On April 21, the United Counties Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry (SDG) Council held a special meeting. They invited our MPP Jim McDonell, MP Eric Duncan, and Dr Paul Roumeliotis from the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU). The purpose of the meeting was to allow the Councillors to ask questions about the pandemic, specific to our area. The Counties Council is made up of the Mayors and Deputy Mayors of the all six counties. Mayor Fraser and Deputy Mayor Armstrong represent North Dundas, and were both present at the meeting to ask questions on behalf of area residents.
It’s safe to say that many of the Councillors don’t feel like our area of Eastern Ontario is getting the attention that it needs. They were quick to point out that we are not Peel, or Toronto. Deputy Mayor Armstrong asked MPP McDonell, “where is our voice in Ontario.” As small rural towns in Eastern Ontario, it is a common refrain that, “Ontario doesn’t end at Kingston.”
MPP McDonell briefed the Councillors on the current state of affairs, blaming a lack of vaccine supply, vaccine hesitancy in areas like Peel, and reiterating that everyone needs to stay home. Councillors are concerned that SDG is only getting vaccines to 6 pharmacies, whereas neighbouring Lanark, Leeds, Grenville had 24. They asked if, SDG was getting the same amount of vaccine per capita as other areas.
Dr Paul was very unhappy that the EOHU had no say in the roll out of vaccines in pharmacies. MPP McDonell assured everyone that all the pharmacies could be giving vaccines tomorrow if the availability was there. His remarks did not address the infrastructure required to support pharmacies in delivering the vaccine.
Councillors wanted to know why people can come from outside our area to get vaccines at pharmacies. Dr Paul explained that anyone in Ontario can get a vaccine from any pharmacy when available, providing they fit the age parameters.
Mayor Fraser drew attention to the abysmal lack of internet capabilities in our area. The Ministry of Health needed a secure internet connection in order to carry out the vaccination clinics at the Winchester Arena. It was very difficult for the Ministry due to the awful internet in our area. Anyone working from home, or trying to navigate online schooling, is well aware of this.
Councillors were upset by the mandatory closures of small businesses such as barbers, restaurants, or golf courses. They wanted to know why rural and small town Eastern Ontario, is being treated in the same way as the big centres like Toronto or Peel. They wanted to know why a small business such as a barber shop, who could serve one client at a time, or a restaurant with a patio that could offer outdoor dining and social distancing would have to close.
MPP McDonell answered that this virus is spread more easily inside, and we only need to stay closed for a few more weeks.
The exchange became quite heated at several points. Councillors expressed concerns that their needs are not being met and their voices are not being heard by the province. There was frustration around what they see as a double standard. Although MPP McDonell said that big box stores were only selling food and pharmacy items, many councillors said that big box stores were not being policed. Dr Paul said that he had worked with the OPP to lay charges following some recent anti-mask gatherings in Alexandria and Cornwall. The Councillors were pleased to know that action was being taken, and asked to be kept informed.
MPP McDonell said that by the end of May, everyone will be vaccinated if they want it, even though the province is still now calling on the federal government to deliver vaccines to deal with a shortage.
Councillors were very emphatic that they want adequate enforcement at waterfront and parks this coming summer, as last summer it was very difficult to manage people who were coming from other areas to avoid their own areas which were under lockdown, or facing stricter restrictions. MP Eric Duncan was adamant that everything outside be open and available, with proper and appropriate social distancing measures in place, because people need to be outside for health and mental well-being. The municipal parks, waterfront, the St Lawrence Parks, the Conservation Authorities’ areas, all need to be open this summer. Councillors, MPP McDonell, and MP Duncan all agreed that international travel at airports should be more strictly controlled, quoting Premier Ford as saying the virus didn’t walk in here. The Councillors were grateful that MP Duncan, MPP McDonell, and Dr Paul took time out of their very busy evening, and on such short notice, to attend this meeting with the Councillors.