The final piece in the series in CollingwoodToday begins with an egregious error: “Collingwood’s Town Council, elected one year ago on Oct. 24, 2022, is celebrating their first year in office as a group.” Council’s first year in office began with their inauguration on Nov. 15, 2022. Before that, they had no official status. But local media, eh? Maybe I’m being too picayune to expect accuracy from them, but where TF is the editor?
The final part of the series is supposed to be about how our council “look[s] toward the future.” Before I comment on their responses, to me that question should relate to what each member expects or plans to advocate for, bring to the table, and personally accomplish. Something they promised to do in their election campaigns, something they contribute to or initiate that benefits the entire community. Not just wishful thinking or approving the work of others. Or, as it seems most want to do, build their own political capital by taking credit for the work of others.*
So when I read, “all mentioned the revitalization of the Terminals,” I have to wonder what each one intends to do to make that happen in the future. They’ve already approved the 24-storey monstrosity. Will they next be donning work boots and a hard hat to help in the construction? Cleaning the knee-deep guano from the inside? Painting the structure to make it pretty for the millionaires who will move in? Because I’m pretty sure the real work is being done by a private corporation.
Perhaps they mean they will boldly go where no one has gone before and bring forward changes to the town’s height bylaw to bonus a private developer and allow a 24-storey behemoth to dominate the waterfront. Or courageously move to de-commission the heritage status of the building so it can be made into a millionaire’s playground instead of a community icon. Or bravely stand up against the public interest and bring in the legislation to give away 80% of the public waterfront parkland to the developers.
Mayor and Deputy Mayor
Mayor Hamlin “points to the Poplar Regional Health & Wellness Village as a project she’d like to see make strides.” I’m pretty sure hoping a private developer “makes strides” isn’t much of a personal accomplishment. How will she be helping these strides? Not some backroom nudge-nudge-wink-wink, I trust. She’s just a bystander, watching someone else do the work (the land has already been pre-approved for zoning through a Minister’s Zoning Order; council has little to do with it).
“Is anyone other than me hoping the province will make a big announcement for our hospital soon?” said Hamlin. “It will allow us to get working on the site planning for the new hospital and start discussions on the future of the current site.”
Aside from that being a vague question and not a statement, hoping for the province to do something is similar; it’s not her accomplishment. And it’s wishful thinking, given how our current MPP fought so hard to block the hospital’s redevelopment when he was deputy-mayor here. I think it’s naive and bordering on stupidity to think he might help the process move forward now. Is the mayor involved in planning for a new site? Isn’t that the role of the hospital board? And why can’t the town begin discussions about the current site with the hospital before then? Waiting for the province to announce something is just procrastination.
DM Fryer listed the affordable housing master plan as “top of mind.” Nothing like a thick wad of paper and a cheque made out to consultants to solve the housing crisis. It certainly won’t solve the homelessness problem, either, in large part because the latest consultant’s report about housing basically says to ignore anyone not earning enough to be worth consideration. Anyone poor gets relegated to the untouchables caste in Collingwood. Maybe Fryer could suggest the town spend some of the money in its affordable housing reserve on actually helping residents afford housing.
Fryer also “has his sights set on completing an update on the Official Plan.” The thing about Official Plans and other master plans like affordable housing is that someone else is writing them. Council may hem and haw and wave their hands when plans are presented, but no one at the table sits down with the authors to help put them together. Councillors don’t burn the midnight oil writing recommendations in those reports.
Coun. Jeffrey offered a shopping list of key priorities: “planning for the water treatment plant expansion, pushing forward on affordable housing and the Terminals project, stabilizing the municipal labour force challenges, exploring a stormwater management project and moving forward on a climate action plan.”
Planning, pushing, moving forward, making strides and exploring are, like I said with master plans, simply cheerleading for the work of others. And none of this represents a personal initiative, let alone involvement in the result. I have to wonder why she’s making the water plant a priority now when she didn’t seem to think it was one in her previous two terms when we might have had it built at a minimal cost. Do you really expect her to suddenly take interest in the issues she was happy to ignore for the past eight years? Me, either. Think it’s just piffle? Me, too.
How can a municipal council “stabilize” anything to do with employment? She didn’t say. Can council raise the minimum wage here or create better-paying jobs in the private sector? Nor did she explain whether by “municipal labour force” she meant town staff or generally the local workforce throughout the town. Maybe she could stabilize town staff by refusing to hire any more and thus reduce tax hikes she loves to impose on us. Of course, the reporter didn’t bother to get her to explain. Local media, eh?
Coun. Doherty at least had something personal: “to bring forward a private tree preservation bylaw.” I applaud that: I tried to get a similar bylaw implemented several years ago, but faced considerable resistance from councillors then, and less than enthusiastic support from staff. She might start by looking at similar bylaws in Toronto and London.
But then she added she wanted to see “work completed on a new, progressive transportation master plan.” Again, written by someone else. Given that this council is trying to destroy our public transit system, and turn our residential streets into vehicle-dense, speedway-like thoroughfares adding more pollution, noise and danger to our residential areas, I hold out little hope that the plan will be of benefit to residents. But I’m sure will sure it benefit those many non-resident drivers trying to get through town at their fastest.
Couns. Baines and Ring both “pointed to the development of an arts centre in Collingwood as a key goal.” Yes, I agree, that would be nice to see happen, but again who is doing the work? A committee of volunteer residents, not councillors. How will these councillors expedite it? Fund it? Where will it be placed? What will it contain?
Ring made the facepalm-worthy statement, “Hopefully, we can find the financial funding, without adding more tax burden on the ratepayers, to start constructing the much-needed multi-use recreation facility and/or an arts, culture, and entertainment centre.” Why do we need more recreation facilities at hefty taxpayer expense in our heavily over-taxed town? We already have two ice rinks, a year-round swimming pool, a curling club, many parks, trails, a skateboard park, a splash pad, tennis and pickleball courts, basketball courts, an amphitheatre, lawn bowling courts, baseball diamonds, dog parks, three theatres, an outdoor performance space downtown, a YMCA, and the library.
Where will council “find” this funding if not from the ATM council seems to think local property owners are? And who will do the looking? Right: someone else. But what if that someone else can’t find any outside funding? Does he plan to recommend the town go ahead and put more burden on taxpayers for something so unnecessary?
Coun. Potts says he’s “focused on the affordable housing issue” and wants to see “affordable housing shovel-ready.” This doesn’t mean anything actually being built, just might get ready to be built sometime in the future. Which, of course, doesn’t solve anything for residents now. And again I have to wonder: is he planning to strong-arm developers into building a particular type of housing? Where? Let’s not forget the latest housing presentation basically advised council to abandon the homeless and low-income earners — the very people who need affordable housing the most.
Potts added something that I think will prove contentious: “have remote staff return to the office,” by which I assume he means town staff and not the private sector. That’s an interesting, maybe praiseworthy goal, but it strikes me that he would be interfering with both the CAO’s prerogatives and the town’s HR policies. The thick wad of paper that s
traight-jackets guides councillors in their conduct might cause him a hiccup or two if he stepped into that quicksand. But, sure, we pay them enough to show up.
Potts concluded he wants to “continue to build stronger trust with our residents and continue to hold town hall accountable,” but frankly a 4.25% tax hike (on top of a 3.7% hike from the county) will not build trust or respect or favour with residents. Quite the opposite, in fact. Residents are already up in arms about it. And the only way to “hold town hall accountable” is to stand up to their unceasing demands for more money and more staff, and make them come back with a budget with NO tax increases. Period. Give into their demands and kiss your credibility goodbye.
And lastly, Coun. Perry said he wanted “more trail connections made.” Uh, okay, but that’s something the Parks Recreation & Culture department already does, has been doing and expanding for many years, and has a plan for future trail expansions. Not sure why Perry didn’t just ask the director about that. We have more than 70 kms of trails already, but with the rapid expansion of subdivisions, there is less and less greenspace in which to put trails (a dotted line on a trail map that traces a path along town streets is NOT a trail).
Perry added, “I’d like for parents to feel comfortable enough to be able to let their children ride a bike or walk to school but that won’t happen if they feel there isn’t a safe route for the kids to travel on.” Well, you could start by demanding real traffic calming be implemented, and more stop signs placed at intersections on high-volume streets. Get a traffic signal at Third and High installed and an all-way stop at Cedar and Third. But that would go against the town’s 1950s, pro-vehicle/anti-pedestrian planning that encourages more vehicles, more pollution, more noise, and more danger on our streets, not less. Maybe Perry could start there: turn our antiquated planning around so it’s pro-resident, pro-pedestrian, and pro-cyclist (a big mountain to climb… or cycle).
Perry concluded he planned to “continue to expand my municipal education.” I admire that. I also hope he subscribes to Municipal World and reads every issue. The last two councils were stubbornly, even vehemently opposed to learning anything that was outside their myopic Saundersonite ideology. Early in the 2014-18 term, council cancelled their subscriptions to MW to avoid getting any peer advice that might contradict that ideology. The result was the two least productive, least effective, and least informed councils in the town’s history. I can also recommend some relevant books and websites Perry might look into. I hope he achieves his goal to be better-informed.
What disappointed me most in this piece was 1) the reporter didn’t ask any followup questions to clarify or explain the statements let alone challenge any of them. Simply being a mouthpiece is not the media’s role. Or at least it didn’t used to be. And 2) councillors made grandiose statements but offered no timelines, processes, or any sort of measurables or budget figures, let alone mention how any of it would fit into a strategic plan. Without measurables or concrete plans, their “visions” for the future have little substance. They’re just extended campaign promises. Local media let them get away with it.
Collingwood deserves better.
* Coun. Houston was not quoted in the article. Maybe he has no vision he wants to share for the town’s future or for his role on council? His absence from this piece was not explained.