Friday, July 12, 2024

Connexions hosts first of five Pontiac focus groups in Otter Lake

Glen Hartle
Otter Lake
Jan. 11, 2024
A meeting held in Otter Lake last Thursday afternoon was the first in a series of five focus groups being convened across the Pontiac over the coming weeks for the purpose of building a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities impinging on the lives and well-being of the English-speaking communities in the area.
The event was convened by the Connexions Resource Centre and attended by four people whose input will help update the community portrait first developed by Connexions in 2018.
The 2024 update currently underway takes the form of focus groups positioned throughout the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais and the MRC Pontiac, as well as in an upcoming survey. For MRC Pontiac, there will be five focus group sessions in Otter Lake, Shawville, Campbell’s Bay, Portage-du-Fort and one last group in Chapeau bringing in communities from Upper Pontiac including Waltham, Chapeau, Allumette Island and St-Joseph’s. Residents who consider the location of the focus group to be their home area are asked to come out and in numbers to help provide an accurate portrait of the community within which they live.
Leading the focus groups are Connexions’ Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinators from the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais, Paul Brown, and from the MRC Pontiac, Shelley Heaphy. Both are relatively new to their positions with Brown taking the helm in June of 2023 and Heaphy later that November. Both are enthusiastic in their new roles and both brought a robust energy to the first of the focus group sessions in Otter Lake on Thursday.
There are three primary areas of interest for this community portrait update: health and well-being, social life and education, and, finally, economic conditions and the environment. Each area was further divided into three general layers aiming to collectively portray the area as comprehensively as possible: what’s good, what’s bad and what changes would be desired. Each area was allocated 20 minutes and attendees were asked to fill the time with their own words and with very little interruption from the facilitators, who were clearly intent on learning more about the residents and their perspectives.
The perspectives offered were largely similar to the ones offered in 2018. There were concerns over health care, access to essential government services in English, dwindling resources in the form of volunteers upon which many community-based services rely and increases in cost-of-living in conjunction with a decrease in options available.
Also tabled were perspectives on technology and how much of the information and services provided at all levels is almost exclusively online and that it requires a familiarity with the internet and computers to access them; a familiarity that is still a struggle or downright impossible for some of the Pontiac’s residents.
Cost of housing, distance to travel for services and electrical outages also made appearances in the, at times, lively discussion.
It is interesting to note that internet speed was not an issue, and perhaps this is a nod to Premier Legault’s mixed-success roll-out of high-speed internet.
One issue directly related to the focus group at hand was how news of the event was disseminated. Some present at the meeting voiced that they do not use Facebook or social media and were only in attendance thanks to word of mouth from other attendees. Questions of why events don’t appear ahead of time in the local newspapers arose and proposals were tendered as to how Connexions, and similar organizations looking to improve the well-being of residents, could better bridge the gap which appears to exist between communicating online and in print.
While Connexions has been around officially since 2010, the joint organizations from which it stems have been around longer.
One half of the heritage for Connexions lies in the Outaouais Health and Social Services Network (OHSSN). It represented one of the 18 regional networks created throughout the province as a part of the provincial Community Health and Social Services Network (CHSSN) Networking and Partnership Initiative (NPI). Founded in 2000, the CHSSN aimed to support English-speaking communities in the province in their efforts to redress health status inequalities and promote community vitality.
The other half of Connexions came from the English Network for Resources in Community Health (ENRICH), whose mandate was to promote, advocate, and develop improved health and social services for English-speaking families in the Outaouais.
Both core components of the organization can draw their roots back to the 1981 forming of the Regional Association of West Quebecers (RAWQ).
Connexions has drawn on its forming and expanded that raison d’être to envision a mission statement where it aims to “promote the health, social well-being, and vitality of the English-speaking community within the Outaouais.”
There have been many community assessments over the years, some conducted by the federal government, others by the province and some, more recently and perhaps comprehensively, undertaken regionally.
When Premier Robert Bourassa commissioned Bill 22, The Official Language Act for Quebec, in 1974, he set the wheels in motion whereby English-speakers within the province would increasingly see their ability to access services in English dwindle as the province became, officially, French-speaking only. As a byproduct of that, it was logical, and one would assume essential, to conduct outreach sessions with the community in order to get a sense of well-being.
Information gathered from the focus groups will be funnelled to a central location where consultants will undertake updating the original portrait, then crafted by anthropologist Mary Richardson, PhD.
The four remaining focus groups are being held in Shawville, Campbell’s Bay, Portage du Fort and Chapeau on Tuesday afternoons through January and early February (see Connexions ad for details).

Connexions’ Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinators Paul Brown and Shelley Heaphy are leading the focus groups and kicked things off Thursday in Otter Lake.


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