Community vision starts now

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Watching consultants tell County councillors what they should do with their paramedic service over the next 10 years was an eye-opener last week.

I knew the County was growing. The 2021 Census pegged that expansion at just under 14 per cent. I also knew that the Highlands was old. However, I didn’t know that it is projected to be the oldest County in Ontario by 2046. We’re well on our way now.

It got me thinking about all aspects of our community as we continue to have more newcomers who are getting older. Has anyone planned for that over the next 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years and beyond?

There is a lot of talk, but not much action. For example, there have been copious discussions about housing, but very few shovels in the ground. There has been discussion about public transportation, but as recently as this month, it’s been nixed. There is endless chatter about worker shortages but nothing concrete to address that problem.

I started to wonder about other towns and cities. While it is very difficult to find apples to apples comparisons, I had a look at the Elliot Lake Retirement Living website. Let’s start with that very concept, shall we? There is no Haliburton County Retirement Living website.

When the Elliot Lakes uranium mines were slated for closure in 1996, some in the town began to plan for the future and that future was retirement living. Unlike Haliburton County, Elliot Lake was blessed with an abundance of mining homes left by miners. If only we had the housing stock they did and still do. It allows one-bedroom apartments to be rented for as little as $705-a-month up to a three-bedroom house for $1,200-a-month. Imagine.

Let’s look at health care. Elliot Lake has a complete continuum of care, from acute hospital care to assisted living and home care services. They have not only doctors, but surgeons. St. Joseph’s Hospital has 54 beds. They do surgery and deliver babies. They host specialists’ clinics. They even have a portable MRI machine.

The community has an excellent local public transit system. Bus service is provided throughout the city at very reasonable prices. However, to their favour, 95 per cent of Elliot Lake’s residents are within five minutes’ walking distance of a bus stop.

So, Elliot Lake had a community with a problem – its main industry was closing – and found a solution so it would not become a ghost town.
Here in Haliburton County, if we don’t have a vision of a healthy, resilient community in mind, we won’t know how to plan for it.

The first question is, do we want to continue to grow, and to get older, or are we happy with where we are at now? If the answer is stand pat, then we don’t have to trouble ourselves with building oodles of housing stock. Let’s just concentrate on ensuring we have the infrastructure to support the people we have now, and into our decidedly grey future. In which case, the answer is some sort of worker housing.

Then, we can talk about things such as better health care, and maybe even public transit.

If our vision is continued growth, then the planning becomes a whole lot more complicated.

Undeniably, this visioning should have started long before now and time is of the essence. It is imperative we begin now, today, to determine what kind of a community we want to be – and plan accordingly – or be left a skeleton of our former selves.