By Stephen Petrick
Candidates should face tough questions about child poverty, long-term care, climate change
There’s plenty for Haliburton County voters to consider as they go to the polls on or before Thursday, June 2 to vote for a new provincial government and a local Member of Provincial Parliament.
Public health care and education issues always dominate discussions during provincial elections, which is understandable given that these two huge portfolios are provincial responsibilities.
But there are other issues of concern that are generating discussion within local municipal offices and businesses. Here, a few issues that voters should keep in mind and perhaps ask local candidates to weigh in on as they decide who to vote for:
How can Haliburton’s child poverty rate be lowered?
Roughly one in four children living in Haliburton County are living below the poverty line. This alarming statistic was unveiled to Haliburton County council in January, through a report by StrategyCorp, a firm hired to gather statistics to support the county’s new community safety and well-being plan. It said that the child poverty rate was 23 per cent and the overall poverty rate was 17.2 per cent. (The provincial average child poverty rate was 17.6 per cent in 2019, according to the Canadian Centre of Policy alternatives.). The report also said that, “in 2019, 13.5 per cent of households in Haliburton County and Kawartha Lakes faced food access challenges (e.g. not having enough to eat, limited access to quality foods, or worries about having enough to eat) due to financial challenges.”
This begs the question to candidates on how the poverty rate can be lowered and how comfortable should Ontarians be with allowing child poverty to continue. These high rates are nothing new. Way back in 1989 all parties in the federal House of Commons pledged to end child poverty by 2000. Yet, according to census data, in 2016, 18.4 per cent of children in Ontario were living in poverty.
Education must be accessible, right?
A well-known pathway to reducing poverty is providing people with better access to education, but that remains an elusive goal in rural ridings, which don’t have a large, local post-secondary institution that locals can easily access. The same StrategyCorp report noted that the rate of Haliburton County residents aged 25 to 64 with post-secondary education is just 55.6 per cent, down from the provincial rate of 67 per cent.
There are a myriad of solutions to this problem, which the provincial government has control over. It could be expanding programs at Fleming College’s satellite campus in Haliburton, more student loans or distance learning options. It could also involve more transportation programs, which would allow Haliburton County residents without vehicles to get to nearby post-secondary institutions or trade schools. A recent Haliburton County-supported transportation program to get people to access trades training programs at SIRCH has been hailed as a step in the right direction, but more can be done.
How can the province help municipalities deal with climate change?
Haliburton County has been remarkably progressive in its addressing of climate change, knowing it’s a rural cottage country that stands to lose its identity if it doesn’t adapt to new weather patterns.
It recently adopted a corporate climate change adaptation plan, which calls for re-imagining how the county builds infrastructure and recreational programs, among other areas. For instance, it recommends municipal projects now be built with “green infrastructure” such as green roofs or rain gardens.
Yet paying for infrastructure is always a daunting challenge for municipalities, which often need help from the provincial tax base.
Haliburton County voters would be wise to ask political parties how they intend to reward municipalities, like those that make up Haliburton County, who have shown great leadership in accepting – and not denying – that climate change is here to stay.
How can public health catch up?
This last provincial election term was, obviously, dominated by pandemic response. Public health leaders and workers did a remarkable job at putting together urgent programs, like the vaccine program, to save lives.
But it came at a cost, as many public health workers were deployed from their normal areas of work to get the vaccines out. A late 2021 letter from the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District health unit to the government, indicated that 2,400 students missed school-based immunization programs during the pandemic and 5,300 local children were overdue for oral health screenings.
The public health unit wants to catch up on offering important programs but must find a way to do so after maxing out budgets in 2020 and 2021. Voters should think about which party can best find a way to support and financially back this important institution.
Are we doing everything we can for elderly residents in long-term care?
Premier Doug Ford’s biggest crisis during his first term in office may have come when a report by the Canadian Forces was delivered to him in the spring of 2020, after the military was called in to work at five long-term care homes that were hit hard by COVID-19. The report painted a picture of understaffed homes where the health of elderly residents was severely neglected; and it signalled calls for new standards that should govern how all long-term homes operate; even those that are run privately.
Locally, the Haliburton-City of Kawartha Lakes Long-Term Care Coalition [now the Haliburton Highlands LTC Coalition] was born to advocate for higher standards and argue against privatization.
The issue hits close to home, given that Pinecrest Nursing Home, in nearby Bobcaygeon – which is in the riding of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock – was considered one of the epicentres of the crisis, as 28 residents, plus a spouse of a resident, died as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.
The tragic nature of this story means that no voter should be afraid to ask a demanding question to any political candidate about whether the province is doing all it can for our most elderly citizens.
Same goes for any of the four other mentioned issues – or issues that impact your family or livelihood. They are tough issues, which demand tough questions and there are no easy answers. But candidates should be able to address them if they are to earn your vote.