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Us and Them and Us and Us

Steve Campbell

There was a day when township councillors solved the concerns of their residents. They got complaints. Lots of them. Dogs barking? Councillors say to the offender: “Stop your dogs from barking.” Problem continues, Council says: “Shut up your dogs or we will shoot them.”
This is an imagined situation, but it was pretty much how the County was run when I was a teen. Problem? Fix it. Farm property asking for a severance for their kid to build a home, and eventually take over the farm? Done.
In short, back then life was simple. You knew a guy who knew a guy. That was as important then as it is now. Here in the County, we still operate that way. But the rest has changed.

The Tear Down
Amalgamation. Great idea from the political brains of people who like to grab their dustbusters, and herd everybody into one pile they can easily sweep up. Let’s put us into packages, which will substantially cut down on bookwork.
I hated Mike Harris, but I saw the scheme behind his plan: Remove township councils; endorse overseeing bodies (like County Council) which were totally under the thumb of the provincial government. Well done. Not sure that works for us, but I admire his expertise in dismantling ugly but efficient township councillors preventing them from doing what they do: Serving their people. Can’t have that.
Jumping out of my ‘Old School’ skin, amalgamation was not expected, or wanted, but was inevitable, in a world in which “Let’s bunch everything together and we will all be stronger” was the theme. Personally, I feel we were already together and strong. To me, if it works, don’t change it. But that’s just me.
I don’t feel better as we move forward. I feel loss.

Us and Them
Unlike the Old Days, we have new players in the game. Let me set this up for you:
We used to talk to our councillors, from the ground up. We still do to a certain extent. But our relationship with Council has changed. Now we hear what they are doing, and we ponder that. And we come up with a ‘decision’ about whether Council is right or wrong.
This generates groups of people who fall into ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ categories. This is not the way it used to be.
We challenge Council to solve our problems. They propose solutions. In this day and age, Council needs to shout to the community: “Here’s our idea. What do you think?” This is very democratic, but woefully less than productive.
Because it brings out everyone’s concerns. Even if they’re stupid concerns. Sometimes good concerns, if they are remotely constructive in the progress of the decision. But mostly it’s just us against them.
This is why, in the requisite ‘presentation to the community’ of a possible project, everyone in the room knows it’s a sales pitch to detail what will be done. Nobody is jotting down notes on the presenter’s amazing input. No consultant is going, “Damn! What a great idea! I wish I’d thought of that!”
I’ve fought Council on a number of issues. Lost some, won some. But basically, Council is not our enemy. We present them with problems – like our housing crisis – and then we decide whether we like the solution.
That’s a little unfair. If a client of mine says: “I want you to do a load of work, and I will decide if I accept it,” that’s a client gone. Not touching a finger to the keyboard. “Trust me to do the job, and do it well, or hit the bricks.” Council does not have this option.

Us vs. Us
This will be hard to hear, but I see what I see. Anything that happens in the County – and I mean anything – will have two sides. Protest groups form before the next sunrise. I get that. It’s our voice, aside from Council’s powerpoint presentation.
Let’s take vaccines, as an example. I got five, the last with the variant because I was going to New Orleans and, though I wander solo, I knew I would be trapped in a plane breathing other people’s air. I survived. Others have some ideas which differ from mine. We don’t fight about it. They have their opinion; I have mine. I’m alive, and that’s all that really matters to me.
One more example: Housing. Council heard the word, and acted. Sadly, the Province stepped in, and who would you want up front to solve a crisis? Not them. I’m sure a memo at Queen’s Park asked: “Is Rural Ontario actually in Ontario? China maybe? Hope it’s not in Syria.”
The point is: Every approach we make will have two sides. Creating accelerated housing. Sounds good. Solves the problem. Chewing up farmlands and encroaching on preserved land? There’s the rub.
The thing is: We are no longer in a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ society. We are a diverse County. We all think in different ways, and that’s what makes us strong. Agree; disagree. That’s a given. There’s no changing the thoughts and opinions of those around you. Not even a chance you may swing them to your point of view.
The problem is: There is no longer a right and wrong. No black and white. Every decision – every decision today – has an upside and a downside. Think about it when you read the news. Every issue brings a ‘On the one hand; and on the other hand’ scenario. Life is not simple anymore.

Moving forward
The problem is not that we disagree. Dealing with hot issues can tear apart friends and families. But the “I’m right, you’re wrong” does not take us where we need to go.
In reality, no major change in ‘our way’ is going to be clean and simple. We need housing. Increased housing means loss of farmland, and possibly an invasion of our protected land. Clearly, the things we are protecting are very close to the heart of our County people. Their voices are being heard.
In this scenario, no-one wins. No expansion, loss of homes. No homes, no workers. No workers, no business. Open the doors to expansion? Loss of land, possibly productive farmland.
And the encroachment, which burns in County hearts. We’ve watched our shoreline disappear, as prime waterfront properties chew up our lake views. Change in the County is inevitable. But no-one here thinks the Province is the proper agent for change. Unless Council is just a puppy of the province, it is best for us to bring this whole issue back home. There are better solutions.
Instead of telling us what is about to be done to us, how about we go back to the Old Days, when the County actually ran the County?
I know this is impossible. But I long for the days when you asked for something, and it was done. Ah! Memories. They may be beautiful …. but yet.

  • Steve Campbell is editor and publisher of County Magazine, and the author of several books, including The County Handbook: How to Survive in Prince Edward County.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Teena says:

    Thank you, Steve. Merry Christmas.

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