Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
It has been reassuring to read our MRC Warden’s several letters to the Journal on the topic of Pontiac’s community health. In those letters Ms Toller focused on what might be called “social” health problems: smoking, alcoholism, drugs, obesity, and various other aliments caused by our own activities (or lack of). How refreshing to have the MRC looking at these very real problems which touch virtually every family in the Pontiac!
While health problems often begin with individual choices, banning these problems from the political sphere for this reason is mistaken. Every beer or extra 300 calories is the result of a choice, certainly, but these choices arise from social contexts which are best solved – if they can be solved at all – by community-wide solutions. A drink or a smoke may be a learned response to stress; so leaving the solution to each individual within a society which, for example, promotes drinking is bound to fail. Solutions must include a social component.
Nor can we over-look the high cancer rates our region suffers. Since these are often community-generated – the result of economic activities which provide the jobs and business activity we need – they need a community solution. And congratulations to Warden Toller for acknowledging this!
The Warden has been promoting a Pontiac-wide fitness centre and pool to lead this campaign for community health. But a Pontiac fitness centre is a long-term project, and when we see how long it is taking Quebec City to finish the Marchand Bridge, let’s not get our bathing suits out yet!
Meanwhile, and with every expectation of success on the fitness centre, shouldn’t the Warden and the MRC be promoting and expanding Pontiac’s existing facilities and opportunities for healthful activities? Organized sports and recreational activities offer benefits in every municipality. Our whitewater and beaches are unmatched resources. Our trails include the PPJ trail or Cyclopark – one of Pontiac’s resources already at work. In summer, the trail is used by cyclists, hikers, walkers, bird-watchers and those out for a stroll. This is wholesome activity – no heavy infrastructure, no fossil fuels.
However, since the warden’s bold decision to promote a fitness centre comes during a struggle between ATV drivers and PPJ tail users, we are surprised to learn that the Warden supports the clubs’ designs on the PPJ trail. (Quebec does not allow “multi-use trails”; mixing motorized vehicles with non-motorized uses
creates major safety issues, and adds to the expense of maintaining the trail. Provincial funds for the trail will be cancelled if the MRC opts for mixing uses.)
Pontiac’s Cyclopark demands physical activity – if only to keep fit, or to aid recovery. If the Warden is concerned about the wave of obesity affecting all of West Quebec, why is she supporting a motorized take-over and closure of an existing health resource? It’s a common understanding that while ATVs are a standard form of tourism, and the province has created a magnificent Quebec-wide ATV trail network, ATVs themselves are no aid to the health of drivers. There’s too little physical activity!
Before concluding that good health will come only from a big new facility, consider that this may work in Toronto, but not necessarily in the countryside. Our population concentrations are too small to deliver the revenues needed. Besides, we do
have an active culture: from splitting firewood to digging our gardens, repairing fencelines to canoeing and camping. We use all means at our disposal for exercise, the PPJ included. Closing it or cutting it up will remove a health resource, and add nothing healthful, an affront to the Warden’s plans.
If Warden Toller is determined to make healthy lifestyles a symbol of the Pontiac, the MRC has a great canvas to work upon: marathons and bike challenges, Iron Man contests, derbies and collections, hikes and narrated walks, tournaments and competitions. The MRC can then measure Pontiac’s happiness and health index – and spread that news across the country. Let’s move forward within the Warden’s new health initiative, not backwards. “Backwards” has produced our current health problems, which rightly alarm the Warden. Better community health is a challenge for us all.