Thursday, August 31, 2006

A barn-burner mayoralty race in Alnwick/Haldimand Township

Nothing beats the prospect of a tough political fight and residents in Alnwick/Haldimand Township are blessed because they've got one.
Mayor Bill Finley, a 27-year veteran of council is being challenged by council stalwart Rosemarie Robins, who is currently deputy mayor. She has served for 25 years, most of that as reeve and deputy reeve in Alnwick Township, prior to the amalgamation a few years ago.
Both are former county wardens. Both have huge power bases, but each it their own former township.
Finley is a hard-nosed politician, who can go bare-knuckles with anybody. He is never afraid to be outspoken and doesn't take criticism or descent on his council very well. Recently, he made headlines chastizing opponents of residents both in and outside the township who wish to preserve a tallgrass prairie in one of the historic cemeteries. It is a battle that has gone through the courts and council for nearly a decade, mostly because Mr. Finley has made this a personal campaign and he is unable to broker a deal.
Robins is a well-known face in local politics. She could be called the Margaret Thatcher of county politics. She looks like a sweet grandmother and is quite nice and very gracious when you meet her. But she can be as tough as nails and can bash it out with the best politicians. Her gender should not fool anyone. Cross her once and he will never forget.
Finley could be in serious trouble. With the longstanding fight over the Shelter Valley gravel pit, there is a rather large, unhappy group of residents, waiting for an opportunity to throw him out of office. These are Toronto refugees and others who have migrated to the area, along with some locals. Finley will be counting on his buddies in the township to deliver him again.
Meanwhile, Robins is considered a saint in Alnwick. If she can carry her constituency as she has so many times in the past, Finley will be BBQ, cooked over a fire of his own making.
This should be one to watch closely because if things get desperate, it may get really dirty. Be prepared to stay up late election night because it will be tight and every vote is going to count.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Norlock acclaimed as federal candidate for local Conservatives

Northumberland-Quinte West MP Rick Norlock is acclaimed as the Tory candidate for the next federal election, the riding association announced yesterday.
The rookie MP went unchallenged and the exercise gave Norlock a chance to gush about the last few months in office.
"I think it is reasonable to say the party in Northumberland-Quinte West is happy with what they've seen and the government," he told a local newspaper.
Talk about creating an non-news event just to get publicity.
There is little chance anyone would have challenged him, considering he was elected less than a year ago. Heck, the Tories are absolutely gleeful, having sat in the wilderness for nearly two decades as the Liberals took this riding federally. Nobody would be stupid enough to take him on in a public fight.
Besides, it is only American Democrats who eat their own (or cranky Liberals). Take the case of Sen. Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, who was most recently defeated by millionaire, political novice Ned Lamont, after more than 30 years of electoral success. Then, there was the very public battle over a Hamilton riding when Sheila Copps was sent packing by Tony Valeri.
Gnaw, there is no bad blood like this in Northumberland.
And, the Tories are gearing up for their own battle royale shortly with a hotly contested nomination for a provincial candidate. So, why spoil the fun and steal the limelight by taking on the federal guys.
With Lou (Who?) Rinaldi sitting in the wings waiting for the next provincial election to take place in the fall of 2007, the Tories are feeling like they are in the driver's seat. The same wave of popularity that brought Rinaldi to victory in the last election. Rinaldi merely rode on Dalton McGuinty's coattails as he swept Ontario as part of an anti-Harris backlash. Next time, Rinaldi might be riding a similar wave right out of office as anti-McGuinty sentiments grow. Or, that is what the Tories want to think.
So, Norlock's confirmation is just another bright news story on the front page of the local daily newspaper, letting all the citizens of Northumberland know how great things are going in Tory-land. It is like a postcard from relatives in Florida in February: the thought is nice, but it really sucks to be reminded of the reality of your own situation.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Rice Lake claims sixth victim this summer

An 18-year old teenager drowned in Rice Lake after his canoe tipped Sunday morning. He was not wearing a life jacket, police said.
Alex Rutherford, a recent graduate of Cobourg District Collegiate Institute West, was last seen about 200 metres from the north shore of the lake, between Jubilee Point and Cow Island, directly north of Gores Landing. The canoe capsized, dumping Rutherford and a 16-year old friend into the water. The boys tried to swim to shore, but turned around and swam back to the canoe. Rutherford was unable to hang on and slipped under the water.
A search that day was unfruitful, but when the OPP Underwater Search and Recovery Unit began looking Sunday around 10:30 a.m., the body was found within five minutes.
He was spending the weekend at a cottage on Cow Island with a group of friends from Cobourg and Colborne. The mother of one of the friends owns the cottage. She was there when the accident occurred.
This is the sixth person to drown on Rice Lake this summer. In all cases, the victims were not wearing life jackets.
This latest tragedy spawned a great deal of discussion. Reports indicate there may have been alcohol involved, but print media reports confirm this was not the reason.
The tragedy will strike very hard among young people in Cobourg, particularly at the high school where Rutherford attended. It is a tight knit community and with school starting, the loss will be felt strongly next week when students return.
But, the most obvious point is people need to wear life jackets in a boat. Simple. There is not any marine safety resource that does not remind us of this fact. And yet, far to many adults fail to put them on.
This is a senseless tragedy. It is easily preventable.

Friday, August 25, 2006

McCaughey announces re-election campaign a good reason for others to run

Veteran Cobourg Councillor Dean McCaughey announced yesterday he was running again for council.
It is tough to get excited about such a long-serving councillor. He does a good job considering he has the toughest portfolio on council. Rarely is anyone truly happy with the planning department through no fault of their own. Developers always want more and everything done faster. Resident are NIMBY. So, it is a no-win situation. McCaughey is pretty relaxed most of the time, but sometimes he gets upset. It is usually internalized. Once, in the past year, he wrote a nasty, demeaning letter to the editor chastizing a group opposed to the Mr. Sub redevelopment.
This is a really good case of someone who should not run again. There are too many councillors in Cobourg who have served extended terms and need to give others a chance.
McCaughey said he wants to develop a consultation process that is more inclusive. Well, sorry, but he has had more than 15 years to do that and hasn' t taken a positive step. In fact, he supported a move to discourage presenters made by Deputy Mayor Bob Spooner earlier this year.
He also wants to start some kind of incubator for business in the industrial park. This is already done through the various agencies that exist like the Northumberland Business Development Assistance Corp and Northumberland Community futures Development Corporation and others. There are many other proactive things council could do to help small business.
Also, his desire to see the Cobourg East Community Official Plan go forward in an “orderly fashion” is arrogant. The planner and his staff will do a great job. There is little a politician actually does once it gets to this stage.
As for a team approach on council, this is almost laughable. That would be a posting all to itself. (Stay tuned).
His silence on the senior#039s centre is telling. If it gets big support leading up the election, watch him jump on. Likely he is waiting because this is one issue that may kill council, especially Councillor Gil Brocanier and the mayor.
As for bigger ice pad, which he says it would be tough to get funding, this is going to hurt him with the sports community. The question is a simple one: how is it council can find millions from a reserve fund for a senior's centre, but not for the sports community, which involves far more kids and adults? Sorry, Dean.
There have been a number of black marks for McCaughey this term. The Mr. Sub controversy was the most high profile and one that he got badly kicked around on. The Molly Baker Lane was not so traumatic. Still, there are lots of residents out there who are angry with him.
McCaughey is going to be a tough one to beat. It is too bad some politicians don't know when to walk away. If the field of candidates grows, he could be tossed out as the vote splits up. If it remains tight, he will be a shoo-in. This could be the best reason for people to run for council.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Gilchrist seeks re-election to school board

It is truly sad to see long-serving politicians who don't know when to step down. There was another example yesterday when Cobourg public school board trustee Gordon Gilchrist announced he will seek a third term on the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.
His announcement is filled with the worst political rhetoric imaginable. He says there will be no worm-up period for a new trustee after this election and issues like declining enrollment, financial constraints and school closures are so complex a new trustee will not readily understand them.
"Misapplied funding and misdirected curriculum for even one year can have serious effects on a child's entire education," he is quoted as saying.
Puhleeezze, give me a break!
It is hard to imagine only six years ago, Mr. Gilchrist was a new trustee. If he came to understand these complex issues, why does he think nobody else can?
This is the long history of arrogance associated with Mr. Gilchrist and he terms in office. From the botched closure of Thomas Gillbard Public School in Cobourg to the closures of two Port Hope schools this fall: L.B. Powers and Central Public School. There are also the hair-brained schemes to build a massive high school in Cobourg, which thankfully never got off the ground because it would have been a warehouse for kids rather than place for better education.
And, one only needs to read his letters to the editor to realize how trite he can be. He twists around anyone's argument, if he disagrees.
His constituency is mainly seniors and retirees, who want their taxes low and education to be delivered like pizza, not as a public service.
Yes, Mr. Gilchrist has done some good, but he cannot begin to take all the credit. Here are the Advanced Placement Programs, Integrated Arts Program, a culinary program, a STICS program and horticulture program. He can point to these as accomplishments, but
these are not solely his.
The last election, Mr. Gilchrist said he had a moral obligation to run again. Maybe this time, he should step down for the same reasons.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Did Councillor Jackson just wake up or did the media?

As Councillor Pam Jackson slowly sails into retirement this fall, she has suddenly become very vocal. She will not seek re-election in the November municipal elections, as announced last month.
A number of stories have appeared in the media with Jackson going on about a host of topics ranging from councillor#039s salaries to Port Hope#039s contribution to the current Northumberland Hills Hospital fundraising campaign.
Her most recent foray into public debate was a set of caustic comments around Northumberland County#039s plans for new headquarters on the northwest corner of Elgin and Burnham streets.
It began with words of warning to not let the architects come up with some ghastly looking structure.
"The federal and provincial governments have built some notoriously ugly buildings in the past," she is quoted as saying in the newspaper.
After sharpening her claws, Jackson moved in for the killing swipe.
"Can we keep tweaking it so that it doesn#039t take place?" she said later.
And, here is her real motivation.
Forget the architectural critique, Jackson doesn#039t want the county to build. And, she is not alone. Several others have questioned whether or not the building is truly needed. Northumberland County council is vacating its current building, constructed more than 50 years ago, to allow the provincial courts to take over the building. The structure has already undergone several renovations over the years as the courts have expanded. Now, with the move to consolidate its entire operations in Cobourg by closing the court in the Bailey at Victoria Hall. There were complaints the historic courtroom was unsafe and not suited to modern judicial needs.
But instead of the county telling the courts to get new digs at the province#039s expense, it rolled over and agreed to vacate its headquarters and build new ones.
No doubt, there were fears the province would consolidate its operations for West Northumberland in Port Hope or somewhere other than Cobourg, if the county failed to agree. It would be highly unlikely the province would build a new building for the courts.
Besides, the county has been itching to get a new building for decades.
It almost succeeded in the mid-1990s, when the county council of the day, all 33 members, wanted to build a new superstructure adjacent to lands it owned next to HIghway 401. The design looked like a wedge of cheese and it would have been a monument. Yet, costs and a lack of political will meant it did not get done. Talk of amalgamation and downsizing municipal government were in the wind. Also, many councils were trying to cut budgets and taxes, not increase them.
This time it may be harder to stop. Cobourg Mayor Peter Delanty was quick to quell Jackson#039s criticism, saying the building will be a "signature building". There is also going to be a reflecting pool and a monument.
The $9.2 million structure is before Cobourg council waiting to be finalized.
With Jackson having nothing to lose politically, she may be going out with a bang. If she can garner enough public support, this may be her opportunity to pay back the rest of council for some of the crap she has put up with over her two terms.
Hang on.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Good news for local industry and MPP

Premier Dalton McGuinty was in Northumberland to announce a $700,000 grant for a new plastics technology research and development centre at G.E. Plastics, a major employer based in Cobourg on Thursday.
This is good news on many fronts. For the company, it adds to its prestige and ability to market its products globally. It will also provide an opportunity for academics and industry experts to develop new processes and products. One of the undoubted beneficiaries will be the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, located just down the road in Oshawa.
The money will go to building a new research lab at the plant located in the industrial park in the east-end of Cobourg.
For the region, this signals a very important long-term commitment to jobs. With the announcement only one week ago about the loss of the Minute Rice line at Kraft-General Foods across town, this type of investment counterbalances fears that Cobourg has nearly lost its industrial base.
For Northumberland MPP Lou Rinaldi, the news is a dream come true. While there have been some announcements of government grants to the county, Cobourg has not received anything major for quite some time. Brighton and Port Hope were given money for medical centres. And, there has been a succession of smaller offerings. Mainly, Rinaldi has faced hostile municipal politicians who regularly complain about a slew of policies they find punitive. This will quiet down the criticism. And, it will be on every piece of campaign literature come next fall when the provincial election is on.
The Tories are hoping to unseat Rinaldi, who defeated PC incumbent Doug Galt in the last election as part of a Liberal sweep across Ontario. Hopes are high within Conservative circles and Rinaldi is seen as weak in a riding that is known to swing back and forth.
For municipal politicians, this announcement is a blessing. Mayor Peter Delanty will be taking as much credit as he can, since his economic development record is weak at best. While there are some good news stories over the past term, many lie in the growth of the retail sector, who often provide part-time jobs without benefits. He has not been successful in getting industry to relocate here. In fact, it is mostly closings or reductions in workforce. These kinds of jobs, generated through this announcement, are high paying manufacturing jobs. And, while it is research, it brings academics and expertise into the community. There is both prestige and economic benefit. Again, look for this announcement to be profiled high in the campaign literature of incumbent councillors hungry to stave off the influx of contenders.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Race for PC nominations heats up in Northumberland

An international businessman and technology expert plans to enter the Progressive Conservative nomination race shortly.
Cobourg-born David St. Charles confirmed Thursday he is seeking to represent Northumberland-Quinte West for the Tories in next year#039s provincial election.
A respected academic and businessman, St. Charles is spearheading a major new initiative for the University of Ontario Institute of Technology with a possible spin-off for Northumberland. He is looking to establish strategic partnerships with international and Canadian business leaders to further the university#039s research and development. The university hopes to become a "MIT of the North", modeling itself after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
There are unconfirmed suggestions West Northumberland may become home to one of the university#039s campuses, something that has many community leaders very excited, despite no official announcements.
St. Charles is an adjunct full professor and an executive-i-residence at the Faculty of Business and Information Technology. Over the past 30 years he created or managed a number of leading corporations focused on real-time software systems and is well-known for his innovations in technology. He was named one of the top high-tech CEO#039s in California. He was CEO of Integrated Systems Inc. a leading worldwide provider of embedded technology, which was founded in 1981
He joined Jan Spragge, Cathy Galt and Carl Eggimann in the contest for the nomination.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hedley headlines CPGA championship; hometown proud

It is amazing to watch a community adopt an athlete as they develop, because living in a small town allows people to feel a sense of pride and kinship that is never quite recreated in large urban centres.
Such is the case with Cobourg golfer Cuyler Hedley, who has garnered headlines since she was a kid playing on the local greens. The 25-year old young woman was part of a press conference in Oshawa earlier this week to announce she is one of the top women to play in the Canadian Professional Gofer's Association tour. She tied for 35th place.
"As long as I can remember, it has been my dream to play professional golf," she told the media. "This while professional thing is definitely something else and I am looking forward to playing close to home."
She is now entering a new class of golfers. Past winners of the Oshawa competition are Lori Kane, Nancy Harvey and Liz Earley, who have all gone on to top level play.
It seems like only yesterday when she was leading the Murray State University women's golf team to the Ohio Valley Conference championships. This is all a long way from her days of banging a ball around the Dalewood Golf and Curling Club just north of town. She was given a four-year full scholarship to attend Murray State, in Kentucky, and has slowly built a solid career for herself. She played amateur golf and has won several championships. This is her first year as a pro.
We will continue to root for our homegrown superstar.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Nelles fired, but still gets salary during appeal

Disgraced Cobourg Police officer Shawn Nelles is out of a job, but he will continue to receive his $69,000 salary until an appeal is heard regarding his unprofessional conduct.
Adjudicator Robert Fitches left no doubt about his disgust with Nelles.
"He has behaved in an abysmal fashion," he said. "He (Nelles) has demonstrated, through his actions, that he is quite capable of neglecting his duty, deceiving his superiors and bringing discredit upon himself and his police service on more than one occasion over a period of almost three years."
Nelles pleaded guilty to four charges: neglect of duty, deceit and two counts of discreditable conduct, in October 2005.
The scathing decision and his behaviour have left Nelles' life in shambles. He was suspended in June 2004 and has received a salary from the force since.
The Police Services Act hearing has been a very public event with lots of details being regularly published in local media, including graphic accounts of sex he had with a young 18-year old female.
The community and the Police Service Board chairman were shocked by the continuation of Nelles' salary. The local radio station played some listener comments, many condemning the situation. Boar chairman Bryan Baxter would not give detailed comments, saying the matter is still before the courts, but he did express his amazement the municipality would need to still pay Nelles.
While it is easy to get upset over the salary issue, laws are not made for specific cases, but for all instances. Nelles clearly admits to his misconduct and, in some people's opinion, should no longer be a police officer in Cobourg. (He will be lucky to every get a job in policing again after this stain on his record). Yet, the law was put in place to prevent harming innocent officers who have been mistreated by the system. Consider a case where an officer, who has been maligned with undeserved charges, who has a family and mortgage etc. The salary may be the only income. In a case of a miscarriage of justice, the continuation of a salary is fair, even during an appeal. That is the aim of the law.
Unfortunately, Nelles is exploiting this aspect. He has admitted to his misconduct, but he is failing to accept the full consequences of his actions. Certainly, the law provides this opportunity. And, his lawyer, Jonanne Mulcahy, is doing her job when she offers to carry on the appeal process.
It is time Nelles moved on, both literally and figuratively. He cannot expect to go back to work or be an officer in the community that does not respect him. Law enforcement is 90 per cent trust and respect. Without it, the only way to maintain order is through violence. Nelles should know this and realize his has lost this. It is time to move forward. He needs to heal and so does the community.
Meanwhile, critics of the salary issue should hesitate for a moment to consider their comments. While Nelles presents a possible extreme at one end of the scale, the law was meant to protect the opposite perspective. To change it could hurt innocent people and those are the ones who deserve the protection.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

New girl's hockey association for Cobourg and area

More than 80 girls signed up for a new all-female hockey association starting this fall, leaving the Cobourg Community Hockey League a bit beleaguered.
Trish Davidson, a member of the steering committee behind the initiative, said the West Northumberland Girls Hockey Association will offer seven to nine rep teams that will compete in the North Metro Girls Hockey League and the Central East Girls Hockey League, as well as house league teams for girls seven to 21 and beginners house league for women over 21.
There have been some parents questioning how organized the league is going into the season, but assurances from Davidson claim they are ready to go.
This is an exciting development for young women in the community. Until now, there were limited opportunities for all-women hockey. Many girls, particularly young ones, were left to play on mixed teams in the CCHL. The league continues to be committed to supporting young women, but this new league will raise a lot of interest.
It is not unusual for women to form their own sports teams. The Cobourg Angels baseball organization in town is huge and supports some excellent rep softball teams in Ontario.
In light of the increased interest in supporting women's hockey in Canada, this league comes at a great time. The Clarkson Cup is raising awareness of the high calibre of the game. And, these young women in Northumberland can pursue their own dreams of becoming the next Hayley Wickenheiser.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The death knell for two schools in Port Hope

A final review of a decision to close two public schools in Port Hope is complete and the news released late last week is not good for those trying to save them.
A review by the Ministry of Education into the closing of Dr. L.B. Powers Public School and Central Public School concludes the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board is justified in its plans to close both schools next month. The schools serve the centre of the town and have a long history in the community.
Parents, politicians and others from the town fought a bitter battle with the school board, which ended with a major public meeting in February with promises from the trustees that they would listen. But the illusion of democracy persists as the board, with its air tight policy on school closure merely walked through its consultation process with a clear goal of shutting down the two schools. With declining enrollment and elderly buildings, it was a deadly combination nobody could argue against with any authority. Certainly, there were those who tried, presenting facts and figures, but with the board's closure policy in motion, it was impossible to stop.
But the board is not interested in this area. With responsibilities for a huge region including Clarington and Peterborough, with its rapid growth, places like Port Hope (Northumberland, for that matter) cannot compete. New subdivisions means the construction of new schools, which can be built like massive box stores. These gigantic building are economic and efficient, but very poor places to educate children. They are like education factories with the only goal of processing young people rather than teaching them anything.
This will also hurt the downtown of Port Hope, as people will move to the new subdivisions rather than live in the town's core. And, it will hurt future economic growth because businesses will not want to relocate to a place where they cannot move with their families.
What is even more apparent is the rush to amalgamate school boards has meant Northumberland is the big loser. It cannot contend with the other more developed areas and its political representatives are puppets not champions.
Thankfully, Port Hope School Trustee Erin Brown is not running again. She has failed the community and leaves with her tail between her legs. Regardless of any other work she has done during her two terms in office, people will remember it was her watch that left them without two key schools. She would have suffered a humiliating defeat.
As for Gord Gilchrist, the other trustee, he is merely a lapdog of the school board and has failed to defend the community. Certainly, he has stood by the board and its arguments. And, he argues the board is doing the right thing. But, he has not represented his constituents in their battle. Rather, he was the opposition. Hopefully, he will step down, too.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Three-way race for Cobourg deputy mayor

Cobourg council gadfly Manfred Schumann entered the race for Cobourg deputy mayor yesterday with a long list of criticisms aimed at incumbent candidate Gil Brocanier.
Schumann, 60, is a local businessman, who owns a card/gift shop on the main street. He is a regular observer at council meeting, attending almost every week for the past eight years. He is a long-time director with the Downtown Business Improvement Area (DBIA) and frequently makes deputations before council on critical issues. This has led him to be viewed by some as a pain in the butt, but for others he is an effective watchdog.
This is the first time Schumann has run for council. He is already framing the race as an referendum on the town's finances. He says the town's financial success is the job of the deputy mayor and the future is tied into how the financial portfolio is handled. This sounds very similar to Ben Burd's approach when he called it a race to be "budget chief".
The senior's centre will be the wedge issue for Schumann. He is critical of Brocanier's handling of the senior centre issue, which was originally being pushed through council until a group, which included Schumann, raised deep concerns about a lack of planning and missing details. Since then, the process has slowed considerably and is currently awaiting a needs study.
The third platform is around development, which Schumann believes is being done backwards. He wants the "town's agenda" first and not developers. This will be viewed as anti-development by the progressives who want to turn Cobourg into a metropolis with housing subdivisions underway or under review in Cobourg's east and west ends.
Finally, there is the issue of public deputations. As a regular presenter, Schumann has been abused by politicians and media commentators for his critical presentations during public meetings. Not doubt, this will change.
The three-way race between Schumann, Brocanier and Burd will create an interesting dynamic. The votes will be seriously split with reformers torn between Burd and Schumann. The fear is Brocanier will win by going up the middle. Don't be surprised if Burd drops out to line up the votes behind Schumann since he carries a lot more political baggage in the community and has been unsuccessful in his past two runs for council.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Good fences make great neighbours

Poet Robert Frost got it right. And for 16 residents of O'Connor Court, in the northeast portion of Cobourg, a noise fence to protect them from the loud sounds coming off of Highway 401 are both a blessing and a curse.
One family is going to have to remove a portion of their deck and kill plans to build a backyard pool after town officials started to build the fence. It turns out the town wants to use a swath of land about three metres (about nine feet) deep.
One of the residents, Rhonda Baitley is protesting the move, saying she knew nothing in advance. Sadly, the town was clear in its plan of subdivision back in 2003, but Baitley said the subdivision developer failed to inform her.
Already all the affected residents have signed a petition. The town is prepared to negotiate a reduction in the amount of land it needs and a solution may be found.
It would be overly easy to say "too bad" to Baitley. As a consumer, she needed to make herself aware of all details of her home purchase. Most people don't review a subdivision plan when they purchase a new home. And, it would also be simple to get upset with the developer for allegedly not informing her when they made the purchase. Then, the town could ensure this doesn't happen by putting notices on the titles.
Yes, there is plenty of blame to be spread around.
But from a process point of view, how much can we expect? Most people don't make themselves aware. With few exceptions, people go around uninformed about the most basic things going on. Local news media fail to cover details of meeting. And politicians don't make any extraordinary efforts to keep citizens up to speed, saving the public meetings that are legislated. It is hard to imagine the balance between a citizen's responsibility and the political and institutional culpability.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

James Cockburn Day forgotten

Once again, municipal politicians have failed to jump on an excellent opportunity to promote Northumberland County and remind people of the incredible history of this area.
Monday was James Cockburn Day in Cobourg. It was established in 1999 before the province declared the August long weekend as Simcoe Day, after Sir John Graves Simcoe.
Cockburn is Northumberland's Father of Confederation and the first speaker of the House of Commons. The day is meant to celebrate local history and all the great people who made contributions to developing one of the most significant areas in the development of the country.
He was born on Feb. 13, 1819 in a small town on the English-Scottish border and immigrated to Canada when he was 13. He was fortunate enough to attend Upper Canada College and then learned law at Osgoode Hall. He came to Cobourg to establish a law practice with his good friend Darcy Boulton, another high profile Cobourg resident, who made many contributions to the town.
He was elected to town council in 1850s, but quickly moved up the ladder to become the Reform candidate for the Province of Canada West's legislative assembly. He left the reformers to join with Sir John A. Macdonald's Liberal-Conservative Party. He attended the Quebec Conference of 1864. Several high profile politicians who were involved in the Confederation efforts stayed in Cobourg during a stop over before heading on to Quebec.
After Confederation, he was elected as Speaker, serving from 1867 to 1874. By this time, he was in a great deal of financial trouble and the Speaker's job meant he was able to live comfortably.
He lost his seat in the 1874 election as part of a massive voter rejection of Macdonald and his party in light of the Pacific Scandal. He was re-elected in 1878, but was not very active. At this time, he worked on legislation, collecting and classifying Canadian statutes.
He died on August 14 1883.
It is disappointing nobody wants to celebrate this amazing man. While he was not extraordinary like Macdonald and others, he represents many of those people who make their contribution with quite dedication and resolve. Just like most of us.
It is truly sad. Not only did the town council and staff forget to publish a declaration this year, but the local media let it go by completely. Even after the local radio station was told, it did not mention the day on any news broadcasts.
The current mentality gives very little notice of history because the emphasis is on the moment. History is an important teacher. Very little is new and everything comes from something which preceded it. We run a huge risk when we forget our heritage.

Monday, August 07, 2006

And they keep coming...

A Cobourg mom has joined the race for council late last week, becoming the youngest contender thus far.
Melissa Marshall, 34, a personal care support worker, is running on a family-oriented platform for the November municipal election with a focus on youth and seniors. If elected, she wants to hold regular forums at schools and nursing homes to hear directly on important issues from all members of the community. She supports the idea of a senior#039s centre, as proposed by the current council, but wants it to be a multi-use facility.
This is the kind of new blood council needs. And, while she does not have the level of community involvement of other candidates or incumbents, she claims to have good grassroots backing. If nothing else, she will add a needed dimension: a young mother. This will stand in stark contrast to the male retirees who make up the current council. Her family-based perspective is blowing through this election like a fresh wind in a stale house.
Marshall is not completely without political experience, she has worked on a municipal campaign previously as a teenager in a Port Hope election.
She is the fifth to submit papers along with Wayne DeVeau, Bob Spooner, Miriam Mutton and Larry Sherwin. Three other have declared their intention to run: Mayor Peter Delanty, Councillor Gil Brocanier and former councillor Ben Burd.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Another one enters the ring

Cobourg resident Larry Sherwin entered the race for council in this falls municipal election yesterday.
The 20-year resident from Brook Road South is hoping to capitalize on the emerging sense of urgency for change on council. To his credit, he has been attending council meetings for the last few months trying to get a handle on issues. Like many, he finds council's disregard for public input to be grating. The lack of responsiveness on this council is appalling and will be an Achilles' tendon for incumbents.
Sherwin's service for on the parks and recreation advisory committee will also be a big plus. He has worked on the committee since the 1990s and will have many contacts with the sports community. He is also the vice-chairperson of the Ontario Amateur Softball Association and the past-chairperson of the Legion Minor Softball League. These are two high profile positions that will give him a huge advantage.
Notably, having the backing of the athletic community is a big boost when it comes to the polls. This is historically a segment of the voting population that has come out behind Deputy Mayor Bob Spooner, who also came to office riding his connections to the sports community. Now, with Sherwin in the race, there will definitely be some erosion. And, with Spooner dropping down to run for a councillor's position, the vote will definitely be split.
Sherwin joins Mariam Mutton, Spooner, Gil Brocanier, Peter Delanty and Ben Burd as declared candidates. Only Mutton, Sherwin and Spooner have officially registered.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Minute Rice brands leaves Cobourg for Houston

The Kraft plant in Cobourg lost one of its major brands after the company sold it to Ebro Puleva, of Spain, for $280 million.
The operation will move to its Houston-based plant, giving the company a toehold in the Canadian market. Ebro Puelva is one of the world's largest pre-cooked rice manufacturers. It also recently purchased a pasta operation that makes Creamette macaroni products.
For the company it is part of a larger strategy to focus on its biggest brands rather than smaller ones. It is part of a three-year plan Kraft Chief Executive Officer Irene Rosenfeld, who took charge a month ago, is pursuing. The idea is to sell smaller units and increase marketing of bigger brands such as Oscar Mayer meats and Capri Sun beverages. Minute Rice generates about $90 million in revenue, of which $37 million was profit.
Shareholder will get a 10 cent dividend in a one-time payout. Erbo Puleva saw a 93 per cent rise in its share value.
And while that is all good news for the business community, it sucks for Cobourg. With only 375 jobs left at the plant before the announcement, it will hurt. Both the United Food and Commercial Workers local 1230 and the company will not say how many jobs will be lost.
This leaves very little for the Cobourg plant. In talking with a retired employees, it was speculated the line handling Shake And Bake may also move south to a Kraft plant in the United States. A new formula for coating mix means the Cobourg plant would be obsolete.
Cobourg once employed 1,000 people in its heyday in the 1970s. One of the biggest reasons it was kept open during the downsizing of many larger coporations in the 1980s and 1990s was its ability to purchase cheap sugar from Cuba, which would have been illegal in the United States due to trade bans.
Cobourg's plant made a wide range of products from Certo to Kool Aid to breakfast cereals. But, there was always a cloud hanging over the plant as rumours of its closing have circulated for close to 40 years.
But, this could be its death knell. With a three-year strategy to get rid of smaller brands, it does not bode well locally.
This would be another in a long line of major manufacturers who have left the area. Columbus McKinnon, Winchester, General Wire and Cable, H&K Manufacturing. St. Anne's water, Imperial Bake and Serve, Gaines Pet Food, Diversey Water Technologies, Budd Plastics, Matthew Conveyers, Cooper Tool, FP Electronics. Centre Manufacturing Curtis Products
Politicians are powerless in these situations. While they will spend huge sums of money on economic development, it is impossible to stem the tide. Cobourg and Port Hope are quickly becoming bedroom communities, with little more than service sector jobs to offer. The high-paying union jobs of the past which drove the economic engine of the region are quickly disappearing to be replaced by subdivisions and box stores. Toronto refugees are moving here to escape the decline in the large urban centre as they retire. The fastest growing sector in the local population is over 55.
Certainly, these people bring lots of money with them. After selling their high priced homes in Toronto, they have plenty of money to spread around, driving up local home prices and spending lots on all kinds of retail and services.
This only creates part-time jobs without benefits and forces people to leave the community to make a decent living.
It is sad, but it is a story repeated in many communities in rural Ontario. And, there is little reason for politicians, both municipally and provincially, to do anything.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Cameco accident fodder for opponents

Five employees at the Cameco plant in Port Hope received treatment after an accident where hydrogen fluoride was released Monday.
During the ongoing decontamination of historic equipment inherited from the company's predecessor, Eldorado Gold Mines, who started a radium refinery at the current location, a wisp of smoke from a four-foot section of metal piping while they were cutting through a pipe joint. The two operators, who were working on the pipe immediately erred on the side of caution and reported the incident, according to media reports.
The plant's emergency response team came to the scene, where the pipe was removed and taken to the area where UF6 (urnanium hexafluouride) is processed and it could be handled for further testing.
The incident took place in one of the larger, older buildings and officials say the exposure was minor. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the Ministry of Environment were notified.
Without question, this incident will be a spark for the Families Against Radiation Exposure (FARE) will have a heyday with this. The group has consistently fought against the company's safety practices and was successful in opposing an expansion of the plants capacity to undertake an SEU (slightly enriched uranium) project.
This comes at a time when Cameco is working hard to develop its long term plans and community consultations are ongoing. The FARE opposition to the SEU project deeply divided the community. There was some bad blood and this incident will certainly fuel the opponent's arguments that Cameco is unsafe, despite the fact that it is being called minor.
Watch for key community leaders and some politicians to jump on this one. In particular, Councillor John Morand, a long time opponent and former deputy mayor, now council candidate, John Floyd. Pat McNamara will be before council within a week. And, the letters to the editor will flow like Niagara Falls.
While Cameco is successful in controlling the media spin today, it will be interesting to watch how long it will be able to hold on to the agenda.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Donation of $800,000 to Northumberland Hills Hospital

A long-time Port Hope resident left $800,00 to the local hospital yesterday.
Gerald Hamilton made the decision only days before he died of cancer at 78. It will be used to buy an MRI machine, a major improvement in equipment for Northumberland County. Until now, patients needing this scan were forced to go to Toronto, Peterborough, Oshawa or Kingston.
One of the reasons for such a large donation was changes to the captial gains taxation rules made recently. The gift came in the form of stock.
Hamilton was born in Markham on a small family farm. He left the farm to work at Simpson's, a large retail chain in Canada, as a buyer. Just before he retired, he worked for The Bay, another major retailer who bought out Simpson's. He took early retirement and opened an antique shop and built up an impressive stock portfolio.
Two things of note.
First, it is amazing to see this type of generosity in our community. Second, it is great to see people taking advantage of this capital gains reform. Sadly, the lack of proper government funding leaves public institutions scrambling for money. This donation helps, but it should not replace appropriate levels of public funds.

One hundred children wait for vital services in Northumberland

Despite all the rhetoric politicians can muster, families continue to be at the bottom of the agenda, particularly those with children who face serious problems.
Take for example the 100 children and teenagers who sit on a waiting list for physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy from the Five Counties Children's Centre, which serves Northumberland and Peterborough counties, along with Lindsay. Families must wait six to 18 months before getting much needed assistance due to a shortfall in funding to its $6 million budget. The agency received $600,000 from the provincial government in March to enable it to lower its overall waiting list from 500 to 350.
The situation locally is so bad Cobourg author Grace Barker donated $1 per book from her latest children's book The Bad Luck Bank Robberies.
There is not one local politician - municipal, federal or provincial - who will not tell you families are important. And yet, it is apparent this refers to those who do not face problems. About 50 parents in the Kitchener area rallied yesterday to help 750 autistic children who are on waiting lists for intensive therapy. The Ontario Court of Appeal recently ruled the provincial government doesn't have to pay for therapy once children reach the age of six.
NDP Health critic Shelly Martel said a portion of the funds allocated for assistance is not being spent.
No doubt, there are arguments to be made about what social servivces are essential and those which are not. But, when it comes to children, the debate must end and action must be taken. No child should suffer. A co-ordinated effort must be made to get the 100 children in Northumberland County the services they need. County politicians must take on this issue immediately and not stop. Meanwhile, MPP Lou Rinaldi must be publicly embarrassed into action, since it seems to be the only motivator he responds to in a crisis. Finally, MP Rick Norlock needs to break with his party to speak out on this issue. This is the kind of issue that could be solved if Ontario received its fair share of equalization payments. He should suggest that any additional money provided to the provinces should be spent on social programs aimed at children and families.
There is much to be done.