If I had the choice between spending eight hours in a dentist’s chair having oral surgery without anaesthetic and spending two hours in a council meeting listening to the bureaucratic bullshit, the administration’s unfocused mumbling and meandering, the councillors’ self-justifying, self-aggrandizing, self-righteous grandstanding, boasting, empty platitudes, and argumentative whining palaver, after last night, I’ll choose the dentist’s chair any time. It’s less painful.
That’s because Monday night I spent two hours in an audience of more than 325 people listening to council trying to justify its war on our hospital, simply to support The Block’s shrunken base of supporters, all 12 of whom were also in the audience last night. It was like old home week for VOTE (Voters Opposed to Everything).
The vast majority, however, was there to support something positive: the hospital’s proposed redevelopment on the Poplar Sideroad site.
A war of words it is, and an increasingly nasty one at that. Monday night The Block and the administration marshalled their biggest artillery yet: a very expensive lawyer (the same one who recommended the interim CAO to his “temporary” position in 2013, by the way), a very slick PR consultant from out of town (sole-sourced, of course) and planners from the county and even a bureaucrat from the Ministry, all to justify their anti-hospital stand, and to make it appear that the issue isn’t about them – but about process.*
It isn’t. Let’s clear that up right away. The MCR is a canard. Don’t be distracted by it. The problem is with The Block and the town administration, not any report.
An MCR (Municipal Comprehensive Review) is a document required by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) when a municipality changes employment lands (a loosely-defined term open to interpretation) to another purpose, for example from industrial to residential. That isn’t happening here, so it shouldn’t be required. It’s also a useful tool for identifying land use designations throughout a municipality.
But even if and MCR is required, so what? It’s just paperwork.
Every municipality has to have an Official Plan, and that plan must be reviewed every five years. Ours is due for review in 2017 and has been budgeted for. So why not conduct an MCR during that process as part of the OP review? Makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, an MCR is not just for the hospital: it’s for our future land-use planning for every property, business, growth and settlement area.
So just do it and move on. Stop putting up imagined roadblocks.
It’s not a big deal to locate hospitals in so-called “employment lands.” Other municipalities (Oakville and Windsor for example) have located hospitals in them – we can too. All we need to make is happen is simply paperwork.
But the administration says it’s a problem, so the Block thinks it is, and they all run about like headless chickens screaming the sky is falling. I’ll get back to that.
The evening began with two presentations: one by Thom Paterson, chair of the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital Board, with Jory Pritchard-Kerr, director of the hospital foundation. It was a good, upbeat, non-critical presentation about working together for the future of the region, for the greater good, for collaboration and for the best patient care. After all, isn’t that the REAL issue at stake? What option will be the best for patients throughout the region?
The second one was by Robert Mooy, head of the so-called “hospital4collingwood” group (aka nochanges4collingwood), the spiritual successor to the old VOTE group (and including several of its former members). That presentation was accusatory, critical and derogatory.
That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the evening: negativity, accusation and blaming everyone else. Those presentations were followed by aggressive, disrespectful grilling of the hospital reps by the interim CAO and some Block councillors.
The anti-hospital group was not questioned, of course, because they are The Block’s last few supporters and get treated with respect.
Under the town’s Code of Conduct, ALL delegations are supposed to be treated with respect. Clearly none of the Block think that applies to them. And questions to delegates are supposed to be for clarification not an opportunity to grandstand, but The Block used the time to pontificate and boast about themselves, while chastising the hospital (underscoring the “it’s not my fault” ideology beloved of The Block and administration). Our very own “basket of deplorables.”
The interim CAO seemed to think he was the deputy mayor channelling Perry Mason: his was the most aggressive, antagonistic questioning, spawning hisses and groans from the audience. The mayor had to constantly interrupt him to remind him that he was not the chair, and had to address questions through her. I suppose CAOs aren’t expected to know much about protocol and procedure, even after four years on the job here.
In the usual sky-is-falling approach to issues in town hall, the interim CAO’s report demanded that before council consider Councillor Lloyd’s motion (I’ll get to that later), they pass a bylaw to either cut spending by $300,000 or raise taxes 1% to pay for an MCR. The agenda noted, “Council must enact a by-law to amend the budget estimates by up to $300,000 (as per Staff Report CAO2017-01).” Claptrap. It completely missed the point of Lloyd’s motion.
Now while this bunch LOVES to raise your taxes (three times already this term), they don’t need to. In 2015, in a council meeting the interim CAO publicly promised (also promised in the report from a sole-sourced consultant on water issues) that taking the water utility out from under Collus-PowerStream’s management would save the town $750,000 a year (in March, 2016, he claimed it had already saved the town between $500,000 and $700,000 in the first three months of the year). There’s the money right there – unless, of course, the promised savings was bullshit and the move has turned into a HUGE expense to taxpayers instead…
The Block also agreed to the administration’s demand to apply an automatic 0.75% tax hike to your property taxes every year. That money goes into reserves and there’s almost $500,000 in it already. So it could be used instead. This business about having to dig up more money from taxes is just a scare tactic to ruffle the feathers of the chickens on council.
And while chicken seems an appropriate word, chickens have spines; none of The Block have one. The Block didn’t have the courage to make a decision in front of the large audience despite the two hours of moralizing propaganda that was meant to stiffen their resolve. I guess you can’t stiffen what you don’t have. The people we elected – and pay – to make decisions didn’t. You need a spine to stand up for your convictions.
You’d really have to have read the report in the agenda to understand much of this, because the interim CAO wasn’t clear at all in trying to explain his report. He mumbled, meandered, spoke about his past (who cares?). Perhaps it was the poor sound system, but to me he seemed to struggle to put simple sentences together. I suppose CAOs aren’t hired for their communications skills.
There were some light moments of comic relief that evening. The endless “moved by myself” gaffes every time a motion was read brought a smile to everyone who knows English. When Councillor “Sleepy” Ecclestone finally awoke to realize he had the motion the mayor had asked for several times and was ready to go to the next item elicited many guffaws. When Councillor Edwards asked to explain his vote to defer the motion – although he should know, after more than 13 years on council, that there is no discussion allowed on deferrals – and was shut down. No, Mike, we don’t want to hear your lame excuses for not supporting our hospital. And after the umpteenth time the mayor had to interrupt the interim CAO to remind him to follow protocol and direct questions through the chair, not simply spout off, people were laughing aloud.
But there were also hisses and grumblings. Like when Councillor Madigan once again tried to be Saunderson’s bulldog and harass the hospital with his questioning. He just came across like a yappy Shih-Tzu. I heard similar grumblings when Councillor Doherty used her “question” to lecture Thom Paterson, speaking on behalf of council (that’s the mayor’s role). And for Councillor Jeffrey’s flaccid bromides about working together and due diligence. All of it was just self-justifying, self-promoting piffle. All their alt-facts cannot disguise their hostility towards the hospital and its board. And the audience could see it.
Bloggers (me) and the media got the blame too, for offering opinions contrary to the orthodoxy presented by town hall. The interim CAO wants to limit those opinions. Apparently unless everyone speaks the administration’s doublespeak, we risk the province not approving the redevelopment. So once again, it’s someone else’s fault. One would hope CAOs are hired for their appreciation of democracy and free speech.
People started leaving early, shaking their heads. One person made a shovelling motion as he walked out. A woman beside me asked, halfway through the two-hour sitzkrieg, “Why are they taking so long?” Because, I replied, council wanted to out-sit the audience and drive it away before they had to make any decisions. And by the time the motion was presented, they had done so: half the audience gave up in disgust and left.
Councillor Lloyd’s motion was, simply put: let’s stop screwing around and start working on a solution. Have staff report to council what’s been accomplished and where we go with it. A shit or get off the pot motion. But The Block scurried back under their protective rocks and refused to deal with it. Instead, they deferred the motion – a bureaucratic term for procrastination – because they didn’t want to take a stand on a controversial issue in public. They prefer to do that behind closed doors in their many, many in camera meetings.
Only Councillor Lloyd and Mayor Cooper stood up for the hospital and only they had to courage to vote against deferring the issue. Kudos to them. The rest simply showed they are invertebrates: spineless.
I doubt many people in the audience were convinced by the presentations, the propaganda or the speeches from the hired guns (hired at your expense, mind you). Marching in lockstep to the administration’s tune doesn’t look like community engagement: it looks more like an attempt to bully people into obedience and conformity. Very Kim Jong-Un and very anti-hospital.
Collingwood and the hospital deserve better.
* The MMAH says on its website:
Comprehensive reviews help planning authorities make land use planning decisions on issues that typically require a broader context or framework and consideration of potential impacts from interrelated activities and factors.
The PPS, 2005 requires that a comprehensive review be undertaken to permit:
• the identification of settlement areas and the expansion of settlement area boundaries
• the conversion of lands within employment areas to non-employment uses
• development that is not related to the management or use of resources, or is not a resource based recreational activity within rural areas in unincorporated areas that are adjacent to or surrounding municipalities.
A comprehensive review, as it relates to the identification of settlement areas, the expansion of settlement area boundaries (policy 18.104.22.168) and the conversion of lands within employment areas to non-employment uses (policy 1.3.2), means:
an official plan review which is initiated by a planning authority, or an official plan amendment which is initiated or adopted by a planning authority, which:
• is based on a review of population and growth projections and which reflect projections and allocations by upper-tier municipalities and provincial plans, where applicable; considers alternative directions for growth; and determines how best to accommodate this growth while protecting provincial interests;
• utilizes opportunities to accommodate projected growth through intensification and redevelopment;
• confirms that the lands to be developed do not comprise specialty crop areas in accordance with policy 2.3.2;
• is integrated with planning for infrastructure and public service facilities; and
• considers cross-jurisdictional issues.
From the MMAH’s Places to Grow website:
Policies on Employment Areas and Conversion of Uses in Employment Areas
Employment areas are defined as: “Areas designated in an official plan for clusters of business and economic activities including, but not limited to, manufacturing, warehousing, offices, and associated retail and ancillary facilities.” Not all jobs in a municipality take place in employment areas.
This definition does not preclude a municipality from including major retail as a permitted use in an employment area, but a municipality may also determine that major retail is not an appropriate use in an employment area.
Policy 22.214.171.124 of the Growth Plan establishes a set of tests that must be met before municipalities may permit conversion of lands within employment areas to non-employment uses. Such a conversion may be permitted only through a municipal comprehensive review where it has been demonstrated that:
• there is a need for the conversion
• the municipality will meet the employment forecasts allocated to the municipality pursuant to the Growth Plan
• the conversion will not adversely affect the overall viability of the employment area, and achievement of the intensification target, density targets, and other policies of the Growth Plan
• there is existing or planned infrastructure to accommodate the proposed conversion
• the lands are not required over the long term for the employment purposes for which they are designated
• cross-jurisdictional issues have been considered.
Policy 126.96.36.199 further states that major retail uses are considered non-employment uses for the purposes of this policy – i.e. when considering the conversion of lands within employment areas to non-employment uses.
Where municipalities, through their official plan, have permitted major retail uses in an employment area, the approval of major retail uses on these lands would not constitute a conversion. If the municipal official plan does not permit major retail uses within an employment area, an application to permit new major retail uses in the employment area would constitute a conversion.
Municipalities must examine how the proposed conversion from an employment use to a non-employment use within a designated employment area would meet the tests outlined above. This may require analyses of economic and employment trends, infrastructure needs, and other relevant factors. The research and policy review should clearly demonstrate how all the conditions are met in order for the municipality to amend its official plan to convert the land within an employment area to a non-employment use.
The policy tests described above do not apply to employment areas that are downtown areas or regeneration areas (policy 188.8.131.52). In these areas, the policies of the Provincial Policy Statement, 2005 regarding employment land conversion would apply.
And also from the Places to Grow website:
5.2 Institutional Uses
Institutional uses such as schools, universities, health care facilities, and public sports/cultural facilities are major contributors to quality of life and should be planned to keep pace with the changing needs of a growing population and to promote more complete communities. Employment forecasts for the Greater Golden Horseshoe indicate that a large portion of employment growth over the next twenty-five years will occur in the institutional sector, particularly education and health care.
Certain institutional uses, such as emergency services, have specific locational requirements and are spatially distributed throughout a community. Other uses, such as hospitals, courthouses, and correctional facilities, often have specific requirements for larger land parcels that are well serviced and accessible.
The location of public institutions can have lasting effects on travel patterns, urban vitality and form, and the health of downtowns. Public institutions can be substantial trip generators; locating and designing them in such a way that encourages transit use, cycling, and walking can reduce the need for automobile travel. Further, when located within urban areas, in proximity to shops, services, and suppliers, these facilities can act as an economic catalyst, creating spin-off employment in the surrounding area and generating considerable economic activity.
Here’s something from a presentation from Wood Bull Barristers & Solicitors about employment lands:
There is no provincial definition of “employment lands” as distinct from the defined term “employment areas” but it is quite clear that there is a difference, or, at least, I would argue, there should be a distinction between the two, in particular in the context of a consideration of the conversion of land within “areas” to non-employment uses. The matter is further complicated by the manner in which various municipalities have gone about defining these terms.
And this is from a Weir Foulds presentation:
When assessing the value of employment lands from the perspective of job creation, however, it raises the question of whether certain types of jobs should be valued over others. Municipalities and the OMB have been challenged with the notion that the creation of any job – retail, manufacturing or office – is important to the person who holds it, and that it would be discriminatory and prejudicial to give higher priority to one job over another.
The OMB’s view – the value of a given employment use can be measured only by the number of jobs being created, and not by their category or type: “As a matter of public policy, the Board does not assign a particular value to one job over another. Every job – fulltime, part-time and volunteer – is a valuable job to the person who holds it, with few limitations, to the community as a whole”