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Cottage Country we have a problem. A local problem. The local vs cottager debate has run wild for weeks but in this scenario is actually a moot debate. Let me explain why, but you'll really have to stay committed till the end of this editorial to find out.
There has been one common theme from the hundreds of responses to one simple question Muskoka Post recently posed to Muskoka residents.
"As a local what measures would make you feel safe as cottagers prepare to head north for the upcoming May long weekend?"
Here is a sample of what Muskoka Post received over the last weekend.
"NO use of local services or retail. NO contact whatsoever with locals. If they need medical care they must go back to their home town. Simple. No burden at all. Drive straight up and straight back home to go back to work ( as many do). No problem. Do not agree with non-residents staying for long periods and taxing the local infrastructure."
"What happened to We are all in this Together. Some of the Covid-19 rules are just plain common sense. The biggest thing I see is teaching people to keep clean. Some places needed a wake up call on this. Yes I go once a week to go shopping only. Some cottagers come all year round. We are not the only cottage area. I need surgery which was cancelled and that hospital didn't even have a single case. Yes I would love to go out again and enjoy seeing people. People were helping each other in the beginning now it seems to be all complaints."
"I work in a pharmacy and I am terrified for the influx of additional customers which = increasing interactions. Not to mention a lot of those interactions can go very negatively. It's hard to keep people 6ft away when you're working in small aisles so unless we are going to start ID' ing people as they come in the store to show that they are local to the area, keep them home."
"They can come. I don't really care. They are going to do what they want anyway. I think though if they come to their cottages, they should bring all the food they will need for their stay. DON'T TAX OUR STORES. If they get sick, they must go home asap. OUR HOSPITALS CAN'T HANDLE ANY MORE. Yes, I would like to be at a million dollar cottage right now. I am staying at home like the health department has asked. Cottagers will do what they want, PLEASE DON'T TAX OUR ALREADY TAXED SYSTEMS."
"If they absolutely have to come then they need to bring everything they need to isolate for the 14 days, and if they feel unwell go back to the hospitals in your primary residence."
While comments from year round residents asked for health guidelines and recommendations to be followed the undertone seeping through is that of - does it really matter what we want?
Leigh-Ann's comment on the question reflects this;
"Muskoka is loaded with cottagers now, I don't really think it matters what we think or prefer."
Muskoka Post replied and asked "do you think local concerns aren’t being heard?"
She answered with "they aren't at all."
The catalyst for writing this editorial came from the following comment by Barbara Mariani.
Mariani wrote "Either this virus is not as serious as it is made out to be or local population in cottage country aren't important - which one is it?"
So which one is it? Because it seems that our Premier is above what he preaches when on March 27 he told seasonal residents not to visit their secondary homes so that "together" we slow the spread of this deadly virus, from which 90% of people have recovered. This recommendation fell on deaf ears as Muskoka began filling with cottagers around the Easter weekend. As it was just a recommendation not a direct prohibition some assumed it did not apply to them. That also included Doug Ford who in May told reporters that he did, in fact visit Muskoka on Easter Sunday to check on his property.
So one; We have excellent maintenance property companies all over the region of Muskoka, pick up the phone and call one, you can help them business wise.
Two; Was it not made a law so that the Premier himself could break health recommendations? Just one of my questions out of SO MANY for the premier these days.
FYI Not travelling to cottages was not just a provincial or municipal public health recommendation but also federal.
In the meantime while Ontario's head medical officer disagrees with Simcoe Muskoka's officer of health over issuing a direct provincial prohibition preventing cottagers from travelling to their secondary homes, he has in writing recommended that they don't. I ask how can you issue a recommendation for the health and safety of a small community while at the same time disagree enough about the risk of said community regarding the recommendation? Therefore that should lead us to believe that the virus is not as dangerous as it has been made out to be? And that the risk is low? Then why are salons, gyms, bars etc still closed in cottage country? Or should it lead us to believe that regardless of the fear and anxiety locals have clearly expressed through their own mayors, with the exception of Muskoka Lakes whose Mayor extended a welcome matt in March for his seasonal tax payers, and social media is ignored enough that Muskoka's all year round community meets an acceptable collateral damage risk not to issue a provincial directive to protect said community?
Which is it?
Huntsville has one walk-in clinic which operates in July and August only. The reason given is that the town's population triples during the summer. While this is true, Huntsville has the largest population in Muskoka, and yet Bracebridge has two walk-in clinics all year around. Huntsville has six schools within its municipal boundaries, as a parent living in Huntsville I can tell you I use the Bracebridge walk-in clinic several times a year. I know for a fact I'm not the only parent in Huntsville who would appreciate a year round walk-in clinic. So tell me why have our councillors or past mayors not fought for one? Why have locals been ignored in this scenario, but seasonal cottagers healthcare looked out for during July and August?
Which is it?
There has been a lot of hate thrown and I can assure you on both ends of this argument. At the root of it all Muskoka is begging for a diversified economy, we are just two short hours away from Toronto. Imagine if we had GO service to Gravenhurst? Give kids like my daughter a reason to come back here. Fight for it with a little more zest and enthusiasm. With all due respect to the service industry, and I've been a waitress and a bartender so I know how incredibly important these jobs are, they can not be the only reason for grads to come back here. Where are our local politicians to drive this, to diversify us? It's time Muskoka because the argument of we pay for your hospitals and support your entire economy needs to be Shhhhh'd and dropped off your shoulders.
During all this noise on Friday May 8 I received a press release from the District of Muskoka signed by all the municipal mayors attempting to hush that noise.
A quote from said press release states "Let us remind ourselves that all our residents - both year round and seasonal - are valued, and recognize that we share a long tradition of coming together to support one another."
A superb sentiment! But if locals are in fact valued please open up a year round clinic in Huntsville and probably another one in Gravenurst - this would also be much appreciated for Muskoka Lakes residents. That would signal some local value. As would following the Simcoe Muskoka's chief officer's of health advice and recommendations seeing as he understands the capacity of his hospitals. Perhaps inviting him to meetings between local mayors and the Premier which pertain to public health in cottage country would also be an excellent show of local value, No?
Dr. Charles Gardner asked for a prohibition, similar to that of Haldimand-Norfolk as he realized that the health unit alone could not enforce the ban on Muskoka's and Simcoe's over 80,000 cottages and would require a provincial directive to mobilize the assistance of the police. On almost every single post regarding this topic and on various media outlet platforms locals were speaking loud and clear about their value or lack of it.
The Muskoka mayoral press release continued to lecture that "now is not the time for divisive attitudes or the propagation of negative “us versus them” social commentary relative to seasonal versus permanent residents. For that type of behaviour is counter-intuitive to our Canadian values and falls far short of reflecting the sentiment of the vast majority of Muskoka residents. We are all in this together." Do you think Phil Harding received the same lecture?
And I will leave you with this post from one of our readers as it pertains to the bullshit in this press release quote regarding the 'us vs them' rhetoric because it should not even exist in the Covid-19 argument and this why;
"Now is not the time ... this is about science and medicine ... it’s about living, staying healthy and reducing death ... it is about Canadian values ... following what leading health professionals tell us."
I would imagine that following health recommendations which are in the best interest of society provided like the 10 commandments by Doug Ford himself would be honouring Canadian values by respecting our government? Or should we not? Which is it?