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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Water tragedy's victims suffer still

By ROY MacGREGOR
Globe and Mail
Monday, Sep. 15, 2003

BRACEBRIDGE, ONT. — Here, under a surprising September sun that deserves its own ribbon, the core values of central Ontario are on display.In a sloping field on the outskirts of this small town that claims to be the midway point between the equator and the North Pole, the Bracebridge Fall Fair and Horse Show is in full swing, a country band on stage and the pride of the community thumbtacked to the walls.

Glady Taylor has won for penmanship; B. Iding for calligraphy. There are ribbons for everything from old hammers to "colourful stones." There are prizes for the longest zucchini and the largest squash. There are women here who bake from scratch and old men who just stand and scratch, their weight shifting from one leg to the other as they marvel over farm machinery from the previous century and even the century before that -- all still running as smooth and trouble-free as people around here like their politics.

The area that makes up today's riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka is about as Tory as it gets. A previous Conservative premier, the late Frank Miller, came from here and Miller's son, Norm, is the current sitting member. The man Norm Miller replaced was once finance minister, but Ernie Eves from nearby Parry Sound decided to leave politics in 2001 for the private sector before changing his mind and returning to run for, and win, the party leadership.

It is not, however, a given seat for the governing party. Every once in a while, the electorate in the various riding configurations that cover this area of small farms and small towns, large lakes and even larger bush clears its throat as a warning to those who have become too high and mighty with power -- the last being the brief flirtation with the New Democrats between 1990 and 1995 in the riding of Muskoka-Georgian Bay.

"That sort of shocked the boots off people around here," chuckles Ken Dawson, who is busy oiling a 120-year-old cedar shingle cutter back of the animal barns.

Dawson and his wife, Barbara, are long-time members of the Muskoka Pioneer Power Association -- its stated mission being the "preservation of heritage" -- and they spend much of their retirement making sure the pioneer values they so treasure get passed on to area schoolchildren.

"That's what it's all about," says Dawson, a former hospital engineer who also spent 42 years as a volunteer with the local fire department.

The Dawsons -- Barbara retired as a medical transcriptionist and will work as a returning officer in the Oct. 2 vote -- figure they have as good a sense as anyone as to what plays in Parry Sound-Muskoka and what won't play at all.

The former NDP member for Muskoka-Georgian Bay, for example, is now running for the Liberals in Parry Sound-Muskoka, and while the locals quite like the candidate, Dan Waters, they don't much care for change -- particularly when it comes to political stripes.

As for Eves, the former Tory member, some locals wonder how he could abandon them for the big city and a more suburban riding, while others take delight in a former local being Premier.

Walkerton? Not the issue it might be elsewhere. In fact, a lot of people around here are convinced the government had nothing, or next to nothing, to do with a water-supply disaster they blame on inept and dishonest officials at the local level.

Power supply? The blackout is hardly the issue in rural Ontario it seems to be in the cities and, besides, Ernie Eves showed pretty good leadership, didn't he? Anyway, a summer without a few power losses in this part of the country wouldn't be a summer.

Taxation? People here are generally satisfied with their lives, and while anyone would welcome a tax break, seniors like the Dawsons are dead against anything that might keep money from such critical areas as health and education. "It's not for us," says Ken Dawson.

Health care? While both Dawsons spent their working lives in health care, they actually supported many of the cutbacks that came down the past many years. "There was just so much waste," says Ken Dawson. What matters, adds Barbara, is "accountability."

Same-sex marriage? The big-city media might like to believe that this is a volatile core issue, say the Dawsons, but it isn't here. "We all know the odd one from 'the left side of the fence,' " says Ken. "I don't think that would ever be an issue around here."

"It might be a religious issue," adds Barbara.

"But it is not a political issue."

But, they are asked, there must be something that is bothering them -- surely.

There is, says Barbara Dawson.

"The backbiting," she says.

"There's just so much energy being wasted on negativity."

Energy these two members of the local power association say would last a lot longer if the 2003 election would just stress a few more positives.



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