Opinion Column

Rural-urban divide wedge issue in Ontario

By Jim Merriam

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks at Queens Park in Toronto on Monday May 9, 2016. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks at Queens Park in Toronto on Monday May 9, 2016. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

Although Manitoba and Ontario are neighbours, their differences far outnumber their similarities.

One of these differences is the way their leaders treat the rural-urban divide.

Brian Pallister, recently elected Conservative premier of Manitoba, has coined two new words: "rurban" and "urbal," according to the Western Producer.

The Manitoba premier is trying to create a new reality in Manitoba, wherein his urban members of the legislature care about rural areas and vice versa. He is trying to convince legislators that, "You do not think about yourself. You think about your team."

The new boss went on to say "there are rural situations that many people in the city don't fully appreciate."

In contrast, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has been all over the map on the same issue.

As recently as two years ago she denied the divide even existed. Then last November, she told a rural audience "the issue of bridging the rural-urban gap" has been on her mind since she was first elected in 2003.

The reasons for the divide are various, but some stand out.

No. 1 is the way this government has shoved industrial wind turbines down the throats of rural dwellers. The province is still approving new developments over the strongest objections of municipal leaders in a wide area of the province.

During the last provincial election, the Liberals told rural Ontarians their voices would be heard on wind farm developments.

Yet, in April, just weeks after awarding controversial contracts for five wind farms, Ontario said it's opening bidding for double that amount of wind energy.

Recent approvals included a development in Dutton-Dunwich in southwestern Ontario where 84 per cent of residents who voted, didn't want such developments.

In November 2013, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli testified before a legislature committee that municipalities wouldn't be given a veto over projects but it would be "very rare indeed" for any to be approved without local backing.

Garbage is another source of friction between urban and rural. Arguments are ongoing over a proposal to dump Toronto's garbage in Oxford County.

The proposal would see 100 truckloads of Toronto garbage a day dumped in a quarry near Beachville in the Woodstock area.

The proposed dump site is in the water basin of the Thames River and close to the ground water supply for Ingersoll.

A member of a citizens' group opposed to the project recently spoke of the disconnect between Toronto and rural Ontario.

The mystery here is why the government doesn't just reject the proposal and tell Toronto and other Ontario cities to find another way to dispose of their mountains of garbage.

Perhaps the time for incineration has come, with incinerators located in the city where the garbage originates. Then, garbage would disappear and electrical power could be produced.

Such a solution would reduce two major stressors in the rural-urban divide.

However, since this is the Ontario government, that all seems much too simple.



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