Where is Collingwood’s Pandemic Response?


StumpedI admit I am stumped. I have been looking online to find something that tells me what Collingwood council has done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year. I’m looking for real, concrete, measurable steps, things that benefit our community; things that residents and businesses can point to and say “This helped me survive.”

I don’t want to read about promises, nor bloviations, nor self-serving proclamations with all the substance of a bad dream. We get enough vapid, banal content from our shambolic council already. Watching a council meeting is like being trapped in an elevator with a serial farter who won’t stop talking. This, however, is important. They’ve had a year to create plans, to assign money, to reach out, to help residents, and do something positive and meaningful. I’d like something we, as a community, can boast about. But I can’t find anything.

Now, just because I can’t find any indication of anything substantive online doesn’t mean they haven’t done it. Perhaps I missed it. With such threadbare local media content, I might have simply overlooked a story. So I am calling on my readers to fill me in: tell me what positive, concrete solutions council has approved, how that has helped you, what funds they have used to help the community, how much money you have received. Please, if you know them, answer my questions below.

But before I offer some questions, let’s consider some things about Collingwood. We have a higher-than-average number of seniors here, and a large segment of people working in the hospitality and service sectors. We have a lot of people on either fixed incomes or in minimum-wage jobs who are vulnerable to layoffs and lockdowns. We also have a lot of seniors in long-term-care facilities. Surely all of these are the most vulnerable people in our community, most at risk from challenges caused by the pandemic. Surely a compassionate, caring, moral council would have immediately reached out to help these groups first, right?

After all, the town takes your money: surely council can give some of it back in a time of great need to help the community. That would be the ethical and the moral thing to do, right?

So what did they do? And where are the stories about it? Surely our sycophantic local media would be praising our council to the heavens if they actually did something.

The pandemic has been with us for more than a year. In March, 2020, this council committed $2.5 million from the “proceeds of the Collus and airport sale” which was to go towards “community support measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.” That sounds like a good thing, but has anyone seen any of that? Has it been spent yet? If so, who got it?

According to the same story,

Council also supported spending $250,000-$300,000 of that fund for relief measures including delaying tax and water and wastewater payments for three months and waiving interest fees for the same time period.

Delaying? Does that mean they were using the money to cover the lost revenue at town hall? In other words, the town was paying itself, not actually lowering or covering the taxes or water bills of distressed residents. How philanthropic. This suggests the town has not actually helped anyone, and that out-of-work people will still have to pay their bills after the three month delay. Why didn’t our council simply write off the utility bills?

And what has happened to help residents since? The town’s COVID-19 portal has this bit of political fluff:

“We are excited to see Collingwood businesses start to re-open while following Provincial and Health guidelines. The Taxpayers of Collingwood will not need to worry about upcoming penalties, fees, and interest charges,” says Mayor Brian Saunderson, “Council and Staff will continue to explore opportunities for further municipal relief and we are eager to hear the community’s ideas and feedback. Let’s continue to work together to overcome adversity and care for our neighbours and those at risk. Together, we can do this!”

Our businesses have been shut back down for the past two weeks, but our mayor doesn’t seem to know that. But then, why should he be in touch? And if anyone is “exploring” anything, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of it. Maybe council got lost in the jungles of uncharted bureaucracy? And excuse me if I find his exhortation to work together (without, of course, offering anything concrete on which to work) rather risible, given his past performances. This is the same guy who organized the special interest group “Better Together Collingwood” to work AGAINST the council, town hall, and rest of the community.

Has our council helped anyone with their rents, absolved them of utility bills, offered to pay EPCOR (the for-profit corporation our previous council sold our once-public utility to during a secretive and deceptive process without public consultation) the hydro bills of distressed and unemployed people here? Has the council offered to lower or absolve property taxes for rental units if the owners/landlords would pass on the savings to their tenants? Has our council made any humanitarian gesture in the past year towards those most affected by the pandemic?

Has the council donated any of that “committed” money to local charities which work with distressed and homeless people?

Has council committed any funds to help frontline workers stay safe? To help them pay for PPE or uniforms? To provide them transportation to and from work, free meals, or other services?

Has our council committed money to provide disposable masks at the hospital, nursing homes, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, or other medical facilities?

Has anyone on council agreed to donate their own paycheques to a local charity like the Salvation Army or the CGM Hospital Foundation during this crisis? Or at the very least, to defer them while our citizens are in lockdown and being laid off or even let go?

How about creating a central, town-run delivery service that all local restaurants and businesses could use at no cost to deliver food and goods to residents so that local people — especially those without a vehicle — could continue to buy from local stores and restaurants without having to go there for pickup? Did council do this?

How about organizing and funding a knitting/sewing program to provide people in financial straits with toques, mittens, socks, baby clothes, and similar items. It would mean Collingwood comes together to help each other, and the town could organize the distribution with the help of a local charity. Did anyone on council champion such an idea?

For several months in 2020, the Lifelabs office in town was closed and patients needing blood, urine, or other tests had to go to another community and wait hours in line to get them — did the town offer to help pay for costs to help continue such an essential service here?

Has our council helped local businesses forced to close because of provincial lockdown measures? Have they, for example, offered to pay BIA levies, or offered cash to help local businesses retain staff? Have they created a program to order more meals, supplies, and products from local businesses to help them survive?

How about an advertising campaign that included a “Collingwood dollars” coupon with discounts to encourage local residents to order meals from local restaurants? To buy from local stores? Have they done this or anything even vaguely useful to aid our local stores and restaurants?

Surely council approved the town paying for meals to be delivered to distressed families over the holidays, helping both local businesses and families in need. Or at the very least granted a significant cash boon to the local food bank so they could ensure no one went hungry this year. Please tell me they did these things.

Did council do something special for our few remaining veterans on Nov. 11, such as inviting them to a virtual Remembrance Day ceremony, laying a wreath for them while they stayed safely at home?

In April, 2020, council offered “$100,000 from the COVID-19 contingency fund to help Collingwood General and Marine Hospital prepare for an off-site location that could be used if a surge of patients exceeds the hospital’s capacity.” That seems positive. But did it happen? A 25-bed field hospital at the Legion wasn’t actually opened until June. And a story from December says an 18-bed field hospital opened that month. What happened to the original 25-bed unit? What happened in between?

There is no indication in either story that the town’s promised money came through or was used for the temporary facility. Did the hospital get it? If not, what happened to the money? The language in the Collingwood Today story suggests that at least by June it hadn’t arrived:

..the site is currently hooked up to a temporary generator, but the money from the town could still be used toward a new, permanent one.

And perhaps I’m confused, but the piece also says “The AHF will not care for COVID positive [sic] patients.” So did the town pay for a non-COVID-related facility with funds allocated for COVID-related issues? Or did the town actually pay ANYTHING at all? I can’t find out.

Collingwood also has an extremely high number of second-home owners, as well as Airbnb rentals. What has our council done to deter outsiders from coming and staying here? What have they done to clamp down on illegal, short-term rentals such as Airbnb? Have they erected signs at our community entrances asking visitors not to come here, not to visit, and not to stay until the lockdowns are lifted? I’ve been driving out of town for medical treatment every weekday and I have yet to see a single sign to that effect. Did I miss them?

Did the town help our local taxi service with PPE supplies and funding so it could continue operating safely and provide a much-needed service for the many people who rely on it? Did it make our bus transit free for the duration of the pandemic?

Did the town use any of that money to provide free PPE to local businesses? Give out masks and hand sanitizers? How about providing them to local nursing homes and care facilities?

Did they organize activities for shut-ins such as virtual bingo or online community events? Study programs and long-term learning for seniors? Create a safe mobile book loan service so they could continue to get library books? Create a service to regularly check on shut-ins to make sure they are safe and healthy, and alleviate their loneliness?

Did they help local recreational and sports clubs, and offer to help them make ends meet? Did they help local gyms and exercise facilities faced with declining enrolment, too? Or at least cover their utility bills?

Last October, the YMCA — a corporation that pays no property taxes here, only $1 a year for the lease of the town land they sit on, and charges members (many of whom are not Collingwood residents) to use their facilities — asked the town to contribute $25,000 to pay for “infection prevention and installing an effective air ventilation system in our building.” The latest financial statement (June 30, 2020) from the Simcoe-Muskoka YMCA shows they have more than $33 million in assets, including almost $3 million in investments, $2.2 million in cash, and $1.2 million owing in receivables. Their annual revenue is $39.35 million. And yet they want the town taxpayers to give them a handout.

The decision to give them a handout will come to the table, Jan. 18. But if they get one, shouldn’t every gym and fitness centre in town get the same amount? Wouldn’t that only be fair, especially considering that the other fitness centres have to pay property taxes or leases! In fact, to be truly fair, the same handout should be given to EVERY tax-paying retail business in town.

Has anyone on council raised the thorny issues of fairness and ethics around this decision? Or does only the YMCA get special treatment from its friends on council? Take from those who pay taxes and give to those who don’t pay them? Doesn’t seem fair or ethical to me, but maybe you can explain it.

I realize all too well that we didn’t elect our council for its brains (and not likely for their rather slippery ethics), but surely one of them had an idea — any idea — how to help the community and make things better for the most affected people. Surely one of them had the spine and the integrity to champion their idea, to find funds for it, to see it happen. Surely at least one of our council was not focused solely on themselves.

I just can’t find any evidence of it online. I’ve looked at the town’s COVID-19 portal, but it mostly just reiterates stuff that the federal and provincial governments or health agencies are doing. The contributions from our local council are missing.

So please, if you know of anything positive this council has done to help the people and town of Collingwood, or to show me where any of that $2.5 million was spent in a way that benefited our residents, our businesses, our seniors, or our frontline workers, and wasn’t just a handout to their corporate friends, let me know.

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