Strat Plan Part 5: Healthy Lifestyle

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Dilbert
I suppose we can all agree that a healthy lifestyle is better than an unhealthy one. And to a certain degree, a municipality can help residents choose a healthier one or at least give them opportunities to pursue it. But you have to ask just how seriously committed a municipality is to a healthy lifestyle when it sells pop, candy and junk food in the vending machines its own recreational facilities. How committed to a healthy lifestyle is a council many of whose members take the town hall elevator up a single storey rather than make the effort to walk it?

But hypocrisy has never stopped people from pontificating. So let’s look at the fourth objective in the strategic plan: a healthy lifestyle. Of course exactly what that is and what it entails is undefined, so much of the content in this section is as vague as the rest of the plan: generic, feel-good statements about nebulous goals instead of content.

First let’s understand that a healthy lifestyle is both a subjective view and a personal choice. You can’t force anyone to engage in activities or eat well. Second, there are many aspects to a healthy lifestyle: smoking, eating, drinking, physical exercise, mental exercise – and a municipality has little or no impact on several of these. And third, a municipality is not the only authority here: boards of education and schools, health units, the province, the medical profession, private agencies, sports clubs, libraries, food authorities and other professions all play a role and have a say.

The municipal role is thus limited in what it can or cannot do and legislate: that should be recognized in any strategic plan. Of course, it isn’t in ours. But you already expected that, didn’t you? Woo-hoo plans like to include grand, sweeping statements that have little grounding the the reality of what a municipality actually does or offers as a service.

Dilbert

So let’s take a look first at the goals:

Goal: Promote a balanced and healthy lifestyle

TacoOkay, warm and fuzzy group hug right at the start. How? Many of those at the council table were in the group that slammed the former council for promoting our new recreation facilities through a newsletter. So can we assume that, in order not to be overtly hypocritical, this council won’t use a promotional format they have criticized?

Probably not. But what exactly is this “balanced and healthy” lifestyle they want to promote? It’s so nebulous a term is to be useless in setting any measurable goals. I could argue that eating bacon is seriously unhealthy and imbalanced. Others can argue eating tofu is. Who is right?

And what is balance? In my mind, not reading at least a book a week is seriously unbalanced and unhealthy. But there are those at the council table who don’t even read their agendas, let alone have library cards. I’ll bet they think reading anything wordier than a stop sign is unbalanced. Who is right?

Balanced and healthy according to whom? According to what standard or guidelines?

Generic, vague and highly subjective terms like this are not goals. They are woo-hoo statements. But, as California Governor Jerry Brown said in 1976, “A little vagueness goes a long way in this business.”

Let’s see how much council cares about healthy lifestyle when it comes time to approve another unhealthy and polluting drive-through restaurant or bank.

Goal: Maintain and improve indoor and outdoor recreational facilities, including trail networks, arenas, pools, library, parks and museum.

We agree on this. It’s measurable and defines a process and an outcome. But wait – the town already maintains these places and facilities and always has. Why would this group think the town wasn’t doing that? Do they think the municipality builds something then lets it go to hell in a handbasket?

A goal isn’t something that’s already being done. A goal is something to aim for outside of existing practices.

As for improving facilities – that is meaningful only if you identify a specific deficiency that needs improving. Simply because someone has an ideological dislike of our rec facilities doesn’t mean they need improving.

Goal: Council to publicly support improved access to health care

This is a yada yada element. No one will oppose access to health care, but what exactly can a municipality do about it? It has no authority over health care – either in improving it or improving access to it.

And this doesn’t even tell us exactly what they mean by “improved access.” Home visit by doctors? Local clinics on every neighbourhood? Free taxi service to the hospital? Sidewalk ramps? Free parking at the hospital?

Health care in Canada is universal and Collingwood is blessed with a lot of medical services and doctors. Is the town to take over from the province in doling out health care? Not likely. More like councillors making vague saccharine statements at the table about how much they value the health care professionals of this great community, yada, yada, yada.

And don’t forget that this strat plan group didn’t even recognize the economic importance of health care in its section on economic vitality, and ignored the growing business and employment it represents, so this is just more woo hoo.

Goal: Encourage services that support an inclusive, multi-generational community

Such as? Another one of those don’t-make-it-specific-because-we’re-not-sure-ether statements. What do we need to encourage that isn’t already being provided? And how to we encourage those services (without illegally bonusing them, that is)? What services are we talking about anyway?

Encourage is a meaningless word unless it is defined as to how it is implemented. Financial encouragement or just mouthing platitudes?

And why do the authors think we’re an exclusive, single-generational community now? Woo hoo…

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Let’s continue to examine the action items for these goals. What you might not realize is that participants can rank goals and action items separately, as if they were not related to one another. This disconnect allows all sorts of contradictory silliness to emerge.

ACTION ITEM: Promote the Healthy Kids Community Challenge.

The Healthy Kids Strategy was a program for which the town applied and received funding last year, without any concrete plan for how to apply it. It looked good on us at election time, so we did it.

Since it was approved, it has languished because no one knows quite what to do about it. The last time this was raised in the local media was in September, 2014. The town is the wrong authority to promote this sort of program: schools are far better at networking with children and parents on a large enough scale for this to matter.

Frankly, the town should only be a minor player in any such initiative: to help facilitate and support the work of more appropriate and more experienced agencies and to make our facilities available when necessary. But it’s in our laps now and it seems this group wants to spend money promoting something the rest of the community probably has either forgotten or (given our greying demographics) doesn’t care about. Woo hoo!

ACTION ITEM: Explore opportunities to promote and provide access to locally grown food.

Let’s spend money promoting food grown… where? There’s almost none grown in Collingwood itself, at least none for commercial use, so we’re talking regional. But what does local include? Is Barrie local? How about Orangeville? London? Kingston? Local is relative, not an absolute term.

And how does the town promote it or provide access to it? By selling homegrown radishes in town hall? By sending everyone a local turnip with their tax bill? A $5 off coupon for the farmer’s market?

“Exploring” something is a call to sit back on your duff instead of actually doing something. It will only lead to more paperwork: reports, studies, consultants and eventually costs. And this group only wants to “explore” opportunities, not do the actual promoting.

Why not let the BIA handle local food promotion through the farmers’ market and the co-op? Or had it off to the grocery stores and restaurants? That’s where most local food appears. Plus why does it only have to be grown here? Can’t it be made here, too? There are local bakers, pasta makers, and a great hot sauce maker who create local food products with materials grown outside the region. Why exclude them?

ACTION ITEM: Explore opportunities to partner with health and wellness businesses and groups, such as the YMCA and Regional Tourism Organization 7.

You mean these opportunities have never been explored in all the years past? Of course they have and they are, Stop pointing out the obvious and things already done as if you were the first to think of them.

But partner for what purpose? For meetings where they can all swap platitudes and eat doughnuts at the taxpayers’ expense? Or for conducting nefarious plans to conquer the world? Maybe it’s to discuss council’s secret agenda is sell us out by turning the management of our recreational facilities over the Y.

A partnership should have a purpose. Someone should have pointed that out. Someone should also have pointed out that exploring opportunities isn’t actually doing anything with them.

And there’s that non-action call to “explore opportunities” instead of actually working on something.

ACTION ITEM: Review and monitor the implementation of the Active Transportation Plan.

Already being done and has been for several years. The problem with the Active Transportation Plan as presented was that it was big on philosophy, small on practicalities. You’d discover that by reading it. But it is not without its value and staff have incorporated what they can into planning and policies since it was presented.

ACTION ITEM: Develop a Capital Parks Plan as a component of the Asset Management Plan. The Parks Plan will contain a strategy to develop new parks as well as maintenance measures for existing parks and trails.

Hooray! Another plan council can use to procrastinate and avoid making decisions! Another consultant to pay, another document full of woo-hoo to read. We can hardly wait. Throw the existing maintenance plans that have served out parks for the last several years out the window. Plans that the group never seems to have inquired about.

Of course new parks require land and that means either buying or expropriating private land – at great expense either way. But section one said no more debt, so the two are mutually exclusive. Woo hoo!

ACTION ITEM: Encourage the dedication of park land through the planning/development application process rather than cash in lieu.

Didn’t anyone even talk to someone in Parks, Rec & Culture about this first? Or Planning? This has been an ongoing discussion for a couple of decades.

Yes, more parkland is great – in theory. But it isn’t free: each piece has to be maintained. And having many small parks scattered about the community is much more expensive to manage than having several larger parks. The PRC has to determine with each development if a park is appropriate or the money is better spent on existing parks. Sometimes the cash makes more sense if the proposed land is too small and isolated. Or sometimes instead of a tiny park, we can trade off for trails.

Each development comes to council and council can hear the arguments for parkland or cash in lieu and decide then. Been done for years like that.

ACTION ITEM: Update the Recreation Master Plan to include an assessment of existing and future park land needs.

Yet one more plan, one more consultant, more workshops, more sticky notes, more citizen groups, more committees to appoint your friends and supporters to, more reasons to procrastinate.

Every single plan the town makes and pays a consultant for has a finite lifespan. Five years is all they last at best. Official plans have to be revisited every five years: so should every plan. Things simply change too fast and too often for old plans to still be relevant. So every five or so years you have to shell out for another consultant to redo your old plan. Staff know this and remind council as necessary. Or sometimes they just toss the old ones out.

Every update, every plan costs money and takes staff away from doing more practical things.

ACTION ITEM: Council is to publicly support the Town’s retention of Collingwood General and Marine Hospital (CGMH). This support includes engaging the Province, in partnership with CGMH, in discussions on how the CGMH can remain in Collingwood.

I hate to state the obvious again, but as far as I know, this is already being done. Maybe someone should have asked the council rep on the hospital board or the mayor herself.

I can’t imagine our council is so lame it would not support keeping the hospital here – should a new one be proposed for another community. But given that the hospital is in the midst of a redevelopment, that seems unlikely to happen in the near future.

ACTION ITEM: Request that the Province conduct a Gap Analysis in health care services, such as for seniors or young families, and recommend measure for filling those gaps.

Is that three or four more new plans recommended in this section? I’m losing track. Okay, let’s ask the province for a ‘gap analysis’ (who capitalizes this stuff?) but what’s the end result here? The town doesn’t hire doctors, the hospital doesn’t either – and it controls who has hospital privileges, not the town. So say we find we have a deficit in pediatricians: what is the town supposed to do with that information?

And who decided this was necessary? Who determined we have any such gaps that require remediation or filling? Did anyone ask the hospital board if they already have this information first?

This should be raised at the hospital board and if they feel it necessary, they should lead the request. The town’s role should simply be to support it with a letter. And isn’t this micro-managing? I thought a strategic plan was supposed to be a high-level approach.

ACTION ITEM: Engage local health care and wellness practitioners to coordinate awareness campaigns to inform the public of the existing health care services in the community.

The health unit already does this and the yellow pages of the phone book have long been a good source of this information, as is the 211 information service.

Most medical health care is run from private offices as a business and many are very competitive: there isn’t a single agency or NGO to engage. And I’m not sure doctors and surgeons want to be listed in the same page as homeopaths and chiropractors.

But wait: you do know that doctors and physicians can’t advertise their services? No? It’s in the Medicine Act, 1991, under Ontario Regulation 114/94:

No member shall,
(a)   cause or permit his or her name to appear in any communication offering a product or service to the public; or
(b)   otherwise cause or permit himself or herself to be associated with the advertising or promotion of any product or service, other than the member’s medical services in accordance with subsections (1), (2) and (3).

So that pretty much leaves out a lot of the medical practitioners in this town from this sort of activity. Why not pass this suggestion along to the Connection and get them to create an advertising section for health and wellness? The town really isn’t in the advertising business, but we could buy an ad to help sponsor it.

ACTION ITEM: Request that local non-governmental organizations coordinate awareness campaigns to inform the public of the existing social services available within the community.

This is already done by the province, the county and the 211 service. Anyone with a phone or an internet connection (free at the library!) can get the information in a minute or two. Plus there are brochures and handouts in many offices including town hall that outline all the services available.

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Where is the content about the economic impact of health care and personal care in a greying community? Where is the library’s role as a central coordinator of information and documentation? Where is the physician retention and attraction program? About public programs for exercise like they have in Japan?

So once again, we have a section devoid of solid content but rich in woo-hoo to make people feel like they are accomplishing something other than blowing smoke. Lots of buzzwords appear without definitions one can actually work from. Lots of things that are either being done, can’t be done or aren’t in the municipal sphere are here, too. Lots of non-action words like explore and engage.

Next post I’ll tackle the last section: culture.

Dilbert

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