Month: September 2018

A question asked

The latest comment on the last post produced this question: “Yes, there is a crisis. What do you suggest the answer to this crisis is? I look forward to hearing your solution.”

Okay here is the solution I would put, if the brains of the Council ever asked the public for opinions:

  • Prepare an inventory of all Town owned lands and their zoning.
  • Setup a dedicated cash flow from both the Northam Industrial Park and the Holdco loan and dividend streams.
  • Determine just how big a social housing complex that the Town could comfortably handle. It should be a demonstration project of at least ten units of mixed housing.
  • Establish a Housing Corporation dedicated to coordinating the building of social housing and the infrastructure needed to maintain it. The management of this corporation should be recruited from the Private and Non- Profit Sector, to convince the public that government is recruiting the best.
  • Use all funds available to supplement the Cobourg contribution, we are told that a big Federal Programme is being setup. Apply early and often. There are local experts available to help out in this regard.
  • Town lands should be donated to the project and all development charges waived.
  • The final site is determined by the lands we have but the site should not be a stand alone project, it must be sited in a mixed residential area. The last thing we need is a “ghetto” stuck in the middle of nowhere.

To emphasise this post just remember we have the land, we have the money and we have the local trades to build it, we have local expertise in fundraising and management of housing programmes!

ALL WE NEED IS THE POLITICAL WILL TO DO IT.

The first ACM

The first All Candidates’ Meeting of the campaign was held Thursday 27th September at the Salvation Army Citadel. In a strange move allowed by organisors the Mayor-elect was allowed a seat at the table and acted as a candidate. At least he made his position clear on the issue. The meeting was organised by the Northumberland Affordable Housing Committee. Each candidate was given three minutes to answer three questions posed by the organisors and then an open session question period took place. All of the registered candidates except Emily Chorley attended and about sixty people were in the audience.

The three questions

In order of answering:

Karl vomDorf: It was hard to hear Karl, he has diminished lung capacity which distorts his voice. That impediment coupled with the bass-heavy speakers made it hard to hear but good for Karl he has published his answers here.

Nicole Beatty: Unfortunately Nicole spoke very fast – too fast for most of the audience, and rattled off a load of local statistics but I picked out that she supports establishing a local Social Planning Council to coordinate and collaborate on all related issues.

Johnny Percolides: “As a real estate broker I have the best understanding of the problem!” He then expanded on the idea that the problem is lack of supply. “Affordability is a supply and demand problem. More supply will bring down prices!” He wants Council to amend the bylaws to allow more density and greater heights in apartment buildings.

Brian Darling:He said he has served the community for thirty years and Yes there is an issue. He pledged to work with the new Mayor and Council, together to bring housing. He suggested that Cobourg sell its surplus land to the County and work with them and their programmes.

Aaron Burchat: Aaron acknowledged the problem and he supports the CIP as a means to get more units downtown. He also said that Council had created new units and looked forward to cooperating on the ‘Tannery Lands’ with Habitat for Humanity (HfH).

Travis Hoover: He said he has worked with all governments and many agencies in his his previous job. “I have seen many examples of innovative solutions, we have to bring them here.” Suggested we can use converted shipping containers and that HfH has some answers. “We have to work with partners.”

Adam Bureau: Adam admitted that he has been homeless in his life and it drove him crazy, completely confused but agencies found him a place to live – set him on his way. He admitted there is a horrendous vacancy rate. Adam would ask the County to increase funding for homelessness programmes. “We should examine what other places have done and implement them!”

Miriam Mutton: She admits there is a problem and outlined her qualifications as a person who can be part of the solutions. “Homelessness and affordability are linked to other social problems and all of it has to approached as one.” She advocated changing building codes to reduce costs, and said that everybody must work within the constraints of differing jurisdictions. She also injected another angle to the debate, “We must ensure that good food does not go to waste.”

Randy Curtis: Very succinct and concise – “There is not enough supply, we must work with the County to increase supply by using our surplus lands and the homeless must be housed.”

Suzanne Seguin: Suzanne also related her experience of being homeless as well as her experiences of being a local politician and being solicited by destitute constituents. Her answer to both situations “was to make things happen.” She has learned to listen and wants to use examples of solutions from the world.

Emily Chorley: Absent but her answers were read out and are here.

In the open question session the first questioner asked why Cllr Seguin voted the way she did on the College St rezoning. Suzanne explained herself and then Aaron Burchat also said that they had made the best of a rezoning by using the R4 zone with conditions that limited the full use.

The second questioner asked the panel “In the light of the crisis do we allow developers to do what they want and relax the bylaws or do we prefer ‘social housing’ built on Town lands? All of the candidates responded the answers ranged from full support of the idea of using surplus land and monies from our investments (holdco and the northam industrial park) – come on down Randy Curtis,  to an acknowledgement that it could be done but the private sector had to be involved and an excoriation of the idea from Johnny Percolides who used Toronto Housing Corporation as an example of Governments not being able to run anything.

Okay time to ‘fess up the publisher of the BR was the second questioner and as a result wrote a very skimpy explanation of the answers. Hard to take notes and stay at the mic’ but a much fuller explanation of the answers was written by Valerie MacDonald of CobourgNow read it here

The third question came from a fellow who listed off the available programmes for social housing and asked if anybody had heard of them. A technical question and asked if the Town would commit monies to the programmes. John Henderson and Randy Curtis did so. Nicole Beatty in her answer demonstrated an understanding of the programmes and question, and Suzanne Sequin cautions that the money has to come from the Town’s budget (it doesn’t have to we have a million bucks in play money every year from investments which Council refuse to add to the Town’s budget).

The fourth question came from a fellow who identified as being a member of the Board of a non-profit. “Dozens of my friends are homeless and a question to Nicole Beatty. How would you deal with this?” Nicole answers by saying that the problem is complicated and involves many jurisdictions, “we have to look at it as a big picture!” She suggests that 24/7 ‘wraparound’ programme be initiated. Karl vom Dorf also answered but the speaker problem meant his answer couldn’t be heard at the back of the room.

The fifth question came from a person who identified as an Outreach Worker and she said she has worked with homeless people. Her question was; “what can we do for the people who don’t fit into the warming centre or Transition House?” Nicole Beatty stated that we should have a social worker on staff, a social planning council to identify solutions and all municipal plans must be looked at through a ‘municipal lens’.

The last question came from a man who identified himself as “an ambassador from the Cobourg Seniors Centre – wellness”. “Is there a plan to get good organic food in Town?” Miriam Mutton advocates for a programme to collect fresh but still waste food from stores. “Good food is important!” Travis Hoover states, “I am not sure how Council can do this but I am willing to collaborate.” John Henderson states, “we have community gardens, why are there not more of them?” Nicole Beatty agrees, “we have to have a programme.”

And the meeting ended.

All candidates’ meetings are they really worth it?

To all election wonks, All Candidates’ Meetings (ACM) are the purest of democracy tools. But are they really? Perhaps in a Federal and Provincial election they might work simply because of the small number of candidates sharing the same platform.

In a municipal setting we think that most meetings are unworkable and as such do not allow the public to see a complete picture of the candidates and their points of view. For a meeting to be successful they must be accessible to all and allow a fair exchange of opinion. In this election, in Cobourg we have two ACMs scheduled and both fail the test of openness and accessibility. One, organised by the local Chamber of Commerce (which has always failed the democracy test), has made accessibility worse by restricting attendance to members first and then the remainder of the 125 seats to members of the public. The other ACM is being held by aother local organisation but again fails the openness test by the very timing of the meeting. By scheduling the meeting for 0830 hrs in the morning it disqualifies anybody who works at that time or anyone else who has morning chores to take care of.

Which brings us back to the position that ACMs as currently and historically practised are not open and fair to the voters. In fact some of the candidates have declared that ACMs must be favourable to them or they will not attend. How is that fair to the voters?

One ACM, in Cobourg, has already been cancelled because some of the candidates did not approve of the structure or the organisers of the proposed ACM. How was that fair to the voters? In Hamilton Township only three of the six candidates attended an ACM held last week and a meeting in Cramahe was cancelled because some candidates, noticeably the Mayor, had “scheduling conflicts”.

In order to allow local democracy to flourish we would like to suggest that ACMs should be mandated by the bylaw that governs local elections and supervised by the Town Clerk who supervises local elections. At least two ACMs should be mandated for each election period: one during the day and one in the evening, that would allow access to the candidates by all people who may miss on meeting by not being available. These meetings should allow more time than the past meetings have allowed – one minute opening statement and questions from the floor. The very idea of having vetted questions is a danger to local free speech and subject to charges of selective questioning.

And that’s the way we would run ACMs

An end to illegal campaign signs

This sign that was considered to be illegal under the existing election sign bylaw is no more, and it appears that the Town is now in the “monitoring mode”.

This news was not relayed to me, as the person who made the complaint, but was revealed to a candidate who quoted the post and asked what was going on. The Manager of Bylaws contacted the candidate and gave the reason for the delay in compliance: “

“This particular contravention was a complaint received and the Town’s dealt directly with the individual immediately. The reason the action to remove the election sign was late was due to its height and location. In order to remove the Election Sign the Town would have to occur costs. Thus we worked with the Candidate to have those costs incurred on their own cost and this resulted in a delay with the hiring of a contractor to remove the sign by the contractor.

The sign is fully removed and there has been compliance as of today. I appreciate you emailing myself with your concerns and not relying on the post of individuals that have third party information.”

It is strange that the MoB did not respond to my complaint by telling me that the complaint resolution was being delayed, but finally dealt with. And congratulating the candidate for contacting him directly but admonishing him for using a local story to confirm that the infraction had happened.

So despite the fact that this Town’s administration has prided itself on responsiveness and clarity the complainant is still unaware of the situation. But that is what happens when you have a bylaw enforcement system based on complaints – all one has to do is to complain and there is no obligation, other than common courtesy, to respond. I have noticed that the four signs (only allowed three) on a fence on University Ave have been replaced by one bigger sign so enforcement is around. Now if all the candidates would place their signs on the lawns behind the sidewalk rather than the boulevards all will be well!

Signs for the times

Signs are very subjective things. Some people like them, some don’t and the rest couldn’t care less. We at the BR, after much editorial discussion, have come down on the side that says signs should be regulated as they can be construed as visual pollution. Just as a loud radio can upset, big signs do the same for us.

Take for example, this sign on Division St. Every establishment is allowed to have signs that advertise their business. In this case the bylaws allow facia signs to identify the business at the location and a spot on the larger Plaza sign. But as we know exemptions to sign bylaws have to be applied for. In most cases the exemptions are granted in the name of ‘helping business’. But when is too much too much? This sign was granted and when an email was directed to the Director of Planning he replied to me – “The Lighthouse Dental business signage does appear to be relatively large and bright (and maybe a bit different from what we are used to, having a tooth bolted to the side of the building), however I do not feel it is disproportionate to the size of the unit or the building frontage, or consider it over-bearing towards the streetscape, but rather is quite tastefully and professionally done in my opinion.”

It is this size because the the bylaw does not specify the size of a facia sign. For the full correspondence read it here, the Council did approve the much larger sign, but it is still ugly and large!

That brings up the campaign 2018, and the plethora of signs that will be assaulting our sense for the next 44 days – election signs. The bylaw that covers this is here and is comprehensive: laying down the law on locations, numbers allowed on each property and size.

This sign is an ‘outlaw’ as was the Piccini sign, posted on exactly the same spot – 8ft high during the last Provincial election. This is not a slight against the candidate but an example of an illegally placed sign. Election signs are only allowed to be 2 metres high, measured from the top to ground. The point of this is to highlight the lax way the Town administers the bylaw.

An official complaint was made about the “Piccini OPC” sign during the last Provincial election as that sign was in exactly the same location and same height as the one in the picture. The Manager of Bylaws did not respond to the complaint and it stayed. When this candidate’s sign went up on the first day of campaigning A complaint was registered with the Manager of Bylaws and he sent this reply <snip>The Town of By-law Enforcement department is aware of the election signs and will be conducting measurements and contacting the Candidate to determine compliance.</snip>

This was dated on the 17th of August and the sign is still in non-compliance. So I say to all the candidates “go to it put your signs anywhere you want, because the Town is not enforcing its own bylaw!”

A Test – how many of these signs are illegally located? Remember none are allowed on public property!

A big apology and late additions

The last post contained a link to the questions the BR asked of all candidates – that was not true, I missed candidate Randy Curtis from the mass mailing list. Consequently his response was not on the page. Sorry Randy! Also the BR received a late response from another candidate and it is now posted. To see the responses click here

A promised – the Candidates’ responses to a simple question

It was a simple question – “Why do you want be on council?”

This question will be asked of all the candidates many times, almost at every door! But getting an answer and a one sentence one at that was tough.

All of the eleven candidates were asked, by an email – TWICE, seven responded and a big shoutout to those folks. We do not know why the other four candidates did not respond, but we can guess. Arrogance of being a candidate and wanting to drive their own bus, being too busy, (for many unstated reasons) and of course maybe not wanting to respond, after all some of these folks were picky about whose all candidates’ meetings they would appear at. But to those non-responders I would say no publicity is bad publicity, and we promise to spell your names right!

But let us say, we at the BR are evaluating our original thoughts about some of the candidates, all of whom promised in their opening statements to be responsive to voters, perhaps they just meant the voters they like and who they choose to respond to!

Well enough of the pointed remarks let’s get on to the responses. To see who responded and what they had to say click here.

The Campaigns so far

With a full month of campaigning for the nominated candidates in the Cobourg Municipal election what has been seen so far from this observation seat?

Not much to date!  Signs from three candidates, a few slick websites and most of the candidates have FaceBook pages. So we can assume that most of the necessary organisational work has been done underground by most of the candidates during the last month. But obviously one candidate was ahead of the game.

Going by activity Adam Bureau appears to be off to a quick start, he had a flashing first day – posing with a couple of supporters as they placed signs on lawns and inside downtown stores. Johnny Percolides has a sign in a downtown store but absent elsewhere and Miriam Mutton has a few scattered on front lawns. A double sign was spotted on a strategic corner – Ontario/Elgin. But impact was muted – the sign could be bigger – spend the money Randy – it will pay off. Congratulations to those who have made a start the others have ground to make up.

So what’s next for the voters and candidates? Hopefully now that leaflets have arrived, websites up and facebook pages ready the candidates actually do the work – hit the road. It will be interesting to see  if parallel campaigns emerge. Social media is only as good as the activity generated. Posts have to be interesting and shared. That means a network of cyber-friends has to be created. That campaign will be measured in the number of “shares”. Here’s a hint for all the candidates if you want to be followed but not friends with everybody turn on the “Follow” button in your settings. Click here to find out how to do it.

The BurdReport has a campaign page set up – look for it in the top menubar – “CobourgElection2018”. We have asked all the Candidates two simple questions: “Why do you want to be on Council?” and “If elected what original idea do you have that you would like to have fellow Councillors adopt?” The answers, if received will be published in the next post. Some candidates have responded but the majority have not as yet but the deadline is tomorrow.

Of course as well as trying to get the name out front there will be opportunities for the public to see them, in at least two venues announced so far, to perform at All Candidates’ Meetings (ACM). One ACM is a closed, register for a seat affair maximum 125 people, so should be called for what it is a “restricted performance” or as one local media person calls it “Speed Campaigning”. Put on by the local Chamber of Commerce for its members but some seats will be left over for people who register online. Do it here. The other is being put on by the Northumberland Affordable Housing Committee, on September 27th at the Salvation Army Hall on Ballantine St. At least these meetings will help define the campaign issues, none of which has really caught the public’s interest yet.

Onward and upward!