Tag Archives: municipal politics

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.

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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Strat Plan Part 5: Healthy Lifestyle

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.

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Strat Plan Part 4: Economic Vitality

CartoonstockWhat, you may ask, is meant by the term “Economic Vitality” – the third objective in our town’s strategic-plan-in-the-works? Apparently it’s one of those motherhood statements people make on soapboxes and campaign platforms that have little grist in them to mill into actuality.

Sure, we all want a town that has a lively, thriving economy. but how do we achieve it? No one has an answer – not one-size-fits-all answer. certainly it isn’t found in the woo-hoo strategic plan. The economy’s health depends on creating a suitable, supportive environment that both attracts and sustains business and commerce.

Let’s start with an understanding that governments do not create private sector jobs. They can only create an environment where the private sector feels it worth the investment to do so. And the cost of doing business in a town plays a major role in that decision (i.e. low taxes and low utility fees).

Last term, council’s collective attitude towards business and keeping taxes low saw much growth and development: Goodall expanded, the glass plant expanded, Pilkington Glass added shifts. New restaurants and bars opened. Three microbreweries opened. The mall was revitalized with new stores and shopping opportunities. Cranberry Mews mall grew.  it was a boom time.

The previous council can’t take credit for private growth and expansions: what it can take credit for is being welcoming, supportive and keeping taxes and utility rates as low as possible. Last council also initiated the hiring of a new, dynamic marketing and economic development director, and created a new small business centre that brought together a wide range of community partners and NGOs to work together cooperatively and successfully for common goals.

Yet I hear you say that our current council went against this grain right off the bat by raising taxes and water rates while giving themselves a pay hike – making the town less attractive to business (and making themselves look avaricious and petty). That’s pretty anti-business!

So, you ask, how can they say they want economic vitality when council is deliberately undermining this goal? That’s a bit of a conundrum. The overtly anti-business attitude of this council is a hurdle that will not be easily overcome until the next election. They have created the reputation that Collingwood is closed for business. It will not easily be reversed.

Also, word on the street says this council is poised to divest itself of the airport – one of the few actual economic success stories in Collingwood. Council has already irrevocably damaged the once-good relationship with our municipal neighbours who are partners at the airport to the point Wasaga Beach is planning to pull its financial support. Instead of developing this as a regional success story and promoting it, council will destroy it like it did our utility service board.

So let’s examine the goals and proposed action items in the strategic plan that relate to economic vitality. Try not to guffaw too loudly.

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Strat Plan Part 3: The Waterfront

Dilbert
The waterfront. It defines us geographically, historically and culturally. What could be more important to Collingwood than its waterfront that covers the entire northern border of this sleepy, lakeside town?

Well, pretty much anything else it seems, if you you’re on Collingwood Council. Pick the most irrelevant, pointless, self-aggrandizing effort – like rewriting the Code of Conduct or flying around the country to party at taxpayers’ expense – and this council will eagerly pounce on it as a priority rather than deal with waterfront issues.

Council is determined to hold up growth and development on this all-important area until sometime before the next Ice Age. Or until the waterfront master plan is developed, which may take longer. This imaginary plan isn’t even in the discussion stage, hasn’t been approved, budgeted or initiated. Yet Deputy Mayor Saunderson uses the idea of a notion of a possibility of a potential proposal for a plan in the undefined future to halt waterfront growth. When you can’t decide: send in The Procrastinator! (enter Arnie in leather jacket, red eye gleaming…)

But what about our budding woo-hoo strategic plan? It lists but one objective for this significant area: Public Access to a Revitalized Waterfront. That’s a pretty limited vision. But perhaps our collective committee isn’t really aware of the waterfront. Perhaps they never visit it. As as Montaigne said,

Of what use are colours to someone who does not know how to paint?

“Revitalized” is a flaccid buzzword: the term isn’t defined and there’s nothing in any of the action items to describe what they mean by it. Sure, it means to impart new vigour, but that’s too vague to base any realistic, budgeted plan on. The rest, as you will read, is woo-hoo.

You have to admit this is a pretty pointless objective since we already have public access to all of the publicly-owned waterfront land and have had it for decades. I wonder why no one pointed out this very basic fact to the participants. See my Montaigne quote, above.

Why did no one point out the uncomfortable fact that most of our waterfront is privately owned? Any plans to access private land are simply wishful thinking. Or drug-induced.

Private land can’t be part of a public plan. That’s not merely unrealistic – it’s arrogant. Maybe this council has secret plans to expropriate some private waterfront property. Won’t they be surprised to find the legislation doesn’t allow expropriation for trails?

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Strat Plan Part 2: The Shuffle Game

DilbertIn the second part of my critique of Collingwood’s woo-hoo strategic plan, I will look at the shuffle game. This is where consultants give contestants – I mean participants – a limited series of options and ask them to shuffle these around in order of their perceived priority. Then the results are collated and the one whose list looks most like the final version wins.

There are five separate lists given to contestants. Think of them as strategic plan bingo cards:

  1. Accountable Local Government
  2. Public Access to a Revitalized Waterfront
  3. Economic Vitality
  4. Healthy Lifestyle
  5. Culture and the Arts

Participants get to choose the pre-ordained options as if they were some royal or divine authority they can impose on the town and its residents, without regard to law, custom, policies, past practice, or, in some cases, reality. Each of the five categories is preceded by one or more goals.

Let’s start by looking at the first category: Accountable Local Government. It’s stated goals are:

  • Efficient use of Town assets
  • Effectively manage Town debt
  • Engage in frequent, proactive communication with the public in order to build strong, transparent relationships with public and private groups
  • Long-term commitment to implement the CBSP over a 10-15 year horizon

None of these actually relate to accountability. There is nothing about integrity, ethics, or holding politicians to task for not keeping campaign promises. And communication does not “build strong, transparent relationships” as this bit of disinformation would have anyone think. Communication of the sort proposed is merely one-way.

First some prelude to my analysis: councils don’t manage anything: they direct staff to do so. Council’s don’t get hands-on: staff do that. And citizen groups don’t do either, nor do they direct council to direct staff. They, at best, advise. But their advice needs to be based on reality, not on some woo-hoo concept derived from wishful thinking or (in this case), an old ideology we’ve encountered before (see below).

So lets’ look at each “action item” proposed:

ACTION ITEM: Develop an improved Asset Management Plan that takes into account maintenance costs and a funding model for the replacement of assets that have reached the end of their lifecycle. Assets include road, water and wastewater infrastructure in addition to all buildings, recreation facilities, vehicles and equipment owned and maintained by the Town.

This is the first flog-a-dead horse item. Last council directed staff to develop exactly such an asset management plan. Cross this one off the list: we did it already. But one wonders why no one told the participants.

In fact, going through the list below, you’ll see that several of these ‘action items’ were done last term or even previously. Why didn’t anyone involved know that?  Obviously this council intends to take credit for last term’s efforts.

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