Heritage icon or white elephant?

Collingwood grain elevators
Everyone recognizes the Collingwood terminals, one of the iconic (albeit unused) grain elevators on the Great Lakes, but it is actually the fourth on our waterfront. The first three were wooden; the first one was built in 1855 and burned in 1862, the second was built in 1871 and also burned down (date unknown); the replacement third was demolished in 1937. (I’ve got pictures of the first and third, but not the second – although I have seen an early photo showing two elevators on the waterfront together).

Built in 1929, the existing elevators heralded a new era for Collingwood as the terminus of a great transportation network that brought grain from Canada’s western provinces to be distributed here to the eastern half of Canada and, once reaching the east coast ports, overseas. But it never lived up to its promise.

It stands 100 feet tall (183 feet at the top of the superstructure), is 350 feet long, and has 95 bins (55 large, 25 smaller ‘star’ bins and 18 half-stars) inside to hold the grain. It was built on 125,000 wooden piles – using 700,000 feet of timber and 26,500 barrels of cement, plus another 695,000 feet of timber for the concrete forms used to build the structure above. The railway line ran to the terminals and could hold 70 cars at a time.

Shortly after it opened, in Sept. 1929, the Great Depression brought most commercial business to a standstill. Then, while the world was recovering, the Welland Canal opened (1932) and ships could sail directly from Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay) through to Lake Ontario. They didn’t need to stop and unload in Collingwood. The terminals still got used, but never in the volume expected.

Built to handle 10 million bushels of wheat a year, by the start of WWII, it was only handling about 2 million. The outbreak of war proved a brief boon for the terminals, though: grain shipments climbed to about 8 million bushels by 1945 and in 1948 52 ships docked there – one of its best years. But another change was coming: the St. Lawrence Seaway. When it opened in 1959, ships could sail directly from Port Arthur to the east coast. Business at the terminals plummeted.

The owners made several efforts to drum up business. They sponsored Western farmers to grow corn in the 1950s, but when the Ontario corn market grew in the 1970s, they went after the milling business, which remained its major work until the terminals closed.

The Beattie family, from Stayner, bought the building in 1973, then the Hamilton brothers bought it from them in 1987. The Yacht Club leased the land south of the terminals in 1974. Similar terminals in Midland and Port McNicoll closed in 1990, while Collingwood’s struggled on until 1993. The town purchased the site in the late 1990s.

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Sunset Point parking

Sunset Point parking

Sunset Point Park is easily Collingwood’s most popular park and for good reason: it’s a wonderful resource and a great place to spend an afternoon. Summer weekends it’s always full of families, couples, pets and picnics. You’ll see swimmers, kite flyers, cyclists, sunbathers, strollers, anglers and hibachis everywhere. People come from miles around – even many from the GTA – to spend the day in Collingwood’s Sunset Point Park.

And with that comes the problem: parking. People drive here and their cars have to go somewhere. The small lots fill quickly and then overflow onto the nearby side streets.

The park is so popular and so often full that locals know not to drive there on warm weekends because the parking spaces fill up early. We get there by walking or cycling – or we head to less-popular spots. The past two weekends alone, we turned around and left when we couldn’t find a space to park (our dog likes to swim in the warm, shallow water of the bay, so we went elsewhere).

Traffic in the quiet residential area around the park becomes busy – even hectic – as visitors jockey for the few street spaces nearby or rove around hoping someone in the park will pack up and leave. Buses empty their passengers, then drive off to await in some more distant parking lot to return at pick-up time.

The image above (map from Google Earth) shows the existing public parking spaces marked with yellow lines. Not many spaces for such a popular park. And there really isn’t much if any space nearby to use for more parking. Besides, no one would be happy if the town sacrificed our precious greenspace for parking.

Right now, all parking there is free. But is that appropriate?

No one pays to use the park, either – which is how parks should all be. Yet parks require maintenance. Litter must be removed, bins emptied, grass cut, sidewalks and roads mended… and you, the taxpayer, pays for it all.

I don’t want to discourage visitors – after all, they are likely to spend money in local stores and restaurants, and thus help our local economy – but as a small town, we have to consider our expenses carefully.

Maybe we should consider making the parking spaces in this area into paid parking to help cover the cost of park maintenance.

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What about climate change?

Forest fires. Flooding. Drought. Algal blooms in our lakes. Extreme temperatures. People dying in heat waves.

Climate change and its effects have been headline news this year more than ever. The New York Times dubbed 2018 the “summer of fire and swelter.” 2018 is predicted to be the fourth-hottest year on record – and the three hottest before that were the three previous years!

So what are we doing about it?  Nothing, it seems, at least in many places. The NYT commented that the unrelenting news is, “… revealing in real time how unprepared much of the world remains for life on a hotter planet.”

In Ottawa, on the sweltering Canada Day, the humidex made it feel like it was 47C. Montreal reached a record 37C the next day – and that wasn’t accounting for the humidex, which topped 40C. Thirty four people died in Montreal from “heat-related complications” that week.

What can we do? Or more importantly, what can Collingwood do?

I don’t know. Small municipalities are limited as to what they can achieve and whatever effect they can accomplish would be small. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, that we shouldn’t so something. Climate change, after all, is affects everyone. Those in government have a responsibility to make an effort and not simply ignore the problem.

Not just higher tiers of government, either. Surely there are constructive, positive things we can accomplish at the municipal level, even for a small town such as we are. 

This is important because it is getting worse and the effects are cascading throughout every facet of our lives, as the NYT reports:

Temperatures are still rising, and, so far, efforts to tame the heat have failed. Heat waves are bound to get more intense and more frequent as emissions rise, scientists have concluded. On the horizon is a future of cascading system failures threatening basic necessities like food supply and electricity.

As your next Deputy Mayor, I will ask to create a think tank, maybe a regional one that includes our municipal neighbours, or maybe one based out of Simcoe County. We should reach out to people, organizations and companies to gather as much input about what opportunities we have to make a difference. Find out what others have done, and whether they can be applied locally. Hold public information sessions, ask what residents want us to accomplish.

(Yes, I realize the very notion of engaging the public has been alien to council this term, but we can go back to open and accessible government next term when we elect a new council).

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Collingwood’s pot problem

Two months from now, Canada’s federal government will make marijuana legal. Laws will allow it to be sold in private stores, smoked, eaten and even grown in your home. There will be retail stores and online sales. And the next council will have to deal with it.

But before then, our council should have discussed it and given the public some inkling as to what is planned here. Should have held public debate about where it could be sold – offered some suggestions for changes to our planning bylaws and Official Plan. Should have brought in someone from the police to publicly explain what policies about public safety will be in place for enforcement and control. Yet not even a staff report has been made public.

With only a few months to go before legalization, Collingwood has done nothing to prepare itself for what promises to be a significant change and challenge. That’s irresponsible.

The Ontario government will make more details known about its plans this week at the AMO conference in Ottawa – but as Bloomberg noted in a recent story, better-prepared municipalities have already made plans to deal with legalization:

Richmond Hill Mayor David Barrow told BNN Bloomberg in an interview Wednesday his municipality will choose to opt-out of permitting cannabis retail sales.

Did you even know Collingwood could opt out? If not, it’s because our council has been silent on the whole issue of marijuana sales. Is it better for Collingwood to allow sales or opt out? What rules should there be for the location of stores if we stay in? We haven’t heard anything and certainly haven’t had any public meetings where residents could be consulted about how they think it should be done here.

Well, okay, you weren’t consulted over the privatization of our electricity utility, the attempted privatization of our water utility, the privatization of our airport, or the decision by Brian Saunderson and his cabal to block the hospital’s much-needed redevelopment, so there’s little reason to think they would hold a public meeting now. I would expect if they do anything at all, it will be another autocratic dictate decided behind closed doors without any public engagement as they always do with major issues.

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A few answers

AnswersI was surprised that only ten people stood at the lectern to speak in the Judicial Inquiry’s first public meeting, last Monday.  I had expected that at least Brian Saunderson or one of his minions would have the courage to stand up in public to explain why they wanted to spend so many millions of your tax dollars pursuing their private vendettas. Explain why they launched an inquiry a few weeks before the municipal elections opened, instead of three and a half years ago, when they took office. Explain why they haven’t been able to stop looking at the past since they were elected, and start looking to Collingwood’s present – and plan for our future.

But of course that would take a spine.

However, some good, salient comments were made, in particular by John Worts, Kevin Lloyd, David O’Connor, Peter Dunbar and Irene Matwijec. And, I hope, maybe a few were made by me, too.

However, some of the other speakers asked surprising questions. Surprising because most have been answered many times in the past in local media and on my blog. In particular in my admittedly lengthy timeline of events.

I suspect many of these questioning speakers are rather new to the community, and not fully aware of the lengthy history of these events – many of which are already more than seven years old. I thought I might try to answer at least some of their questions here, so in future they have the background. I am paraphrasing their questions below.

1. How was the price of the share in Collus established?

A. World-renowned consulting firm KPMG was retained by the Collus board in Feb. 2011 to establish the value of our electrical utility as a sellable commodity, examine the options for its future, explore opportunities in the then-current political climate, and return to the board with a report that spring.

Their draft report was titled Calculation of Value, and presented to the Collus board on May 20, 2011. It determined the fair market value of all the common shares of Collus Power (on page 2 of the report) as at December 31, 2010 as:

…we have calculated the fair market value of all the issued and outstanding Shares of Collus Power Corp., as at December 31, 2010, to be in the range of $14.1 million to $16.3 million (i.e. with a midpoint value of $15.2 million).

Half of that (the RFP was for “up to” 50%) would be somewhat less than $8 million, which is what the town received from PowerStream. The balance of the funds paid to the town came from the utility’s recapitalization and from the $1.7 million promissory note held by the town, for a total of approx. $14 million.

The valuation report was marked as a draft because, as John Rockx of KPMG noted in a 2015 email,

The valuation report was left in draft format since the former controller, Tim Fryer, did not provide us with responses to a few questions in respect of the report content (see blanks on page 5 of the report) or provide us with the final December 31, 2010 financial statements of Collus Power…

Fryer, as you know, is now a councillor and running for re-election.
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Electoral reform for Collingwood

Collingwood elects all of its council at large. There are no ward systems for local or neighbourhood voting. But is it the best system for Collingwood? I don’t think so, and want it to be discussed by the next council. And maybe a referendum question on the next ballot.

At-large are good for mayor, and deputy mayor (if the latter is elected directly and not otherwise selected from the representatives). Everyone gets to vote for the top positions. But the next seven we choose are also elected at large. And why should everyone have to vote for all of council? Why not simply for one ward representative?

Can any councillor elected at large truly represent all the interests, issues and voters throughout the community? Based on my experience both as a reporter covering the region for a dozen years and a councillor for three terms, I don’t believe so. The electorate here is very diverse and what affects, say, voters in the long-established far east side of town may be very different from what affects them in the new subdivisions in the west.

This term the problems of at-large of representation have been exacerbated by a large group on council focused not on the electorate, but on furthering their own agendas and entitlements. As a result, the community has suffered much these past four years. Electing blocks like this is harder to do under a ward system.

Back when I was on a previous council, I wanted to have a ward system added to the ballot for a referendum, but the council of the day voted it down. I want to open that discussion again. And if not a referendum, I want it to be an open, public discussion with public input. (There was a staff report, 2009-11, that is on p. 63 of the agenda package, which noted that in a ward system, “Elected officials have the ability to build strong relationships with the people he or she represents, becoming more aware of their needs and concerns and are more accessible to those people.”)

There are some good reasons for a ward system:

  • Residents always know to whom they can turn or can call about local issues.
  • Localized issues that may get overlooked by an at large council can be brought to the table more easily when there is a ward advocate.
  • Election campaigns for wards are less work and less expense, so they allow a wider selection of candidates to be able to run.
  • In wards, people often vote for (or against) someone they know, not a stranger, so the choices are more personal.
  • In an at-large system, areas of the municipality may be under-represented or not represented at all by anyone on council.

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