Thursday, 13 December 2007
I was a member of the Police Services Board, York County Hospital Board, Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority and Childrens' Aid Society and I chaired the York Region Public Health Board.
I have associated with Police Chiefs, Hospital Directors, Planners, Doctors, Engineers, Municipal Clerks and CAOs. I worked as a reporter during a rest period from town politics and covered the affairs of a rural municipality and the York County Board of Education. A Director of Education crossed my path. I've dealt with several dozen lawyers, a few of them outstanding. I've met with cabinet ministers and their deputies, and worked well with a number of Mayors and an army of councillors.
Along the way I learned from everyone but the best lesson of all was to trust my own judgement.
Aurora Council had two external lawyers at the Town Hall this week to advise on separate matters. Both presentations were of course made behind closed doors.
Until recently, no record was kept of proceedings of a closed meeting. It is still true of discussion but now there needs to be a vote to provide direction to staff and that must be a matter of record ,though still not public.
For forty years, I have maintained the confidentiality of deliberations that had the potential of harming the town's interest , sometimes at my own cost politically..
The definition and intent of regulations regarding Conflict of Interest and Pecuniary Advantage are not complicated. There is nothing difficult about knowing if or when one is likely to benefit financially from participating in a discussion or a vote that carries the authority of elected office. There are no pitfalls for honest sensible people. Wealth is not the corollary of power as a councillor in the Town of Aurora ..
As noted above, two lawyers have provided legal opinions to councillors behind closed doors. Staff were permitted to attend. The question now is whether the interest of the municipal corporation would be harmed by public discussion of the issues. Is there a possibility of litigation against or arising from the proceedings?
Is there a person who might suffer loss of privacy from public disclosure?
Are politicians entitled to discuss political matters behind closed doors to weild clout they might not have in a public setting or save themselves embarrassment by loss of face?
The questions are weighty but delicious.
Saturday, 8 December 2007
I have long argued with people in the private sector that the public sector bears very little resemblance to business. How can it? Periodically in politics, a new board of management is elected. They are chosen for almost as many reasons as there are people in the community.
Residents have told me they are waiting to receive leaflets from all the candidates. Their plan is to read them all and make a selection. Candidates can make hilarious claims to competence in a leaflet and it may be sufficient for a voter to decide in their favour.
A casually written story in a newspaper can create a negative impression. The female candidate "yelled". The male candidate "roared". The female was" bitter". The male was "critical". At times the reporter may be right but mostly it is a societal bias. It happens in every field.
Aurora's politics have always been robust, but there has also been a balance between the duty of political oversight and the responsibility and accountability of the administrative body and a recognition by council that the day-to-day management of town services must rest with the expertise of the professional administration
This term, we do not have that balance. We have elected people who believe they need the expertise to manage the munivcipality. They think they can learn it by questions asked and answered many times over and still without comprehension.This problem has been growing over the last number of years. A steady exodus of senior management has occurred concurrently.
CAO's are a relatively rare breed. Not every municipality has one. They number just over a hundred. Municipal people keep in touch with one another. If a problem rears its head in one community, chances are it has already been dealt with in another. The wheel does not have to keep being re-invented but it is likely more than problem solving is shared. Municipalities can gain or lose a reputation.
At council meetings, Directors traditionally take their place at the council table alongside their political "bosses". This year in Aurora, they have been relegated to the bottom of the table. No expression must cross their countenance, no speaking without invitation, no matter what idiocy or misrepresentation, they encounter,respect for the elected body must be maintained. . By the luck of an election they may have a balanced council and a chairperson with the skills necessary to keep the business of the corporation on track. And they may not.
Public service is unlike the manufacturing , retail.i or any other industry. A council is composed of nine people of various competencies and principles with agendas which may or may not reflect the best interest of the entire community they serve.
Many citizens are certain of the simplicity of delivering municipal services. Summer droughts, winter blizzards, ice storms. None of that is of any consequence to some people. They just know instinctively the job is a cinch.
And yet, if it were not for the efficiency of municipal services, most of Ontario for much of the year would be uninhabitable. A significant number of residents hightail it to other places to escape the hardship of a Canadian winter. Because of municipal services, the rest of us endure to make a living and raise our families in what might arguably be said, except for some of the weather, to be the best place there is.
As individuals, we do not have much influence in the world. We do not even have much in the government of our country. Influence on provincial affairs is less with each passing year.and the wealth and power of public service unions. But at the local level, we can vote, we can put our names forward for election to office. We can make our contribution to the public debate about the difference between good, bad or indifferent government. We can make our voices heard.
'Tis the season to be jolly.
For days I have been trying to think of something positive to blog about. You have provided it. We are not just observers. We are participants. By posting a comment, you have engaged. Can that be a bad thing? I think not, my friend. I welcome your thoughtful comment.
Monday, 3 December 2007
Sunday, 2 December 2007
I was not feeling up to snuff on Tuesday. There was a Budget Meeting on Monday, a Public Planning Meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Budget for Saturday. Tuesday's Agenda had nothing of any significance so I decided to harbour my resources.
From my perspective, my relationship with council colleagues is not difficult. There is some overt hostility that surfaces occasionally from the Mayor and Councillor MacEachern but since the feeling is mutual it balances itself out.
Communication is formal. Rules of order require civility. There is little room for awkwardness. There are no suggestions I should not attend meetings or hints from anybody that I should consider resignation.
I realize my frankness in this venue.my Letters to the Editor and e-mails to colleagues could be construed as counter-productive to a working relationship. But, time passes, issues are decided in a consistent pattern. The gap between my perception of the obvious and that of some colleagues is relatively constant. I do not claim my judgement to be always right, but I do claim experience and knowledge. For that to be discounted on a regular basis is more than needs to be silently endured. Professional advice is also regularly discounted. Staff must silently accept the authority of the elected body. I do not...have to be silent that is.
There is an option in these days of modern technology. I can present my side of things for those who choose to read. They may disagree vehemently, dismiss with vigour, or share my views as with like minds.
The Mayor and council have decided, wrongly in my opinion, to retain legal counsel at public expense to advise that I do not have the authority to follow my option to continue to share information frankly and freely, boldly and bluntly, as I promised in my election campaign. I continue to believe it is a legitimate option.
Blogging is a relatively new phenomena in today's politics. It is too early to tell what the ultimate effect will be but for now it is dramatic. Before the bllog, politicians were completely dependent on journalists to interpret what they were saying. Journalists are dependent on editors for how much print space might be available for any story. That was always an occupational hazard. As it went, I didn't have a lot to complain about. But it is much more agreeable to have my own conduit through the Blog.
Letters to the Auroran Editor also provide a powerful sense of freedom never before experienced. Although, to be sure, it's not every politician who would consider that an advantage.
Sunday, 25 November 2007
My response, submitted as an email to the Mayor and all Councillors:
I have read the Media release and letter to the editor you presented to council as a fait accompli on November 20th which you signed as Mayor and Councillors. Since councillors were not apprised of the letter, the press conference or the media release, until after the fact, it is difficult to comprehend why you felt you had that authority.
I wish not to be associated with either of the documents for the following reasons; the documents state what was not illegal by council and what did not take place at in-camera meetings. While they do not deny there were meetings, they make no reference to what actually did take place. Combined, they are a masterpiece of obfuscation.
I have been attempting to understand the purpose for which Mr. Rust-D'eye has been retained by yourself and council. On November13th you declined to respond to my request to specify the reasons for your precipitate action. I have requested by email, Mr. Panizza to forward terms of reference and parameters of the contract with Mr. Rust-D'Eye and the section of the Municipal Act which provides authority for council to expend public resources on this project.
The information has not been forthcoming even three weeks after you presented your plan without apparent notice to anyone but certainly without prior consultation with myself. In fact, things are less clear today.
Mr. Rust-D'Eye informed me on November 20th, he had been provided with numerous documents; blogs, emails and letters to the editor written by myself and read by himself. Since my original purpose in writing the various missives was to share my thoughts on town matters with as many people as wished to read them, I have no concerns about the solicitor becoming familiar with how I think and communicate with the people I am committed to serve. However it throws no light on why Mr. Rust-D'Eye has been retained at substantial cost to the public treasury. The question looms large in the minds of many in Aurora.
Council was informed after the fact, on November 20th Mr. Rust-D'Eye was on hand at the press conference. He was quoted in the Media Release as making statements on what was and what was not. Rules of evidence, Madam Mayor, dictate that unless a witness is present, the evidence is hearsay and therefore not valid. The press conference was in response to a column in The Auroran to which you took exception. It therefore appears Mr. Rust-D'Eye's services were being used to support your political agenda. The Corporation's interest was not affected.
The question derived from this is, who will pay for this service provided by Mr. Rust-D'Eye. I believe it is incumbent on yourself and those councillors who agreed to retain the gentleman's service to indicate how they intend fees to be paid. If not at personal expense, then how is the public expenditure to be justified.
You indicated, Madam Mayor, all in-camera meetings will be suspended. It is not clear why or how you propose to suspend dealing with essential items of town business and what part of the Municipal Act provides the authority to make this unilateral decision.
I note we have an in-camera agenda for November 27th. How does that reconcile with your dictum there will be no such meeting until an undetermined date?
As you can see, a number of significant questions are posed. We hold office to deal with the public agenda. Personal and political matters are not part of our function as members of council. I take no comfort or assurance from your concept of how public business should be conducted. That is regrettable. I cannot however allow it to interfere with my own responsibility to keep my commitment to the people who gave me their trust.
Thursday, 15 November 2007
The average return from the fare box is 40 cents on the dollar. Transit is planning to terminate a route that travels down Industrial Parkway in Aurora four hours in the morning and three in the afternoon. It carries an average of four passengers an hour and loses ninety-two cents in the dollar. For every eight cents recovered from the fare box, taxpayers pay ninety-two cents
An average of four riders an hour means twenty-eight fares in seven hours. That could mean a total of fourteen people using the bus to get to get to and from work.
Councillor Gaertner led the argument not to terminate the route. Chamber of Commerce support was solicited for that position. On Tuesday. a presentation was made by the Chamber. Industry people had been contacted and they want the route to continue. They were not informed of ridership or losses incurred by the service.
The business community is often consulted about public policy at all levels of government.I personally would be interested in knowing how many could survive while losing ninety-two cents of every dollar spent to manufacture their product or provide their service. What does it say in general about business acumen?
Council was assured by Transit, the comments would be considered when the decision has to be made. I offered mine that the route should be terminated.
I do not use the bus service. Users obviously appreciate the amenity. Ridership is lower in Aurora than other municipalities. People notice empty buses trundling round the streets, especially in the evening. They are obviously incurring a deficit, and equally obviously contributing to pollution. These are not positive attributes.
But neither are a concern to some councillors.
In total contradiction. on Tuesday evening , we had a repeat of another argument . A small subdivision of sixty- one homes is proposed on a property bound by Bayview Avenue , Vandorf Sideroad and the Hydro corridor. It is a cul-de- sac with an entrance from Bayview.
The plan was first proposed in 2001. It eventually had a public planning hearing in 2006. That laborious process was repeated again under direction from council a couple of months ago. Each time, there has been a recommendation for a park in the staff report. Each time it has been challenged. Councillor Gaertner and Councillor MacEachern argue taxpayers cannot afford the burden of maintaining a park for so few families.
On the same evening they argued taxpayers should continue to carry the burden of a bus route that loses ninety-two cents on the dollar for a ridership of fourteen return trips over a period of seven hours a day , they also argued a neighbourhood of sixty-one families should be denied the amenity of a park. because the tax burden is too great. Other councillors appear to agree.
So we muddle along. We take two steps forward and three backward. We pour millions of dollars into planning for rational decision-making which is regularly sabotaged at the political level for reasons that defy logic but sound good as notes from a trumpet.
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
Council had a full agenda. Items had been deferred from the previous meeting. The Mayor's Emergency Meeting to deal with an unspecified Emergency had taken precedence over town business.
The scenario was repeated last night. At the beginning of the meeting .two thirds of council voted to go into closed session. It was necessary, the mayor indicated, because George Rust D'Eye had been requested to attend and “Lawyer's don't come cheap."
I voted against the motions to recess, suspend the rules and proceed behind closed doors. I was considering whether I should boycott the session when the Mayor approached with Mr. Rust D'Eye who wanted a word with me before going into the meeting.
In hockey, there's a play where the guy with the puck gets sandwiched by opposing team players and shoved to the side. I've watched the game and my political instincts are finely tuned.
“Grab a chair, Mr. Rust D'Eye.”, I said. “You want to talk to me , we will do it here.” We were in full view of the public and the television cameras.
He asked whether I had retained legal counsel. Why did he think I needed to do that, I asked. He said he had been retained to carry out an investigation and he had raed numerous documents - blogs, letters to the editor and e-mails, written by me. He assured me he was not taking sides in the issue. I asked him which section of the Municipal Act gave council the authority to retain his services to carry out such an investigation. He introduced the term Conflict of Interest, having a pecuniary interest and finally the word “Litigation” was floated.
It was at that point I decided to attend the closed session. “I am a member of council", said I. “I have a right to attend this meeting and that is my intention.”
Now the dilemna becomes apparent. It is clear from Mr. Rust D'Eye's comments to me prior to the meeting I am the subject of the investigation. Also clear, solicitor-client privilege was the reason for the in-camera session. While I am one (a client, that is) and at the same time, the object of the investigation, that represents a problem. The law they say is adversarial.
In a budget meeting last Saturday, a figure of $25,000. appeared as a line item for councillors. In response to questions from the Mayor and Councillor MacEachern, the treasurer stated it was because of Tuesday's decision to retain outside legal counsel. He has no idea what the amount should be or where it should appear. He had done some research among other municipalities and found nothing like it anywhere.
Friday, 9 November 2007
TOWN OF AURORA
SPECIAL COUNCIL MEETING MINUTES
Aurora Town Hall
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Mayor Morris in the Chair; Councillors Buck, Collins-Mrakas, Gaertner, Granger, MacEachern, Marsh, McRoberts and Wilson.
Chief Administrative Officer, Director of Corporate Services/Town Clerk, Director of Building, Director of Leisure Services, Director of Planning, Acting Director of Public Works, Director of Financial Services/ Treasurer, Town Solicitor and Council/Committee Secretary.
Mayor Morris called the meeting to order at 7:12 p.m.
I DECLARATIONS OF PECUNIARY INTEREST
There were no declarations of pecuniary interest under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
II APPROVAL OF AGENDA
III CONSIDERATION OF MATTER REQUIRING DISCUSSION
Moved by Councillor MacEachern Seconded by Councillor Granger
WHEREAS it is our duty to uphold The Oath of Office and, as elected officials, to conduct the public business in an open and transparent manner; and
WHEREAS it is our duty to the public we represent, to ensure that the laws of the municipality and the province are upheld;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council take all appropriate steps to ask the appropriate authorities to investigate the allegations made against Council, staff and members of the public that have been published in various media; and
THAT Mr. George Rust D'eye be retained to represent Council and the Town of Aurora in these matters.
On a recorded vote the resolution was CARRIED.
YEAS: 8 NAYS: 1
VOTING YEAS: Councillors Collins-Mrakas, Gaertner, Granger,
MacEachern, Marsh, McRoberts, Wilson and
VOTING NAYS: Councillor Buck
IV READING OF BY-LAW
Moved by Councillor MacEachern Seconded by Councillor Gaertner
THAT the following listed by-law be given 1st, 2nd and 3rd readings, and enacted:
4970-07.C BEING A BY-LAW to
confirm actions by Council
resulting from Special meeting 07-28 of November 6, 2007.
On a recorded vote the by-law was ENACTED.
YEAS: 8 NAYS: 1
VOTING YEAS: Councillors Collins-Mrakas, Gaertner, Granger,
MacEachern, Marsh, McRoberts, Wilson and
VOTING NAYS: Councillor Buck
Moved by Councillor Collins-Mrakas
THAT the meeting be adjourned at 7:18 p.m.
Thursday, 1 November 2007
Someone told me once they admired my courage to say what I think, despite knowing I would be hated for it. If it was a compliment, I didn't deserve it. I don't believe a person should be hated for being straighforward. It doesn't take courage. All it takes is a powerful aversion to what passes for modern political discourse, a penchant for declaring the obvious and willingness to risk for the sake of honesty; like a player in a high stakes poker game.
After the recent provincial election, the usual lamentations were heard about voter indifference. Again we heard, there ought to be a law requiring people to vote.
What about a rule against simpering, insipid, nauseating, pandering, mind-deadening, scrupulously artificial twaddle spread around in layers thick enough to choke a hundred horses, to obscure the fact candidates are diverting attention from the things people are concerned about.
I have recently been frustrated in an effort to have council consider a review of signs in the North East Quadrant, locale of the infamous Traffic Calming Measures. My intention was to provide a measure of relief to neighbours who have been deprived of their right to use roads they have paid for. Three members supported re-consideration. Councillors Marsh, Collins-Mrakas and myself. Four, led by the Mayor, voted it down. Councillor McRoberts did not vote. Councillor MacEachern was absent.
My notice of motion experienced a relatively arduous process with repeated reference to requirements of the Procedural Bylaw. There seemed to be a peculiar determination to prevent the motion from appearing on the agenda or any other part of the public record, such as the Town's web site.
In an immediately previous meeting, other motions were verbally presented and voted upon, involving significant expenditures, without benefit either of notice or a motion in writing, of which both are requirements of the Procedural Bylaw. They were expedited by the presiding member, Mayor Morris, with no regard for the rules and without intervention from the Director of Corporate Services. It is his job it is to advise council against contravening the town's legislation. But nowadays in town, one risks one's job to do it properly.
One motion was to provide an additional $65,000 to satisfy the demands of a handful of residents on Knowles Crescent for the completion of their driveways. (The total has already escalated to $71,000.)
The second was to approve in principle $400,000 to the South Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority for a project they have in mind.
Both motions were made in immediate response to requests made by delegations to council. Even Sears could not beat that level of service. Buit we aim to please.
In this edition of The Auroran, is an advert displaying the motion so deliberately prevented from ever becoming public.
Municipalities are required by law to adopt a Procedure Bylaw for the purpose of consistency in orderly, open and transparent conduct of public business. Haphazard application is worse than no application. It bespeaks skullduggery.
Between Knowles and Holman Crescent there are a hundred homes. Tax revenue to the town from both streets , is approximately seventy thousand dollars. That's the amount of extra money provided over and above the million dollars spent to construct an upgraded road for fifty-one homes on Knowles Crescent.
Half of seventy-one thousand went into the hands of six residents to pay for driveway aesthetics far in excess of any neighbour on their street or mine.
At their request, Council sidelined Public Works and paid a consultant eleven thousand dollars to do their job. He sat down with residents and made a record of their requirements to present to council. It was received as information .
Anyone who wants to see how tax money was spent, should drive to Knowles Crescent and take a gander.
Do I take exception to mine and my neighbours' tax money being spent that way? Damn right, I do.
Had I voted for that, I would have been in breach of trust to the people who elected me. Malfeasance is the term used in the Oath of Office.
Monday, 15 October 2007
It involves an expenditure of millions, with Aurora's share $400.000 over six years with an annual contribution of almost $67,000. A verbal motion was instantly approved in principle to hand over the dough.
I objected to the suggestion the people of the two towns are responsible for the degradation of
A treatment plant had to be built at Alcona fifteen years ago because conditions almost to Lefroy were a serious health hazard.
Friday, 5 October 2007
Cost has balanced out across the community. Before we started this program, we were reconstructing and replacing underground services in the old part of town and everybody shared in the cost for that program. So... it has been fair and we have grown our assets.
Neighbourhoods built in the late fifties and sixties had semi-rural roads. Open ditches provided drainage and culverts under driveways. Road surfaces weren't much more than a sheet of asphalt thrown down like a table-cloth. Driveways were loose gravel.Only front yards were sodded.
Neighbourhoods have matured and the new roads really do add to real estate values. Many of us look forward to our turn, having had the chance to see how fantastic the improvement.
It seemed that's how it was going to be on Knowles Crescent until the curbs were installed.
There was still a layer of gravel and asphalt to be added but it looked like three or four driveways were so high and the road bed so low, that never the twain might meet.
Then the proverbial element hit the fan. Nothing said could assure a few residents the matter was well in hand. E-mails started flying, talk of legal action, a meeting with the Mayor, a court reporter present and a transcript prepared.
Out of that came the hiring of a consultant to consult with residents and explain the process. It cost $6,500.
To no avail. The consultant did not have the authority to give what these few decided they had to have. More talk of legal action.
The contractor, with two weeks left to complete the job, was ordered to stop.
Councillor MacEachern held a meeting with the disgruntled residents. Subsequently a delegation appeared at council with a list of complaints and demands.
On the spot, a much scribbled upon document from Councillor MacEachern was placed on the overhead and council, without ever having a document in hand, indicating what they were approving, made yet another $65,000 available to satisfy the demands of a few ...however reasonable they may or may not be.
In addition, the delegate, Ms. Bartolomeo asked for a “go-to person” to be named and that it not be the Town's Director of Public Works. She asked for Councillor MacEachern.
It was a bonanza night for demands from the public purse. Another resident staked her claim, in the name of her neighbours, to plan the landscape of Vandorf Sideroad. $6,000, not in the 2007 budget will be spent immediately on bushes and vines. There is a further invoice for $76,000 for the upcoming budget to fullfill that lady's wish list.
Last year, the town spent in excess of $2 million realigning a creek and constructing a road with a sufficient base to carry the weight of heavy industrial traffic. Vandorf is the designated route for truck traffic. It has been for thirty-six years. Residential streets in town are not designed for the purpose. Why would they be?
Now, I understand residents living south of Vandorf Sideroad have avowed their intent – the truck traffic will be removed. As we have had an election since they first raised the issue, we have no way of knowing as of this moment who may have promised what to the residents.
No doubt all will be revealed in the fullness of time. Stay tuned.
Saturday, 29 September 2007
In Aurora, the practice has been sanctioned by the Mayor and a council majority.
I am talking about the recent decision to hook up three lights belonging to Canadian Tire to the town's street lighting circuit. We don't know yet if Canadian Tire will permit it. Residents of the Mosaic Town House project have to approach the retailer to get his permission.
It all happened like this; at the last meeting of the last council prior to the election, an angry resident came to council and demanded the Town order Canadian Tire to turn the lights back on. For whatever reason, parking lot lights were being extinguished at ten-thirty p.m. The three lights in question illuminate an easement belonging to Canadian Tire that runs along the south side of their building . The resident was furious. Canadian Tire had to be ordered to keep those lights on.
Well, sure enough as soon as the election was over, in order of priority, after new desks were ordered for the councillors' office, there was immediate action by the mayor to "find a solution to the problem". The Planning Director, the Works Director, Canadian Tire the resident and the Mayor convened in an on site meeting. Council had already been advised by staff this was a private dispute. There had been an unsuccessful attempt to mediate by the Director of Public Works. The Town had no authority in the matter. The meeting did not produce a solution.
Months went by, one resident grew to five, the Mayor kept striving to find a way for the town to take ownership of " the problem". Finally, after many many hours of high price staff research of land titles the following information was unearthed:
Three parties share the Canadian Tire site. There are tri-party agreements There are seven pages of dispute resolution mechanisms attached to the agreements. The easement is intended for emergency access only . There had been previous communication between the parties which ended in stalemate.
Staff emphasized once again - The Town has neither authority nor responsibility to intervene or resolve the dispute.
No matter. Councillors, in the majority, disregarded the advice and declared the safety of residents at stake. We must ride to their rescue blowing our trumpets along the way.
Hence the decision. The town will rig the wiring, take power from street lighting and feed it to Canadian Tire's parking illumination. And no doubt maintain lights on private property forever and a day at taxpayers' expense.
And step right on up folks, take your best shot and win a valuable prize from the town's treasury. There are no limits and no rules that can't be changed or ignored to fit the circumstances.
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
Am I becoming cynical ? Perish the thought.
Have I , in the past, blinkered myself to reality?
I think not. Are we going through an arid patch? Hope springs eternal.
An election is being fought. Signs are up. Ad campaigns are in full swing. The media is trying to create a buzz. But oh my, ...it is all so predictable. So drab, so dreary, so artificial.
Dalton McGuinty has clever ads. Looking smooth and urbane, he talks about accomplishments that were not promised. He is peculiarly silent about the promises that were kept.
We have heard nothing from The Medical Association since Liberals came to power. The Teachers' Federations are conspicuous by their absence in this campaign . On the last election day, they promised if they did not get what they wanted from Liberals, they would do the same to them as they did to the Conservatives. We can only assume they did get all they wanted.
Police and Firefighters recently received a gift from McGuinty. Both associations have been given the right to negotiate earlier retirement with beefed up pension benefits.The cost will be borne at the municipal level. There will be justifiable reaction and consequences from other municipal employees. Police and fire already swallow up the greatest part of municipal resources.
At a time when "Legacy Pensions" are proving to be a serious problem in both the private and public sector, this government has seriously exacerbated the problem. And none of the challengers see that as a problem. As long as the public are not paying attention , they probably think it's best not spoken about. .. considering the collective power of The Medical .The Teachers' .The Police and Firefighters Associations
Children spend less time than ever in classrooms. An entire blog could be written about lessons they are no longer taught.
Horror stories abound of experience in hospital emergency rooms.
The variety of crime in our communities expands at a frightening pace. Credit cards are copied in retail establishments. Houses are stolen from beneath the feet of their owners. Marijuana farms flourish in suburbia. Homes are invaded and murders committed. Shootings and stabbings are daily occurrences on city streets. A Child was killed in cross-fire at two o'clock in the morning coming home from a friend's birthday party. He was twelve.
A million dollars of public funds was handed out in an unrequested grant to an ethnic cricket club. Mr McGuinty was an honoured guest at their annual dinner days later. The club has no use for the money. It is in their bank account earning interest.
Municipal governments, on the other hand, have been given the power to create a Code of Conduct. Like we are the ones who really need it.
The Mayor in Toronto has been given extra power which has blown up in his face and has the potential for even more catastrophe if the city implements the taxes he has in mind. In my judgement, it is no accident the taxes to be increased to add to Toronto's coffers are provincial. If they get away with that, how long before those increases are applied in the rest of the Province.
Mayor Miller and his wife have dinner meetings in his home with Premier McGuinty and his wife. Who knows what othere schemes they have devised between them.
So what is Challenger Tory encouraging us to think about? None of the above. Instead, he wants to provide public dollars to private religious schools and teach creationism.
Howard Hampton, the NDP leader is unlikely to expand the debate. New Democrats have long been established as the political arm of organized labour, to be used only to smite whoever holds power, with no serious intent to form a government. It was public service unions that defeated the first and last NDP government in Ontario.
The Neolithic Age, The Stone Age, The Iron Age, The Dark Ages, The Middle Ages, The Nuclear Age, The Age of Enlightenment, HA!
The Communication Age. The Space Age. And now, The Amorphous Blob Age complete with an election which offers us no principles, no philosophy, no intellect, no cultural identity, no choice.
Without a single shot being fired, we have surrendered all. We are The Age of Nothingness. Underneath it all, simmers a cauldron of dis-satisfaction, mutual disrespect and a sense of betrayal. The only response our politicians have to offer is Political Rectitude.
We are a Character Community. ... Pshaw!!!
Saturday, 22 September 2007
If there is no mayoralty contest in an election, only about twenty per cent of the electorate will turn out. With a contest, fifty per cent, give or take a point or two, will come out to make their choice. It isn't just because there is more advertising or more media attention. The community values the office.
The Mayor must be the voice of the community. With a divided council, that can't happen.
The Mayor is the public face of the community. A small business opening is the culmination of hopes and dreams and plans and sinking everything into a venture. Balloons, flags, flowers, coffee and cookies are the festivities. The Mayor's presence brings ceremony, community, and a blessing on the house.
A family marking a milestone birthday or anniversary or a final farewell are cheered or comforted by the Mayor's presence . It means the community cares.
Each councillor is a leader in his or her own right and has an obligation to meet their individual commitment. While the Mayor is only one of nine, nevertheless there is an expectation of leadership from the Chair.
To be a leader, The Mayor needs the respect and confidence of council. Councillors need to be able to trust and respect the Mayor. Councillors need to be respected by the Mayor. The formula is tried and true. If the Mayor does not succeed, neither does the council. If the council does not succeed, neither does the Mayor. If neither succeeds, the community flatlines. Even as the corporation flourishes , there is a perception of gridlock.
Building mutual trust and confidence takes time and goodwill. Paranoia is an occupational hazard for politicians.. Making a mistake is human. Not learning from the mistake is stupid. One-up-manship is the Joker in the Pack.
It 's not easy being Mayor. The weight cannot be shared. No matter how much one invests of oneself in time and energy, performance will often be judged by events beyond one's control. Council colleagues are closest to the action and best able to understand the stresses and strains . They can and should provide support when it's needed . It's never a good idea to gratuitously alienate half the council.
In my first term, I was appointed by council. The sitting Mayor found himself in a conflict. He had to resign immediately. Since I had won a vote considerably higher than the next man, the consensus was a new election was not warranted.
There never was an illusion within the council that the Mayor's office held power. There was prestige and a heavier work-load. But the idea the Mayor had "power" over council would have gone down like a lead balloon. We all needed each other.
For a council to be effective there has to be a common purpose. There was never any misapprehension that council could accomplish anything without support and guidance from staff either.
We had Clerk Bud Rodgers, Treasurer Bill Johnstone, Colleen Gowan, the clerk's assistant and Dorothy Wardle the treasury clerk.
We were a compact group. We did good stuff together. It was an exciting time and we set the town in a new direction. Over the years, there have been mis-steps but it has never gone backwards since.
The last several terms of council have been weird. I was an observer of the one before last. A member of the last and now again I have a front row seat, in public and private meetings. We are currently in the tenth month of a four year term. It is hard to see the current council being more productive than the last two. The same element of animosity persists. It divides the council and targets the administration. Spite for the sake of spite.
Politics at its best makes for strange bedfellows. People have different outlooks and that's essential for all round representation. It can be messy at times but it should always be real. Certainly there is no requirement for councillors to be fond of each other. Mutual respect for the obligation to do one's best as each person perceives it would be nice. Nastiness is corrosive.
In the last term,the toxicity was palpable. The same Unholy Trinity plus one exists in the current council.
In November 2003,the 2006 campaign for the Mayor's chair started. The sitting Mayor's life was made a a living hell. Nothing was allowed to be accomplished which could be credited to his effort. My own election was challenged. A re-count was ordered. No secret was made of the Trinity's disgust at the electorate's failure to sweep "The Old Guard " from office.
Now the balance has shifted. The Mayor's chair is in the hands of "The new Guard". The puzzle now, considering recent experience, why would anyone imagine the only skill necessary to be an effective Mayor is to win enough votes.
Monday, 3 September 2007
Blogging however changes everything. It's exciting but scary too. There are restraints in the traditional practice of politics. Rules of Order require civility in the exchange of views. Carefully chosen words to avoid giving offence. The rquirement to express one's view with all the vehemence one can muster while showing respect for a completely opposite perspective.
Civility is essential for orderly debate. Rules of order must be impartially applied. Members should know the rules and stay within their parameters. If, however, the presiding member doesn't have a clue, it takes longer for new members to acquire the skills.
John West once told me I make people feel stupid. I had heard it before. In a mayoralty debate, the challenger complained to the chairman that my answers were longer than his. I said that was because I knew more than he did. But John's comment had an edge to it and I am fastidious about presenting my arguments respectfully. I cannot answer for people feeling stupid after I have said my piece.
So that brings me to the last two acusations against me from my critical correspondent.... I am "not respectful of other people's ideas nor of the need for co-ordination".
If that means I am not willing to agree to ideas not, in my view, to the benefit of the people I represent, my critic is correct. If it means I am not prepared to skip to The Grand Old Duke of York, when I think the Town's business is going to Hell in a Handbasket, I acknowledge that too.
I did not run in the last election on a campaign platform with a slate of candidates and I am certainly not interested in helping them to achieve their questionable objectives.
I shall use my Blog to keep my readers informed of all efforts to do stuff that I believe is harmful to their interest.
Saturday, 1 September 2007
When I was a very new resident of Aurora the water was stored in a tank above our heads . We drained it one night. Too many people had sprinklers running at the same time.
To refill the tank, water had to be pumped up faster than it could be allowed to come down. The works department was frantically touring the neighbourhood with a loud -speaker telling people to turn off sprinklers. If they didn't see it happening, they jumped out of the truck, ran up the driveway and turned it off themselves. It was a crisis.
New as we were, we had no idea of how the system worked. A significant number of us were refugees from war-torn Europe. The Suez Crisis had been one too many. We nevertheless knew who to blame . and It wasn't us. We had annual elections in those days. I ran for council that year. My issue was the town's incompetence at managing the water system.
The Region has been created since then. For the same purpose as when Metro Toronto was formed twenty-six years earlier. Immigration was encouraged by national policies. Population was exploding. It meant small communities around Toronto would be pressured for development. They didn't have the tools to handle it. Horror tales abounded of stuff going on between politicians and developers.
The Region of York was formed with similar responsibility for planning and providing hard services. The Province passed The Planning Act. Municipalities were required to create Official Plans.
Without going into detail, it has to be said, municipalities are governed completely by Provincial legislation. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. When an application for development is received , precise and detailed steps must be followed. In Aurora, no plan of subdivision ever receives approval without every 't' being crossed and 'i' dotted.
In the past forty-five years, Aurora's growth has been slow and methodical. Our reputation for meticulous attention to detail may have had some efffect. From a developer's perspective, it wouldn't make sense to go through a laborious process in Aurora, while other municipalities were anxious to welcome the population to support new commercial development which is the gravy in the assessment pot. We were intent on not making mistakes which could not be corrected and the community fully supported that principle.
We are currently at the stage of a finite supply of water and sewage units from the region. Applications which have been approved have service allocations. .There is no mechanism to turn the clock back.
Millions of private dollars have been spent to bring lands to development status. Millions of public dollars have been invested to provide the services to make it happen sensibly. Million dollar facilities and services have been financed in anticipation of revenues from development charges and to meet the needs in advance of the new population.The process has taken years on the part of landowners, municipalities and the Province.
Though I was hardly aware of the difference it would make to my life and my family when we made our home in Aurora, I will always be profoundly grateful we received the opportunity.
The crisis that occuirred that hot, dry summer evening has been seized upon as a reason to stop issuing building permits .. I can understand residents without familiarity with the planning process arriving at what seems to be a logical conclusion:..... there was no water in the taps one evening, therefore no further homes should be built.
What I cannot understand is why people who have been elected, are in a position to know better and are responsible for communicating accurate information to the public, appear to be intent on exploiting the situation to lead a crusade based on a false premise which will cause chaos and confusion, exorbitant legal costs for taxpayers and no good purpose served.
When we have public servants on the one hand offering factual information and on the other elected officials saying something they know is not true, is it any wonder there is a loss of public confidence in our institutions? Who are people supposed to believe? Should they have to make a choice? I think not.
Wednesday, 29 August 2007
The special events co-ordinator of the town has organized these evenings for years. They plan the programs and find the sponsors. Home Hardware was the sponsor last week. People are able to enjoy quality entertainment and it doesn't cost them a cent.
Staff salaries of course are paid out of taxes, but year round there are fun things going on for the entertainment of people of all generations. Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves of the good things happening and the people who work for us with energy and enthusiasm.
This year we did not have a July 1st Parade. On the other hand, the celebration at Lambert Wilson Park gets better every year. The parents and children who flock to the park leave no doubt the events are well received.
Still, the lament for the Parade was loud and bitter. Considering the glory days of the July 1st Parade were due entirely to community volunteers and an entire year of hard work, commitment and ingenious planning by literally dozens if not hundreds of people, I find it hard to understand the sharpness and the target of the criticism.
If the volunteers are not there to throw heart and soul into the enormous undertaking of a successful parade, just who is it who has the right to stand on the sidelines and shout recriminations?
I do not consider The Farmers' Market in the class of a July 1st Celebration or a summer concert in the park. But If some people are charmed by the opportunity to shop for fresh produce from a stall on a Saturday morning, that's fine with me.
If entrepreneurs want the opportunity to ply their wares at a stall on a Saturday morning, I find nothing objectionable about that either.
What I do not understand is why I should be expected to jump at the chance to put my hand in someone else's pocket for money so others can enjoy shopping at a market?
Neither do I understand why all the checks and balances in place to ensure accountability in public spending should be set aside, so that some or any politician can set himself up as a heroic figure of famers market enterprise. Any day now ,I expect to see a statue in the Temperance Street parking lot of a man in a toga wearing a laurel wreath on his head.
If I wanted to indulge myself as a rip-roaring critic of any person thus far involved with The Aurora Market, the only thing stopping me is my own discipline. Thus far, I have confined myself to simple disagreement that the town's taxpayers should be required to contribute anything at all towards the success of what I perceive to be a commercial endeavour.
The Market has been in place four years. Every year, vendors return. That has to be taken as a sign of success. Why else would a farmer from Uxbridge drive to Aurora every Saturday to peddle his wares? Why would he imagine he has a right to demand taxpayers of Aurora should dig into their pockets to help finance his endeavour?
I do not agree with colleagues who apparently fancy they are presiding over the burgeoning treasury of a Charitable Foundation, a Service Club or a Philanthropic Organization. They scatter money about like flower petals on a Path of Righteousness. I don't do that with my own resources. I am not about to do it with money belonging to people who trusted me not to.
Sunday, 26 August 2007
.Character assassination is not an unusual gambit in politics.. I tend to discount its effectiveness.
Particularly if I am not in a contest for one particular office. But it was effective and it is continuing now, only more openly. A sequence of letters in The Auroran repeat the same phrases; " small- minded , mean-spirited" and deplore the fact there were people who marked a cross beside my name on the ballot." One writer suggested I won votes only because my name was first on the ballot.
Virulent letters tell more about the writer than they do about the target. Yet I know from experience if something is repeated often enough without challenge, it is eventually accepted as fact. Heretofore I have accepted there is not much one can do to counteract the attacks. So I have given my detractors the back of my hand. But things are different now. We have the internet.
So... what to do what to do. How does one defend oneself against an insidious campaign of hate mail? Should one even try? To engage on its level is unlikely to be effective. How would one do that anyway?
"You are small-minded."
"Am Not. "
"You are mean-spirited."
"You should never have been elected."
My critical blog correspondent rose to my challenge this morning. She still did not reveal her identity. But she did specify a list of my sins.
blame-finding for water shortage
Aurora Farmers' Market attitude
refusal to honor the ideas of others
refusal to embrace the concept of co-operation.
The list opens a host of opportunities for discussion.
I assume my critic is a council member because I do use the internet to correspond with colleagues.in open dialogue.The most recent exchange was my response to an e-mail sent to staff from Mayor Morris. Councillors received a copy.
The Mayor notified staff that in her absence at a conference, she had appointed Councillor McEachern to the position of Deputy-Mayor. Councillor McRoberts was also attending the conference.
I informed the Mayor, with respect, the authority to appoint a Councillor to the position of Deputy -Mayor rests with the council. The Mayor responded thanking me for the information. She stated had she thought of it, she would have made the recommendation at the previous council meeting.
I responded I was glad that had not happened. I would have been unable to support the recommendation and I would not have relished giving my reasons in a public forum. I did however provide them in an e-mail circulated to councillors including the Mayor. It was a blunt statement of facts as I see them.
. Mayor Morris has made no secret of her alliance with Councillor McEachern from the beginning of the term. Impartiality from the chair is non-existent. The clerk has been removed from his place at the left hand of the Chair and the CAO from the right .. The Mayor and Councillor McEachern are openly in control They frequently engage in private dialogue. There are no rules, save the ones the Mayor chooses to exercise.
There is no respect for the essential principle of debate. . No recognition that council is composed of nine members. With control of five votes, there is no need for full and respectful consideration of input from every councillor. . It even seems like some decisions are made before they come to the table.
As a councillor with a substantial background of how things ought to be, I have probably experienced a level of frustration not shared by my colleagues. From time to time, I have reacted. Meetings extending to midnight and beyond have become the rule rather than the exception. There is a total lack of imperative from the chair Because all other efforts have failed and to make a point, I have decided I will not sit past 11 p.m. The hour of adjournment is 10.30p.m.
If anything is being accomplished, I stay. If the meeting has ground to a halt with idle chit-chat from the chair I leave...
As bad as it has been, I do see small signs of improvement . We still have time to discover there is a great deal more satisfaction in working together to accomplish the town's business rather than carrying on the Endless, Pointless , Dance of the Pecking Order.
Four years is a long time to keep butting heads.
Monday, 13 August 2007
Questions from callers allowed him to reinforce his arguments: Toronto needs more money. Million dollar programs mandated by the Province and the responsibility of the Province are being paid from property tax.
Cost of security at the provincial courts is charged to the city. Toronto receives a bill for "catastrophic" drug benefits of $140 million. It includes special benefits for the disabled.
What the Mayor did not say was that all municipalities pay the cost of these services. There is a total lack of integrity in these and other programs like ambulance service being charged to municipal government. They are services to people not property. They should be paid from the myriad of relevant taxes collected from people by the Province.
Municipal governments should be making the case together for the people we serve. Toronto would find itself in a more secure position if they chose to align themselves with the rest of us. Over the years however, they have used municipalities around them as the whipping boy when making the case to the Province for relief from this burden. And they have been successful.
For example, each year, for ten years, two hundred million dollars have been siphoned from the pockets of property owners in the GTA and funnelled into Toronto's treasury to pay for social housing and other services inaccessible to non-residents of the city.
There were other revelations during the phone-in program. David Miller served one term as councillor before becoming Mayor of Toronto. He has no experience of how things were. He disclosed City property-owners are getting a good deal on their taxes. He proclaimed with satisfaction they are paying 15% less than any other municipality around them.
It was a startling revelation. It has been known in the hinterlands that people in Toronto pay less tax than the rest of us. In fact, because Toronto refused to adopt market value assessment thirty years ago, propertry taxes within Metro have not been even for decades The fallout from his glib comment about their lower tax rate may yet be felt.
A few weeks ago, The Toronto Star editorialised that Toronto's neighbours should join the city to convince the Province of the inequity of municipal property-owners paying for provincial programs.
If the Province were to stop pandering to the city and the city to stop plundering her neighbours,we might yet arrive at the place where we could stand united and make a difference for the people we serve. All depends on the rediscovery of the dual principles of integrity and equity at Queen's Park versus ignorance and arrogance at Queens Street(City Hall). In this matter,The Toronto Star has not exactly been a beacon of enlightenment.
We will not hold our breath. As long as people outside the city are ignorant of the reality, provincial politicians have not much to fear from property-owners at large.
Sunday, 12 August 2007
Friday, 10 August 2007
Media reports on the melodrama of the city's politics has made for interesting summer reading . In times past. we always knew what was going on in other municipalities. Nowadays we know more about what is happening in Kandahar. Baghdad and Kosovo than we do about happenings on our own doorstep. We have learned more about the new City of Toronto in the last several weeks than we learned in the nine years since the Province amalgamated several boroughs into a single unit for the purpose of saving money.
Media coverage, questions not asked, editorials unwritten and some written have been both revealing and astonishing for their lack of analysis.
We had heard references to the increased power of Toronto's Mayor. We had to wait until now to see how it works. It seems the essence of the Mayor's power is the authority to appoint an executive committee numbering a majority of council. The Mayor is able to hand-pick twenty-three members for his power block. According to media interpretation, a condition of membership is slavish obedience to the Mayor's will.
The power however is apparently illusory. In the current controversy, one member chose to exercise his own judgement and that completely upset the apple cart. Speculation is, the recalcitrant member will be dumped from the power elite. First however he had to be dumped upon by various other members of the power elite. Name calling runs freely in Toronto City Council.
Heretofore , much has been made of Toronto's new power to raise revenues by taxes other than property taxes. The Mayor apparently lobbied for that from the provincial Government. I have never understood why a municipal official would consider that an asset.
But the two "new" taxes recommended are not new at all.They are not even Municipal. The Mayor and his power elite have proposed to double The Land Transfer Tax and the Vehicle Permit Fee . These are Provincial Taxes.
When and how did the Government of Ontario grant Toronto the authority to tap in to Provincial tax programs. . What game is being played here? Who are the players?
There is a game. No doubt about it. The Minister responsible for the Vehicle Permit Fee has been quoted that if city council passed it , there is no guarantee the Ministry would collect double the Vehicle Permit Fee.
The Provincial Treasure has been quoted ,there will be no further bail-out for the city from the Provincial Treasury. Yet doubling two provincial taxes and funnelling funds to the City Treasury certainly would be a bail-out .
The Premier on the other hand, has publicly scolded city councillors who failed to support the Mayor's recommendation for the "new" taxes. Now the question is: Which of these three are speaking for the Province ? And what does this mean for the rest of us?
Another weird angle about doubling the Vehicle Permit Fee is that Ontario residents can obtain their permits from any Ministry of Transportation Office Why buy it in Toronto when it can be bought elsewhere for half the price? . How can the province charge city residents double the fee paid elsewhere in the province based on address alone? Where is the logic ?Where is the equity?
Ninety-eight per cent of Toronto drivers are probably paying little attention to the summer political histrionics going on in their city But if that tax gets approved before the Provincial election , that ought be enough for another fifty nails in the Provincial Liberal Coffin.
The Land Transfer Tax increase is just as questionable.There may not be as many property sales in Toronto as there are car drivers , but vendors will certainly become aware of the inequity; real estate agents, lawyers and developers will make certain of that. Every extra cost is an irritant at the time of such a serious transaction..
There have been other revelations in the course of this public discussion .None has been more disappointing than the belligerent and truculent manner of the August Mayor of Toronto. They haven't had a Mayor with flare in Toronto since Phil Givens held the office for one term in the late sixties.
But perhaps the most significant revelation is that the city has finally been brought into step with the rest of the province in the assessment of property at current value. It is thirty-five years since the Province took over assessment from the municipalities. The purpose was to bring equity to the assessment process. The Province had been providing support to municipalities based on their assessment wealth. If there was no common measurement,there was no equity in support. Municipalities had been known to fudge.
The problem was, the City of Toronto for decades , refused to agree to re-assessment.Only Toronto the Powerful could get away with that.Tiny Perfect David Crombie was in charge at that time. William Grenville Davis was the premier.
A quoted remark by a city councillor in response to published criticism by some Mississauga Councillors has revealed the City is finally having to deal with the adoption of current value assessment. The Councillor apparently had no idea the rest of the province had weathered that storm thirty-five years ago.
The greatest impact of course is on wealthy and elite old established neighbourhoods . They have not been paying their fair share for decades.Apparently, they are currently dealing with 8% tax increases quite separate from any impact the 2007 budget might cause.
And therein I suspect lies the real reason Toronto dare not raise property taxes to meet the real cost of their expenditures and risk the ire of prominent homeowners and businesses in the city. For thirty-five years, they have dodged the bullet one way or another . The attempt at doubling two provincial taxes, with the apparent support of Premier Dalton McGuinty ,is just the latest dodge. It has not
But the game is still being played and we are more than just onlookers.
Monday, 6 August 2007
People are happy to talk to visitors about their town. It was no different in Charlottetown. I had a thousand questions and they cheerfully chatted.
I wondered why the Conference Centre, a concrete block building, was built up against the small hundred year old jewel of the Parliament Building. The Liberals told me it had been a bitter controversy and a few more salacious tales besides.
The concrete flower boxes outside the building had at some time split apart and were bolted together with iron bars. The earth they held had not been disturbed for some time. Dandelions were the only thing blooming. There were thousands of delegates from all over Canada at that conference. The Queen was making a visit two or three days after we left.
In my walks to and from the centre, I noticed several piles of unidentifiable material at the side of the roads. Cigarette butts were prominent. It turned out they were the sweepings from the street. The piles were periodically removed.
A hairdresser told me she was looking forward to going to her cottage at the week-end. I asked about city beaches. She said they were unuseable. The ocean was polluted by city sewage.
I noticed many old mansions lining the beautiful wide sweep that was the the main street. Where there should have been lawns and gardens, there was hard-packed dirt and scattered strollers and bicycles. They were being used as multiple rentals.
If there is such a thing among us as National Pride. If towns and cities hold the key, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Banff are eminent examples of the value we place on our history and heritage. They are magnificent.
Yet Charlottetown, where the Fathers of Confederation met and hammered out the terms of agreement. They walked those streets, stayed at that hotel, vsited and no doubt consulted with the residents of those old mansions and they accomplished something which had been tried and failed repeatedly. They created the nation whiich every one of us is privileged to share. Charlottetown in the mid-seventies, several years after the wonderfully successful national celebration of Canada's Centennial, Charlottetown languished in shabby and shameful neglect.
It was with a mixture of sadness and anger I wrote a subsequent column.
Some Aurora residents expressed surprise that I did not enjoy Prince Edward Island. I had obviously failed to make my point.
I remember nothing of the merits of the conference. But I remember Charlottetown.
Saturday, 4 August 2007
I remember attending the annual conference of the Canadian Conference of Mayors and Municipalities in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in the early seventies. I had heard much about the Province. It was a popular vacation destination with Aurora residents.
I stayed in a motel at the opposite end of the main street from the Conference Centre. I walked to and from the Centre more than twice some days. Alma Walker, a regional councillor from Markham had a room in the beautiful vintage hotel across the street from the Centre. She invited a bunch of regional councillors to her room one evening.
There was a reception at the former home and gardens of a Lieutenant Governor. It was a lovely old colonial mansion. Margaret Britnell, Mayor of King, was at the conference. Margaret was a prominent Liberal and made contact with Liberals wherever she went in Canada. I was invited along to the home of Charlottetown Liberals for a pleasant evening of conversation. Of course it was political... and mostly local.
There was a bus tour of the Island for delegates, a lobster fest, and an ocean ferry trip. If the objective was to familiarise the delegates from cities across Canada to the charms of Prince
Edward Island, it was eminently successful.
Charlottetown has a substantial Lebanese community. They seemd like Greeks to me. Generous in hospitality, with a love of life and laughter and a passion for politics.
David Crombie, Mayor of Toronto, was at the Conference staying at the same motel as myself. He never seemed to attend any of the sessions. He held court at the motel swimming pool. People had audiences in his presence. He left on Sunday. A particular vote did not go his way and he indicated, with a departing flourish, Toronto would withdraw from the organization.
Member fees were based on per capita or some such measurement. If Toronto withdrew
that signalled one of two things. Fees from every other member would escalate. Or, the organisation would collapse. Or, the first would predicate the second with the same result Toronto is still doing stuff like that.
With the exception of Alberta and the North West Territories, I visited every capital city in Canada while I was in office. It was great to see how people lived in other places and how cities functioned. It broadened my perspective. I believe it made me a better Mayor.
Sunday, 15 July 2007
The situation was typical. Council meanders. There is little semblance of debate and few recognizable rules of order. The hour of adjournment passes and talk continues until close to midnight. An in-camera meeting often carries on after that before staff and council wind their weary way home in the wee small hours of the morning.
The early part of the last meeting was quite bizarre. The first delegate had to be assisted to the microphone. She explained she had been in an accident. She needed help to finance a Literary Festival in East Gwillimbury. She listed names of renowned authors who would be participating.. .. Never heard of any of them. It was not clear who would be benefiting. She assured Council she was a professional and we could be confident the affair would be well organized.
The request met none of the town's criteria for grants. It was refused. The delegate had to be assisted back up the stairs. On leaving the council chamber however, she suddenly became quite self-sufficient and firmly elbowed her way out of the Town Hall - but not before we had spent a considerable amount of time on a sympathetic hearing.
The second request was for free use of a facility that accommodates 200 people, to entertain thirty-two people for ten hours. The facility was already booked on the required date. The delegate wanted chairs, tables, kitchen and the Seniors' dishes . The program was a student exchange. Ten students were involved, two from Aurora. The cost of the request was $1 thousand dollars. The exchange was with the Town of Leksand - Aurora's twin in Sweden. The delegate needed an immediate decision.
The decision was no, but only after another lengthy hearing and staff were directed to find alternate space. The following day, in an e-mail, the delegate requested a letter to go to Sweden explaining why the accommodation was not being made available.
The third request was for a two thousand dollar contribution for a private playground in a Co-op. It was argued by council a Co-op is non-profit. It was granted.
We have several Co-ops in Aurora. They were all sponsored by community organisations. Mortgages were financed with a preferred rate of interest from the two senior levels of government. While they live there, residents have all the responsibilities and rights of ownership. They elect a board of management. They share regular maintenance chores to keep costs down. They must qualify by income to live there. If they do not meet their responsibilities, they are invited to leave. They are not people in need.
Other Co-ops provide and maintain their own playgrounds. The town provides and maintains public playgrounds. But in this instance, we dug our hands into the taxpayers pockets and helped to provide a private one. At the same time, for the the third year running, we cut a playground that needed to be replaced out of the budget to keep the tax increase down.
The town has a grant policy for a couple of very practical reasons. The first is to assure residents of equal treatment. The second is to take the decision out of the hands of politicians and provide futher assurance that money isn't being handed out because of having friends in high places.
It is not working. Hasn't for some time. When I came back on Council in 2004, it seemed to me council could easily be mistaken for a Charitable Foundation or a Philanthropic Organization. It almost seemed there was a competition to find places to distribute public funds.
Last term, we sent money to an outfit in Georgina that claimed to be saving Lake Simcoe. They forwarded their request by mail. We didn't even ask why they needed the money. We likely sent a cheque with a covering letter. For all we knew, they might have been planning a boozy executive night out on a boat on Lake Simcoe.
The same year, we dug into the pockets of Aurora taxpayers to "Save Lake Simcoe". The Lake Conservation Authority had a budget of $64 million dollars. Their mandate is the care and maintenance of Lake Simcoe.
When I was a member of the Ontario Social Assistance Review Board, I visited towns, cities, villages and homes all over the Province. Georgina was an occasional destination. Their building is a former seminary. The council chamber is the former chapel. Council sits on a dais that was the former altar.
In the reception area, there was a glass display case enclosing a fur clad fish. It had a brass plate identifying it as having been hooked in a Georgina Ice Fishing Derby. It was in a trophy case.
Whether it was an example of what was right or wrong with the Lake I do not know. It certainly rooted me to the spot momentarily.