Monday, July 22, 2024

What does Pontiac need?

If you could change the channel from the current conversation about a garbage incinerator, what would you rather be talking about? What is the thing we should be making happen here in the Pontiac?
Apparently, we are not only one of the poorest parts of the province, but have some of the poorest health as well. What are we going to do about that? Many people across the Pontiac work day in and day out on these issues, but is there an agreed socio-economic development strategy designed to lift us out of this situation?
Where do we start? One approach would be to take stock of our strengths, our resources, what we’re good at, what we have to offer the world. Perhaps we would find that it is something other than the willingness to burn other people’s garbage.
When the Pontiac comes to grips with where its priorities lie, could we harness the power of our collective energy and creativity to push in the same direction? Could we use the various grants that are available to us – for example, the millions of dollars in vitalization grants doled out each year by the MRC – in a more strategic way where all the pieces drive towards moving a particular agenda forward?
And, if so, what is that agenda?
Some may see garbage as a resource, but there are many people in the Pontiac who see our forests and farmlands as having value too. What can we do to give Pontiac farmers a leg up, whether they are helping to feed the world with grain, milk or meat or supplying nearby urban markets with locally-grown produce. Could it help to develop a Pontiac brand designating the wholesome nature of food produced here?
The word is that changes to the building code will allow construction of wood buildings up to 18 storeys high, which could create a growing demand for a cross-laminated wood product known as mass timber. Is this a market Pontiac’s forestry producers could supply and, if so, what needs to happen to make this possible?
It has often been said that our hospital, clinics, seniors’ residences and long-term care facilities provide a great foundation on which we could build a reputation and an industry as a retirement community par excellence with accessible infrastructure, a workforce of health care and personal support workers, and all the other services needed by aging baby boomers.
If there was a resource at our doorstep that presents opportunity for the Pontiac, it is not Ottawa and Gatineau’s garbage, it is their population in the millions that want healthy food, wholesome recreational activities in an unspoiled environment, and great community and cultural events. Millions of tourists and conference-goers visit the nation’s capital each year. How can we draw even a fraction of them to the Pontiac for a weekend tacked onto their trip?
Without box stores and franchised coffee shops at every corner, we have an authentic Pontiac experience to offer, the real deal, just an hour’s drive out of the city. Ask anyone in the tourism, recreation or hospitality business what we need to do to entice these nearby populations to come to the Pontiac, and you will immediately hear about the need for more lodging, better public transportation and some compelling marketing.
When we put ourselves on the map and people have had a chance to experience the beauty, charm and hospitality of the Pontiac, how many will want to stay, just as they do in other memorable parts of the country?
There has been talk for years of integrating the two Pontiacs – the municipality and the county. The Municipality of Pontiac could one day find itself downwind and downriver from an incinerator located in Pontiac County, with dozens of garbage-filled trucks rumbling up and down its highways day and night, and will have had nothing to say about it because its mayor sits at a county table on the other side of the mountain. Together the two Pontiacs comprise the forests, farmlands and villages of the western-most edge of the province with a shared history, culture, economy, river, mountain and highway. Imagine what they could do together working on their shared challenges and opportunities.
Pontiac, what are your ideas? If you could change the channel from the current conversation on the incinerator to something we really need to be focussing on here, what would it be?

Charles Dickson


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