Water: Our most precious resource

Standard of careDid you know there were water restrictions in Collingwood this summer? No? Well, there were. And that underscores the vulnerability of our community to climate change when a community situated on the Great Lakes has water restrictions.

The notice on the town’s web page said we were “experiencing drier than usual conditions” this summer – without explaining what “usual” conditions means, and whether the condition still applies. Well, the failure of communications this term and the need to communicate better and more effectively next term is the stuff for another post. This one is about water. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources wrote:

In Ontario, climate change is anticipated to result in milder, shorter winters with earlier snowmelt, less ice cover on lakes, changing rainfall patterns and increased evapotranspiration. All of these factors have an impact on the normal variation we experience in water supplies and will affect water infrastructure capacity and design… Changes to water supply will be difficult to predict and could mean that there may be less water available for residential use, agriculture, industry, waterpower generation, transportation, or recreation. Ecologically, changes to water supply will impact Ontario’s biodiversity, our wetlands, our shorelines and our forests.

Our municipal water system is good, but like most in the province, it was not designed to handle the increasing challenges of climate-related stresses we now face. 2018 is shaping up to be the fourth hottest year on record – the three hotter ones were the previous three years! Extreme heat encourages people to use water more – for lawns, golf courses, gardens, drinking, filling pools. Increased demand for water can empty water towers and reservoirs faster and the system can’t fill them as quickly as the demand drains them.

But water use is just one issue.

Toxic algae is in the news every week. In many parts of the Great Lakes – and in Ontario’s inland lakes, too – there have been warnings about swimming and drinking because of blue-green algal blooms (cyanobacteria). Only last week, a family’s dog died after swimming in Lake Ontario and ingesting algae. Lakes Erie, Ontario and now Superior all have serious problems with algae this year (Erie has had them for many years). A media story this weekend had the headline, “Hot summer resulted in blue-green algal blooms on Ontario lakes.”

We’re extremely fortunate that it hasn’t happened here.

Yet.

It’s likely we will see algal blooms in Georgian Bay. Even when you can’t see them, the algae are already in the water, just not in significant amounts. But algae thrive on the nutrients used to fertilize crops, lawns and gold courses. And we have a lot of farms, homes and golf courses in our region to contribute to the runoff. It’s only a matter of time.
Continue reading “Water: Our most precious resource”

Committee system still broken, still in use

The real purpose of The Block...
“A committee,” wrote Sir Barnett Cocks, former Clerk of the UK’s House of Commons, “is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.”
How very appropriate those words strike us as we gaze at Collingwood’s ineffective, severely broken standing committee system. The brainchild of the interim CAO, and the very model of his business style, it has been fervently embraced by The Block. Yet to outsiders, the committee system has been a bureaucratic quagmire of redundancy and ineptness since its inception.

It was a mistake to continue it after the first meeting, when most observers realized it didn’t work. But despite its flaws – evident to everyone but The Block – the committee system is still in use, stumbling along two years later like some cranky steampunk wagon with mismatched wheels.

Look, for example, at the “Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee” (SISC) agenda for January 23. Notice all of the motions for action are in reality just procrastination:

RECOMMENDING THAT the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee support and refer the following Staff Report to the next regular meeting of Council…
RECOMMENDING THAT the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee support and refer the following Staff Report to the next regular meeting of Council…
RECOMMENDING THAT the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee support and refer the following Staff Report to the next regular meeting of Council…
RECOMMENDING THAT the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee support and refer the following Staff Report to the next regular meeting of Council…

Every single report, every single presentation, every public delegation has to return to the full meeting of council to repeat and reiterate everything it said to the SISC. And yet EVERY MEMBER of council sits on the SISC but are powerless to act. So they have to repeat it to THEMSELVES!

Yes, that’s right: they have to recommend that they pass the report on to THEMSELVES to deal with at a different meeting! A perfect model of bureaucratic confusion evidently derived from Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.
Continue reading “Committee system still broken, still in use”

Collingwood council’s committee system is broken

Last term, council approved a recommendation from the CAO to dump its traditional structure of council and public committees, to an internal system of standing committees filled only with politicians. The structure is used in several other – mostly larger – communities. It sounded intriguing, bold and exciting, so council said yes, let’s try it. Let’s be innovative.

But, despite recommendations to the contrary, it wasn’t implemented until this new council took office. And that implementation isn’t working.

In fact, it’s created a worse-than-ever disconnect between politicians the the public.

Instead of engaging the public more, instead of creating more openness and transparency, it is doing the opposite: alienating us. Members of the public who used to contribute to the process through boards and committees are now shut out.

It needs to be fixed or scrapped and a more open system restored.

Three standing committees – Development & Operations, Community Services, and Corporate Services – meet once a month, on different days (Monday, Wednesday and Monday, respectively). Each has only three council members on it.

To their credit, sometimes non-member councillors also attend these meetings in the audience, but not all. Nor do all senior staff attend every committee meeting. But isn’t that redundant?

There is also a Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee, comprised of all of council, which has met only once so far (on a Thursday), to discuss budget matters. Plus there are separate budget meetings.

Council itself – all nine members – only meets twice a month. Recommendations and reports from those standing committees are then brought forward and often re-discussed. This is neither efficient nor good governance.

Continue reading “Collingwood council’s committee system is broken”