Stories of 2020
By Jenn Watt
The last year in the Highlands was marked just as much with what happened outside of the county’s borders as with what happened within them. As we compile some of the news stories of 2019 for our Year in Review, it’s striking how much influence outside forces such as the new provincial government, federal election campaign, and global climate change movement influenced our lives here. Of course, plenty of news also came directly from Haliburtonians.
Here are a few of the bigger stories from the last year:
Highland Wood evacuation: When ice built up on the roof of Highland Wood long-term care home, causing enough leaking to evacuate the building, 28 residents had to be re-homed to care facilities around the county and beyond – some in Lindsay and Orillia. The move was extremely stressful for many, including residents and their family members as well as staff. Through the winter and spring, the evacuation remained a big news story because of the confusion about why the roof wasn’t replaced earlier and what supports should have been made available to the residents and their families. Staffing costs during this time also hit the HHHS budget.
Government changes: Indications that funding from the province could be reduced to municipal governments started 2019 on an uneasy note. As the new government looked to tighten the purse strings and make bureaucracy more svelte, anxieties arose regarding the merger of health units, changes to Ontario Student Assistance Program, reductions in grants in health care and the arts as well as an indication that the province wants municipalities to consider restructuring.
Climate change action: High school student Jurgen Shantz, inspired by Swedish phenomenon Greta Thunberg, led climate change protests in Haliburton throughout the year. Protests began outside the municipal offices, where the teenager along with concerned community members, raised awareness of the climate emergency. Jurgen was later declared one of this year’s Enviro-Heroes by the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust along with Ron Lofthouse, a local beekeeper. The County of Haliburton also hired a new climate change co-ordinator and began work on its climate change plan – though it passed on the opportunity to declare climate change an emergency.
Education job action: News in the last four months has been dominated by the tug of war between various teacher and school-worker unions and the province. On the eve of the federal election, CUPE workers reached an agreement with the province, while the elementary, secondary and Catholic teachers’ unions are still battling it out with the government. One of the biggest sticking points is the teachers’ desire to maintain the status quo, while the provincial negotiators look to reduce costs.