"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Thursday 31 May 2007

Another Pat on the Back

HEATHER'S NOTE: Below is an email exchange between Evelyn and a young Aurora citizen. I thought this was definitely worth posting. I've removed the young man's name.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Name Removedl" <_________@aci.on.ca
To: evelynb@aci.on.ca
Sent: Saturday, May 26, 2007 12:00 AM
Subject: Regarding your Blog

Dear Ms. Buck:

My name is ______________, a local Aurora resident (recently 18 years of age), and an avid reader of your blog online. I just wanted to take the time to comment on a recent town council meeting I had the opportunity to watch in which you suggested the potential for publishing town
council meetings onto the Town of Aurora's website. I think this is an excellent idea. It's not always convienient to sit down and watch ACI's channel 10 at the prescribed times that town council meetings air, and I think this would be an excellent way to make local politics more
accessible to people of younger ages.

On that note, I just wanted to comment / commend you on your adopted use of technology to get your ideas across. I take great pleasure in reading your blog, and I have quoted your writing in several occasions in politics papers I have written for various assignments.

Thank you for making your viewpoints, idealisms, and thoughts accessible for everyone. Your transparency in those matters has not only increased my interest in municipal politics, but it has driven me to pursue involvement in it.

Sincerely yours,

Farewell to Cooky

Cooky Ellis is a truly beautiful human being. Warm, friendly and completely competent in her job. In many instances, Cooky gave face to the Mayor's office. She was the first contact people had, she was always helpful and kind. Parents and children had their contact with the town made memorable by Cooky's welcome. She made them feel immediately comfortable.

For a councillor needing assistance, nothing was ever too much trouble. From the time of the election she was always available no matter the issue. Always glad to be able to help. Our Inaugurals were always organized with more than a touch of class.

Her good humour was unfailing. Her laughter infectious. Even when her heart was heavy with personal grief, she was always ready to make herself available to assist in whatever way she could.

I consider such an employee as Cooky worth many, many times the salary paid. Not just for the daily excellence of performance - not just for going above and beyond or for the institutional memory.

It is simply not true that a person such as Cooky or Wayne Jackson can be easily replaced. What is lost, may be replaced. It cannot be recovered.

After six months of the current administration, Cooky Ellis has taken her leave of the Town of Aurora. She left on Monday May 28th at the end of the workday.

Tuesday 29 May 2007


HEATHER'S NOTE: Spring is a time for change, rebirth, and rejuvenation. To that end, Evelyn and I are revamping both her website, and the blog. I know that some readers have the existing blog tagged as an RSS feed - you might want to set one up for this blog as well.

Please visit Evelyn's Website Itself to see what we're up to. I'm still learning something new every day and so the site will continue its metamorphosis. ~HEATHER SISMAN

Noah's Modern-Day Plight

ORIGINALLY POSTED Thursday, May 17, 2007

In the year 2007, the Lord came unto Noah, who was now living in Canada, and said, "Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and see the end of all flesh before me.

Build another Ark and save 2 of every living thing along with a few good humans."

He gave Noah the blueprints, saying, "You have 6 months to build the Ark before I will start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights."

Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard - but no Ark.

"Noah!" He roared , "I'm about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?"

"Forgive me, Lord," begged Noah, "but things have changed. I needed a building permit. I've been arguing with the inspector about the need for a sprinkler system. My neighbors claim that I've violated the neighborhood zoning laws by building the Ark in my yard and exceeding the height limitations. We had to go to the Development Appeal Board for a decision.

Then the Hydro One demanded a bond be posted for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions, to clear the passage for the Ark's move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they would hear nothing of it.

Getting the wood was another problem. There's a ban on cutting local trees in order to save the spotted owl. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls - but no go!

When I started gathering the animals, an animal rights group sued me. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued the accommodation was too restrictive , and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space.

Then the Ministry of the Environment ruled that I couldn't build the Ark until they'd conducted an environmental impact study on your proposed flood.

I'm still trying to resolve a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on how many minorities I'm supposed to hire for my building crew. Immigration and Naturalization are checking the Visa status of most of the people who want to work. The trades unions say I can't use my sons. They insist I have to hire only Union workers with Ark-building experience.

To make matters worse, the Revenue Canada seized all my assets, claiming I'm trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species.

So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this Ark."

Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky. Noah looked up in wonder and asked, "You mean you're not going to destroy the world?"

"No," said the Lord. "The government beat me to it."

A Promise Not Kept

ORIGINALLY POSTED Thursday, April 26, 2007

Three years ago The Aurora Historical Society at their request, negotiated a legal agreement with the Town of Aurora to take responsibility for the interior renovations of the venerable Church Street School and for the eventual operation of the completed project as a Heritage Centre.

Last week, the Society decided by a vote, the over-all responsibility was too great for a volunteer organization to handle. Council was informed through a staff report received on Monday April 23rd and discussed during a joint meeting between council and The Society.

During the three years of the agreement, considerable work was undertaken. False ceilings, constructed decades ago to conserve energy were removed to reveal original tin tiles. Windows were re-glazed with authentic single-paned glass. Some of the the work was done by volunteers some of it was paid for by the Society and they continued to raise funds to complete the renovations. Council had no input in these matters. The last thing the town paid for was $117 thousand for a sprinkler system.

Late in the last term of council, a motion was presented, recommending sufficient funds be provided to allow the project to be completed. At that time, The Historical Society had been successful in raising $800,000. The estimated cost of the project was $1.2 million. Subsequent meetings between staff and the Society indicated the funds needed would be substantially more than first expected. Figures floated at that time were $1.5 million.

In the current term, for budget discussion, a motion was again presented to make the financial commitment to realize completion of the project. Further discussions were held to ascertain anticipated costs . A new motion was made that Council meet in camera to become educated in the history of Church Street School, Library Square and the disposition of the remaining Hydro asset, namely the building on Industrial Parkway. The motion failed on a five/four vote.

On March 20th , Council was informed architects had been retained and plans completed to terms of reference of The Historical Society . $100 thousand of their resources had been expended on those services. Council received a presentation and an outline of the plans and finally the estimated costs of the project. The figure had increased to $2.2 million plus a number of other items to bring the costs to almost $3 million.

It is currently recommended, resources be withdrawn from the Hydro Reserve Fund sufficient to cover the entire cost of the project. A bylaw passed by the previous council requires that notice of thirty days be given for funds to be withdrawn from the Hydro Reserve. The whole council must be present for the vote.

There will be an open house in the Church Street School at the end of May.The public will be able to view the plans. Council will have an opportunity to examine the plans and determine that they will meet the different needs of a town operated facility.

I have serious misgivings.

Until last Fall, the understanding has always been The Historical Society would, by their own commitment and with their funds, turn the Church Street School into a functioning Heritage Centre. Since 1969, millions of dollars had already been expended. Until last Monday, The Society was committed to the responsibility of operating the facility after its completion.

They have undertaken certain works - the main one being the retention of architects and completion of plans to fulfill their design.

Without prior consultation, and despite a legal agreement they sought themselves, the Society has withdrawn from their commitment.

As a consequence, the town is being backed into a decision with long range implications. Namely, the operation and staffing of a facility, including a museum, having had no input in the design process - with operating costs and staff funded from a tax levy. Millions more than anticipated are to be withdrawn from an asset belonging to the community-at-large.

I am not confident the public interest is being duly served. There has been no time for transparency - no opportunity for reflection or for participation.

The public have no idea of what is proposed.There has been no opportunity for a consensus to be taken.

I take no comfort from these circumstances.

Sheppard's Fields

ORIGINALLY POSTED Friday, April 20, 2007

I only had one concern about the decision to use artificial turf on the Sheppard's bush soccer fields.

The town does not own the property and $600,000.00 is a sizable chunk of change to spend on property we don't own.

We have an understanding with South Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority. But they do not own it either. I think it's time we proposed to Ontario Heritage the property should be turned over to the town for a dollar. It's not that crazy. but it is another story.

Right now, there are many people in town upset because of the understanding we are adding six hundred thousand dollars to the tax bill to do this project .. In fact taxes are not being used for this purpose. The money has been obtained from development. It was taken as cash in lieu of parks and can only be used for recreational purposes. According to provincial regulations, 90% of a recreation project can be paid for with development charges, 10% must be paid for by the community.

Leisure Services Director Al Downey suggested to the soccer association, they should pay the 10%, and they agreed. Installation is being done by our parks department. No money is being spent that doesn't need to be spent.

People have written about the beauty of natural grass. It is beautiful but it's not natural. Herbicides must be used on the fields to keep them in that condition. They can only be played on twice a day. They cannot be used at all in wet weather. Maintenance is heavy for such limited use.

The advantages of artificial turf are several. There is no need for herbicides. Maintenance is minimal. Snow can be cleared from it, , allowing it to be used for extra months. The location already has lights, so it can be used in the dark. Unlimited games can be played on this material.

We are currently dependent on a number of private fields to accommodate the sport. Even so, we are under continual pressure to provide additional facilities. The numbers keep growing. That is something I wonder about.

The sum and substance of artificial turf is that the stuff is practical. It has been used elsewhere and is proven. It is not cheap, but the money used to pay for it must be used for this or a similar purpose . It substantially increases the use of the Sheppard's fields. It saves on maintenance. It takes off the pressure to provide more fields.

I am not inclined to extravagance with my own or the town's resources. I believe the decision is sound.

Intuition versus Cold Clammy Calculation

ORIGINALLY POSTED Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bill Cosby was a guest on David Letterman’s program. Letterman was celebrating his sixtieth birthday.

Cosby's current humour is about aging. He said he has not taken to the computer. He is a Number 2 Yellow. All he needs is a piece of paper and a pencil.

Cosby is an old-fashioned comic. His humour comes from things that happen in everybody's life. He is not lewd. He has no use for unacceptable language. He is as astute now as he ever was. Still, if he has never used the computer, he knows not what he misses. There lies a field with an ever-ready harvest.

I am not proficient in the use of this technology but I continue to marvel at the material available at the tips of my fingers.

I have mentioned my dislike of Stephen Harper as the Prime Minister of Canada. These days the media are full of verbiage about how he has taken hold of the office. The Liberals lost the last election. He slipped into the void.

They fill the pages with irrelevant chatter about Belinda Stronach's personal associations but tell little about Stephen Harper's significant apprenticeship.

The morning after election, they showed him taking his children to school in his great coat and leather gloves. He shook hands with his very young son at the school gate.

Yesterday, when I was writing the Vimy Ridge Blog, I thought I had better verify my understanding of this man's background. Why is it, I wonder, so easy for me to find what everyone should know yet journalists, who make their living from communication are content to skim the surface of this particular pool?

I met someone in Aurora during an election in the seventies who claimed to be a Libertarian. He was eager to explain the philosophy. I thought then that must be what fascism is about.

People should take care of their own needs. They dont need government to do it for them. People who can't take care of their own needs should just be allowed to fall by the wayside. It's the law of the jungle. The survival of the fittest. It is the mantra of people without a social conscience.

I remembered the full page ads of the National Citizens Coalition which was the Libertarian group. I went into Wikipedia to confirm what I knew.

They claim membership of thousands but don’t release names. They collect dues but hold no membership meetings. They have legally challenged electoral financing laws limiting third-party advertising spending during election campaigns.

The organization was founded in 1967 by a wealthy insurance executive named Colin M. Brown, to fight against the creation of Public Health Care. The American Medical Industry involved themselves heavily in that fight.

In 1993, they supported Stephen Harper's successful bid to be elected as a Reform Party M.P. In 1997, he resigned his seat to become a Vice President of the organization. In 1998, he became President. In 2002, he resigned as President to seek the leadership of the Canadian Alliance Party.

We all know about the deal the Canadian Alliance made with potato-head Peter McKay to take over the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. That which was made moribund by that other Champion of Self-Sufficiency, Brian Mulroney. It was a deal McKay promised he would not make.

The trail is still fresh. Nothing is secret about Harper's path to power. Still the media makes only purring noises about his success as a Prime Minister. Even as he shows them nothing but the back of his hand.

Monday 28 May 2007

Rationale for War - Or The Lack Thereof

ORIGINALLY POSTED Friday, April 13, 2007

The anniversary of Vimy Ridge has kept my thoughts churning this week. All those young men who died for a piece of real estate. More than three thousand and that was only the Canadian half. There were probably at least that many from the other side. I'm not even sure who the axis were in that war.

Canada had a sparse population. Those who died were the country's future. Young women were left without husbands. Families were never born. Men who came home were haunted by the horror for the rest of their lives. Mothers and fathers carried their grief to the grave.

It was called The Great War, an odd name for something that caused so much death and destruction.

Then, twenty years after the slaughter ended,it started again and thousands more died. They called it World War Two.

After that, the Europeans decided it must never happen again. They formed a Union to make sure .

But now, for us, it is happening again. Only not in the same place and not for any reason we can discern. We are not defending ourselves from an enemy.

On the ceremonial platform at Vimy Ridge, we had a Prime Minister who was once President of the National Citizens Coalition, an organization that supports privatization, tax cuts, and cuts in government spending - A right-wing group formed to fight, among other things, the National Health Plan, the admittance of the Vietnamese refugees and real and perceived government waste in general.

He apparently doesn't believe people should be compelled to contribute taxes to ensure a just society but it's alright for young Canadians to be blown to pieces by land mines and killed in ambush by people who are supposed to be benefiting from their presence.

He is willing though to spend millions for air-conditioned tanks so they can be comfortable while they wait in fear in that isolated God-forsaken, medieval place, thousands of miles from home and families and light years from everything they know and understand.

A Cautionary Tale

ORIGINALLY POSTED Monday, April 2, 2007

I have written two blogs about the Planning Act. They were too dry. Didn't make the point I wanted either. So, they didn't get posted.

This is my third effort . A bit of history has to be included.

Before The Act was passed hardly a day went past without a scandal or a hint of same relating to the development industry.in the headlines. Being suspected of corruption was an occupational hazard for municipal councillors. Even Government Ministers were not immune. Investment in land was a good bet. Nobody was better placed than people in the know.

My neighborhood had 750 homes. The first phase was almost completed when we bought our
house. It was said that a particular council member had received a house and a trip to foreign parts in return for favours. I never saw any evidence to suggest it was true. But “When mud is thrown some of it always sticks.”

A Minister of Municipal Affairs resigned his post once because he had inadvertently signed documents for a development in which a family firm was involved. He came back because he had done the honourable thing in resigning. Another Minister whose name was besmirched walked in front of a moving vehicle on Yonge Street one dark and rainy night.

I can't say the loss of public confidence was the sole rationale for The Planning Act. It is certainly true headlines changed after it was passed. Municipal politicians still lost their seats if they were perceived to be too friendly to developers but rumours of corruption definitely declined.

The Act is precise. Steps are clear. Applications are made to Planning Departments. Proponents are wise to seek advice from planners on the Town's Official Plan, Zoning Bylaw and Town Policies and Standards. The process takes months to complete before a plan appears on a Public Planning Meeting Agenda. (The Whitwell development took ten years from start to finish).

At the start of the Hearing, the Clerk must declare it has been properly advertised. The Chairperson instructs the Planners to Report. The proponent is invited to present his case. The public are invited to express their comments. They may do so as often as they have something to say. The chair must announce three times before closing that part of the meeting and opening it to deliberation by council.

The objective is to make it clear to all and sundry, no part of the proposal has been considered before the public meeting .All parties concerned have equal opportunity to be heard before a decision is made.

It is similar to a court proceeding. Evidence is presented, witnesses are heard. A precise record of the proceedings is created.The only hard evidence to be considered is that presented at the Hearing. If error is perceived ,the decision is subject to appeal by the Ontario Municipal Board.

It is also a fact, that owners of land have the right to use their land for any purpose that does NOT contravene the Official Plan, the Zoning Bylaw or endorsed policies and standards of the municipality and provincial

It is no more appropriate for a councillor to be conducting research prior to a hearing than it is for a judge to conduct an investigation into the innocence or guilt of a person accused of a crime.

And yet - in the last term of council no matter how many times it was explained, Councillors and Citizen Members of the Environmental Advisory Committee persisted that planning applications should be reviewed by their committee first.

This term, it has already been argued, the Economic Development Advisory Committee members should have first dibs at planning applications.

Last week, at the hearing into the application of the York Region Separate School Board to build a High School on land they had purchased for the purpose, one councillor made a statement that he had done a great deal of work and research prior to the meeting. He made an immediate motion to deny the application. It failed.

At the beginning of the last term of council, at the off-site orientation, a presentation was made by an expert in municipal law cautioning councillors about legal pitfalls. Three councillors had boycotted the conference.

So far this term, no such opportunity has been provided to the new council.

In the past, this town has incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs because some people elected to office simply refuse to accept there are limits to their power.

Don't Call Me Job

ORIGINALLY POSTED Thursday, March 29, 2007

What am I supposed to do when patience is stretched to the limit?

There were six or seven officials from York Separate School board and The Chairman of the Board there to support the application. It was a proud moment. Elizabeth Crowe is the Aurora Trustee for the board as well as the Chairman. She described what the school would provide; shop courses, opportunities for technical training, track and field facilities, a dance studio. Programs the board has never before been able to offer in our neck of the woods.

It is not a long history. My daughter attended the first separate high school, St. Roberts in Markham. It was classrooms out in a field and nothing more. It had taken years to convince the provincial government the British North America Act intended separate schools to have education up to Grades Nine and Ten. I paid fees for the senior grades.

The change came with population numbers. Accommodating Catholic students in their own High schools was not more expensive than building more public schools and public schools were becoming impersonably huge. Our population continued to explode. Two years ago, Sacred Heart, in Newmarket was using the stage in the auditorium for classes. Even with the end of Grade Thirteen the pressure is tremendous. There are twelve portables filling the yard of Sacred Heart
High School in Newmarket.

Now, in Aurora, we are to have a school that will provide almost everything. The Board has an excellent working relationship with the town in the shared use of facilities. We use their sports facilities in return for our maintenance. The students will use our swimming and skating facilities at the Leisure Complex. It will be a walk through the Arboretum which will also be an educational facility. They will have a Child Care Service and evening programs in the school, with lights on, and people coming and going. Neighbors to the Senior's Centre. Vibrant life and a beautiful building on Wellington Street with access from Industrial Parkway North.

These classrooms were needed two years ago.

Last night, at the Public Planning Meeting councillors queried numbers in our grade schools, questioned why there should be students from other places, expounded on the need to save idle land for industrial and commercial use and even floated the possibility of an adult entertainment centre in the vicinity of the school as reasons to oppose the application. They said the Board should have acquired land in a residential neighborhood. Teaching positions were denigrated as 'non jobs' and a motion was made to deny the application.

Had it succeeded, the Board would have been obliged to appeal the decision to the O.M.B. They would have incurred legal costs. The town would have incurred legal costs. Our staff recommendations would have been used in evidence against us. The decision would be made for us after thousands of dollars had been paid to lawyers, all out of the same pockets.

When it became apparent the debate was over and the motion to approve in principle would succeed, the Mayor proceeded to extend the argument. She asked the planner for the umpteenth time to explain the definition of employment lands and how an institution providing almost 200 jobs could fit into that context. It was as if they were hoping, if they kept repeating the same question, the planner might cave in and give them a different answer. That must be what the third degree is about. It happens all the time in Aurora Council.

The time was eleven-thirty p.m. We had been deliberating for four and one half hours.

I wanted to take wing and fly right out of there. My patience was exhausted. I could not leave and forfeit my vote. I could not explode in a shower of vituperation. So, discretion being the better part of valour, I covered my head with my jacket and clamped my hands over my ears.

I have never claimed to have the Patience of Job

"There's a bigger audience in The Auroran, Buck Says"

ORIGINALLY POSTED Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Nigel Keane deserves to be promptly pricked by a two-pronged prod in a prominent part of his anatomy. Let all here present note that I am resisting the temptation. It is against my ethics to kick a man when he is down. Even when he is begging for it.

LeeAnn Keller takes the time to count the number of times I used the personal pronoun in my letter to suggest I might have an ego.

Let there be no doubt, LeeAnn.

If you show me a practising politician without an ego, I will show you a consummate actor.

George Hervey, Hugo Kroon and Martin Mol offer convoluted dissertations, the meanings of which entirely escape me. Of them all, not one offers a challenge to my contention that ethics are a personal matter.

If a person seeking public office needs to have a document spellling out desirable conduct in a position of trust, then they are clearly lacking in a singularly important attribute needed for the job and should not be elected.

I did say I would confine my communications to my blogging boudoir.

That was then. This is now.

I post a blog several times a week. I thoroughly enjoy doing it. But I miss the broader stage and the footlights the Auroran provides.

Therefore, I have changed my mind.

I will write to my friend the editor whenever I please.


HEATHER'S NOTE: This was published as a Letter to the Editor in the week of March 27/07 issue of The Auroran, in response to a multitude of letters published pursuant to the appearance of this post as, you guessed it, a Letter to the Editor.


ORIGINALLY POSTED Sunday, March 25, 2007

I had a conversation with a highly educated nephew (40) during the last municipal election. He told me people are completely turned off from politics. “Politicians lie to get elected,” he said and pointed to Jean Chretien's 1990's promise to cancel the GST.

He is a geologist. Must have taken him more than fifteen years to complete his education. He is now at the point of making a very comfortable living. Travels a lot. Converses regularly with educated professionals. He is married to an intelligent woman.

In my gut I knew it already, still, his glib remarks and shallow understanding of the mix that is politics astounded me. How can a person reach that level of maturity, be exposed to academia all of those years and be so abysmally bloody ignorant?

Jean Chretien 's minions no doubt did what political parties always do. They studied the field. Paid pollsters to discover the public's greatest aggravation and how it could be most effectively used against the opposing

party. At that time, it was the GST.

With complete predictability, they promised to get rid of it. Then they didn't. And that too was predictable.

How then can presumably intelligent and well educated people profess to be disillusioned? What excuse can they have for being so easily bamboozled?

What could they have been talking about at their cocktail parties and during lunch at their conferences? How could they imagine programmes paid for with revenue from a tax that raised 8 cents in every dollar spent on goods and services could so easily be wiped out? Maybe even some of their high priced jobs could be gone. How could they then turn around and heap scorn on politicians for deceiving them when everything indicates they were more than willing to be deceived?

How can politicians be blamed for following the path that is tried and true and thus far fool proof? If the so-called intelligentsia are too lazy to think things through, why do they expect politicians to be more energetic and principled than they are themselves?

Again, we arrive at the point where we ask ourselves, “What, in the name of Heaven, is going on in our universities? Are 53% of students who cheat the only ones not doing what is expected of them?

Visitors from Far Away Places

ORIGINALLY POSTED Thursday, March 22, 2007

Nobody from China has visited me today. Already the afternoon is half over. I have regular visitors to my blog from Beijing. They never make any comments but I would love to hear from them.

There are visitors from other places as well but I think they may just be pop-ins. The people from Beijing keep coming back.

A couple of years ago, we hosted a delegation from China. It was a two day event. The mayor and other councillors had lunch and dinner with them and they had a tour of various facilities. My only involvement was in fielding a question and answer session for a couple of hours in the Council Chamber.

They were government officials in the main. In China, until then, the central government controlled all finances. Everyone who provided government services at every level was on the payroll of the central government.

At the time they visited us, the government was contemplating changing their system. They were planning to give people in the communities authority to manage their own affairs. In effect, they were planning to de-centralize government services.

What an enormous project that would be...considering the size of China... the population...the culture. It was very interesting to be the one listening to the questions and providing answers from my own experience. They wanted to know how we did things.

I could tell them about the changes we had experienced. The creation of regional governments - which was the first change in municipal government in over one hundred years. The patriation of our Constitution and the Charter of Rights. Not that I know many details about that. But that certainly was the most significant event in our National History since the country was created.

They wanted to know the most basic things. How we raised the money to pay for services. Different responsibilities at different levels of government. Elections. Who were the bad guys in the scheme of things. Actually, they probably didn't ask that question - I probably volunteered the information without being asked. They had an interpreter. Scott Somerville kept having to slow me down to allow time for interpretation. I was on a roll.

It was a very interesting afternoon and obvious at the end of the allotted time the delegation still had tons of questions they wanted to ask. I told them in these days they would have the opportunity to continue the dialogue from home on the internet. I'm sure they didn't need any help from me on that score.

I am not aware they ever did. But we do have our town web site. My web address is posted. It would be very satisfying to know if any member of the Chinese delegation who visited Aurora that afternoon was still popping in out of interest to find out what they might about bits and pieces going on in Aurora.

When I was in school, students were encouraged to have pen pals in other places. The object I guess would be to acquire some insight in how people lived elsewhere. I would have liked to participate, but I never did have money for stamps or anything else for that matter.

Now, in these amazing times we live in, there are people I do not know visiting my blog on a regular basis. They know me, but I don't know them. Only that they are there and they are reading what I have to say from this little place in Ontario on the other side of the world.

All About Crap

ORIGINALLY POSTED Monday, March 19, 2007

Sometimes I wonder about me. I worry about things that don't seem to disturb anyone else. Soon it will be time for concerned residents with plastic bags and rubber gloves and children to collect the litter that appears in all its ugliness after the winter snow melts.

Everyone will go about the task with great energy and enthusiasm. When the task is finished, they will join the Mayor in the park for a barbecue and celebrate a job well done.

Last year, I tentatively suggested that having children participate in this event might not be such a great idea. The Mayor said, “Their parents bring them.”

I'm pretty sure at that point, he thought I was a total dingbat.

I had phoned the Public Health Department. Nobody up there was much concerned either.

Last year, I read headlines about a swan in the U.K. dead from bird flu. I thought about the geese that appear in spring on the salamander pond on Henderson Drive and the mosquitos said to be carriers of the Asian Flu virus. Much
litter gathering happens in that vicinity.

This year, there are headlines about C. Difficile appearing in the local hospital. Soap and water is the antidote. Last year, Councillors Morris and Gaertner referred council to the disgusting stuff they encountered at the back of the War Memorial Garden when they were picking up litter.

In the Town of Aurora's 2006/2007 Recycling and Waste Calendar and Information Guide - on the April Page, it notes that litter is not just unsightly and expensive to clean up, it is UNHEALTHY. Why are we encouraging children to pick it up?

Cigarette butts are toxic. Wrappers from fast food and coffee cups tossed out of car windows and probably turned over by wild-life, Can that be harmless?

We hear a lot these days about the dangers of herbicides and pesticides. Yet listed in our calendar as household hazardous wastes requiring separate disposal are aerosols, bathroom cleaners, drain cleaners, spot removers, toilet cleaners, oven cleaners, household bleach and FLEA COLLARS, for goodness’ sake! How many children are cuddling pets wearing flea collars? Is there a toxic warning on flea collar packaging? Or do young parents just assume that because they are for sale, they must be safe?

I was young once myself and mindless. Maybe I am paranoid now but I don't think so. I think we are all perfectly capable of being completely stupid and doing it collectively. As long as nobody raises the alarm does that mean there is no crisis?

Adults can do what they think is alright. But I don't think we should be encouraging children to pick up litter.

Years ago, when dog droppings in parks and playgrounds was a serious problem and we couldn't get owners to understand how disgusting it was to the rest of us, I hit on the solution. I nagged.

Every time I saw something in the paper about a disease being traced to the presence of an animal in the house, I read the Riot Act. Once I saw a news report connecting blindness to dog feces. I ranted and raved in Council meetings about irresponsible owners who thought it was acceptable for their animals to relieve themselves anywhere and everywhere and to walk away and leave the disgusting mess behind.

We passed the ‘Stoop and Scoop Bylaw’. John West used to call it Poop and Scoop - I had to point out to him regularly that was not the purpose of the bylaw.

Eventually the nagging campaign was effective. Nowadays people walking their pets carry plastic bags conspicuously so that everyone will know they are responsible pet owners. But first somebody had to yell at them repeatedly, in no uncertain terms, that their dogs' toilet habits were just not acceptable.

Maybe it is time for similar extraordinary measures to deal with the problem of litter. And maybe it's time for women to give a thought to how much toxic stuff they are handling in their homes. Maybe they shouldn't worry so much about how clean things are and think about healthy habits instead.

A Tale of Infamy

ORIGINALLY POSTED Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Until you do it, you can have no idea how intricate it is. You run for office, committing yourself to protecting the taxpayer's interest. But if you apply yourself scrupulously to the task, you may find yourself cast in the role of villain.

Stories abound about the extent of my infamy. "Beer In The Fire Hall" comes to mind:

When I was first elected, we had a Volunteer Fire Brigade. The Volunteers are part of Ontario history. In some small places, they are still the only community organization. As well as fighting fires they organize minor sports, come to the aid of widows and orphans and whatever other needs might emerge.

It's always tricky when the change comes from Volunteer to full-time departments. The jobs are highly-coveted. I was out of office, when it happened in Aurora.

Around 1980, the town built a new fire hall. Gone was the club house attached to the old Fire Hall where the guys hung out played billiards and had a beer when they felt like it.

At that time, the town provided accommodation, equipment and a full-time Chief. The volunteers ran their own show. They took pride in being one of the best departments around. They were our local heroes.

Politicians didn't mess with the Volunteers. In fact, being a Volunteer was a natural step to being elected.
When the first full-time officers were hired, the Volunteers abandoned their traditional title and called themselves “part-time firefighters”. The club-house status of the fire hall had to change. But it didn't.

I brought the matter to the attention of the Clerk-Administrator andHuman Resources Officer. Nothing happened.

Firefighters who won the coveted jobs were former volunteers. Some were employees in other town departments. They went from a job in one department into another with three times the wages and the enjoyment of club house facilities during their work day. They worked office hours. Some of them went from very humble status in the heirarchy.

The works superintendent brought a request : “Could the works people keep a beer in the fridge and have it with lunch?” No. They couldn't.

Again I spoke to the Clerk-Administrator and the Human Resource Officer. Still no action. At that time, I had no idea the fire hall was a hang-out for more than the fire-fighters.

Finally, the issue came to a head. The department was receiving donations for the food bank on a Saturday. I received two phone calls complaining that two firefighters accepting the donations, in uniform, were the worse for wear and cheerfully chug-a-lugging in full view of the public.

My caller would not give his name. I figured it was a disgruntled employee of the works department.

At the next council meeting, in new business, I quietly mentioned the call and asked the fire chief for a report on the matter.

That's when the proverbial matter hit the fan.

At the very next meeting, the audience seats were filled with wives of part-time firefighters to watch me get my come-uppance. Husbands came along too, but I got the feeling they were not quite so gleeful.

One by one, council colleagues, figuratively speaking, pushed my face into the dirt and jumped on my head. How could I cast such aspersions on the noble firefighters? What a dastardly deed indeed!

Three councillors held out from the fray - one was a Captain in the North York Fire Department. He said if a member of his crew came to work with the slightest smell of beer, he would be sent home and lose his shift. He did not however contribute that information to “the debate”. The second councillor who refrained was a former volunteer. The third had lived behind the old fire hall for years.

It was only after the outrage had exhausted itself, I learned the beer had been dispensed from a Coke machine in the fire hall. The place was a hangout for all kinds of public officials, appointed and elected, including a postman who wrote a letter to the Auroran years later with fond memories of enjoying a cold one with the boys after the mail was delivered.

The Coke machine eventually appeared in the front porch of the deputy-chief's home. There were no more requests from the works department to keep beer in their fridge. I weathered the storm. The change that needed to happen – happened.

I still bear the scars and firefighters are still the local heroes.

HEATHER'S NOTE: A similar issue is currently brewing in Point Leamington, Newfoundland. Here is the link.

A Modern Credo in a Letter to the Editor

ORIGINALLY POSTED Thursday, March 8, 2007

It's interesting how different meanings can be taken from what seems to be a perfectly straightforward comment.

I have said, I need no-one to tell me what my ethics should be. I make no bones about that.

Since before I was five years old, the first lesson of every day was about ethics. I learned the Ten Commandments and The Articles of my Faith.

I learned the Sacraments, Parables, Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount, Cardinal Virtues, Vices, The Beatitudes, Gospels and that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

I learned about Original Sin, Mortal Sin, Venial Sin, Limbo and Purgatory, hell and heaven. I learned who has been sitting at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, for the last two thousand and seven years and that the seat is not likely to be vacant any time soon.

I learned His Ministry on earth lasted only three years but in that short time he taught everything we need to know about how we should live.

I learned it is wrong to malign my neighbour's character, and that if you steal a person's purse, that's not nearly as bad as damaging her reputation.

I do not pretend to be as virtuous as He would like me to be.and since it is Lent and the time for penance, I confess I am not
as virtuous as I should be.

I do not care for overtly virtuous individuals -but I'll tell you what - Briggitta Gamm, I don't believe any secular code of ethics or Character Community jargon can improve on the one I learned every day in the formative years of my life.

I doubt there's a workshop leader anywhere who could come anywhere close to The Master Himself.

A Scam and a Sham

ORIGINALLY POSTED Tuesday, March 6, 2007

There will likely be a big to-do in the Toronto papers about billions the federal government is planning to pony up for transit in the GTA. I received an invitation, complete with Federal Government Crest, by e-mail yesterday afternoon to join the Prime Minister and the Premier at Downsview at ten o'clock this morning for “Good News” for the GTA.

York Region has been waiting for months for the Federal Government to fulfill its commitment for its share in the VIVA project. Viva was undertaken as a three-party agreement - the Feds, the Provos and the Municipality.

The Region has been waiting and inquiring with considerable anxiety about when the money will come through. It has already been spent. Viva is up and running.

So now, the current government has invited all the little minions in the boonies to come down and applaud them for something that was an initiative of the previous government - that they have been withholding .

There is nothing about this bunch on the government benches in Ottawa that appeals to me. With the exception of Monty Solberg. He is the Minister of Something or Other.

Harper was not elected on the basis of popularity.. The Liberals were defeated. They have to accept responsibility for that. But there will be nothing done on this slate that will help Harper's Harriers take back the power of the people for another term. In my book, they bear no resemblance to the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

By the way, did I ever write anything in this space to suggest impartiality in any matters political?

Good... that was never my intention.

Waking the Sleeping Giant?

ORIGINALLY POSTED Monday, March 5, 2007

The Town's Strategic Plan states we will recover costs by user fees. Private business can be sued for false advertising.

We have a strange way of calculating user fees for recreation facilities. An advisory group of citizens work from a matrix which provides points for various aspects of a sports program.

I do not pretend to understand the formula. I do know that user fees are tricky territory for politicians. Any time you give something away for nothing or less than cost, there's a possibility for popularity - especially if you can do it with only the recipients noticing.

That is the key - you must do it without disturbing the sleeping giant,....the public at large. In general, politicians don't like disturbances. There's no telling what might shake out in an uproar.

But some people just can't let sleeping giants lie. Last term, I moved a motion that a record be prepared to show subsidies provided to all community groups The camera couldn't catch it but I felt the electric thrill of danger that shot around the table. There was no seconder for the motion.

I have this eccentric notion that people who pay for subsidies should at least have the satisfaction of knowing they are doing it and why. People who receive subsidies should be aware of the extent of community support. Everybody needs to understand what's going on, and the logic of it all.

At the moment, user fees are calculated by a citizens' advisory committee with the support of the Leisure Services Director, whose job is not sound management of business affairs. Fiscal management belongs with the Financial Services department.

I am not suggesting we are cooking the books, but in my judgement, the calculation of user fees is bit of hocus pocus.

Accounting is a field in which I’ve not been educated, but I don't have a problem making the connection between the cost of producing something and the price.

The first part of calculating a user fee must be the cost to provide the service. Considering the various uses of the various facilities, I don't believe that's a simple matter.

I certainly don't believe it can be done by a group of citizens, however well-meaning, sitting around a table picking numbers between five and ten, adding up the score and coming up with an average.

If we are not charging what it costs, we shouldn't say we are. If we are charging what it costs, we should be able to prove it.

We are not.

Making a Budget


The town is a substantial organization.

Corporate Services includes Bylaws, Human Resources, Information, record keeping, miles of minutes, agendas, public notices, Elections, Licences and Permits. They produce most of the paper.

Leisure Services have town buildings, leisure facilities and parks within their domain. Planning has fourteen people toiling mightily to make sure the town's growth meets our standards. They too produce tons of paper.

The Chief Administrator has Communications and Economic Development under his wings. Financial Services look after purchasing, accounting, payroll, financial analysis, budgeting, tax billings and collections. The Director presides over all, looks after investments and provides advice to council.

Fire Protection is a joint service with Newmarket.

Legal Services looks after litigation, subdivision agreements, contracts, litigation, property acquisitions and sales, and more litigation, as well as legal opinions to council. Sometimes they mix up in the political.

The Building Department processes permits, does inspections and stuff like compliance with zoning, the Ontario Building Code and the sign bylaw.

The Works department looks after the down and dirty.

The Library is a
separate authority. In recent years, the Librarian is a member of the town's management team and of course the board's budget is included in the town's.

We have 206 part-time and 150 full-time employees. The library has 43 full-time staff.

Each department head prepares a budget which they submit to the CAO and the Chief Financial Advisor. They get worked over pretty well at that point. They have to be justified.

Operating budgets are based on previous years’ expenditures, increases to maintain existing level of service, desirable improvements for the upcoming year, capital forecast items, stuff referred by council with requests from various community organizations.

Capital Projects as a result of growth are 90% paid for by development charges from home, industrial, and commercial builders. Nobody escapes DC levies. In a year of high development, millions of dollars come in to the town coffers.

Revenue from cash in lieu of parks flows mainly from commercial and industrial development.

In 2005 we issued 5 residential permits. In 2006 over 1100 were issued. Cash infusions can vary substantially from year to year.

Development charges are not free money. The town has to specify why they are needed. They can only be spent for that purpose.

The town must calculate the development charge on the basis of community needs for five year period.

If we fail to use funds collected for the purpose, that need cannot be used in the next round of calculations. It is by using the funds, the need is established. If we didn't use them we cannot again claim they are needed in the next round of calculations.

The foregoing is a bird's eye view, me being the bird, of the making of a budget It is an expert process. Except for political input, there is nothing haphazard about it.

In 2005, the town aimed for completion of the 2006 budget by December 31st. With the objective of an early start on tenders. Early calls mean better prices. In 2006, we had the election but staff were ready with a schedule of dates to start in December for our part in the process. Councillors were not ready. The dates were changed. It's not enough to try to accommodate eight councillors and the Mayor, they want to accommodate the entire community.

Here is where
I part company with my colleagues. It's hard enough to get eight councillors and the Mayor together at one time. The priority has to be to get the job done. The entire community is not much interested in the process. They elect and pay a council to do it.

So far - two Saturdays and several evenings have been spent in budget discussions. Not decisions per se, just chat. Meetings have been scheduled for three more evenings and a full Saturday.

We have yet to tackle the operating budget. We will not finish before April. At this rate, for the 2008 budget to be completed by December 31st 2007, we will have to start again in August .

We do not sit alone chewing the ends of our pencils going over all the figures. Staff have to do their due diligence prepare a responsible budget, manage the town's day to day operations, watch over us and hold our hands while we examine it minutely to make sure they did it right.

It doesn't have to be like that.

Council is earnest and committed. Their intentions are to do the best job possible.

Hands-on management of the municipal operation is not our job. We receive a budget which has been carefully and professionally prepared. with stuff added by the council. This year, the proposed increase was an untenable 12%.

What we have to examine are the projects that are foolish, self-indulgent and extravagant. Projects that were promoted for the sake of the election. Extravagant projects that benefit one neighborhood at the expense of everyone else and cannot possibly be repeated throughout the town. Projects that are just plain silly. Projects because they are part of the five year forecasts but not necessarily needed or because the last Council didn't want to say no and referred them to budget instead.

Our job is not difficult. It is not time consuming. It is just doing what needs to be done to fulfill our commitment to control taxes.

The budget is a time of reckoning.