What is Happening in Small Town Canada?

For those of you who live in quiet small-town Ontario, blessed with access to woodlands, waterways, farms and open space beware.  Your federal and provincial governments have big plans for your small-town lifestyle and the government services you enjoy. There is big population growth planned for many regions of Canada and if you live near Vancouver, Calgary or Toronto, count on it.  Welcome to what a developer described as the new blast zone.

Some of the population growth is from interprovincial movement but as the federal government ramps up the immigration numbers, 431,000 for 2022 and rising every year after, we will see and feel the change. To compound this, in 2019 there were 638,000 international students in our Canadian colleges and universities, looking for housing and other services. Our overall growth going forward will be a function of immigration and international students.

This population growth presents great challenges to our biodiversity and green house gas emissions.   We often do not even consider the sustainability of the government services that will be required by the growing population.   Municipal and provincial planning departments do not coordinate the needs of health care, education, courts, government service kiosks, affordable housing, social services and many others.

Simcoe County which is 40 to 80 miles north of the greater Toronto Area is one of the fastest growing areas in Canada. For instance, New Tecumseh grew at over 5% a year for the 5-year period from 2016 to 2021.  That is a doubling time of about 14 years.

Let me illustrate what this population growth means to our service access.  The County of Simcoe is undergoing a Provincial Municipal Comprehensive Review which is demanding that municipalities take in new people.  The numbers have already been set but the service availability has not been investigated. Talk about putting the cart in front of the horse.

Just now the County is investigating the availability of sewage and water to accommodate the population surge.  But the County is not doing any meaningful investigation of the assimilative ability of the bodies of water that receive the sewage.  Nor are they investigating the capacity of the land that the sewage sludge from the sewage plants along with the septage (which is the raw sewage coming from our rural septic tanks) is being dumped on. Any study that they may do this will be a cursory review.

Senior planning staff at the County of Simcoe, when asked if any studies are being done for the new demand on all the other soft and hard services, stated the individual municipalities will be doing secondary plans at down the road.  So, it is clear; develop new subdivisions, welcome more people and we will worry about the services later. It is this line of inaction that brings us to the point of so many crises.

Let me briefly review what this growth imposes upon a segment of our health care services.  This is a field that is familiar to me, where I worked for 36 years and my extended family have worked in for much longer.

Ontario has the lowest number of hospital beds per 1,000 of any provinces and shares the bottom of OECD (like minded wealthy countries) with high flyers like Mexico. Ontario trumpets that this low service provision is efficient.  We have seen how efficient that is during the pandemic.  Elective surgeries and even cancer treatment has been rationed because the beds were occupied with COVID patients.  That is not efficient, that is near criminal.

Pandemic aside, according to the September 2015 Long Term Care in Ontario-Sector Review, the demand for long term care (LTC) was greater than the supply and this short fall was consistently worse in the North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN.  This has not changed.

Since we do not have enough LTC beds for our seniors, they languish in those scarce hospital beds. In 2021 about 17% of hospital beds were occupied by seniors or others waiting for a long-term care bed.  This is not a problem unique to the County of Simcoe by any means. Moving people out of hospital beds is complicated further in the North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN because of inadequate home care service which is unique to North Simcoe Muskoka.  A service that would allow people to go home sooner or avoid LTC for many years.

The consultants hired by Simcoe County to advise the Simcoe County Council on their provincially mandated demand to accept immense population growth met with the council on a December 9, 2021 during.  It was almost 4-hours long and attended by all County Councillors, not once did any council member express any concern about service provision for any of the new citizens and certainly no concern about the loss of biodiversity or increase in green house gases or increased demand for affordable housing.

Our municipal, provincial and federal politicians are responsible in increasing population but do not act to make this process sustainable if it can be done at all.  Welcome to the blast zone, goodbye sustainability of our government services, stable climate and natural heritage. As pointed out there are now powerful reasons for you to care about what is going on and so tell your municipal councillor to say enough is enough and slow the process down.

If they won’t listen and stand up for the welfare of their residents and the health of their community, vote for someone who will.

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