"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 29 September 2007

Elsewhere It's Theft

In other places, the U.K. to be specific, theft of electricity is a common offence. People rig the wiring to bypass their meters.

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

An Amorphous Blob

Pandering is alive and well and flourishing and not just in Aurora. For the first time, I am close to accepting that politics is the second oldest profession.

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


I understated the role of the Mayor in a previous blog. I said there was prestige and a heavier work load but no power over council. It's true only as far as it goes. The authority of the Mayor's office is significant .

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.

Illusions of Power

I had the opportunity to be Mayor early in my career. Since then, I have found it interesting to observe how succeeding Mayors have handled the responsibility. They have generally lasted longer than I did. But on the whole, if I had it to do again, I would probably do the same again.

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

Another Pat on the Back - www.Auroran.com

HEATHER'S NOTE: We've just learned that The Auroran is now online. I'm thrilled, because this means I can read the paper online, and can refer to it any time. I'm going to make an effort to link all of Evelyn's letters to the editor to the page on The Auroran's site. Kudo's to Ron Wallace and his team for their efforts and accomplishments. Keep up the good work!

A Declaration of Independent Thinking

Since I started this blogging business, I have sensed through the tingle in my fingertips, the power in this new and personal media. There is a freedom I have never known before. In this neck of the woods politicians have always depended on print media to get a point across. As it goes, I have few complaints. Letters to the editor have always been a satisfactory outlet.

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

Skullduggery at the top

There was a crisis in a north-west neighbourhood a few weeks ago. I received a call from a resident to report taps were dry. My heart lurched. I thought - Panic Stations. Then my caller told me sprinklers in her neighbourhood had been on for hours and water was running down the street. I recognized that scenario.

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.
There have always been voices decrying the loss of green fields around us. It is a sentiment we can all share. But we still have green fields around us, flood plains within the urban area and protection for the Oak Ridges Moraine, which we never had before. We have done all we were required to do and more. We have insisted on neighbourhoods that ensure a quality living environment for families who have and will come to live in our community.

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.