I am writing this, my first column for Huntsville Doppler, during unprecedented circumstances. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments at all levels are all making exceptional requests of you. And those requests and restrictions are changing rapidly as our medical professionals learn more about how COVID-19 spreads. I can only hope this won’t be out of date by the time you read it.
In the past month, all schools and recreational facilities have been closed. Non-essential businesses have been closed. You’ve been asked to stay home and only go out for groceries or prescriptions, medical appointments or, if you are an essential worker, for work.
I want to start by thanking all of the essential workers who are working to keep us safe, whether they be working in health care, long-term care, grocery stores and pharmacies or as truck drivers.
I want to personally thank the vast majority of people in Huntsville and across Parry Sound-Muskoka who are physical distancing and isolating. I know many of you have not seen your families for weeks and phone calls and video chats don’t make up for missing Easter dinner with your children or grandchildren.
And I want to thank all the businesses that are abiding by the Emergency Order. As a former business owner I understand how difficult and how scary this situation is. I know some customers are trying to push you to make exceptions for them but thank you for standing firm and doing what is right.
With all the business closures come layoffs and financial hardship for both entrepreneurs and employees. The Federal Government has moved quickly to expand Employment Insurance and create other supports. Ontario is working to reduce costs for both families and businesses for, by example, suspending time-of-use metering, offering $10 billion in tax deferrals, and WSIB deferrals for businesses, and $3.7 billion in direct support for people and jobs. There will be more supports going forward as we see how big the impacts on different parts of our economy will be.
I have been reaching out to different sectors through conference calls. The tourism sector in particular is being hard hit. Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Lisa MacLeod joined me for a call with a selection of about 15 local tourism operators and I have also had calls with summer camps, marinas, retail stores, restaurants and hotels, resorts and campgrounds to learn more about what they will need to survive this crisis.
Our government has launched the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee which will focus on getting businesses up and running and people back to work after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. I have been asked to coordinate consultations by our government caucus members with local tourism operators to help inform Minister MacLeod’s recovery proposals.
When this is over we can all help our local businesses recover. I hope everyone will go out of their way to shop local to support our businesses that have been forced to close or limit their operations. They will need all of our support to get back on their feet.
While the vast majority of people are following the directions of our health professionals, I am very disappointed that some people are not doing so. Whether this is seasonal residents coming to a cottage or locals making frequent trips around town, this is all unnecessary travel.
The coronavirus cannot move on its own, it requires people to move it around. And since our medical experts are learning that infected people can be contagious before they show symptoms, none of us can assume we don’t pose a risk to anyone else even if we feel fine.
All three levels of government have been very clear in urging people to avoid any unnecessary travel, including travel between home and the cottage. The Premier has repeatedly asked seasonal residents of Muskoka and elsewhere to stay in their primary residences. I think it is safe to say none of us want to live in a police state. Instead our government has been relying on people to be responsible but unfortunately some people just refuse to listen.
I have been keeping the Premier and the Minister of Health informed about the numbers of seasonal residents arriving, and the challenges this creates for our food stores, health system and businesses like marinas. I have asked that the Minister continue to discuss this situation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and the COVID-19 command table and act if Dr. Williams suggests it is necessary.
I am also disappointed to see an adversarial situation emerging between permanent and seasonal residents. Our communities here have always been made up of both seasonal and year-round residents. Much of our economy relies upon seasonal residents. Our businesses will need the support of cottagers to recover. Cottagers pay property taxes and contribute to our hospital foundations and charities. They are part of our community. There shouldn’t be us and them, we should all be working together. The more we all stay home and isolate now— cottagers and residents alike—the better the chance that we will all be able to enjoy the summer here in Parry Sound-Muskoka.
Photo of MPP Norm Miller is courtesy of his office. Queen’s Park photo “June 2012 Ontario Legislature Toronto” by Priscilla Jordão, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.
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