To some, it may seem as though I have been missing in action since signing my name to the infamous letter published in the Hub March 29, 2021 addressing the Board of Health and Dr. Arra. The opposite is true. I have been busy dealing with the aftermath of opening a stinky can of worms. And, I am even more committed to both understanding the current situation with the Board of Health, the inflated salary of the Medical Officer of Health and the ongoing concerns about the workplace environment at our Grey Bruce Health Unit.

First of all, I want to say how glad I am that I was not voluntold to sit on the Health Unit Board by virtue of being elected to council. I am two years into my first term. I have learned so much and still have so much to learn. I certainly would not have felt qualified to be tasked with understanding the intricacies of the operation of a health unit and its large budget…in a pandemic. In addition to figuring out my own role in my “part-time” job on council (a learn-as-you-go situation with minimal training)…in a pandemic…while juggling the realities of my own life…in a pandemic. And yet, being elected to a council is the only requirement to sit on the Board of Health.

Another of the surprising things I have realized in the past two years is that almost anyone can sit on council too. Some positions are given to people, even without a vote because there are no line-ups for folks wanting to step into the role of councillor. Councillors come to the table with their own work and life experience, education and perspectives. Some have a lot of time and energy to give to the job, some don’t. What is consistent is that for the majority, they signed up because they care about their communities and want to make a difference. Mix in a bunch of ego, other life commitments, lack of training and a whole lot more and you have a council of people trying to work together for the common good. It is one of the most important jobs I’ve had with the least amount of training. For the most part, common sense, and a willingness to ask questions and think critically has allowed me to do what I feel is the best job that I can.

As a public figure, how you live and show up to the task is under the watchful eye of the taxpayers you are accountable to. As it should be. In this supersized social media world being scrutinized under the giant magnifying glass of all of the people stuck at home, it is a challenge to put yourself out there.

A case in point is what is currently happening to John Tamming. He has unfairly become the handy scapegoat and distraction to this Health Unit uproar. But, the silver lining has been the number of intelligent, articulate critical thinkers who have also been willing to stick their necks out to demand better. I am grateful for that. I do hope however, that if I had been “voluntold” and put in the position of overseeing the operation of our very important Health Unit- especially at this point in this crazy drama – I would be demanding a full investigation to figure out how to improve the function of the board and the overall operation of the Health Unit.

As I have watched this unfold, my perspective has shifted from simply wanting to know how Dr. Arra used a system that allowed for his exceptional pay out from our precious tax dollars to how Dr. Arra has managed to paint himself in such a way that so many are willing to take him at face value. I know that I took great solace in watching and listening to Dr. Arra’s sage advice during the regular Facebook videos put on by Bruce Power. Call me a groupie. I tuned in to almost all of them. It was reassuring to hear how well we are doing. I was and am thankful for how well our community has fared during this pandemic.

One of the arguments that I find very perplexing is that because we are in a pandemic, we should ignore the questions about an untenable work place so that we can get through to the other side of this crisis. I say the opposite is true. We need to support the majority in this situation and not the elite minority at the top. These frontline workers are essential in supporting our communities during the pandemic and to lose over a dozen people in less than two years is worrisome. Losing the wealth of experience and knowledge of those accumulated years is not in everyone’s best interest during a health crisis or ever.

In order to sustain the rigors of managing this pandemic, the team needs to feel valued, supported and equipped with whatever they need to continue to do their important work. To that end, one of the early red flags for me, was the overtime justification of Arra’s 24/7 work schedule. This in a time when we saw far lower case numbers than most of Ontario.

Should we thank Arra for helping us to keep out numbers low? Absolutely, that was never in question. Should we also thank the team he counts on to carry out his missive everyday? Yes, of course. Should we be concerned with how much money is going out the door now, when our numbers have risen? Yes, definitely. In my mind, this was never about Dr. Arra, the individual. It was and still is about a situation that seems not quite right.

It started with a Sunshine List salary that I find most people have to repeat in order to get their head around it. That kind of money isn’t comprehendible from most of our perspectives. To say that you can make that much and not even realize it until your T4 comes in is a privilege not available to the general population. The general population, who, in fact, worked for far less wages to pay into the pot that wages like that comes from.

The show Dr. Arra was allowed to put on at the Owen Sound council chambers was all about him. When someone reveals themselves to you, I say thanks and learn from that. The infamous flamethrower comment tells a lot about him as a person. To allow that comment to stand unquestioned tells me a lot about the people who should know better and do better. Civility, for all its challenges, is in my estimation one of the first rules of council. It is as necessary to the process of democracy as the ability to speak freely and ask questions of those in power.

I have been accused of casting doubt and causing harm by shining light on this ongoing problem. The light did not cause the problem. The problem existed long before it was exposed.

To me, this situation feels sadly familiar. It took years for folks to see the corruption, cover-up and abuse of power in the Catholic Church leaving many victims in its wake. And still, today some refuse to believe that the system that not only allowed it to happen but also protected the perpetrators, was and is critically broken. Putting anyone on a pedestal without scrutiny is never a good idea.

Questioning authority in a time when you feel vulnerable is scary. We are all feeling vulnerable right now. However, not questioning authority will only leave us more vulnerable. Our democracy demands that we put all of the facts on the table for all to see. Shift out the good stuff, remove the rot and rebuild a foundation strong enough to withstand the next storm. Will it be easy? No. Are we already tired? I know I am. Is it necessary? I still think so.

On April 21st, I made a request to Erin Meneray to be added to the agenda to ask questions (again) at the next Board of Health meeting on May 28th. To date, I have not had a response. If a delegation were ignored in my Municipality, it would be cause for concern and rectified.

At this point, I am not sure what more can be said. Except, I hope soon, thank you to the Board for initiating an independent investigation into the matter.

Melissa Kanmacher, Paisley