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Who’s going to bell the cat?

Steve Campbell

Over the last few columns, I’ve had comments on our cement highway, the problems with STAs and the lack of accommodations for workers, hence a lack of workers available to support our infrastructure.
By infrastructure, I mean the things that make us tick. Lots of tourists; lots of businesses to greet them. Lots of businesses who can’t handle the load of tourist season, because they can’t hire help. Through our @Home magazine, I engage with contractors, plumbers, electricians et al and they have the same problem: Lots of work on the table, not enough employees to do it.

This is a crisis situation. For years we spent loads of money drawing people to the County to make us a summer ‘destination’, with tons of promotional write-ups and trips by Toronto journalists, who always visited the same upscale places, because I’m sure it was on the newspaper’s tab. This was a huge draw for people with high expectations, who did not see anything the County actually is, nor cared to.
So, we ended up with lots of people with high expectations, and little ability to support them.

To take it a point at a time: The cement/concrete highway. There are lots of people – mostly politicians – going, “Hmmm, yep that’s a problem.” This covers the last 10 years of intense investigation into finding a solution.
That’s because politicians look at numbers, not solutions. “OK, will this be $29 million or $40 million? Wow, that’s a lot of money!” Then they all look at their phones and say, “I have an urgent call from my massage therapist, so can we continue not doing anything for another 10 years?”
I know that’s harsh, but it comes down to: Who’s going to bell the cat? No-one wants to pony up the money to get the job done.
As we know, our enormous span of provincial highways were downloaded to the County in a brilliant attempt to remove a lot of ‘accounts payable’ from the books of the provincial government. A provincial insider confided in me: “Sucks to be you Babe! You’re on your own now!”
County Council was ill-equipped to be booted out of the provincial family, because we were kind of reliant on our weekly allowance from Mommy Queen’s Park, and now had to fend for ourselves.

So now, we inherited a whole pile of expenses, and the freshly ‘amalgamated’ Council – which was intended to reduce the cost of operations – actually increased the costs of operations.
The County, which was once run by groups of township councillors at negligible cost, became a rather unwieldy corporation, with way more on its plate, which made it grow and grow.
I don’t fault this. I see the County crew in action everyday, and they are essential. They may be invisible to most, but they keep things moving everywhere in the County. If you doubt that, spend one day doing their job.

A Place to Stand, A Place you can’t Stay
Council is making inroads into our problem, but let’s go back to how this nightmare happened. In typical Word on the Street fashion, people from Wellington were telling me horror stories of Toronto (absentee) homeowners renting their places for roughly $3,000 a week. One told me a buyer had nine houses, strictly for summer rentals. Clearly, they had no concern about how this would affect the community. Because …
As I said to him, “Who would pay $3,000 for a week in the County?” He said, “Not if you have 12 people to split the bill!” And that was the problem. Wild late-night partying, loud noise, disrespect of property, abuse of restaurant and winery servers. Led by …

I’m sure you have had an encounter this summer with this demon spawn. Every restaurant and winery has. On the surface, when I first saw them grouped together, I was entranced with their beauty. Then I was a little disturbed because I thought, “What makes long-haired blondes who are model-gorgeous in short white skirts, gather together in a sort of upscale gang? Are they genetically connected? Do they all have the same father who is gorgeous and blonde and wears white skirts?”
I was kind of attracted to them, but I got close enough to hear them talk, and realized they not only shared blonde hair, but the same one tiny brain.

Moving on
I’ve been writing about the accommodation situation for a long time. Council is on this, and they know we have a crisis. They are now recognizing the need for tiny houses, and bunkhouses, as a means to housing our working staff. Keep in mind, this is not just waitresses and waiters, but retail staff, and skilled construction and trades people.
So we are headed in the right direction. But. Who’s gonna bell the cat?

Council suggested that developers include affordable housing in their new developments. Developers hated this idea, because they want max money for every build. I get that. Also, the suggested ‘affordable housing’ was in the $350K range, and would not remotely solve the problem I just outlined. “I’m down on my luck, I can only afford $350K on my waitress pay.” Give me a break. Not remotely addressing the problem – the real problem.
Here’s what we need: Not places to buy at the unbelievably low bargain-basement price of $350,000. ­ We need places people can live in – maybe just for a summer, to return next year, or maybe for an apprentice who can work all the year, and learn his trade here in the County.
An ‘affordable’ $350K price does not solve the problem. It is typical for politicians to NOT see the real need in a community: We can’t get workers if workers don’t have a place to live. They need just a place to live, do you get it? Not a place to buy. A place to live. One bedroom, anyplace close to where they want to work.
Council is headed in the right direction, but they’re solving the wrong problems. Thumbs up for controlling uncontrolled short-term accommodation. Thumbs down for not separating the offenders from honest providers of accommodation. Punishing everyone in order to punish the offenders is never a good idea.

Belling the Cat
We talk and we talk. We clearly identify problems. Meetings and meetings. Everyone up there is happy. We are not. Problem is, as I’ve encountered many times over the years, who’s going to pay the bill? All those top-notch people agree totally that there is a problem. Comes time to pay the bill? Nobody wants to take it. The County can’t handle the cost. The province will bounce it from Ministry to useless Ministry. That’s why, so far, we get nothing. We see nothing solid on the alleged ‘direction’ we are taking.
So far everyone is like the piker who goes to the washroom when the dinner bill comes around, and apologizes that he wasn’t there to put one thin dime into the pot. Everyone knows the cost. No-one wants to pay.

  • 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:

    One more time, with feeling. Surely you agree that flashing female breasts at a wine owner in a tasting room, in front of his wife and son, would classify as inappropriate behaviour? Or how about smashing a wine glass near the proprietors pets because they were (ever so politely, with an explanation) refused admittance to wander about their vineyard with their glasses of wine, and then leaving without paying for their tasting in an almighty huff would also fall into this category? (The latter, by the way, was a male very close to retirement age, if not already there!) Ask the servers and owners of their experiences. Sexism is not part of this column, and nor is it only bridal parties (male or female). I suspect if the whole column is reread everyone will find more to be of concern to the residents than a select few who tend to give more of the youth a very bad reputation. No doubt there are many who are very respectful and a delight to serve. It doesn’t take much to put a damper on the whole tourism season. Let’s get off this subject and concern ourselves with the balance of the column, please!

  2. Dennis Fox says:

    I very much disagree with the comments defending the writer and felt that his comments were obviously sexist – he could have mentioned the loud abrasive young men who getting drinking too much at our beaches, and pubs, but he didn’t. Sorry Steve, you are just showing your lack of patience and perspective. Due to old age?

  3. Dan3 says:

    I guess no one was ever young having a good time! Lol

  4. LB says:

    In respect to the practice of “grouping” and “judging” people from afar (tourists, bridal party attendees, people with money from Toronto , people who drive fancy foreign cars and people who come out of the Royal Hotel – did I miss anyone?), it is not a very kind way to go through life.

    Our friends daughter recently visited the County as part of a bridal party. She is smart, very hard working and very accomplished. She said her County visit was “amazing”. Next time she’s in PEC I’ll send her to Steve’s shop and he can tell her what he thinks of her.

    Nah, that’s probably done best from afar.

  5. Dan2 says:

    Well I’m a thumbs down on the direction of the County.
    We are actively encouraged to call on our neighbors, with suspected volitions.
    Parking your camper trailer, on your own property may result in fine.
    Parking in front of your own home, may result in a fine.
    Just visiting a boat launch may result in a loitering fine.
    Newly formed DMO, creates another layer of unproductive bureaucracy.
    Quietly bolstering staff, with new mat tax revenue is duplicitous. Elected officials have a fiduciary responsible to establish tax dollars are spent effectively.

  6. Dan says:

    The bridal/bachelorette parties are a huge problem. Well said Steve.

  7. Teena says:

    One more comment to add and then I’ll let well enough alone, I think. There was nothing at all sexist about this column (by any definition a bachelorette is of the female persuasion) and having finances for accommodation and entertainment in the County is not by any means a sign of intellect. Just look at the last U.S. President, for a start.

  8. Teena says:

    Hah! Sorry Steve – that was meant for Linda Day. However, having agreed with Steve, there is some light to be found. These bachelorettes will grow out of it soon enough and join the rest of us Old Codgers!

  9. Teena says:

    Ahem … sorry to disillusion, Steve. I’ve seen many of these so-called “bachelorette gatherings” here in The County over the years, and Mr. Campbell’s comments are spot-on.

  10. Linda Day says:

    I am disgusted by your bachelorettes comments. These women obviously have multiple brains to be able to afford accommodation and entertainment in the County that solicits them. Very low and sexist of you. Shame on you.

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