By Jenn Watt
Published July 10, 2018
One of the great strengths of the Haliburton area is the ebb and flow of people. Not just those who savour their weekends away from the city, but the retirees, the students and new entrepreneurs who choose to make the Highlands home – full- or part time.
Rural Ontario in general is losing its population base, with significant numbers of young people choosing to make their lives in the cities, but there is also an inflow which is becoming more important as years go on and we see it here in Haliburton County.
This community has a glue that not only keeps people together, but brings new people into the fold. Visitors come up to the Wolf Centre and see that for-sale sign on their way down Kennisis Lake Road. They take a summer class at the college and realize they can’t miss the annual studio tour. They start to dream about working here, living here or retiring here.
Their increased presence builds on the vitality and diversity of the Highlands. They join clubs and donate to important causes. They buy real estate and pay taxes. Some relocate their businesses and add options to our main streets.
But sometimes there are roadblocks.
According to a recent study by the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations, waterfront property owners in eastern Ontario see three main obstacles to working from their second homes: lack of internet/cell access, fewer municipal services, and lack of economic development assistance or professional organizations.
The last two points can be addressed on a local level through continued investment and outreach, but improving cell service is a much bigger ask. One quarter of the area with businesses, homes and major roadways in eastern Ontario cannot access cellular service.
Haliburton County is part of a $213-million proposal by the Eastern Ontario Regional Network to expand cell service and it’s two-thirds of the way there. The new Ontario PC government has committed to follow through with the previous government’s $71 million investment in the project and local municipalities have already signed up for their third. Which leaves the federal government.
In June, EORN announced that MPs from all of the ridings in the region, no matter their political affiliation, have sent letters of support to the government for the project. The letter signed by local MP Jamie Schmale stated an estimated 3,000 jobs would be created with improved cell service.
With this final investment, our area could become much more appealing to those already thinking of staying here more often or permanently.
Giving residents the ability to come and go as they please, rather than based on where they can get cell reception would certainly encourage economic growth and could only enhance what is already an incredible place.