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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The $9 Million Dollar Mayor

Throwing money awayMore than eight million of your dollars have been spent to date on the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI), and it may top $9 million if you add in the costs the town doesn’t include in its calculations, as well as the proposed $700,000 report-about-the-report. And that should stick to our $9 million-dollar mayor.

There is a breakdown of the SVJI costs as of Dec. 18, 2020, on the town’s website. Sort of. The $8,098,547.40 total doesn’t include two key components: first, the salary and expenses of the inquiry’s judge. While that was paid for by the province, not simply by local taxpayers, it’s still a cost we all have to bear in our annual income tax paid to the province. Even the lowest provincial judges make at least $250,000 a year, so the true SVJI costs should be another $500,000 or even higher.

Then there are the unreported costs for town staff, too, and we do pay these: including overtime, time and paperwork to respond to and accommodate the SVJI requests, travel, time and paperwork to respond to residents’ questions and requests about the inquiry, time to set up rooms and hearing space, to provide water, electricity, and advice, to move departments out of town hall, then back again, for any incidental costs to accommodate the inquiry. How much that was I cannot estimate, but because so many senior staff were involved, I’d guess it easily tops $250,000 spread over the inquiry’s time here.

On top of that, there’s that $700,000 additional to be spent for staff to write a report about the report — a task we’re told is as important as ensuring our drinking water is safe. I’m sure you’ve already read my comments about that expensive, bureaucratic codswallop.

And we’re not sure if that’s the final tally or there are still bills to be paid. The town hall cash register keeps singing to the Nine-Million-Dollar Mayor’s tune.

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As Important as Clean Drinking Water?

Dilbert
I wonder how the people of Walkerton would feel about Collingwood CAO’s statement, reported in Collingwood Today, that implementing the 300-plus recommendations of the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) is “equivalent with the top priorities we have, like providing clean drinking water.”

I wonder how many people in our town will be saved from a painful, water-borne illness and possible death if, for example, the town encourages the province to implement recommendation number two:

2 Describing the mayor as both the head of Council and chief executive officer blurs the fact that the mayor is the head of Council and the chief administrative officer (CAO) is the head of staff. There must be a clear division of roles and responsibilities between the mayor and the CAO, a separation of the political from the administrative.

Nothing like a ‘clear division” to make the community safe from evil.

The Walkerton tragedy was the result of a failure to ensure clean drinking water. More than 2,000 people fell ill, and six died. From that event came the province’s Safe Drinking Water Act that makes council members personally responsible and liable for ensuring the water residents receive is safe, and changed the way municipalities managed their water supplies. And can you please tell me how this is equivalent to producing a report-about-the-report?

Seems to me it belittles the people of Walkerton to compare their suffering and trauma with the results of a questionable inquiry that cost taxpayers more than $8 million that could have been better spent fixing our decaying roads and sidewalks, and upgrading our own water treatment plant. And keep in mind that the SVJI report is a summation of opinions, not a legal decision. 

So please help me understand why Collingwood’s CAO thinks that reporting on the 300-plus recommendations that were mostly generic, irrelevant, or appear outside the inquiry’s mandate — and relate to events that are now at least eight years old — are on equal footing to ensuring we have clean water.  

Okay, I do understand that it is highly unlikely that most, if any, of our council members have read through the entire 914 pages, and need a precis; perhaps the whole thing reduced to a dozen bullets on PowerPoint slides, written in a large font and read aloud, slowly, at a council meeting. After all, none of them were elected for their intellectual prowess, and reading was never their forte. But is it worth another $700,000 of your money to explain it to them?

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Collingwood and cannabis stores

Buffer zones

Credit where credit is due: Collingwood council this week voted unanimously to allow a cannabis store to open here. That came as somewhat of a surprise given earlier negative comments from come councillors, but in the end they all agreed to it. It made sense to say yes, given that pot is now legal in Canada. Saying no would have made the community seem both out-of-touch and fusty, and would have reinforced the resolutely-closed-for-business reputation that last council gave our town.

But the staff report also shows that there is still a deep prohibition-era thinking in town hall. Take a look at the map, above, showing in blue the 200-metre buffer staff thinks need to created to prevent stores from opening nearby. Like parks, for example. Although there is no logical reason to ban sales near parks, the proposed 200 meter buffer basically rules out all of the commercial space and strip malls along First Street.

And who decided 200 metres is appropriate for anything? Would anything change if it was reduced to 100? or 50? How about 1.5m, the width of most sidewalks? Is there some scientific research that says a community is safer, more morally upright if cannabis stores are 200 metres from, say, an arboretum, bench or labyrinth? I half-expected staff to show council a clip from the 1936 film Reefer Madness as the reference to back up their recommendations.*

Within those very buffer zones, the town already has retaillers selling alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs. You can get drunk in a dozen restaurants and bars along First Street, but staff think someone selling pot nearby is a threat? Do staff really believe that selling legal pot will corrupt park visitors in ways that, say, legal opioids or cheap whisky don’t? Or that strollers walking their dog along a trail will suddenly be overcome and engage in crimes of moral turpitude when they inadvertently come within 200 metres of a cannabis store? I say we got trouble my friends, right here in River City… **

And as for tobacco – it’s the most insidious, nasty product you can buy legally: addictive, cancer-causing, and dirty. Our parks, streets and beaches are already heavily littered with toxic cigarette butts. Butts are the ocean’s “single largest source of trash” according to data collected by NGO Ocean Conservancy. Smokers are universally dirty – I’ve never met one in all my years who didn’t litter. Just take a look at the sidewalk in front of the coffee shops downtown, or the deep reefs of discarded butts beside Wal-Mart or other box stores where staff go to smoke. Do town staff (who do nothing about the toxic butt problem let alone smoking on public property) really think a single pot store is worse than all those smokers and the outlets where they can buy their drugs?

Personally, I would prefer to see a store downtown because it would be good for the downtown economy. But I don’t think it should be the only viable area offered for a retail outlet: location should be the retailler’s choice based on their business model and own studies (and concerns like parking). Arbitrarily limiting its location might be a fine way to do things in the old Soviet planning system, but those of us who still believe in free enterprise have always found that system rather stifling.

Cannabis should be treated the same way as alcohol and other drugs. We already have zoning in place to limit where retail or commercial operations can take place. Why create artificial buffer zones when we already have all the necessary planning rules? All that will do is add another unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the process in a town already labelled closed for business.

But maybe that’s the goal.
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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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My answers to AWARE Simcoe

AWARE SimcoeCandidates throughout Simcoe County were sent a series of questions by AWARE Simcoe, which describes itself as “…a citizens’ group with members in all Simcoe County municipalities as well as in Barrie and Orillia. We work to protect water, the environment and health through transparency and accountability in government.”

I have included the questions and my responses, below.

1. Water is a finite resource. Do you feel there is a need to protect water, wetlands and recharge areas from development, aggregate extraction and other intrusive activities in your municipality? If so, how will you achieve this?

ANSWER
I currently sit on the Lake Simcoe/South Georgian Bay source water protection committee. I also do communications work for the non-profit Ontario Municipal Water Association, which advocates with the province over drinking water, wastewater and stormwater issues, policies and legislation. Both associations have taught me a lot about the need to protect our water resources at all levels and in all systems, as well as the politics and the technologies involved.

I recently blogged about water as our most precious resource as a local campaign issue as well as the need for candidates to make themselves aware of the polices and legislation they will have to follow when elected (e.g. the Safe Drinking Water Act). See ianchadwick.com/blog/water-our-most-precious-resource/

As deputy mayor, I will do everything in my power to protect our water and its sources, including promoting low-impact development and natural stormwater management. As a community on the Great Lakes, I will encourage our mayor, council and staff to be actively involved in associations and agencies that work with protecting the Great Lakes. Where possible, I will volunteer my time in this area, too.

I also believe that Collingwood should be more active in initiatives to mitigate climate change – which will affect our water. We should be a leader in sustainable environmental practices, too.

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