09/8/13

Reflecting on our successes this term


Collingwood CouncilWith just over a year left to go in this term, I’d like to take a few minutes to consider all the accomplishments of this council over the past three years. They are not inconsiderable, and worth celebrating, I think you’ll agree.

Most recent are the two new state-of-the-art recreational facilities; jewels in our community. Centennial Pool Aquatic Centre is now open, to the public’s delight and great excitement. If you haven’t seen it, stop by and look inside. Everyone who does is impressed. It certainly exceeded expectations. Bring your bathing suit and come for a swim.

It proved to be a good choice – and not merely economically – that the whole community can take pride in. It has a full-sized, FINA-endorsed, 25m, six-lane competition pool, with touch pads and starting blocks, as well as a separate warm-water (94F) therapeutic pool residents can use every day (cost to swim is a mere $3; we are looking into options for passes or memberships).

Centennial PoolPlus we can now host those aquatic competitions that are so important to the swimming community. That will prove a benefit to the whole community, economically and in public relations. The Collingwood Clippers held their open house at the new pool, Sept. 5, and presented the town with the anticipated donation cheque for the pool upgrades: $158,000. Thank you, Clippers!

The new (as yet unnamed) arena in Central Park will open this fall. We will have enough ice available to allow groups time that previously we could not accommodate. Women’s and girls’ hockey, and sledge hockey come to mind. Figure skating, too.

It will have a viewing area-mezzanine (with kitchenette for catering), which groups can rent for events – an economic bonus.

Both facilities offer something else, perhaps even more important: safety and time. Local kids and adults can play and practice here in town, and not have to drive to other communities for ice or swim time.

Parents no longer have to get up well before dawn to drive their kids to a distant rink or pool in the early hours of a winter morning, risking whiteouts, rough driving conditions and bad visibility to get their kids to and from a far-away site. Our community’s children and their parents will be much safer, and will have more time to spend together at home or in play, rather than on the road.

That’s worth celebrating.

That we did it all without having to increase taxes is just icing on the cake.

This new arena will allow us to upgrade and enhance the venerable and much-loved Eddie Bush Arena next year. We will be able to use it for other purposes in the non-hockey season: car shows, conventions, entertainment, indoor soccer and lacrosse – the possibilities are great. We will use it to expand our local events and activities, which turn will draw more visitors and improve business. This opens all sorts of possibility for economic development.

Fiscal responsibility has been the watchword for us this term. We have kept the town’s portion of your property taxes from rising for three straight years, while still maintaining services and infrastructure. We have an excellent staff which has been galvanized to hold their budgets by council’s determination and our forward thinking approach to financial responsibility. We plan to continue that trend through 2014.

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09/3/13

What is a councillor’s role?


A question was asked of me recently about the appropriateness of the Deputy Mayor being at a meeting last summer to discuss the possible purchase of the new recreational facility structures. From the question I inferred that the asker did not approve of a politician being there.

I disagree, and made my point that it was appropriate. It was hardly a secret meeting – it included numerous staff, plus the acting CAO. And the DM was invited to attend by staff, not the other way around.

First,  the DM is both chair of the budget process and council’s liaison with the Works Department. Who on council would be more appropriate to have at that meeting?

The DM would know and understand the fiscal challenges and opportunities better than any other member because of his history guiding the budget process every year. Plus as Works liaison, he knows what other projects are underway and being contemplated – and how they have to be coordinated with staff in planning and parks, recreation and culture, what services and resources are necessary and available.

The DM alone can’t direct staff – it takes a majority (usually at least at least five members) of council to do that. The proposal as staff determined it had to come to council for approval and confirmation. The DM could hear the arguments pro and con, and raise questions and concerns so that at least the presenters might be able to prepare for possible questions or objections from the table. Staff can make sure these salient points get included in any presentation.

In that way, council might avoid the sort of hour-long round-robin discussion we had about the proposed dog park (much of which seemed to revolve around questions about the choice of base material in the park). That meandering debate ended up going nowhere because staff were unprepared to answer the questions raised at the table.

Having someone to suggest possible objections or questions can streamline the process and make it more efficient. We have no need to return to the often indecisive and divisive five- and six-hour meetings of last term.

Second, as the council member who asked staff to look into the structures, the DM would be the one to present any motion to the table. Isn’t it appropriate that he learn all the sides, all the issues, understand the costs and the complexities, before presenting it to the table? You can’t defend what you don’t understand (or at least you shouldn’t try to). See the notes from the Municipal Act, below.

Third, politicians are elected to lead. Not to rubber stamp staff’s ideas or proposals. We should be meeting with staff, with the private sector, with residents, looking for ideas, opportunities and challenges trying to uncover solutions, partnerships and innovations. We have a larger role outside the table than is seen in our Monday night meetings. Our work at the table is only the tip of the iceberg of work we do. Or should do.

We are not elected to sit at home, in some cocoon, avoiding any contact with the outside world. We need to be active and engaged, if we are to champion or challenge issues. A good politician is one who is actively engaged, not just passive.  We are part of the process, not separate from it.  We are expected to use our own judgment in these situations.

To be able to do our job properly and effectively, we need to get all the input we can garner, to hear people’s ideas and concerns, discuss their projects, discuss the implications with staff. As long as there is no overriding legal issue – such as a potential breach of confidentiality or a liability concern – not to meet with our constituents and with staff is a failure to perform our roles.

Politicians have to get involved, get their feet wet. We can’t sit on the sidelines. But we are not dictators who rule by autocratic decree. We need input from the people who have to implement our decisions in order to accomplish our goals – and the way to get that input is to meet with them.

So, yes, it was appropriate. It’s almost always appropriate that council meet with staff and the public to discuss upcoming issues, motions, initiatives and projects because we were elected to represent the populace and we can’t do it without being engaged.

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08/25/13

Creating an Age-Friendly Community


AgingThe most interesting and inspiring seminar I attended during the recent AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) convention was “Synergies for Senior Friendly Communities.” It was about creating “age-friendly communities,” not simply for seniors, but heavily tilted in their direction.*

Speakers included Mario Sergio, Minister responsible for seniors (Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat); Mayor Debbie Amaroso, of Sault Ste. Marie, Mayor Jim Watson, of Ottawa; and Dr. John Lewis, associate professor of planning for the University of Waterloo. I also benefitted by sitting beside Mayor Rick Hamilton, of Elliot Lake, who gave me commentary from his town’s perspective on many of the issues raised, as well as speaking to me afterwards about specific issues I questioned.

The session provided a lot of ideas and processes that I believe we can bring to Collingwood. We do many things right, here, and we have a generally senior-friendly community, but the seminar told me we can – and should – do more. And it talked about the need to formalize our approach, strategize and create a long-range plan. We can’t do this ad hoc.

Provided for all participants were two publications: “Finding the Right Fit: Age-Friendly Community Planning,” a 112-page manual produced by the Province’s Seniors’ Secretariat, and the City of Ottawa’s 40-page “Older Adult Plan, 2012-2014.” Both are invaluable guides for the process. The Secretariat also publishes “A Guide to Programs and Services for Seniors in Ontario.” All of these are available in PDF format, online.

AFC is a designation, not simply a philosophy or policy behind planning and recreational activity programming. You have to apply for the designation, perform several steps, and obtain your certificate from the World Health Organization (WHO). As the WHO site notes,

The WHO Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities (GNAFCC) was established to foster the exchange of experience and mutual learning between cities and communities worldwide. Any city or community that is committed to creating inclusive and accessible urban environments to benefit their ageing populations is welcome to join.

Cities and communities in the Network are of different sizes and are located in different parts of the world. Their efforts to become more age-friendly take place within very diverse cultural and socio-economic contexts. What all members of the Network do have in common is the desire and commitment to create physical and social urban environments that promote healthy and active ageing and a good quality of life for their older residents.

There’s nothing onerous in the process, but it has to be followed closely to avoid being rejected. The WHO recommends a 1-2 year planning process of four steps:

  1. Establishment of mechanisms to involve older people throughout the Age-friendly City cycle.
  2. A baseline assessment of the age-friendliness of the city.
  3. Development of a 3-year city wide plan of action based on assessment findings.
  4. Identification of indicators to monitor progress.

This should be followed by an implementation program in years 3 to 5. WHO notes:

On completion of stage 1, and no later than two years after joining the Network, cities will submit their action plan to WHO for review and endorsement. Upon endorsement by WHO, cities will then have a three-year period of implementation.

Following this, there’s an evaluation process at the end of year 5.

At the end of the first period of implementation, cities will be required to submit a progress report to WHO outlining progress against indicators developed in stage 1.

Nothing we can’t do here. In fact, I think we could become a shining example for AFCs in Southern Ontario.

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07/20/13

Teddy’s Words of Wisdom


Roosevelt quote
I’m not a great student of American history – my tastes run to other places and people: Napoleon, Casanova, Elizabeth I, the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the French Revolution, China…. but I do read about it. Most recently Rick Perlstein’s history of the American Sixties, Nixonland. And in that book I came across a powerful, moving quotation from U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt that I wanted to share because it still resonates today:

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.

Roosevelt said this in a speech called “Citizenship in a Republic,” made at the Sorbonne, Paris, France,  23 April, 1910. Source: Wikiquote.

I would write it in stone and place it in front of each member of council at the table as a reminder at every meeting that we do our best and that’s what matters. We may stumble, we may even fall now and then, but we stay in the ring, we finish what we started, and we do what we believe is right, what is best for everyone.

I know how much each of you at the table care, how hard you work, how much you ponder and worry over the questions we must all answer, and how much it means to each of you to have the best community we possibly can. You do the work, you stand in the ring and take the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but you hang in because you care. And I know how much it hurts to have outsiders tear at you, to belittle and mock you, to denigrate your efforts. To try and hurt without offering to help.

At the end of the day, you can take pride in your accomplishments and your values. You are in the arena, where it counts most.

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07/19/13

The Enemies List


TyeeCanadians barely lifted an eyebrow in surprise when it was revealed that our Prime Minister had an “enemies list” compiled as a warning to newly-minted cabinet ministers laying out who they can’t trust. I mean, we’ve lived with Harper as leader long enough not be shocked by anything that seems petty, autocratic, paranoid or Republican.

So what if the list was so long it had to be delivered in several boxes and had more names than the GTA white pages?

The Toronto Star editorialized about how the “PMO’s derisive and adversarial tone is rightly ringing alarm bells.” Clearly they haven’t been paying close attention to the PMO these past several years. Most Canadians assumed the PMO had trademarked “derisive” and “adversarial” as their own.

Then they threw in what’s become another meme: the comparison between Harper and former US President, Richard Nixon and, inevitably, Watergate:

The comparison to Nixon is unsettling. The disgraced former president was thought to view dissenters as adversaries to be destroyed rather than debated. The enemies list is just the latest piece of evidence that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a tendency to think the same way.

Uh huh. Harper-as-Nixon isn’t necessarily a bad thing, from Harper’s perspective. After all, Nixon made a successful comeback from being the butt of media jokes to being the President. Sure he lied and schemed his way into the job; he was mistrustful, suspicious, controlling, manipulative and dishonest. But that’s not a bad role model for Stephen. Some might argue Stephen is far more cunning and treacherous than Nixon ever was. Maybe he considered it high praise.*

And Nixon had a List. Twenty names, that’s all. Well, that and the 576 names on his Other List. But for a country with more than 200 million at the time, 596 enemies isn’t all that many. Barely enough to fill a regiment. Stephen can do better, Surely he can muster at least a division’s worth of enemies. Maybe even a whole corps of them.

Andrew Coyne, writing in the NatPost with biting tongue-in-cheek, basically made the point that the list of perceived enemies might actually be close to infinite.

The PM (or at least the PMO) is suspicious of or fears anyone who doesn’t share Stephen’s ideology. That person goes on the list.

That’s a big list, since one of his favourite political games seems to be “guess what I’m thinking” – the loser gets booted out of caucus, the winner gets to sit in a minister’s chair (until the next round). Just ask Helena. Or Peter Kent.

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07/12/13

Casinos redux


Seniors and slotsFirst let’s clarify the terms. A “casino” was never really in the discussion, although just about everyone used that term. What the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG) offered was a “gaming facility” as they euphemistically called it. A gambling joint, others said.

It was to be a warehouse-like, windowless building with up to 300 slot machines. No keno, no gaming tables for poker or blackjack, no roulette. Up to (and maybe less than) 300 slot machines. No guarantees on the number, just up to 300.

The OLG decides how many: not the town, not the operator. The town can’t even comment on who the operator will be. That decision is in the OLG’s hands.*

Locals also referred to it s a “slot barn,” underscoring its aesthetic deficits. Casino, however, stuck as the word for general palaver.

The OLG made an enthusiastic pitch to every municipality in its artificially-created and somewhat illogically-determined  “zone seven.” Do you want to be a host, they asked, assuming a civic stampede to their door. They held out the promise of money. Who doesn’t want money? It helps grease the wheels of municipal progress. Continue reading