Local citizen Doug DeLaMatter was on hand, with a detailed document that outlined some upcoming needs that concern the aging populace of the Madawaska Valley region.
DeLaMatter is part of a group that meets monthly, for a two-hour meeting, and is made up of volunteers who collectively brainstorm about issues that affect the economic development of the area.
“In May, we decided to prepare a summary report to give to council and this is that report. We brainstormed many areas and discussed many ideas and issues and as you can imagine, many issues crossed boundaries and affected several different areas of commerce and municipal life,” DeLaMatter noted.
The report focused on areas such as tourism, business, county support and municipal issues.
“Please keep in mind that the summary of ours is a discussion among interested people and the recommendations are considered only for the recommendation of council. We’re aware that similar projects may already be underway and have been considered or rejected. These suggestions should be taken as a reflection of our concerns and an effort to approach the concerns with constructive ideas,” he noted.
DeLaMatter spoke of the group’s concern about the long-term health of the Valley, as it has a largely senior-centric community.
“The coming shift in age distribution in our population is now just starting to be noticed nationally, and I noticed that Andrew Coyne has written an article about it in the National Post. But as Ontario’s population ages, all rural towns will be in competition for a scarce resource – and that resource is young adults. Young adults can operate the services that an aging population requires but cannot provide for themselves,” he added.
Adding that the township may be headed for permanent economic decline, DeLaMatter noted the drop in the population of Madawaska Valley District High School over the past few decades.
“The tax base will shrink and fewer ratepayers are available to share the fixed costs. It’s very important to communicate the seriousness of these issues to the residents of this township. For example, the local high school has half the student population it did when most of our present business owners and operators attended the school. The pool of youth that are able to take on part-time jobs with local businesses continually gets smaller, and the number of home-grown adults, who are willing and able to run businesses 10 years from now, is half what it once was,” DeLaMatter added.
DeLaMatter was adamant in his desire for council to understand the issue.
“The answer to us is clear and inescapable. We have to lay the groundwork for this township not to be just attractive, but to be the most attractive place for people to settle in that we can make it. We are limited by location, distance from markets and other factors. That means we have to do a superior job of enabling businesses to thrive,” he noted.
Outlining the idea of a new business package, DeLaMatter suggested the concept as a means to enhance the stimulation of our economy.
“There should be an up-to-date business information package that can be handed out at tourist booths, trade shows, and at the township office. It should list the what, the when and the how much of starting a business costs,” he noted.
DeLaMatter also cited the town of Bancroft as an example of a working model of tourism.
“To put this in perspective, I checked with the Bancroft Chamber of Commerce and their tourism and event coordinator reported that in July, Bancroft raised 130,000 for projects in 2012 and the year is half over,” he added.
Showing his support of council’s decisions, he also voiced his approval of some difficult tasks that the township has taken on.
“I’ve been here for 40 years and in that time, I’ve seen the township address some significant issues. The creation of the Paul J. Yakabuski Community centre, the installation of water and sewers in Barry’s Bay, in our former townships and later in our amalgamated townships. We also had to wrestle with solid waste disposal and recycling programs. All along, we’ve had provincial downloading for many costs. I could go on and on,” he said.
DeLaMatter reinforced the urgency of the issue.
“But meeting the challenge of the aging population is both the most significant and most predictable of all of those problems. I’ve lived here two thirds of my life so far and the place grows on you. So I want to see it thrive and I want to be able to afford to live in my home as long as I can. I hope these suggestions will help you,” he said.
Chairperson David Shulist thanked DeLaMatter for his time, effort and support of council’s decision.
“I want to thank your group for putting this effort into it. We don’t have a body in place to govern all of this but the efforts that you have done as a group can help this position. It’s nice to see that the community is involved. It helps a lot. But it has come to the table a few times and there will be a discussion on it,” Shulist added.
Councillor Bob Kulas, however, had a few concerns about the weighting of DeLaMatter’s report.
“Do you understand the water and sewer system here? You mentioned it in your final wrap-up, but do you understand what it’s caused to this community? You don’t. There are 580 people that support that system. Over 70 are in arrears right now and it’s collapsing. That’s our big problem right now. To go into all of these things that you’re suggesting are going to have to be put off for now until we get the present problems looked after,” Kulas noted.
Probing DeLaMatter for more detailed information, Kulas posed a question to him.
“You constantly mentioned the phrase ‘meeting the challenges of an aging population.’ What are those challenges?” Kulas asked.
DeLaMatter went on to reference the town of Elliot Lake.
“The town of Elliot Lake opened their town up as a retirement community. According to two CBC Radio reports, after the mall collapsed, they had serious concerns about the infrastructure of the town. They needed palliative care and the average age of a palliative care worker is 74. As far as I’m concerned, they are the canary in the coal mine,” DeLaMatter said.
Kulas retorted to his remarks.
“Well that’s Elliot Lake, but what about around here? My take on the needs of the aging population, and I’ve been at this quite a long time, is first of all transportation, and second of all, good health care. And I don’t think you realize what is being done to integrate all of these services together and what has been accomplished by a group of people, and I’d like to invite you or one of the members of your organization to perhaps attend one of the integration meetings we have once a month. These people have gone around to make presentations but hardly anyone attends. We need people of your area to be involved,” Kulas added.