As Important as Clean Drinking Water? Part 2

Remember last December, when the town’s CAO announced that the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI) was “equivalent with the top priorities we have, like providing clean drinking water”? Today, that statement would seem to be egg on her face, given more recent events (and the public’s utter lack of interest in the SVJI).

Priorities like “clean drinking water” certainly take on a new light, when you consider how long council ignored our drinking water until it suddenly became a “crisis” that required a knee-jerk reaction. Council quickly passed a job-killing, revenue-killing, growth-killing bylaw to deal with it. And no doubt making our community a pariah for developers and construction firms province-wide.

For the past six years, two councils* have deliberately ignored the numerous staff reports and warnings about water capacity and the need for the plant’s expansion. The previous council killed the negotiations with the municipalities along the pipeline well aware that the contract was going to expire (those negotiations had almost reached an agreement in early 2015 before being shut down).

Council was informed several times last term and this about the expiring contracts for water supply with neighbouring municipalities down the pipeline and to the Blue Mountains. Even so, they let the water contract with New Tecumseth expire in May, 2020, without either renewing or rewriting it in the intervening years. Or taking any action at all.

Clearly, council was too obsessed with the SVJI to deal with issues like clean drinking water. And during that time, council spent at least $10 million on the SVJI and its preparations — but yet spending nothing on our clean drinking water. How much of a priority did the CAO say?

It took council almost a year after the New Tec contract expired to raise it in public, and it only came to light when a panicked council was in full Chicken-Little-crisis mode. Yet despite that intervening year, or any of the five years prior to the expiry,  it seems they failed to contact any of the other municipalities affected, nor the developers here, to discuss solutions, much less warn them of the impending bylaw.

One would think it was the mayor’s job to communicate with his peers in those municipalities who receive our water, and to arrange meetings about the upcoming contract expiry. After all, he’s been on county council with them all this time. Oh wait, maybe he’s been too busy job-hunting to get shorn of his mayoral responsibilities and take a better-paying job in Toronto to care about something as inconsequential as a water contract. 

Nor, apparently, did he contact Zenon or any other water filtration company about a possible portable-temporary unit to relieve the “crisis” or ask for advice or help from those professionals. Perhaps he’s simply not very good at being mayor.

But to be fair, council has only had six years to discuss the matter with affected parties, let alone find a solution, and being a reading-and-thinking-averse council, one should not expect too much of them. Perhaps if they had another six years, they might be better prepared to actually think about the possibility of looking into getting a report about discussing Doing Something Useful.

But then, doing anything useful would break their mould, wouldn’t it?

So, if “clean drinking water” is such a priority, then you have to consider how our council has failed to deal with it so far, and ask how many more years it will take for our council to actually Do Something About It.

And even before anything can be done, discussed, or even thought about, much less solved, council has locked itself into waiting for a “Land Use Planning Study” done by outside consultants who haven’t even been hired yet! Not that such a study will provide any useful information about the water capacity or the needs of municipalities along the pipeline, but it seems a useful device for council to delay making actual decisions.

That’s how “important” our “clean drinking water” is to our council. That’s how much of a priority it has been for the past six years.

Collingwood deserves better. Much, much better.

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* Four of the current council, including our current mayor, served in the 2014-18 council (Saunderson, Madigan, Doherty, and Jeffrey). In early 2015, the water utility’s COO was working with the CAOs of Bradford and New Tec to come to an agreement, and would have had the plant expansion paid for by Bradford. It would have been built by now and there would have been no water “crisis” as we have today. Instead, the water utility board was (illegally) disbanded, the negotiations ended, and the utility brought under town control. The water COO left in frustration. This year’s “crisis” happened because that previous council set the stage for it. Those four have been well aware of the water issues since early 2015, but, along with the five newcomers in the 2018-22 council, chose to focus on the SVJI (and lavish taxpayers’ money on it). Meanwhile, they ignored everything else of importance to the community.

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