Listen Up! Canada Day provides an opportunity to reflect on what matters in small towns


Hugh Mackenzie Huntsville DopplerSmall Towns Matter.

As I sat down to write today, my mind was blank. (No shots from the cheap seats please!) First, I had just come from a somewhat embarrassing experience with my Granddaughter, Spencer. She is here visiting us this Canada Day weekend, along with her Mom and Dad and baby brother. She presented me with a jig saw puzzle of the alphabet, which she received for her second birthday last week. Clearly marked on the box was, “suitable for age two and up”. I thought this would be a piece of cake, so we dumped the puzzle on the table and got to work.

Not so fast! I spent a good half hour trying to figure the whole thing out and never did. I concluded it was not really for two-year olds, but rather intended to completely frustrate and embarrass grandparents in front of their little Darlings! The good news is that Spencer can’t figure it out either. The bad news is that my daughter-in-law has affectionately pointed out that Grandad couldn’t put together a puzzle intended for a two-year old!

And so I snuck away to my hidey hole to write my column, leaving Grandma to solve the problem with the puzzle. Trying to think of a suitable topic, I scrolled through Facebook and Twitter and was really impressed with the myriad of postings related to Canada Day celebrations. There were hundreds of them and with a few exceptions, they were all about folks in small towns, including Huntsville and Bracebridge, celebrating their love for Canada. Sure there was lots of pomp and ceremony on Parliament Hill and it was fun to watch our Governor General in an impromptu dance with Sophie Trudeau. But it was the excitement of people in smaller places, celebrating with folks they knew, their friends and neighbours that really caught my attention; seeing River Mill Park in its element and even spotting Tony Clement failing miserably and without inhibition, at keeping a hoola hoop in motion on Main Street.

Watching these celebrations really made me think about the importance of smaller communities to the fibre of Canada. It also reminded me of why I have lived here for almost 50 years, even when I had to commute back and forth to Toronto during the time I had my business in the city. There is a life style and a genuine sense of community here in Huntsville and in thousands of other smaller communities in Canada that simply cannot be matched in huge urban municipalities.

I sometimes think however, that small town Canada is slowly slipping away as power and politics are centered more and more on what works for large municipalities. As an example, there are fewer and fewer genuine community newspapers in smaller towns. Oh, in many instances they are still there in name, but as more and more of these are bought up by large urban chains, the culture of traditional community journalism is taking a back seat to head office corporate decisions with a ‘chain’ mentality and little real depth in the communities they serve, other than to provide the minimum amount of local coverage necessary to wrap around the huge bundle of national and provincial flyers from which much of their profit is derived.

Another concern for rural and smaller communities is the prospect of proportional representation that is being seriously considered as a voting option by the Canadian Government. It means that political parties will be represented in Parliament on the basis of how many votes each party receives nationally and not by members who are elected regionally, in constituencies. Members of Parliament will be selected by Party Bosses in the big cities and not by the local electorate. Because of their larger populations, cities will have a huge advantage for national representation. The influence of small town Canada will decline significantly and it will be impossible for communities to hold their representatives accountable.

I doubt that the issue of how we vote is top of mind for most people in communities like Huntsville, Bracebridge and Gravenhurst. But it should be. Change in how we live and what we value, is a serious recent trend, around the world and in Canada too. Sometimes change is good but it is also important to ensure that the baby does not get thrown out with the bath water. In Canada we must insist that small towns and rural communities matter. They are an important part of what our country is all about. I still want to see our locally elected representatives at all levels of government, on our streets, with or without their hoola hoops, celebrating and defending our uniqueness and our small town values.

Surely that is worth standing up for.

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  1. Could not agree more on all your comments, Hugh. Small towns are a vital part of our country and are being left behind as the big cities flex their muscles. Just look at our Ontario government for a perfect example. As far as changing our method of electing a government, the people pushing the change had better be careful what they wish for or they may get it. If they want to see what can happen just look at the UK and Brexit.

  2. Rob Millman on

    Unfortunately, any change in our electoral system will be beyond our ability to affect. It would require a coalition of small municipalities, which is patently impossible. Consider the two-town coalition over the hospital issue, and what happened with the spectre of a Hospital A and a Hospital B.

    One other point worthy of note: Hugh, it is totally unfair of you to denigrate small town newspapers when you are a part-time employee of a very fine one.

    • Hugh Mackenzie on

      Rob: I was referring to the traditional hard copy weekly community newspapers, many of which have been bought up by large corporate chains and have lost much of their local identity. I was not referring to on-line local news sources such as Doppler which is locally owned and operated. Also, for the record, I am not an employee of Doppler, part time or otherwise. Where we do agree is that Doppler is a ‘very fine” on-line news source and I am proud to have played a role in its creation.

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