Where I Stand

Published in the NG Times (July, 2021)

It’s always good to go right to the source to get your information. The following are transcripts of two comments I made during the Council Meeting held on June 22, 2021. They are part of the video public record.

[Starts – 01:19:47] Obviously, there are a couple of things I’d like to comment on, and I’ll try and be brief.

Issues of the Justice system and Indigenous rights are really beyond the purview of this Council. We all have our own personal feelings about the Justice system. Mine were formed during a 30-year career of producing educational resources, many of which dealt with social issues like the Justice system. So, I’m very well aware of the deficiencies of how we deal with offenders and how we treat victims of offences in the Province.

And Indigenous rights. Again, I think there’s very little that the Municipality can do other than symbolic gestures. We should really be putting pressure on the Federal government to make good on the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

So, as far as Victor … Victor, I’m surprised. You know, we had a fairly lengthy discussion after the March 23rd Council meeting in which CAPP presented. I note that there’s other people that I had one on one conversations with attending tonight. Marie -Therese, hello. I think in both of those conversations with Marie -Therese and Victor, I was quite clear that when I’m talking about jobs, I’m not talking about jobs that would be filled by residents. I’m talking about employees of the correctional facility. From what I understand the ratio is 2 to 3 employees per inmate. So, if we’re talking 235 beds, I think it’s rather conservative to say 500 employees will be coming into this community.

In speaking, a study might be warranted about the economic impact. I know it’s anecdotal and Victor you might discount it, but similarly, I would discount some of studies that have been touted out about facilities in upstate New York. The American Justice system is very different from the Canadian Justice system. They have their problems; we have our problems but they’re both distinct and unique. So as Councillor O’Sullivan said, I welcome new programming and resources in terms of staff to help the residents of this facility to really turn their lives around.

But again, Victor, 500 or more people coming into this community during daylight hours when our local businesses are ready and willing to serve them – whether its food or gas or repairs or counselling, for example. I think it’s a boon for small local businesses that have certainly struggled through Covid to remain open. In terms of retention and expansion of those local businesses – that create a lot of employment – 80% of jobs are created by small business in this community – I think it is obvious to me. If you want to quantify some of my anecdotal information, you know, it remains to be seen. But I think I’m quite confident that business will be supported, that local businesses will be supported through the building of this facility.

[Starts – 00:38:27] My support for the correctional facility is really conditional on the continued dialogue with the Solicitor General aided by MPP Clark and having constructive positive conversations with them. So that our investment in tourism, in the revitalization of downtown Kemptville, in our economic support for small business isn’t undermined. And so, it remains to be seen how whole-heartedly I would support the correctional facility. It’s really conditional on going forward and how we resolve some these concerns as they are expressed by the community.

Thank you.

The entire streamed video recording of Council Meeting #29 (and others) can be found on the Municipality of North Grenville’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L32t1R00DlA&t=5415s) I would encourage concerned citizens to watch the entire meeting in order to hear, unfiltered, what my Council colleagues also had to say that evening.

Public Works Investments

Published in the NG Times (July, 2019)

In the past eight months as the Council Liaison to Public Works I’ve come to appreciate both the scale and scope of the work that a relatively small number of staff undertake on behalf of the residents of North Grenville. I’ve learned a great deal about what the Public Works department does, how it does it and how it’s paid for. I’m still learning. I thought I’d share some of the cost saving measures the department has undertaken that have saved the Municipality hundreds of thousands of dollars.

First of all, as I mentioned, Public Works does a lot with a little; it continually looks to optimize it’s operations. For example, this winter a resident wrote me a humourous email questioning  the route that the snowplow took after every snowfall. The route resulted in more snow piled on his side of the road – could it not be reversed (ie. his side plowed first and the opposite side plowed last); even once in awhile? When it was explained that the route the plow takes is determined by minimizing the distance travelled, gas used and by eliminating switchbacks, he saw the logic and understood (right, Peter?). At first glance Public Works operations may not make sense to you but there’s always method in the madness. It’s hard to put a number to the amount of savings that this particular practice has produced over the years but here are three items that are easier to quantify in terms of savings:

1) LED Cobra-head Streetlights lower hydro costs.

With the help of a successful grant application to the Save on Energy Program, Public Works was able to jump start the replacement of bulbs in each of it’s 377 cobra-head street lights. With all of the lights replaced with LEDs, the associated hydro costs have been reduced by approximately $53,000 each and every year.

2) Waste Water Treatment plant anaerobic digester lowers heating costs.

Anaerobic digesters where part of the original plant construction, they break down biodegradable material during the waste water treatment process. The Public Works department optimized their use to heat the plant by using the recovered methane in place of natural gas. Staff recall previous budget numbers were in excess of $100,000 for the heating costs at the plant. (No financial details are available prior to 2006 based on an ironically titled file retention policy) Now they are considerably less; over the past five years those costs have fluctuated between $18,000 and $24,000 per year.

3) Hiring an in-house mechanic who services Public Works and Fire Services results in many savings.

Prior to the hiring of a full time mechanic, Public Works vehicle maintenance alone was $103,000 (2008); now it’s about $25,000 less (2019). Some creative sourcing of equipment and a bit of ingenuity has resulted in even more savings.

North Grenville has approximately 130 km of gravel roads that produce a lot of dust when travelled upon. It takes a lot of water to suppress it. The Oxford Mills Public Works Garage was able to build a water truck from a used trailer and two new plastic tanks at a cost of $22,442. The cost of purchasing a customized vehicle would have been in the neighbourhood of $100,000. The resulting vehicle now holds 28,000 litres of water. 

But the savings don’t stop there. How do you fill two 14,000 litre tanks? After a flood at a facility in Brockville, North Grenville Fire Services Fire and Public Works were able to acquire their de-commissioned pump at no cost and after repairing it put it into service. It can pump water at 4,500 litres a minute. In other words, this re-purposed pump can fill both tanks on the truck in less than ten minutes.

These just a few instances where Public Works has been able to do more with less. With one of the largest budgets of all the departments in the Municipality, being able to make wise investments, to continually optimize it’s operations and to diligently find savings where it can is essential. I hope to report some more in the future.

How and Why I Serve

You often hear the phrase “I want to give back to the community”, as though it’s a choice. With me, I don’t think I have a choice; I feel compelled to do it.

Published in the NG Times (May, 2019)

In April I attended a meeting of Cadets at the request of Pastor Ken Gehrels of the Kemptville Christian Reform Church. Ken asked me to come and speak to the boys club about what it meant to be a Councillor as part of their civics program  They sent me four questions in advance of the meeting so I could prepare. Three of the questions were pretty standard and predictable but one of the questions was intriguing and made me pause.

“How do your spiritual values affect the way you serve the community?” Good question. And I wanted to answer it first and foremost for myself. What are my spiritual values? How do they affect the way I serve as Councillor and finally how would I articulate them to a group of 10 year-old boys ?

I’m not what you’d call a practicing Christian, although I was raised to be one. I’d hesitate to call myself a secular humanist, too, because that’s not exactly my lived experience.  I feel I have have a fairly strong moral compass and experience a rich spiritual life but don’t really share that inner life with other people.  I felt I had a sense of what drives me to serve the community but I struggled to nail it down.

After a bit of soul searching I found a key to unlock the answer. Over twenty years ago I read a book by M. Scott Peck called People of the Lie. What remains with me today from reading that book years ago is an appreciation of the concept of grace.  It was a real epiphany for me at the time. I decided that grace would be the anchor I would use for these cadets when describing how my spiritual values affect how and why I serve the community. 

There are four or five definitions of grace but the one that resonates with me is that grace is freely given; it’s the undeserved favour and love of God (or however you conceive a higher organizing principle). So I said to these kids, “I believe that I live in a state of grace and because of that I feel an obligation to give back to others”. Service to others therefore allows me to continue to live “gracefully”. 

You often hear the phrase “I want to give back to the community”, as though it’s a choice. With me, I don’t think I have a choice; I feel compelled to do it. For me there’s an intrinsic value in being involved with different community and non-profit groups and to being on Council. I find it energizing and invigorating.  It’s wonderful to see what a group of people can accomplish if they have a common purpose or a shared goal – whether it’s building a gazebo or helping to run a Farmers’ Market. I get involved in volunteering and local politics because I feel lucky being in this community.

I lead a very busy life, full of all kinds of stressors: financial worries, time management issues,  interpersonal relationships and so on. In my life, therefore, I try to make space for grace; to experience the feeling of grace. That means cultivating an attitude of gratitude on a daily basis. Everybody gets locked into their own circumstance with blinders on but on a global scale we’re in the tiny 1% of people who are not looking where the next meal is coming from, how to stay warm and dry, or not having missiles fired at them. So cultivating an attitude of gratitude and witnessing about your good fortune is good way to create the experience of living in grace. Being an optimist and a bit of cheerleader for North Grenville is part of that effort, too

There’s a lot of negativity out there in the community and you can absorb it or release it. Politics is messy and it’s frequently ego-driven. There are land mines all over the place. You have to be able to forgive people for over-stepping sometimes. The feeling of grace in your life gives you strength, it enables you to be true to yourself; to acknowledge your uniqueness and blessings and not to worry about getting the credit. I try to remember this when working with Council colleagues and residents.

Managing a municipality is a complicated endeavour; being on Council is a marathon not a sprint. Another way of living gracefully, for me, is trying your best and then surrendering to whatever happens. I’ve never achieved anything worthwhile that didn’t take patience and persistence. I’m looking forward to the next three and half years serving this community by being on Council and doing it gracefully.

More Parking for Downtown Kemptville

In the summer of 2017 the Old Town Kemptville Business Improvement Area’s (BIA) Board of Management identified a downtown wishlist in anticipation of the Municipality’s 2018 budget deliberations. They included such things as a Community Information Board in one of the parks and funds to continue the Pop-Up Shop Program but by far the most important request from businesses was to dramatically improve parking downtown.

On September 25th, the BIA Chair, Deb Wilson and I presented to Council six items for their consideration and then scheduled private meetings with each individual Councilor to review our budget requests. Here is an excerpt from the background document we provided in advance of these meetings:

A 2012 Strategic Action Plan, based on the 2010 Parking Study, identified a number of recommendations to Manage Demand, Improve Supply and Promote Alternatives. The BIA would like to see more progress made on these recommendations, namely:

a) Additional Municipal off-street parking

We need to identify and create additional off-street parking to meet current and future needs. This was identified 7 years ago as a long term action plan in the 2010 Parking Study. With the construction of the new North Grenville District High School and Kemptville Public School in areas away from Downtown Kemptville, these two large properties are not being used to their full potential and they have ample availability of parking. Is there an opportunity here to negotiate with the Upper Canada District School Board for some sort of arrangement?

b) Rationalization of current Parking By-Laws

The Municipality has instituted a 3-hour parking limit between 7:00am and 7:00pm on all streets within the boundaries of the entire Municipality. Signage in certain parts of the Downtown Kemptville area including Clothier Street between Rideau Street and Sanders Street and Prescott Street between the north branch of Reuben Crescent and Asa Street indicate a 1 hour parking limit. Without enforcement, and to encourage longer visits downtown, we suggest removing them.

c) More (and larger) directional signs indicating Free Parking
There is free parking downtown but it’s hard to find especially for first time visitors. Let’s make it very easy for people to find the parking we do have.

Our Council is to be applauded for soliciting Community Requests and for instituting consultations with Councilors as part of their budget deliberations. More citizens and members community groups should take advantage of this opportunity in the future. Here is an extract of the November 14th, 2017 Minutes of Special Committee of the Whole meeting that dealt with Community Requests:

Downtown Parking Improvements

– Councillor Bertram advised that he had met with the BIA to improve supply, manage the demand and provide alternatives for parking in the downtown. Karen Dunlop noted that she had met with BIA to discuss limited parking for 3 hours. There are some 1 hour signs that will be removed. The sidewalk budget has been increased from $9000 to $14000 in 2018. We will look at a priority listing of sidewalks in 2018. Phil Gerrard advised that leasing the former high school site is problematic as we do not know who the new owners will be. No cost has been identified. Our parking study will be reviewed in 2018.

Improve Signage for Free Parking in the Downtown Core
– Councillor Onasanya advised that he has met with the BIA. This will help businesses.
Moved by David Gordon, Seconded by Jim Bertram
That $500 be included in the 2018 budget to improve directional signage for free downtown parking areas.
CARRIED


I will continue to work with the BIA to press the Municipality to implement their short term plans to improve the current parking situation and finally initiate long term plans to create additional off-street parking downtown. If we encourage people to shop, dine and explore Downtown Kemptville, they need to easily find convenient parking.

Small Scale Farms – are they sustainable?

As we move closer to the end of Act 2 in the Kemptville College saga, will small scale farming education be part of the discussion in Act 3?

Is there a place for small-scale farmers to learn what they need about the business and management of small farms? The Two Rivers Food Hub is helping with growing markets for local producers but that is just part of the puzzle. Consumer awareness is another factor. The Kemptville Farmers’ Market plays just a small part in consumer education about the value of local food. More needs to be done in the area of local food literacy.

Below is a link to a thoughtful article written by Cara Parks that asks if sustainable small farms are sustainable? I’d encourage everyone interested in local food to read it

The End Of Organic Farming Might Be Sooner Than We Thought

A Downtown Revival

It’s hard to pin-point exactly when the turnaround downtown started as it evolved slowly. I’ll say, it was about two years ago when Array Hair Studio opened across from Geronimo Coffee House at 201 Prescott. Array brought a nice upscale business that seemed to fit everyone’s vision of what Old Town Kemptville could be. Then Terri and Lee McIlvenna bought and built Geronimo’s into a thriving business that not only opens nice and early but now seven days a week. Recently Array moved a few steps north and bought the building at 115 Prescott across from the CIBC. Like To Be Continued‘s second expansion in just four years, it’s another concrete example of business confidence in the future of Downtown Kemptville.

Since January of this year however the pace has picked up noticeably. Next door to Array’s new location, we’ve seen 113 Prescott, the former Kemptville Advance building leased to the professional engineers of ISI Controls Inc. Setanta Solutions Inc, another professional IT service, now occupies 206C Prescott just south of Voice2Net which opened last year at 200 Prescott. Exit Realty By Design celebrates the Grand Opening of their realty office this Wednesday at 310 Prescott and Integrated Business Solutions Group is in the process of opening offices at 28 Clothier Street East. Up in the Rideau-Sanders Triangle, Andrew Beveridge CPA opened shop at 200 Sanders and across the street at 215 Sanders, the North Grenville Times now has an office on the ground floor (side entrance).

The new growth downtown hasn’t all been just professional services however. We have new investment downtown through new owners of the Kemptville Academy of Martial Arts (formerly Tekken MAA), Brewing Oasis, the South Branch Bistro (formerly the Branch Restaurant) and the Clothier Mills Inn Motel across the street. The Bowen Approach is now located at 3 Clothier and Get Cronk’d , a new fitness business at 9 Clothier (behind), has just hired a new trainer! GlowSport – Kemptville, The Glow Entertainment Company is opening soon at 29 Clothier Street East. By the Prescott Bridge both 10A and 10B Prescott have been leased – look for a number of innovative businesses housed at those locations opening soon. The Prim Shed at 419 Rideau Street and the Posh Plum at 207 Prescott opened just a few months ago. Just last week New Energy Kreations began renovations of a new showroom at 132 Prescott, which will greatly improve the streetscape of that section of Prescott, in other words, the broken window has been replaced.

(Ken Schliemann stands outside his new showroom for New Energy Kreations with Array Hair Studio reflected in the window)

We all look forward to see what will occupy the former Butler’s Victorian Pantry (currently being renovated by new owners) and who will be the new tenants of the vacant storefronts recently leased, such as Array’s former location. The BIA will be working hard this Fall and Winter to help fill the last of the available commercial spaces downtown. Look for even more Grand Openings in the months to come.

How to Save the Conservative Party

Andrew Coyne is my kind of conservative (whether he identifies as one or not). He writes in this article “there is no neccesary contradiction between a concern for the individual and an ideal of community.”  Limited government is government that minds its place – it’s not less government or small government, it is the creation and servant of the people.

Worth the time to read …

Source: How to Save the Conservative Party · thewalrus.ca

With a little help from my friends …

Subaru May 22

The good news was I broke my left leg in November of last year which meant that repairing the clutch in my Subaru wasn’t as urgent as it had been just two weeks earlier. There it sat at Rekmans Automotive while I healed over the Christmas holidays and relied on the generousity of friends, family and neighbours to get me from point A to B. It’s now back in my driveway (honk if you see it)

I missed driving; the Subi’s a great little car. I hadn’t owned a vehicle for the 30 years I lived in Toronto – I cycled, walked, took cabs, used the transit system and rented when I wanted to get out of town and visit family in Ottawa. When I moved back to the country I knew I had to have a car and my brother Michael was deputized as my car advisor as I knew absolutely nothing about them including their care and feeding. In fact it took me longer to find a local mechanic I could trust than a local family doctor. Rekmans Automotive, a family owned and operated garage at County Road 44 and the 416 exit (#28) was were I landed. I’m glad I did.

Enough about cars; this is really about how resilient and interdependent I’ve come to realize country people are and about how lucky I was to have landed in Oxford Mills exactly seven years ago. In the past five months, I’ve managed to make every single event, meeting and appointment I had to attend and run every errand I’ve had to accomplish. I’ve had meals, care packages and groceries dropped off at my door. I was so well taken care of, that on occasion, I felt guilty about having to turn down unsolicited offers of help.

Where does this rural outpouring of generousity come from? I believe it comes from the values that are instilled in you from the realization that when you live in the country you are dependent on your neighbours . “Pull your neighbours car out of the ditch as you would have them pull you out of the ditch” is how I’d express it. I’m not being cynical when I suggest the golden rule is as much about self-preservation as it is about altruism – it actually brings out the best in people. It helps create a true sense of civility, of community. It’s a blessing to be surrounded by that depth of resilience; that type of caring.

So finally, I’m truly grateful for all the assistance I’ve had over the past few months; the drives to town and back home again, into Manotick, Brockville and Ottawa and back, the errands run and the vehicles loaned. In no particular order and apologies in advance for inevitable exclusions – THANK YOU David, Dave, Marc, Penny, Shelley, Deron, Steve, Phil, Robin, Rebecca, Diana, Tom, Kevin, Gerry, Gerald, Karen, Kendra, Dad, Bro’, Sis and Maggie.

Cheers,

John