Climate Change and Collingwood

Climate changeClimate change is arguably the single most pressing, most important, most challenging issue to affect governments at this time. Our world is suffering and weather is getting extreme in many parts. It’s affecting crops, wildlife, safety, water… everything.

But what are Canadian municipalities doing to combat it, to reign in their use of fossil fuels, reduce their carbon footprint, reduce emissions, pollution, and embrace alternate energy systems?

Not much, according to a study done by the Ontario Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure. OCSI’s 2014 report, “When the Bough Breaks” has some discouraging statistics. According to their survey, only 38% of Ontario municipalities are “incorporating climate change into their asset management planning.” Climate change was a priority in only 13% of municipalities.

Scarier is that, when given a list of relevant activities to choose from, 22% of respondents admitted their municipality was doing nothing to address climate change impacts. Nothing. A fifth of our municipalities aren’t even preparing themselves for catastrophic or severe weather.

In 2008, Collingwood’s now-forgotten Sustainable Community Plan report had this to say:

Over the next forty years, the Town of Collingwood is expected to experience local forces of change such as unprecedented population growth and changing demographic and global forces of change such as rising commodity prices and climate change… Over the next 40 years, climate change may impact the topography, water supply, water levels and climate in Collingwood, and around the world.

The plan went on to address ways Collingwood might act to create a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly community that helped reduce the human impact on climate change. Some, but far from all, of these ideas were incorporated in later town initiatives.

Since then, there have been many initiatives to deal with climate effects implemented by municipalities worldwide (especially to mitigate the threat to municipal infrastructure), and there are whole new trends in areas like stormwater management that have developed and are being shared.

But what has Collingwood done since that report? Not much, if anything.

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Misunderstanding Local Government

A recent editorial in the Collingwood Connection underscores the need to have writers who understand the actual process of government, and not simply comment on politics from an ideological perspective. It also underscores that some of our council still don’t understand why they are at the table.

The anonymous writer of that editorial has penned this bit of cunning misinformation:

Council was not being asked to decide if residents should be able to raise chickens in their backyard or pass judgment on the merits of the idea. They were being asked to start a process of public input.

Well, we know that’s not quite correct. Although the standing committee recommended one option, council really had a choice between the two options presented in the staff report. Here’s what the staff report actually recommended (emphasis added):

THAT Council receive Staff Report P2015-34 for information purposes. OR
THAT Council authorize the initiation of an application for Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments and the required public consultation process and allow a moratorium of enforcement for existing properties with backyard chickens.

So council could choose between two actions (a standing committee can only recommend, not dictate to council).

First choice: receiving the report and, after considering the cautions, concerns and costs identified by staff in the report, then relegating it to the dustbin as an issue not to be brought forward.

Second choice: start an unbudgeted, expensive, time- and resource-consuming, legal process to change our Official Plan and bylaws to accommodate a small special interest group, while allowing those people who are currently breaking the law to continue doing so without penalty.

Council wasn’t being asked if residents could raise chickens because that is already illegal. Council could choose to do nothing, or to start the process of changing the laws.

But there was public input already: advocates made a presentation to the standing committee, several people spoke to the issue, and presented a petition. Anyone could attend, could stand up and speak to it. Why would you need more? Do you need more public meetings again and again on a single issue?

Public input is part of the latter choice because it is required by the Planning Act and Municipal Act when OPs and bylaws are changed. It wasn’t necessary in the first choice (you don’t say ‘No, we’re not going ahead. Now let’s hear from the public…”.

Frankly it’s a canard to make that the focus, because in the end the decision still remains with council regardless of the public input.

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Feathers A-Flying in Collingwood

Dead chickenChickengate: despite urban chickens being outre among the trendy these days; a fad long abandoned by hip who are now pursing some new form of glitzy hobby, some folks in town want to raise chickens in their yards. Seems we’re only a few years behind the trendsetters. What next? Urban cows? Urban sheep? Urban bison?

It’s a bad idea, but one this council will likely endorse – not simply because they are prone to nurture bad ideas, but because some of them owe hefty political favours to campaign supporters who, coincidentally, happen to raise chickens here already (in violation of the law, of course, but what are laws when you have friends in high places?).

The NatPost published a story back in 2013 that presages what Collingwood will see in the future if council allows residents to raise chickens in their backyards:

…municipalities across North America are just now starting to see the unforeseen consequences of allowing hipster farmers to raise chickens in their urban backyards: Hundreds of birds are being abandoned by their owners after they’ve become more of a burden than a blessing.
More than 500 chickens were dropped off at animal shelters across the United States, according to Chicken Run Rescue, an operation based in Minneapolis. At least 400 to 500 chickens turn up annually at the Farm Sanctuary, headquartered in Watkins Glen, N.Y. that has sanctuaries on two coasts. National Shelter Director Susie Coston told NBC there are around 225 chickens now waiting for homes.

That’s right: people give up their fad pets once their attention span gets distracted by the newest fad.

It has ever been thus. Pets have always been a fad among the fashionista; a trendy accessory to show off with. Remember the fad for urban (potbellied) pigs? Remember Collingwood’s Wilbur? That fad left thousands of the little porkers abandoned when they grew too big and proved inconvenient as pets. Remember when hedgehogs were all the rage? Ferrets? Gophers? Dalmations? Cock-a-poos? Sea monkeys? Tamagotchi? Now it’s urban chickens.

Imagine the local humane society flooded with unwanted chickens in a couple of years. And, yes, that will happen. It happens with every pet, fad or not, but especially with fads taken up by people entirely ignorant of the work, complexity and responsibility involved.

Hens don’t lay eggs continually: two to three years at best, but they live well past their egg-laying prime. And then what do you do with them once they’re not laying? Allow backyard slaughterhouses? Will parents teach their children all about killing their pets? Maybe let them kill their pet chickens themselves?

Or will the owners abandon them (just consider how many people already abandon their dogs and cats) and find some new, shiny thing to occupy them?

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The high cost of affordability

Affordable housing is crucial to the economic and social vitality of every municipality. Without it, people cannot afford to live here, which means they will look for jobs in places they can afford. Young people, especially, will move to places they can afford better.

Collingwood is especially vulnerable to housing issues.* Given that the growth trend in our area is in low-paying (minimum wage), and part-time employment, finding affordable housing has become increasingly difficult for many people. Simcoe County itself estimates that a “single individual on Ontario Works would need to spend 108% of his/her monthly income to afford to live in the County.”

And as the Simcoe County housing strategy continues:

The Southern Georgian Bay area, while home to a thriving tourism industry, is also experiencing an aging population, high market rental rates, and a higher incidence of low income in private households.

Skyrocketing real estate costs contribute to the devaluation of a community. They push up taxes, living costs, rent, and utility bills. It takes a mature, wise and compassionate council to find ways to counter rising taxes and keep their community affordable. **

As the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing notes on its website,

Decent housing is more than shelter; it provides stability, security and dignity. It plays a key role in reducing poverty and building strong, inclusive communities.

But housing is a complex, challenging issue for municipalities and municipal politicians. Solutions are often very expensive; more than a small community can afford.

Councils have no direct control over real estate values (a problem compounded by the out-of-control Municipal Property Assessment Corp – MPAC – which raises property values across the province by computer formula, from its ivory tower offices, without conversations with local officials).

Municipalities also lack the legal muscle to demand private-sector development of lower-cost housing and much-needed rental properties like apartments (few young people can afford to buy homes, especially in a community that offers predominantly low wage job opportunities, so a supply of affordable rentals is critical).

On top of that, jurisdiction for affordable housing usually lies with a higher-tier government. In Collingwood’s case, it falls under the authority of Simcoe County. There are already 4,113 social housing units in Simcoe County, including approximately 3,035 rent-geared-to-income units. The County provides rent subsidies to 28 housing providers for 2,878 non-profit units, 60% rent-geared-to-income and 40% market rent. The county has already invested $3.4 million in maintaining its housing assets.

Before we go further, let’s dismiss some emotional – and inaccurate – impressions. Affordable housing doesn’t mean subsidized housing (although subsidized housing is also affordable). It represents a range of housing types. As the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) defines it, it’s an economic condition:

Affordable housing generally means a housing unit that can be owned or rented by a household with shelter costs that are less than 30 per cent of its gross income.

Last Tuesday, Simcoe County Council heard a presentation on the county’s long-term plan for affordable housing. Given its importance, it’s unfortunate neither of our own council reps were there to hear it.

I, however, had the fortune of being there for what proved an eye opener.
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The Hidden Agenda in the Strategic Plan

Hidden agendaMy final comment for the next while on the town’s committee-based wishlist (the so-called community-based strategic plan, of which it is neither) has to do with biased and partisan comments made in the document’s introduction.

This material was presented to council in the recent versions (approved by a 7-1 vote, as expected, with one councillor absent) but not included in all earlier draft versions. I believe it represents the influence of the former VOTE (Voters Opposed To Everything) special interest group and their later followers in the deputy mayor’s special interest group, known locally (and humorously) as Better If I’m Elected, Collingwood.

What sort of strategic plan contains politically-charged and clearly partisan statements about former councils? The comments in the introduction expose the hidden agenda behind the wish list, and for council watchers this helps identify the shadowy players who pull council’s strings behind the scenes. This was less a community project than one manipulated by special interest groups.

For example, the document notes:

There have been in recent years, however, some challenges in the manner that Collingwood has managed its financial obligations and communication with Town (sic) residents. This has resulted in cynicism and a loss of faith in local politics within the public-at-large (sic).

This, or course, is complete malarky. There has been NO loss of faith was among the public at large (what survey, or what community-wide poll showed this?).

The small group of naysayers who worked their followers into a froth of vituperation and anger over the previous council do not represent the public at large. This small group never lost faith because they had none to start with, and was cynical from the very start.

Their raison d’etre is and has always been negativity towards anything they alone did not conceive, plan, or accomplish. True, they managed to garner a biased media’s support for their agenda later in the term, but the media ceased to represent the community, and instead represented the special interests – the point being made when the outgoing editor/reporter personally endorsed the current deputy mayor during the election campaign.

The facts about financial management are quite different. Last term, council was able to pay down its inherited debt by $8 million with only a single year of increased taxes (less than 1% blended rate), while building reserves, and constructing two beautiful, efficient recreational facilities without adding to the debt.

The financial management last term was superb – better in fact than any council I was part of previously and better than any I reported on as a reported and editor since 1991. What is there to challenge? That it was done so well, and so efficiently? This council’s first major act was to RAISE taxes in order to give itself a pay hike.

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Trivial Pursuits

Dilbert

Now that the draft version of the so-called “community-based strategic plan” has been presented to council, I felt it appropriate to comment on this latest version. I have already posted several pieces on the earlier draft. If you haven’t read them, you should start with there:

Strategic Planning, Part One: The Woo-Hoo Factor
Strat Plan Part 2: The Shuffle Game
Strat Plan Part 3: The Waterfront
Strat Plan Part 4: Economic Vitality
Strat Plan Part 5: Healthy Lifestyle
Strat Plan Part 6: Culture and the Arts
Strat Plan Wrap Up: Addintional Comments

All the comments and criticisms made in these earlier posts still have relevance in this latest draft.

I say the document is so-called because it’s not really community-based: it’s committee-based, and it’s just a wishlist, not a plan. It doesn’t even adumbrate a plan.

A proper plan should have measurable actions, a detailed timeline, specific costs and budget laid out. This has none of that. It has some vague time frames listed a S-M-L (short, medium and long terms) but these are 1-3, 3-5 and 5-10 years, respectively. Nothing to aim at as an immediate goal.  And no priorities are identified among the wishlist items.

Given that no council can bind a subsequent one, and there is but three years left in this council’s term, and equally that after five years, almost every plan or policy is out of date and needs revision, planning beyond the short term for most of these wishes is pointless. Not to mention that there is no indication who will pay for these wishes, or how.

First let me say that the new draft is very pretty. It looks attractive in the way that every other generic, bland strategic plan of this ilk does. However, style cannot top substance, and no matter how much of the former is present, the document lacks the latter. So let’s look at the presentation while we measure the content.

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17 Pages of Blather

Snake oilZero point zero zero zero three eight. That’s the percentage of the population of Collingwood who made the effort to comment on council’s much-touted, revised, 17-page code of conduct before it was approved, Monday night. That’s 0.00038%, based on an estimated 21,000 residents. In other words: eight people.

Only eight people out of 21,000 cared enough about council’s efforts to pump the bureaucracy to comment on the proposed code.

Eight people. I hope they were all residents. One, I’m told, was a member of council, so if you take that person out of the equation because that’s what he or she was elected to do, that leaves a mere seven residents commenting. That’s only 0.00033% of the population.

Hardly a tsunami of public engagement.

The rest, I suppose, were more concerned about things that actually matter: taxes, water rates (both of which this council raised), roads, sewers, sidewalks, potholes, parks and so on. These things are, however, not nearly as important to council which prefers to waste its time on grandstanding initiatives like revising the code of conduct.

For eight people it was stirring stuff.

The other 99.962% of us  – 20,992-plus residents – clearly couldn’t give a damn.

Apparently this low response was such an embarrassment that the actual number of respondents is not mentioned anywhere in the staff report. The public just didn’t care. But around the council table, backs were patted and laudatory, saccharine statements were made for having accomplished such another landmark in governance ennui.

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Team Assessment

Five Dysfunctions of a TeamFollowing my last piece on the relevance of Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, to Collingwood Council, I felt I should explore some of Lencioni’s ideas, as well as look at how a team’s performance is assessed.

Teams (or groups) can be assessed several ways: the best way is internally (by their own members). The second is by a professional outsider who has the competence to do so after observing their behaviour in meetings. The third is by outsiders whose role is merely to watch them (as we watch council online or on TV).

The three methods are not exclusive, and those truly committed to the team would accept outside analysis as well as internal, and try to figure out how to best improve their public performance and the perception of it. That’ll happen with Collingwood Council once Hell freezes over. The idea of building a team to work together towards common goals is alien to this group because their ideology forbids it. The keyword being “commitment.”

I might point out that last term, council met twice to prioritize our collective goals and lay out a plan for the term. Staff were involved to provide guidance. Regardless of ideologies, we worked towards accomplishing them. The second meeting was to reiterate those goals mid-term and determine what had been achieved and what remained. That was a real strategic plan: measurable and definite, not a woo-hoo exercise by outsiders, as is the current effort.

In the back section of the book is a 15-statement quiz (p. 192-193) to assess the performance of a team. Three questions each relate to the five areas of dysfunction and they are answered with a point system. Participants assign a score to each statement according to how well they see them as being acted upon in the team. Answering usually gets three points, sometimes gets two, and rarely one. The lower the score in any area, the worse the dysfunction.

Fifteen questions is not a comprehensive method for analysing psychological behaviour, however. On the Table Group website, it offers an online assessment that extends the concepts found in the book. The sample team assessment report suggests there are 38 questions in the online assessment: eight for trust; eight for conflict; seven for commitment; seven for accountability and eight for results.

The statements in the two tests do not directly correlate with one another. For example, in the book, statement one is “Team members are passionate and unguarded in their discussion of issues.” This is actually statement two in the online test, and statement one is, instead, “Team members admit their mistakes.” Question 15 in the book is 25 online, and so on. However, the statements in the shorter test seem to be included in the longer.

The other difference appears to be in the scoring. In the online analysis, there are five ratings: never, rarely. sometimes, usually and always. It isn’t clear in the sample report exactly how the scoring works, but from reading it I suggest it is scored from 1 to 5, respectively, with 1 as worst and 5 as highest score. I gather that the results in each category are added and then averaged by the number of participants.

I decided to rate Collingwood Council based on this understanding, using the questions in the analysis. I tried my best to be honest in my assessment. I’ve added some slides of the key concepts to reiterate the concepts.

Absence of trust

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The Horns of a Dilemma

The BorgPoor Borg. One almost feels pity for their confusion. The members of Collingwood Council’s block-thinking collective were faced with a difficult dilemma on Monday: should they stick to their pettifogging ideology or break from it and support one of their own? Dogma versus friendship and loyalty.

Monday night, another report from the Integrity Commissioner bashed the behaviour of one of the politburo. The purpose of the IC is to examine public complaints about whether members of council acted in an ethical, moral or even appropriate manner. This time the target was Councillor Tim Fryer. Read the report here (page 157).

More principled people would have stuck by their friend and rejected the report. Instead, the Borg threw their buddy, Tim, under the bus.

Dogma won. It had to, because their whole, nasty, little ideology is built on sand. Had they not chosen it, it would have crashed to ruin about them for all to see. Had they refused to accept it, they would have been saying that accepting the complaint against the former Deputy Mayor was wrong. They never admit mistakes.

But their ideology states everything about the former council was bad, evil, malicious and corrupt and their political masters insist they toe the line.

Oh, the sharp horns of that dilemma!

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Tourism and Collingwood

Tourism is the world’s fifth fastest-growing industry and growing at five percent per year. A recent story on CBC Radio this week suggests growth has been even higher for Canada, thanks to our lower Loonie: at least six percent.

According to the Tourism Association of Canada, in 2013, Canada’s tourism industry:

  • Represented more of Canada’s GDP than agriculture, forestry and fisheries combined
  • Generated $88.5 billion in economic activity
  • Was responsible for more than $17.2 billion in export revenue despite a growing travel deficit
  • Generated $9.6 billion in federal government revenue
  • Fostered 628 000 jobs across the country, spread across all 308 ridings

Tourism is BIG. Ontario’s festivals, events and attractions generate $28 billion and support 347,000 jobs each year. Festivals and events alone generate $2.3 billion in Ontario and support almost 50,000 jobs – and generate approximately $1 billion in taxes.

For Collingwood and the region, tourism and our hospitality sector are not merely important to our economic vitality: they are crucial. So what do Collingwood’s five proposed vision statements say about tourism, events, hospitality and recreation as growth drivers and employers? What do they say about the economic importance of tourism? Here it is:

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Pretty profound, wouldn’t you say? Perhaps it’s a Zen-like statement and we are supposed to infer meaningful content from the very emptiness. Or perhaps the committee just forgot all about tourism in the region. Or maybe they couldn’t find a sufficiently saccharine adjective to pair with it.

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Strat Plan Wrap Up: Addintional Comments

Mao's red book
The Plan is presented to council.

Yes, the web page really does call for “Addintional Comments.” Well, I suppose consultants aren’t hired for their spelling or grammar. Otherwise there wouldn’t be all that bizarre capitalization or the missing punctuation. But you’re here to read my summation of the Collingwood’s fledgling strategic plan, not my editorial critique.

Which is pretty simple: woo-hoo. I reiterate that a strategic plan can be either practical and pragmatic, or woo-hoo. This one is woo-hoo.

By which I mean it is airy fairy collection of generalities, seasoned with ignorance, ideology and irrelevancies and very little actual direction. Well, most woo-hoo plans are. They aren’t meant as a guide to actual accomplishments: they’re meant to make people feel like they accomplished something without having to do the heavy lifting.

It’s not a “strategic plan” – it’s merely a feel-good exercise by people who didn’t want to ask questions in case the facts spoil their recommendations (like finding our your action item was done last term or there has been a corridor to the waterfront for several years now…).

Peter Drucker, author of Management Tasks and Responsibilities (1973) listed four misconceptions about the term “strategic planning” that you can see plague Collingwood’s proposed plan:

  1. Strategic planning is not a box of tricks, a bundle of techniques.
  2. Strategic planning is not forecasting.
  3. Strategic planning does not deal with future decisions.
  4. Strategic planning is not an attempt to eliminate risk.

What strategic planning is, Drucker said, is:

…the continuous process of making present entrepreneurial (risk-taking) decisions systematically and with the greatest knowledge of their futurity; organizing systematically the efforts needed to carry out these decisions; and measuring the results of these decisions against the expectations through organized, systematic feedback.

Get that? It’s a continual process, not a one-time effort. And it’s measurable. Collingwood’s “plan” is nothing more than a bundle of wishful thinking tied up with buzzwords.

It really doesn’t matter that the town is already doing much of what the plan recommends, nor that the previous council accomplished so many of the things identified as action items. These facts get in the way of those dancing around this May pole, so they will be ignored. “The common people,” Confucius said, “can be made to follow a path but not to understand it.” (Analects, Book VIII, 9)*

This is the vaunted “plan” for our future as promised by now-Deputy Mayor Saunderson during the election campaign within 90 days of being elected. It will be presented on the 287th day, only late by half a year. It won’t be counted as an accomplishment, merely as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

As a “plan,” it’s as useful as comprehensive, insightful and focused guide to the town’s present and future as a fishing pole is to planting corn.

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Strat Plan Part 6: Culture and the Arts

DilbertThe fifth and final objective in Collingwood’s developing strategic plan (the woo-hoo plan) is culture and the arts. For something so important to the community, with such a huge potential, it encompasses a mere two goals. Disappointingly, neither of them relate to its huge economic potential, which everyone else seems to understand except this committee and its council.

“The rapidly evolving global economy demands a dynamic and creative workforce. The arts and its related businesses are responsible for billions of dollars in cultural exports for this country. It is imperative that we continue to support the arts and arts education both on the national and local levels. The strength of every democracy is measured by its commitment to the arts.” Charles Segars, CEO of Ovation

Only two goals are suggested for our burgeoning creative/cultural economy, what may easily be the most important sector in our local economy over the next decade or two. There are more items in the first section about using the plan’s logos than there are goals here. At least there are several action items, albeit typically lame, vague ones. I suppose it’s like what La Rochefoucauld wrote:

Fertility of mind does not furnish us with so many resources on the same matter, as the lack of intelligence makes us hesitate at each thing our imagination presents, and hinders us from at first discerning which is the best. Maxim 287.

So little does this group (and by extension, this council) regard arts and culture than they are not even mentioned in the proposed vision statements!

Goal: Promote arts and cultural programs

Duh. Aside from the complete face-palm-plant obviousness of this, it doesn’t say how one promotes programs. Newsletters are obviously out since many of those at the table criticized the previous council’s use of newsletters for public communication. Semaphore? Smoke signals? Tweets?

Nor does it identify whose programs it promotes. Or even who does the promoting. There’s no indication this is even local. Is the town supposed to support, say, the Stratford Festival’s theatrical programs?

And what arts? A male friend of mine will argue seriously pole dancing is an art. Are we going to bring back the Georgian Grill as the new arts centre? I’m not sure if there are programs for pole dancing, however, and this goal clearly states the town should support programs, not the arts and culture themselves.

Goal: Support and expand the diversity of community events and festivals

Another head banger. Who isn’t going to isn’t going to support events and festivals? Well, all those people who hate Elvis, of course.And those downtown merchants who whine and grumble every time the main street is closed or has activity. But there are always people who hate everything.

Does this sentence mean ‘support the diversity and expand the diversity’? Or ‘support community events and expand the diversity’? Improper punctuation makes it unclear.

One wonders how you can expand diversity, since the word means a range of different things which suggests it is already expanded. If it’s already diverse – i.e. varied – does it need to be expanded and if so – how?

Do they mean make single events more diverse? And if so what events? Do they want to make the Elvis Festival into Elvis, Blues and Brews? or the Jazz at the Station into Jazz and Polka music at the Station? How about Local Live Lunch and Sudoku Contest?

Let me reiterate a point I made earlier: a good strategic plan talks in practical terms and specifics: a woo-hoo plan talks in generalities and fuzzy terms. Welcome to woo-hoo.

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