By Mike Baker
Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott says “there is light at the end of the tunnel” as communities all across Ontario continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
Speaking to the Echo, a day removed from the provincial government’s decision to prolong the closure of all public schools in Ontario until Jan. 25 in the wake of increased cases of the novel coronavirus, Scott pointed towards some of the “important” programs and initiatives launched in 2020, as well as the continued rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines as a reason for local residents to be optimistic as we progress into a new year.
Reflecting on what she says was “absolutely” her toughest year yet in politics, Scott, a five-term veteran of the provincial political arena, painted a picture of positivity when discussing a period that will undoubtedly be remembered by only one word – pandemic.
“The year started out in a usual way, then March came and it has been a year like no other. Fighting a global pandemic…” Scott paused, struggling to find the words appropriate to describe just how difficult the past 10 months have been for her, her government and, most of all, her people.
Still, she tried, going on to highlight the commitment and tenacity of all frontline workers who were faced with such adversity in the opening weeks and months of the pandemic. Scott makes a point of thanking the “many heroes” who unified and held our community together through such a tumultuous time.
“We have seen remarkable collaboration,” Scott said. “Right here at home, when you think about the doctors, nurses, PSWs, paramedics, police officers, firefighters, grocery store clerks, the truck drivers, just our neighbours – the men and women that said ‘this person is in isolation, we have to get them groceries’… That coordination… It brings a tear to my eye the fact that we live in such communities that really, truly help each other out.”
The widespread response to the devastating COVID-19 outbreak at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon was a prime example of that community spirit. With dozens of residents and staff infected, it was volunteers from other long-term care facilities and hospitals that swooped in to fill shifts and make sure things were taken care of at the most desperate of times.
By the time the province declared the near two-month outbreak at the facility was over, 28 residents and a spouse of a resident had died of COVID-19 complications.
When asked to describe the local response to the Pinecrest outbreak, Scott said: “Remarkable.”
Another highlight, Scott notes, was the tabling of Ontario’s 2020 budget, on Nov. 5 of last year.
“The budget really laid the foundation and enabled [the provincial] recovery to take place,” Scott said, pointing towards the government’s commitment of $45 billion in support funding to residents over the next three years.
Some of that money will be used to improve broadband internet services in rural communities just like Haliburton County. Scott stood alongside Premier Doug Ford when he visited Minden on the eve of the budget’s release, announcing nearly $1 billion in provincial funding to expand and improve internet and cell services across Ontario.
As a long-time advocate for new investments in high-speed internet across the riding, Scott says she was particularly pleased to finally see some movement in that department.
“There has never been more of a time to understand the digital divide that exists [in Ontario] than during this pandemic. We have to move faster and quicker,” Scott said. “I live it every single day as a resident up here… This is something we needed before, and we need to take the opportunities now to build it [up] and connect people. [This is] probably the biggest thing I can do for the people in my riding and in my area.”
There was also a mention of providing different supports to the tourism sector, a big deal here in Haliburton County, in an attempt to help different community groups and organizations get back on their feet later this year.
“We have not forgotten about that sector. There are programs rolling out, some beneficiaries have already received some help in our area, but that’s a coordinated effort that’s ongoing,” Scott said.
Calling herself a “people person,” our local MPP says she longs for the day we can put this pandemic behind us and return to some sense of normality. With the government continuing to rollout the COVID-19 vaccines, with the more high-risk areas receiving the first doses [see story on front page], Scott estimates it will likely be a few months before the majority of residents in our riding have the opportunity to get it.
“As hopeful as we are that those vaccines will roll out, it will be more in the spring when we see more people who aren’t so vulnerable getting it,” Scott said. “We certainly need more vaccines. We’re ready to distribute as many as we can. Some more will start arriving. This will all get better – there is light at the end of the tunnel.”