Their Shoddy Potemkin Villages

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Dirty PoliticsIn 1787, the Empress Catherine II took a long trip to the Crimea along the Dnieper River. She wanted to see how her subjects lived. Not wanting her to see the actual poverty and hardships of the peasants, her lover – and the region’s governor – Grigory Potemkin, had pretty, fake villages of canvas and clapboard built along the way, with his own people acting and dancing the roles of happy peasants. After she visited one, the village was disassembled and rushed down river by barge to be rebuilt further away.

These have become known as Potemkin villages. According to Wikipedia, the term is used today,

…in politics and economics, to describe any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that some situation is better than it really is.

But there’s also the opposite: when it refers to an imaginary construct that is negative: when such constructs are used to divert attention from an embarrassing situation or condition. Or, in some cases, an inconvenient truth.

Politicians have been accused of creating Potemkin villages to embellish situations and put a Pollyanna face on social or political ills. But their opponents – especially during election campaigns – also create their own facades to make the reality look worse. They create shabby Potemkin villages; cardboard slums, ugly-looking facades simply to make themselves look good by making the incumbents look bad.

Collingwood’s municipal election has its own shoddy Potemkin villages. Opponents have created a shabby, fake facade on the economic situation, on the recreational facilities, on economic development and on this council’s many achievements. They would have their followers believe that little if any good has been accomplished this term. They’ve erected not a few of these faux derelicts on social media.

As the Vermont Political Observer blog notes

See,that’s the problem with Facebook: it only takes one person to erect a plausible a Potemkin village.

Here are some of the campaign’s rickety Potemkin villages we’ve all heard during Collingwood’s municipal election, and the more solid truths they attempt to hide:

Claim: Collingwood council has no strategic plan.
Fact: Council had TWO strategic planning sessions this term to set priorities and goals with staff. The first was in 2011. A second was held in late 2013 to update those priorities and see what had been accomplished so we could take those off the list. One of the results of those sessions was the creation of operational and governance reviews. The recommendations in those reports are making the town more efficient and our governance more effective. Of course we had a plan this term. And we achieved most of our identified strategic goals this term.

Claim: The town has no economic development strategy.
Fact: Council approved the creation of a small business centre with community partners to work collaboratively on developing and growing local business. It opened this year beside town hall. A new marketing and economic development officer was hired this year to create a comprehensive plan for marketing and promoting Collingwood: for attracting more visitors, industries and jobs. Some of us have been working on this initiative for the past two years.

Claim: The new rec centres cost $20 million or more and were 30% over budget.
Fact: The total cost, according to figures released last week by the treasurer, was $13,331,218 million and because of unforeseen site conditions at the two locations ran a total of $256,727 over budget, or about 2% over the total budget. A separate blog post to correct misinformation about these costs will be coming shortly.

Claim: The new rec facilities won’t last as long as a brick-and-steel building.
Fact: The covers have a comprehensive manufacturer’s warranty for 20 years. That time is similar to the roof of any modern building, but modern buildings are not guaranteed past the first year. After 20 years, all roofs need to be evaluated for repair or replacement, even your home’s. The frame and interior will last as long as any other building type: an expected lifespan of at least 60 years! These are not temporary structures, domes or bubbles. They are modern, energy-efficient structures.

Claim: Council has no financial plan.
Fact:  In late 2013, this council commissioned the BMA Consulting Group to create a report identifying our strengths and weaknesses so we could develop a long-range plan to address issues it identified, and improve our financial performance.Thanks to that report, presented to council in 2014, this council was able to initiate a long-term financial plan which is being written by the CAO right now.
We already approved an long-term asset management plan so we can plan for maintenance, upgrades, life cycles, and future purchases of all the town’s assets.
We have also revamped and improved the budget process to make it more efficient and focus on the bigger picture, not the line-by-line details.
We had a $2 million surplus this year.
We have changed the way we manage reserves to make them sustainable, and we topped up our reserves from $19 to $30 million this term. With the reduction of the debt we achieved this term, our town’s financial health is very good – certainly better than it has been for many years.

Claim: The town is $50 million in debt.
Fact: This nonsense is being propagated by someone who doesn’t understand municipal finance very well. Here’s what the town’s auditor wrote last week: “As per the 2010 audited financial statements: long-term debt was $45,507,356 and there was a bank demand loan in the amount of $664,013 for a total of $46,171,369. As per the 2013 audited financial statements: long-term debt was $36,860,776 and there was no bank demand loan debt.” It doesn’t get any plainer than that. I’ve already comprehensively debunked this claim and you can read more about the debt here. Who knows the facts better: the objective, respected professionals with the string of degrees and experience, or an angry candidate looking to be re-elected by confusing the voters with misinformation?.

Claim: Council has no plan for the harbour
Fact: We have had many harbour plans and strategies over the years. However, this council looked at the bigger, holistic picture. We approved creating a master plan for the whole waterfront, border to border including the harbour. We have already applied for provincial funding to help us, but the planning will go ahead anyway.
In the meantime we installed much-needed new docks in the harbour that are easily moved to fit the master plan. They’ve been so successful that we plan to install more next year.

Claim: Council ignored Hume Street and a petition from business owners to fix it until close to the election.
Fact: Major infrastructure projects like this take years to complete. Council approved upgrading Hume Street in 2012. We held two open public consultations on the design and to determine our community’s needs. The environmental assessments and the engineering designs were completed in 2013. The utilities are being moved right now prior to the other upgrades. Tendering for the repaving and new sidewalks is scheduled for early 2015 and the whole street should be completed before the end of the year.
Better yet, this council has been building up reserves to pay for this upgrade so it won’t affect your taxes.

Claim: Council has done nothing about jobs in this town.
Fact: Municipalities don’t create the jobs: the private sector does. Municipalities create the social and economic environments that encourage businesses to locate here, to grow and expand. This term, we have done just that. Collingwood is thriving and prosperous.
The proof: three new microbreweries opened in Collingwood this year. Agnora Glass has expanded. VOA has added 50 jobs. Goodall Rubber expanded from 45,000 to 120,000 sq. feet and added new jobs. New mall stores have opened and are adding many new retail jobs. New stores have opened downtown, adding other retail jobs jobs. Living Waters hotel is expanding, adding 50-60 new jobs. Millions of dollars worth of development and investment have taken place, creating jobs for local builders, professionals and tradespeople.
We are finally open for business!

Claim: Development has been stagnant this term.
Fact: Collingwood’s development community is booming. Balmoral adult lifestyle village will start construction this fall. Red Oaks subdivision has already started. So has Wyldewood. Living Waters hotel is expanding in its third phase. The mall has been completely rebuilt and new stores already opened there. Mountaincroft subdivision got restarted. A new commercial development is bring built at Huron and Hurontario to revitalize that corner. The former library on Second Street was turned into luxury condos this term. And there are other developments in the planning process.
Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of development and investment have been made in Collingwood this term.

These examples show some of the misunderstanding, misinformation and misconceptions floating around this election campaign. Some are deliberate attempts to discredit this council, some simply show how little a few candidates understand about the municipal world they want to enter.

Your choice is clear: do you vote for those who have shown positive attitude, who have a track record of accomplishments, who keep pushing to make this the best community in Canada and have a vision for the future? Or those who constantly belittle, attack, offer negative comments, and misinformation – but no positive alternatives, and no vision?

What kind of council do you want next term? A positive, cooperative and effective one – or an ineffective group, beset by the bitterness, bickering and divisions that fragmented the previous council? It’s easy to see which candidates to vote for if you choose the positive.

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