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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Looking forward to 2015-18

Collingwood Terminals
Looking forward to 2015 and beyond, here are some of the things I would like to see Collingwood Council and the town staff accomplish in the upcoming term. I have laid these out in my campaign website and literature already, but thought I should include something in my blog to complement those sources.

  • Maintain our current fiscal stability and sustainability. This council has been very proactive in keeping taxes and spending low, without compromising on any essential services or infrastructure. We have paid down $11 of the $45 million debt we inherited, and only borrowed minimally for necessary infrastructure projects. The average tax increase this term has been less than the rate of inflation: 0.5%. And we got two stunning new recreational facilities without having to go deeper into debt or raise taxes. Staying this fiscal course for the next term is a must.
  • Complete and implement the waterfront/harbour master plan. We have started the process, held public meetings, but we need to see it to the end. Our harbour is underutilized and offers many benefits, resources and economic opportunities we can take advantage of. We need to make it more attractive, safe and accessible for all users, while drawing visitors and business to the community through aquatic activities and resources.
  • Embrace more green initiatives. Change to LED lighting in municipal buildings, rec facilities and street lights; put solar panels on municipal buildings; and install electric vehicle charging stations in municipal parking lots. Collingwood should be in the forefront of energy conservation and awareness and we must work closely with our utility partner, Collus/Powerstream to accomplish these goals.There are significant savings in energy use to be had.
  • Rebuild the BMX/skateboard park, with input from users for the design and layout. A new skateboard park could draw users from all over Ontario and host competitions and events. Let’s start planning for a revitalized facility next term and get the youth involved in the design process. It’s a prime project for a public-private partnership and sponsorship, too.
  • Aggressively promote and market Collingwood. We have a new economic development/marketing manager in a new office shared with our community business partners. We must harness these dynamic services to attract businesses and industry, and to cement our brand as the most attractive place to visit and to open a business in Ontario.
  • Implement governance changes. Our CAO has recently proposed some sweeping changes to the town’s governance and committee structures, to help make council more efficient and effective, while smoothing out the public input process. These changes will need experienced politicians to help guide them, help communicate them, and make sure they meet the needs of our residents. I have the experience to help make these changes work.
  • Promote a greater mix of housing types for both sale and rent; encourage affordable and attainable development including more rental properties, providing opportunities for workers and young families. This is a challenge because the town is limited by legislation what it can offer as incentives to developers. A roundtable discussion with planners and developers will help set priorities and strategies.
  • Integrate event planning & culture with economic development; Culture and events are economic drivers that can benefit the entire community. We must look for new signature events and activities to draw visitors, and keep people coming back. Look for new, innovative ways to increase traffic and activities downtown and engage both residents and visitors in them.
  • A regional local food strategy: I would like to see one developed with our neighbouring municipalities, which would look at promoting local agriculture, food tourism and related events. I would also like the town and BIA to look at updated and enhanced models for the farmers’ market with an eye to developing a year-round, indoor market that could attract visitors and merchants.

These are my main priorities and my vision for the upcoming term. If elected, I will bring them to council and help implement in the next four years. Some of these – the electric vehicle charging stations, for example – I have already raised this term, but because of timing, other pressing issues, budget restraints or staff changes, they have not had the opportunity for a full discussion at the council table. I have the experience, the vision and the passion to continue as your representative on Collingwood Council and work as diligently on your behalf as I have for the past three terms.

You can read more about my election platform here.

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New post on the Municipal Machiavelli

I’ve written a short post that I trust will serve as an introduction to a longer piece I plan to write. It’s on the letter of Quintus Tullius Cicero to his brother on how to win an election (written circa 64 BCE).

You can read it here:

I will be working on a more in-depth analysis of Cicero’s letter and a comparison with Machiavelli’s works and other political pieces in the near future.

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Our 21st Century Library

Collingwood Public LibraryIn the 20-plus years I’ve been on the Collingwood Library board, I have watched the functions of the library and its role in the community evolve and change to keep pace with the needs and demands of its growing number of users. It’s been a remarkable, exciting journey.

Of all our civic institutions, I believe the library has best adapted to the new technologies and the changing community demographics.  In sheer numbers, it is our most popular, most well-used community facility.

And the library continues to grow in popularity as visits, uses and borrowing expands in leaps and bounds. From the Collingwood Public Library annual report for 2013, presented to Council on Monday night here are a few statistics:

  • 190,121 patron visits (up 6%);
  • 283,467 items borrowed (up 3%);
  • 7,580 e-books borrowed (up 44%);
  • 5,095 program participants (up 26%);
  • 10,663 uses of library computer workstations (up 13%);
  • 13,746 uses of library Wifi network (up 34%);
  • 159,150 visits to library website (up 52%).

Did you also know there are many free online courses available through the library’s website? All you need is your library card to take them. I signed up for Latin! Plus there are databases and online magazines you can read or use for research. And, of course, a large collection of movies on DVD, music on CD and even audiobooks you can check out.

All of this is good news for the community: it shows our library remains on the forefront of the technology wave; adapting and enhancing its services – thanks to terrific, dedicated staff and a supportive, active and engaged board. Plus the library has an excellent relationship with the town’s IT superb department to help make technical and technological decisions and upgrades easier and more efficient.*

The growing community use in all aspects and areas of the library show how prescient the 2003-06 council was in approving (albeit not unanimously**) a new, expanded, award-winning, LEEDS-gold-certified library – long overdue, too.*** According to Ministry standards, our library had outgrown its space around 1990. It took more than 15 years to get a new building with enough space to accommodate the town’s growing population and the library’s own collection.

A  modern library is not simply a warehouse for books – themselves often but wrongly portrayed as an aging technology in the era of the e-reader. It is the beating heart  of the community. As a page on the Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) says about the public library:

Today it is a cornerstone of the community that benefits everyone. Residents of all ages rely on their public library to provide what they need to face the future with the resilience that comes from new knowledge, information, skills, and abilities.

The literacy map for Collingwood is reasonably healthy. According to the Canadian Council on Learning, we’re doing better than much of the country, and the library is one of the main reasons scores have improved over the last several years. But we can’t relax our vigil and take it for granted.

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Why Term Limits Are a Bad Idea for Municipal Government

Term limitsLeo Longo wrote in three recent Municipal World articles (April, May, June, 2014) that it is time to consider setting term limits on municipal politicians.

I beg to disagree.

Is municipal democracy in such dire straits that it needs restrictions that no provincial or federal politician faces?

Are voters so ignorant and ill-informed that they need outsiders to guide their choices?

Applying arbitrary term limits goes against the grain of representational democracy, suggesting the arbitrator knows what is better for the electorate than the electors themselves; that democracy needs outside control because it cannot regulate itself.

What problem would such limits solve that are not already solved by the electorate, and by existing accountability laws? It is certainly not the panacea for voter malaise or low turnout.

Mr. Longo suggests the “status quo has produced many of the negative consequences…” but he fails to identify the negative consequences that occur under term-limit systems.

For example, Mexico has three-year terms and no-re-election policy. Every municipal government is entirely new, with no experienced politicians to help guide the city. The system has been widely criticized as ineffective because “Voters never have the opportunity to pass judgment on the record of their elected officials, so those officials see no incentive to having a record at all, good or bad.”* It is also said to “impede performance.”** I have seen its effects in some Mexican cities: a year of confusion getting to know the job, a year trying to get something done, then a year coasting to the end.

Incumbents are often said to have an advantage, as Mr. Longo notes. Some of this comes from name recognition: but for that to be true, you have to get your name in the community.This is only done by being active at the table and outside. Inactive or lazy politicians don’t get that.

Nor do those at odds with the media, despite their record or experience.

Is this an “unfair ‘tilted’ playing field” as he suggests? I don’t believe so. Sometimes that name recognition can work against a politician, too.

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Twenty years of strategic planning

Town of CollingwoodTwenty years ago – May, 1994 – the Town of Collingwood started a community-based strategic plan. That report was released in October, 1995. Then in October, 2000, Vision 2020 released its Blueprint Collingwood. These two documents are generally forgotten by the general public today, but they have been the basis of planning, of policy and strategic targets by councils and staff ever since.

No particular council or mayor can take credit for the accomplishments; they’ve been achieved over more than two decades of effort and resolve. This post is simply to point out that these visionary documents were neither ignored nor buried on shelves, but rather have been incorporated into planning and policy.

True, not every recommendation was accepted or adopted. Some were impractical – cost or complexity were too great, others involved different jurisdictions beyond the town’s control (i.e. upgrades to Highway 26 or waste management). But many have been used successfully.

Both reports built on an earlier document and process, Focus 2000, dated from (I believe) 1990. Both later documents had similar processes and approaches: task forces, community involvement, focus groups, interviews and workshops. Although they have areas of similarity, they also have differences.

The Strategic Plan identified six key features that residents valued and wanted to retain:

  • Small town atmosphere;
  • Natural beauty and the environment;
  • Recreation and leisure activities;
  • A clean, safe, friendly community;
  • Community activities and special events.

One item – “small town atmosphere” is difficult to manage. One cannot legislate a friendly, welcoming, positive attitude or to post optimistic comments in social or other media. We cannot pass bylaws that require people to say hello, please and thank you, to hold a door open, or to let someone back out of a parking space on the main street. But councils have tried to retain some of the look and feel that encourage at least the aesthetic feel of Collingwood – including keeping green/wild spaces and trees. Otherwise, these features have all been key in the town’s planning and policy development.

On the key issues facing the town, as reported in the study, here’s how we fared. My comments are in blue:

  • Lack of opportunities, especially for youth;
    We have a youth centre, skateboard park and many recreational opportunities, but we don’t have a lot of employment opportunities outside the service and hospitality sectors. We are not alone in this: most Ontario municipalities have struggled with plant and industry closures the past two decades. However, we do have some manufacturing such as Goodall, Sensortech, Pilkington Glass, Canadian Mist, Agnora Glass and others. Two microbreweries are scheduled to open here this year. So we’re better off than many communities our size – these companies employ residents and several are adding new jobs every year.
  • Waterfront development;
    The residential waterfront development started, but collapsed along with the economy in 2008. It’s been on hold ever since while banks and real estate companies attempt to sell off the remaining parcels to a new developer. The town has upgraded the waterfront area in the harbour, and recently added docks to encourage more boat traffic. Falling water levels have been a problem for a few years, but that may be a cyclic pattern. The grain terminals has been up for sale for a few years, but so far no serious buyer has come forward. Meanwhile there have been enhancements to both Sunset Point and Harbourview parks.
  • Lack of cultural activities and facilities;
    The town now has a culture coordinator who helps promote and encourage cultural events and activities. There is no municipal arts centre, but both the new municipal (library) building and the privately-owned Tremont have gallery space. The former newspaper office was turned into a private theatre/gallery/workshop space. Our council chambers now showcase local artists. The Elvis Festival is about to enter its 20th anniversary, and remains the town’s largest summer event. Other events have been promoted, such as the Jazz at the Station weekly show. We have more street art, too.
  • Preservation of the natural environment;
    Ongoing and raised frequently (as recently as the June 2 council meeting). The NVCA has helped preserve wetlands and wild areas from development. It is sometimes tough to balance this with the need for growth. We also instigated and had completed a natural heritage study, done by the NVCA.
  • The economy and taxes.
    Ongoing. It’s always a balancing act between providing services and facilities people want, and maintaining/upgrading infrastructure, and keeping taxes low. The local economy is doing fairly well, but like any small town, we have to watch our money. This term taxes have been kept remarkably low (an average of about 0.5% over four years), while the debt has been paid down significantly without over-burdening the taxpayers ($11 million paid from an inherited $45 million debt). The national and world economies took a beating in 2008, which affected local growth and development, but we have been recovering slowly.

On the opportunities and goals:

  • Attract light industry and high-tech business;
    We face some competition, but we have been successful in attracting Agnora Glass, two new microbreweries, and celebrating an expansion of the Goodall rubber plant. The former ethanol plant is available for re-use for such purposes as fertilizer manufacturing. We have been fortunate to retain some of our industrial base. Our new Marketing and Economic Development manager will help us in the task of promoting Collingwood.
  • Increase tourism – promote Collingwood as a  4-season tourism resort;
    This is ongoing and has been the priority of groups like the Georgian Triangle Tourism Association.
  • Improve and develop the waterfront and make it accessible;
    Pedestrian and public access was built into the new development, although not fully completed when the development stalled, in 2008.
  • Promote arts activities and special events; build a theatre;
    We have two private theatres and private gallery spaces, plus the municipal space in the library.
  • Improve the downtown and heritage buildings;
    Done and ongoing. We now have a heritage district with strict building controls and bylaws.
  • Promote seminars, conferences and retreats.
    While we currently lack sufficient public facilities for such events, the current revitalization of the Eddie Bush Arena will provide an opportunity to host such events in the near future.

Most councils since the Strategic Plan was released have actively incorporated many of the ideas and suggestions into their operation and policies.

Everything, of course, comes with a challenge. The growth plan that will see Collingwood grow to about 31,000 in a few years may reduce some of the “small town atmosphere” that we treasure. That growth will see higher demand on services and facilities, which may mean greater costs. But I don’t think the overall well-being will be adversely affected because of the solid base that has been built over the last 20 years..

The waterfront Shipyards property has gone through its ups and downs, with development started – with great optimism then halted by the 2008 Recession. There are still approved plans for future residential and commercial development there, but no developer has taken the reins. Like with the Admiral Collingwood site, the fluctuating economy and slow recovery has curtailed its completion. Development is always at the mercy of the economy.

All councils wrestle with retaining as much of the natural environment as possible, although it sometimes conflicts with other strategic goals, like growth and development. We try to balance community interest with the rights of the developer.

And as for taxes and the economy: this council has a record of an average 0.5% tax increase over the past four years, paying down the town’s $45 million debt by $11 million AND building new recreational facilities, a new fire hall, purchased Fisher Field, a new Public Works building with 30 acres of property.

This term’s exemplary fiscal management should be a model for future councils.

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The ACDC/AVI Site Remediation

Admiral CollingwoodEarlier this week, members of council received this email from Ian Adams of the Enterprise Bulletin about the upcoming motion on remediation of the empty property at Hume and Hurontario Streets:

I was wondering if I could get your thoughts with regard to extending/not extending the site remediation agreement for the ACDC/AVI property, and whether an extension should be granted/not granted. Ian Adams, Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin

The site remediation agreement is unique: it is, as I have been told by the Planning Department, the only one of its kind ever made on any property in this town. It was made at the request of the AVI developer, not the town, but the town agreed to it as the third party. At that time, it seemed reasonable that development would have started within the three-year term of the agreement. That proved overly optimistic, in light of the sluggish economy.

As the town’s lawyer stated, this is a tripartite agreement that requires the agreement of all three parties to change (and, if any party wished, to discard). Any single party has the right to challenge one or both other parties in a court over the terms.

While the onus for enforcement unfortunately falls to the town under its property standards bylaw (section five), the town is given the discretion when and even whether to enforce it (section four). Any enforcement would be a costly legal challenge and a lengthy court battle for taxpayers. Potentially several years.

Keep in mind the expensive legal battles that arose when the former council removed the legally and democratically-approved permits from the site. Those cost taxpayers more than $100,000. Plus there were subsequent costs to restore and amend some of the agreements to allow the developments to proceed. That doesn’t even mention the costs the developers went through – to get the initial permits, approvals, heritage impact studies, architectural drawings and the properties themselves – and for ACDC to have to pay for a redesign and new heritage impact study last term.

To return the site to what it was before those permits were rescinded last term could cost much more. And we would be no further ahead than we were in late 2006 when we had approved a signature building on the site. Except without the prospects of that beautiful building.

Would this benefit the community or the town? Or just waste more taxpayers’ money to pursue what might be better and more effectively gained through negotiation and compromise?

Conflict and confrontation are not good – nor wise – negotiating tactics. And they are not what a municipality should be known for.

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Irony and cognitive dissonance

Politics is as full of irony as it is full of cognitive dissonance. And I don’t mean simply in politicians and their agencies: it is everyone and every group, every agency and every organization that dabbles in politics. Sooner or later, the irony comes out. And the cognitive dissonance sets in.

Irony is a difference between the appearance of something and its reality. As Google brings up the definition: “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.”

Amusing may be subjective.

Irony surfaced recently in local politics when we received emails first criticizing council for not doing something about the empty Admiral Collingwood Place site, then followed by others from many of the same people, criticizing us for doing something.

The real irony is that many of the people complaining that the site was not developed are the very people at least in part responsible for it being undeveloped in the first place.

Perhaps a brief history is in order (a full timeline can be read on the April 28 council agenda, starting at page 160).

The proposed development was democratically and legally approved by the council in late 2006. That’s critical to note. It was all done openly, transparently, with numerous public meetings, with staff and council in attendance, open discussion and lively debate, all above board.

The heritage impact assessment (HIA) for the site – prepared by an independent expert – was accepted. The community in general loved the idea of the development at that location. The Downtown BIA enthusiastically supported it. People lined up to put deposits down on condos. Only a small – but vocal – number disagreed, especially with the HIA. That’s okay: in a democracy disagreement is allowed.

In the fall of that year, a local special interest group (” VOTE”) filed two OMB challenges against the development. Former councillor (later mayor) Chris Carrier publicly donated a cheque to their legal fund in their battle against the town he was elected to serve. Still, legal and acceptable in a democracy.

You surely remember the special interest VOTE group – sarcastically referred to as “Voters Opposed To Everything” by some local wags (and media). A small group, never more than a couple of dozen strong, but with friends in high places.

Continue reading “Irony and cognitive dissonance”

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Getting solid numbers makes sense

Eddie Bush arenaI recently was directed to read a statement that I had “…put forward a notice of motion calling on the municipality to spend the money to put a concrete floor in the building, without any kind of business case …”

That is incorrect. The notice simply asked the town to put out a ‘request for proposal” (RFP).

If the writer had asked me about my notice of motion (or asked any of the other councillors or senior staff with whom I discussed it), I would have been able to explain that I was simply asking for the town to get a price for the work. The notice and the subsequent motion presented in the agenda did not mention spending any money for the project: just to get a price.

Deciding whether the work will go ahead is another discussion. But recent councils have danced around the issue of the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena for several years, mostly without any firm price quotes for the work on which to base any decision or do any future planning.

The Eddie Bush arena once had a concrete floor, and years ago it hosted warm weather events – even a circus – but that ended when the concrete was removed and replaced with sand. We, as council, have stated we want to make the arena more accommodating and flexible for such uses again. No, the town won’t be operating these events – we act merely as service-and-space providers (for a fee, of course).

Yes, we’ve had some estimates for work done in the arena, but these come from engineers over the past few years, not from contractors. We also received an unsolicited quote late in 2013 that contradicts higher estimates with a lower price. We need the contractors – those few who can actually do such work – to give us something reliable and competitive.

An RFP is the easiest way to get those costs; a simple solution.

Continue reading “Getting solid numbers makes sense”

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Conspiracy Theories: 2014 Update

Conspiracy theoriesIt’s time to update a piece I wrote in December, 2012, outlining the secret deals, backroom negotiations and “barbecue politics” that our council has been involved in since that date, more than a year ago.

So here comes the update, the emperor without his clothes:

  • Secret meetings: none
  • Backroom negotiations: none
  • Barbecue deals: none

Sorry, I know this is a disappointment to local conspiracy theorists and bloggers, coming hard on the failure of the world to end as per the Mayan Calendar, or the failure of any number of predicted ends of the world, coupled with the lack of any substantial conspiracy proof against council despite dozens (hundreds?) of Freedom of Information Act requests filed (sorry if the clerk didn’t tell you what sort of lubricant one councillor uses on his chair, though…).

Aliens didn’t make contact in 2013. Bigfoot wasn’t found. Tom Cruise is still in Scientology. Stephen Harper didn’t quit politics and join a monastery. Council didn’t hold any secret meetings.

It was a tough year for psychics and conspiracy theorists alike.

Back at the end of 2012, I wrote:

I can only offer a glimmer of hope that we still have two years left to go, so there’s still a chance we might fail to live up to our oath of office in future. A slim chance, mind you, but those odds don’t stop people from buying lottery tickets.

I have to say, I don’t think it’s going to happen now. We’re sticking stubbornly to the oath. Not only that, we brought in an Integrity Commissioner to ensure the public knows we stay on the straight and narrow.

I also wrote then:

I understand that from the outside, it may look like we’re doing the double-double-toil-and-trouble routine in the “cone of silence” but all we were doing is just treading the slow path of bureaucracy and legality, under the watchful eyes of staff (who wield a rather mean Municipal Act when we stray). We call it “due diligence.”

Not to mention a rather stern CAO who has little tolerance for inappropriate behaviour by councillors, no matter how well-meaning.

Political conspiracy theories get spun by those who don’t participate in or understand how the process of governance works. And like all conspiracy theories ever coined, despite lack of proof, they keep resurfacing and circulating among people who are sure that their government – any level of government – is up to no good.

Clandestine meetings and secret deals  are more exciting, more titillating to believe in than the rather pedestrian, but convoluted process of governance.

You think the truth is out there? The way to find out is to get involved. Working on a committee or sitting at the council table sure strips you of your illusions about government conspiracies. At the very least, sit down with someone who is involved and ask how things work.
Continue reading “Conspiracy Theories: 2014 Update”

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Time to get serious with distracted drivers

Distracted drivingIn March, the fine for being caught texting,  talking on your cell phone, or tinkering with your MP3 player while driving will jump from $155 to $280 in Ontario.

That’s better, but not good enough.

Distracted drivers are a growing threat to everyone sharing the road – other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. We are all at risk.

As the CBC reported:

The fine for distracted driving in Ontario will soon nearly double.

As of March 18, driving with the display screen of a phone, computer, MP3 player or tablet computer visible to the driver will jump to $280 from $155. The total includes a $25 victim surcharge and $5 court costs.

Last week Ontario chief justice Annemarie Bonkalo signed a judicial order approving the new fines.

The fines will not apply to GPS screens.

It’s not enough. The legislation needs to be tougher. It needs to parallel the legislation about impaired driving, or street racing, with similar penalties and fines.

Curiously, as The Star notes, the provincial Liberals (an inconsistent and meandering party seemingly adrift the policy sea, but that’s another post…) didn’t support one of their own MPP’s private member’s bill which would have increased fines and added demerit points:

…the Liberals haven’t pushed a private member’s bill introduced last year by one of their own MPPs, Bas Balkissoon (Scarborough-Rouge River), calling for fines between $300 and $700 and demerit points after one of his constituents, a young mother and community volunteer, was killed by a distracted driver.
“This is a serious, serious community safety issue,” Balkissoon said. “One way or another, I’ll get it.”
He said he was concerned any legislation the government introduces could be delayed by a spring election, and also said he was “disappointed” Bonkalo set the fine at $280 and not his preferred level of $500, the Highway Traffic Act maximum.

So one has to question how seriously the Liberals take the problem.

As the Economist calls it, distracted driving is the “new drunk driving.”

THE driver who killed Jennifer Smith’s mother in 2008 by hitting her car at a crossroads was sober and had never received a speeding ticket. But he was talking on his mobile phone. He was so engrossed that when the policeman later asked him what colour the traffic light had been, the driver said he had not even seen one.

As the article notes, even hands-free devices add to distracted driving:

The human brain has to work harder to process language and communication with somebody who is not physically present. (Conversation with passengers is much less distracting, apparently because those passengers are also aware of the traffic situation and moderate their conversation.) A study by Carnegie Mellon University using brain imaging found that merely listening to somebody speak on the phone led to a 37% decrease in activity in the parietal lobe, where spatial tasks are processed. This suggests that hands-free use of mobile phones cannot help much. Such distractions, according to one study, make drivers more collision-prone than having a blood-alcohol level of .08%, the legal limit in America. It appears to raise the risk of an accident by four times. Texting multiplies the risk by several times again.

So we need some serious attention paid to technology and its social and cultural impact. One of the reasons our health care costs are skyrocketing seems to be easily found here: distracted drivers are causing an increasing number of accidents and deaths.

Distracted driving sticker

Simply raising the fine won’t change that. Paying $280 may be more of an annoyance to people than a real game changer.

Why don’t we treat it like street racing and stunt driving? That gets the driver an immediate suspension of his/her licence at the roadside, a minimum fine of $2,000, and it can be as high as $10,000. A street racing conviction can mean imprisonment for up to six months. It can also lead to a further suspension of the driver’s licence for up to two years for the first conviction and that can go as high as ten years for a second conviction! A convicted driver’s insurance rates increase 100% for the next three years, plus they get dinged six demerit points!

Now that’s a serious law. Distracted driving law? A slap on the wrist. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s own Road Safety Report for 2010 (the latest published) barely mentions distracted driving. Yet clearly the problem – and threat – is accelerating.

Continue reading “Time to get serious with distracted drivers”

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