"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

Saturday 30 June 2007

Blissful Ignorance Is Not An Entitlement.

Last week, I received a call late in the evening. There was no water in the taps in the north-west corner of the town. The caller added people had been running their sprinklers for hours and the water was running down the streets to the catchbasins. I needed to hear no more.

Forty-five years ago, the town added 750 new homes in my neighbourhood - an increase of more than a third of the town. The same thing happened on another hot summer evening. People turned on their sprinklers and let them run. Soon they found themselves without water in the house. They were stunned and of course, it was all the stupid town's fault.

We were new to the town. Many of us were relatively new to the country. We did not relate the large ball hundreds of feet above us on stilt-like supports to the water that magically ran from the taps. Even when we were informed there was a finite supply from the water tower, we were not convinced the town was not at fault. One of those residents, still indignant at the end of the year, was a candidate in the municipal election. Elections were held annually. It was said she gave the best speech of all the candidates.

People did learn however, and after that first summer, the taps never ran dry again. We observed the watering rules. Our houses were full of children. Babies needed formula, children needed bathing, toilets needed to be flushed. Bottled water was not a commodity. Our water, from artesian wells drawn from deep below the ground, was the best.

This time is similar. Except, we have a reservoir in the ground in the north end of town. The water we are using is from thousands of feet below the ground. It has been carbon-dated. It is thousands of years old. We have many times greater supply and improved water pressure. There are now fifteen thousand homes as opposed to three thousand and there is the internet and email.

Surprisingly though, many people are not better informed than residents of forty-five years ago. Yet, they are just as sure they know who to blame. It is the stupid town and the stupid politicians. It is never, never, never, the people who turn on sprinklers and let this precious resource run in the gutter to the catchbasins, and run and run until the reservoir is dry.

The e-mails that I received are all about rage and abuse and grass and flowers and the cost of it all. Not about being unable to flush toilets, or make baby formula or a cup of tea. One man demands to be informed of the process to install a septic tank and well on his own property.

I know people with wells. They are definitely hesitant to spill precious potable water on the ground to keep their grass green. At times they have to pay for a tank truck to bring water to their wells. Sometimes wells become contaminated and they have to drill new ones always deeper to find potable water.

The town is sending out personal, respectful and placatory e-mails to enraged residents who are demanding additional reservoirs be built.

I do not favour that. Reservoirs cost millions to build. Water costs millions to treat in these post-Walkerton times. I am persuaded it makes no sense to build reservoir capacity and treat a supply of water beyond our needs for twelve months of the year to accommodate a possible need for two months of the summer. So far as I know, there is no way to measure the supply of water from our current source. We are tapping into a source which has been there for thousands of years. It is precious. We need to use it wisely.

I do not support pumping and treating and storing that water beyond our normal needs just because a summer drought is possible but not inevitable. We did not have one last year.

The demand for more capacity is like saying : O.K. thirty students form a gym class and that's the capacity of the gymnasium; we have three hundred students in the school, therefore we need ten gymnasiums and ten teachers because everybody wants to take gym at the same time. No reason, they just want to. Where is the logic in that?

We have sufficient reservoir capacity for ten months of the year for all of our needs. For two months, if there is a heat wave, we need to follow some sensible rules . Three nights of the week, one half of the population waters their gardens and the next three nights belong to the other half. If a sufficient number of ill-informed and uncaring people decide they will disregard the rules, everybody suffers the consequences.

It is an odd thing, in all the e-mail s I received, there wasn't one that complained about not being able to flush the toilet.

Another fact needs to be considered; it doesn't matter how much precious clean water is poured on to the grass, the stuff is destined to dormancy and the appearance of hay in a normal August anyway. We are not living in the rain-saturated environment of the U.K. and the Emerald Isle. We are living at the latitude of the Mediterranean to which people flock from everywhere to enjoy the glorious dry heat of summer and the vegetation particular to that environment.

When you live in a community, you share ownership of its resources, as well as responsibility for good stewardship.

Monday 25 June 2007

Storm In A Paper Cup

Council met in the evening of June 17th for the first time as an audit committee. Boring, eh?! It didn't turn out that way. Councillor McEachern used the opportunity to repeat an assertion the town's e-mail service had continued to be accessed by the former Mayor for "months” and staff had permitted its extended use.

There was an insinuation of wrong-doing. It was made in a public meeting. An individual was named. and staff were implicated.

From the perspective of public liability and accepted protocol, to say nothing of fairness, the comments had no place in a public forum. They were out of order.

The Mayor did not rule that way. That is one of the functions of a Presiding Member.

Former Mayor Tim Jones circulated his new e-mail address the day he left office. Staff permitted incoming messages as a courtesy to people who might still have messages to convey. The new Mayor learned of it, stopped it immediately and informed council. It was referred to again behind closed doors for reason which are not immediately discernible. (Harrumph!). When it was regurgitated at the public meeting by Councillor McEachern and exaggerated to a period of "months" the Mayor did not correct the Councillor. As noted, she did not rule her out of order.

I did object. The statement was damaging, made in a public meeting, it was an innuendo of wrong doing which I found unacceptable.

The Mayor found my comments out of order. She directed me to apologize to Councillor McEachern. It was never going to happen.

The Mayor decided that gave her the authority to expel me from the council chamber. That too was a dead duck from the start.

The Mayor called for a recess. The vote tied. So that didn't fly.

The Mayor turned the chair over to Councillor McRoberts, who thoughtfully considered the wording of the clause the Mayor was leaning on for her decision. He ruled it not apply.

The Mayor took back the chair.

Councillor Gaertner decided she would not stay at a table where the Mayor was not respected. She left her seat. Councillor McEachern left her seat once and returned, and then left again..

The Mayor vacated the chair, which brought the business of the meeting to an end. She called to Councillor Granger and they all trooped from the council chamber .

Another meeting of the Audit Committee has been scheduled to complete the business barely begun. Staff will once again be assembled for evening duties. The auditors will attend once more. Whether a quorum of council is available remains to be seen.

We have not been asked.

Friday 15 June 2007

Writer's Block

I have created my own blocks to my blog writing. I recently engaged in a discussion with someone who preferred to be anonymous. The issue was my childhood recollection of a penny bank on a neighbour's mantle. I may have seen it only once. It is the only artifact in that room that I do recall. I would possibly have been four year's old or younger at the time.

My correspondent was determined to prove my racism from my sharing that memory. Oddly enough the frustration I felt from that exchange came from the fact the correspondent was anonymous. He knew who I was. I did not have the same advantage. I have decided I will not engage again unless I know the name of the person offering an exchange.

Then there were the e-mails I received from Councillor McEachern and her invitation to publish. That was tempting. But I knew my instinct was not pure.

I could not come up with a justifiable reason .. I tried, but I am no paragon of virtue. I too crave revenge. All it did though was stop me from thinking about other blogs that might be of interest.

So now I have cleared the obstacles to objectivity, my muse will no doubt return.

An Old Morality Tale

I said I would copy the exchange between myself and Councillor McEachern. I have not done so. I have mixed feelings about the merits of reproducing something which may or may not contribute to the public debate. I think the exchange is revealing. I'm just not sure the end justifies the means.

Putting something into writing is not like having a chat. There are all kinds of reinforcements present in a face to face dialogue. Reproducing someone else's written comments is even more problematic.

I have always stuck to the principle, I am responsible only for my position on any issue that comes before council. I do not profess to be always right. I only commit to be always forthright. I am glad to be judged on my contribution to the public debate. I believe others should judged by the same token.

Scott Somerville was our interim Chief Administration Officer last year. He has the same breadth of experience as myself but from an administrative angle. One time, we were discussing a matter which represented a clear conflict of interest. I was intent on bringing it to the attention of council.

He asked “Evelyn, why should you always be the one?”

”Because no-one else will.”, I answered.

“Exactly.”, he said.

As it evolved, no advantage was gained by the individual who had the conflict. The matter was resolved in a different direction.

His advice was sensible. Scandal was averted. The person who had the conflict clearly did not recognize the impropriety. A cloud would have been cast. It's shade would have spread widely. Was it my job to cast it? I think not.

The current council is not like any I have experienced. I have serious concerns. People are being hurt. To this point, in my perspective, the town has not been well-served. Yet as a councillor, I can only govern my own behaviour...and trust to the discernment of the community at large.

Experience tells me that trust is seldom misplaced. It's a long road that doesn't have a turn.

Saturday 9 June 2007

The First in a Series of Emails

June 8th 10.17 a.m

Good Morning All,

On Tuesday we spent time talking about the region coming up with a new way to collect toxic waste. In the bulletin about co-mingling, it is noted paint cans and aerosol cans are collected in the blue box.

My God, we really know how to waste time, don't we? Tuesday had to be the worst yet. Listening to those two regional officials droning on endlessly about the Noise Abatement plan for Bathurst and the Rapid Transit just about drove me under the table.

The first followed with an immediate Open House for the residents who are affected.The second has an Open House on June 11th in the Lobby of the Town Hall. At the hour of adjournment,we had more than half the items on the agenda still to be dealt with.It has to be dawning on councillors, there is something wrong with the way we are doing things. The town's business is not being handled.

Stephen's motion criticizes the Board of Education for not allowing more time and opportunity for public input into their decisions. The Board is doing what it has to, to fulfill its mandate...which is making decisions... in this instance a difficult one.

We are way behind in the decisions we have to make. We are not in a position to criticize anyone. What we do is the opposite. And it is not about public participation it is about public intimidation of council.

Now watch this Mosaic Lighting thing become a carbon copy of the appalling waste of time on the Aurora Cable Fiasco. Once again, the Mayor has bypassed council and town management by giving direction to town staff. It is the collective will of council that gives direction to staff. As long as this council allows the mayor complete freedom to direct staff, we have no properly functioning system of government, we have chaos and eventual collapse.

Have a great day everyone,

Evelyn Buck


On words and Up words

Heather Sisman, she who finds or creates pictures and helps with format, does not like me to refer to the difference in our age. She passionately believes age has no relevance in the world of ideas. For the most part, I agree. I have probably acquired skill and, when it is called for, diplomacy in presenting my views. But as my experience has grown neither my principles nor my pattern of thought have changed. I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to continue to commit to a worthwhile purpose.

Having Heather to bounce ideas off is invaluable. She is intelligent, interested, and eager to catch whatever I have to pass on. She attends council and council-in-committee meetings . We spend time afterwards discussing everything that transpired. If I needed anyone besides my many children and grandchildren to keep me grounded in the present, Heather is ever present. We trust each other. She surprises me with the nuance she observes.

Of course I am not in the habit of keeping my thoughts to myself. The Blog you know about. I also e-mail ideas to colleagues. I think it is a fantastic tool . It doesn't tie up valuable time. The message can be read or not. No response is required. If a thought occurs which I think is relevant to the stuff we are dealing with, off it goes into the ether. In general, I sense no hostility from colleagues. so I am comfortable sharing. A council is after all, a collegial body. I may be the only one with the luxury of time and indulging myself in self-expression is a habit hard to break.

This week, I sent such an e-mail. Councillor McEachern responded through the Mayor's office. She invited me to publish her response. I thought not. But I did share it with Heather. She thought I should accept the invitation. I still thought not. Then I considered the generational thing. The Councillor's e-mail does provide background of a sort. Heather thinks it provides insight as it stands and won't come across as a spiteful act on my part.

So I will. What follows is the complete exchange:

Monday 4 June 2007


So, Vaughan is going to have an Integrity Commissioner. Aurora's Mayor is giving serious consideration to the idea. Newmarket is warm to the notion. Toronto has one. Information about how it works is already available. The press has been paying attention to the matter and the story has all the elements of high drama of the farcical genre in keeping with our times.

Provincial Legislation to allow municipalities to appoint an integrity commissioner derived from the Findings and Recommendations of the Bellamy Inquiry

The reason for the inquiry was the bilking of Toronto taxpayers of millions of dollars for a computer system. A foolish female financial official was seduced by a fast-talking and apparently not very intelligent computer salesman. A city politician with a high media profile in budget control was, without a doubt, the dastardly villain of the piece. The fellow was a candidate for Mayor in the previous election. He complained about another candidate not following the rules. Lucky for Toronto, they didn't choose him.

The Bellamy Inquiry went on for months. It seems money and favours changed hands with remarkable ease and little subtlety. The entire scheme of things was laid bare. Yet, except for the recommendation of an Integrity Commissioner, nothing much came of it. The inquiry probably cost more than the funds scammed in the skullduggery.

But there were consequences. Yes indeed. Toronto appointed a Grand Poohba of Verisimilitude, a former legal beagle from Queen's University. He rode forward on his white charger to save Toronto's badly served taxpayers.

His part-time position pays $104,000. He has an Administrative Assistant. They are both accessible only by appointment.

Complaints deemed worthy of investigation have been telling. A citizen claimed to have been verbally disrespected by a politician. The Commissioner found that was simply a misunderstanding of the tone of the comment.

A candidate in the last city election left a disparaging comment about another on the answering machine of a Member of Parliament, who was supporting the candidate being disparaged. The party of the first part was found to be at fault by the Commissioner. He deemed the act to be reprehensible and worthy of an apology.

City Council did not require the apology. The Commissioner tells the press he will quit the job if they disregard his judgment a second time. Seems it has not occurred to this expert in law to ponder how an elected official can be forced to apologize if she just won't.

The latest matter to be investigated is the failure of two councillors to claim expenses. The complaint came from councillors who do claim expenses.

If they are paying any attention at all, the taxpayers of Toronto must be wondering by now; why do they always have to pay the consequences?

I will not be voting in favour of an Integrity Commissioner for Aurora, but If the majority does, I already have a list of actions to complain about where integrity has been conspicuous by its absence. I look forward to making the cases.