A tale of two communities

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Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities opens his novel with: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

In a way, I am looking at a tale of two Canadian communities – Fort McMurray and Attawapiskat – and Dickens’ words seem to fit the situation. Both are isolated communities that have been the victims of a crisis that affected the entire community. One having the community nearly burned to the ground and the other with the youth of its population finding the community’s living conditions so terrible they view suicide as a more viable option. Both are tragedies that require assistance, understanding, funding and more than a “superlative degree of comparison only.”

Superlative can mean one of two things: an extreme or unsurpassed level of something or an exaggeration. Each community has received one or the other. Fort McMurray has been the recipient of the first and Attawapiskat the second.

Fort McMurray is the recipient of Canadian generosity – as of May 11 the Canadian Red Cross has received $65 million in donations. The federal government has said it will match those donations. Other estimates expect Ottawa will spend upwards of $2 billion to see Fort McMurray rebuilt. The insurance companies have estimated they will have to pay out almost $6 billion to restore homes and businesses. That’s an amazing figure as well as a superlative response from around the country.

In comparison, Attawapiskat has received a cold shoulder – a few health workers to talk to the youth and a promise of $2 million over two years from Ontario. Children so racked with despair that they are trying to kill themselves doesn’t tug at the heartstrings of Canadians as much as people fleeing from a forest fire. There is not the same desire on the government’s part to create a viable infrastructure to alleviate the situation leading to so many children wanting to die rather than live in the conditions they do.

I am not trying to compare the two, but I want to understand why there is such an outpouring of assistance for one community versus another. Fort McMurray has the highest household income in Canada while Attawapiskat has no figures. I can only imagine it’s among the poorest. Is a poorer community not as much of a concern?

Looking at government responses you see an expected $2 billion or $25,000 per person for the 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray, while Attawapiskat is looking at $2 million or $1,000 per person for 2,000 people.

Hardly seems fair when you look at the crises both face. I have no problem with Fort McMurray being the recipient of Canada’s generosity, but I would have expected the same concern and response would have been more equitable to the community of Attawapiskat.

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