Category Archives: Collingwood

Comments, thoughts and musings about my hometown: Collingwood, Ontario. And some local politics, too, with my comments as a municipal councillor.

The Story of Chicken Little

Chicken LittleChicken Little was out one morning walking around town. It was a fine morning, and he decided he wanted a cup of coffee. He wanted one so much could even smell the coffee in the air. So he walked into a local restaurant. But then he stopped and his mouth fell open in horror.

He saw three horses sitting together at a table. Chicken Little didn’t like horses in general, but these were the Three Horses of the Apocalypse. The Three Horses he hated more than any other horses in the whole wide world. The most evil, nastiest, ugliest, horses he had ever seen. Talking. Laughing. Drinking coffee.

Clearly plotting. That’s what horses do: they get together to talk, to laugh, to drink coffee, and to plot. And when horses plot, it means the sky must be falling.

“My, oh, my,” he said to himself. “They’re talking. They’re laughing. They’re drinking coffee. The sky is falling. I can feel it. A piece just hit me! I must run and tell the Weasel about it!”

And Chicken Little skedaddled out of the restaurant as fast as his little legs would carry him while he sent text messages to all his friends.

“They sky is falling!” he texted.

“WTF?” they texted back, but he was too much of a hurry to explain.

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Good News for the Rec Facilities

Centennial PoolA story in this week’s Collingwood Connection vindicates the decision to build the two new rec facilities last term. According to the story, usage of the two facilities – the new arena at Central Park and the renovated Centennial Pool – is soaring.

Plus as an added benefit, Centennial pool is able to host competitions all year round – and it does. Just drive by it on a swim meet weekend and you’ll see the parking lot full; dozens of families attend, many of them staying here for shopping, food or even overnight. It’s a great economic benefit, not merely recreational. And everyone who uses the pool loves it; swimmers, visitors, seniors who use the therapeutic pool, parents, teachers – they all have positive things to say.

Net operating costs for the two sites totalled $628,000 for 2014. That’s the cost to service thousands of people at both sites over the year. Consider that for many years the town operated the Contact Centre for about 40 members at a cost of $250,000 a year. These sites serve 100 times as many users for about two-and-a-half times the cost. And the Contact Centre couldn’t host events or spectators like the new facilities can.

That net operating amount will continue to be reduced as usage climbs and the town’s revenue increases. And from all indications, that usage will only continue to rise. The number of people signed up for swimming lessons alone is up by 30% over last year.

Plus we now have use of the Eddie Bush arena as a convention, event and trade show venue, which offers not only more revenue but many more spin-off opportunities for local businesses. This coming weekend will see its first use when it hosts a large federal Liberal Party convention.

As expected, the new facilities are very energy-efficient to operate. That was a prime reason for approving them, but it’s good to see that recognized in print. It has proven a wise decision.

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Openness and Transparency?

Closed door policy

Legitimacy is earned through accountability. Accountability is produced through transparency.

Those words are from an opinion piece by Ian Lee, published in the Ottawa Citizen, back in 2008. Important words; words that should be carved above our own council table in large letters.

Although it seems like he was writing about Collingwood Council, Lee was actually writing about the need for more accountability and openness in the public sector, especially about stating expenses and costs of federal government projects and initiatives. Lee wanted to “…ensure the accountability of public policy expenditures to Canadians – who pay the bills – thereby ensuring the legitimacy of our democratic system.”

Prescient words they are, given the current investigations into the Mike Duffy and the Senate entitlement, spending and expense scandals currently in the courts.

But of course, his comments have parallels here, in the local municipal sphere.

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Propaganda?

Newsletter frontLast term, when council sent out community newsletters to keep residents informed, the illiterati screamed these were ‘propaganda’ and a waste of tax dollars.* Now this council has done the same thing and these nattering nabobs of negativity have raised their voices and screamed… nothing. Their silence is deafening.

Well, they wouldn’t want to embarrass their friends on council, would they? Even if this council repeats the same practice as those they reviled last term…

Let’s not dwell on the hypocrisy of the sycophants and bloggers, else we will never get further (it would fill pages and pages to recount…). Let’s instead look at the ‘newsletter’ that came in your mailbox recently.

It’s not the same as the newsletters sent last term, you will notice.

The first impression it gives the reader is: dullness. It’s so insipid it makes my teeth hurt. Greyness abounds. It has not a single speck of colour anywhere. Not even in the town’s logo. There are some graphics, but the greyness just reduces them to insignificance. Lettering on the low-contrast grey pictures is almost impossible to read, and the background images are so faint they look like dirty smudges.

Newsletter frontOne may argue that colour costs more to publish, but presentation is everything. After all, this newsletter reflects the town, its staff and council. Surely not even the current council is as drab as this monochrome presentation. It simply sucks the brightness out of the day to unfold it. The additional cost of colour could easily have been paid without affecting taxes had council not voted itself a raise and instead spent your taxes more wisely on communication.

But this piece also reflects on the town’s CAO. After all, the buck stops on his desk.

Last term, the interim CAO read and approved all of our newsletters before they went out because he was keenly aware – as any competent CAO is – how important it is to get both the message and the medium right. I can only assume that, if the current CAO takes his responsibility for communications equally as seriously, that he read and approved this piece. In which case, what does this piece say about his communication skills or his dedication to council and the community?

Since we have it in front of us, let’s dissect the newsletter’s contents, style, spelling and grammar. Channel your inner editor and graphic designer with me for a few minutes.

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Illegal or Just Inappropriate Meetings?

StoogesCollingwood’s three standing committees consist solely of three members of council, each.*

These committees of three each hold regular, published monthly meetings, hear public delegations, address public issues, post an agenda, receive staff reports, vote on issues, have recorded minutes, have staff to record them, and make recommendations back to council.

In other words they are treated identically to any regular council meeting.  Their recommendations are read into the council minutes and voted upon.

Yet none of these committees has a quorum (majority) of council on it.

When one person is absent, as has happened several times since they were struck, the committee consists of a mere two members of council. Three – and sometimes two – members of council can make recommendations about policy, events or issues on behalf of the town that may be approved by council.

Is this democratic? Open? Accountable? Clearly not, if two people can decide issues for the whole town.

More to the point, is it legal?

As I understand it, according to Section 237 of the Municipal Act, to be legal, a meeting requires a quorum of council: in this case, a minimum of five members, and councils cannot alter that requirement (emphasis added):

237 (2) The council of a municipality referred to in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of subsection (1) may reduce its quorum requirement but may not reduce it to less than a majority of its members. 2001, c. 25, s. 237 (2).

According to a paper published by George H. Rust-D’Eye for the Ontario Municipal Administrators’ Association, November 20, 2014 (emphasis added):

Councillors are legislative decision-makers of the municipality, and, with the exception of the head, who is the chief executive officer, they have no individual executive or ministerial duties. Moreover, they have no authority to act for the corporation except in conjunction with other members constituting a quorum. As legislators, they fulfil a role similar to members of Parliament or the Provincial Legislature.

In a report to the City of London, the Ombudsman noted that,

…having a quorum means a sufficient number of members (a majority in this case) are present to legally transact business.

The corollary seems to me that not having a quorum means the committee cannot legally conduct business relating to the town. Yet each one does.

As I read the various reports and laws, an official meeting requires a quorum. Without it, it is not a legal meeting. But even if it is – what is open and transparent about two or three out of nine deciding what policies or recommendations to make to council?

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Chinese Wisdom

AnalectsAs I promised in an earlier post, here are some of the epithets and sayings found in some of the Four Books of the Chinese canon. I think these are particularly relevant to politics, especially local politics. Hence my commentary after several of them.*

Wikipedia gives us an overview of Confucius’ political philosophy in the Analects:

Confucius’ political beliefs were rooted in his belief that a good ruler would be self-disciplined, would govern his subjects through education and by his own example, and would seek to correct his subjects with love and concern rather than punishment and coercion.
“If the people be led by laws, and uniformity among them be sought by punishments, they will try to escape punishment and have no sense of shame. If they are led by virtue, and uniformity sought among them through the practice of ritual propriety, they will possess a sense of shame and come to you of their own accord.” (Analects 2.3; see also 13.6)**.

So how good is the example set for us by council so far? Are the people led by virtue and propriety? Let’s look at the record, so far:

Raising your taxes. Raising your water rates. Giving themselves a raise. Giving $40,000 of your taxes so one of their own could pursue personal political ambitions out of town, with no benefit to this community. Conflicts of interest both material and perceived. Approving sole-sourced contracts to family members. Vengefully bringing back old political grudges (a formerly-rejected IC report) then protesting when the decision applies to one of their own. A standing committee system that operates too often out of the public eye and appears secretive. Backroom negotiations and lobbying emails. Ideological block voting. Letting staff control the budget and other meetings. Accepting damaging and flawed consultants’ reports. Claiming per-diem expenses for regular committee and board meetings. Breaching their oath of office and their code of conduct.

Hardly setting a good example for anyone to follow. And that’s just in the beginning of this term.

Perhaps they have other attributes that would fit the Confucian model of a good ruler, something not yet manifest in the public eye. Something hidden deep inside that needs must be coaxed out slowly. So let’s look at what Confucius and other Chinese philosophers said about government and politics.

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Signs – of the Apocalypse?

signCouncillor Cam Ecclestone made a comment at council earlier this month that he had been contacted by several residents concerned about the new sign on the Rexall Drug store on Huron Street, its size and colours. Coun. Doherty chimed in about it with similar comments.

Aside from the question why anyone would contact a member of council whose sluggish performance at the table would win an award for best impersonation of a somnambulist, one has to wonder who these residents are who are so concerned about a rather ordinary corporate/franchise sign.

Well, I mean aside from the handful of petty ideologues who want to blame all the evils under the sun on the developer, that is. He, of course, has nothing to do with the corporate signage of a tenant in one of his buildings.

But that’s logic, and these folks are not concerned with logic. They hate everything he does and has ever done, and will ever do, so why not blame him? Didn’t he give us that bad winter, after all? Isn’t he responsible for all those frozen pipes? So why stop hating him now?

No matter to them that the building is in neither the heritage district nor the BIA, so does not have to comply with any sign restrictions therein. Nor that the building actually passed a heritage impact assessment that said it was just fine, signs and all. Nor that the sign went through all necessary and stringent site plan agreements and was approved by town staff as conforming with our own bylaws.*

(And these approvals are entirely out of council’s hands, past and present, so councillors questioning them are in fact questioning staff’s integrity….)

No matter that the building and its tenants are located downtown, rather than outside the core where they might have been, and they will help bring more people to the area, and they and their clients will likely use local services and businesses.**

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The Not-My-Fault Dance

There’s a story in this weekend’s Collingwood Connection about the PUC board meeting this week. The board confirmed that council’s dumping unexpected costs on the utility will mean an unplanned increase in the cost of your water this year. One of our council representatives tried to dance around it as if he wasn’t among the causes of that increase.

This hurtful rate increase happened because council unwisely moved the budgeted cost of hydrant maintenance from the town’s fire service budget – where it had had been for years with no additional impact on taxes – and stuck it on the PUC (without consulting the PUC board), where it will cause rates to rise. That’s in part due to the unplanned $400,000 cost of repairing frozen pipes this past winter, which ate up any of the utility’s spare funds.

I wrote about that budget debacle in early April. This particular move was done to satisfy some hidden political agenda promoted by town hall, not for any real budgeting reason or at the request of the PUC. Some of those at the table did a 180-degree shift when it came back, approving what they initially opposed.

Obviously some more backroom lobbying went on to get that change.

Council still put your taxes up, so nothing was saved. But to make sure those at the table weren’t affected by the rising water costs or taxes, council voted themselves a raise. Plus they threw $40,000 of your taxes at Coun. Jeffrey’s expense account so she could wine and dine herself around the country in pursuit of her own glorious political career.

This rate increase will hurt local businesses, seniors, renters, low-income earners, industry… but not councillors. So much for accountability. L’etat c’est moi.

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