by Bill Jackson - The Regional

July 27, 2011

Some people get a little huffy when they hear about a protest being organized in the middle of the summer to address the ongoing smoke shack dilemma that shouldn't be a dilemma at all.

It's true that what Doug Fleming had to say this past Saturday could have probably been stated in another letter to the editor, but such scribing in a local paper often goes unnoticed.

This past weekend's pilgrimage out to the Plank Road 1 smoke shack attracted the attention of CH News. The Spectator and even some other local papers that rarely cover Caledonia issues anymore followed-up with an article this week.

Such a public display prevents politicians and authorities from flying under the radar for another few months as the Plank 1 Smoke Shack approaches its fifth anniversary.

While some media reports seem to focus more on a power source for a new burger barn than who's responsible for curtailing such illegal operations, authorities in charge of upholding laws, and obeying them, continue the buck passing.

That "mutual discussions" are ongoing is a tired line that's worn out its believability. While people heed and partly understand the position of county council and the mayor, who doesn't go along with such illegal business operations, adding to the frustration is the lack of details about such discussions that are supposedly ongoing.

At this point, even if something does get resolved by mutual discussion between affected parties, it's still an utter disgrace that it's taken this long.

Fact of the matter is that all levels of government including law enforcement have the authority to take some sort of action if they want. That they choose not to and say the only resolution is a collaborative one is dithering to delay any sort of confrontation.

But let's not kid ourselves. The only reason why the Plank 1 Smoke Shop makes the news to begin with is because of residents like Fleming, who refuse to stick their heads in the sand like the majority of politicians. Fleming sticks up for his own community.

Meanwhile, there are many other injustices going on across the province right now. I drive tobacco alley on Highway 54 everyday. Friends of mine who recently went to Sauble reported that natives are charging people for beach access. However, the moral of such stories remains constant.

If you allow such behaviour to continue, it only emboldens perpetrators who ramp up their illegal activity, building more smoke shacks and expanding to cover more beachfront. Hence a burger hut, or whatever you want to call it. Next, fireworks.

The only reason a smoke shack on Ernie Palmer's private property was removed back in 2009 was because the smoke shack owner was threatened with jail time after police intervened and pressed charges. Why they can't do the same on Hydro One property can only be political.

Why the county can't serve a summons - toothless or not - still eludes the critical mind. There's virtually no cost to issuing such an order and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. At the very least it would embarrass the province,  putting political pressure on the McGuinty government to be responsible or else continue disobeying bylaws.

Now that a burger hut is rumoured to be in the works, the health unit should have some clout, but it's unlikely that it will.

It's been almost five years since illegal smoke shops started to pop up along the Highway 6 corridor, and by now I think it's fair to say that the problem on provincial lands isn't going to fix itself. The sad thing is that five years later we're still sitting here wondering who's going to fix it.

It's despicable.