Hospitals and Hustings

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A GOOD FIRST STEP

Huntsville Council got it right this past week when they established a Hospital Retention Working Group and appointed a blue ribbon panel of community members to it. The only mystery is why they did it with such little fanfare, that it has barely caught the attention of the media or the public.

The mandate of the Working Group is to demonstrate the rationale for a sustainable,  acute care hospital in Huntsville , including an analysis of potential locations in the community. and to make recommendations to Council on actions the municipality may take to support the  location of a full service acute care hospital in Huntsville.

The motion carefully avoids mentioning a single site hospital as Council has previously passed a motion supporting two acute care hospitals in Muskoka, in spite of Muskoka Algonquin Health Care’s recommendation to the contrary. However, the establishment of this Working Group, recognizing the mandate of the Hospital Site Committee to find a single location in Muskoka, allows Huntsville to prepare for this likely eventuality.

The Working Group is composed of well known members of our community whose combined skills and experience make them uniquely qualified  to prepare and recommend a formidable and compelling proposal for a hospital campus that can, if required, meet acute health care needs for all of Muskoka, East Parry Sound and Algonquin Park. These folks include, Rob Alexander, former CEO of Algonquin Industries, as Chair, former Councillor, MAHC Chair and businessman Sven Miglin as Vice Chair, Lawyer and former Mayor of Lake of Bays, Tom Pinckard, Libby Boucher who is a Chartered Accountant and former Director of Finance for the Town, Dr. David Mathies, former Chief of Staff of MAHC, Huntsville businessman Mike Harrower, Les Keay, who has an extensive background in health care and respected community activist Beth Ward. In my view, we could not ask for a better group of people to protect the interests of Huntsville when it comes to innovative  hospital services in our community.

What is most important now, is that these folks are given the scope and resources they need to successfully complete the task they have been given. The motion did not mention any provision for professional assistance where required, but one must assume this will be forthcoming. The Working Group needs access to whatever tools they require to do their job effectively.

One thing that is surprising to me, is the low key manner in which the Working Group has been appointed.  While no doubt, there was a  lot of behind the scenes action, the motion itself was treated simply as another item on the Council Agenda last week and passed with little debate and almost no media exposure. Contrast this with Bracebridge Council, who, while still supporting a two hospital concept, held a Press Conference to announce that they were prepared to donate land in their municipality to serve all of Muskoka(emphasis added)..That community is therefore very aware, that if push comes to shove, Bracebridge Council is ready to fight for a single site hospital to be built there.

Our community deserves the same assurance and the Hospital Retention Working Committee is a good step in that direction. There is finally a process in place to protect the interests of Huntsville and area if and when it comes to choosing a single site for a hospital in  Muskoka.. This is something worth getting people excited about. There is no need to hide our light under a bushel.

Town Hall

IN THE RED

It was announced at Huntsville Council this week that as of the end of June, the Town is facing a deficit of $310,000. with six months remaining in their fiscal year.  This does not include provision for a guarantee of up to $70,000. for the Ironman race taking place this Fall or any provision for dealing with the $3,000,000. unfunded liability from the G8. Legal expenses are already $35,000. over budget and will no doubt escalate with ongoing legal costs related to Blackbird Boats. Left unchecked, this deficit could result in a whopping tax increase next year.

It would be good to see a Plan from Council as to what expenses they will cut in order to balance the budget by the end of the year. This is a Council that has made a number of spending decisions in their first six months in office and are continuing to do so. Now that they know that they have overspent, would they let us know how they plan to get out of the hole?  Don’t worry, Be happy, is not a strategy. A freeze on discretionary spending, could be!

THE UNIVERSAL CHILD CARE BENEFIT

I have had a number of queries about the Federal Universal Child Care Benefit,  some people believing they will receive less in total, than they did before. Here is what I have learned.

Under this program, all Canadian families will receive $1,920. for each child under 6 and $720. for each child from 6 to 17.  This is cash, not a tax credit. Formerly, the Tax Credit, which has now been merged with the Universal Child Care Benefit, provided non refundable tax relief of up to $338. per child and went only to families who paid federal income tax. That meant that low income families with no taxable income did not benefit from the Child Tax Credit. Under the new plan they will.benefit to the same extent as every Canadian.

The confusion comes I think, because some people believe that the Child Tax Credit provided relief of $2,225. but that was never the case. The maximum credit allowed was 15% of $2,225. which is $338. As well, The Canada Child Tax Benefit has not been changed. Parents who are eligible for this benefit will continue to receive it along with the enhanced Universal Child Care Benefit.

OFF AND RUNNING

Well the Federal Election was called today and I have mixed feelings about it. It will be the longest Writ period since before the airplane was invented. But the fact is that all three major political parties have been in active campaign mode since the end of the Parliamentary session in June. The main difference now the writ is dropped  is that special interest groups such as Unions, etc. cannot buy advertising. to support political parties.

Contrary to the Prime Minister’s opinion as stated today, I do believe there will be some additional cost to the taxpayer as a result of a longer Writ period. The flip side however is that now all political parties will be subject to the same spending and reporting rules and the Government is no longer able to make funding announcements.

I for one, am looking forward to a long and vigorous election campaign. We have been at it for a while and the only difference is that it is now formalized and regulated. All political Parties are well prepared and most acknowledge that this is a critical election that requires our full attention.  What I do not look forward to however, is 70 plus days of a plethora of election signs cluttering our environment. Wouldn’t it be nice if those could be restricted to the last few weeks of the campaign?

The media as well, while griping about the election call, will be frothing at the mouth to get into the fray and will be more than happy to have the extended period. Many years ago, a veteran journalist Val Sears, the father of Robin Sears, a NDP political commentator and a former colleague of mine, was in the Press Gallery when a federal election was called. Val turned to his colleagues and said “Come Gentleman, we have a government to defeat!”  Frankly. I don’t think much has changed. I am reminded of an old cynic who said if the Prime Minister was walking down King Street in Toronto and saw a burning building and rushed in and saved 5 people, but in the process had his clothes burned off, the headline in the paper would likely be, ‘Prime Minister spotted naked on King Street!’  In my view, we have two very effective Opposition Parties. The Media was never intended to be a third one.

There was also an interesting article in the national media this week about Donald Sutherland a renowned actor and a one time son-in-law of former NDP leader Tommy Douglas. Sutherland is an expat and has not lived in Canada for decades. He complained that as an expat, he should be entitled to vote in the upcoming election, in spite of his permanent residency in another country. Much of the media coverage supported his point of view. I couldn’t help but wonder however, if it had been Senator Ted Cruz, a right wing, Tea Party Republican from Texas, who was born in Calgary, was demanding to vote here, whether they would have been quite so enthusiastic!

And so.. the race is on.  Sit back and enjoy the ride!

Hugh Mackenzie

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