Haliburton Highlands – dream destination?


Highlands Video not getting the props

SHRIKE – Terrance Gavan

The video included with this pompous rant is a great sample of the the best of the Highlands.

Begging the questions.

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Photo by Terrance Gavan

Come Monday, May 7, tourism stakeholders around the Highlands will congregate at the Haliburton Legion (8 AM TO 12 noon) to discuss the trenchant conundrum that bedevils cottage country. Whither this economy? Whither the Highlands in the grand scheme?

We had a guy, Bob Smith, hired by Haliburton County in 2005 ostensibly to bring “economic development” to this area. Or at least to attempt to reconcile some of the harsh realities surrounding chronic unemployment and seasonal wage disparities that dog this lovely summer waffle.

I don’t know what we paid Mr. Smith for his 7 year stint?

But if it was over about $23,000 per year? We got hijacked. $23,000 a year is about what a single mother of two is bringing in here in God’s country. Working two or three seasonal jobs. It’s why – these stark realities don’t lie – we are smack dab in the middle of a huge employment crisis here in the Highlands. We are the most ravaged economy in Ontario with the lowest per capita income in this province. Why?

Well that’s easy. It’s because the tourism business is all about bottom line and that bottom line includes doling out dog food for wages. Oh, it’s not just here. I worked in Invermere BC at a ski resort and worked alongside three ski instructors at Panorama Mountain Village who lived from Dec 1 to their first paycheck on Dec 23 on a big styrofoam cooler full of Cup of Soup. That’s no anecdote. Intrawest, the owner of the resort paid its real estate people about triple and quadruple what they paid their front line staff. Staff they expected to be cheerful and accommodating to every visitor to that resort.

It is de rigueur in the tourism biz to pay young employees dirt wages and expect “superb service” in return. I was named Employee of the Year at Panorama that season. I brought $5,000 in savings with me from Winnipeg. By the time I finished that season, not living on Lipton’s Soup, I had gone through over 75 percent of that stipend. Welcome to the tourism biz.

So yes. Whither the Highlands in the grand scheme. By the way Mr. Smith, the County’s hire, made considerably more that $23,000 per annum. In fact if you do the math we can deduce that the county doled out in the neighborhood of three quarters of a million dollars during his tenure. This from the same county council who tell seniors  – be careful folks at county, because baby boomers are a growing commodity here in Goosebump Haven – that any thought about delivery of a pool to this neck of the woods is absolutely unfathomable.

I think we can get a pool for about $750,000 if we team up with provincial and federal grants plus YMCA initiatives. Throw in another $500,000 (about what Dysart is looking at spending for required infrastructure upgrades on the decrepit old arena here in Haliburton in the next 5 years) and you get a pool, track and a pad of ice with a pretty nice gym area for local clubs and charities. And seniors.

Something to think about. Seniors that is. Pool and recreation upgrades too. So Mr. Smith is gone. Let’s do this. Take his salary. Place it in trust and let’s see what we have after 5 years. I’m not kidding. Do it. I bet, if we invest it properly, that we’re close to that pool. But that’s not what we’re talking about? Or is it.

The next big industry is centered on the burgeoning world of senior’s care. Getting them mobile and keeping them that way. The first town, village or county that seizes on that idea will reap huge benefits.

And? It pays better than tourism. So on Monday? Let’s talk about options. About the fact that the Highlands is a summer destination. And that summer wages are for University kids. Not permanent residents who deserve better. And we could maybe involve ourselves in a little rational thought. Why not go a step further and attempt to reward seasonal year round staff with some recognition. Let ’em take courses – subsidized – at Fleming College. Pay ’em more than minimum if they’re giving you more than minimum.

Please. Realize that living in Haliburton where gas is $1.32 a liter and rising like a bullet, and a car is a necessity for a single mom or dad? Please do not tell me that those people are “doing all right.”

They are not and for a seasonal employer to say that it’s all he can afford? Is disheartening. Your business is only as good as your people. And people can’t be happy if their first stop on the way home from work… is the 4 Cs.

Just a thought.

Of course you can tell gav where to shove this column by getting him at gav@haliburtonnews.ca[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]