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Posted on: October 13, 2015  |  

The summer season of 2015 is now behind us, the poplars and birch are finally showing off their fall coats, and rumours of frost are in the air. A time for thanksgiving. The standoff between our dogs, Oscar and Gus, and the beavers is ongoing. Bark is their common denominator. Our rodential neighbours are intent on wintering under our dock; the dogs take great exception. Life goes on. This has been a summer of torrential downpours and lake levels are high. High time for Parks to start drawing down the water to prepare for next spring’s run-off.

Our summer of 2015 membership campaign has been a resounding success; our numbers are back up to the 2,000 range, and still climbing, as we near the start (November 1) of our 2016 membership campaign. Our members have also been very generous in supporting our legal and public relations reserve funds and we are about half-way to our target. For those of you who are still pondering your level of support, I urge you to contribute. There are no guarantees, but if our campaign has any measure of success, savings to individual cottagers will be many thousands of dollars over the next five years. That is the extent of the government’s overreach.

I also want to thank the many intrepid canvassers who, with the leadership of Gary Kennedy and  Deborah Seguin, have gone door to door to make the case for joining and supporting the Whiteshell Cottagers Association. Our objective is become a true, bottom up, membership-driven organization, and the canvassers, by making face to face visits, have established and strengthened the personal relationships that we want to be the source of energy for our association.

Under the leadership of Ronald Smith, we have also made excellent progress in the development of a coalition of Provincial Cottage Associations. We are especially delighted to welcome the Manitoba Association of Cottage Owner (MACO) to the fold, and are equally pleased that the South Whiteshell Chamber of Commerce are also supporters of our cause. The Government needs to know that most of the stakeholders in the Parks are deeply concerned about the negative consequences of their “New Parks Strategy” and are united in opposition to its full implementation.

How does this coalition translate to actual votes in a provincial election? We can’t be certain, but our research suggests that between 1 out of 10 or 12 families in the province are regular cottagers. Add on friends and extended family members who value their regular cottage visits and we arrive at an estimate of 50,000-100,000 individual voters who are inclined to vote to protect their cottage experience. Most of these voters are in the city and suburbs of Winnipeg, where, the pundits claim, the provincial election will be determined, and where there are many city NDP MLAs with thin majorities. It is the NDP who have used wedge politics to make the false case of “fat cat” cottagers against us. Next spring will be the time to remind the NDP that wedges can cut two ways.

Your organization is very much focused on the political timeline of the upcoming weeks and months; the federal election will dominate the political stage until the middle of October, but the scheduled fall sitting of the Provincial Legislature, and the upcoming spring Provincial Election are squarely in our sights. Many of our members have expressed the view that the current Parks Tax Plan of the government has the flavour of a finger in the wind…a testing of public reaction to a controversial tax grab. Whether this speculation is correct or not, this season provides all cottagers with the opportunity to demonstrate their strenuous opposition to the government’s scheme. The WCA will begin rolling out our public relations campaign, but this should not lull our membership into a feeling of comfort and safety. We urge you all to get engaged in the political process by communicating directly with your own MLA and the caucuses of the political parties. Write letters, pay visits, get on social media and generally speaking MAKE NOISE!

We have prepared informative brochures and back ground notes to help you craft your own messages. The bottom line is that when the government recognizes the depth and breadth of the public’s opposition to this tax grab, they will be much more likely to enter discussions with your association to find a fair middle ground for the development of our Parks.

To my mind, the most critical piece of information the government needs to digest is that even as we speak, many cottagers have either sold, or are considering the sale, of family cottages. These cottages have never been viewed as “financial assets” and there is no reveling in these sales as windfalls. Instead there is anger and resentment against a government that is forcing modest income cottagers to relinquish their cottages which are full of memories and dreams. I have written this before, but I repeat; I cannot fathom the thinking of an NDP government, that for a small increase in revenue, is prepared to sacrifice the deep interests of the very people they are committed to support, that is the modest income Manitoban. And make no mistake, when it comes to income levels, cottagers are no different from ordinary Manitobans. Cottagers are simply ordinary Manitobans, many of them fixed income seniors, who have prioritized their expenditures and found ways by dint of hard work and sweat equity to build and enjoy their cabins by a lake, and to pass this experience down to the next generation; to many this defines living the Canadian dream.

The spectacular ads for the Health Sciences Centre Dream Cottage at West Hawk Lake make this same point clearly. Manitobans are lining up by the thousands to take a flutter on this dream, and I can think of no better cause for a lottery. (Disclosure: for many years I worked at the Health Sciences Center, and I am a big supporter of that institution and their research activities). But I can’t help but point out an ironic aspect of this offering. The lucky winner of the cottage will also be provided with $10,000 in cash, presumably for minor improvement. But they should know, when they make their decision to accept the cottage or take the money and run, that every year that they “live the dream” there will be a substantial tax bill that will need to be paid out of pocket. The combined service and rental tax for a lakeside road-access cottage at West Hawk is nearly $8,000. That amount is currently discounted by the Ministry, but as current legislation stands, it rises inexorably to that $8,000 number. And which average Manitoban, with an income of $47,000 can afford that kind of tax? So the cottage will be sold to someone who can afford that kind of hit, and the government can chalk up another victory in their drive to force ordinary Manitobans out of the Parks, and turn them into playgrounds reserved for the rich.

Please reflect on this outcome of the NDP tax strategy for the Provincial Parks; but don’t stop there. Go visit your MLA, encourage your friends and neighbours to do the same. Write some letters, make your views known, and MAKE SOME NOISE!

By Daniel Klass, WCA President

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