i­cally changed by the wide­spread, yet nec­es­sary, aus­ter­ity mea­sures be­ing in­flicted on us by The Gov­ern­ment For The Peo­ple.

We all re­al­ize that the province is awash in debt, that we get the gov­ern­ment we de­serve and that the gov­ern­ment is sup­ported by the vast ma­jor­ity of On­tar­i­ans.

Thus, we must as­sume that most peo­ple are per­fectly fine with all the “ef­fi­cien­cies” that are be­ing found in our bulky, bloated and costly pub­lic ser­vices. Ev­ery­one saw this com­ing, ev­i­dently. The of­fi­cial line from the ma­jor­ity Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment is that the Tories cam­paigned on chop­ping four cents for ev­ery provin­cial dol­lar spent “and we are ask­ing our part­ners to do the same.” The con­ven­tional re­buke is that if all of the af­fected pub­lic bod­ies were in­deed “part­ners,” the gov­ern­ment might have con­sulted them be­fore mak­ing fund­ing re­duc­tions that were im­ple­mented af­ter their bud­gets had been adopted.

Mon­day, Pre­mier Doug Ford yielded to pres­sure and re­versed this year's cuts to mu­nic­i­pal fund­ing, pro­claim­ing, “We're a gov­ern­ment that lis­tens.”

At the same time, he stressed the re­prieve would be brief, and that re­stric­tions would be im­posed in the fu­ture.

Ob­vi­ously, a four per cent bud­get re­duc­tion will re­quire some ef­fi­cien­cies and belt-tight­en­ing. Costs must be pared while rev­enues must be main­tained or in­creased. And tax­pay­ers will pay the price of ef­fi­cient gov­ern­ment, ei­ther through higher taxes or re­duced ser­vices, or both.

An­other, less ev­i­dent, price will be a loss of any sense of au­ton­omy or dis­tinc­tion. Merg­ers are a pop­u­lar pre­scrip­tion for fi­nan­cial woes. And amal­ga­ma­tions are on the agenda again as the “Big­ger is bet­ter and more cost ef­fec­tive” mantra echoes through the cor­ri­dors of Queen’s Park.

The East­ern On­tario Health Unit, the old­est in the province, will dis­ap­pear once re­struc­tur­ing of pub­lic health is fi­nal­ized.

The EOHU now serves about 200,000 peo­ple in Stor­mon­tDun­das-Glen­garry and Prescott-Rus­sell. It would be swal­lowed by a be­he­moth board that would serve 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple in a ter­ri­tory that would en­com­pass Fron­tenac, La­nark, Leeds and Grenville, Ren­frew, and Kingston.

The EOHU has sounded the alarm, warn­ing that re­struc­tur­ing “will re­duce the ca­pac­ity for pub­lic health to ad­dress the unique chal­lenges of the east­ern coun­ties.”

Fran­co­phones ought to be par­tic­u­larly con­cerned since the EOHU is one of the few in the province to of­fer fully bilin­gual ser­vices. Pro­vi­sion of ser­vices in the langue de Molière will not likely be a pri­or­ity for a new health agency that would be serv­ing a pre­dom­i­nantly an­glo­phone dis­trict. The EOHU also touts its abil­ity to re­spond to lo­cal needs. Iron­i­cally, amal­ga­ma­tion is again be­ing ad­vo­cated as a means to save lo­cal schools.

Area schools must brace themselves for “dis­as­trous con­se­quences” if the On­tario gov­ern­ment pushes through its ed­u­ca­tion re­forms, cau­tions unions rep­re­sent­ing teach­ers and ed­u­ca­tion

work­ers.

“Dec­i­mat­ing cuts to On­tario’s world-class pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem” will be “am­pli­fied lo­cally where ge­og­ra­phy, de­clin­ing en­rol­ment, and ru­ral eco­nomic chal­lenges al­ready place great strain on our ru­ral schools, which are now be­ing asked to do even more with even less,” the unions de­clare. “Dis­as­trous con­se­quences of these cuts will in­clude classes that bal­loon in size and hun­dreds of courses that will no longer be avail­able, severely con­strain­ing stu­dents’ op­tions for plan­ning their path­ways for their fu­tures,” the unions warn.

Mu­nic­i­pal politi­cians continue to of­fer ad­vice to school boards, as the cho­rus for merg­ers gains more voices. North Glen­garry Mayor and Stor­mont-Dun­das-Glen­garry War­den Jamie MacDon­ald is push­ing for a down­siz­ing that would see the four boards in East­ern On­tario melded into one. We have too many ex­penses and too few stu­dents. But any move to merge will face op­po­si­tion from many quar­ters. Ro­man Catholics have been guar­an­teed fund­ing for sep­a­rate schools since 1867; fran­co­phones will continue to de­fend the sys­tems they fought for gen­er­a­tions to achieve.

The case for the sta­tus quo can be eroded with pre­dic­tions such as merg­ers could save $1 bil­lion a year, in ad­di­tion to sal­vaging small ru­ral schools.

Larger class sizes are an­other is­sue. The United Coun­ties of SDG coun­cil has en­dorsed a call by the Com­mu­nity Schools Al­liance to de­fer in­creas­ing the av­er­age class sizes from 22 to 28.

The in­crease in av­er­age class sizes is a “dire threat to the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion” in ru­ral schools, states the al­liance. In small sec­ondary schools in ru­ral and North­ern On­tario, there may not be enough stu­dents to have larger classes. The only so­lu­tion would be to close schools, says the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Schools are a hot topic. This was demon­strated dur­ing the Save Our Schools move­ments in Glen­garry a few years back.

The po­ten­tial loss of schools is a con­cern that is ex­pressed when­ever the fu­ture devel­op­ment of the county is dis­cussed. New­com­ers will steer clear of any com­mu­nity that does not have schools. As ser­vices are un­der­mined on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, a push­back to de­fend the in­ter­ests of ru­ral On­tario must be mounted on all fronts. But we can­not for­get that On­tar­i­ans have voted for a Pre­mier who is not averse to im­pos­ing his will on other elected of­fi­cials and is not big on lis­ten­ing, un­til the po­lit­i­cal heat be­comes un­bear­able. Ev­ery­one agrees that some­thing must be done to right the leaky fis­cal ship. The Tories are liv­ing up to their cam­paign prom­ises, for bet­ter or for worse. On the bright side, since we are ac­cus­tomed to mak­ing do with less, the im­pact will be less dra­matic. Cold com­fort, eh?

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