Fixing Collingwood’s Streets

Door to DoorWhile our council has been obsessed with the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI) and lavishing all our tax dollars and their time promoting its often redundant or irrelevant recommendations, most of our residents have been focused on things that actually matter. Such as the sad condition of our decaying streets and crumbling sidewalks. This is, of course, being made worse daily by the increase in traffic from visitors and the growing number of people moving here from the GTA. And there are more delivery trucks and vans on the road because more people are ordering goods online. But nothing is being done about it by our council. Nothing is even planned.

Nor has anything been done to make our streets safer and quieter. Well-known and well-used methods of traffic safety and traffic calming used across North America are simply ignored. Most residents can point to a local intersection where stop signs are needed, especially at intersections used by school children daily, but our council appears ignorant of them.*

Same with the long-overdue traffic light at Third and High Streets. Council heard about it then waffled. Rudderless and unfocused, council drifted away from the problem, too focused on the SVJI to even contemplate anything else..

What about red-light cameras? Stand near any traffic light on First Street and you will count numerous cars that run red and yellow lights every day. Dozens of them, every day. You’ll also see a lot of vehicles travelling well above the posted speed limits. This is a community safety hazard. But it’s being ignored. Same with the cars that block the sidewalk at Starbucks trying to get into line. It’s a safety issue for pedestrians that is simply ignored by a council unable to get its head out of the box of SVJI pettiness.

Where are the bicycle lanes? Not simply lines painted in streets, but protected, reserved spaces for cyclists? We know white lines alone are pointless because the town painted them on Ontario Street but ignores the cars parking over them every day. Cycling has also increased here, too,  and it’s become increasingly dangerous because of the higher volume of vehicles, especially trucks and buses. But what has our council done to make it safer? Right; nothing. 

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Council Rewards Its Friend. Again.

Our council has found yet another way to reward its friend, despite the recommendations in the report from the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI) warning about “apparent” conflicts of interest with friends. Page 7 of the full SVJI report states (emphasis added):

Councillors and staff should avoid providing or appearing to provide preferential treatment to close friends and family. They should not conduct municipal business or encourage the municipality to contract with individuals with whom they have a close relationship.

Recommendation 42 states (emphasis added):

The Code of Conduct should state that Council members cannot use their position to “influence the decision of another person to the private advantage” of the Council member, his or her family and/or “immediate relatives” as defined in these recommendations, friends, business associates, or staff at the Town of Collingwood.

Four recommendations warn about doing town business with friends. Yet a recent story in CollingwoodToday noted a new bylaw that will certainly benefit the company of a close friend of many at the table. It would require,

…the insurance policy for fire department response fees to be paid to the municipality either by the insurance company or by the owner. If it is not paid, the town would add the amount to the property owner’s tax bill.

Fire Marque was contracted by the town to chase after insurance payments on behalf of the municipality. The salesman who sells Fire Marque’s services to municipalities is our former mayor, Chris Carrier.

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Are Creationists Gaining More Sway?

A recent survey by Research Co. and Glacier Media shows a deeply disturbing trend in Canadians: we seem to be getting increasingly stupid. While this survey didn’t get the media coverage that other current events received (and hasn’t even been hinted at in local media, but no surprises there), I think it is one of the most troubling surveys of the last decade. The survey showed that,

… more than half of Canadians (57%) believe that human beings evolved from less advanced forms of life over millions of years, while 26% think that God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years.

That’s an appallingly low figure for belief in established science. Fifty-seven percent is a full nine points lower than a similar survey that was done in 2018 and four points less than one done in 2019. Is something causing Canadians to become less educated and less aware of science? Or just more stupid? Is our educational system failing Canadians? 

What’s even scarier is the parallel upswing in the number of Canadians who think creationism should be taught in schools:

…44% of Canadians think creationism – the belief that the universe and life originated from specific acts of divine creation – should be part of the school curriculum in their province, while 34% disagree and 23% are undecided.

That would be like teaching astrology as a signifier of human behaviour alongside psychology; reflexology* alongside medicine, or numerology in math classes. And yet a gobsmacking number of Canadians think creationism belongs in a science class. That should be headline news and a wake-up call for anyone involved in education. Are the Talibangelists winning a greater foothold on public policy? 

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An Example Our Mayor Should Follow

In a recent story in the Quinte News (March 31, 2021) the headline told us, “Belleville Councillor Ryan Williams has resigned from Belleville City Council.”

Williams was elected the federal Conservative candidate for the Bay of Quinte riding for the next federal election, and instead of staying on in council taking the town’s paycheque and benefits, he has resigned his seat.

In his media release, Williams said it was because that was the right thing to do for his community:

I have decided to resign instead of taking a leave of absence with the best intentions of being the fairest to the people of Belleville who deserve to have a seat filled and the elected person actively working on bettering the city.

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Does Collingwood Mislead its Citizens?

The town’s “engage” page  for the upcoming “public” (virtual) meeting about the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI) contains a deception (emphasis added):

“The original estimated budget for the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry was $1.6 million. To date, the Town has processed and paid over $7 million. The costs will continue to be tallied through the completion of all associated bills and will be posted to the Town’s website.”

But the town’s own accounting of the costs to date that was made public late last year is actually much higher: $8,098,547.40. You can read the document here.  As long ago as last November, the town admitted it had already paid more than $7.7 million for the SVJI costs.  So how did that total become merely “over $7 million” on the eve of a “public” meeting about the costs when the town already admitted it was well over $8 million, and we all know it’s likely over $10 million?

Someone isn’t being honest about the costs, but then has this council ever been honest about them? Methinks not.

So the town now will censorfact-check” public comments when they don’t fit with the official storyline, but the town itself can get away with publishing deceptive figures? It seems no one in town hall has to “fact-check” what gets published on the town’s website. How very Stalinist of our council.

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Once Upon a Time in Collingwood

PolitburoMORE THAN SIX MONTHS after council received the final report from the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI), council has finally seen fit to hold a (virtual) public meeting about it (April 7). Given their history of secrecy and deception, I suspect most of them begrudge even that one “public” activity. It is, after all, the first such public event since the previous council approved Saunderson’s motion to initiate the inquiry, more than three years ago. It’s been two years since the inquiry itself began, and almost a year and a half since it ended.

And let’s be clear: they’re not doing this to listen to you. This is merely another opportunity for the politburo to regurgitate their ossified defence against growing public anger over the still-increasing costs — likely more than $10 million if council was honest in its accounting — spent on a report about decade-old processes and events.*

I guess they figure if they keep repeating the same fairy tale about its value, enough gullible people will begin to believe them. 

I don’t expect this to be a public meeting as much as a series of stern lectures and reprimands from our elected representatives, with lots of hand-waving, and chastising those residents who “besmirch” council by voicing concerns over the ongoing and lavish spending.

But why is any report more important to  the community than:

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Lichens of South Georgian Bay

Lichen and moss on a limestone garden rock
Lichen and moss on a limestone garden rock in Collingwood.

In recent months, I have developed an interest in lichens: wondering what species live in our area, how and where they grow, which plants are their competitors or companions, why they grow where they do, what they live on for nutrition, how they reproduce and spread, what lives on them, and their microbiology.

Small, innocuous plants you may mistake for a discoloration on rock or even a disease on a tree, they are nonetheless very common throughout our local environment. In fact, lichen have been found on every continent, including Antarctica, which has earned some of their 20,000 species the classification of extremophiles. Ontario has around 1,100 species of lichen, with several new species having been found within the past decade (you can see pictures of more than 850 of these on the site).

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Council Just Waves Its Hands

Hand-wavingCouncil waving its hands. Making ineffective flapping gestures. It sounds like it should be some sort of metaphorical phrase. Something from the Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra episode of Star Trek. But hand-waving is actually a metaphorical term that means failure to deliver the goods. And also trying to deflect attention from your failure. Wikipedia describes it as,

… a pejorative label for attempting to be seen as effective — in word, reasoning, or deed — while actually doing nothing effective or substantial.

Oh, boy, does that ever describe to a “T” our council with its collective, increasingly desperate, yet wildly inept hand-waving efforts to promote the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI). The Oxford English Dictionary gives us this definition:

The use of gestures and insubstantial language meant to impress or convince.

Insubstantial. That surely describes their efforts to make the SVJI seem relevant and worth the millions wasted on it.

I came across the term while reading Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, by Clive Thompson (Penguin Press, 2013). While I’m not in complete agreement with Thompson’s arguments about the benefits of technology, his description of “hand-waving” as a term for presenting codswallop and claptrap instead of substance immediately made me think of our local politicians. Hand-waving, all of them.

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Quidnuncs on Council

Taking Back Our CitiesA quidnunc is “a small-minded person, focused on petty things.” That’s how Gord Hume describes them in chapter five of his book, Taking Back Our Cities (Municipal World, 2011). Hume adds, “We have far too many of them on municipal councils across Canada.” I wonder what he’d say if he learned we had nine of them on ours? Hume continues:

It’s the councillor who pops up with odd little motions, or quibbling about a word in a motion, or can’t keep up with the agenda, or has trouble contributing to the debate, or focuses more on the process than the substance. Too often their attention converges on personality, rather than issue…

Sound familiar? To me, too. Hume adds that quidnuncs, “tend to seek out like-minded people on council for support, and form little pacts and alliances.” Remember The Block from last term? The ideological monolith that voted like the politburo, following their leader’s wishes at every turn? Well, they’re back with even more members this term. In fact, it’s difficult to impossible to identify anyone NOT part of The Block Version 2; they all seem to march in lockstep far too often these days. Dissension and real debate at the table are rare. Hume adds,

The local media often play them up because they’re always good for an amusing headline or two about their latest nutty idea, even as the public is shaking its collective head at the level of debate at council. The community’s national reputation is wounded once again… Quidnuncs can make councils look absolutely ridiculous.

Did Berman’s “nutty” (aka Stalinist) motion to censor “fact-check” public comments come to mind when you read that? I’m sure for many readers it did. 

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