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 »


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


It was 69 years ago tonight…

On July 8, 1944, just a little after 1 a.m., Hauptmann Gerhard Raht’s Ju-88 came up from below the crew of LM 129, and the Luftwaffe pilot unleashed a barrage from his 20 mm cannons into the Lancaster.

The bullets tore through the aluminum skin of the four-engined bomber, setting the rear of the plane ablaze, and if not killing the rear gunner instantly, then surely sealing his death.

My grandfather, Flight Sgt. Jack Fisher, was the wireless operator aboard LM 129, flying out of RAF Spilsby as part of Bomber Command’s 207 Squadron. On that night in 1944, they had been tasked with bombing a V-1 storage depot the Germans had tucked into the limestone caverns near St. Leu D’Esserent in northern France.

A raid two nights previous had been unsuccessful, but on this night, the planes of Bomber Command were able to complete their assignment to block the entrances. It was with a heavy cost, however, as the RAF lost 37 planes – five of which were from 207 Squadron

bomber_croppedMy grandfather’s plane never made it t the target site, instead spiralling to the ground and crashing near a road that runs between Auvers Sur Oise and Hérouville (now known as Rue François Mitterrand).

My grandfather got out, as did the flight engineer, navigator, and bomb aimer; the bodies of the two gunners, Richard Seddon and John Marwood, and the pilot, Flying Officer Charlie Stamp, were found in a field a few days later. Stamp’s parachute was partially open, meaning he made it out of the plane, but was too close to the ground when he jumped (my grandfather had jumped at 18,000 feet). They are now buried at the communal cemetery at Auvers, along with a dedication to the people who assisted the four crewmen who survived, and recognized five townspeople who had been hauled off to the concentration camps by the Gestapo for their role in the funeral for the airmen. None of them returned.

My grandfather didn’t know what had been done to the local people for nearly 50 years.

My grandfather walked to a village near where he landed, northeast of the crash: Labbeville. There, a farmer bade him to sleep in a haystack for the night, and the next day he was hidden in a shed until later in the day when another man came with two bicycles to lead him to an Underground contact in Parmain. A few days later he was taken into Paris, where he stayed with several other airmen at the home of Yvonne Diximeir.

On Aug. 14, 1944, while he and several others were being transported to the south of France, to a camp for Allied airmen who were being funneled through Spain on their way back to England, when they were caught in the middle of a firefight between members of the resistance and a German secret police unit. After their capture – during which the airmen were nearly executed – they were taken back to Paris, interrogated, then distributed to the various prisoner-of-war camps; my grandfather ended up at a camp in Silesia, in what is now in the southwest corner of Poland.

Before war’s end, he and several thousand other POWs would be marched into the heart of Germany – some for a few days, and others, like my grandfather, for three weeks before they were loaded onto cattle cars for a POW camp outside of Luckenwalde.

So on this day, I remember the sacrifices of the crew of LM 129 – the three airmen who died in the crash, and the four who survived the war (three in prison camp, one was able to evade capture), including my grandfather who died in 2004.

Credibility means never having to say you’re sorry…

Yeah, literally – that’s what it means…

According to my handy-dandy Oxford – Credibility (noun): the condition of bring credible or believable.

Or Wikipedia, which has far more credibility than it’s sometimes given credit for: the objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message.

Wikipedia goes further, noting the “credibility has two key components: trustworthiness and expertise, which both have objective and subjective components. Trustworthiness is based more on subjective factors, but can include objective measurements such as established reliability.”

So, when I see an online poll posted by Councillor Ian Chadwick asking whether local media lacks credibility, I have to admit I’m a little confounded.

Plus, it’s wrapped up in vague expressions; one of the poll options asks if ‘only some (local) media’ lack credibility of late. Are we referring to newspapers, and not radio, or radio, and not newspapers? Maybe we’re referring to only one newspaper and one radio station. Or maybe it’s a reference to only one newspaper.

I guess I could run a similar poll, asking the question whether all of council lacks credibility, only some councillors lack credibility, or whether council still has its credibility intact. That might make for some interesting results…

Have we recently published a string of lies? Is the newspaper riddled with typos and inaccuracies? Are we communicating unreliable information? Are we plagiarists? I would say both newspapers in town do a pretty good job of reporting the news fairly, honestly, and accurately, given the resources available. Yes, the occasional typo does work its way through, if only because of limited sets of eyes and tight deadlines.

If there were constant transgressions in our reporting, you would see a regular parade of corrections, clarifications and apologies in our pages; at this point, I can only think of two or three since I returned as Managing Editor four years ago.

If there was one criticism, it would be that we can’t cover everything, though we do our darnedest. However, given there’s only two editorial people in my office (myself and a writer), we can’t physically get to everything (20 years ago, the E-B had an editorial staff of eight; 10 years ago, it had an editorial staff of four).

We don’t report on rumour and innuendo. I know there’s an element in the community who would suggest we ‘conveniently’ ignore certain stories, but I would suggest there’s no story, no matter how controversial, we wouldn’t do as long as we had the documentation, and the people willing to speak to us about it. But I can’t report on something that just isn’t there.

I know one of the things Councillor Chadwick questioned – on Facebook – is why we weren’t reporting on a matter of civil litigation between two individuals. I’ve had that put to me before, on another civil litigation matter, and my response is the same: we would need to follow it through to its conclusion (something we don’t have the resources to do), and invariably, civil disputes end in settlements that can’t publicly be reported on.

I also have to weigh giving priority to coverage of that against other stories that need to be reported on, and consider its overall impact on the people in my coverage area. Does it have broad implications for the community, or does it truly only affect the two individuals at the heart of the dispute?

There’s also a significant misunderstanding of how we report the news. When the CBC story on the OPP investigation broke, I recall reading a comment on Nobody’s blog about how it was odd the E-B hadn’t reported on the CBC story right away — the insinuation being we were ignoring it.

Here’s the thing: we need to do our own due diligence and interviews — we can’t merely report on what another media is reporting, regardless of the significance of the information. In respect to the CBC story, we posted the first iteration of the story about mid-afternoon (the CBC posted their stories in their morning) — after doing our own work (I think the Connection posted their version about the same time; again, after they did their own interviews and legwork).

Which brings me back to this issue of credibility. What exactly is the local media doing – or not doing – that would warrant such a poll on Councillor Chadwick’s blog?

Is it because we’ve reported on Better Together Collingwood in its criticism of council decision-making? The Connection has posted a story about BTC’s survey (our story on the survey goes online today). I would suggest that’s the role of the newspaper — to allow the community to air its concerns, as long as both sides of an issue are given the opportunity to comment.

Is it because we support the creation of an Integrity Commissioner position? If we could be accused of anything, it’s that we don’t take a stand more often on local issues; that’s only because writing a balanced editorial on a topic requires a significant amount of research and time – time we often don’t have in the hustle and bustle of putting together the newspaper.

And to be clear, our call for an integrity commissioner has been on the basis that it’s a tool available to municipalities through the Municipal Act, not because there is a police investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in municipal decision-making that to this point remain unproven.

Is it because I’ve been critical of some of his statements online and at the council table? Is it not the role of the media to hold local politicians to account for their comments if it can be shown there’s an inconsistency between their statements and actions — or a disparity between what a councillor says today, versus what that councillor may have said previously?

Perhaps we need to be more scrupulous in our scrutiny of municipal government. Maybe that will give us the ‘credibility’ that Councillor Chadwick must believe we’re missing…

My beer with Mike…

I was hoping this was online, but I can’t seem to locate it — so I’ll post the story here.

Some context: after Duffy’s appearance at the Legion in early 2011 to stump for local Conservative nomination candidate Paul Throop, several of us sat around one of the tables at the Legion for a couple of beers while the Duffster regaled us with tales of the old days — completely off-the-record, of course…

This morning, in light of this, I’m trying to remember who the heck paid the tab…

Anyway, here’s the story I wrote at the time (in the Feb. 2, 2011 edition of the E-B), including one of those quotes that always comes back to haunt the individuals who say them…

Senator stumps Simcoe-Grey for Con nominee

COLLINGWOOD — Senator Mike Duffy has just come from having a haircut at Frank’s Barbershop, just up the street from the Enterprise-Bulleitn.
Frank “wouldn’t let me pay,” he says with mock indignation, before launching into a tale of one of the successes he’s had in his short time in politics — multi-million-dollar infrastructure funding for a college in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, his home province.
Public service, he says, has been an eyeopener for a guy who spent about 40 years in journalism.
“It was only after (his appointment, in December, 2008), that I realized the good feeling one gets from so-called public service,” he said. “It’s the little things… that you use to help people.
“For all that I do for P.E.I, I get a great sense of satisfaction. I didn’t really think about it (before his appointment), that I would get that kind of gratification.”
While Duffy is normally criss-crossing the country, speaking at Conservative fundraisers, this time he’s in Simcoe-Grey for a special reason. He’s here stumping for Paul Throop, one of the three candidates for the Conservative nomination in Simcoe-Grey.
He’s known ‘Boomer’ — Throop’s nickname from his downhill ski racing days — for about 30 years, “and he’s the kind of person (the riding) needs right now.”
Duffy made an appearance at the Nottawasaga Inn for lunch ( “It was a really huge crowd,” he said), and was making a second appearance at the Royal Canadian Legion in Collingwood in the evening.
Duffy was last in the area about this time last year, for a fundraiser for Simcoe-Grey Conservatives. Back then, of course, the Conservative Member of Parliament was Helena Guergis.
“What happened to Helena was unfortunate,” he muses.
He laughs when NDP leader Jack Layton’s suggestion is brought up about banning senators from fundraising for their parties. “There’s something called the Charter of Rights,” says Duffy. “Plus, we have a pretty onerous code of ethics.”
He says for all the negative comments about Conservatives, it’s still the party that gave women the right to vote, created the public broadcaster, and introduced simultaneous English-French translation in the House of Commons.
But he always brings the topic of the conversation back to Throop.
“Paul knows all the stuff (in Ottawa), because he’s been around forever,” says Duffy, referring to Throop’s six years as part of Peter MacKay’s political staff, and lengthy service with the party.
“When he gets there, and I hope he does, we will be the person to get results,” he says. “He knows how the system works.”
When the matter of how hotly contested this race is, between Sick Kids surgeon Kellie Leitch, and former Collingwood mayor Chris Carrier, Duffy dances around the subject for a bit.
However, he acknowledges, the issue of local politicians — and letters of endorsement — are not playing well. “People are quite appalled because the area is getting a bad rap,” he said.
The line-up of current municipal politicians who have publicly backed other candidates — mostly Leitch — is “shortsighted.
“In politics, there is a hierarchical arrangement of municipal, provincial and federal government… and it would not be a wise person who takes sides in this thing.”
Duffy notes the reason the campaign has reached the fervour it has is the “Toronto approach.
“You’ve got the people who got the money and think they’ve got the expertise… and my fear is the people will not be well-served.
“This (being a public servant) is a tough job, and if you’re not in it for the right reasons, then you could end up in a situation where other things take importance,” he said. “You have to respect the sensibilities and sensitivities of this region.”
Which, again, brings the conversation back to Throop.
“You have to have someone who understands (Ottawa) already, and they’re prepare to listen (to constituents),” said Duffy. “You see a number of people come into politics who think everybody should be grateful they’re there.
“People are not well served when there’s that disconnect… and what you need in difficult times is someone with empathy.
And with that, Throop stands, anxious to get Duffy to the legion — they’re going to be late — but it’s clear the senator is now in his element, and he can’t help but swap journalism stories.

Where there’s smoke…

… there’s, uh, more smoke…

Jeez, it’s getting smoky in here…

So, I’m reading Steve Berman’s latest blog post on Five Questions Collingwood Should Ask About Ed Houghton, thinking eventually I’ll get to the question of what shade of Just For Men is in Ed’s medicine cabinet (here’s a hint: only his stylist knows).

Unfortunately, we don’t get to that question, but we do get five questions that are either ridiculously easy to answer, or ridiculously so politically-charged that there isn’t any answer that I expect would satisfy the writer. Plus, as an added bonus, and extra-special sixth question just for the Surprise-Bulletin that is so blatantly insulting that I don’t even know how to answer it. It was not an article, but an editorial, and people are welcome to dispute or agree with its content… but if defending Ed Houghton’s record is ‘belittling’ the votes from an Internet poll and evidence of how the press has failed the community… well, you might as well dispute whether you paid for a five-minute argument, or the full half-hour (“No, you didn’t,” “Yes, I did,” “You most certainly did not…”)

But let’s start with Question 1: Whom does Mr. Houghton work for. That one is actually quite simple, and has never been secret: Ed Houghton is an employee of Collus, and is paid by Collus; Collus has an agreement with the Town of Collingwood to provide certain administrative and technical services, including IT and engineering – as well as Mr. Houghton – as part of its dividend payment.

Pointing out that council ‘appointed’, not ‘hired’, Ed as acting-CAO is just part of that aforementioned smokescreen, attempting to make people think there’s fire. Guess what: council ‘appoints’ all its employees – which is also the language used in the Municipal Act. By the way, just for your info, the previous council also ‘appointed’, not ‘hired’, the previous CAO:

THAT By-law 2009-081, being a by-law to appoint a Chief Administrative Officer for The Corporation of the Town of Collingwood, be enacted and passed this 13th day of July, 2009.

Shock! I really hope that council was held accountable…

It would probably be more appropriate to note that Ed didn’t get a raise when he took on the added responsibilities of being a CAO (not that he ‘does not receive remuneration’, when it is quite clear he is paid). Instead of a snide reference to him ‘volunteering’, a more suitable point to make would be that employees of municipally-owned electrical distribution companies should be subject to the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act – which, just so you know, is a question I and the E-B have been raising for the last several years. You’re welcome…

Question 2: Well, I just answered that – Ed’s services to the town falls under the agreement the town has with Collus. See above…

As to the email from the deputy-mayor; well, that’s not the acting-CAO’s fault, but it’s also not exactly a ‘breach’ (assuming, of course, that the deputy-mayor does anything ‘knowingly’; having dealt with Rick Lloyd for the better part of 20 years, that gives him far more credit than he deserves). ‘Asking’ for a price is not quite the same as unilaterally directing staff to negotiate a contract for the supply of two Sprung buildings. I would suggest staff get ‘asked’ all kinds of crazy (well, not crazy) things, from the status of sidewalk repairs, to the whereabouts of missing stop signs. And, it’s no worse than, say, directing staff to spy on the email of other councillors…

Guess what – all council members send emails asking questions of staff, even the ones whom I suspect you support.

How about a relevant question: would it be considered best practice to have an individual who is president of a private corporation be the chief administrator of a public entity such as a municipality, especially when said public entity has control over said private corporation. That’s not a question I’m qualified to answer, and it’s not a question I would necessarily pose to councillors and expect an educated, off-the-cuff response; if it were worth pursing, given my extremely limited time and resources, it would be something put to public policy experts.

But no, we’d rather frame accusatory statements in the form of questions, couched in weasly phrases or bolding terms such as ‘code of ethical behaviour’ in order to make a point.

Ed is accountable, and he is held to that accountability under the Municipal Act  – as well as whatever policies are in place by the municipality (I suspect, because of the relationship, Collus maintains similar policies). Just because you say there’s nothing there to make Ed accountable does not necessarily make it so…

Is Ed responsible for undertaking due diligence? Ed – and all municipal staff – are responsible for providing councillors with the information they need to make a decision; the buck stops with them. If there was a concern about information, or lack thereof, then it was council’s responsibility – if there was an issue, council should have voted to defer… and as such, will ultimately live or die in 2014 by their choices.

As to the fourth question, as to when Collingwood will have a full-time CAO, of course the documentation of when the town will hire one is not there; if the town is currently looking, then yes, there would be a document that outlined educational requirements, etc., etc. A more relevant query would have been for the town to provide the advertisement posted when the position was previously vacant, and whether council members are satisfied that the acting-CAO’s credentials conform to the job description as previously published.

The deputy-mayor’s email about making Ed a permanent CAO? Well, again, see above…

And, to the final point, again, Ed’s recommendations aren’t to blame for protest marches, or the anger expressed at the Friends of Central Park meeting at the Legion. Again – those events are the consequence of council’s decision-making.

So… does the public have a right to know the answers to a series of accusatory, biased questions? Or is it more possible that the public has the right to a balanced discussion of public policy issues (as the ones I’ve suggested). And if it’s the latter that council refuses to entertain, then they deserve to be trounced at the next polls…

But filling up the Innernets with dubious postulations clearly based on discussions with people who have certain agendas? Not cool…

The facepalm moment…

So Monday night’s council meeting was 50 minutes, which wouldn’t be so bad had it not been for the fact that agenda-wise, it should only have been about 10.

The topic that seemed to draw so much angst, it seems, was the motion on the table to hire an architect/consultant for the Central Park project; one councillor in particular, Councillor Ian Chadwick, seemed to think council needed to have an analysis of the public information collected to date and an update from the committee.

“It’s premature to go get drawings when we’ve had no report from the committee,” he said. “We don’t know the alternatives or the costs.”

Which would be fine, however, if council hadn’t passed — unanimously — this motion back in June:

THAT Council receive for information, an update on the Central Park Concept Development process and approve the revised project timeline;

AND FURTHER THAT Council approve the Steering Committee’s recommendation to obtain the services of an Architectural Design Firm to develop and cost preliminary design options.

It was a recorded vote. If you follow the link, you will note Chadwick voted in favour of that recommendation (hence the term, ‘unanimous’).

Which either means he didn’t pay attention to what he voted for a two months ago, or he was purposely playing silly bugger — which, in the case of this project, a project a lot of people in town want to see move ahead and not get caught up in silly politics, is just a stupid tactic…

A truly open and accountable municipal government would totally do this…

I’ve had a couple of calls today — in response to our story on local public employees earning more than $100,000 (can’t remember if it’s online or not yet) — about Ontario’s Public Sector Salary Disclosure legislation, and why Collus employees aren’t listed (or, at least, why ‘one’ isn’t listed. But anyway…).

Well, here’s the scoop…

Back in 1996, when the Conservative government passed the legislation, Ontario Hydro employees were included. However, municipally-owned entities such as Collus that fall under the Ontario Business Corporation Act didn’t have to reveal salaries (even though, in a sense, they’ve public employees as well).

Now, when the provincial government changed up the electricity marketplace and created three corporations to replace Ontario Hydro, those companies fell under that same Act and were no longer required to publish salaries — that is, until the Liberals came along and decided a light needed to be shone…

However, when the Liberals revised the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, they only applied it to the provincial electrical entities, and not municipally-owned electrical distribution companies.

Here’s where our municipal government comes in…

The Town of Collingwood does not have the ability to unilaterally reveal the salaries (if they’re over the $100,000 mark) of Collus employees, because of the Ontario Business Corporation Act (or, at least, that’s what I’m told). However, town council does have the ability — nay, the responsibility, the moral obligation, etc., etc. — to consider a motion asking the province to revise the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act to include municipally-owned electrical distribution companies. Said motion could then be forwarded to every municipality in Ontario, as well as the Minister of Finance…

Let’s see which councillors “has the guts, has the nuts,” as Councillor Joe Gardhouse once commented at the council table, to put forward that particular notice of motion…

Our story of the year: All Helena, all the time…

It’s only appropriate that while 2010 spent its first half kicking the stuffing out of Simcoe-Grey MP Helena Guergis, that it would deliver life’s greatest blessing toward its end.

While Helena and her hubby Rahim Jaffer can revel in the joyous occasion of their birth of their son, Zavier, last Wednesday, 2010 has not been kind to this once-Ottawa power couple – especially the former Conservative, now Independent Conservative, Member of Parliament for Simcoe-Grey.

It’s Helena’s dizzying fall from grace that’s earned her, at least in my unlearned opinion, the title of our 2010 story of the year, and made her our top newsmaker.

Early in the year, the couple were awaiting the outcome of Jaffer’s brush with the law in September, 2009, his late night roadside run-in with the Caledon OPP that resulted in charges of impaired driving and cocaine possession. While his case was mired in procedure the remainder of the year, the results – a $500 fine and a guilty plea to careless driving – came two weeks after Guergis’ alleged ‘meltdown’ at the Charlottetown Airport became public.

The dominoes were starting to topple.

Jaffer’s plea arrangement came March 9; on March 23, I made what turned out to be a fateful call to Guergis’ executive assistant in Collingwood, Jessica Craven, to ask about letters written by a ‘Jessica Morgan’ that were, shall we say, ‘astroturfing’ the Member’s record.

The ‘letters’ story was interesting for us as a community paper, falling on a day that was between a layout day and a publishing day – but there was no question it was going to be big; we just didn’t realize how big it would be. It was posted the initial story on our website and our parent Canoe website a few minutes after 11 a.m. I had gone out on an assignment, coming back to the office around 12:15 (and having a meeting with Jessica, in which she acknowledged writing the letters), and then the phone calls started: CBC, Global, CTV, Canwest. At 3 p.m., Liberal MP Wayne Easter stood up in the House of Commons to ask a question about it.

The Enterprise-Bulletin had broken a national story, and there hadn’t even been a single drop of ink on paper.

Following my interview that night with Tom Clark on his PowerPlay show on CTV’s Newsnet, Clark turns to his panel and makes the comment: “How much worse can life get for her?”

Well, it did. The next week, The Toronto Star published the first of a series of stories by Kevin Donovan documenting a shady business relationship Jaffer was purportedly involved in – including meetings featuring busty hookers – and at that point the wheels came off. Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent the next week defending the MP before pulling the rug, having her resign as Minister of State for the Status of Women and booting her from the party.

The Prime Minister cited “serious allegations” he referred to the RCMP and Ethics Commissioner – allegations, by the way, that the PM has never truly outlined, and for which both Guergis and Jaffer have been cleared of by the RCMP.

And in the middle of this there were other stories: the Ottawa Citizen wrote about the couple’s $800,000 mortgage on a home in Ottawa; the blogosphere questioned the legitimacy of Guergis’ MBA from the University of Alberta.

All in all, it wasn’t a tremendously great first six months for Guergis and Jaffer; even an interview in May on the National with Peter Mansbridge was mocked after Guergis appeared to cry without shedding any tears.

The last six months, though, have represented a bit of a turnaround for Guergis, especially after she was cleared by the RCMP. The Charlottetown Airport video didn’t appear as damning as it was originally purported to be, and a poll conducted by ‘disaffected’ Conservatives indicated Guergis would make it a tight election race if she chose to run as an Independent candidate in Simcoe-Grey.

What does 2011 hold for the couple? I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

Pre-election thoughts: countdown to regime change…

So far, according to the note from the Clerk’s office, 7,286 votes have come in, or 43% return… which means I’ll be pretty close to my prediction of 7,400 votes by the close of polls at 8 p.m. on Monday.

The last few days, I’ve fielded a few emails from people who’d like to know who to vote for; the general attitude is they don’t want to vote for any incumbents – not even Ian Chadwick, the leader of the Rebel Alliance…

I’ll just say this: I’m glad to see the end of this term of council. In 20 years of covering municipal politics – and this is the seventh council I’ve watched and reported on – I have never run into a group that had such potential, turn out to be so dysfunctional, arrogant (let’s not forget Tim McNabb’s comment that a ward system was “too complex” for voters to figure out), and out-of-touch (Dave Labelle’s comment that “maybe we should tip more”)  with the electorate. On his blog, Rick Crouch notes how ridiculous it is the patio issue turned out to be so big. I agree; in the grand scheme of things, the patio issue is very minor – but it’s gripped the public consciousness because it reflects everything that went wrong with this council – an attitude of ‘we know best’.

I always like to refer to this paragraph in a letter from VOTE: “We believe the political process in Collingwood is hampered by divisiveness and distrust rather (than) being consistently involved in effective civic engagement. We need leadership that is inclusive, that empowers and represents its citizens, that is open and accountable.” Oh wait, that was about the previous council; I can only wonder what they think of this council… oh, never mind…

Or how about this quote: “It is arrogant and wrong for politicians to think their decisions should not be questioned by taxpayers and the citizenry.” I don’t think I need to say who said it, but what I can say is that I found what occured in reality to be exactly the opposite.

I realize Chadwick would point to the head of the council table as the root of the problems, and he would be mostly right. But the mayor is only one person at the council table, and it takes at least another four people around the table to enable him. Let’s not forget, when the mayor authorized an audit of councillors’ emails at the beginning of this term, Norman Sandberg leapt to his defence: “Nothing has shaken my confidence nor trust in you …” Or how about this one: A year-and-a-half after certain councillors were chomping at the bit to conduct a judicial review of the town’s purchase of the Simcoe Street properties (a process that was termed ‘sloppy’, but certainly not even close to being illegal) in 2005, a process that would have cost taxpayers a minimum of $150,000, those same councillors vote against a compliance audit of donations to the mayor’s election campaign (again, a matter that was far from being illegal, and more related to a lack of clarity in provincial legislation) that would have only cost $10,000.

That’s not to say there wasn’t some good. The downtown looks very nice, in spite of the absence of restaurant patios. While they should never have been standards – and I predict a bit of a backlash just because they are ‘standards’ – the idea of implementing urban design guidelines with an eye to creating a greener, human-scaled, pedestrian-friendly community is admirable and ambitious. And, this council was able to score a little bit of cash for affordable housing, creating 18 units.

The rest? Aside from the third floor, the library project was launched by the previous council; this council made the determination that rather than something bold and daring, we would build a red brick box. The buses were purchased by the previous council; this council just took delivery. Environmental initiatives such as limiting pesticide use and automobile idling came out of the previous council. First Street? That process started under former mayor Terry Geddes’ watch.

The hole at Admiral Collingwood. The hole at heritage park. The continued decay of the town-owned fitness facility. These are things this council can take full responsibility for.

We will see what happens Monday night; at the very least, we know there will be a new mayor. If it goes as I expect, we will have four years of a steady hand on the rudder – there will be no ‘grand’ vision (as Chadwick notes in the comments), no flash, no wasted money on ‘branding’ exercises, no being needlessly confrontational with media types, no chasing some ‘governance ‘bogeyman’ — but that’s OK. We’ll have respect and common sense, and at this point that’s all that matters.

The rest is a bit of a crapshoot. I think I know who will be in the top four council spots, maybe even the top five. But there’s so many people running that there’s at least seven people who could be jockeying for those last two or three spots.

But, as Chadwick noted in his latest post: “Teams are not elected any more than leaders are born. Both are made. Both require effort, skill and patience to accomplish. And the next term offers new opportunities to restore both to Collingwood politics.”

Bring on the 2010-2014 term of council…

Are local seniors being left behind?

I’ve had encounters with two people in the last week that have really got me thinking.

One is a little more distressing than the other, so I’ll save that for last.

The first is kind of humorous, though I don’t doubt the individual’s sincerity.

I don’t remember his name right now, scribbled as it is on one of the notepads floating around my desk, but he was a gruff old guy, wanting to talk to the editor.

It seems “Stephen Harper,” as in the federal government, had finally given him a raise in his old-age pension, the first he’d seen in a couple of years – or more.

He now gets, from the federal government, a whole extra two bucks and change. A month.

Here’s the perversity about it, and it really makes me wonder what the hell we’re doing to our old people – and more importantly, it makes me wonder if I even want to get old in the first place.

It seems whatever provincial subsidy he gets from the Province of Ontario – or “Jim Wilson,” he barked – was promptly clawed back with his increase in his old-age pension. Not only was it clawed back, but the province actually took one or two bucks extra, for good measure.

When he came into my office – keeping in mind that a newspaper is not a social agency – he was intent on giving back the raise he’d receive from the feds, as he’d be better off without it than with it.

The second senior to come through my office door is having a problem paying her Collus bill – and probably a few other bills, as well. It was to the point that Collus was sending around someone with a collections letter, which means that whatever she owes, another $33.50 is being added. By the time she came to talk to me, she showed me an accounting of her transactions with Collus, a list that now included about about five of those charges in the last several months.

Now, it complicates things because she doesn’t own the house, nor is the electricity in her name – though she’s lived in the place for 20 years.

Anyway, she received a collections notice in the name of the homeowner, a family member, about a week-and-a-half ago. Then she received another one, in her own name, about two or three days later. On Monday morning, at 8 a.m., she got yet another letter from Collus, and was pretty much convinced her entire pension cheque for August was going to be needed to pay the bill or face losing her electricity. She called me absolutely in tears – which ticked me off enough that I called up Collus prez Ed Houghton and left a pretty stern message (sorry, Ed!). The way she was looking at it, Collus had just dropped another $100 on her, on top of the $300 or $400 she already owes – with no hope that she’ll ever get on top of it.

I spoke to Collus’ treasurer Tim Fryer later on Monday, and he assured me only one of the letters was a collections letter. He also said she could pay what she could afford, that Collus wasn’t going to cut her off. Tim’s pretty sympathetic, and very familiar with the customer – he’s been trying to work with her for the last two decades, to help her get her bills under control.

Collus is in a spot. Afterall, after they collect money from us, they have to turn around and pay the companies for the electricity used in Collingwood. Collus tries to run a pretty tight ship, too, which is why they were able to cut the price they charge for electricity distribution, even as the price of hydro – along with the introduction of the H.S.T. – goes ever higher.

But that doesn’t help the woman who’s just left a tearful voicemail for me.

So in the end, it has me thinking. Yeah, there’s a lot of wealth in this community, and the 55+ crowd moving here from points elsewhere have a pretty comfortable existence. But increasingly, there’s also a group of seniors who can’t afford to live here, can’t afford to live in the homes they’ve spent most of their lives in, can’t afford the monthly bills that arrive in the mailbox.

When the topic of price increases in municipal services comes to the council table, few seem to pay attention; the only ones who come to mind to express any kind of concern have been Mike Edwards and Ian Chadwick.

In probably the most out-of-touch comment that I’ve ever heard come out of a councillor’s mouth, Councillor Dave Labelle, when the issue of increases in sewer and water fees came up, suggested people could ‘tip more’ when they went to the bar so low-income earners could afford the rate hikes.

It’s tough for a lot of people out there right now, but it isn’t seen. Most people deal with poverty in silence – and thanks to folks like Mike Harris, the stigma of having to go cap-in-hand to government is just too big for a lot of people to overcome.

I wish I had an answer…

Why are Americans carrying Canada’s torch?

Further to yesterday’s post about a Boston man carrying the Olympic torch in Collingwood (a little further investigation has determined he’s a sales executive with a Massachusetts bedding company), but a further review of torchbearers for Day 61 also turns up a Louisiana woman from Lafayette area.

Both are listed as VANOC selections.

I can only imagine the uproar if the States were hosting the Games, and Canadians were given the opportunity to carry the torch through American communities — when Americans had applied but were ‘unsuccessful’…

How many Americans are on the torchbearer list? That bears some further investigation