Time for a serious chat
It is more than 15 years since the Muskoka-Parry Sound Health Unit was broken up and Muskoka was attached to the Simcoe County Health Unit. It was a mistake then and it is a mistake now.
It all started over what was effectively a school-yard fight, a polite way of saying what I really mean. I was mayor of Huntsville at the time and, because of that, also a District councillor. The District was responsible for appointing Muskoka’s members to the board of the Muskoka-Parry Sound Health Unit and I was one of those that got the job.
It was a dysfunctional board from day one. It was presided over by a despotic type from Parry Sound who ruled the roost and had a visible dislike for Muskoka. It was likely because he and other Parry Sound representatives on the board resented the fact that Ernie Eves had included Muskoka in Northern Ontario, allowing them to dip into grants they would not otherwise receive. (A subsequent Liberal government changed that.)
Whatever the origin of the problem was, it was real and made it impossible for Muskoka to get a fair shake on health unit issues and put the medical officer of health of the day between a rock and a hard place. And so there was a bit of a coup, and Gord Adams, who was chair of the District of Muskoka, was appointed as a co-chair of the health unit.
The former chair from Parry Sound wasn’t too happy about that division of power and asked the Province to intervene. And they did. However, instead of addressing the problem, fixing up the mess that was inside, they took the easy way out by separating the two antagonists and attaching Parry Sound to North Bay and Muskoka to Simcoe County. It also gave them an excuse to eliminate one medical officer of health in the province.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we ended up in the mess we have today.
Most people are now aware that as of Monday the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit will move into the Red/Control level of the Province’s COVID-19 response framework, much more restrictive than Muskoka’s COVID-19 statistics justify. Indeed, on our own, we are likely at the green level, the safest in the Province.
Now before I go any further, let me be clear that I am not soft on COVID-19 restrictions. On the whole, I think the Ford Government has done a pretty good job, certainly as well as most other jurisdictions. I do not underestimate the current spread of the virus. I believe that masks are essential in public places and that social distancing is important. I accept that restrictions should apply to areas where the virus spread is not in control or where people are ignoring the protocols put in place by the government.
But Muskoka is not one of those places and further restrictions on our economy and the people who live here can have serious and unnecessary consequences. The problem is in Simcoe County and not here. Let’s look at the statistics.
In Muskoka, since February, there have been 106 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infections and one death. As of this past Friday, there are nine active COVID-19 cases here and no one is hospitalized.
In Simcoe County, 2,478 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed since February. The bulk of these cases were in Barrie and numerous municipalities to the south of Barrie, closer to Toronto. Fifty-three people have died. As of Friday, there are 351 active cases in Simcoe and 15 people are hospitalized.
Based on these statistics, for purposes of determining the level of risk or spread of the coronavirus, Muskoka should simply not be lumped in with Simcoe County.
Why is that important?
Well, Premier Ford himself has acknowledged that there are three priorities in dealing with this pandemic. The first, of course, is safety: controlling the virus. But protecting the economy and recognizing the effect of the pandemic on people’s mental health is also important.
Placing Muskoka at this level of restriction, when they do not belong, has some serious consequences. Some businesses that have been holding on by the skin of their teeth will be seriously challenged or will inevitably close. Restaurants, for instance, cannot economically survive with just 10 patrons at a time, as the new level of restrictions require. Other businesses will suffer from restrictions that should not apply to Muskoka, quite possibly resulting in layoffs or unemployment. While municipal facilities, at least in Huntsville, will remain open, access will be limited even further than it is now, and some activities will be cancelled.
People will become more isolated, more depressed, and more prone to mental illness. The mayor of Muskoka Lakes, Phil Harding, had it right when he said it would be devastating for Muskoka to have to follow the same COVID-19 protocols as Barrie, Bradford, or Innisfil.
Muskoka people should be rewarded for the manner in which they have controlled the curve of COVID-19 here, not punished. Even Dr. Charles Gardner, the medical officer of health for Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, acknowledges that there is a level of unfairness when he said, “These further restrictions would impact Muskoka, even though they don’t have the same transmission pattern [as Simcoe].”
Dr. Gardner also said, “There is certainly concern in Muskoka about being treated in the same way as Simcoe, even though their transmission patterns are very different. Legally the Province would find it difficult [to separate the two]but I don’t think it would be impossible.”
By definition, if it is not impossible, it is possible. Over to you Norm Miller. Premier Ford has said he will do everything in his power to keep things as open as possible in areas where it is justified. Just look at the statistics. Clearly it is justified in Muskoka. You are his Parliamentary Assistant. His door must be open to you.
Please have a serious chat with him.
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