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A County Council Report Card

Steve Campbell

Steve Campbell

After trying to tear down the cellulose-ridden bureaucracies of the provincial and federal governments, it’s time to turn my attention inward.
As Harper’s Tories groan under the weight of their own free-wheeling scandals, and spin doctors stay awake at night trying to find a way to make their renegade cohorts look acceptable in the press, Wynne’s Liberals are now under attack by the metro newspapers for their Draconian implementation of the Green Energy Act, and trying to put a smiley-face on the billions of dollars of debt incurred by their Ministries (except for Ministry of Health, which hopes to balance their books by helping rural people die outside of costly hospitals).
In a thoughtful, modern, techno-savvy democracy it would be nice to have a Big Red Eject Button in each home, so we could reverse the stupid decisions we made in the last elections. It would be curious to see what would happen to a democratic government that needed to answer to its people.

Hell, we have Siri! now – artificial intelligence – thanks to Apple. Maybe IT should run for office! Fake intelligence is better than no intelligence at all! It could certainly answer questions better than Rob Ford, and has no need for booze or crack or, for that matter, sleep!

But, to the point – though we have no hope of replacing our Momma and Poppa Governments with a New Boss who (quoting The Who) looks just like the Old Boss – we do have a municipal election coming up, and all of our pent-up feelings of vengeance can be vetted on them! Baby Government.
Before I make my ‘way-before-the-election’ comments, let’s get a few things straight.
I can sympathize with our County Council. Our financial situation seems to have degraded a little more with every year that has passed since Amalgamation. Sure, it was supposed to be the Road to a Bright Future but, right on the heels of pulling all the townships into one big amorphous money-sucking blob, the Feds decided to balance their budget.
I believe it was Paul Martin, as Finance Minister, who earned applause and a halo for bringing Ottawa’s finances into line. Everyone forgot to look at where the money came from: downloading of services to the province and municipalities, and cutting back on transfer payments to those two levels, to cover the increased costs of the services they unwillingly inherited.
So we only had a few seconds to cheer about a balanced budget before the province started stripping itself of costly services, like road maintenance, and sending those bills to us. Proud Provincial Highways became County Roads – and that gift came with a hefty pricetag.
Funny thing is, politics being politics, everyone has someone different to blame: Chretien, Mike Harris, Bob Rae, Dalton McGuinty, Stephen Harper.
Even Paul Martin and John Turner got caught in the mix, and proved that ex-Finance Ministers turned Prime Minister are about as popular at a party as a 300-pound Revenue Canada Auditor with herpes.

All this downloading came at a time when the County was battling with the forced merger of its random employees into one finely-tuned, well-oiled, poorly-funded machine.
Jumping ahead, it’s amazing that our Councils have done as well as they have, since proper funding, from Mom and Pop, which used to pour from the heavens like rain, had been reduced to occasional handouts, usually to bolster some political agenda and garner some much-needed Good Press.
I know some Councillors are waiting with a cocked gun to their head for my Report Card on their performance, but they can relax. I think this last group has done a pretty good job.
Despite the amputation of their vocal chords by the Province, they fought for our future in the battle against Industrial Wind Turbines, while giving the nod to less-invasive and better-located solar projects. In the same way, they joined with us regular folk to slam their heads against an uncaring Ministry of Health (HealthUncaring Ontario?) to try to prevent the castration of our local hospital.
Like us, they had the heart and decency to fight for what is right, even knowing the battle is lost going in. So I’ll give them that.

Overall, this Council appears to be the tightest ship – as far as being cohesive while still bringing opposing opinions to the table – that we’ve seen since the Big Amalgam. Some former Councils, to me, were riddled with old vendettas, personal differences, behind-the-scenes political manipulation, and building voting blocs of like-minded councillors who stuck together on every vote.
On the down side, I was disappointed that Council once again voted themselves a pay raise, hot on the heels of a tax hike. It was a modest increase, granted, and I don’t deny it is justified. But it irks me that small business owners have seen their pay rise and fall depending on the year, the markets, the products sold and the weather, and we don’t have the luxury to grant ourselves a little something extra to cover inflation.
This is reflected by our letter-writers and bloggers, who are feeling the squeeze of increased costs in food, gas and electricity in their own homes, without the means to whip out a pen and create more money.
Many were upset with the tax hike, but we also need to understand that we still demand increased services – like expanding recycling and garbage pick-up, and a wacky winter which can soak up the year’s road maintenance budget in a few weeks.
As we know, there is no free lunch, and we need to pay for what we get in return. As long as this is reasonably balanced, we need to accept it.
[Historical note: The term “no free lunch” dates to the 1930s, after the end of Prohibition. Newly-opened bars in the Depression offered a free lunch to their customers … which turned out to be a bowl of salty pretzels or peanuts, which increased their booze sales. Hence the ‘lunch’ was not really free.]

As a final note (and an ‘F’ grade), I’ve dealt with and talked to a lot of County employees and I’m not sure the seemingly random shuffle of County staff into new positions was an effective change.
My read is that some employees got plunked into new jobs, with no training by outgoing staff, and some of the changes did not take advantage of the ‘skill sets’ already acquired by staff in their previous positions. On the good side, it did remove some top-level staff that I considered to be ‘empire-builders’, so time will tell how this balances out.
I’m sure there will be lots more for us to talk about as the incumbents and hopefuls check in. They’ll be our future, because Mom and Pop don’t seem to listen to us anymore.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Wolf Braun says:

    I understand you don’t wish to tell us what your next topic is going to be so I’ll take a chance. Go ahead. …. Wolf

  2. County Steve says:

    As a prelude to my next topic.

  3. County Steve says:

    Wolf: You gave a nice clean synopsis of our predicament. Would I be able to quote you in my next column?

  4. Doris Lane says:

    I agree that council should be elected from a county wide slate. That is the way the mayor is elected and the others should be too.

  5. Wolf Braun says:

    You make good points in pointing out history and the obvious oldmanonthemtn. …. Wolf

  6. Olmanonthemtn says:

    Wolf not long ago an idealistic ex-reformer cum federal conservative said he was driven to leave the party because he thought he was elected to represent the will of his constituents in the commons and found his role to be that of informing his constituents of the will of the government. Its reminiscent of Mr Smith goes to Washington. There has also been initiatives by both MP’s and MPP’s who are calling for recall legislation when party leadership is acting contrary to the will of its party and elected representatives.

    Diefenbaker as a small town lawyer saw Native, recent immigrant and religious minority rights being abused by government. He believed in the necessity of a Bill of Rights to protect the people from its own government. It was reported that he was upset to see the role of parliament being undermined by the PMO office. We need to start taking our government back, we need to set its direction based on a vision of what we can be as a country and not what is politically expedient.

    “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 simply because it is right.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

  7. Wolf Braun says:

    For this writer, Steve’s article speaks to a couple of things.

    First, all 3 levels of government are no longer operating according to their original PURPOSE – the reason why they were created in the first place. None of our 3 levels of government are driven by an established and agreed upon PURPOSE – why they exist. Established and agreed upon by ALL peoples. Instead, they are driven by special interest groups, political parties and their kids in short pants, bureaucrats and corporations.

    Steve’s article also confirms that our elected officials and bureaucrats are NOT using a set of established and agreed upon PRINCIPLES when making important decisions that impact ALL of us.

    If you don’t believe this, just check the websites of all political parties at both levels of government. You’ll be hard pressed to find a PURPOSE or a set of PRINCIPLES focused on ALL peoples. The federal Liberals have a statement of PURPOSE that focuses several things including fund raising. There’s no mention of ALL Canadians.

    Democracy belongs to the people ! Not government! Not corporations ! Not special interest groups ! It’s up to us (ALL) to decide and agree on what PURPOSE and PRINCIPLES we want for each level of government. Only then can we expect more from our governments.

    Care to discuss ?

  8. Argyle says:

    And the councillors should have to live in the ward they represent, but maybe that is to logical.

  9. Mark says:

    Well I cerainly agree that only voting for one councillor when each and everyone affect you just as much with their decision making is blatantly wrong. Council should be elected from a County wide slate. But hey, that would be democracy!

  10. Snowman says:

    I think that County Council is just not that important to the average resident.
    The Province has a one- way relationship with every municipality, telling them what, where and how, (but never why), being more interested in what their polsters tell them, than what a group of Mayors, Wardens, AMO, and ROMA have to say. They also pay next to nothing in property taxes on some of Prince Edward’s finest waterfront,Provincial Parks and the many other property that they have accumulated over the years.
    The Feds,awash in tax revenues by comparison (and feeling guilty) send some gas tax to The County. Gas tax is supposed to fund public transit initiatives , but we have none so they let the “poor cousins” spend it on (guess what?) roads and bridges. So more cars can use more roads and bridges thereby burning more gas, which means more gas tax to the Federal govt.
    My point (there is one) is that The County spends only about 15% of all the taxes that I pay annualy
    The two senior govts. take the lion’s share, making County Council irrelevent in my books.
    Besides that, I vote for one Ward Councilor and a Mayor while the other 13 candidates enjoy immunity from my wishes at election time. Taxation without Representation, the American Colonists called it.

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