Listening to the people

“The system is broke and in need of fixing,” is a common refrain that spans generations.

From young students with university ambitions, social workers with more needs than available funding,  and environmentalists with causes and no cash, to a host of other groups looking to their respective governments for money, someone always wants something.

Lately, we have spoken with two seniors who suggest government is in need of some fixing in a different way. No, they are not after grants or increases in Canada Pension or Old Age Security. These people are actually worried about democracy and its decline. They’d like a little respect, having given it to those in authority their whole lives.

One example involves a gravel pit application over in old Waterloo County. Despite resident opposition, it looks to be moving forward. A small hamlet with the tax base of a wealthy village is under the gun as a sizeable acreage north-west of it is sought to be mined. It is a scene that has played out in Wellington County dozens of times, much to the chagrin of residents.

Aggregate continues to be considered a provincially significant resource, and as such gets a more streamlined approval process than most other industrial land use changes.

As we have suggested before, planning approvals for housing should have taken into account known locations of aggregate. But, that did not happen here. Yet another group of residents has to deal with the fallout of poor planning.

The second case that drew a senior’s ire is that industrial wind turbines are being placed in areas where residences exist. Despite sincere efforts to thwart the Mapleton proposal, a cadre of locals proved no match for a multi-million dollar corporation. Add to that a provincial government hell-bent on wind power, and you have citizens without a chance of getting a fair shake – let alone a hearing.

While the Mapleton project is now underway, Health Canada actually announced it is looking into the health effects of turbines. It is too little, too late, for Mapleton residents.

These scenes continue to play out across the countryside. Generally happy, engaged residents, many whom have dedicated the better part of their working life to community and family, are left feeling alienated from the processes of government.

This should come as no surprise, but it is still bothersome. Everyone can’t get their way all the time, but in these two circumstances, it is provincial authority that has trumped local autonomy.

Without being heard on issues that affect quality of life, governments of all stripes risk engendering hopelessness amongst voters – when hope is perhaps a politician’s most precious commodity.

Part way through this column we had guests drop in to hear some of our concerns about the provincial government. After meeting with local mayors in the morning for a closed door meeting and a plant tour at Quality Homes, Tim Hudak, leader of the official opposition in Ontario, and Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece dropped by our office.

Oddly, it wasn’t a case of a big announcement or a lecture on his party’s latest policies. Nor was it a formal editorial board meeting that might happen at larger outfits, where everyone was watching what they said.

It was a far-ranging talk about business, issues as we see them, concerns we have about government waste, the absence of autonomy on quality of life issues like turbines, and the need we see to trim back grants and abandon policies that ultimately stifle local solutions and innovation.

While Hudak gladly answered questions, he and Pettapiece listened for the most part. It left us with an impression at least, that we were heard and some hope still exists to get Ontario back on track.