Letter to the editor: Ontario gov’t blind to rural realities
To the Editor,
I have had the pleasure of living in Toronto and in Haliburton County. When I first came here about 30 years ago, I was struck by some of the inequities between rural and urban education opportunities, access to health care and environmental agencies. The Ontario government’s recent cuts to education, health and the environment have made those inequities even worse.
Let’s start with education. The Ford government has mandated four compulsory e-credits for high school students. E-learning is not suitable for all students as it requires more self-discipline and time management skills than the average high school student possesses. But even more important than that, e-learning requires fast dependable internet service, something that is not guaranteed in a rural setting such as Haliburton County. And if there is no internet or poor internet at home, students will go to the library. Unfortunately, there have been cuts there as well and we are not certain how that will play out in terms of access to library services.
When I lived in Toronto, I never visited the offices of Toronto Public Health. I have made many trips to our local public health unit. I rely on it for testing my water and keeping me informed about local health concerns such as West Nile virus and Lyme Disease. Will we lose our local health unit and have to drive hours away? How can you go from 35 to 10 public health boards without losing a valuable local resource?
And finally, in Toronto and surrounding areas there are a number of conservation authorities that do flood plain mapping and wetland conservation work, including flood management. We don’t have a conservation authority in Haliburton County. In response to the recent flooding in Ontario, the government is putting together a task force to look at ways of improving the province’s resilience to flooding. Wetlands provide a critical function in regard to flood attenuation through the absorption of water during spring run-off, the slowing of surface waters through wetland vegetation, and the redirection of surface water into the water table.
We are blessed with a large number of wetlands in Haliburton County, but most have not been mapped or evaluated for the important services they provide with regard to flood attenuation and water quality. The highest and best protection for a wetland is to be designated as a provincially significant wetland (PSW). We have seven PSWs in Haliburton, but we have at least 100 more that are candidates for such a designation. The province funds conservation authorities. It is now time for them to fund rural areas without conservation authorities if they are serious about better planning and reducing the impacts of flooding. Municipalities and not-for-profit environmental groups need funding to help protect communities from the devastating impacts of flooding.
I expect the government to work for all of its citizens equally. There should be no divide between rural and urban opportunities for excellence in education, good health care and environmental funding.