My answers to ACO

The following questions came from the local chapter of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO). They were sent to all mayoral and deputy-mayoral candidates, but I am unsure whether council candidates also got them. My responses are below.

The questions were preceded by this:

Questions regarding Collingwood’s Heritage
Members of the Collingwood Branch of the ACO have prepared the following questionnaire to ascertain candidates’ positions on a number of important issues regarding the future of one of our town’s most valuable resources – our historic architecture and cultural heritage.  Once compiled, your responses will be posted to our Facebook site.  Please make your answers brief.  A response would be appreciated by September 18. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule.

 Question 1:   Describe your personal view of the importance of Collingwood’s cultural and architectural heritage.

 Answer: I was on the council that voted unanimously to designate the heritage district. I support maintaining and preserving our heritage buildings and cultural landmarks both inside and outside the district, as well as the incentives to maintain them.

I served on Collingwood’s library and museum boards, and am on the Simcoe County library, museums and archives board, all of which have given me a good appreciation of Collingwood’s and the region’s history and culture.

 Question 2:  Collingwood currently supports three incentive programs to maintain and to preserve its heritage. Would you continue this support to the extent of increasing the Heritage Tax Rebate program to be more in line with what other communities offer?

 Answer: Supporting the program: yes. Increasing it: in principle yes, but council would need a staff report that detailed the financial impact of any increase and to discuss it openly. I would also like to see some comparisons of what other municipalities offer. I would personally want to speak to building owners to get their perspective on what would be a reasonable amount.

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My answers to SOS

Answers to SOSThe following questions were sent to all candidates by the local citizen’s group, Save Our Shoreline (SOS). These are my answers, below. I have formatted my response for better online reading. The questions are in italics.

1.) In order of priority how would you rank the top five (5) priorities for the Town of Collingwood over the next 4 years?

  1. Financial sustainability. We cannot build, we cannot create, we cannot start new projects if we cannot afford them – and we have to keep the impact on the taxpayers at a minimum and reduce town spending (but not to lower our quality of life here)
  2. Restore public trust in council and rebuild our regional relationships. We must return to an open, ethical council and partner with our regional neighbours for cooperative initiatives.
  3. Restore our community’s support for local healthcare services with unquestioning support for the hospital’s plans for redevelopment.
  4. Our environment. We need to protect our greenspaces, and our urban forest and develop some strong, coherent environmental policies that look further ahead. As a municipality on the Great Lakes, we need to be in forefront of discussions about the Great Lakes, water diversion, microplastics and water protection. We should also work with community groups and businesses to develop responses to climate change. Collingwood has the talent and the incentives to be a leader in this movement, not a follower.
  5. Economic development. Collingwood needs more low-impact/green businesses. We should be supportive of our excellent economic development and marketing team and allow them to be more aggressive in pursuing potential businesses and industries to come here. We also need to make a decision about cannabis sales here – but only after public consultation.

2.) Much has been said recently about the need for greater “Transparency” in how the Town conducts its affairs. What changes do you think are necessary to improve transparency in how Council, and Town staff, make decisions?

First, elect new people who are committed to openness and accountability, not merely give it lip service.
Second, curtail the number of closed-door (in camera) meetings and go back to fully informing the public as to what council’s intentions are and why decisions are made.
Third: hold public consultation meetings for all major decisions, especially when selling public assets.
Fourth: restore public advisory committees (such as recreation, culture, economic development, sustainability, and utility boards). Residents should be able to participate in our government, not simply observe it.
Fifth: council must go back to communicating regularly with the public and keeping residents fully informed and engaged.
And sixth: we should consider implementing a ward system for voting; we are large and mature enough to leave the at-large system behind. Ward systems make it more difficult for cliques to be elected.
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More traffic woes

Traffic signalsAnother place we need a traffic signal in Collingwood is at Third and High. On busy days – and there are many more of them now than ever – it’s almost impossible to turn left from Third onto High Street.

Today, for example, while I was driving around town, I found myself one of eight cars lined up waiting for the first one to turn left. Even turning right into oncoming traffic at that intersection is difficult because of the volume and speed of the traffic.

There is currently a light at the Home Depot entrance, but that only operates when cars are in the Home Depot’s entrance trying to get out. Otherwise it doesn’t slow or stop the traffic along High St.

That light was supposed to be moved south to Third once Third Street was extended through to the west (that, as I recall, also depended on the industrial property to the west of Home Depot being developed… but that’s years away). Third is supposed to become a major east-west route like Sixth Street,  extending all the way to the Tenth Line sometime in the future.

However, the traffic on High Street is already busy enough to warrant a move of the signals now. Anyone who travels Third Street west can see that the traffic queuing to get onto High Street is getting out of hand. 

When I am Deputy Mayor, I will ask staff to give council some options about moving that light – or even installing a separate, timed traffic signal at Third and High to alleviate this bottleneck.

Water: Our most precious resource

Standard of careDid you know there were water restrictions in Collingwood this summer? No? Well, there were. And that underscores the vulnerability of our community to climate change when a community situated on the Great Lakes has water restrictions.

The notice on the town’s web page said we were “experiencing drier than usual conditions” this summer – without explaining what “usual” conditions means, and whether the condition still applies. Well, the failure of communications this term and the need to communicate better and more effectively next term is the stuff for another post. This one is about water. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources wrote:

In Ontario, climate change is anticipated to result in milder, shorter winters with earlier snowmelt, less ice cover on lakes, changing rainfall patterns and increased evapotranspiration. All of these factors have an impact on the normal variation we experience in water supplies and will affect water infrastructure capacity and design… Changes to water supply will be difficult to predict and could mean that there may be less water available for residential use, agriculture, industry, waterpower generation, transportation, or recreation. Ecologically, changes to water supply will impact Ontario’s biodiversity, our wetlands, our shorelines and our forests.

Our municipal water system is good, but like most in the province, it was not designed to handle the increasing challenges of climate-related stresses we now face. 2018 is shaping up to be the fourth hottest year on record – the three hotter ones were the previous three years! Extreme heat encourages people to use water more – for lawns, golf courses, gardens, drinking, filling pools. Increased demand for water can empty water towers and reservoirs faster and the system can’t fill them as quickly as the demand drains them.

But water use is just one issue.

Toxic algae is in the news every week. In many parts of the Great Lakes – and in Ontario’s inland lakes, too – there have been warnings about swimming and drinking because of blue-green algal blooms (cyanobacteria). Only last week, a family’s dog died after swimming in Lake Ontario and ingesting algae. Lakes Erie, Ontario and now Superior all have serious problems with algae this year (Erie has had them for many years). A media story this weekend had the headline, “Hot summer resulted in blue-green algal blooms on Ontario lakes.”

We’re extremely fortunate that it hasn’t happened here.

Yet.

It’s likely we will see algal blooms in Georgian Bay. Even when you can’t see them, the algae are already in the water, just not in significant amounts. But algae thrive on the nutrients used to fertilize crops, lawns and gold courses. And we have a lot of farms, homes and golf courses in our region to contribute to the runoff. It’s only a matter of time.
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Internet voting this election


This election will see Collingwood’s first use of internet and phone voting (the latter includes both smartphone and your bog-standard touch-tone phone). Eligible voters will be mailed a PIN early in October, and voting will be open Oct. 12, with the final tally on Oct. 22. Before you vote, however, you need to make sure you’re on the voters’ list (you can do that here). Collingwood town hall has a full page on the process here.

I’m torn about the online method. On one hand it offers opportunities to engage voters through the convenience and ease of online access, and might encourage more younger/millennial voters to participate. In theory it might mean a higher voter turnout. That is generally seen as good and desirable.

Higher voter turnouts are often used as yardsticks to measure success in an election. But it does not – nor cannot – measure whether voters are informed or engaged. Far, far too many online surveys and polls are completed simply because they are there or because they’re seen as an entertainment (it’s called game-ified). Will an election be the same?

Plus there’s the question of how people without computers or smartphones – or those with them but are not technically skilled in their use – will vote. Yes, they may have a touch-tone phone but I hearken back to numerous occasions trying to reach a corporation help line or service centre through the quagmire of button-pressing only to arrive, a dozen presses later, at a recorded message telling me how important my call is so please stay on the line. The wait time is an estimated 27 minutes… That sort of experience tends to colour my view of phone systems somewhat negatively.

Those without computers but want to vote that way will have to go elsewhere. To friends, relatives, or some public-access site like the library. That makes me wonder about security, the ubiquitous cookies (those little data tags that are stored on your computer every time you visit a site), someone overseeing your choice, privacy and the whole gamut of computer-related issues. Not to mention how some seniors or shut-ins will be able to get to those places.

Even though I’m a techie who has oodles of hardware and software at my disposal, I actually prefer the old polling booth method for several reasons, despite the ease and convenience of online methods.
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Traffic lights on Highway 26

Traffic signalsAfter looking at the increased volume of traffic on Highway 26 in the recent weeks, I have become convinced we need a set of signal lights between the Pretty River Parkway and the Blue Shores/Pilkington lights. I suggest Elliot Street might be the best location, although that would have to be confirmed by local residents.

I don’t know how anyone can turn left from any of the streets along the water side when the highway is that busy. It’s hard enough trying to turn right into the traffic flow – there are so many cars travelling so quickly there’s hardly room for another one!

Yes, I know: there are so many cars everywhere in town, especially on weekends. But the highway traffic is  denser and faster than the side streets. And in winter it will be especially tricky, what with snow, ice and snowbanks that obscure lines of sight.

I realize that the Ministry of Transport has many rules and regulations about erecting signals on its highways, and that the town can’t simply put them up on its own. I realize that the town would need to conduct the appropriate traffic warrant study before it can lobby the MOT. But I think it should be done  quickly – so that, if successful, a set of signals could be installed before next summer’s visitor trade starts to build.

I would also like to consider putting the lights at Blue Shores on a timer permanently, so that they stop traffic and calm the flow periodically. This would help until the new signals at Elliot Street are installed.