A provincial election is looming! It is less than two weeks away now, and I am just as much a victim of other people’s unsolicited political opinions as any. I therefore apologize in advance for adding to it, but at least I can say I am not going to offer a political opinion, per se, but rather a concern about one particular election issue which I believe outweighs them all.
About two weeks ago, I was searching the internet for surveys capturing the types of provincial election issues that matter the most to average people. I was therefore quite excited when I found a survey of the top-rated election issues on Ontario’s provincial election day in 2018, and even more excited that it was organized by region (sure, 2018 and 2022 are very different time periods, but all research starts somewhere). My excitement turned into a stunned, annoyed eye roll when I saw the regions included in the survey. They were area code 416 (Toronto), area code 905 (also Toronto), and “Outside GTA”.
Ladies and gentlemen, the biggest issue plaguing Ontario politics is the simple fact that the 40% of Ontario’s population who live in the Greater Toronto Area seem to forget that the Province continues beyond their city’s borders. Let’s face it: 40% is a lot of voting power, and studies like the one I found show that there is simply not enough regard for rural issues in a province which has two of Canada’s largest cities and also a sizable rural population. I might have even been less outraged if Ottawa – a major city of 1 million people that also happens to be the nation’s capital and an important hub for all of Eastern Ontario – had been included in the survey’s regions, but it was not. Those 1 million people are sufficiently represented in the glamourous “other” category, says mighty Toronto.
There is really nothing we can do about Toronto being Toronto (and if any Toronto natives have recently moved to the area, please don’t take this personally – it’s a beautiful city). Our only recourse is to remember that the single most important question we can ask local MPP candidates is how they will represent our unique, rural interests at Queen’s Park, located within a city that forgets we exist. Health care is important, education is important, childcare is important, but it can be a dangerous game to forget that these issues look different in rural communities.
An excellent example is rural schools, which are frequently on the chopping block. Take a drive down some local county roads and pass through some of the smallest hamlets in the area. It is possible to see half a dozen shuttered old school buildings in less than a 30-minute drive. And it continues – North Stormont Public School in Berwick is currently in its last year of operation, with last ditch efforts to save it falling flat. Oxford-on-Rideau Public School in Oxford Mills is another that was slated for closure for years before parent pressure made the school board agree to re-evaluate the decision, though the final outcome is still not known. Those of us educated in rural schools know the value of rural education, but when the decisions are made in Toronto, the only factor that matters is that having many small schools in many tiny villages is expensive and looks bad on paper.
Health care is another matter than looks different in the city than it does in small communities. Local doctor shortages have left many without a family doctor, especially those without the means of transportation necessary to travel far and wide. Of course, there are city dwellers who also struggle to find a doctor, but the point isn’t that rural dwellers deserve more attention or sympathy, but rather that city and rural issues have to be looked at from their unique perspectives.
Yet another issue with a unique “rural” side is childcare. Not only is childcare availability abysmal in many parts of our region, but families who live in rural areas often need unique childcare options. Parents who travel into the city for work don’t just need childcare for the standard work hours – they also need their children cared for during their long commute. For those using childcare centres and home childcare providers who charge an hourly rate, this can mean higher childcare costs for rural dwellers, as well as a greater need for childcare with longer or more flexible hours.
These “big three” issues in provincial politics – education, health care, and childcare – are not the only election issues to have different urban and rural perspectives. In fact, one could argue that every provincial political matter should be considered through the lens of every specific region. What this means for your vote is simple: don’t pick a party, and don’t pick a Premier. It is not the parties and the Premier candidates who are going to make sure Eastern Ontario is represented at Queen’s Park. That is the job of an MPP, so the best use of your vote is to cast it for whoever you feel is not afraid to take our local, small town perspectives back to the big wigs in area codes 416 and 905.