One Manitowaning Road

Trillium changes will have profound impact on the North

Governments of late have been fixated on the concept on budgets, deficits and value for taxpayer’s money, all of which are laudable preoccupations for those entrusted with our tax dollars, but when it comes to public service, the foundations of a just and equitable society and investments for the greatest weal across a landscape as vast and diverse as Ontario, a close tally of beans does not always bring the greatest harvest.

The auditor general is charged with looking over the many shoulders of a bureaucratic behemoth that dwarves that of many small nations, operating in a modern social democratic mixed economy society. Nothing gives an accountant the shivers quite as bad as a system where the outcomes are difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. Their solution is, and by their own definitions and standards must be, to put in place systems and counters that allow the measurement of outcomes priority of place in all decisions. But many things that lead to a greater quality of life are very difficult to quantify, at least to the satisfaction of bookkeepers.

The current raft of changes being implemented by the Ontario Trillium Foundation have that most laudable of goals, to measure the impact of the investment of tax dollars into the province’s not-for-profit sector, which these days include municipalities and First Nations, and to create a level playing field where the inference of favouritism and bias is eliminated.

For Northerners, the experience of how these efforts, particularly the latter, play out has not been universally positive. Under the new regime, support for those seeking Trillium grants will have to dial up a central call centre based (you guessed it) in a southern Ontario office tower. Gone are the days of working with a local program manager to craft an application that stands a good chance of success when the decisions to dole out the funding are being made.

The knowledge of how applications should be worded for success will now largely be the domain of professional grant writers, for they are the only ones who will have the experience and history needed to sort out and craft a winning entry in the ever more competitive race for funding. For the rest of us, that local wisdom will be replaced by a system that, as history has amply demonstrated, will see someone for whom the North lies somewhere north of Toronto’s Steeles Avenue giving critical advice on the completion of project applications. This is a system that has always proven disastrous for Northern Ontario.

The Trillium Foundation has often wished to fund deeper and longer projects, attaching its name to the projects more likely to impress their political masters and urban media organizations due to their sheer size and scale—when measuring impact, larger always appears to give a bigger bang for the buck.

But Trillium’s true impact in the North, as any small municipal community leader can tell you, is in the tiny micro-investments in new roofs for remote community centres, the new stove for a struggling local Royal Canadian Legion or tables and chairs for an off the beaten path seniors’ club. The kinds of projects that project managers have guided gently through the intricacies of the system since the foundations’ very beginning.

Legion kitchens and community hall roofs are not terribly sexy, and the impacts of a small community arts programs for children are admittedly difficult things to measure, but they have immeasurable impact on the quality of small, remote Northern communities.

We can pray that the changes that have come to the Ontario Trillium Foundation will prove to be positive for Northern communities, but sadly, history suggests the opposite will prove true. Should that prove to be the case, the quality of life in Northern Ontario will suffer, despite the best efforts of those tabulating the public weal in the provincial counting house to accomplish a greater public good.