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What does it mean to be ‘County’?

Steve Campbell

Steve Campbell

The last column, and the two previous election columns, may not seem to have a direct connection. But they do.
As for the election outcome, all of us in rural Ontario will continue to be ‘back-benchers’ at Queen’s Park. The only thing worse than a dictator who removes the County’s right to determine its own future – is a dictator with a ‘mandate’. Make note that the only people who voted for this ‘mandate’ were the ones left in Ontario who hadn’t given up on following the process of democracy. The majority of Ontarians appear to have found the exercise pointless.
In the last column, I talked about how we define ourselves, because our ‘press’ paints us as a hip and jivin’ place, in order to lure our essential tourist trade.
And it’s true. We are a happenin’ place with lots to do, but that’s not all we are. Still, we have not defined ourselves to ourselves.
It’s easy to describe what we’re not. I drove to Toronto last week to deliver more Breakaway magazines, and it gets weirder every year, when I go ‘Downtown’ to Yonge and Edward.
The short version: Drivers are rude, aggressive and run a road like it’s a giant video game. (I can’t blame them – if you own a Ferrari in T.O., weaving in and out of eight lanes of traffic is about the only fun you’re allowed to have.)
My city buddy Ian warns me: “This is not the County! If you stop to wave someone in, you will be rear-ended.”
On Yonge itself, the drivers and the pedestrians alike are all obtuse and oblivious.
I’m not trying to engage in Toronto-bashing – it’s just so many people desperately trying to get where they want to go. It’s small wonder they drive 120 kph on County Road 12 to get to the Sandbanks. We’ve got the only civilized, unclogged roads east of Oshawa! Except for deer, turkey vultures, coons and kids, and turns and hills that city drivers know nothing about, and care even less.

So I came out of there (arrived home at 3 a.m. – over 3 hours in stopped traffic) knowing what we are not. But that’s the negative. So let’s take a shot at the positive – what we are.
We are still, very much, an agricultural area. Farming has changed, and small family farms have mostly (not completely) given way to mega-farms and the industry is now agribusiness on a large scale.
Asparagus, blueberries, apples and strawberries are still big time operations, in season. And yes, the wineries today are part of the County’s cyclical nature. As the Barley Days of the late 1800s boomed and died, and the canning industries of the 1940s and ‘50s brought new prosperity – vineyards are simply a continuation of using County land the way God planned it. And to call a difference between ‘commercial’ wineries versus ‘agricultural’ vineyards is as foolish as saying farmers can grow sweet corn and berries, but they can’t sell them.
We are proud to supply top quality products, but the urbanites don’t care. (The visitors do!) To the city folk, ‘Farmers Feed Families’ means nothing to them. Their food can come from China or Mexico, they don’t care. Food, to them, just magically appears in their supermarkets.
But we care, because it defines us, and that’s what’s important.

As agriculture was our base – right back to the County’s earliest settlers – so too was community. Because survival here – then and now – depends on your neighbours.
This isn’t to say that we all gather and link arms daily and sing ‘Kumbaya’. Far from it.
We are a diverse group of people, with varied interests, different skills and backgrounds. This could be said of Toronto as well, the the County of 1800. We don’t always agree, but we do interact with each other, on many levels, and our sense of community builds from that.
Do we have clashes? Sure we do. Sometimes neighbours and friends butt heads – it’s what we used to call a ‘fence dispute’, whether it involved a fence location or not.
Sadly, fence disputes used to be worked out, or even duked out, over the fence. Now everybody calls their lawyers and councillors and police and demands an OMB hearing. This is not the direction we want to go.

The County has always been something of an enclave. When the 401 passed us by, it took us out of the game as far as large industry was concerned. The wave of economic success that developed Belleville, Napanee and Quinte West (which had to increase the size of its name from ‘Trenton’ to accommodate its extra cash) created a pretty robust business atmosphere.
Frankly, I think we dodged the bullet on that one. It allowed us to be who we are – that thing that is so hard to define, yet is clearly understood by everyone who chooses the County as their home.

Business-wise, small businesses are a mainstay in the County, and we encourage you to shop locally, even if it costs a few extra dimes. There are a number of small manufacturing businesses that are a perfect fit here. I always use Clearwater Design, the kayak people at Northport, as an example of a bustling, well-run, well-marketed employer of skilled local talent. And there are many more like them, some of them so quiet, they’re hard to find unless you need them.
As I mentioned in the last column, (First, Let’s Define Ourselves) young people are finding a place for business in the County. For generations of people like us, who were expected to be career-oriented and money-driven, it’s hard to see this new wave of workers, driven by lifestyle, technology and creativity. This is the next County Gen.

And, finally, let’s look at us demographically. We are largely middle-aged to senior in age. We have many retired people, and some newcomers who retired early. The young people are certainly here, especially those of school age, who are the children of the many families here. They are not in the numbers we saw in the 1960s Baby Boom, but that’s no surprise, due to the previously-mentioned career orientation.
The missing are the ones who do indeed leave the County to make their fortune, and many of them return to buy houses we can no longer afford. They roll easily into the first demographic, and help bolster the tax coffers of the County and, it is hoped, the income of local shops.
So that’s my perception of us, open for discussion. In 1967, we all found a way to express how we were truly Canadian – the same across the country, yet different from region to region.
If we can find a way to express how we are truly County, then we can wrest our lives and our future back into our hands. With or without anyone else.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Mark says:

    I think Kingston practice the 3 T’s quite well. They certainly attract by latest reports the smartest in Canada. They seem to have mixed tourism, industry and a sense of pride in their community, resulting in success and fulfillment.

  2. Olmanonthemtn says:

    An Interesting brief from a 2012 report by the U of T Martin Prosperity Institute on Rural Creative Economies

    Understanding creativity in the rural context: The use of the “Three T’s”The three measures are Talent, Technology and Tolerance, and are often referred to as the ‘3T’s of economic development.’ The 3T’s of economic development is part of a theory that gives primacy to the attraction and retention of a specific type of capital — creative capital. Creative capital differs from human capital by identifying the Creative Class as key to economic growth and its focus on the underlying factors that determine their location decisions (Florida, 2002). In the Creative Economy, brawn and the ability to mass produce goods is subordinate to the innate human capability to generate new ideas, concepts, products and processes. The Creative Class is defined as people in occupations paid to think. Regions that attract and retain this group of workers are best positioned to succeed in the future. The global city hierarchy of the Creative Age will be determined not by access to natural resources, but by how and which are able to attract this class of worker. With the concentration of Talent and the multitude of perspectives that comes with people being able to carve out their own space in a new community (Tolerance), come new technologies and innovations that support continued growth (Technology). Each of the 3T’s plays an important role in the ability of regions to attract the Creative Class. As a result regions should not choose to focus on any one ‘T’; each is necessary but not sufficient for economic growth. In the Creative Age, regions will continue to be judged by their GDP per capita and other traditional measures, but it will be their overall creative output that determines their sustained success.

  3. Paul says:

    Just Imagine that $40k loaned to an Entrepreneur who wants to start a small business building dewhickeys or thingamajigs. Starts small 3 people 3 years later thingamajigs are through the roof and he has 10 employee’s now. Meanwhile Main street is still jammed with tourists and ten more happily employed locals paying taxes and hopefully spending their hard earned cash right here in The County…They would be County Folk and represent what it means to be County.

  4. Wolf Braun says:

    Paul: “Im not talking big industry just places for locals to work”

    I understood that Paul. I don’t disagree with you. Small companies like the Kayak folks up near Northport is a good example.

    Small scale cottage industries can be an alternative for big industries and assuring wealth production. They can involve old as well as advanced technology. This is something that has been around for centuries.

  5. Paul says:

    Im not talking big industry just places for locals to work. Why do people shop in Belleville cause that’s where they work and it easier to stop there and no doubt better bargains then in The County. Tourism will always play a role in Prince Edward Counties economy ALWAYS has but not to the level it does now. All else be damned we want tourists will NOT work. Taxes will rise there’s no way they can’t. $40K for gas tanks at the Marina so boaters can fill up on 10 cent per litre surtaxed gas to recoup that $40k hehehe sorry Wolf I giggled again we must look like fools…

  6. judy kennedy says:

    Personally, I don’t care if I ever see another tourist. However, tourism is here to stay. It would be a lot more bearable with better roads and infrastructure. I recently spent a couple of days in Muskoka where tourism has been a significant part of the landscape for well over a hundred years. It is much more bearable to live there, because of the infrastructure and road system. (with the exception of highway 11–always a nightmare) Why does this county still lag behind in these areas? That’s the real question.

  7. Mark says:

    So as I commented earlier unless tourism creates more development that can be taxed it can be a burden on the infrastructure for the Municipality. I wonder what benefits the Municipality derive from the Sandbanks Provincial Park? Is there a payment in lieu of taxes?

  8. Chris Keen says:

    My omission – the County also has revenue streams from fees, and transfers as well as property taxes.

  9. Marnie says:

    If you want industry you need someone with the chops to bring it here. We had that with Mayor H.J. McFarland and he was greatly under-appreciated for what he achieved in this direction. He took a lot of criticism in his day yet did more for this town than anyone who followed him. Given the number of unsuccessful economic development directors that we have had and the fly-by-night government subsidized industries that passed through the county it is safe to assume that we are not getting new industries any time soon.

  10. Chris Keen says:

    The County’s only source of revenue is property taxes. It collects nothing from tourists except perhaps parking tickets!

    Here are some of the areas a municipality is responsible for (although not every municipality is involved in every area): Airports, Ambulance, Animal Control and By-law Enforcement, Arts and Culture, Child Care, Economic Development, Fire Services, Garbage Collection and Recycling, Electric Utilities, Library Services, Long Term Care and Senior Housing, Maintenance of Local Road Network, Parks and Recreation, Public Transit, Planning New Community Developments and Enhancing Existing Neighbourhoods, Police Services, Property Assessment, Provincial Offences Administration, Public Health, Side Walks, Snow Removal, Social Services, Social Housing, Storm Sewers, Tax Collection, and Water and Sewage.
    Daunting, isn’t it?

    Despite what some dream, we’re not going to attract large-scale industry here. Belleville, Trenton and Kingston, which are actively pursuing this, are having little to no success.

    What we can do is encourage small businesses to start and grow to serve the needs of either tourists or residents – or both; encourage entrepreneurs like those at the PEC Innovation Centre; get our development costs in line with neighbouring municipalities to encourage builders to build houses (which property can be taxed) and encourage people to retire here. If Elliot Lake can do it, surely we can? It might take a decade to achieve, but that’s dealing with the reality of the County today. It won’t solve all our problems, but it won’t hurt either.

  11. Ken Globe says:

    The industrial park in Picton is underused. It’s 25 minutes off the 401, which isn’t too bad. There is a nice new foundation that has been sitting empty in the park for about 3 or 4 years now just collecting weeds. Essroc has an advantage because of the pier where the Metis and Stephen B. Roman make regular stops 10 months of the year.

  12. Wolf Braun says:

    Paul: ” Well Wolf now I have to respond to you. Prince Edward County is running a deficit you oughta know that Wolf thereby tourism as the main revenue generator is UNSUSTAINABLE.”

    Name me a city, town, county, province, state, country in North America that isn’t running a deficit. They are few. That’s not answering why tourism is unsustainable. Without it where would we be? Deeper in debt?

    Paul: “The possible solutions and some won’t like this Raise taxes.”

    Impotence and shrunken stature of our government institutions. Elected officials and bureaucrats are disconnected from the people. Would you pay more in taxes to have better everything?

    Paul: “here comes the bullsheet we’re to far from the 401 corridor. I have a few examples that blow the 401 crap out of the water Cressy Tool and Die, Highline Mushrooms, Cera-met, Essroc..So why not encourage industry Wolf I have an answer and its ironic it will make some folks giggle out loud WELL industry will ruin picturesque Prince Edward County and the tourist won’t come hehehe see I even giggled Wolf bet you did too…”

    I’m not giggling Paul. If you’ve done any traveling to Europe you would find hundreds of thousands of small industries (some not so small) located right in the centre of towns and cities. It can be done. They’re known as “transparent factories”… VW in Dresden is a state of the art factory located in the heart of the city of Dresden, Germany making cars. You can tour the plant and watch your VW being built. You can even help build it. At the end of the tour you can drive away with your new VW. The floors of the plant are made with Canadian maple. The plant uses street car lines to bring in raw materials. North America lacks vision and creativity … everything is dumped into industrial parks. Our elected officials and bureaucrats are dysfunctional.

  13. Paul says:

    Well Wolf now I have to respond to you. Prince Edward County is running a deficit you oughta know that Wolf thereby tourism as the main revenue generator is UNSUSTAINABLE. The possible solutions and some won’t like this Raise taxes they’ve already cut some services road maintenance comes to mind, encourage industry to come, and here comes the bullsheet we’re to far from the 401 corridor. I have a few examples that blow the 401 crap out of the water Cressy Tool and Die, Highline Mushrooms, Cera-met, Essroc..So why not encourage industry Wolf I have an answer and its ironic it will make some folks giggle out loud WELL industry will ruin picturesque Prince Edward County and the tourist won’t come hehehe see I even giggled Wolf bet you did too….

  14. Marnie says:

    Is it impossible to find solutions Sam? If we are going to be a destination maybe council should make it a priority to create more parking spaces. If no one complains it is certain that nothing will change. It’s fine to have high end stores on Main Street but when Main Street becomes little more than a collection of expensive boutiques it does not point to long term sustainability. People in lower income brackets still need everyday items at reasonable prices and if they are not buying them here they are certainly shopping out of town. How is that helping the local economy? We need to recognize that it is a problem and do what we can to encourage more small businesses selling affordable merchandise. Getting a handle on the parking problem would be a start towards making it more inviting for local residents to shop in Picton.

    Rich people are nothing new in the county. Believe it or not we had some before the recent influx of newcomers. No one envies them their money or their success. It is well deserved. But the county and what it has to offer should be for everyone not just the privileged people and the tourists.

    Given the way our hospital services have been slashed how long will it be before a lot of older Torontonians think twice about retiring in a community where they will be forced to drive to Belleville or Kingston for health care? How long before we find that no young doctors want to locate here? If the wind turbines come, how many who already have made their homes here will move? If the bubble bursts what will keep the county going of there are very few stores selling essential goods? If this day ever comes there will be lots of parking on Main Street.

  15. Wolf Braun says:

    Paul: “Council needs to stop catering to the tourist industry and figure out a way to bring tax revenue in because it is not sustainable with tourism as the main generator.”

    Why is it not sustainable?

    What suggestions would you give to our elected officials to bring in additional tax revenue?

  16. Sam says:


    Again, I agree with your comments. We are all paying taxes and I am not happy with how they are being spent. I wasn’t suggesting that we should not complain about how our limited resources are being depleted (wasted). I too think that County Council should concentrate on things like roads and infrastructure and not be spending our money subsidizing the tourist industry.

    The complaints that I was questioning were things like complaining that there is too much traffic, too many people visiting Picton in the summer, and people with money moving here and buying expensive things in the local shops. I was asking the complainers how they would solve these issues, but I don’t think they are solvable (certainly no solutions were offered).

    By virtue of PEC’s assets (the provincial parks, and now the wineries) people will continue to visit our island. It has been this way for decades.

    Go ahead and complain, but it is much more effective if you are complaining about things that can be fixed. It is even better if you offer suggestions with the complaints.

  17. Paul says:

    I tried to get my comments in early because I knew the conversation would degrade to name calling and insults. AND It did…

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