Economic Development

edEconomic Development – the holy grail for Municipalities. Everybody chants the mantra – “economic development is good for us, we will create jobs and raise money for tax revenue!” Almost every mickey mouse idea can be tagged with the soubriquet. Most voters believe whatever the Pols call ED, because nobody knows what it is. Pardon our cynicism as we have been breathing the air of the believers for as long as they have been  saying it. Usually the water will change and the air becomes laden with dreams around election time. But Cobourg pols have been living and breathing this stuff pretty actively for the last few years and now the strategic planning process is well under way the ED dreams may be finally reaching the start line. At least the incumbents may have a project to boast about in the next election.

Cobourg has always been a municipality that has not been afraid to step on the toes of the private enterprise model. In 1932, debate and action took place about the ‘municipalisation’ of the local  Water and Electric Utilities and the Public Utilities Commission was formed. In the 1990s the Town assumed ownership of the Lands and buildings of the Northam Ordnance Depot, commonly known as the Depot. Cobourg now owns a million square feet of leasable indusrial space and it also makes money.

Building on that investment for a greater slice of ED has been hard. It used to be that the elected Mayors were once colourful and exuberant fellows – Jack Heenan and Angus Read to mention a couple. It was enough for those folks and the sleepier and abundant times to follow leads and open the doors of Cobourg to industries looking for a home. But with the demise of the ‘branch plant economy’ and the advent of the consumer society it is sad that the largest employers in the Town are all public enterprises – KPRDSB. NHH, the Town of Cobourg. So what can the good burghers do to counter this and attract business to Town? Cobourg struggled with that one for a few years, hired a Director of Economic Development and told him to get on with it. When the last Director fell into trouble, it was deemed to be a good time to save money, drop the job a couple of pay grades and we haven’t had a Director of ED since. It didn’t die completely, in a couple of budgets ago there was a slot for a “Business Retention Officer” but that initiative fizzled out when the direction turned to become a “Downtown Business Officer”. We have yet to see the wisdom or results in that one. Direction floundered some more and now the wheel has turned and it appears that the latest advent is that ED should be a cooperative effort with the County and other agencies. Despite this tale of gloom and doom the one bright spot has been the work of the Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC). This agency led by an amazing person – Wendy Curtis, who has dragged the agency into the future and inspired many business’ and entrepreneurs. The recipient of many millions of dollars, put back into the community, Ms Curtis has now led the CFDC into, what, on paper, looks like an idea that may work this time.

Venture 13, a Dynamic Venture Centre, will be a business hub and incubator. This concept floated to Cobourg Council on March 13 was adopted and translated into a report from the CAO, read it here. SImple idea – use the unused former administration building at the town owned industrial park to house an expanded business unit of the Cobourg Police Services and fill the rest of the building with partners in the hub.

Business incubators are not a new idea, in fact Port Hope had one, but shut down after a couple of years for undisclosed reasons. Cobourg thinks they can succeed, and probably will if all the partners get fully involved. For a fuller report than this read John Draper’s Cobourg News here.

All we can say is that we hope it works, it certainly will be an expensive experiment if it doesn’t – $2,920,000 final cost in the report.

Municipal questions

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Cobourg Council 1920, sitting in the front row, all nine of them. The back row is the Municipal Staff.

Looks like the Municipal Councils in the East of Northumberland cannot get along. Factional splits in Councils are nothing new, in fact almost every Council has them. But the issues of behaviour in Cramahe and Brighton are worthy of note and leads us to ask the question – “Is the four year term of Councils too long?”

The history and compositions of Councils is varied but in Cobourg, (quoting Edwin Guillet “Cobourg 1798 – 1948”) the norm has been nine members of Council at most times. The exceptions were in the early 1900s when County Government was being organised and the positions of Reeve, 1st Deputy Reeve and 2nd Deputy Reeve were installed. A nine member Council was the rule until the first round of amalgamations in the 00s when the County downsized and the position of Deputy Reeve ceased to exist and was replaced, in Cobourg by a new position; Deputy Mayor. Cobourg now has seven members on the Council. After the reorganisation of County Council and amalgamations, Northumberland County Council reduced its thirteen Towns and Townships to seven. All Townships reduced the total amount of Councillors at that time.

The history of Council terms is much clearer. Since the establishment of the Cobourg Police Board in 1837 elections were held every year. The Province of Ontario allowed Municipalities to hold two year terms in 1944 but no City held one until Toronto in 1956. Cobourg followed suit later and in 1983 followed another Provincial edict – three year terms and then in 2006 a four year term was instituted.

The law of unintended consequences kicked in that time and now we have the situation of entrenched incumbents and factional infighting, in some Councils. The problem with a four year term is that if such circumstances exist the electorate is stuck with a dysfuntional Council, usually exhibited by a four – three split in the vote count. However adding to the mix is the natural tension between the Deputy mayor and the real Mayor. Hamilton Twp has settled down this term but it was open warfare last term led by the then DM Isobel Hie. Cramahe Twp has been a two – three split vote almost from the kickoff, again the Mayor on the winning side and the DM usually losing.

Now it has really flared up in Cramahe. The innocuous subject of signing off on a Municipal Audit has the guns out and flaming press releases have hit the airwaves. DM Arthur stated at a couple of meetings ago that Cramahe Council was being asked to sign off on an audit and asked that letter be deferred for a couple of weeks to gather information before a vote. When the letter came came back she stated that Cramahe was being singled out and wanted to know why. We guess that was the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as Mayor Coombs was concerned he fired off a press release, read it here, that basically said she had questioned the integrity of the Staff. He continued to dress her down – “The spreading of false information, whether intentional or not, simply by its inference damages the reputation of all councillors, staff and the Municipality at large. It is every councillors duty to perform their duties in a way that promotes public confidence in Council, staff and the municipality in general.” DM Arthur then flamed back in an email, read it here. She wasn’t having any of it saying that all she was doing was asking questions of the Staff in the normal manner that a member of Council should. Stay tuned for this one but this is just a sympton of bad feelings. Mayor Coombs should remind himself of the way he came to power – overthrowing a sitting Mayor in a summertime putsch.

Brighton is now in the throws of something similar. After many months of Staff/Council problems, which culminated in a report to Council last year that acknowledges the problems between the Mayor’s office, Staff and Councillors all of which appears to be a rat’s nest, everybody resolved to work better. Then comes a bombshell when the Mayor – Mark Walas announced as a developer of a subdivision his Company was taking the Town to the OMB. This action has dismayed his supporters. Cllr Martinello issued an email that summarises the issue and suggests that Mr Walas should resign. A copy of his email is here. Another Councillor Brian Ostrander has expressed his dismay also.

A recording of the debate, where a unanimous vote on a motion to refuse the application is below. Debate stops at the 13.40 mark.

 All of these actions do question the wisdom of a long four year term, if the term had not changed from a two or three year term we would have been able to toss these problems out!

The President Who Knew Too Little

The President Who Knew Too Little

donald-trump-1332922_960_720Is it possible to feel sorry for Kellyanne Conway? After spending (an enforced?) time away from the cameras she was once again brought out to defend the President against his controversial firing of FBI Director James Comey. She toed the line and peddled the story that it was Comey’s handling of the Hilary Clinton emails nine months ago that led the President to fire him. Each time she was pressed on whether the untimely firing was linked to the FBI’s investigation on Russia’s links to Trump’s election campaign, she repeatedly refuted them. Now she has been publicly proven wrong. The man who exposed this: President Donald J. Trump.

In an interview with NBC News, Trump brought up the question of Russia and indirectly linked Comey’s firing to the investigation. Trump spoke to NBC’s Lester Holt telling him: “Regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey. Knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election they should have won.”

That small passage shows Donald Trump contradicting his own White House statements twice. The first was going back on his letter to James Comey where he explained that he had been recommended by the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States to fire him. The second was, a note unprompted by Lester Holt, speaking about the Russia investigation and Comey together. In fact throughout the interview Trump would contradict White House statements and most often himself. At one stage he argues that he wants the investigation to go ahead to find out if there had been interference then almost immediately denounces the investigation as a Democrat attack, then backtracks and states, “I want to get to the bottom of it, if Russia hacked the election, I want to know about it.”

The response to the interview has been fast and condescending across news outlets worldwide. Jay Williams writing for GQ appropriately put that “the damage control needs damage control,” pointing out that it took the President less than 24 hours to “torpedo his preposterous explanation for his decision to axe former FBI director James Comey.”

This is once again another example of Trump either deliberately ignoring his staff or blindly unaware of what he is doing. The decision to fire Comey has led political spectators such as Betfair to veer away from their coverage of the UK General Election and focus its editorial content on Trump’s obvious shortcomings. In one article they documented how the odds on Trump leaving in 2017 have plummeted. It is not hard to see why. Trump is losing allies on all sides as he causally throws them under the bus.

First there was Paul Ryan who took the fall for the failing of the first healthcare bill, and now Vice-President Mike Pence and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein have found themselves publicly discredited for defending the President. The Washington Post reported that Rosenstein went as far to threaten to resign after being portrayed as the man who ousted Comey. Pence found himself looking foolish too after he backed Trump’s letter to Comey and told news outlets that the President had acted on the advice of Rosenstein only for the President to say the opposite was true. These constant backtracks and indecisions are stacking up against Trump.

If the White House Staff can’t trust the President to know how to handle a controversial decision, how can the American public trust him? As the days of his presidency roll on, Trump swims further out of his depth.

Monday jottings

Beachfront cafe

The contract has been awarded for the Beachfront canteen at the Cobourg beach. It goes to the couple – Lucas Cleveland and Montana DesJardins. They are the pair who want to open a greengrocers and ‘healthy food’ shop on King St but have been stymied by the lack of suitable premises.

Thanks for the Shoutout John

In this morning’s Cobourg news John updates his list of local blogs and what a blog is.

For those landing on my site as a result of clicking on John’s link you may not be aware of this site and deserve an explanation.

The year of the crab 2016 leads into what?

crabMany years ago – in a more genteel time, I heard the year of the time described as the year of the Crab. “People hide in their caves emerge to bite you and then go back in the cave.” Obviously an observation about attitudes towards Politicians. All people wanted to do was bite them on the arse. It hasn’t improved and in fact got worse in 2016.

Spit tests – an opinion from Port Hope

spitBeginning today, Toronto police will be asking motorists to ‘volunteer’ a saliva sample they intend to use in a new drug screening program. So new, as a matter of fact, that the method of testing hasn’t been invented yet. But the police seem to think unless they take it upon themselves to collect random samples from the public, research will slow to a crawl, victim of all that laboratory stuff like double-blind tests and placebos and paid subjects even.

A seasonal tale from DC in PH

15170899_10154694881042744_2760906960994341380_nI went to jail in 1976.

The old Don Jail at Gerrard and Broadview where the last hanging in Canada took place. I did three days for unpaid parking tickets -$1,700 worth. I was in a dormitory holding cell with about 30 other scoflaws -murderers, scam artists, dreadful types like me that felt it was their right to park wherever they wanted. The cell reeked of stale tobacco and body odour -but the food was good, made better even by the fact that a Kentucky Fried Chicken on the other side of Gerrard could be glimpsed through the bars and Don Jail chicken was better than KFC.

Light relief from our Pal in PH

As happens often, a young couple came to the door seeking my advice. They bore the furrowed brows of the confused, a hallmark of those living outside Facebook, always an encouraging sign.

“Mr. Christie, we’re confused -as you can probably tell from our furrowed brows.” the young man said.

It’s Monday so here’s a post

cccGet used to it folks, this place will soon be the only place for recreation programmes in the Town. Despite the fact that a lot of people prefer to use the Market Building and despite the fact that the CCC is not as accessible as the ‘crats believe, it is going to be the hub of activity as the Director of parks and Rec (and don’t forget Culture) as the department consolidates.