Governments cannot treat Northumberland residents like we are invisible

By Robert Washburn

It seems as if politicians from all levels of government are hell-bent on making our towns, villages and hamlets – heck our county – invisible.

It is, as if, our leaders no longer want us to feel like we belong to Northumberland or Port Hope or Cobourg or Hamilton Township or Grafton. Rather they want to change things that make us distinct, unusual and unique. And, this assault on us comes with all kinds of justifications that are meant to soothe the wounds being inflicted.

First, there is the ongoing battle over the Port Hope police force, which thankfully got a small reprieve last week as council delayed the decision for three months while it continues to figure out if it should keep the local force or contract the OPP.

Then, there are the federal government’s plans to change the electoral boundaries for Northumberland County, a move eliminating the current Northumberland-Quinte West riding. Instead, Cobourg, Port Hope and Hamilton Township would join with a region stretching to Kawartha Lakes (think Lindsay, Bobcaygeon and surrounding area). From Grafton east, the residents would be joined with Prince Edward County.

If that was not enough, Cobourg residents got to see the new Parks and Recreation Master plan recently where there are a slew of proposals so outrageous, the councillor in charge, Larry Sherwin is going to get leg cramp from backpedalling so hard. One of the most egregious is the suggestion to remove or relocate the bandshell in Victoria Park.

Each one of these items deserves its own rant ripping apart the faux rationale for even consideration it. The recent opinion pages of this newspaper provide a taste of the public’s negative reaction. But, it is also worthwhile to take a moment to pause and think about all three because a disturbing pattern emerges.

The places we live are more than dots or lines on a map. It is a jambalaya of culture, history, icons and symbols. There are landmarks, old buildings, street names, and features that remind us of our past and inform our future. There are people, who can recall great stories of triumph and tragedy, while there are children playing in the parks who represent the next generation. There are also institutions, which serve us, but also contribute to our identity as a community and not just a subdivision on the edge of a metropolis.

Close your eyes and imagine Victoria Hall in Cobourg, the Ganaraska River in Port Hope, the Santa Claus parade and the cenotaph. It would be impossible to think of us without a local police force or fire department or children’s aid or hospital. Just ask anyone in Port Hope about the last item to know the sting and lasting scars created when its hospital was closed and the new Northumberland Hills was opened in Cobourg.

Yet, the bureaucrats and consultants file reports, plans and proposals that seem to callously disregard the human and cultural factors in favour of shallow rationale of cost-effectiveness and regionalization of services. Whether it is money or population shifts or a sense that newer is better, the reasons do not justify the ends.

Blithely, the politicians are pulled along like a bull with a nose ring, spewing cliché answers, quoting documents and trying to spin the media to sway public opinion. Meanwhile, the public is not fooled as these moves are obviously serving other’s needs and not local residents.

Port Hope citizens have set the example by rising up against town council. Residents elsewhere need to do the same. There should be such a backlash against these proposals so logical, so loud, and so passionate that politicians and civil servants should be trembling. Every tool, new and old must be used from social media to placards; protest marches to email campaigns. We must send a clear message: We are not invisible.