Tag Archives: municipal politics

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

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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Fiddling While Rome Burns

Nero fiddlesYou know that legend about Nero fiddling while around him Rome was burning? It’s a popular metaphor for political cluelessness, for inaction, procrastination, for politicians oblivious to the important business of the city while they play games. For municipal leaders who focus on the petty, the trivial, the irrelevant and the self-serving, while major issues are ignored.

Pretty much sums up Collingwood Council’s record to date. Fiddling with irrelevancies.

To be fair, they’ve only been in office eight months and probably haven’t got around to focusing on important things.

Still, you have to scratch your head and wonder why council wastes its collective energy on ephemeral (and irrelevant) strategic plans (that will be dust-collectors within days of being released as have so many previous plans become) or unnecessarily revising a generally unread code of conduct when residents really care about sidewalks, potholes, taxes, trails, parking and other more pragmatic issues.

One cannot but suspect this is the pursuit some hidden ideological plan, some secret, personal agenda being played out upon the citizens like an amateur theatrical production, instead of acting in good faith for the community’s best interests.

Last week, in its theatrical fervour, council unveiled what will likely be the highlight of its term: a revised code of conduct. And the populace responded with… a yawn. That was from those few who even paid attention to such minor issues. Procedural matters are to the public interest what a bicycle is to a fish.

Well, the council sycophants were, of course, delighted: those NINJA* remora think this is just the jim-dandiest thing a council could do and handed out back-slaps and congratulations like candy treats at Hallowe’en. And in crowing over it (clearly without actually reading it…), they ignored its glaring, egregious flaws. As we expected them to do. Cheerleaders on the Titanic to the bitter, icy end.

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Another Secretive, Self-Serving Committee

CouncilThis week, Collingwood Council passed a motion to appoint the Block Five to a new standing committee. The standing committee system, you will recall, is a system of secretive committees that operates predominantly out of the public eye, with limited council attendance, and often without even media presence. Committees conduct town business beyond the pale of accountability. Here’s what they passed (in a 6-3 vote*):

THAT Council approve the Striking Committee recommendation and appoint the following members to the Environmental Services Standing Committee: Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson, Councillor Tim Fryer, Councillor Cam Ecclestone, Councillor Kathy Jeffery, and Councillor Deb Doherty.

Saunderson and Fryer are, as you might also suspect, two of the three striking committee members.

This is the same group of five that voted to remove the long-standing CEO of COLLUS from the Collingwood Public Utility Services board – a man with 35-plus years experience in water services and highly respected across the province for his expertise, talents and his management skills – and replace him with the town’s interim CAO, a man with (as far as I know) little to no experience in those services and no vested interest in the community’s long-term sustainability or well-being.

It’s the same group that previously voted to extend that interim CAO’s contract by another year. Coincidence? Hardly.

Over the past several months since taking office, council has let – perhaps even encouraged – the relationship between the utility board and its staff, and the town’s administration deteriorate significantly. It has allowed a once-productive and mutually-beneficial relationship to grow into a toxic, confrontational environment. The head of the water services, another staff person highly-respected around the province, fled for a better working environment in another municipality.

Consultants were brought in to provide what clearly seemed to outsiders as pre-determined, very negative but erroneous reports about the utilities. Critical comments and responses about the inappropriate and even false conclusions, and the incorrect data used were ignored or buried. This was, metaphorically, Collingwood’s burning Reichstag: the self-created excuse to justify the Block’s subsequent slash-and-burn actions (although outsiders were able to discern the self-serving political motives behind these reports, this group took them at face value).

Then, in a move calculated to destroy the solid, 150-year-old working relationship between the utility services and the town, the same Block Five voted to dissolve the utility board – a group with decades of combined experience in utility services, politics and law – and replace them with a group of inexperienced, novice and ideologically-motivated politicians – themselves. Self serving? Don’t ask….

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Nailing Collingwood’s Door Shut to Business

DohertyCouncillor Deb Doherty seems eager to cement this council’s already ugly but deserved reputation for being hostile to business. This week she made a motion to re-open the always-contentious sign bylaw, apparently in order to impose draconian restrictions on business signs

THAT Council direct Staff to review Sign By-law 2012-110 with respect to sign height and any other revisions or amendments as deemed appropriate by the Chief Building Official; AND FURTHER THAT the report be presented through the Development and Operations Standing Committee not later than August 31, 2015.

Sign bylaws are necessary, but always contentious to debate. Municipalities want to limit clutter. Business owners want the freedom to erect signs that attract customers, advertise their products and generate revenue. Our bylaw is already strict enough: over the years it has proven a fair balance between control and liberty. Why fix what isn’t broken?

But apparently Ms. Doherty wants to tighten the screws on businesses. And I suspect most of council – the rest of the Block Five who vote as a clump, for sure – will follow her lead.

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Reincarnation as a Consultant or a Psychic?


A wag met Nasrudin. In his pocket he had an egg. “Tell me, Mullah, are you any good at guessing games?”
“Not bad,” said Nasrudin.
“Very well then: tell me what I have in my pocket.”
“Give me a clue, then.”
“It is shaped like an egg, it is yellow and white inside, and it looks like an egg.”
“Some sort of cake,” said Nasrudin.*

NasrudinShould I have the chance to do my life all over again, I’m not sure which career I would prefer most: a psychic or a consultant. One takes money from people because he is scamming them. The other takes money from people thinking he is helping them. I just can’t remember which is which.

I think if I were a consultant, I’d specialize in writing strategic plans for municipalities. That way, I’d only ever have to write one report, at the start, then I could recycle it to everyone else with minimal changes.

A psychic is, well, just someone who makes stuff up and gets paid for it. Other cultures call them liars, con artists, hoaxers, investment bankers. You don’t have to be very creative at it.

A consultant, however, is really a cook who works with words and ideas. Once you have the recipe just right, you only need scale it for the audience to sell it over and over. Toss lightly with a selection of local and generic photographs, get the mayor to write an introduction, and serve warm.

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The Antis at Sunset Point

ChipperThere are always those who don’t want change. Any change upsets them. Anything that’s new, different, exciting, challenging or just unusual bothers them and want it stopped. They want a steady state, where nothing happens, nothing changes, nothing is new. Stop growth, stop development, stop change.

Some of them are the ‘last in’ crowd – the recent arrivals who don’t want any more newcomers because newcomers will change things, and they will change the reasons the ‘last-in’ group came here. They want to be the last ones to arrive and to shut the door after themselves. They want things to remain as they were when they arrived.

Some are long-time residents who think the world should have stopped in the 80s when the shipyards were still operating. They don’t like what Collingwood has become since then. They don’t like having more than one phone exchange. They don’t like homes on the waterfront. They don’t like turning lanes on First Street. They don’t like having Thai, Japanese or Indian food restaurants because they’re too ‘foreign’. They want time to freeze and things to stop changing so damned fast. If it was good enough for their grandparents, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

And some are simply antis – people who are anti-everything. Anti-anything they didn’t think of first. Everyone else’s ideas are bad and they will protest them, write petitions, send letters, complain on social media

And some of these folks live at Sunset Point, across from the park. Last term these Antis protested the upgrades to Sunset Point Park – upgrades that made it more attractive and safer. They claimed the upgrades would reduce the amount of green space (grass cover), although the landscape architect made a presentation showing the upgrades would actually increase grass cover. They didn’t like the new sidewalk aimed at reducing traffic conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians because, well just because. They didn’t want the dreary old washroom/ice cream stall building to be upgraded, cleaned up and improved. They didn’t want a restaurant there with a patio. They didn’t want to encourage outsiders to use the park.

Go to Sunset Point any warm summer weekend and it’s packed with people. Visitors love to come there for a picnic. Buses arrive. Families gather. Kids and dogs play. People swim. It’s lively, exciting, fun. Plus the new restaurant is busy and successful, with its patio packed. Visitors love it. So do a lot of residents.

Sunset Point Antis hate it. They want it to be their park, and theirs only. They don’t want anything done to the park, even safety upgrades, without their permission. They don’t like anyone else’s success. And they most certainly don’t want to encourage any more visitors to use their park. “Keep out of our park,” they moan.

So what if this is a tourist town, so what if our economy depends heavily on visitors, on people enjoying themselves, having a good time, having good experiences and good recreational and dining? The Antis just don’t want them here. Why, they ask, should outsiders have a good time, when they come here?

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