Promising to do What’s Already Done

AccomplishmentIt’s good for councillors to know we’ve already accomplished so much that everyone wants to emulate us. Listening to the all-candidates’ speeches and reading the campaign literature is a real boost to the ego.

A lot of new people are promising to do what’s already been done. Incumbents can comfortably sit back and say, “been there, done that, accomplished that already.” We don’t seem to have left a lot for the newcomers to accomplish.

It’s been a very productive term – remarkably so given that we have so few meetings that last more than two hours. (For a list of just a few things we accomplished this term, see my ACM speech.) But still, some candidates seem to want to repeat our successes.

Take for example the promise to “diligently manage our finances and assets…” Check. Already done. We have an asset management plan in place and we started the long-term financial management strategic plan. But we’ve made our finances sustainable this term, so we don’t have to fret so much about them in future. Our practice of replenishing reserves through internal loans rather than just spending them is one example. (Read more about that practice here)

Same with the promise to “Stop the waste by developing a long-range financial plan and transparently evaluating all capital investments.” Aside from the mystery of how one evaluates “transparently” (does that mean invisibly?), we have an asset management plan in place and the strategic financial plan is in the works.

Staff do any evaluation, by the way – councillors only read and comment on their efforts. And any such evaluations would always be public.

As for waste – this council has trimmed the budget and cut spending for the past four years. We’re kept tax increases down to a blended average of only 0.45% per year – less than the cost of living. We saved taxpayers more than $400,000 a year by stopping the rail service (while keeping the line active for future transportation opportunities). And we topped up reserves from $19 to $30 million! No waste here!

Ditto for creating a “plan that looks at our long term financial health.” Initiated by this council, thank you, and will, I expect, be completed before this term is over. We made financial stability a priority at our first strategic planning session in 2011, reinforced that priority at our second strategic planning session in 2013, and we achieved it.

“Manage our high debt load…” Thanks for the advice, but we have paid down $7.5 million of the $45 million debt we inherited this term without raising taxes. We controlled spending and instituted a sustainable plan to finance projects from reserves through internal loans. And we topped up reserves, too. So cross that one off, too because we’re one step ahead of you.

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My Speech at the All-Candidates’ Meeting

Here’s the two-minute speech I gave Wednesday night at the Collingwood Legion, plus the wrap-up:

In two minutes, I can’t list everything this council and staff have accomplished on your behalf. But here are some highlights:

  • We answered your demand for more ice and water time. Parents no longer have to drive their kids to other towns for meets because we built two beautiful new recreation facilities right here.
  • And we paid for them without going into debt or raising your taxes.
  • In fact, we also paid down the debt by almost $7.5 million while adding $11 million to town reserves this term.
  • We completed an asset management plan.
  • We initiated a long-term financial management plan.
  • We put much-needed new docks in the harbour.
  • We’re upgrading the Eddie Bush arena.
  • We launched very successful bus services to Wasaga Beach and Blue Mountain.
  • We finished First Street and started the reconstruction of Hume Street.
  • We built a new fire hall and renovated the police station.
  • Yet we kept our average tax increase to under one-half a percent per year. That’s less than the cost of living.
  • We launched a small business centre with our community partners to develop and grow local business more efficiently.
  • We hired a marketing and economic development director to promote our town, to attract more industry, more visitors and, most important, more jobs.
  • We even appointed an integrity commissioner to make sure we behave in the most transparent and accountable manner.
  • Our operational and governance reviews are making the town more efficient and your council more effective.

And that’s not all. We’ve accomplished a lot this term. And we can do more next term, including:

We must continue to keep your taxes low. That’s number one.

We need more jobs, more industries, more business. We’re already working on that.

Our harbour has been neglected too long. It must be redeveloped. Together, we can make it the best harbour on Georgian Bay. Our waterfront master plan will guide us.

If you want decisive leadership with vision, and if you want continued financial stability next term, please vote for me, Ian Chadwick.

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A Buddhist Guide for Voters

Kalama Sutra
While it was intended as a general ‘charter of free inquiry,’ the Buddhist Kalama Sutra (or sutta) contains wise words that all voters – especially local voters – should heed during the municipal election campaign.

The Kalamas were a people in ancient India. Gotama visited them and stopped in a town called Kesaputta, where he gave a sermon, now referred to as the Kalama Sutra. At first the citizens came to him with a deep problem: how to trust what people were telling them. They had been visited by many religious teachers who all held divergent views. Not unlike candidates for Collingwood council going door to door. Well, without the spirituality and a few badmouthing other candidates, too. But let’s not get distracted by them.

Here’s how Soma Thera translates what the villagers said:*

There are some monks and brahmans… who visit Kesaputta. They expound and explain only their own doctrines; the doctrines of others they despise, revile, and pull to pieces… Venerable sir, there is doubt, there is uncertainty in us concerning them. Which of these reverend monks and brahmans spoke the truth and which falsehood?”

That’s a lot like trying to decide which candidate is the best one(s) to vote for. Some explain what they stand for while others merely revile what others stand for. Some offer hope and a future, others tear it down. Some simply tell lies. Doubt and uncertainty arise. When they come to your door or make statements in an all-candidates’ meeting, how do you trust what they say?

That’s when the Buddha made one of his most memorable speeches, in which he told the listeners they had to decide the truth for themselves, to examine the claims and prove what is right or wrong for themselves, and not make choices based on hearsay, ideology or gossip:

It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas.

  • Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing;
  • nor upon tradition;
  • nor upon rumor;
  • nor upon what is in a scripture;
  • nor upon surmise;
  • nor upon an axiom;
  • nor upon specious reasoning;
  • nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability;
  • nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’

One might add some modern terms to that list of things that do not offer a suitable basis on which to form an opinion of what is or is not truthful:

  • nor by blogs;
  • nor by speeches;
  • nor by campaign literature;
  • nor by self-written pieces in the local newspaper;
  • nor by innuendo;
  • nor by unproven or unfounded allegation;
  • nor by rumour;
  • nor by email blasts;
  • nor by claims made when stumping;

He then tells the citizens that to learn for themselves what is bad, what is bad, evil and harmful, they must assess everything by asking, “Does this do good? Or harm? Does it lead to suffering?”

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Misconceptions About the Town Debt

Clock TowerYesterday members of council received a letter from our auditors that should clear up any misconceptions floating around about debt and debentures. It is clear and succinct.

I was also forwarded an email from a candidate (sent to his supporters) with misleading statements about how much debt there is. I don’t know if it was deliberately meant to be misleading – I suspect rather that the candidate simply doesn’t understand municipal finance. But it isn’t really a complicated process.

And no candidate should make claims based on misunderstanding or misinformation. It is their responsibility to get and present the facts, not fantasies, nor opinions.

In response to concerns over such inaccurate claims and misunderstandings, we asked for a clarification. Sue Bragg, B.B.A., CPA, CA, and partner in Gaviller and Company, which audits the town’s financial statements every year, wrote the following (emphasis added):

We understand there have been some inquiries regarding the “definition of debt” and how the debt levels have changed during this last term of Council.
Our professional opinion is that debt is external, contractual debt, typically in the form of bank loans, debentures and mortgages. This definition is in keeping with the presentation of debt on the Financial Information Return prepared annually for the Ministry, as well as the Ministry’s calculation of the Annual Repayment Limit.

Okay, here’s the first important point: debt is external. That’s both the professional and the legal definition of municipal debt as defined by the Ministry of Finance.

Debt is what we owe outsiders: money borrowed with interest and bank charges to be paid. It’s what affects your taxes. It’s our debentures.

It is not any internal loans we have. I’ll get to those a bit later and explain how they work. Just keep in mind that they are not debt by any professional or Ministry calculation.

So then what is our actual debt? Ms. Bragg continues (emphasis added):

As per the 2010 audited financial statements: long-term debt was $45,507,356 and there was a bank demand loan in the amount of $664,013 for a total of $46,171,369. As per the 2013 audited financial statements: long-term debt was $36,860,776 and there was no bank demand loan debt.

We are unable to comment on the 2014 balances as we have not audited those transactions to date.

Got that? We started with a total debt of $46.17 million ($45.5 million in debentures) when we took office. As of Jan. 1, 2013, this council and staff had brought it down to $36.86 million. By the end of 2014, we estimate it will be roughly $38 million because we will pay down more this year, but we also need to borrow for two earlier projects).

At the end of our term, this council will have paid down approximately $7.5 million of our debt, as we have been saying for months now. These are the facts verified by the auditor.

Our debt is not the $50,361,230.00 some candidates are suggesting.

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Ke Ji Feng Gong

Ke Ji Feng Gong
Back in 2007, I first wrote about those Chinese symbols in the image above. They spell “Ke ji feng gong.” This is an update to that older piece, because it seemed appropriate to raise it in the midst of our current political campaign.

It’s an ancient Chinese saying that means:

“Work Unselfishly for the Common Good.”

An alternate translation, but similar in intent, is

“Self-restraint and devotion to public duties; selfless dedication; to serve the public interest wholeheartedly.”

Typically in the translation of Chinese characters, the phrase has a multitude of shadings. It can also mean,

“Place Strict Standards on Oneself in Public Service.”

I found another reference to it as “shared success.” It is sometimes written as “fèng gong kè ji.”

Regardless of which flavour appeals to you, it defines everything that I believe in about municipal political service: we are here to serve the public good; the greater good.

Every member of council should get this emblazoned on our desks, our computers, and our business cards to remind ourselves that our duty is to the greater good, not to serve friends, colleagues or whatever group you may belong to.

Maybe we should get one of the scrolls placed in our council room as an admonition, too.

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Montaigne: The Depravity of Our Morals

Montaigne“Our judgments follow the depravity of our morals and remain sick,” wrote Michel de Montaigne in his essay On Cato the Younger (Essay XXXVII, Book I, Screech translation, Penguin Classics, 2003). That’s quite a condemnation.*

Montaigne opens that essay by quietly commenting, “I do not suffer from that common failing of judging another man by me.” Would that we all had his strength, not to judge others by what we think of ourselves. But he was born long before the age of selfies.

In our more narcissistic age of social media we are all too quick to judge, too quick to anger, too quick to take offence. We react first, strike back immediately, think long after. We treat anyone with different ideas or visions as intruders; trespassers on our internet. We disparage rather than discuss. We hurl invectives and insults rather than ask questions. We slough off civil debate in favour of personal attack.

(Yes, I’ve been reading The Essays again. I never seem to tire of Montaigne; there’s always something in his words to move me, inspire me and make me think. There’s nothing quite so comforting as sitting on the front porch in the late afternoon, under a clear, warm sky, Susan reading beside me, dogs at my feet, while I sip a glass of homemade wine and peruse Montaigne… well, him and a small pile of other books I am also currently reading. Would that these moments could be frozen in time and all afternoons be so comforting and civilized… as blogger J. D Taylor writes, “I will never finish reading Montaigne…”)

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On the hustings

Hustings meeting
I’ve been going door-to-door for the past few weeks in my campaign for re-election. Stumping on the hustings, as it’s called in Canada. Or at least that’s how I’ve always heard it used.

Hustings is an odd, old word, an anachronism that survives, seemingly, only in the world of politics. It comes from the days when England was a series of small kingdoms suffering frequent invasions by the Danes and Vikings. A few of the old Germanic and Norse words have managed to survive in our language, reminder of those distant, violent days.

The first known use, Wikipedia says, in a charter dated 1032 CE. But it probably was in oral use long before that document.

Husting derives from an Old Norse word, “hús” which meant ‘house. ’ It combines with “thing ” to make “hústhing,” which meant a ‘household assembly held by a leader.’ The meeting of the men who were in the household of a noble or royal leader. They would be the noble’s ‘cabinet’ or advisors.

Husting later came to mean more generically any assembly or parliament. In Old English, as the Online Etymology Dictionary tells us, it meant ‘meeting, court’ or ‘tribunal.’

The word appears in Middle English – the language of Chaucer – referring to the highest court of the City of London. From there is begins an odd transformation to mean the platform where the Lord Mayor and aldermen presided. By the early 18th century, it meant any temporary platform on which parliamentary candidates were nominated. And by 1719, it came to mean generally a platform for political speeches.

That evolved into an even more general sense of the election process itself. In England, it still refers to a meeting or an assembly where all candidates are present. Or, as Wikipedia says, “a combination of a debate, speeches or questions from the electors.” You can “go to the hustings” or “attend the hustings” as a member of the audience, or as a politician (Word Wizard notes) you can “hit the hustings” or “take to the hustings.”

I’ve often heard it said candidates are “on the hustings” when on the campaign trail, going door-to-door. This isn’t exactly the sense meant by the term, but calling it “stumping” is equally incorrect if we’re to be true to the etymology (see below).

There are online references to a verbal form too: to hust, although I’ve never encountered it in Canada. The singular form of the noun – husting – seems to have vanished while the plural form survives.

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My Rogers’ Cable TV Speech

Each candidate was given three minutes to speak for a spot on Rogers Cable TV recently. Here is what I said (in about two minutes):

Municipal politics is really quite simple. It’s all about people.

Caring about the people you live and work with.

Caring if seniors can afford their taxes. Caring if the sidewalk in front of your neighbour’s house is in good repair.

Caring about parents who had to drive for hours on dark, snowy roads to get their kids to hockey practice in another town because there was no place to play here.

Caring whether the garbage gets picked up, or if there enough places to park your bicycle.

And caring if we have enough doctors and nurses to take care of everyone.

It’s about caring for everyone of every age, and trying to do what’s best so we can all benefit.

It’s also about caring for the places and spaces where people play and work.

Caring about our beautiful parks where you take your dog and your family to.

Caring whether there are empty stores downtown, or if the roads are too bumpy.

Saving a few pieces of green space from development so families don’t lose everything wild and natural around them.

It’s about making sure our trails are safe to ride on. Making sure our streets are safe, and that our homes are safe from fire and vandalism.

It’s about making sure people can afford to live here and that we have industries and business so people can work here, too.

I care about all of these.

But caring alone isn’t enough. You have to do something about it. You need to take action. And that’s what I do as your representative.

I make the decisions I sincerely believe are in the best interests of the whole community.

The decisions that matter most to everyone. Not just to my friends, or my colleagues, or some group I might belong to.

I have the experience to help guide this town through another four years. I have a solid, clear vision of how I want this community to grow and develop. And I am passionate about my role as councillor.
Please re-elect me. I will always put the interests and the needs of the greater good first because that’s what politics means to me.

Thank you for listening and I look forward to your support.

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My BIA ACM Speech

This is the speech I gave at the BIA-ACO all-candidates’ meeting, Wednesday evening. The question all candidates had to answer was, “What is your vision to ensure that Downtown Collingwood thrives as a vital economic and cultural part of our community?” We had two minutes to respond. Here’s what I said:

For our downtown to thrive, it needs people. The town can help bring them here. But it is up to the businesses to draw them in.

People come to any downtown for two main reasons: ambiance and experience.

Collingwood already has good ambiance. We have a beautiful heritage district with attractive streets and buildings. But we should dress up Pine and St. Marie Streets more, and make our alleys and laneways more attractive and useful.

The ambiance will further improve when the waterfront development gets restarted and extends the commercial district right to the water’s edge.

Developing our harbour should be a main priority for the new council. A redeveloped harbour will be a significant economic resource. We should even consider a marina and a shuttle service to bring visitors into the downtown. Boaters and other users are all potential customers.

I also want to investigate restoring the former bingo hall as a community resource. It could become a performance space, an indoor market, or a gallery. That would further beautify our downtown.

As for experiences, we need new events and activities that draw both locals and visitors downtown. The Elvis Festival has proven good for this and has brought us great publicity. But we need others.
Events and culture should be treated as economic issues. We have engaged a new marketing and economic development director to craft strategies for pursuing cultural and event tourism.

We should also promote local food. We could make Collingwood the focus of a regional local food festival.

We should consider turning at least one downtown block into a pedestrian mall for part of the summer, with activities, vendors, buskers and public art.

Working with the BIA and our new business development centre, I believe we can make Collingwood’s downtown even more attractive and exciting than it already is.

And here is my wrap-up statement:

I’ve been the council representative on the BIA board for the last four years. I have enjoyed working with the board and helping set goals and directions for the downtown this term.

We have a great downtown, a beautiful downtown that is the heart of this community. But we cannot rest on our past. We need to work with the BIA, with our new marketing and economic development director, with our heritage groups and with council to keep it thriving, to keep it vital and keep attracting people.

If re-elected, I will help accomplish these goals next term.

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The OPP Investigation

In order to clear up the misinformation, rumours and outright lies about the OPP investigation, spreading on social media by some candidates and among the angry bloggers, let me set the record straight.

Here’s what we know:

  1. Approximately eighteen months ago, someone local went to the police and and filed a formal complaint. The police opened an investigation.
  2. The police have not interviewed the Mayor, Deputy  mayor, Councillors Lloyd, Cunningham, West, Edwards or myself in that time.
  3. After more than 18 months, no one has been charged with anything. No one has gone to jail. No one has been in court.
  4. The police have not made any public statements about the details of the investigation.
  5. The police are competent enough to know when dirty politics are presented to them.

Here’s what we don’t know:

  1. What the police are or were investigating (the police refuse to divulge this information).
  2. Who the police are or were investigating (the police refuse to divulge this information).
  3. What allegations have been made (the police refuse to divulge this information).
  4. When the police will issue a public report on the investigation.*

Those are the facts. Period. All the rest is rumour, gossip and allegation. Mostly malicious.

The CBC reporter who first broadcast this did not confirm any of these details with the OPP, simply broadcast allegations.

The CBC reported that one person on council went to the police. That person was not named in the broadcast. No one on council admitted to doing so. That remains an unproven allegation.

The EB asked each member of council if that was him or her who went to the police. All but one member replied, “no.” The other member refused to comment, allegedly because of legal advice.

When or if the police formally provide any results or publicly say the investigation is closed, there will be several FOI requests filed to get the name of the person who filed the complaint.

It has been more than 18 months since the complaint was filed, and to date nothing has happened. Nor is anything expected to happen, outside of a statement of closure. If anyone had done something illegal, he or she would have been charged by now. Instead, this council has been able to continue doing ‘business as usual.’

And here’s the final thing: no one on council did anything wrong. There is no basis for any charge of any sort. Simply because someone doesn’t like what council does, simply because someone doesn’t like the way a decision was made, or the way a vote went doesn’t mean it was wrong, illegal, immoral or improper.

Everything done by this council has been aboveboard, open and transparent, completely legal and democratic.

~~~~~

* Update: OPP Sergeant Peter Leon stated on Sept. 23, four days after this post had been written, that the investigation is still ongoing and the OPP will release a statement when the investigation is finished. He did not speculate on when that would be.

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Green initiatives for next term

LED lightsCollingwood should be in the forefront for green initiatives in Ontario, not lagging behind. There’s no reason we should not be leaders in exploring new ways to reduce greenhouse gases, reduce our carbon footprint, promote sustainable and environmentally-friendly strategies, and reduce our energy costs.

These will be some of my top goals for the 2014-18 council, if I’m re-elected.

In the energy world, we have a great partner with Powerstream, which has already explored many of these areas and taken steps in other municipalities. We should embrace and encourage similar projects here, and use the experience and expertise Powerstream has already developed to fast-track them. I have already spoken to their representatives and know they are willing and eager to help.

I recently asked at the council table for a report in installing electric vehicle charging stations in our municipal parking lots. Powerstream has already erected similar facilities – solar-powered stations as well as the standard charging stations – in Barrie and its headquarters. The Tesla company is donating stations to municipalities. Why don’t we have them here?

It’s time we did.

Charging stations do several things. First, they encourage local people to buy electric vehicles, thus reducing the GHG emissions. Second, they encourage visitors in such cars who might otherwise be reluctant to come here because they don’t know if they can make a return trip from the GTA on a single charge. “Charge anxiety” is thus reduced, tourism is increased.

Having municipal charging stations might get local car vendors to push more electric vehicle sales in their own lots, and could encourage others to open outlets to sell them. Which means the town could potentially move to electric vehicles in the future when replacing existing, older cars and trucks – meaning we would further reduce the municipality’s GHG emissions.

I expect the report on this proposal to come to council this fall and, if it is accepted, we might even see the first station erected in spring, 2015.

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Taoist Lessons for Politicians

Verse 29Those who look down upon this world, will surely take hold and try to change things. So begins verse 29 of the 4th century BCE Chinese classic (Jonathan Star translation*), the Tao Te Ching.

That verse suggests that those who feel themselves superior to the world and to others, who feel their actions, thoughts, views and beliefs are above those of others, will attempt to impress their own rule on others. And, as the verse continues, they can only fail in their attempts to control things. Control slips from their fingers.**

There’s a lesson here in verse 29, that winds throughout the book. It’s not simply for mystics and those who seek philosophical answers: it’s for politicians, including local candidates, too.

Moderation, humility, compromise, Lao Tzu suggests, is what works best; blunt attempts to control the world through confrontation, anger and challenge fail.

Some of his words of advice would fit the medieval “mirror for princes” books, which Machiavelli challenged in The Prince, but which Balthasar Gracian remade in his Art of Worldly Wisdom.

A couple of millennia have proven Lao Tzu right. Many others have shared his views over the ages – not necessarily because they read him, but because they came to similar conclusions about people and power. You can’t simply be negative and look down on things as if you could rule the world. A sense of superiority just isn’t enough to make a difference: you need virtue. Michel de Montaigne wrote:

Every other knowledge is harmful to him who does not have knowledge of goodness.
Book I, ch. 25

Lao Tzu’s small book is peppered with similar advice. It’s short enough to be read in an hour, but rich enough to be returned to through a lifetime.

The Derek Lin translation gives this rendition for verse 29:

Those who wish to take the world and control it
I see that they cannot succeed
The world is a sacred instrument
One cannot control it
The one who controls it will fail
The one who grasps it will lose

Because all things:
Either lead or follow
Either blow hot or cold
Either have strength or weakness
Either have ownership or take by force

Therefore the sage:
Eliminates extremes
Eliminates excess
Eliminates arrogance

Other translations concur, albeit offer alternate renderings. Regardless of specific wording, or which translation you prefer, all have a similar message that resonates in today’s politics. ***
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