House Call with Carol Hughes

KAGAWONG – Billings township council has agreed to pass its 2020 budget while it and other municipalities in the province go through uncertain times in dealing with costs related to COVID-19.

“In looking at our 2020 budget, I know there will be some discussion among council,” said Billings Mayor Ian Anderson at a council meeting April 7. 

Billings CAO Kathy McDonald explained to council, “In March, when we decided on bringing the budget forward, it included a three percent increase and things were normal at that time. But things are very different now with COVID-19 and we have helped contribute to the costs of the new MHC (Manitoulin Health Centre) ventilators, signage and advertising involved (in COVID-19).” She pointed out the proposed three percent budget increase included putting $54,000 into reserves for capital assets.

“In the municipal webinars I have been attending, we are being told that if we have a budget set, pass it and not make any changes until we know where COVID-19 is going to take us,” said Ms. McDonald. She pointed out there are things that can be left in the budget, such as a half ton municipal truck that had been proposed. She also noted any capital purchase, or project, decisions would have to have council’s permission. She said the township will probably not be receiving funding this year to hire any students, for example. “Right now we have no idea where COVID-19 will be taking us.” 

“I don’t have specific questions, but I echo what the CAO said,” stated Councillor Barker. “I have mixed feelings about the budget,” he added, noting that in large part due to municipal staff the budget was in place early. “The federal and provincial governments are having to spend a lot of money towards fighting COVID-19, and I can see our partnership funds being reduced. And we have contributed to things like the MHC ventilator campaign. The budget was basically set before COVID-19 hit the fan. Can we assess projects on a case-by-case basis as we know what we are up against in the next few months? Can we address big ticket items case-by-case?”

Ms. McDonald said this is the way council could proceed. “Council will have opportunity to address each project (even if the budget is passed).”

Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack said, “I think the (proposed) budget should be supported. I am worried about where we are going this year (because of costs involved with COVID-19). If Kathy feels the budget should be approved with the points she outlined, then that is what we should do.”

Councillors Sharon Jackson and Michael Hunt agreed that the budget should go ahead. Councillor Hunt raised a concern on the cost of the waterfront project and if government funding is still in place for this project. 

“I believe the funding is in place,” said Ms. McDonald, who noted the township does not have this in writing, and it will be a matter of when council decides the project will go ahead. However, she told council “I think for the next two years at least, it is going to be very rough for municipalities. Governments are having to spend a lot of money (due to COVID) and I don’t think there will be a lot (funding) coming to municipalities.”

Mayor Anderson said in hearing from and reading information from health care professionals, no one knows how long the COVID-19 virus will affect things, but the estimates are a year to 18 months. “No one in authority in health care is expecting this to be a short turnaround. Nobody is expecting the virus to be eliminated in the next few months.” He noted his support for passing the budget as is. “We also have very good reserves thanks to planning by the CAO, clerk-treasurer over the past few years. I am definitely not suggesting our reserves will bail us out but we are in a better financial state than some. And we are going to have to be prudent in the way we deal with the budget and any expenses.”

“So if council approves the budget there are items that we can reassess or take out?” asked Councillor Barker. “I am nervous about depleting our reserves and it wouldn’t take long to do this.”

“We would not be making any big purchases without the authority and decision by council,” said Ms. McDonald 

Council unanimously voted in favour of approving the 2020 budget as presented. “For the record, I am in favour of this as well,” said Mayor. Anderson. “I think it’s the right decision.”Tom Sasvari

The Recorder

GORE BAY—The Easter Bunny took time out of his very busy schedule this past weekend to visit the Town of Gore Bay.

With Easter music playing and treat bags being given out to children through the streets of Gore Bay by the famed bunny and his assistant, “we had a really good reception,” the Easter Bunny told the Recorder on Sunday. “We saw a lot of people and enjoyed seeing them, especially the children.” 

“We gave away almost 50 treat bags,” the Easter Bunny told the Recorder, pointing out he and his assistant made sure everyone followed the proper physical distancing protocols.  

“I had planned this visit three or four weeks ago, but it was only after the Premier of Ontario announced that the Easter Bunny was an essential service that we knew we were in business,” continued the Easter Bunny.

The Easter Bunny and his assistant, who used an ATV to drive the cart the Easter Bunny rode on, hit the largest residential areas  in town to give out the treat bags and wish everyone a happy Easter. 

Several volunteers helped out and several people made donations for the treat bags, added the Easter Bunny.Our health care
advantage will need
to be protected

This week Canada marked National Caregiver Day and World Health Day. That these occasions occur with our efforts to contain a virus which threatens our ability to meet our health care needs while placing caregivers squarely in the middle of our efforts is nearly poetic. It’s also not a stretch to suggest that the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic are helping us understand how we may have under-valued or perhaps taken for granted the contribution of many individuals who perform a great service in our communities and family circles. While we all try to be healthy, it is encouraging to know there are so many there to help us out when we need them. We should strive to keep it that way.

Prior to the pandemic the plight of many caregivers was already on the national political agenda, especially those who take time from work to provide care for a loved one. One example is how the NDP proposed extending Employment Insurance benefits so that they meet the needs of individuals who find themselves acting as caregivers. The benefit that does exist is not robust enough to allow someone to take care of a loved one over a longer time frame which limits options and ends up costing the care giver and their families more than it should. It’s not unreasonable to expect that the details of this proposal will be better received now that more of us can appreciate how valuable we become due to lost income.

Similarly, we celebrate our health care system in Canada, but it always seems to require some form of defence when it comes to budget allocation. The federal share of the program has dropped significantly over the years even though Canadians routinely rank health care among the most important political issues. In fact, we revere our system so much that the father of Medicare, Tommy Douglas was voted as the greatest Canadian in a nation-wide contest several years back. Recent events only confirm the value of our public system and should make defending and growing our capacity an easy political sell going forward.

These are among the issues which I have devoted a lot of my political efforts to over the years. The campaigns to maintain and protect our health care system have been a hallmark of NDP efforts for decades going all the way back to its inception, first in Saskatchewan under a Tommy Douglas-led government, and nationally when he led the federal NDP which held the balance of power in a Liberal minority government.

The challenge going forward will be to protect our public health care as the bills for our pandemic relief measures come due. The argument should be simple, but it’s unlikely to be straight forward. There have always been those who could afford it or stand to benefit from it that have argued for a private health care system in Canada. The best way to counter that argument is with a robust system that is well funded and makes use of ways to help keep people out of the system such as the help offered by caregivers. That way we can maintain what makes us proud about the country and be prepared for any future public health challenges.