Where is Collingwood’s Pandemic Response?

StumpedI admit I am stumped. I have been looking online to find something that tells me what Collingwood council has done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year. I’m looking for real, concrete, measurable steps, things that benefit our community; things that residents and businesses can point to and say “This helped me survive.”

I don’t want to read about promises, nor bloviations, nor self-serving proclamations with all the substance of a bad dream. We get enough vapid, banal content from our shambolic council already. Watching a council meeting is like being trapped in an elevator with a serial farter who won’t stop talking. This, however, is important. They’ve had a year to create plans, to assign money, to reach out, to help residents, and do something positive and meaningful. I’d like something we, as a community, can boast about. But I can’t find anything.

Now, just because I can’t find any indication of anything substantive online doesn’t mean they haven’t done it. Perhaps I missed it. With such threadbare local media content, I might have simply overlooked a story. So I am calling on my readers to fill me in: tell me what positive, concrete solutions council has approved, how that has helped you, what funds they have used to help the community, how much money you have received. Please, if you know them, answer my questions below.

But before I offer some questions, let’s consider some things about Collingwood. We have a higher-than-average number of seniors here, and a large segment of people working in the hospitality and service sectors. We have a lot of people on either fixed incomes or in minimum-wage jobs who are vulnerable to layoffs and lockdowns. We also have a lot of seniors in long-term-care facilities. Surely all of these are the most vulnerable people in our community, most at risk from challenges caused by the pandemic. Surely a compassionate, caring, moral council would have immediately reached out to help these groups first, right?

After all, the town takes your money: surely council can give some of it back in a time of great need to help the community. That would be the ethical and the moral thing to do, right?

So what did they do? And where are the stories about it? Surely our sycophantic local media would be praising our council to the heavens if they actually did something.

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What would $9 Million Buy Our Town?

Back a few years ago, the 2010-14 council led by Mayor Cooper approved building for the community several important structures and buying for public ownership several properties, any of which — indeed, several of which — could have been built for less than the $9 million cost we taxpayers are burdened with paying for the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) this term.

For example, the new firehall we commissioned in 2012 cost $4.75 million. For roughly twice that amount, you know what you got from this council? Right: a report. And not just any report: we got a digital report, that, despite being full of vague, generic, and irrelevant recommendations, we’re told is as important as providing clean drinking water. Excuse me while I do a facepalm over that claim.

When we built the firehall, we also upgraded the OPP station — which the town owns — to meet the province’s operational standards. That cost another $800,000. A new firehall and a renovated police station: $5.55 million. Not even close to $9 million, and they’re still standing, still in use, still publicly owned. This term, you got a digital report.

For $5 million, the 2010-14 council upgraded and covered our swimming pool for year-round use, and added a warm-water therapy pool to it for our seniors, had the change rooms rebuilt, added a viewing area, seating, competition diving boards, upgraded HVAC and water systems, and paved the parking lot. That’s $4 million less than this council’s important-as-clean-drinking-water digital report.

And then for $8.5 million, we commissioned and built a new, publicly-owned hockey and skating arena and rink, with dressing rooms, a canteen, benches for spectators, and meeting rooms, all so local teams and clubs didn’t have to drive out of town to practice, and the community had a year-round space to skate and play.  The builder even threw in $500,000 of extras for free. Still cost us less than the $9 million digital, important-as-clean-drinking-water report and it’s there today for the whole town to use.

And we did both of these publicly-owned recreational facilities without costing taxpayers a penny. Two top-rated, environmentally-designed, publicly-owned recreational facilities for about $13 million that will be providing the whole community with service and enjoyment for many more decades. Compare these to the as-important-as-clean-drinking-water digital report you got this term that will be with us for… maybe a couple of months? If that.

In 2013, we also bought Fisher Field for about $500,000, which was then privately owned, securing the town’s soccer pitches for the community, and making future upgrades viable because the public now owned the land. And we also upgraded and rebuilt two public tennis courts to meet community demand, and built a new public park and playground called J.J. Cooper Park.

You got a report this term. A digital one at that.
More Dilbert

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Small town rules

Small Town RulesIn their book, Small Town Rules (Pearson Education Inc., USA, 2012), authors Barry Moltz and Becky McCray explain seven rules for businesses that use the model of a small town to offer advice on growing and maintaining a business n the “connected economy.” And while most of their rules are aimed at businesses, I suggest some are equally applicable to small towns like Collingwood.

Don’t get me wrong: a municipality is not a business and despite some common functions and shared accounting techniques, a municipality cannot be run in the same manner as a for-profit business. For a start, we have split roles between management (politicians and administration), and the political role – even of the head of council – is only part-time in the vast majority of Ontario municipalities. Plus no single member of council has more authority or power than any other (one vote per person), unlike a corporate president or CEO.

Municipalities, unlike corporations, cannot run deficits. And they are responsible for a large array of services that are not, nor ever will be profitable (parks, for example, but also social housing, public transit, sidewalks, garbage pickup, libraries, museums and so on). But all of these services contribute to the quality of life than makes living here so wonderful, and on which we have come to depend.

And more than depend: municipalities that have lesser service levels or lack services entirely don’t have the economic advantages that those with those services have. That’s important when trying to attract new businesses to your town, or to retain existing businesses. Those services help create the municipal brand that people come to associate with your community.

Corporations are responsible to their shareholders and pay dividends only them, where municipalities are responsible to the entire community, and serve the greater good (or should do so, this term notwithstanding).
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What about climate change? No. 2

Climate change
A few of the apocalyptic headlines from the past few days:

Final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe’ – BBC news

Landmark UN climate report warns time quickly running out – Al Jazeera news

Scientists Just Laid Out Paths to Solve Climate Change. We Aren’t on Track to Do Any of Them –Time magazine

Planet has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change, experts warn – CNN

Earth has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change, experts warn – ABC news

UN report on global warming carries life-or-death warning – CBC news

Terrifying climate change warning: 12 years until we’re doomed – New York Post

U.N. Panel Warns Drastic Action Needed to Stave Off Climate Change – Wall Street Journal.

Unprecedented action needed to curb global warming – UN report – ITV news

UN report on global warming carries life-or-death warning – Victoria Times-Colonist

A major new climate report slams the door on wishful thinking – Vox

Climate Report Warns Of Extreme Weather, Displacement of Millions Without Action – NPR

Alarming as it is, this is hardly the first time scientists have warned us that we have to make changes or we face a catastrophe. And it’s not like we can’t see it coming: record tornadoes, record hurricanes, record typhoons, record temperatures, record tsunamis, record droughts… this summer we were warned “2018 Is Shaping Up to Be the Fourth-Hottest Year. Yet We’re Still Not Prepared for Global Warming” (New York Times).

As the BBC story notes:

Preventing an extra single degree of heat could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems on this fast-warming planet, an international panel of scientists reported Sunday. But they provide little hope the world will rise to the challenge.

A SINGLE degree. Can’t we strive for at least that?

In the US, the NOAA reported:

August 2018 was characterized by warmer- to much-warmer-than-average conditions across much of the world’s land and ocean surfaces. Record warm temperatures were present across parts of each major ocean basin, with the largest portions across the Barents Sea and the western Pacific Ocean, and small areas across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. During the month, the most notable temperature departures from average were present across Europe, central Asia, the northeastern contiguous U.S., and southeastern Canada, where temperatures were 2.0°C (3.6°F) above average or higher.

All of which makes me wonder why we’ve heard so little about climate change and Collingwood during this election campaign. Aside from what I wrote in my earlier post, I’ve heard only one candidate mention it. And that concerns me.
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Ten points on affordable housing

I was invited, along with the other candidates for this municipal election, to address residents at Rupert’s Landing this week. Each candidate was provided a list of ten questions and given three minutes to respond to one of them. I will comment on the other nine in a future post, but for now, I wanted to talk about question two, which I chose to answer:

There is insufficient affordable housing in Collingwood. What are your plans for increasing affordable housing for low-income adults?

Three minutes is a very short time in which to address a complex, challenging issue. I had made a list of ten points but only managed to get into point three or four before my time ran out. Below are some of the notes I made on the issue and my thoughts about housing. This is by no means a comprehensive post on housing and raises more questions that it provides answers; most of these are simply the points I wanted to raise at the event, and some are simply bullets.

I chose this topic because I felt is was the most important one on the list and that it had so far received little attention this election. I served on Collingwood’s Affordable Housing Task Force a few terms back, where I learned a lot about the needs and the politics. Housing should not be just a campaign topic- it should be on council’s radar all the time.

  1. “Affordable” housing isn’t just an issue about subsidized housing. It’s also about rental unit and rooming house availability, but it’s also an issue that affects development charges, property taxes and home prices. It’s really about housing in general. And it affects every municipality in Ontario.
  2. The term affordable is imprecise – the word means different things to different people. As the CMHC website notes: In Canada, housing is considered “affordable” if it costs less than 30% of a household’s before-tax income. Many people think the term “affordable housing” refers only to rental housing that is subsidized by the government. In reality, it’s a very broad term that can include housing provided by the private, public and non-profit sectors. It also includes all forms of housing tenure: rental, ownership and co-operative ownership, as well as temporary and permanent housing.
    For a couple earning minimum wage working 35 hours a week, their take-home pay will be about $19,500 a year each or $39,000 total. Thirty percent of that is $11,700 or $975 a month. A quick search on Kijiji and other sites showed most local apartments were $1,200-$1,700. That’s between 36% and 52% of their income. And a lot of people working in the regional hospitality and retail industries don’t get the full 35 hours a week.
    A mortgage on a house will be much more. On $375,000 it is more than $2,000 a month. And that’s not considering the downpayment required – hard to save for when all your money is spent on just getting by.
  3. Housing is a regional issue. Too many people who work in Collingwood can’t find a place here – or afford it if they find one – so they have to live in Stayner, Wasaga Beach or even further away. Their transportation costs to and from these communities makes affordability an even bigger challenge. We need to have a regional approach to housing because our neighbours are involved in it, too.
  4. Simcoe County has jurisdiction over subsidize and social housing. They fund it, build it and manage it. The county has other housing initiatives like support for home ownership, housing retention and rent supplements. The role of the deputy mayor and mayor at county is to advocate for funds and projects in Collingwood and to bring opportunities back to council. Having good regional relationships for a stronger united voice makes it much easier to get support for local initiatives.

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My answers to residents: 5

This is a somewhat edited response to a resident who asked about a splash pad. The resident also commented that, “As nice as Collingwood is, we feel that this town is falling behind the times compared to other towns close by and the advancements they have achieved.”  Here’s in part my reply:

Yes, we need a splash pad here. The WaterFront Master Plan has a proposal for one at Harbourview Park (along with a winter skating trail) for about $3.6 million. See here:

http://www.collingwood.ca/files/2016-11-09%20Collingwood%20Waterfront%20Master%20Plan%20Final%20Report.pdf

I have not had the opportunity to discuss this plan with the current PRC director, Dean Collver, or discuss any potential alternatives or phased solutions or even a less expensive option (staff are forbidden to talk to candidates until after the election). Until then, I can only reiterate my support for a splash pad located in one of our two major waterfront parks.

The Master Plan is ambitious and has a lot of amenities and enhancements in it, but they come at a cost – and that means tax increases. We have to be careful about how we spend our money – it’s a balancing act. But I don’t see why a splash pad couldn’t be installed as the first phase of a larger project that gets built over several years.

I currently work with the Ontario Municipal Water Association and am aware of how other municipalities are working to create similar water facilities and features. I am also aware of the combination of challenges for health and safety and how such splash pads must be both hygienic and monitored.

NB: I should have added that we could have had the splash pad and the skating trail and more for what the cost of Saunderson’s self-serving Judicial Inquiry is likely to end up costing taxpayers.