September 24, 2008

Stirring up trouble

As published in The Erin Advocate

While visiting the Wellington County Museum near Fergus recently, I opened the door of the County Archives office, not really knowing what to expect.

Turns out they have friendly staff who can help you find information about people and places back into the mid-1800s. Having nothing in particular to research, I asked to see their oldest copy of The Erin Advocate.

Out came the microfiche and there it was, tattered but intact, dated December 17, 1880, in its first year as a weekly paper. Published by Sylvester Dilts, it had subscriptions at $1 a year if paid in advance, and ad rates at 8 cents per line for the first insertion.

I enjoy the ads in old papers, like the one from the Erin Furniture Depot, in which D.S. Travis promises, “Furniture of a superior make to any hitherto sold in Erin”. Or an in-house promotion by The Advocate for job printing of posters and cards: “Neatest and Latest Style of the Art…Executed on the Shortest Notice”.

What really caught my eye, at the top of page one, was the headline: WOMEN: Schopenhauer’s Peculiar Opinion of the Sex. Here is a brief excerpt, for educational purposes, from a piece of writing that even in its day would have been considered outrageous and inflammatory.

“The mere aspect of woman proves that she is destined neither for the great labors of intelligence nor for great material undertakings. She pays her debt to life not by action but by suffering; she ought therefore, to obey man, and to be his patient companion, restoring serenity to his mind.”

“Women perjure themselves so readily in Courts of Justice that it has often been a question whether they ought to be allowed to take an oath. …What may be called the European Woman is a sort that ought not to exist. Those who help in the house and look after the house ought to be the only women in the world.”

Two questions stand out. Who was Schopenhauer, and what was his misogynist tirade doing on the front page of The Advocate?

Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher who lived from 1788 to 1860. He is known for his analysis of human motivation, arguing that basic human instincts supersede reason, and that human desires can never be truly fulfilled. He extolled the value of negating the will.

As a prominent Pessimist, he held that we live in the worst of all possible worlds, since if things were any worse, we would be extinct. He said that evil was the only real force in the world, and that anything good was just a brief respite from a boring, painful existence.

His ultra-intolerant views on women probably stem from tempestuous relationships with his mother and other women – though he also had praise for some.

He was a strong advocate of animal rights, remarking that animals are incapable of deception. He praised artistic achievement as more essential than science and reason. His work was considered influential on composer Richard Wagner, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

In 1851, at the age of 63, he became famous throughout Europe and North America with publication of a series of essays that include: On the vanity of existence, On suicide and On women – a translation of which found its way into Erin’s newspaper, 29 years later.

Publishers in that era often mixed classified ads with local, national and international news, fiction and trivia on their front page. Anything to attract readers.

I doubt there were many students of European philosophy in that little village.

My guess is that Mr. Dilts figured he could get away with printing part of a philosophy essay from a published book, titillating some male egos and enraging some female ones.

That was in the old days. Enlightened media outlets in the new millennium would never give attention to extremist views just to stir up trouble.

September 17, 2008

We’re all on the health team

As published in The Erin Advocate

A lot of things need to happen for the new Family Health Team to reach its full potential, and strong community support will be a key factor in its success.

The team approach to local health care is new to some people, but it has worked well in other areas. The East Wellington Family Health Team (EWFHT) is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health to provide service to Erin, Hillsburgh and Rockwood – the entire region from the Guelph city limits to Winston Churchill Boulevard, and from Ballinafad to Orton.

It came into being on May 1 this year, and is led by Executive Director Michelle Karker and Clinical Lead Dr. Duncan Bull. Patients of local doctors continue to be served at the existing medical offices in Erin and Rockwood, but major changes have started and many more are planned – including a new $3 million medical clinic in Erin and a smaller one in Rockwood.

The doctors are on staff. They do not bill OHIP for patient visits, and they are part of a collaborative team that will initially include a nurse practitioner, a dietician, a mental health counsellor, a program lead (for health promotion activities), registered nurses and a registered practical nurse.

“It is a personal choice for doctors,” said Karker. “They can earn a good living and not have to worry about running a business. Many doctors want a better quality of life.”

The team now includes doctors Duncan Bull, Carla Lennox and Shane Neilson in Erin and Jane Hosdil in Rockwood, but they are not accepting new patients. There is funding for three more doctors in Erin and two more in Rockwood, but with the shortage of doctors and nurse practitioners, recruiting is a major challenge. About 6,000 people in the area have no family doctor.

In the team model, patients have one primary doctor, but can be treated by other local doctors when needed. Treatment by other professionals will be conveniently available in the same building.

There will be no need to travel to Rockwood, since some staff will split their time between the two locations, though patients will still be referred out of town as necessary for testing or to see specialists. Patients will retain the right to have a family doctor outside the EWFHT.

For now, the team has leased office and treatment space in the basement of Dr. Jon Walcott’s optometry office at 18 Thompson Cres., near Kennedy Flags. Patients should be receiving some of the new services there by the end of October.

The team approach is a huge leap forward, not just because of the addition of provincially-funded staff positions, but also because of the more modern philosophy on which the team is based. They will treat illness, of course, but they will have the time and the mandate to work on prevention.

They will work for the whole community, not just their registered patients. For example, there will be health promotion activities in areas like diabetes care and heart health. Services may also be extended to outlying communities in the team’s region.

“It is for the community at large. This hasn’t existed before,” said Karker. “We are also a registered charity, so we can fundraise for things we need.”

What can individuals do to help? First of all, talk it up. If you know people in the health care field, promote Erin as a great place to live and work. The team has a volunteer board of directors – call the team office at 519-833-7576 to find out more. Mayor Rod Finnie is helping to initiate fundraising efforts – contact him at 519-855-4407 ext. 232 or to find out more.

When the fundraising starts, consider making a contribution. You will likely be helping to buy extra medical equipment that is not covered by the clinic budget.

The province will cover the cost of leasing the two clinic buildings, with the lease to be renewed every five years, but they will not build them. The team itself wants to focus on health care, not construction, and Mayor Finnie says the private sector has not been prepared to take on the Erin building.

That leaves the Town and the County as potential landlords. Either government could borrow to finance construction, and recover the money through the lease. The mayor and County Councillor Lou Maieron have urged County Council to do the borrowing, but the matter is unresolved.

It shouldn’t stay that way too long. A modern medical office is an important part of attracting medical staff. Discussion has started about potential direct financial contributions from the County and even the Town, and about whether the clinic would be on Town-owned land, said the mayor.

“It is about improving the health of the whole community,” he said.

Now that the province has come through with funding, the project should proceed as soon as possible.

September 10, 2008

Remnants of simpler times

As published in The Erin Advocate

As I was browsing through antique stores the other day, I got to thinking about the future. In the year 2108, what will they treasure as antiques from the things made in 2008?

Will they have gadget museums, and marvel that many of our inventions became obsolete within months? It is more comforting to contemplate the past.

I wandered into Beaver Mills Design on Main Street. There I saw beautiful 19th century papier mâché trays and hair brushes with silver handles. Often it is the infusion of art into practical items that makes them so attractive.

The quality of wood in some antique furniture is also a marvel, not to mention the skill of the makers. Polished mahogany, fruitwood and walnut are a pleasure to behold.

The most unusual thing I saw at Beaver Mills was a military campaign stool from the 1800s. It is like a lawn chair without the seat, a wicker panel that props up at various angles, allowing an officer to sit on the ground in relative comfort.

Further along the street, I was intrigued by a day bed at the Renaissance store. The intricate woodwork and upholstery were very interesting, but I liked it because it suggested a more leisurely era in which napping was more common – at least among the well-to-do.

One would need a large house for some of the pieces, like a set of 12 dining room chairs with carved wooden arms, or a huge mirrored wardrobe.

Antique shops like these do not have the space for large quantities. It is quite the opposite experience stepping into Rainbarrel Antiques, in the Old Community Hall, just inside Stanley Park.

It is a bit like a giant garage sale, but the selection is more interesting, with antiques ranging from Early Canadiana (1870s) up to the 1940s. There are so many objects of everyday life from bygone times that it is hard to take it all in. In this type of browsing environment, the pleasure is in the little things that spark memories.

For example, as a child I collected pennants, triangle-shaped souvenir flags of places I visited. My collection is long gone, but I enjoyed looking at Rainbarrel’s collection, complete with corny illustrations like a grizzly bear for Field, BC or a hunter shooting a deer for Shediac, NB.

I bought a pair of books called A Pictorial History of the World’s Great Nations, from the Earliest Dates to the Present Time, published in 1882.

There are treadle sewing machines, cedar chests, pioneer-style tools, furniture, framed art, fancy hats, yellow glass dishes from the 1930s and a stunning bridal dress and lace veil from the 1940s. There is a small forest of lamp stands, and re-usable materials like windows and table legs.

Rainbarrel owner Shirley Campbell is retiring and the store will close in October, so don’t wait too long if you plan to visit.

Where else will you find the Mork and Mindy board game? How about the K-tel vinyl recording of the Greatest Hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons?

You can now buy a USB turntable (not at Rainbarrel) – just plug it into your computer, play the old record and it creates MP3 files of the music. I have been thinking of getting one so I can put favourite songs from my LP collection onto my iPod, before it too goes the way of the dodo.

September 03, 2008

Gift horse needs a close look

As published in The Erin Advocate

The premier was in fine form last week, speaking like a father figure to his needy and troublesome children, the municipalities of Ontario.

“We want build even more infrastructure. But our government can’t do it alone. We need a partner. That’s where you come in,” he said to officials gathered in Ottawa for the Association of Municipalities of Ontario annual conference. “True partners always treat each other fairly.”

Does Dalton McGuinty really have to lay it on so thick?

It was a case of wrapping bad news with good as he announced $1.1 billion in extra one-time funding for towns and cities to make whatever improvements they want to their roads, bridges, public transit, water pipes, community centres or social housing.

Chronic under funding, however, has left a provincial backlog of $50 billion in municipal infrastructure projects.

Still, a drop in the big bucket is better than nothing, and some say we should not look a gift horse in the mouth. (Gift horses are not the same as Trojan horses, though it is best to wary of both.)

Inspecting a horse’s teeth is a way to check its age and state of health. If you get a horse as a gift, and immediately look in its mouth, the giver may be offended. Looking a gift horse in the mouth is to appear ungrateful. Spending by the province, however, is not a gift. It is our own money finally coming back to us.

Wellington County will get an extra $3.3 million and the Town of Erin an extra $622,448. To put that in perspective, Town budget figures show capital improvements in the roads department at $766,500 in 2007, and $1.9 million in 2008.

I am sure something worthwhile will be done with the money. But one question will be: do we spend it on things we would likely have done anyhow, and lower property taxes, or spend it on extra projects and forego the tax benefit? Personally, I would go for the extra projects.

Often it is not a matter of building new infrastructure, but of fixing the old stuff before it crumbles away. The work is too expensive for towns to handle on their own, but they do not know from year to year how much help they will get from Queen’s Park.

This new flow of cash comes from a $1.7 billion budget surplus the province had last year. Surpluses are based on the government’s own estimates, and tend to make them look good, even though the money is spent a year later. The first $600 million is going (by law) to reduce the debt, and the rest to what McGuinty calls “a priority of our choosing”.

He didn’t call it a gift, but it was delivered with pomp and a superior tone. He made it clear that he could have decided to spend the $1.1 billion on health care or education instead. In the same speech, he also warned that since Ontario’s economy is not doing well, there would be no extra money next year. But the real bad news, especially at the county level, was his warning that plans to reverse the downloading of social service costs would proceed slowly.

“We won’t be able to move as quickly as we first thought we could when it comes to taking on new financial obligations,” he said.

Progress has been made as the province takes back some of the costs that Mike Harris dumped on municipal governments. But if they could take back much more, municipalities could make more progress on infrastructure.

Conservative MPP Ted Arnott has been rightly critical of the government for not providing stable funding for small towns from gas tax revenues.

Mind you, the Conservatives were not known for stable funding. And let us not forget one of the reasons Harris downloaded so many costs: the tag team of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin had severely cut funding to the provinces to control the federal deficit in the mid-1990s. And why did we have a huge federal deficit? Could it have been all that borrowing and spending by Trudeau and Mulroney on things like infrastructure?

I don’t expect the province to spend wildly during an economic downturn. But I am offended when they treat the spending of my money on my community as a gift for which I should be grateful.

It is within their means to make infrastructure funding more stable and predictable, so that municipalities can do a better job of planning projects that are badly needed.