Dangerous winter roads

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Northern Ontario is a fantastic place to be born and raised in. Much of this vast land is composed of wilderness with sparkling lakes and rivers. We still have a lot of wildlife living here and many of us hunt and fish. Even more of us really just appreciate the fact that we can live in some degree of harmony with the animals and birds on our land.

I was born and raised in Attawapiskat in the far north of the province on the shore of the great James Bay. In the summer, with no road or train links, we were very much trapped in our communities as the only way to head to cities in the south was by expensive air travel. Our roads consisted of just a few streets that ran around town. It still is today.

Decades ago the winter road was created. That meant we could leave Attawapiskat and travel to other First Nations on the coast like Fort Albany, Kashechewan and Moosonee. In Moosonee we could transport our vehicles on a train to head south to Cochrane, which then gave us road access to points south.

As a boy, winter was my favourite time of the year. On a snowmobile I had the freedom to go almost anywhere I wanted as long as my Yamaha Bravo could float on the snow. Of course, we could also move about as our ancestors had for hundreds of years by snowshoe. This brought us freedom. During the spring, summer and fall seasons it was more difficult to move around. We were landlocked except for travel by boat on the bay and river.

When I moved south 20 years ago, I began to drive on the highways from Timmins south to Toronto, Hamilton, London, Ottawa and Montreal. I also began my love affair with motorcycles and ventured out in the summer on many exciting trips. It was during my first winter that I realized how dangerous it was to drive on the icy roads in northern Ontario.

Accidents began to claim the lives of people I knew and that made me realize that something was wrong with our road maintenance. My research has shown me that road maintenance was much better before it was privatized. Also, over the years there has been an increase in transport truck traffic and these huge vehicles driving on icy roads that are not always kept clean is a recipe for disaster.

The Conservative Mike Harris government privatized and contracted out all maintenance on the province’s highways in 1996, saying that it would save money. However, this has been proven to be false as the cost of maintenance increased right from the start. When the Ministry of Transportation ran the highway maintenance, roads were in better shape at less cost to the government.

For some reason, we let governments fool us into thinking privatization is better for us while the truth is that it is never really the case. It is more about right-wing governments helping out their friends and not really caring about the public. These days I am reluctant to drive in northern Ontario and the death toll keeps climbing every winter. I fear for family and friends who have to drive these highways to work and I am sad for so many families who have lost a loved one on our winter roads.

I don’t see any quick fix for this problem except perhaps to return the responsibility of highway maintenance to the province. The lesson I have learned from all of this is to never trust governments when they try to sell us on privatization. Our roads, healthcare system, education system, media, mail, transportation and prisons are way too important to turn over to corporations based solely on profit and loss.

It is a big lie, as most of the time privatization does not save money, ends up costing more and does a poor job for the public. The only way you can participate in making sure our roads return to some degree of safety is to vote for political parties that actually care about the people they are supposed to serve.

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