Guest Editorial: Rural vs. Urban

By Victor Schwartzman
September 14, 2009

A recent article from The Sudbury Star noted the lack of certain health programming in rural Ontario—for example, mental health programmes. A member of
the Ontario Legislature, France Gelinas, is currently leading a Legislative committee touring rural Ontario communities (i.e. not Toronto), gathering information
about the current situation. It appears obvious that when it comes to ‘services’, good luck if you do not live in Toronto.

But the same situation, big city v. small city, town or village, exists in other Provinces..

For example, here in Manitoba the situation is possibly worse. That is because we are a small province with limited population and resources. As a result not only are certain services concentrated in Winnipeg, our biggest city, but there are likely even less services available outside the “perimeter highway” around Winnipeg. Ontario has larger cities, such as Hamilton or London, while Manitoba simply does not have the population.

The result is the same: services concentrated in the city.

The standard argument is there is no money available to spread these services out. False argument.

If the Ontario Governments (any of them, including those Governments which depended on rural support to obtain a majority) truly cared for people in rural areas, the fix is easy. The Government raises taxes. Then there is enough money to provide everyone with reasonable services, no matter where in Ontario they lived. It is a political decision to deny rural people certain services.

In Manitoba, a medical emergency requiring specialized surgery ends with the rural person being transported to the Big City. In some situations that is unavoidable. Yes, there are only so many neurosurgeons. But what about services which do not require that rare person with such specialized knowledge that takes years to acquire? What about people who need counseling for anxiety? Who need help after damaging their brains from solvent abuse? With respect
to mental health services, people who need them likely need them immediately, and close to home.

How large is the problem? In Manitoba, the Government can not tell you how many people have destroyed their brains solvents so that they require specialized ongoing care. My guess is, the Ontario Government has no real idea how many rural people need such services—and if the Government does not know specifically that thousands of people require help, then it can keep its head in the sand and avoid the situation.

By the way, last I heard there were a minimum of about 3,000 Manitobans who had abused solvents so badly they would require ongoing care. In Winnipeg, there are various services, including group homes, set up specifically to help the large flow of rural people into the city for services which require them to be there. Outside of Winnipeg, as best I recall, for solvent abusers there was one government treatment workshop, with about thirty seats. The
waiting list is quite long. Some solvent abusers probably would pass away before their name came up.

Given the need in rural areas, and the Government response, it is hard not to think such a programme is a scrap to keep rural areas. Such programmes can hardly be called serious service delivery. Worse, according to the article, many of these important services are not even delivered by the government. They are delivered by volunteers, with minimal funding. That volunteers are needed is also a demonstration of the important of their work, and the need
for a better situation that does not depend on volunteers.

One would have hoped that as our society grew it would appreciate that people who do not live in big cities are, well, also people.

Being more expensive to provide services in rural areas is no reason not to provide those services. Unfortunately, the entire situation, including a fact finding tour (which I support and is well meant) illustrates that progress on disability issues in Canada has taken twenty steps back. Issues which were
resolved decades ago have returned.

If they ever really went away.

And here we are again, with Governments studying the problem. The report will be well meaning. And the Government will then study it. For a year or two. Then enough time will go by so maybe something has changed, and the Government will say, let’s study it some more!

People with disabilities need services in their home communities. Often such services are needed for a very long period, possibly for life. What excuse can there be for not establishing permanent, properly funded services to provide needed services in rural areas—services that exist in big cities such
as Toronto? The only logical reason is that: a) the Government doesn’t really care what happens to rural people with disabilities, and b)…well, is there a b? Doesn’t (a) say it all?

The Ontario Legislative committee mentioned in the article is on the right track. There should be equity between rural and urban. Ontario now has the opportunity to start to correct the current situation.

If only Manitoba had such a committee!

If only every Province had such a committee!

If only every Province made proper services for people with disabilities a right, and not a response to pleading!