When my American friends think of Canada, they think of two things: the CN tower and crack-smoking mayors. Nobody thinks about the CN tower anymore? Okay, then crack-smoking mayors. When my Canadian friends think of Canada, they think of an array of issues, such as what shampoo Justin Trudeau uses, crack-smoking mayors, will The Leafs not be bad this year, and crack-smoking mayors. I’ll be the first to admit, as someone who has grown up in Toronto, a city known from coast to coast for its slight arrogance towards the rest of Canada, the issues troubling Canadians have sometimes not registered among myself and my peers. But, sometimes, I grow tired of Toronto’s electrifying nightlife, booming economic heart, and whimsical public theatre productions, and make effort to reconnect with my fellow Canadians.
In my recent peruse of the national headlines, I learned that there’s a whole other part of Ontario, and it’s called Northern Ontario! But, the more I read, the more I realized that a crack-smoking mayor proves trivial compared to the issues these Ontarians are faced with every day, issues that are no laughing matter. Which is why I’m writing a satirical article about them.
In the summer, one might have trouble seeing the poverty of Northern Ontario beneath the sea of tourists that flock in every year to fish in its 150,000 pristine lakes. But it’s not just the hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops that benefit from this season. For the town of Ignace, Ontario, over-fishing means a fine of $150 paid to their food bank. And the food bank needs the money. The majority of people living in Northern Ontario, those not lucky enough to get a job in the gold mines, either work low-wage jobs or live off welfare, and First Nations make up the second largest demographic in Northern Ontario’s total population. The food banks are a necessity for these Northern Ontarians, as towns usually have only small food outlets. If there’s no food, residents go to the next town, which can be 200 kilometers away and, with no car, a $908 round trip by cab (about $8 more expensive than a cab ride in Toronto). At one point, the cost of food for Northern Ontarians was getting so high that the Ministry of Natural Resources tried to donate seized moose meat from hunters to the community food banks to meet their demand, but public health officials shut the transaction down, as the game was not properly inspected.
However, a provincial regulation more frustrating than the one denying these starving Ontarians the uninspected moose meat they would eat otherwise involves OHIP, which, in the case of a medical emergency, will cover the cost of an ambulance to the nearest hospital, which can be hundreds of kilometers away, but not back home. Unless you have a friend or relative that can pick you up, the only way back home from the hospital is by cab, which unlike 18th century portrait painters, don’t charge by the number of limbs you have.
Premier Wynne and her colleagues think they understand the poverty of Northern Ontario, and they show this by raising the price of social assistance for individuals, as well as a 1% increased in benefits for families who receive money from Ontario Works in the 2014 budget. However, Mike Balkwill, an anti-poverty activist who just completed a fact-finding tour of this wasted part of the province, says Wynne should go back to the drawing board. “Premier Wynne must go to the food bank in Ignace to announce her new poverty reduction strategy. She can ask the people there if it will put food in their budget. And if not then Premier Wynne should […] admit her government is not serious about reducing poverty in Ontario.” Note than an anti-poverty activist is criticizing Wynne’s increase in benefits. That’s how Wynne should know when her plan is flawed.
These are strong words advocating for a critical issue, but that’s enough empathy for one day; I’ll be back to thinking Toronto is the only place that matters.
Correct (02/08/14): The article previously claimed that “Pubic Health Ontario shut the transaction down.” Public Health Ontario has no regulatory authority, and the article has been corrected to the broader “public health officials.”