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.
Continue reading “Collingwood and cannabis stores”

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.
Continue reading “My answers to SOS”

You’re being lied to. Again.

DeceptionOn Tuesday, July 17, the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee held a meeting. Its sole purpose was to retreat behind closed doors (as this council does at every opportunity) and discuss the sale of our publicly-owned airport.

To date, this council has already held 16 in camera meetings about the airport. And during these secretive meetings, our council not only decided to sell our airport, but not to hold any public consultations about that sale. Not once this term has anyone on council said WHY they wanted to sell a successful, busy, publicly-owned airport. Not once has anyone at the table or in the administration presented a business case for selling it, or compared the pros and cons of ownership.

It’s all been done in the shadows. Backroom deals. The airport sale will be authorized July 23 without having had any public consultation.

This ongoing secrecy was poorly received by our municipal partners on the airport board who weren’t even informed about the move. So alienated were they that both Clearview and Wasaga Beach decided to stop contributing funds to the airport’s maintenance, and to withdraw from the airport services board.

Not that Brian Saunderson and his Block minions care a whit what others think about them, about Collingwood’s reputation or how the public feels about the deception practiced by this council.

Our council chose to ignore the 1,000-plus jobs waiting there, and instead kill our economic growth. No thought was given to the accelerating economic value of airports that our county neighbours recognized.

Why? No one knows. They won’t tell the public why they are selling it, or why they won’t ask for public input. But it gets worse.
Continue reading “You’re being lied to. Again.”

Update: closed door meetings in Collingwood

SecrecyLast November, I documented the unacceptably high number of closed-door (aka secretive) meetings held by this council since it took office. More than all of the past three councils combined. Back then I documented that by Oct. 2,  2017, council had held:

  • 14 closed-door meetings about our airport
  • 4 closed-door meetings about our hospital redevelopment
  • 37 closed-door meetings about Collus-PowerStream (plus three potential that were vaguely identified in the agendas).

And in all that time, the number of comments or editorials in the local media about this abuse of power and egregious secrecy by our council: zero.

I thought I’d update readers on how many more of these secretive meetings have been held since Oct. 5, 2017. I have only included the airport and Collus (formerly Collus-PowerStream) sales because Saunderson and his Block accomplished their task by putting up enough roadblocks to the hospital’s redevelopment that it has been delayed by anywhere from three to ten more years (and under the current provincial government, it might be sunk entirely).

Continue reading “Update: closed door meetings in Collingwood”

Innuendo, not guilt, in CBC story

False allegationsBy now I expect you’ve read the scurrilous CBC story written by Dave Seglins or at least one of its local spin-offs. For me, the best line in the CBC piece is the description of Seglins by David O’Connor, a “veteran criminal defence lawyer,” who called Seglins a “… f—— sleazeball.”

Eloquently said, and certainly an opinion shared by others in town. I would have added a few other expletives, but I already stand guilty of egregious verbosity, so I’ll let the description stand on its own merit.

It’s a story full of allegation and innuendo, but not guilt. The story cunningly tells you some of the details from the 219-page OPP report, just enough to make readers think someone was guilty without actually saying so. And what it does say is couched in language that seems designed to further the interests of a group of council candidates, the unemployed Steve Berman in particular. (Berman has long been the easily-duped catspaw for others who also have interests in the upcoming municipal election).

In their book, The Elements of Journalism, third edition (2015) authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil say the purpose of journalism is “to provide people with the information they need to be free and self governing.” Well, this story doesn’t even get close to that lofty goal. They add (p. 9) that the first of ten items journalists need to fulfill this task is, “Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.” Not selective truth, not opinion, not sly innuendo or unfounded allegation: truth. Another miss, it seems.

Start at the top with the headline. It’s misleading and incorrect, but it sets the oleaginous tone for the rest of the piece: “Ex-MP received ‘secret’ cut of $12.4M deal in resort town run by his sister, OPP probe alleges.”

Sandra Cooper is mayor. She isn’t a mafia boss. She doesn’t “run” the town: council and the town administration do collectively. In fact, Sandra voted against many of the initiatives of Lord Voldemort Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson and his marionette Block minions, including sidelining the hospital redevelopment, privatizing our electrical utility without public consultation, twice extending the contract of the much disliked interim CAO, calling for a judicial inquiry that could cost taxpayers $6 million or more, and the last two budgets. All of which passed because of The Block’s unanimous votes.

Yes, that’s right: they mayor voted AGAINST the town’s budget and pretty much all of Saunderson’s initiatives. But they passed anyway. So how can she be said to “run” the town? You’d think a reporter would ask those questions. But maybe the CBC doesn’t follow that sort of journalism these days.

And, no, the OPP probe doesn’t allege anything about the mayor. The story makes it guilt by association.

Continue reading “Innuendo, not guilt, in CBC story”

Airports and opportunities vs. The Block

Strategic Vision:
To become a premier regional commercial airport that stimulates the socioeconomic development of Simcoe County and the City of Barrie by improving connectivity, enhancing the competitiveness of the region and improving the quality of life for its residents.
Mission Statement:
To drive the region’s economic prosperity, enhance business opportunities, increase the region’s competitive position and support the travel needs of the community through increased connectivity.

So opens a report on the opportunities and challenges facing the Simcoe Regional Airport, presented to the county’s Committee of the Whole session, May 22. You can see it here, starting at page 23. The other quotes on this page are all from that report, unless otherwise identified.

Ship of fools
Ship of fools: our council

Quite a different approach from the one that most of Collingwood Council took towards our airport, isn’t it?

For a start this was done in public, not in secret as the Block – our very own Ship of Fools, rudderless on the ocean of governance – loves to conduct its business (especially when public assets are concerned). Second, it was positive, forward-thinking, and backed by facts, not the sort of negative, paranoid conspiracy theory The Block wallows in.

Airports in a modern global economy provide the critical connectivity to markets and knowledge-based resources that in turn represent key drivers of the economy. Airports themselves are not the destination but a conduit that provides critical connectivity.
“Airports play a considerable role in economic development and the most important cargo they move is people” – Richard Florida, Professor, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

I imagine this presentation made our Deputy Mayor, Brian Saunderson, squirm in great discomfort during the meeting. After all, here’s a consultant not only saying airports are good, but should be kept AND invested in! And that they bring economic growth and opportunities! Backed by actual facts, too! Quite a slap in the face to Brian’s Block, whose wacky conspiracy theory states airports are bad, costly, and should be disposed of without considering their value or economic potential.

By 2043 air travel demand in Southern Ontario will increase to 110 million passengers and a million tonnes of cargo – compared to the 47 million passengers and 400,000 tonnes of cargo in 2017.

So there’s growth predicted and a future in airports and an opportunity for a forward-thinking government to capture some of that business. But instead of wanting to embrace that growth and prepare for a better, more economically vibrant future, the ostrich-like Block are running away from it as fast as they can. They decided (in secret, behind closed doors, and without any public consultation or engagement, as they always do) to sell our publicly-owned airport instead of even investigating the opportunities.

But you already know they’re virulently anti-business, so that’s no surprise.
Continue reading “Airports and opportunities vs. The Block”