EPCOR’s rate hikes create unrest

Corporate takeoverIt seems EPCOR isn’t the most beloved utility service out there, despite the glowing comments the interim CAO made to staff recently. I was given a recording of his hour-long talk (aka sales pitch) for EPCOR and I can only say I hope no one listening fell for it (I’ll review his talk in another post).

Despite his stumbling blandishments, EPCOR’s management style isn’t all that popular. And if you do some searching for unflattering news stories about the corporation, you can find the following online:

Global News had this one on Feb. 2, 2017: Tabor took back their water from EPCOR after a 68% increase in water rates:

Taber Town Council has decided to end its 20-year utilities contract with EPCOR just nine years into the agreement.
EPCOR was under contract to provide Taber with its water and sewage services.
The move to end the working relationship comes after the company proposed to increase utility rates by 68 per cent. All 10 EPCOR employees will now work for the Town of Taber to ease the transition.

Sixty eight per cent increase in water rates in one year! There’s a customer-friendly business model for you. I have no doubt we can expect that sort of increase here once The Block privatizes our water to EPCOR. And yes, it will be privatization, not simply management and a disaster for the town.

Closer to home, Adjala-Tosorontio is also considering outside management for its water and wastewater services. According to a story on Simcoe.Com, dated Feb. 3, 2017,

Two companies, EPCOR and Clearford Water Systems, have submitted bids through a request for proposals (RFP) process to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the system.
In one scenario, where no developer’s contributions are assumed, the wastewater user rate would cost about $2,800 a year if the project was financed by Clearford, or $3,350 a year if it were financed by EPCOR. The figures in the financial analysis were presented in 2019 dollars, which is assumed to be Year 1 of operation for the system. Council said the current rate is a flat charge of $1,313.

A little calculation reveals that under EPCOR’s management, residents’ water rates would go up annually by $2,037! That’s a 155% increase in a single year!

These are just two recent Canadian scenarios, but imagine how YOU, dear reader, will react when The Block sells our water services to EPCOR and YOUR bill jumps by 68% Or worse, 155%! Or more!

And you don’t think it will happen here? Well, read on…

Continue reading “EPCOR’s rate hikes create unrest”

The Block torpedoes the hospital, again

Stupid peopleWhen their sole-sourced consultant’s report failed to give The Block the high ground to oppose the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital’s redevelopment plan, the weasels on council and in the administration decided to undermine the hospital from a different direction. And they hired another consultant.

That’s right: wasting $30,000 of your hard-earned tax dollars on one sole-sourced consultant to “peer review” the CG&M’s already peer-reviewed report wasn’t enough. So they hired a second consultant because the first didn’t say what The Block wanted. How much that second consultant cost taxpayers has not yet been revealed.

The first consultant’s report just weakly suggested more information might possibly maybe sort-of be useful. I’m told few of The Block actually read it and even fewer understood it. But because it didn’t say what they wanted, it had to be supplanted by another scheme. Another report. Back to the conniving board: hire someone to say what they wanted to hear.

At the latest meeting (Jan. 23) of the “Secretive Initiatives Standing Committee” they had a report tabled at the end of the agenda called the “Employment Land Analysis Update.”  Its contents were cunningly not included in the online agenda package, so as to avoid revealling their hand to residents ahead of time.

And that, my dear readers, is the latest, stealthy salvo in The Block’s war on the hospital.
Continue reading “The Block torpedoes the hospital, again”

Collingwood Council’s missed initiatives

IneptitudeThe word initiative derives from the Latin word initiare “to begin.” Since 1600, it has meant “introduce to some practice or system,” “begin, set going.” While any sort of action or engagement, positive or negative, can be classified as an initiative, generally one refers only to positive enterprises when describing political or social initiatives.

I know, I know: you immediately want to interrupt and say, “but Ian, The Block don’t do anything positive, and you cannot talk about a council’s initiatives when none have occurred.” I agree, but bear with me.

It’s true that, when measuring the positive actions begun for the benefit of anyone but themselves, Collingwood council comes up woefully short: mene, mene, tekel upharsin so to speak. There simply have been none and likely won’t be any this term. This council is better described with one or more of the 44 antonyms for initiative: lethargy, indifference, indolence, apathy, diffidence, staleness, dreariness, lassitude, insipidness… they have no interest in your or my good, just their own.*

A short while ago, I wrote Council’s report card: Year 2, part 1, a post humorously (but truthfully) describing council’s sorry list of “accomplishments” for the first half of its term (forbidding you from throwing birdseed on your driveway is their main intellectual effort). Aside from my sarcastic poke at their rampant ineptitude, as you, dear reader know, there were no real accomplishments.

In that previous post I promised to present you with a list of “the Blockheads’ failures and debacles, their endless efforts to destroy people, institutions, and relationships, their gobsmacking waste of tax dollars to pursue petty vendettas and personal agendas, their arrogant self-interests, their conniving, their secrecy, their blatant dishonesty and their egregious ineptness and all the rest.” And I started to. The list was long. So very long.

To be frank, after I began that post, I found myself unwilling continue. There were simply too many dreary, petty items, too many malicious actions, too much skullduggery and self-interest to expose again. I became depressed in the process of categorizing and explaining all the malevolence and evil. All that self-serving, nest-feathering, the witch hunts and vendettas … it could drive one to drink.
Dilbert, of course...
While I don’t mind writing another sententious “Malleus Politici” (and the Muse knows they deserve it) this became an extended, overly long and increasingly bitter rant even for someone given to near-hypergraphia. After some contemplation, I decided to take a different tack. I thought what I should do is to list some of the initiatives taken by other municipalities and compare those with what Collingwood has or has not done in that vein. See what positive approaches others have taken in dealing with the problems, issues and challenges in their municipality and measure ours against that.

Alas, we again fall woefully short. But if you have been reading this blog, you already know that. Still, the exercise is educational. The list as follows is neither complete nor in any order aside from what came to mind at the moment of writing.

Continue reading “Collingwood Council’s missed initiatives”

I used to like him; not so much now…

John SewellBack in the ’70s when he ran for mayor and we both lived in Toronto, I voted for John Sewell. And when he won, I was a big supporter of his human-scale policies and planning, and enjoyed his youthful vigour and vision. Now, not so much. Sure, he’s a smart, well-spoken, erudite man with a long list of credentials. But he’s also wrong. At least about one issue: our hospital.

Sewell and Collingwood resident Karina Dahlin (former Editor, executive communications, the Hospital for Sick Children, according to LinkedIn) wrote an opinion piece for TVO’s online magazine titled, “Health care gaps: Ontario forcing sprawl by putting hospitals at the periphery.” Sorry, but that’s nonsense.

Both writers are members of the local committee formed to fight the proposed move of the hospital from its near-central location to a new site on the periphery of town. Why Sewell – whose bio states he lives in Toronto – is so involved in Collingwood politics mystifies me.

Sewell was a darling of some former VOTE (Voters Opposed To Everything) members; years ago he was brought in to speak about several issues like planning and growth, mostly in support of their own notions (VOTE, as you know, killed the Admiral Collingwood development which would now be a stunning, income-generating anchor to the downtown had they not interfered).

I’ve written about the hospital in the past (here, here and here for example) – mostly about The Block’s (and the administration’s) ongoing war against the hospital, its development committee and its board. It is a battle between The Block’s idée fixe and the greater good of the community, between personal and public agendas.

While the article makes some good points, it’s not exactly an unbiased and objective look. And in part their argument is based on a faulty association: a big city and a small town. They write:

It is occurring so frequently that it appears to be ministry policy: don’t build a new hospital in the centre of town, only on the periphery. That’s what has happened in Owen Sound, St. Catharines, North Bay, Oakville, Peterborough, Barrie, Cobourg, and other communities.
And there are plans to do the same thing in Windsor, where the two large downtown hospitals are slated to be torn down and a new $2-billion facility built out beyond the city’s airport; in Collingwood, where the downtown hospital would be demolished and a new $400-million facility built among farmers’ fields, beyond what town council calls its “built boundary;” and in Bracebridge and Huntsville, where two hospitals would be demolished and a new one built literally halfway between the communities, in the bush.

We are relatively similar in size to Owen Sound and Coburg, but not to any of the others. Certainly what happens in Windsor or Oakville cannot be reasonably compared. The differences in land values in the core versus those in the outskirts are so much greater in cities that you cannot compare the economics in such communities. Plus they are single-tier municipalities and we are second-tier.

Continue reading “I used to like him; not so much now…”

Obstructionism killing 1,600+ jobs & growth

The Block's vision for our airportJust when you thought Collingwood Council couldn’t set the bar any lower, they go and move it down another notch. On Monday, Oct. 31, The Block had a chance to save face, rectify their blatant mismanagement of the Collingwood Regional Airport development and save the proposed, $300 million, 260-acre, industrial park that could bring 400 full-time and 1,300 part-time or temporary jobs to the area.

They didn’t. No surprises, of course.

Barry Burton, the deputy mayor of Clearview Township, made a presentation to our council, Monday*, reiterating his community’s commitment to the development and growth at the airport and asking Collingwood Council to please sign a non-binding letter of agreement for the development to access the airport. After all, what’s an airport industrial park without access to the runways?

After his presentation, council quickly sloughed off its responsibilities by requesting another staff report. This after numerous closed-door reports by lawyers and consultants and staff these past two years. Despite public presentations by the proponents again and again reiterating that all they want is a letter of intent to enter negotiations over access.

In Block terminology, a staff report, like “due diligence,” simply means procrastinate. Who ever thought councillors were elected to make an actual decision in public, when they can do it away from public scrutiny in camera? Better to request a staff report instead of actually deciding something.

You can watch the whole shebang on Rogers, with the deputation starting at 16:50. Prepare to be angry, insulted and fed up, if you aren’t already.

I wrote about the Block’s secret machinations to sell our airport without any public discussion let alone input back in November, 2015, December, 2015, and three times in January, 2016: January 2, January 3 and January 16. I recommend you read them for the background.

The Block seem eager to sabotage the biggest commercial development this region – or all of rural Ontario! – has seen since the 1960s, and in doing so kill the much-needed jobs it will bring. And it looks like they will succeed. There’s a very real chance the developers are about to give up and find another place to grow.

Continue reading “Obstructionism killing 1,600+ jobs & growth”

Collus report debunks Block conspiracies

SAIDI and SAIFIEvery year, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) publishes the scorecard of local distribution companies (LDCs). Across the province, more than 70 LDCs are ranked and rated according to performance, customer service, efficiency, progress and other measurable data for residents to see how their utility is doing. It’s a thing called openness and transparency.

As the OEB notes:

The scorecard includes traditional metrics for assessing a distributor’s services, such as frequency of power outages, financial performance and costs per customer. In addition, performance results for 2014 and onward will include a number of new metrics that directly reflect the customer experience, such as how well the distributor resolves a customer’s concern on the first contact, the accuracy of customers’ bills, public safety and more.

Our own LDC, Collus PowerStream, is one of those LDCs listed. You can see its excellent scorecard here. And we do damn well. You wonder why local media aren’t trumpeting our success story. Our utility staff deserve to be publicly praised for what they have accomplished. Kudos, too, to the former board for their guidance (fired by The Block for being competent and successful).

The Block don’t want you to see the scorecard, won’t raise it at council. That would be open and transparent; words that are anathema to The Block.

As I’ve written in the past, they and the town’s administration have worked aggressively to destroy the relationship with our utility and our municipal partner, PowerStream. This has been done solely to fulfill private agendas and satisfy personal vendettas. It has never been about the greater good of the community. And it will cost you a lot: your taxes are going up to cover the added expenses, and your hydro rates will go up if our utility gets sold to Hydro One. All thanks to a small group of ideologues (whom the OEB is investigating).

Little one-and-two-person consulting firms you never heard of before they showed up here, and outside lawyers who may have significant conflicts of interest, were hired to discredit our electrical utility and everyone involved in the share sale last term. Some of our best staff have been driven out by the relentless witch hunt.

Incomplete or incorrect information has been presented to the public suggesting the utility has not performed properly or that the shared services agreement was somehow incomplete or ineffective, or that the share sale was somehow corrupt. That information wasn’t forthcoming or was missing. All rubbish.

Any counterpoint or data provided to contradict this has been suppressed by town staff. Despite two years of expensive (approx. $350,000 of your tax dollars wasted, with more to be spent) investigations to find some wrongdoing, nothing has been found to justify these wild conspiracy theories. That hasn’t dampened The Block’s passion for witch hunts and hurting people.

But they couldn’t stop the truth from being presented by the OEB. Now you can read it, too, and realize just how much you have been conned.
Continue reading “Collus report debunks Block conspiracies”

Sabotaging the hospital (again)

Derailing the processLast night at council, The Borg Block again took another step towards sabotaging the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital’s redevelopment plans. Not unexpected: destroying the community is a key plank in their platform, as we’ve seen by their actions against the airport, water utility and Collus PowerStream.

Plus, they need to pander to their ever-dwindling group of supporters who want to stop the redevelopment on a site they don’t like (but which 84% of medical staff do). That handful of venomous folk – which includes some former politicians and former VOTE members – hold sway over The Block and thus town practices and policies.

Cast your thoughts back to the election campaign of 2014. Remember these words:

Change the purchasing policy to ensure there can be no sole sourcing of any contract for goods or services over $25,000, no exceptions.

No exceptions, eh? That’s a promise to voters Brian Saunderson made in an interview in the Collingwood Connection in October, 2014. No exceptions. He really said that.

He’s now the Deputy Mayor. This week he broke that promise for the second time: he voted to sole-source a $30,000 contract to an out-of-town consultant.

This first time he broke his word was in February, 2015: council provided a five-year contract for taxi service to Councillor Fryer’s brother-in-law without following any RFP process.

Are you surprised that he broke his election promises? Neither am I. Stop snickering.

$30,000 of YOUR money will be wasted on consultants performing a “peer review” of the hospital’s redevelopment plans. Ironic, since The Block has a well-deserved reputation of not reading anything, and instead just voting however the administration tells them to vote. Reading is too hard. It means thinking and thinking is work. Better to have someone else do it for you.

Continue reading “Sabotaging the hospital (again)”

The Wasaga Beach G&M Hospital

How the committee must have felt
You’d think supporting your local hospital’s redevelopment was a no-brainer for municipal politicians. And since ‘no-brainer’ has been the exemplary style of Collingwood Council this term, they should go hand-in-glove. But apparently for The Block, ‘no-brainer’ means merely thoughtless focus on personal agendas, not the community’s well-being or future. That’s not news, of course; just signs that another disaster is brewing.

The Wasaga Beach General and Marine Hospital. Like that name? Get used to it. That is likely what this council’s actions are going to result in. And Wasaga Beach council is as firmly behind making it happen as our own appears to be.

Hospitals are really outside municipal jurisdiction, and local politicians have little to no say in them aside from the generic issues of zoning, parking and planning. A redeveloped hospital that stays in our municipality is good news, given that the competition wants to move it outside our borders. And look: it’s been offered free land. Sure looks like a good news story.

To everyone, that is, but The Block.

A story in this week’s Connection, Collingwood council supports hospital redevelopment, raises concerns about proposed site, tells us that council chose a mean-spirited, delaying approach to erect road blocks, instead of wholehearted support.*

Oddly, the online headline (above) contradicts the print version, which reads (more accurately), “Council challenges preferred hospital site.” Not entirely accurately, since it really should read “The Block challenges preferred site.”

In fact, it’s been suggested to me that some of The Block are actually actively working behind the scenes against the move. They, along with members of the town’s administration, want to keep the hospital tied to its current location and will do everything in their power to keep it there. I suppose they’d prefer to see it move out of town before it moves within the town.

And, of course, they’re doing most of it in secret, away from public scrutiny. On August 8, council discussed the hospital redevelopment in camera. Unless I misread the Municipal Act, that’s illegal. It certainly is immoral and unethical to determine policy about a public institution (and one we don’t own) behind closed doors so the public can’t hear what their elected representatives say. But ethical considerations have never disturbed the machinations of The Block.

Ah, did you really expect openness and transparency from The Most Secretive Council Ever? Me either.

Continue reading “The Wasaga Beach G&M Hospital”

More secrecy, more witch hunt, less accountability

Marie de France“Those who gain a good reputation should be commended.” So starts the Lay of Guigemar, by Marie de France.

It seems like mere commonsense, doesn’t it? We should laud those who achieve good things, who accomplish feats and goals, recognize with thanks those who work for our greater good.

But it ain’t necessarily so, Marie warns.  The 12th century French poet and fabulist known only as Marie de France wrote fables and poems with stories and morals – the earliest woman in France to do so. And what she wrote still has resonance in today’s world. She continued:

“But when there exists in a country a man or a woman of great renown, people who are envious of their abilities frequently speak insultingly of them in order to damage this reputation. Thus they start acting like a vicious, cowardly, treacherous dog who will bite others out of malice.”*

Words to consider when you examine local politics and the continued leavening of spite and malice against some people and organizations in our community by a small group of malcontents and ideologues. Some of whom sit at the council table.

And consider those words, too, when you read the agenda for Wednesday’s special meeting of council. Yet one more in-camera session continues the witch hunt meant to finally destroy the once-strong and mutually beneficial relationship between Collus/Powerstream and the town. This destruction has been the landmark activity this term.

Earlier, this term, this council destroyed the productive and mutually beneficial 150-relationship between our hydro and water utilities, throwing both utilities into turmoil, shattering staff morale and exacerbating the rift between the town and its utility partner, Powerstream. The provincially-respected COO of the water service quit and fled town. Others in the water service have resigned or retired early.

This move will cost more jobs, and could force our utility to move its offices and operations out of town. And, of course, it was all done without any public input at all.**

In return for the turmoil and plunging morale, Collingwood gets… nothing so far. The CAO and his consultant promised it would save more than $700,000 a year, but that figure wasn’t mentioned once in the preliminary budget meetings. It seems to have vanished. April fool! Wiser heads tell me they expect it will cost the town a lot of money. Smart move, eh?

Personal agendas should not be allowed to interfere with governance, should not set the terms for how a town behaves. These ideologies and personal agendas have already reduced the town’s once-sterling reputation to tatters, made us the laughingstock of the province, and despised by our neighbours and local developers.

Continue reading “More secrecy, more witch hunt, less accountability”

More Bad Ideas

Doh!Arguably the worst decision ever made by a Collingwood Council in my memory was to rescind the heritage permits from the Admiral Collingwood development, back in 2007. The results of that motion – moved by former Mayor Carrier and seconded by Councillor Jeffrey (the same one who sits at the table today)  – can still be seen in the empty lot at the corner of Hume and Hurontario Streets. Locals called it Carrier’s Pond for years, before it was filled in.

Had that council not put personal ideologies over the public good, the site would today be a thriving downtown development with residences,  businesses and a seniors’ home. For the past nine years, our town has had to live with the legacy of that stupid, selfish decision, and the legacy of an unwise council.

But neither the town nor the council is short of bad ideas.* The latest comes via the debate about the proposed airport development that has been hamstrung by this current council in keen pursuit of the same anti-business mentality that killed the Admiral Collingwood. I’ve written about this several times in the past few months.

A comment was posted on Facebook by one of my “friends” who wrote:

Why don’t the developers sign a letter of intent?
Interesting point: Why not make the developers promise to deliver?
Think back to The Shipyards residential development, now sitting there one-third (or thereabouts) completed. A letter of intent would not have resulted in the project being any further developed. The Shipyards project fell victim to market conditions.
Perhaps the same thing could happen a few years from now with an aviation business park. I hope not!

Aside from being surprised that someone I thought had more business (and common) sense than this, I was amazed that anyone who had even a modicum of understanding about business, development, economics or governance would propose something so overtly anti-business. Not to mention daft.

It’s also an attempt to sidestep the facts by making the disaster council created into someone else’s fault. Blame the developers instead of the problematic, unethical behaviour of council. The writer didn’t even mention the law-breaking media release sent out by renegades Saunderson and Edwards – but then, how do you defend the indefensible?

Continue reading “More Bad Ideas”

The Airport Mystery

Collingwood AirportWhat’s happening at Collingwood Airport? Or better yet: what’s NOT happening? And why isn’t it?

Once touted as the role model for regional cooperation, and having the best potential for local economic development, it is now a topic for murmurings about a secret sale, and ugly rumours that this has become the worst regional relationship this town has ever had.

Every time the airport comes up on the agenda, our oh-so-open and transparent Collingwood Council scurries behind closed doors to discuss it. But while that may seal a few local lips, it hasn’t stopped people in our surrounding region from talking about it. And several are complaining loudly about our council and administration.

There’s a $150-million development (and potentially MUCH larger; it could reach $300 million, I was told… read the letter in this week’s consent agenda starting page 22) going on out there. Well, it got started, and when it turned to Collingwood, it got stuck in bureaucratic limbo because of council’s and staff’s inaction.

And, from what I’m told, our municipal partners at the airport are fed up (a sentiment overheard last night after council’s inevitable in camera meeting about it).

The once-golden regional relationship has turned toxic. Just like it did with our water utility and Collus/Powerstream. There may be a trend here… everything this council touches is turning bad.

Continue reading “The Airport Mystery”

Feathers A-Flying in Collingwood

Dead chickenChickengate: despite urban chickens being outre among the trendy these days; a fad long abandoned by hip who are now pursing some new form of glitzy hobby, some folks in town want to raise chickens in their yards. Seems we’re only a few years behind the trendsetters. What next? Urban cows? Urban sheep? Urban bison?

It’s a bad idea, but one this council will likely endorse – not simply because they are prone to nurture bad ideas, but because some of them owe hefty political favours to campaign supporters who, coincidentally, happen to raise chickens here already (in violation of the law, of course, but what are laws when you have friends in high places?).

The NatPost published a story back in 2013 that presages what Collingwood will see in the future if council allows residents to raise chickens in their backyards:

…municipalities across North America are just now starting to see the unforeseen consequences of allowing hipster farmers to raise chickens in their urban backyards: Hundreds of birds are being abandoned by their owners after they’ve become more of a burden than a blessing.
More than 500 chickens were dropped off at animal shelters across the United States, according to Chicken Run Rescue, an operation based in Minneapolis. At least 400 to 500 chickens turn up annually at the Farm Sanctuary, headquartered in Watkins Glen, N.Y. that has sanctuaries on two coasts. National Shelter Director Susie Coston told NBC there are around 225 chickens now waiting for homes.

That’s right: people give up their fad pets once their attention span gets distracted by the newest fad.

It has ever been thus. Pets have always been a fad among the fashionista; a trendy accessory to show off with. Remember the fad for urban (potbellied) pigs? Remember Collingwood’s Wilbur? That fad left thousands of the little porkers abandoned when they grew too big and proved inconvenient as pets. Remember when hedgehogs were all the rage? Ferrets? Gophers? Dalmations? Cock-a-poos? Sea monkeys? Tamagotchi? Now it’s urban chickens.

Imagine the local humane society flooded with unwanted chickens in a couple of years. And, yes, that will happen. It happens with every pet, fad or not, but especially with fads taken up by people entirely ignorant of the work, complexity and responsibility involved.

Hens don’t lay eggs continually: two to three years at best, but they live well past their egg-laying prime. And then what do you do with them once they’re not laying? Allow backyard slaughterhouses? Will parents teach their children all about killing their pets? Maybe let them kill their pet chickens themselves?

Or will the owners abandon them (just consider how many people already abandon their dogs and cats) and find some new, shiny thing to occupy them?

Continue reading “Feathers A-Flying in Collingwood”

The high cost of affordability

Affordable housing is crucial to the economic and social vitality of every municipality. Without it, people cannot afford to live here, which means they will look for jobs in places they can afford. Young people, especially, will move to places they can afford better.

Collingwood is especially vulnerable to housing issues.* Given that the growth trend in our area is in low-paying (minimum wage), and part-time employment, finding affordable housing has become increasingly difficult for many people. Simcoe County itself estimates that a “single individual on Ontario Works would need to spend 108% of his/her monthly income to afford to live in the County.”

And as the Simcoe County housing strategy continues:

The Southern Georgian Bay area, while home to a thriving tourism industry, is also experiencing an aging population, high market rental rates, and a higher incidence of low income in private households.

Skyrocketing real estate costs contribute to the devaluation of a community. They push up taxes, living costs, rent, and utility bills. It takes a mature, wise and compassionate council to find ways to counter rising taxes and keep their community affordable. **

As the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing notes on its website,

Decent housing is more than shelter; it provides stability, security and dignity. It plays a key role in reducing poverty and building strong, inclusive communities.

But housing is a complex, challenging issue for municipalities and municipal politicians. Solutions are often very expensive; more than a small community can afford.

Councils have no direct control over real estate values (a problem compounded by the out-of-control Municipal Property Assessment Corp – MPAC – which raises property values across the province by computer formula, from its ivory tower offices, without conversations with local officials).

Municipalities also lack the legal muscle to demand private-sector development of lower-cost housing and much-needed rental properties like apartments (few young people can afford to buy homes, especially in a community that offers predominantly low wage job opportunities, so a supply of affordable rentals is critical).

On top of that, jurisdiction for affordable housing usually lies with a higher-tier government. In Collingwood’s case, it falls under the authority of Simcoe County. There are already 4,113 social housing units in Simcoe County, including approximately 3,035 rent-geared-to-income units. The County provides rent subsidies to 28 housing providers for 2,878 non-profit units, 60% rent-geared-to-income and 40% market rent. The county has already invested $3.4 million in maintaining its housing assets.

Before we go further, let’s dismiss some emotional – and inaccurate – impressions. Affordable housing doesn’t mean subsidized housing (although subsidized housing is also affordable). It represents a range of housing types. As the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) defines it, it’s an economic condition:

Affordable housing generally means a housing unit that can be owned or rented by a household with shelter costs that are less than 30 per cent of its gross income.

Last Tuesday, Simcoe County Council heard a presentation on the county’s long-term plan for affordable housing. Given its importance, it’s unfortunate neither of our own council reps were there to hear it.

I, however, had the fortune of being there for what proved an eye opener.
Continue reading “The high cost of affordability”

Apps are making us criminals

Uber protestAlmost every week you read in the news about another taxi driver protest against Uber and its drivers. Taxi drivers go on strike, some rage against Uber and attack the drivers or damage their cars.

Similar protests – albeit not yet as violent or large – have been made against Airbnb for its effects on local property values and changing social conditions like the loss of rental properties.

These are just two of the apps whose effect on our society and culture are challenging laws and policies. There are others now that attempt to clone the success of their competitors with similar service (like Lyft and Homeaway – but I’ll concentrate on these two as examples of what can and does happen).

And in the process making criminals of its users.

That’s right: using these apps, both as a service provider for the companies and a user of those services often breaks existing laws, such as zoning or licensing. Renting your home for short-term rentals through Airbnb, for example, is illegal in many Ontario municipalities – including Collingwood – because zoning bylaws prohibit short-term rentals in residential areas.

Municipalities worldwide are increasingly challenged by these and similar programs that function counter to municipal bylaws, policies and operations. And they eventually cost taxpayers money.

It’s not a small deal. These can hurt our economy, kill jobs, and put people and property at risk. The corporations that operate them don’t give a shit. They’re too busy laughing all the way to the bank every time you use them.

Continue reading “Apps are making us criminals”

Tourism and Collingwood

Tourism is the world’s fifth fastest-growing industry and growing at five percent per year. A recent story on CBC Radio this week suggests growth has been even higher for Canada, thanks to our lower Loonie: at least six percent.

According to the Tourism Association of Canada, in 2013, Canada’s tourism industry:

  • Represented more of Canada’s GDP than agriculture, forestry and fisheries combined
  • Generated $88.5 billion in economic activity
  • Was responsible for more than $17.2 billion in export revenue despite a growing travel deficit
  • Generated $9.6 billion in federal government revenue
  • Fostered 628 000 jobs across the country, spread across all 308 ridings

Tourism is BIG. Ontario’s festivals, events and attractions generate $28 billion and support 347,000 jobs each year. Festivals and events alone generate $2.3 billion in Ontario and support almost 50,000 jobs – and generate approximately $1 billion in taxes.

For Collingwood and the region, tourism and our hospitality sector are not merely important to our economic vitality: they are crucial. So what do Collingwood’s five proposed vision statements say about tourism, events, hospitality and recreation as growth drivers and employers? What do they say about the economic importance of tourism? Here it is:

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Pretty profound, wouldn’t you say? Perhaps it’s a Zen-like statement and we are supposed to infer meaningful content from the very emptiness. Or perhaps the committee just forgot all about tourism in the region. Or maybe they couldn’t find a sufficiently saccharine adjective to pair with it.

Continue reading “Tourism and Collingwood”