My Favourite Photos

A few of my favourite photos... some for sale, even! More »

Glory Whalen

The revised edition of the story of Glory Whalen is now available for download. Click here for more... More »

Jack`s War

Jack Fisher was a flight sergeant and the wireless operator aboard LM 129, a Lancaster bomber attached to RAF Squadron 207. On July 8, 1944, the plane was shot down over France... More »

Awards

I`ve picked up my share of awards over the years, for writing, design, and photography. Here`s a bit of my CV... More »

 

An experiment…

… until I can set up a more permanent space on the website to sell my photos. This is the first one:

DSCN0616_smI’m making the accompanying image available for download (image downloaded would be high-resolution; I’ve printed it at around 18×11 inches, and it comes out fantastic). All you have to do is stick it on a USB key and take it to your friendly neighbourhood (preferably downtown) photography store.

$30, through Paypal… Only 10 copies available.

Or maybe, we argue based on facts…

… rather than trying to sell the concrete pad in the Eddie Bush as some sort of unproven economic driver for the downtown…

That’s how the idea of the pad has been sold to the community, not the fundamental operating issues. And as for the so-called ‘study’ the BIA undertook several months back, it was more of a survey than study, with the responses, again, anecdotal.

I wasn’t the one who sat at the council table three weeks ago and stated the number of 1,000 a week…

If the Eddie Bush is going to become the so-called part-time facility (that is, not operating between April and September), then put forward the argument it makes sense to take out the existing sand floor and replace it with concrete in order to protect the pipes, and leave out anything to do with the building being sacrosanct or the cure-all for the woes of the downtown. But also, understand that it’s more than just the floor, and that is something CAO John Brown will hopefully get across to council tonight.

It is a 65-year-old facility — with original mechanical parts at that. What I fear is the $500,000 upset limit council will put on ‘phase 1′ won’t be enough, and September will roll around and the arena won’t be in a fit state to fire up for the next season.

What needs to happen is we need to stop playing politics with it…

Good numbers, bad numbers…

… and yes, having solid numbers does make sense

I don’t think anyone would argue against getting a sense of how much it would cost to bring the Eddie Bush up to a standard where it could be used for other things is fine — if only we knew if those other uses would fly. We could plop a concrete floor in the arena, and the only activity to go on all summer would be the grand finals for the Collingwood Elvis Festival.

That won’t pay the bills.

Which brings me back to the supposition of my original argument: we don’t have a business case for how we intend to use the Eddie Bush for the next 20 years. At least the recommendation of CAO John Brown, to undertake an assessment review of the building, is a start; had council had its way, we would have been backing the cement truck up to the back door of the arena under the assumption that we “build it and they will come.”

Then again, it also would also have made sense to have a twinned facility, but that’s ice under the bridge…

And the councillor’s argument continues to rely on the basis of the BIA’s theory there’s less traffic in the downtown because fewer tournaments have been scheduled at the Eddie Bush. Not because it’s been seriously cold this winter (the subject of a call-in show Monday morning on Toronto talk radio; a few callers noting they stayed in rather than shopped), or maybe the general state of the economy.

To use his wording, if the author had bothered to check with the minor hockey association (or even look at the online schedule), he would have seen the anecdotal evidence he was being fed was, um, inaccurate.

Yes, the majority of minor hockey games this season were played at Central Park (174 to 121); at the same time, however, there would be practices at both arenas, plus the Collingwood Skating Club has been able to have more time at the Eddie Bush, where they have equipment (such as a harness rig for teaching jumps).

But there are only two hockey tournaments in Collingwood during the ‘prime’ season: Huronia, and Silver Stick. With the latter, of the 34 or so games scheduled in Collingwood, 28 were hosted at the Eddie Bush — including all four championship finals.

For the former, the games were split evenly between the Eddie Bush and Central Park — which Central Park used for the finals. But given that Sprung was the title sponsor, that makes sense, doesn’t it? And, all games on the Saturday and Sunday were played in Collingwood, where previously (with only one arena in town) the games were split between the Eddie Bush and a second facility out of town (usually Thornbury).

Same goes for the Georgian Bay, OMHA and Local League championships — evenly split between Central and Eddie Bush, with all but one of the OMHA final games scheduled to be played at the downtown arena.

It also gets away from the basis of the BIA’s argument that non-prime uses were going to Central Park, which is based on the very false premise the arena is used non-stop by hockey teams during the winter.

I’m told one of the Collingwood teams, to celebrate their OMHA win this weekend, headed to Boston Pizza for a celebratory dinner. Should we have banned that, ordered all First Street restaurants to shut down, and required the team to eat downtown?

If we’re putting a concrete floor in the Eddie Bush, let’s make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons, and not as some panacea to the downtown.

When it comes to quotes, that was a doozy…

Over the last 23 (or so) years I’ve been covering municipal council, there’s been a few things, uh, said at the council table. Some left me quizzical; others, fuming.

These would probably be in my top-10 classic council moments:

- Deb Doherty (1997-2000), during discussion on maintaining billboard signs (which are not permitted under the sign bylaw, tho’ existing ones are grandfathered) to address safety issues, questions whether the town’s sign bylaw supersedes Ministry of Labour legislation.

- Blaine McKenzie (1991-1993) asks a presenter a question… two minutes after the presenter gave the answer.

- Tim McNabb (2006-2010), during discussion of the A&W design, questions whether the orange stripe around the top of the building should go right across the back, or only wrap around for a couple of feet on either side. And we wonder why he got saddled with always saying the phrase, “I’m just trying to get my head around this…”

- Sonny Foley (2006-2010) complains that the wheel rims on one of the town’s new public transit buses “don’t look heritage enough.”

- Dave Labelle (2006-2010), when a concern is raised about the ability of the working poor to pay for increases in water and sewer rates, suggests “maybe we can tip more.”

- Rick Lloyd (1994-1997), when fellow councillor Paul Bonwick (at the time working for a local car dealership) raises a concern about a potential hike in property taxes, tells Bonwick, “well, maybe you should sell more cars.”

- Foley (1994-1997), during discussion about the municipal parking lot at Fourth and Hurontario (now ScotiaBank) and using low-maintenance, drought-resistant native plantings for landscaping, demands to see grass instead, and thunders, “I thought we were a green community.”

- Norman Sandberg (2006-2010), after sending fire chief Trent Elyea on a near-impossible chase to find a comparative municipality for fire service costing, tells the chief his “request… was somewhat meaningless” after Elyea delivers the goods. Yes, we pay Elyea about $120,000, and you just wasted his time…

- Foley (2006-2010), during discussion on the wellness centre proposed for Heritage Park, tells his fellow councillors it was “sheer stupidity to continue the way we’re going.” He later tells the E-B, “I have never seen so many stupid decisions during a term of council.” Um, never mind…

- And (drumroll), my all-time favourite: Mayor Chris Carrier, commenting on the wonderful work in Harbourlands Park, then refers to the Watt’s Boathouse as “this ugly old building.”

But I think this may be my next-to-all-time favourite line to fall out of a councillor’s mouth:

“I think to try and focus on something that’s just limited to our boundaries is pointless, in the sense that we can’t solve the world’s problems, and the problems of fit or unfit youth around the world…”

Cogitate on that one for a bit. Remember the phrase, “think globally, act locally“? Yep, loser talk. Something latte-sipping liberal hipsters tell each other so they feel good about the stinky composting bin under the kitchen sink.

#Pointless… a new Twitter hashtag is born for Collingwood…

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the reaction was because the idea was being presented by PRC director Marta Proctor. That’s exactly how transparent the scorn was. I think if Marta had presented council with a means how to spin bread into gold, she would have been chastised for spilling a little bit of flour on the floor.

The point of running for political office, any office, is to effect change — preferably positive change. The Healthy Kids Challenge was a perfect opportunity to do just that (thankfully council approved it); I know of no other provincial or federal program that would give a municipality $7 for every $1 invested — with a municipal budget impact of about a quarter of a per cent.

And it has the chance to improve the lives of local kids. Thank goodness such shortsighted thinking didn’t permeate the rest of council…

Time to stop knee-jerking on rec facility issue

Anyone exposed to Monday night’s rather confusing discussion (debate?) on whether the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena should be considered the primary rink facility during the winter months can be forgiven if they wondered what the fuss was all about.

We now have two rinks, the needs of several user groups — notably minor hockey — are now being accommodated; we’ve even been able to make room for other user groups, such as a women’s rec hockey league. And, as one of the rep team coaches, and the president of the minor hockey association, told me this week, the chance to have more ice time for our young people to develop their skills at all levels has led to success — especially with five rep squads on their way to the OMHA championships in their respective divisions.

So it’s a good thing.

The issue, however, is that council continues to not take a holistic view of the future of its rec facilities and how they’re programmed, and would rather continue to take a knee-jerk, micromanagement approach: case-in-point, Monday night’s discussion on how the rinks are scheduled.

The town spent about $8 million or so on a facility at Central Park, intending it to be a showcase building. Monday night’s decision, however, completely disregarded that direction, and instead made the Eddie Bush the prime facility without any real basis to the decision.

That there is no difference in cost in operating during the day between the two rinks, a point made by Councillor Dale West at the outset that otherwise should probably have stopped the conversation there and then and just led to the decision that was ultimately made.

Rather, councillors decided to conflate the discussion into 30 minutes of procedural wrangling and hand-wringing, and rely on what is a still-to-be-proven argument the Eddie Bush represents an economic hub for the downtown.

According to the BIA, it’s estimated there’s about 1,000 fewer people in the downtown per week because the Eddie Bush wasn’t being programmed during non-prime hours this winter, from when the building would usually open in the morning until minor hockey takes over at 4 p.m.

Drilling down into that theory, however, BIA chair Bradley Green told the local media the 1,000 people was extrapolated based on the assumption the arena would be booked solid for hockey during those nine hours or so of non-prime use. Which would, um, suddenly make that ‘prime’ use — and a claim that’s not even close to supportable based on how the arena was scheduled in the past (when it was the only ice facility in town).

For a council that allegedly prides itself on making ‘science-based’ decisions, it stuns me that no one (i.e. council members) thought to ask the question when the ’1,000 people’ comment was made at the table on Monday.

It’s unsupportable.

Council had its chance at long-term planning for the two arenas… last year, and said no. That was when Councillor Keith Hull put on the table a motion to create a task force to examine the social and economic benefits of the Eddie Bush before the town consider taking out the sand floor to make way for a concrete pad. A year later, we truly don’t know the impact of the arena to the downtown during non-prime hours, other than a couple of downtown restaurants aren’t seeing the 12 or so guys who would go for breakfast after their morning game of shinny at the Eddie Bush are no longer coming downtown because they play at Central Park.

Which is hardly 1,000 people. Not even close, even if you were to toss in the Mom and Tot skating program, a couple of hours of public skating a day, and even the occasional high school hockey game.

And now Councillor Ian Chadwick has put forward a notice of motion calling on the municipality to spend the money to put a concrete floor in the building, without any kind of business case (heck, there’s even a move afoot to do away with any kind of engineering review). It’s suggested the arena can be used for trade shows, other sporting events, concerts… but those are only suggestions — and a $40-million corporation shouldn’t be staking its decision-making on the basis of ‘suggestions’. Had Hull’s motion passed last year, councillors might have had a business case to justify the concrete floor in their hands this month. We might have started the process of developing an RFP to take to the private sector for an events facilitator for the building, similar to what London, Ontario, did with Budweiser Gardens.

But we are not London, Ontario, and I doubt that if a concrete floor went in the Eddie Bush tomorrow that there would be a flood of conference and trade show business.

The problem is we don’t know what the arena needs, because council has resisted at every turn to undertake a proper inspection. We don’t know what the facility means to the downtown, because all we have is anecdotal information.

The Eddie Bush Memorial Arena may very well be the heart and soul of the downtown, and nothing would make me happier than to see 1,000 people in the stands for Sunday’s midget AE game against St. Mary’s (puck drops at 4:30). But I need cold, hard facts — because it’s my tax money, and your tax money — that council is taking the right direction on the rec facility file. And so far, I’m not seeing it.

Tomorrow’s ranting… today!

Here’s my column in tomorrow’s treeware edition of the Enterprise-Bulletin; I’m pretty certain it will get me back to the top spot on the Enemies List

No meaningful way to measure ‘transparency’

‘Open and transparent’.

It’s become the favourite phrase of Collingwood town councillors the last couple of months, as if saying it enough actually makes it so.

At a recent special council meeting held on a Tuesday — without the Rogers TV cameras rolling, and only two people in the audience aside from local reporters — it was said three times, as if us scribes would dutifully make note.

We did not.

Truth be told, I was just about ready to jam a pen into my carotid artery if I heard it uttered again.

A few weeks back, Councillor Ian Chadwick noted on his blog that this current crop of municipal politicians is the “most productive, engaged, open and dedicated council I have served on, and reported on while I was reporter in the local media.”

Dedicated is a point I would never argue when it comes to talking about any member of municipal council. Most of the councillors I’ve reported on the last 20-plus years (that’s 32 people who have served as mayor, deputy-mayor, reeve, deputy-reeve, and councillor) have shown a dedication to the job.

However, to say this crop of municipal politicians is any more dedicated than others is mere hyperbole on the councillor’s part.

Most productive? Perhaps. While Terry Geddes was mayor, millions were invested in the town’s sewer infrastructure, and a plan was laid out for replacement through user fees rather than the general tax levy; a new public works building was constructed; the west-end commercial zone was developed; the first bylaws for pesticide use and vehicle idling were implemented. The master development agreement with Fram-Slokker was signed, and work began to redevelop the Shipyards.

One of the final acts of council under Geddes was a decision to expand the public transit system from two buses to three.

Mayor Chris Carrier’s council redeveloped the downtown and First Street, and saw through the construction of the new library, as well as a couple of sewer projects. And, contrary to what the public may glean from the latest piece of municipal advertising to reach local mailboxes, this council had little to do with the opening of Georgian College’s Collingwood campus; that project was started during Carrier’s term.

By development numbers, in Geddes’ final term of council, there was $140.5 million in residential construction, $45 million in commercial development, and $5.3 million in industrial building. In Carrier’s first three years of office, there was $150.2 million in residential development, $12.3 million in commercial development, and $8.3 million in industrial construction.

In the first three years of this current term of council, there has been $139.9 million in residential construction, $25.5 million in commercial development, and $2.9 million in industrial construction.

In terms of residential building permits, in those same time periods, it was 853 in Geddes’ final term as mayor, 827 in Carrier’s first three years in office, and 749 under the present council.

So from purely a development point-of-view, it would be hard to classify the current council as the most productive.

This council’s decision-making record? Yes, they built two recreational facilities (with considerable controversy), purchased the Mountainview property to widen the intersection at Hurontario and First (again, controversial), sold half of Collus to PowerStream (with controversy — and, notably, a loss of income). And yes, Council hired an integrity commissioner, not so much kicking and screaming, but certainly with mumbling and grumbling.

Council is finally acting on the economic development file, though I would hardly term ‘co-locating’ several agencies under one roof as “bold.” The municipality can only benefit from these groups working together, but its success will only be judged once it is put into practice and been operating for a year or so.

But the timing of it, along with the much-heralded ‘strategic financial plan,’ smacks of early electioneering, an effort to make this council appear it’s on the ball.

But ‘open’? As someone who’s covered eight terms of municipal council, I wouldn’t say this group is any more or less open than any other council. During the last council, the ongoing behind-closed-door discussion on Collingwood’s legal challenge of the school boards’ right to levy education development charges always disconcerted me.

This term, I’m astounded by the head-burying that has taken place on revelations the negotiations leading up to the decision to sole-source the largest single purchase made by the municipality were never disclosed to council.

And, the information they were given the night they made the decision, wasn’t correct.

(That the information was later communicated to residents in a newsletter from the municipality is a debate for another day.)

‘Engaged’? A passive-aggressive motion calling on someone to explain the actions of the citizens’ group he heads up I guess is a form of ‘engagement’, if it weren’t for whole 1950s Joe McCarthy ‘start naming names’ vibe.

Or the rather questionable timing of sending out a newsletter in the latest utility bill trumpeting this council’s ‘accomplishments’ at the cusp of a municipal election campaign, with two incumbents already stepping forth into the ring. That’s not engagement, it’s propaganda.

I guess you could ask the 49 people in the Paterson Street area who signed a petition about the location for the entryway to the Central Park Arena whether this is an ‘engaged’ council. Or the folks who live in the Forest subdivision, who probably feel like their concerns about a bed and breakfast operation potentially opening in their neighbourhood were casually swept aside on Monday night. Councillors wouldn’t even give them a tidbit, a request that council eventually be called upon to approve a site plan agreement.

So the next time a council member makes claims of ‘openness and transparency’, you’ll have to forgive me if I scoff, because there’s just no way to measure if it’s true.

No parallels whatsoever…

I find the story of the resignation of Orillia’s CAO fascinating:

Orillia council’s handling of the recreation file with Tribal Partners has “all the telltale signs” of a project gone bad, says city CAO Roman Martiuk.

“I have the unique experience of having lived the forensic audit on a project gone bad. I can see all the telltale signs. I saw too many of the signs here,” Martiuk said Monday…

*snip*

In the confidential report, Martiuk listed his concerns: that some members of council have worked with Tribal Partners to help the company obtain a contract with the city, that the city would have to sole source for the project to go ahead at 174 West St. S. and that members of council made decisions without seeking staff advice.

Yes, absolutely no parallels there to our own debate over recreation facilities. Sole-sourcing? Pshaw… Council members involving themselves in the procurement process? Well, thankfully, not to this extent.

But it is troubling, as it’s been proven time and time again – Ian Chadwick’s ‘debunking’ of local conspiracy theories notwithstanding – the negotiations took place with Sprung and BLT several weeks before council voted to sole source the purchase of the two buildings for the pool and the new rink, that certain members of council were involved in the discussions, and that council was presented with information on the night they made the decision that wasn’t accurate.

That’s been proven, time and again, through Freedom of Information requests – the most recent one generating several thousand pages of material (tho’, truth be told, the request did cast a very wide net).

Collingwood’s case may be minor in comparison, but the parallels are there. And that council continues to bury its head over the flaws in the process, to me, is somewhat exasperating; even Keith Hull, the only vocal critic at the table about the deal, has been hanging outside the three-point line on the most recently-revealed process issues and waiting for a clear shot for a field goal. Keith… the shot clock is running down; time to make a hard drive to the basket…

Here’s where it gets interesting…

… Councillor Joe Gardhouse files to run for mayor of Collingwood

Well, I guess that assures there will be at least one vacant position for a new councillor. If we plan this right, the next council could feature Ian Chadwick sitting next to Steve Berman…

Anyhoo…

Nobody is surprised; me, not so much, because it had been speculated about amongst the core of us concerned about such things for the last couple of months, that if Gardhouse ran, it wouldn’t be for a council position (insert your own speculation about the reasoning for that).

So… cue the campaign to undermine Joe’s campaign, such as whether he would stick around for a full term because of his 2005 resignation (that was a theme used in 2006 when Joe was in a three-way race for deputy-mayor, a campaign I completely gapped on when I banged out the quickie story I linked to above.

On another note, I read this post by Nobody with interest; the number of $53 million was the upper limit of what the debenture debt was speculated to be by the end of 2010 in an article I wrote in February, 2010 (there’s some screwy formatting issues with the story, mainly as a result of how the stories were posted online back then). At the time, it was speculated the debt could potentially be between $48 million and $53 million, and the candidates went with the bigger number; there was nothing really to challenge, because at the time it was the best possible information we had.

It wasn’t until the campaign was almost over that the council of the day firmed up exactly what needed to be borrowed for projects such as the library and downtown rehabilitation; yes, this current council approved the final amounts, but it was part of a two-step process initiated by the previous council.

That said, the individual who passed those comments to Nobody is correct; Chadwick does make a big deal about how much debt this council has paid down, like they deserve medals (the town did not accelerate its debt payments, just paid down its debt as normal; it would be a story if the town didn’t pay its debt!).

But hopefully that clarifies a couple of points… it’s just too bad the fancy charts I had in the February, 2010 article don’t show up well online…

Powering up…

And to think I had this story all written, and then ‘Little Stevie’ Berman had to plug his name in there and add a little spark to this otherwise quiet kick-off to the municipal election campaign

Sigh…

So while we all hold our breath and wait to see what former mayor Chris Carrier is doing (I told him on Thursday I thought his updated web site looked very ‘campaigny’), and whether or not Edward Bunkertoad is all talk and no filing,  I think it’s a good time to launch our first poll, and start to determine the ‘power rankings’ of those in the running…

Of the current five council candidates, pick up to two you're most likely to vote for (answers in alphabetical order, just to put that conspiracy to rest)?

  • Steve Berman (66%, 47 Votes)
  • Deb Doherty (38%, 27 Votes)
  • No one tickling my fancy yet... (23%, 16 Votes)
  • Ian Chadwick (13%, 9 Votes)
  • Kevin Lloyd (13%, 9 Votes)
  • Cam Ecclestone (8%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 71

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Nothing of particular importance…

Have I got a deal for you: I  wonder how Integrity Commish would rule on Councillor Ian Chadwick’s minute-long infomercial for his latest book for Municipal World during council’s round-table update on community events and such. It certainly raised some eyebrows around the council table, and had us media types asking Mayor Sandra Cooper after the meeting whether or not it was appropriate.

It is, after all, something he is paid to do; would it be any different than councillors Hull and Gardhouse — both real estate agents — bringing up their homes of the week? Or Deputy-mayor Rick Lloyd talking about his store’s latest special on roses?

The round-table portion of council is to update the community on events and happenings, not for self-promotion…

UPDATE: Councillor Chadwick provides a nice synopsis of his book here, which is the appropriate thing to do; good for him to be able to do something he enjoys, and make money at it to – believe it or, I do think writing is something he is very good at. But again – self-promotion at the council table is a no-no; the appropriate thing would be for the mayor to have made note of it…

Things you learn: If anyone has been paying attention to council agendas, you’d know that council has not passed an accounts payable motion since May.
I wasn’t the only one wondering, either; a couple of councillors I’ve discussed the matter with were also curious why the monthly tally of bills being paid by the town wasn’t being presented publicly (since we are so busy being transparent and accountable, shurely!), though hadn’t gotten around to asking the question.

As it turns out, it’s not a requirement under the Municipal Act for council to approve its monthly accounts; as the Deputy-mayor attempted to explain to me, taking it off the agenda helps cut down on the length of council meetings… which is, uh, the most ridiculous excuse I think I’ve ever heard in my life. Outlining, on a monthly basis, the cash going out the door, is being accountable to the public, because as taxpayers, we’re entitled to know what the municipality is spending — and it normally takes about five minutes…

I’m surprised none of the other council members have asked the question, publicly…

Truer words never spoken: Councillor Keith Hull, as councillors debated the Parks, Recreation and Culture grant program, a global amount of $50,000 distributed among 20 groups, “we’ve spent at the the table 10 times that, with far less conversation…”

Channeling Yogi Berra (allegedly): Mike Edwards on the town’s strategic priorities, “if you don’t know where you’re going, you could end up somewhere else…”