District of Muskoka chair John Klinck wearing his chain of office while standing in the district council chamber
Photo source: District of Muskoka via muskoka.on.ca

Much had happened and much had been learned in the past two years, District of Muskoka chair John Klinck told club members.

"Nobody prepares you for what started in 2020," said Chair Klinck, who joined us as a guest speaker in April. "There was no training course."

While the district and area municipalities routinely collaborate on mock-emergency exercises related to train derailments, infrastructure threats, catastrophic floods and other natural disasters, the unique logistical, social, economic, political and other complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a considerable learning curve for elected officials and community leaders across Ontario. 

Chair Klinck recalled that a huge amount of information streamed in almost hourly from the provincial and federal governments, as well as public health, in the early days, and the district and others had to sift through it, while district council and staff, area municipal councils and staff, and community partners mobilized response efforts. 

He noted the pandemic had put added pressure on several priorities facing Muskoka. Those included the need for improved internet access and access to technology to support online education and remote work at home, and the importance of public libraries and community centres related to publicly available internet access. Other heightened regional priorities included recruitment and retention, daycare, emergency services, solid waste, the heavily seasonal economy, and the district's role in community safety.

For example, he pointed out that roughly two-thirds of the district's staff are essential service providers, including long-term care home staff, paramedics, and water and sewer infrastructure operators. 

And attainable housing was, of course, a massive priority only deepened and made more complex by the pandemic. 

Chair Klinck also noted that, while some may argue leaders didn't always make the right decisions in response to the crisis, he believes decisions were made with the best interest of the community and its members in mind.

"Regardless ... we should be proud of the way our community came together through it all," he said. "And grateful for our health-care workers in Muskoka, and our essential workers, who continued to serve their communities during the pandemic."