Politicians in Petrolia and Central Lambton say they will have to work even harder to gain the ear of the new provincial government.
The Liberals under Premier Kathleen Wynne earned a majority government in the June 12 provincial election, largely on the strength of the Liberal vote in Toronto. Most of rural Ontario, including the Sarnia-Lambton and Lambton-Kent-Middlesex ridings, have Conservative members of provincial parliament.
That worries Lambton County Warden Todd Case. The premier has already promised to pass the budget which triggered the election. It holds more funding cuts for rural municipalities. “It’s very, very scary to rural Ontario,” he tells The Independent.
The province cut it’s funding to local municipalities from 15 to 22 percent last year alone. They’re expected to face another, deeper funding cut. “Telling the province what that cut is going to mean to rural Ontario is job one.”
Case is also concerned the province’s direction on wind energy won’t change. Lambton County is staunchly opposed to the turbines which are springing up in the area. He hopes municipalities will be able to influence the province in its next round of projects. “At the same time I don’t see a lot of relief coming.”
Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Lonny Napper wants to see more interaction between rural Ontario and the Premier, too.
“I hope Premier Wynne will reach out to rural Ontario and say ‘We have a problem here.’ I think she’s smart enough to do that,” he says.
But Petrolia Councilor Mary-Pat Gleeson believes it will be the municipalities that will need to make the first move. “We have to be more aggressive and we have to recognize there have been some issues and that they may have some issues, too,” she says.
“People are so cynical and skeptical now – I understand that. But if you allow that to become your mode of thinking, then we never get anything done. “It’s up to us to keep our eye on the ball and try to solve our problems.”
Case agrees rural Ontario has to be proactive. “We need to really reach out and work with this government, to work with them to understand life goes on outside of the GTA…that there are things as important to rural Ontario as there are things that are to Toronto.