Obstructionism killing 1,600+ jobs & growth

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The Block's vision for our airportJust when you thought Collingwood Council couldn’t set the bar any lower, they go and move it down another notch. On Monday, Oct. 31, The Block had a chance to save face, rectify their blatant mismanagement of the Collingwood Regional Airport development and save the proposed, $300 million, 260-acre, industrial park that could bring 400 full-time and 1,300 part-time or temporary jobs to the area.

They didn’t. No surprises, of course.

Barry Burton, the deputy mayor of Clearview Township, made a presentation to our council, Monday*, reiterating his community’s commitment to the development and growth at the airport and asking Collingwood Council to please sign a non-binding letter of agreement for the development to access the airport. After all, what’s an airport industrial park without access to the runways?

After his presentation, council quickly sloughed off its responsibilities by requesting another staff report. This after numerous closed-door reports by lawyers and consultants and staff these past two years. Despite public presentations by the proponents again and again reiterating that all they want is a letter of intent to enter negotiations over access.

In Block terminology, a staff report, like “due diligence,” simply means procrastinate. Who ever thought councillors were elected to make an actual decision in public, when they can do it away from public scrutiny in camera? Better to request a staff report instead of actually deciding something.

You can watch the whole shebang on Rogers, with the deputation starting at 16:50. Prepare to be angry, insulted and fed up, if you aren’t already.

I wrote about the Block’s secret machinations to sell our airport without any public discussion let alone input back in November, 2015, December, 2015, and three times in January, 2016: January 2, January 3 and January 16. I recommend you read them for the background.

The Block seem eager to sabotage the biggest commercial development this region – or all of rural Ontario! – has seen since the 1960s, and in doing so kill the much-needed jobs it will bring. And it looks like they will succeed. There’s a very real chance the developers are about to give up and find another place to grow.

ObstructionismJust a little background: The Collingwood Regional Airport (get that name? Regional.) has a board of directors which includes a council member from Collingwood, Wasaga Beach and Clearview. All three municipalities help pay for the airport’s annual operating costs (Clearview has been doing so since 2005)**. There’s also a public member who represents the airport’s users.

While Collingwood owns the airport, it sits in Clearview Township where the industrial park is proposed. Thus the Clearview Aviation Business Park (CABP) requires access to the airport (otherwise how can planes get and leave there?). All CABP has ever asked for is a non-binding letter of intent; further details for access can be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction later, as the development proceeds.

Clearview and Wasaga Beach councils both endorsed the plan and the letter of intent. Both councils discussed the issue in public. The Airport Board endorsed the request and the development, and recommended Collingwood provide the letter.

The Block said no. So did the current chair of the Airport Board (recorded vote, Nov 16, 2015), our own Councillor Mike Edwards. Despite that the board recommended approval, Mike seemed to lose his spine and couldn’t make the commitment. But way back in 2014, Edwards actually moved a motion at the airport board to support the request for access (minutes of the Jan. 5, 2015 council agenda, page 23). What changed since then? Right: The Block took power. Obstructionism began.

So let’s look at the meeting, shall we?

At 21:20 in the video, DM Burton states what Clearview needs to move this development forward: simply a memorandum of understanding “to have access to the terminal and runways.” Got that? Not a contract: just an MOU for future discussions. And for nothing more than that, Collingwood gets (22:30) jobs, an upgrade in airport classification, jobs, improved airport traffic, jobs, airport value increased, jobs, more fuel sales, jobs, more revenue from landing fees, jobs, increased tourism, jobs and a profitable airport. For no cost to Collingwood taxpayers.

And the Block has consistently said no for the past two years. Why? I’ll get to that later. First, let’s review the meeting.

After the deputation, Our own Deputy Mayor, Brian “My way or the highway” Saunderson, comments, starting at 25:05. At 25:55 Saunderson claims the airport has paid $400,000 to Clearview for taxes over the past 10 years.

This baffles me (I am a former member of the airport board) because municipally owned airports do not pay property taxes (see the 2006 Sypher Report, page 199, which notes (emphasis added): “Airports owned and operated by municipalities do not pay property tax, while airports operated by airport authorities or societies do.”)

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) produced a report on airports in January, in which it noted (the Act referred to is the Assessment Act, see also sections 5 and 24):

Airport authorities are exempt from property taxes pursuant to section 3(1)24 of the Act which provides an exemption for “land that is owned or leased by an authority that operates an airport” (subject to certain conditions identified in the legislation). Section 3(1)24.iv indicates that “the exemption does not apply to any portion of the land leased by a tenant, other than a designated airport authority, to whom section 18 applies.” This exemption applies for the 2013 and subsequent taxation years. Note: despite being exempt from taxation, airport authorities are required to make a payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) to the municipality in which they are located… The regulation specifies that PILT payments are set out on a per passenger basis based on location.

So what taxes is he talking about?

Saunderson continues to spout in high, lawerly dudgeon. According to our procedural bylaw, council is only supposed to ask questions of clarification, not comment on deputations, but what are bylaws and proper procedure to Brian when he can pontificate?

He makes a snarky comment about the “disparity in the size of commitment” between Collingwood and Clearview at 26:08. Neither Clearview nor Wasaga Beach are required to contribute: they do so because they recognize the economic benefit of the airport to the region and want to see it succeed. Saunderson spits that back in their faces.

He then gripes that Clearview will get tax revenue and development fees from the development. Well, it’s their land, their planners, their services, their lawyers, their roads, their time and effort. Shouldn’t they get what any municipality is entitled to from a development within its own borders?

Then at 27:33 he lays bare The Block’s not-so secret agenda: to get Clearview to buy the airport from Collingwood. Boom!

In a Connection story, Saunderson is quoted saying he ‘isn’t aware of the value of the land, but said “each municipality would likely do their due diligence.”’

This council received an assessment of the airport property last year. I’m told Clearview Township also did. Last term we got one, too; all coming in close to $6 million as I understand. You’d think our DM could remember that. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention.

Remember, folks: it’s YOUR municipal asset but to date The Most Secretive Council Ever has only discussed it behind closed doors. The Block has not even asked YOUR opinion about selling it. Nor will you get the opportunity to do so. Autocrats never ask permission of the plebs.

Nor, by the way, has The Block engaged Clearview Council publicly about buying it. It was a surprise bombshell, Monday. Evidently, The Block plan to force Clearview to do so by refusing access to the airport property. Clearview risks losing everything unless they cave in. Blackmail has always been a popular tactic for bullies. Open, civil negotiation was never part of their language.

And then Saunderson says it’s a “wonderful opportunity, one we don’t want to lose…” The utter hypocrisy of his words is breathtaking. After two years of The Block’s obstruction, it takes big cojones to make such a baldfaced statement. It seems Donald Trump has set the example for truthiness, even locally.

At 28:55, DM Burton attempts in vain to explain again the benefits to Collingwood from the development. Others have attempted to do so in the past, but they cannot breach the stubborn wall of Block Ideology. Or our town administration’s adamant view that municipalities should not own airports (aren’t you glad we elected the interim CAO to set our policies… oh wait…).

Burton is reported in the Connection as being frustrated by The Block’s continuing refusal to budge.

At 29:50 Councillor Lloyd tries to bring the discussion back to the real subject at hand: the non-binding letter of access. Lloyd is the only member of this council who has reached out to our municipal neighbours and to the developer to discuss the issues. None of the others can be bothered.

At 32:00 Councillor Edwards poses a motion to have more discussions. That’s like offering a glass of water to a drowning man. After two years, several presentations and many, many in camera meetings as well as stories in the media, what the hell more needs to be said? But, I suppose, he’ll get a report that will let him compliment staff on their good work. That’s his forte, after all.

Councillor “Senator” Jeffrey chimes in at 33:00 to make sure that the only thing “moving forward” is the glacier-like process that has successfully obstructed commitment for the past two years.

At 33:20 the interim CAO says the town received legal advice not to enter into the agreement (don’t you love lawyers who tell you what you tell them you want to hear?). At 33:53 he says there is “no change” in the legal advice – i.e. there will be no change in his opinion.

At 34:15 he reads from the Malone Given Parsons report that recommended resolving the issues and getting a deal signed. But the interim CAO wants additional information about cost sharing and operations before signing. This is information that can only come if the development moves ahead, which it can’t until the non-binding letter of intent is signed.

At 34:53 the interim CAO recommends that council refer it back to staff (meaning him) for a report. Which is like throwing eggs at a granite mountain expecting to topple it.

At 35:02 he says the report will show how the proposal fits in with the town’s “strategic plan.” Well, the CBSP (the flaccid committee-based wishlist which is neither strategic nor a plan) mentions the airport exactly zero times and economic development a mere three (all of which refer to the previous council’s brilliant economic development strategy). Since an airport development with 400 full-time and 1,300 part-time or temporary jobs, that offers significant regional growth and economic benefits wasn’t mentioned in The Block’s vaunted plan, it can’t go ahead.

At 35:07 the interim CAO mentions “the town’s financial plan.” If you check the town’s web page for documents, no such a plan exists. So what is this report he alludes to? Something he and council cobbled together in secret like so many other things this term? Apparently it’s not something the public is allowed to see.

At 35:21 Lloyd again tries to get something done. Instead of council shucking its responsibility onto the endless stream of staff reports written to justify what council discusses behind closed doors, he asks for a second legal opinion.

At 37:10 Councillor Doherty says in her best imitation of Sarah Palin:

I wanted to be clear that I am, um, seconding the motion because I’m asking or I’m supporting the notion that this ask (sic) go back to staff but that we consider, um, within our own, uh, objectives and within our own priorities when it comes to operation of the airport. I’m not looking for any kind of a blank cheque.

I hope you can follow that better than I did. I assume by “our” objectives and “our” priorities she means The Block and the interim CAO because there are no such general objectives or priorities about the airport laid out by council, at least in public.

The motion to refer it back to staff rather than having council make an actual decision passes (See 43:36 for the delayed recorded vote) Block 6, Lloyd 1.

At 38:05 “Senator” Jeffrey says she doesn’t know what good a second legal opinion will do. She’s probably right, since the Block will ignore anything that doesn’t align with their ideology, as they always have done. 

The interim CAO wades in at 38:30 and defends the original legal opinion (of course: it said what the interim CAO wanted it to say…). At 39:05 he says if “you’d like me to ask him again, I’d be happy to do that.”

No, John: another opinion from the same lawyer is not wanted: Lloyd means (39:30) an opinion from a separate – hopefully independent and not influenced by staff or Blockheads – lawyer. Yeah, fat chance, eh?

At 39:12 the interim CAO criticizes “shopping around for legal opinions” which is the pinnacle of irony given how much of your money he has spent on legal opinions about the water service, Collus, and the airport. More than $400,000 has been spent on the witch hunt against Collus-PowerStream alone (compared to $0 spent to help residents clean up after the recent storm… but I digress…)

Around 40:00 Lloyd says his own lawyer, with 30 years’ experience writing letters of intent, questioned council’s wisdom in this issue. I suspect the audience had a bit of a chuckle here: council’s wisdom is a risible oxymoron this term.

At 40:25 Doherty says she won’t support getting another legal opinion because “we have a satisfactory legal opinion” (her “we” means The Block and the interim CAO, since it wasn’t satisfactory to everyone).

At 41:02 Councillor Edwards agrees with Councillor Doherty (his spine apparently still MIA…).

At 41:37 Edwards says the two landowners (Collingwood and Clearview or CABP; he isn’t clear) have to “work together on this and this is where the negotiations have to start.” After two years, Mike, you haven’t noticed that this is exactly what Clearview and CABP have been trying to do all this time? Did you miss the presentations made about this very same issue earlier this year? Or last year? The first presentation to council was January 5, 2015 – weeks after you were sworn in and it was followed by a closed-door meeting to discuss the request! Many closed-door meetings followed. Did you miss the discussions, the stories in the media? How can you forget these?

When it comes to Lloyd’s request for a second legal opinion, well you can guess the outcome. Block against, Lloyd for. Block wins. Pretty much the shorthand code for this entire term.

Councillor Ecclestone made no comment. I suppose no one typed anything out for him to read beforehand, so he didn’t know what to say. Probably for the best. Councillor Fryer was equally tight-lipped and contributed nothing to the discussion. Both voted the Block line for the staff report.

Councillor “Spongebob” Madigan wasn’t at the meeting but he tweeted this comment that night:

We are elected to serve the residents of #Collingwood not the #region our #fiscal #responsibilities is (sic) to stay steadfast to OUR taxpayers

This pretty much encapsulates the Block’s myopic ideology: no regionalism, no cooperation with municipal neighbours, no shared services, just raise YOUR taxes. A blinkered attitude towards growth and economic development. Doesn’t he realize that economic development isn’t constrained by municipal borders? Hasn’t he listened to anything the EcDev director has said this term?

Even the CBSP has three (vague) references to regionalism in it:

  • Town plays a vital role as a regional hub…
  • …the tourists and regional users that bring business to the Town.
  • …transportation network that reflects a regional context.

Madigan listens all right: but apparently only to the voices in his own head.

Why is this happening? Everyone knows this obstructionism obviously isn’t for the good of the community. Why is The Block swimming upstream against what even a modicum of intelligence says is common sense? Against what is good for the longterm future of the community? Against what will benefit the whole region?

It’s because The Block and their followers despise one of the people working with the developer: Paul Bonwick.

Bonwick was a local business owner and councillor. He was a much-respected federal politician (MP, on the Privy Council). He has been a successful businessman, consultant and lobbyist since. And that makes The Block and their supporters rage with jealousy. They cannot stand anyone else’s success.

In the past, Block supporters attacked local developer Steve Assaff for his successes; they stopped his Admiral Collingwood development from being the showcase for the downtown. Thanks to them, it’s an empty, rubble-strewn field today. This term, The Block refused to sell an used strip of municipal property (Block 9) to Assaff, solely because it was Assaff. He would have turned the unused, mosquito breeding ground into a community parkette and parking lot. It remains empty and unused (but the waterfront plan proposes to turn it into a parkette at YOUR expense…).

They attacked former Collus CEO Ed Houghton, a provincially respected and honoured executive with numerous awards, who was a brilliant acting CAO for the town. They couldn’t stand his successes. Their endless harassment and badgering drove him into early retirement.

Both men are friends with Bonwick. Bonwick is a Liberal, too, and the Conservatives among The Block foam at the mouth against anyone not of their political stripe. 

And because Bonwick is the mayor’s brother, last term they spun a web of conspiracies and deceit about him and his alleged influence on her. Their mouthpieces attacked him and her and everyone associated with him online, with unfounded accusations and lies. The Block even forced her away from the council table during these discussions about the airport reasons, although the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act clearly states siblings DO NOT represent a legal conflict of interest.

The success of others eats at them. It gnaws away at their insides, the green eyed monster of jealousy. Anyone successful must be brought down, belittled, demeaned and broken. That’s what two years of obstruction are all about.

Collingwood deserves better than petty, personal vendettas and mean-spirited politics.

~~~~~
* Having the DM from Clearview make the presentation personally shows how frustrated that community must be at our council’s intransigence. I suspect his was the ‘Hail Mary’ throw for the CABP, and the developers will simply throw in the towel given the cold reception Burton received.

** When Collingwood decided to fight against the location of some proposed wind turbines close to the airport, Clearview supported Collingwood, spending $180,000 of their taxpayers’ money on the legal challenge, and Clearview residents opposed to the turbines spent another $380,000 of their own money on the battle. And for that they get the bird from Collingwood’s DM. What disrespect. Clearview deserves better, too. Wasaga Beach has, apparently, also contributed $180,000 to the airport’s operating costs. 

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2 Replies to “Obstructionism killing 1,600+ jobs & growth”

  1. Two stories in the online Connection about an issue vitally important to Collingwood. As of 8:50 a.m. Friday, the number of stories about it in the online Enterprise Bulletin: NONE. That’s right: zero. Sure shows which paper cares most about local news and issues. (EB has one in print edition)