"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

Monday 23 June 2008


Aurora's Library Board invited Grace Marsh to the board's last meeting before the summer recess. Board members and staff wanted to express their appreciation for Grace's contribution. It was a nice occasion.

Grace is well and happy. She still struggles with the feeling she let her supporters down when she resigned from council. Everywhere she goes however people assure her that while they are sorry she s no longer a member of council,they understand completely why she had to do what she did.

When she worked for the town, Grace always went above and beyond her official function. She was particularly active in raising funds and rallying support for various causes and charities. She would like it known she is available for involvement in the voluntary sector wherever she might be needed.

Lending a hand where needed is a hard habit to break.

Friday 20 June 2008

The No-No List Just Keeps on Growing

The list of things which must not be allowed keeps growing.

We could not allow power transmitted overheard in corridors created for the purpose. The battle aginst the Provincial Authority cost us $25,000. A local generation station is now proposed. Looks like we are still reluctant suitors.

The North-East Quadrant Ratepayers Association determined homes in their neck of the woods should not be altered without everyone having a say-so. It cost us $45,000 for a study to support the concept.

The same neighbourhood successfully argued a brand new curb installed at the Yonge corners of Maple Street should be broken out and replaced with a "roll-over". (no curb at all). It cost $35,000 .When the ground became a mucky mess, interlocking brick pavement appeared. We never knew that cost.

People in the newer north-east decided they could not abide train horns in the wee small hours of the morning. A study to determine what might be needed to encourage the cessation of the horn cost us $15,thousand. Only to discover the Region was not a willing partner.

The . Ratepayers' Association then decided drastic measures were needed to discourage traffic on their streets. They wanted the convenience of living in the centre of a growing metropolis without the downside. They live on streets with schools but they object to school buses. We took care of their problems.. The contract cost $181,719.20. $160,624.77 has been spent so far. Three traffic cushions are pending. and the community at large continues to be aghast at what was accomplished.

We spent hours haranguing staff about three wind turbines on Aurora Cable property on Ridge Road before giving up the ghost .But.not before hours of staff time had been expended. It ended with direction to the Chief Building Official being directed to provide a definition of the word "storage".An official report ensued containing three separate dictionary definitions. Then we retreated behind closed doors to continue the "debate".An EMERGENCY was declared to consider how to handle a councillor who declared the closed meeting was a contrivance to continue harassment of Aurora Cable.

A similar rigmarole took place in response to demands of a few residents of the Mosaic Town House Complex who declared the Town must order neighbour Canadian Tire to keep parking lot lights on after ten-thirty p.m. Legal costs were expended to discover a tri-party agreement with Canadian Tire existed which provided twenty-seven pages of dispute-resolution mechanisms. The complaining residents hadn't bothered to mention it when Mayor Morris et al took up the cudgels in their behalf..

Council ordered the town works department to hook up three Canadian Tire parking lot lights to the street lighting system. It never happened. Still another senseless futile and expensive exercise to no avail save political kudos mustered.

The former hydro building has produced no revenue for three years. It represents a loss of over $200,000 in assessment revenue.Almost thirty jobs were lost to the town when Power Stream vacated. Before the last election it was suggested the building should be used for a teen drop-in centre.We had just spent more than twenty million dollars on a recreation facility which serves youth in the main.

The last council gave direction to prepare a plan of subdivision on a parcel of land for sale by town directed auction.The work was done ready for the new council to hit the ground running.

Months of closed door discussion later a new decision was made. It should be sold by a real estate broker.They had the expertise.Staff didn't. We followed the process to the end and didn't sell. More resources were squandered. The Broker was substantially financially discountenanced in the partnership. Should we choose to go that route again, we might find it hard to locate a Broker willing to do business ..

We talk a lot about the environment and the need to conserve energy.We had $750.thousand grant money available which would have paid to install a geothermal heating system in our new cultural heritage centre which is an old school with eighteen feet high ceilings. We decided to install a conventional heating system instead. Capital costs were competitive. Annual maintenance was not No matter, we disregarded the obvious advantages of taking heat from the earth and opted for fossil fuel.and carbon emissions.

We spent almost a million dollars on re-construucting a lay-by street with fifty-one homes. And added $61 thousand to dress -up half a dozen driveways to their owners' satisfaction..

We are not even half way through our term of office.We have performed to the thorough satisfaction of pockets of residents here and there .What the community in general thinks may not be so favourable

We were approached to sell part of the parcel of land we had for sale to to the Regional Police department . It would have meant an injection of eight hundred high-paying jobs into our over-all economy . We turned it down.
There's a hew practice of retaining lawyers to ride herd on a councillor with a natural inclination to inform people about affairs that should concern them in language calculated to grab their attention.

We are currently in the process of adopting a Code of Conduct .The prospect is exciting some councillors particularly Councillor Granger. It involves retaining and paying professional fees to an Integrity Commissioner .Councillors can file complaints of wrongdoing against colleagues.

According to the Code,what I just did above will undoubtedly be considered wrongdoing by some..

Wednesday 18 June 2008

When is Litter not Litter?

When it's excrement, that's when.

Doggie doo in litter bins is a problem reported in detail to council for years. After eons of nagging, pet-owners stoop and scoop in public spaces and take responsibility for disposal. They conspicuously carry plastic bags to alert all and sundry they are responsible pet owners and considerate neighbours.it is truly a good thing.

Some however using the parks and trail systems do not see the logic of having to carry the stuff home. "We pay high taxes," they state correctly. "Why should the town not provide us with this amenity."

There are full and practical reasons.Cost is not one.

In a recent effort to curb use of bins as puppy porta-potties, stickers were stuck warning if the practice continues, bins will be removed. The message was polite, concise and to the point.

Stickers were ignored and in some instances removed. The Mayor received complaints. Consequently., in a public meeting, staff were admonished for the "tone" of the message. That's unfortunate. The problem is too serious to be jabbed at.

Bins must be manually emptied into a truck by parks' staff. Most of the material is recyclable. Excrement weighs many times more than recyclables. At the time of collection, the stuff is saturated. Bags are torn; bins frequently so heavy they have to be handled by forklift which in turn damages surroundings.The re-cyclables are contaminated. The job is obnoxious and from a sanitary perspective, not one I would wish on my worst enemy.. People's children are doing this task.

Complaining councillors should try it. . If riding around in a shiny red firetruck show's what it's like to be a firefighter ,maybe riding around in the parks' garbage truck will accomplish the same purpose..

But that's not the worst of it.

At the site at the end of Machell Avenue a forty-eight yard container awaits.That's a big sucker. Machell is a short residential street ..The container sits until filled. .. open to the elements..."juice" seeping out and permeating the soil . The neighbours are not sanguine .

Bear in mind, most of this stuff is recyclable until contaminated by excrement.

But that's not the worst of it.

This abomination has to be shipped to Michigan. Hundreds of trucks trundle down the highway daily emitting diesel fumes and carbon into the stratosphere.and. effluent from the loads to the roads. Americans are not more fond of crap than Ontarians. They object to contaminated waste. being shipped across the border.It is against the rules.

We are breaking the rules. We are bad neighbours And that is the worst of it..

To a resident enjoying a stroll in a park or trail, it is not unreasonable to think a single deposit of poop in a plastic bag will not make a difference. Multiply it by hundreds over a period of days and it is no longer a small thing. Think about it, people.

The Green Bin is not an option. They cannot be secure in.public places.They cannot be collected from remote locations. .Turtle Island collects from roadside. A separate contractor collects the 48yard container from Machell Avenue ..

The problem is of sufficient weight, pardon the pun ,there can be no more messing about. . Pussy footing around the nastiness is not the answer.. Council must provide leadership in dealing with the issue by supporting staff instead of undermining them...

Finding fault with concise wording of a message just doesn't cut it.Pet owners have to accept the town has done due diligence to deal with the problem..

They must care of the nasties themselves. .It's one of the things you have to do to be able to enjoy the love and loyalty of an animal friend in an urban dense community.

Thursday 12 June 2008

Comments to the Train Horn Blog

I thought the train horn blog was a bit clumsy. Except for the by-election question, it has received the most comments.

People seem to agree regular sound becomes part of the environment and causes no disturbance.

My daughter lived in Holland Landing up the hill from a level crossing. She heard the freight train in the beginning but soon after it failed to register. Another daughter lives in Newmarket. Her experience is the same. Ambulance and police sirens are part of her environment because of the proximity of the hospital, but she doesn't hear them unless a visitor comments.

One of my correspondents speaks of growing up on an air force base and being nostalgic for the high-pitched sound of jets taking off. Even while she wrote it she found it hard to believe.

People live alongside the tracks throughout the length of Aurora. None of the crossings are distant from each other. Yet the people in the extreme north-east are the ones who are disturbed by the noise.

It has been an interesting exchange. I really appreciate the comments.

Shopping Convenience .... or Not

Some years ago when there was no Michael's Craft Store here I took a leisurely Sunday afternoon Drive to Barrie. From the minute I exited the 400 onto Bayfield I knew the trip was a fool's errand.

I crept towards the turn for Michael's. It took ages to make it. In the parking lot I waited for a vacant spot and observed the foot traffic going to and from the store. I waited ten minutes before deciding a visit to Michael's at that moment in time was not what I had in mind when I set out. There could be nothing in that store to entice me to visit under these circumstances.

Without getting out of the car, I headed back to Bayfield. But not so fast. Getting out took longer than getting in. My recollection of the visit is of mass driving chaos. I remember thinking City Council must not have any traffic planners to advise them. Furthermore I could see no possibility for improvement. I never returned to Michael's but subsequent visits to a family satellite behind the Koslov Centre convinced me there was no hope for change.

That experience and others persuaded me a signalized intersection within feet of the Bayview-Wellington intersection was not how to welcome patrons to a new retail centre in Aurora.

The 404 draws from places North and South. Aurora Sideroad or Wellington Street carries traffic from East and West. If congestion is such they never want to return to Aurora no benefit can be derived. Since the Region was created, all direct access to and from Regional roads has been restricted. Roads have had to be built to provide access off Wellington Street.

Council was faced with a dilemma last week. And a few weeks before that. And a few weeks before that. Twice the Rice Group, owners of the north-west corner site of Wellington Street and Bayview have come back to council with witnesses to argue a signalized intersection was essential for the success of their enterprise. They offered to pay all costs of undoing hundreds of thousands of dollars of elegant infrastructure already forked out by taxpayers. The third attempt to obtain a different decision was by letters indicating the signalized intersection is a condition of locating in Aurora.

Three times a majority vote has been cast to refuse the request.

There are arguments for both sides of the question. New assessment, new retail jobs, an exceptional and proven quality of service versus abandoning a vision and careful planning, destruction of infrastructure ,inconsistency in decision-making , traffic chaos and inconvenience to would-be patrons of local commerce and a hint of preferential consideration.

It was no contest.

There was irony in the situation. During the last term, the Rice Group came to council and asked for a change from Office Space to Retail Commercial. Our planners recommended against the change. The Town's Official Plan envisioned highest and best use of the site to be office space. The Town's Economic Development Officer anticipated the need and endorsed the vision.

The Rice Group was cordially received. Their request was granted with two councillors opposed; myself and Councillor Wendy Gaertner. We supported the planners and the vision.

Taxpayers in Aurora and throughout York Region spend millions of dollars every year for planning and engineering expertise. Hundreds of people toil conscientiously in their cubicles, poring over documents, examining minutiae of figures and drawings. They work for months to do all things necessary to ensure every "I" is dotted and "T" crossed. They prepare concise reports with endless details for political masters, only to have them summarily dismissed when private interest waves its magisterial arm. I am constantly amazed by what I consider to be senseless squandering of public resources. The process is redeemed only when common sense prevails. But not often enough.

Until now, the Region of York has been firm and consistent in exercising its authority over access and egress on Regional roads. From "No Way Jose ", they are now saying "We would prefer it not happen that way."

It is not a positive sign.

For the third time, Councillor McRoberts, MacEachern, Gaertner,and myself voted to refuse the request. In the last vote, Collins -Mrakas voted against the refusal but in favour of two clauses that allowed the motion to pass. And so it has come to pass. Finally. Hopefully.

Yet it's odd how some things, like the question of a by-election can be off the table after a single vote in committee and others keep coming back to be re-hashed repeatedly in the transparent hope of a different conclusion and despite Rules of Order intended to mitigate against precisely that eventuality.

Friday 6 June 2008

Whistle While You.....Sleep?

The following is a letter to the Editor of The Auroran:

To The Editor,

Once again I am the object of revile. I have had the temerity to suggest the cost of an undertaking might influence the answer when people are asked to respond Yes or No to a particular question. I moved the matter be referred back to staff for costs to be determined. The Mayor conscientiously forwarded a copy of the motion to Barbara Best who lobbied four years to have the 2 a.m. train whistle stopped.

Consequently, my name is mud. Four residents including Barbara Best . have taken me to task for miscreant behaviour.

I have engaged in dialogue with a resident who has been fair minded enough to respond to my points of reference without significant castigation.

The report to council shows potential costs of between $74,000 and $120,000 for measures needed to accommodate the cessation of the whistle. The figures are not firm at this time.

Residents who are in favour of silencing the whistle are confident they know everything that needs to be known to accomplish their objective. From my perspective, there are other aspects that need to be determined. Not the least of which is the 2008 budget which was struck with fanfare just a few weeks ago. So far as I am aware, there are no funds allocated for this project.

The idea of a survey to determine public support for the project was not mine. But since the public are being asked it seems sensible to me the ins and outs of the matter should be readily available.

I acknowledge my experience makes me less than eager to leap on any band wagon. I need to be convinced. I enclose my last communication with a resident who favours the 2a.m. train whistle ban.

Good Morning Neighbour,

Thank you for continuing the dialogue. I keep being reminded of the political maxim "The less you say the less likely you will be misunderstood." I wrote that one myself. I don't follow it of course as you have noted this morning in your reference to my tirade and yesterday my diatribe.

I did not tell you of my childhood experience of living in the vicinity of a railway station and then a signalling yard to entertain you or bore you to death so that you will never make the mistake of communicating with me again. I was illustrating a point. My experience is that if you live with excessive noise that becomes the norm. Everyone I have shared notes with on this matter has had the same experience.

Yesterday I spoke to someone closely involved in the question, who told of living in an apartment in Scarborough that backed on to a railway line. When the trains passed the entire building vibrated and windows rattled. The first time it happened, they thought it was an earthquake. After a month they no longer heard it.

When people were exercised about the proposal to put higher voltage power lines in the existing corridor, a man in a crowd of protesters demanded to know the name and address of a hydro official. He needed it he said, for when his ten year old son would be diagnosed with leukemia and he would file suit against that particular official.His neighbours cheered and applauded his comment. But I thought , “My God man! Do you hear what you are saying?”

Yesterday I had an angry email from a woman who said her children are falling asleep at their desks in school because of a lack of sleep at home. She suggested I was rambling and incoherent .
I have to say , if I believed where I lived would be the cause for a child of mine to be diagnosed with cancer, I would not be waiting for the wheels of bureaucracy to take care of the problem. I would be out of that place in a nanosecond. The same principle applies if any or all of my children were getting insufficient sleep in their own beds at night as to cause them to fall asleep in the classroom.

The safety and well-being of my children was always my responsibility. It did not rest with a nameless, faceless train driver who is responsible only for safely operating a train on a railway track.

Where we live is a personal choice we all make

You have nine people at a council table to consider your problem. In turn they each have several thousand people who are interested in how the matter is resolved.. It should not surprise or offend anyone if there is more than one viewpoint expressed at a council table. In fact, if you have several people expressing exactly the same viewpoint, you might rightly suspect their intellectual autonomy.

If I am satisfied the problem is valid and that stopping the train whistle at two o'clock in the morning is a sensible and safe solution; if the cost of the measure is not prohibitive; if there is no question of serious liability to the Town of Aurora or the Region of York for that matter, I will support the measure.

But I have to tell you I am not without experience or prejudice, as I have tried to illustrate. I have knowledge of families devastated by a collision between a car and a train. One such family lived at 24 Murray Drive. \Four children at home still in bed at seven o'clock in the morning; mother father and another person killed instantly on the level crossing on Centre Street, on their way to work.while the children slept. That memory is not an easy one to erase. Those children were classmates of my own.

You have your experience. I have mine. My decision will be based on mine with all the information that can be assembled and the strength of the argument presented. I do not react positively
when someone tells me I am rambling and incoherent. My inclination is to chuck some of that right back .

James Watts was the inventor of the steam engine and the father of the Industrial Revolution Pierre Berton would have known all about him and credited him with John A Macdonald for the reality of Canada. It's for certain ,it could never have happened without trains . The Last Spike came after. I learned about James Watts in elementary school history. Most of the great inventors were Scots you know.

Evelyn Buck