..and when the sun rises again tomorrow, we'll see how far we've come ...

..and when the sun rises again tomorrow, we'll see how far we've come ...

... just to remind myself why I'm doing this ...

Depending on our personalities, the world can be a crowded place or a very lonely one. For those who seek comfort in numbers, there is no shortage of hangers on, but for those who avoid that circus, keeping thier own counsel can leave them feeling quite alone and disengaged from the mad place we call home. Life is a trade off and most of us choose how we live it.

For me, I'd rather work things out as best I can, using my own thoughts and feelings to sort things out. Following the crowd has never been a temptation to me, but that has its price, one that I'm totally comfortable with every day I get to stand up and be the person I aspire to be. When I sometimes lose track of who that is, I come here to remember, to reconnect and to resume my quest.

These posts are a reflection of some of what matters to me and it's a privilege to have the opportunity to collect these thoughts as they form in my head, as they prepare the way for my life, as it evolves from one day to the next. They re-inspire me when things seem to be floating about, with no particular aim or purpose, and it does happen from time to time.

So, today I had these thoughts that I think are worth writing down for the future me to look back on when I need to ...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bad, very bad advice can do a lot of harm

absurd: (adj); (of an idea or suggestion) wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.

That's the word I would use, for now, to describe what's happening in the discussion centred on the use of Cobourg's harbour. In one of our local newspapers, an individual who we probably can assume to be an otherwise reasonable person, has made the statement "A new plan is being prepared. It is not often that electors can influence the outcome of a new plan by how they vote. In this case they can by checking the position of candidates on ....". For this election, clearly he is advocating to vote for candidates that are against marina expansion, but more seriously, to NOT vote for those that support or appear to support it. That is really,Really, REALLY bad advice.

This is a current issue becoming highly charged with emotions, that for now, has only two options, namely adding slips in a larger part of the basin or leave the basin as is. It is about as far removed from policy decisions as it can be, and we should be electing candidates that demonstrate their aptitude in setting policy because it's their decisions that will guide the future of Cobourg as a healthy community in its entirety. To avoid voting for someone who has not rushed to a definitive decision on the "harbour issue" while they may very well be exactly what the town needs for the future, is complete ignorance, utter foolishness and just plain idiotic.

Earlier I said the harbour issue has, for now, only two options. A good council will explore the issue beyond the two options and if we elect candidates with their minds made up and positions set, it's highly unlikely that any kind of discussion to find a completely inclusive solution can take place. That would be a very bad situation to end up in for such problems that will naturally arise at different times in the next term. Personally, I am far less likely to vote for candidates that already have their mind made up on this type of issue, than the ones advocating for alternative solutions based on a large body of evidence.

This opinion piece is not about which option should prevail; it is about electing people that are able to pursue inclusive solutions to problems that they will, as a council, face more than once or twice during their term. We must not succumb to emotional urges or tirades when we make our choices at the ballot box this time, or any other time for that matter. An informed voter will see that on their own but the advice being offered by one passionate person should not be the determinant in any event. Hopefully sanity and reason will prevail.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Decisions. decisions, why do we avoid them?

The tendency to boil down an election to one over-arching issue, or maybe two the odd time, is so counter-productive to electing a well-qualified council. The media calls it the 'defining issue in this election' and so voters focus on that, too easily and too lazily. Having been detached from events and goings-on throughout the past term, voters have little to go on when choosing candidates to support. Typically they take a personal position on "the defining issue' and go about trying to figure out which candidates are on the same page as they are. Presto! I know who I'm voting for.

Of course, that is pure nonsense. Smart politicians know how to appear to support every side of an issue in one way or another, nevermind what they really think and which options they will support when the chips are finally down. So much for transparency here. Then, what about all the other 'issues' that come before council in the four years they wield power? Having voted for candidates based on only one issue, those voters have no idea what their chosen councillors thinks about other issues. That's when the gripeing starts. as the term progresses, more disappointments emerge and at some point the call for "change" rings out, in response to the failings of councillors to support the positions of the ones who elected them.

Well what can we expect, really? As voters we made our choice based on their responses to "the defining issue(s)" of their election and never ever really got to understand their core beliefs and outlook. Way too much effort. We were too focused on the single defining issue to see beyond it into the next four years. The really frustrating part is that even then, when this all happens, as predictable as day following night, we still don't pay enough attention to stop repeating the same scenario for the next, and next, and too many future elections. The natural outfall is that the savvy politicians know this and play to the net every time, preparing for the next election rather than bringing about the changes they appear to promise during the campaign. They can do that because we're still not paying attention. Ultimately and sadly it ends up being about getting re-elected rather than fixing problems and making things better in some way for as many as possible, something that only seems to happen seriously when the crowd gets a bit unruly from time to time. Of course the public's attention span is miniscule and things get back to 'normal' in short order. If it weren't so downright stupid, it would be really funny, and great material for a sit-com. Fits right into the reality TV madness.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

"simply complaining" is for the lazy and the cynical

Daily, every newspaper and newscast presents some share of voices complaining about something that's being done, directly or indirectly to them, with which they take great and passionate exception. Some resonate more than others, but they all feel justified in their views and positions. The ability to freely make their concerns known is precious, and "priceless", as one credit provider would say. Not much to object to there.

The issue here is one of reasonableness and moral 'rightness'. Lots to argue on that level though. Not everyone possesses or has earned the moral capital to expend on their particular beef. Furthermore, too often, just voicing a complaint stems from laziness, or just plain cynicism, and should be ignored as being just such.

Let's look at elections. Elections empower people with specific viewpoints to apply them to the creation or revision of the laws we are all bound by in our daily lives. That makes those choices critical to our lives. Yet, why do so many eligible voters simply ignore their responsibility in making that choice? So many of those same voters have little trouble crying foul if things don't go the way they want. They should know full well pretty much what the landscape holds once the decision makers are empowered.

Somehow, the lazy and cynical voters, the ones that either can't be bothered, or the ones that don't care enough, or the ones that claim there's no point, or the ones that just don't take the trouble to become and remain informed in order to decide on a choice of representation at the discussion table, still believe they have the unassailable right, and own the moral right, to voice their displeasure with the results of those discussions at that table.

Well, I for one, begrudge them that 'right' and I would deny it to them if it were in my power to do that. But, at the same time, I would exercise that same power to do what I could to provide an environment that holds legitimate promise of improvements. With that option before them, there'd be no room for any of the excuses to be lazy or cynical. In providing such an environment, it still places the responsibility for action, upon the individual and does not absolve them of it in any way.

Of course, becoming informed in order to make a choice is only a part of the whole. Once informed ourselves, we also have to inform our representatives of our views and expectations. Our own inertia causes us to wait for the candidate to come to us, to make a pitch, and we decide if we like it enough to support them instead of telling them what we're looking for. Consequently we're faced with choosing options that can only hope to touch on our specific quests. It's no wonder then that we're going to be left wanting and disappointed in the results. The whole mess is of our own making by not being engaged enough to let our problems, issues and concerns be known by those who have the influence and some of the power to effect the needed results that help the system to function as it can.

The long and short of this piece is simple. Simply complaining is the lazy man's medicine. Offer something more than a critic's wail and you'll have a much better chance of doing something worthwhile. Then your need for complaining won't even have a snowball's chance.

too late to the party...and a nickel short, to boot

As one would admittedly suspect, the OMB has "ruled" by giving its approval of the agreement between the Town and a developer re the Legion condo deal's height proposal. One of the remarks attributed to the member should be a clear indication that the decision was predetermined and that the "hearing" was a mere symbol of public accountability, something it clearly was not.

The member was reported to have said that if the agreement had not been penned, and if the proposal for 6 stories had been on the table, it would have been approved. That statement proves the predetermined aspect of the decision. Without hearing evidence, objections and arguments for and against a 6 storey proposal, a truly impartial decision could not be honourably rendered. Yet, the member did just that by making the statement she is reported as making. Based on this evidence, it's fair to conclude that the "fix was in". Also supporting this suspicion is the Mayor's reported statement that he didn't want to take a chance on the Board approving 6 stories so he supported the 5 storey agreement. What would cause him to assume that 6 would be approved in the absence of the agreement?

This brings me to my point here. The OMB interprets the rules already in place when it comes to adjudicating conflicts in development proposals. The rules are public knowledge and have been publicly approved by Council under the Official Plan review process. It's all about applying the laws already on the books. The only question arises in their interpretation and that's where the OMB has final say, short of the judicial process which is always an option. Unfortunately the resources needed for such a challenge are usually much scarcer to the challenger than the proponent, who can always recoup them from the eventual proceeds from the project. That makes judicial challenges unlikely and the proponents usually bank on that by pushing for the limit-plus. The place where these excesses and abuses need to be stopped or mitigated is at the OP review stage. Sadly, the public has little in the way of forward vision in these matters, usually becoming alarmed only when the proposals come forward, taking advantage of this lack of diligence on everyone's part. Of course, as evidenced by this latest Johnny-come-lately fiasco, by that point it's clearly too late to slam that particular door shut. Anyone who disagrees with that view should, the next time we have an OP review, have a look at who and how many actually take an active interest. Exactly my point.

I'm no big fan of the OMB but I do see that as one reason for their apparent impatience in such cases. That's not to say that they don't have an obligation to listen to all relevant comments and concerns when thay affect the disenfranchised in such matters. But that also does not absolve that same public from its responsibility to remain engaged if indeed they believe they have any kind of stake in the issues they feel drawn to from time to time.

For any of the aggrieved parties to qualify for affected or interested party status in development matters down the road, they need to acquire that status by becoming familiar, to a degree, with the provisions of the planning rules they might come to disagree with at some time. Then their voices will have meaning and likely an impact on the process, which is presumably what they are looking for in the final analysis.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

society has become lazy ... and too dependent on government

"the government should..." is a phrase that has come to exemplify society's dependence on and demand for direction, protection and oversight by those all too willing to provide it, albeit at a staggering and some would say prohibitive price.

Tune in to any newscast, day or night, here or there, locally or abroad, and we are reminded of what the masses want, demand, from their governments. The underlying caveat is that they also expect someone else to foot the bill, usually meaning those that are seen to be the unfairly anointed wealthy, and powerful elite. The masses want government to step in and re-balance the books, so to speak, and redistribute the power and hoarded riches among the more deserving. What escapes them in this quest is that it takes resources, money, influence, to become part of the governing body and only those that already have those qualifications stand a chance of achieving their goals. It then follows that the governing body will essentially protect those assets upon which they rely for maintaining their own positions. On the other side of this equation is the reality that the masses have little to offer in this regard and are therefore likely to hold little sway with those who do. That's not to say that they are ignored entirely but the essential reality in the end is that only the crumbs are available for redistribution while the hope for more is always prominently offered.

Apart from the money and power aspect, the biggest, and possibly the single most difficult challenge that governments face is the utter impossibility of satisfying all the participants in the same space at the same time and to an equitable degree. It just can't be done because, at the extremes, the demands themselves are often contradictory and not reconcilable. That means that when the chips are down, the nod goes to the ones with the greatest potential for contribution to the status quo. The greater their skill in convincing the masses that they indeed have even a hope of getting closer to their demands being met, the ever more secure the entrenched will be in their position of influence and power. The paradox is that the masses look to the powerful to help them get what they want while what they want will have to come from those same wielders of  influence and power. Like that's ever going to happen!

On the infrequent occasion when a member of the masses does manage to elbow their way into the power structure of government by convincing their supporters that things will change, those few quickly come to the unavoidable realization that the battle is no less difficult when waged from inside, that it will be a long and difficult one, and that to continue the battle, they end up engaging the same corrupt tactics that they pledged so convincingly to eradicate. Thus lives the charade.

This perpetual struggle only survives and flourishes because the masses live in hope. What else is there for them to wake up to every day when all they think they can do is depend on someone else to do it for them? Because they choose to be dependent on government to provide for them, they pin their hopes on that arrangement rather than take the initiative to deconstruct that concept. It would be much more beneficial in the long run to take hold and fend for themselves than continue to let go and allow others to set the path. It would definitely be far more difficult to do so but, while filled with uncertainty and fear, the rewards are potentially far more satisfying and liberating.

In the face of such options, those with the means obviously act to convince otherwise by making endless and sparsely fulfilled promises that seem just lucrative enough to suppress the notion that self-reliance has its benefits. By delivering minimally on the hopes they empower, the governing cohort maintains its hold and its opportunity to continue the harvest of resources it needs to sustain this profitable dependency. The seemingly prevailing conclusion then says that the inherent instability of replacing dependency on government with individual effort is too high a price to pay for the hope of future security, however inadequate it has been up to that point. While individual cases and circumstances vary greatly, and faced with a difficult choice, clearly, in the overall context, demanding more while doing less is seen to be more attractive and productive than the alternative.

Monday, May 5, 2014

legacies, ... self-serving memorials or well-earned tributes?

Among the more well-to-do, a legacy appears to be the one lasting thing they feel they can leave behind them once they've passed on or away, (depending on one's beliefs). I think that's a "testament" to the fleeting nature of material affluence of which many spend most of their lives in pursuit.

What is a legacy anyway? I guess that depends in large part on one's assemblage of values. That could also mean then that a desireable legacy can be an objective that keeps changing along the way. I'm not even able to accept that a legacy is something that one has to plan or create with intent. I think that what some would label a legacy, I would describe as an accumulation of one's achievements both good and questionable, and is not something that one actually creates to be like a time-capsule to be opened at some time in the future, or a book left on a dusty shelf for no-one to thumb through.

For me, I feel no overwhelming need to create or leave such a thing as we call a legacy. I aspire to something more personal, aimed at soothing my own spirit while I'm still of this corporal world. I aspire to experience the benefits of a maturing wisdom that I can pass on to my children as they grow through their lives, and perhaps do the same for theirs.

My comfort comes from the notion that when my world goes dark, my light shines in the minds of those who are important to me now. I think 'love' is for the living. I don't think we can 'love' someone who has passed, but we can experience the memories of love held for the once living. For those that held material affluence above emotional wealth, a legacy may be the way for them to continue that aspect of their time spent among others. They may want their light to shine upon their billboard, their legacy, which announces whatever they want people to remember about them.

For me, the idea that I've contributed to the richness of my children's lives is the most gratifying accomplishment I can imagine. That would be a true legacy for me to leave to the world they forge for themselves and their families.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

is it wise to try to 'FIX' a mistake?

I got to thinking about what we call "mistakes". Are they actually mistakes, and if so, why? I think we tend to call a decision a mistake when things don't turn out the way we expect after making a decision. So in reality, mistakes are only decisions that have outcomes that do not reflect our intentions. When that happens, we just try to fix the 'mistake' and carry on.

However, it has also occurred to me that fixing a mistake, any mistake, is nigh impossible. I say that because once acted upon, the circumstances that led to the decision that led to a mistake have been affected and have therefore altered the arguments involved. Essentially you have a new problem or issue before you, not the one that existed before the mistake was made.

Perhaps we'd be wiser to re-evaluate the new circumstances in their own light as opposed to the glare of a decision gone wrong, a 'mistake'. I think that looking at such a decision from a fresh perspective instead of seeing it as a repair job is more likely to produce a better result than what a patch job might. A fix will likely be based on the original circumstances that brought about the original decision and will likely not take into account the changes that were introduced when that decision was enacted. Inevitably, that will also not result in the newly revised intended outcome and result in yet another "mistake". That process will simply repeat itself as long as the objective is to 'fix' the problem.

While experience brings with it many benefits, it is after all, only a compilation of results realized by many, many decisions, and the underlying circumstances that led to those decisions. Experience without wisdom is a waste of time. It's the wisdom component that evaluates results based on their originating circumstances and not the conglomeration of endings they produced. I think the best application of experience is achieved when attention is aimed at prevailing circumstances and the intended result, regardless of what has happened up to that point. It's about stringing together a series of such processes at a smaller scale and having each such decision set up the next circumstance to be evaluated in light of the objective. The final result will more likely be the desired one, regardless of any 'mistakes' made along the way to those decisions.

I would illustrate this concept by using the example of a ship navigating by applying course-corrections all along its route. Every correction sets up a new course with new circumstances such as different wind and current directions relative to the pre-correction course. It would be folly to make corrections based on the original plan, leaving little chance of reaching the intended goal.

Mistakes are actually just tools in the arsenal one needs to evaluate circumstances that present during the decision process and therefore should not be seen as a problem. 'Mistakes' are inevitable; 'mistakes' are indispensable; 'mistakes' are invaluable and I'm not going to call them 'mistakes' anymore; to me they're decisions with outcomes that are different than what was intended, that's all. That way, I won't be deterred from making decisions that have the potential for outcomes that are not what was intended. Who knows how that will affect the future? I'm betting on breakthroughs more than on predictable mediocrity.

All of this brings me to the thought that started this whole mental exploration, using history to extrapolate the future. It seems that all too often, history is seemingly all we have to draw some degree of guidance when we want to lay our future plans and chart a course to get us there. I've also come to the conclusion that such an approach is much closer to the ship example earlier than to the application of the wisdom component of using experience to guide us. My approach to decision-making on where to aim my future is not going to be determined by the potential for having outcomes that are different than what I intended. My future is going to be much richer in outcomes, intended or otherwise, and the pursuit of ever deeper wisdom is my goal.

Friday, April 25, 2014

3 years on ... and where are we ...

... or more to the point, where are we headed? I don't remember a municipal election when the disillusioned didn't call for "change". What I do remember is that the call for change never spelled out just what that change should be, or why it should be the objective. Sadly, I don't expect anything different this time.

However, I have concluded that the "change" being called for is really a change in the personal lives, the prevailing situations that take people through their daily lives, that never seem to make things "better" or somehow get them closer to realize whatever it is they want to have or how they want to live their lives. I also have come to the conclusion that they don't trust any thinking that doesn't follow the established path to which they are accustomed, even if that path only gets them to the same ends they always get to when that's all they choose to support.

In 1996 I ran for a seat on municipal council and came remarkably close to being elected. My campaign was more focused on presenting myself and my platform on a comprehensive website, something that had not been all that common or well-accepted at the time. It gave me the opportunity to elaborate on every detail and explain my reasoning for everything. My opponent made fun of this unorthodox campaign strategy, choosing to rely on the "tried and usual" methods. As I said, I came very close to upsetting that applecart, much to his and his supporters' surprise. In 2010 I again ran for office against the same opponent who, by then, had made part of his platform, the commitment to use social media as an important part of informing and including the electorate in the governing process. I guess he needed to neutralize any benefit I might have earned from the actual application of that forward thinking the previous time or this time.

However, I had already moved on to another idea that I thought had exceptional value in presenting the embodiment of "change". I chose to displace the ever-prolific lawn sign with individual large banner-style signs placed strategically throughout the high traffic areas of town; 8 of them, that's it. Of course I was mocked and criticized for that departure from tradition, and I had expected as much. Folks just don't trust innovation until it's been around for a while, that is to say, when it's no longer innovation. The vocal reactions were not surprising, but I explained my thinking on my election website, holding my example of change and innovation out as proof that I was not going to go about things in the same way that had always produced the same predictable results during the terms that followed. The whole idea of "change" was my campaign message, that you get the same results when you do the same things. If we were ever going to bring about true change, we'd have to change what we do and how we do it, and do it going in right at the beginning. I didn't expect miracles but I did hope to make an impact with that edgy thinking.

 The political junkies and pundits seemed frustrated that I wouldn't "play the game", so to speak. They wanted to go through the same exercises, the same motions as they always had because that's all they knew, and just didn't know how to handle my departure from the same ol' stump race. Predictably they decreed me collapse and declared my opponent as the winner early on in the race. Ultimately, I didn't make enough connections through what I had attempted with my example of what "Change" really entails and my votes were only about 83% of what was needed to win, but that indicated that my message had resonated in more places and ways that my detractors might have predicted at the outset. Of course, that's lost on them because all they really see is who won the seat.

Now three-plus years into the term and 6 months to the next election, if I had the occasion to meet with those critics I'd ask them the question with which I started this piece, where are we now, and where do we seem to be headed? I'd love to know what their answer would be. I'd also ask them what they were looking for this time as they go through their raggedy old playbook and tell us all how it should be done. I think they'll get the same results as they always do, and will end up with the same leather to chew on for the next 4 years. They fear and reject the very change they claim to want by refusing to support it, yet bemoan the fact that the voters do the same as they do. Don'tya just love the predictability of it all?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

masters of spin but... honestly?

(Honourable) Politics is about letting everybody think they're important and part of the process, while always doing what's right for as many as possible. What's wrong with that? ultimately nothing. But what is wrong, is pretending that politics is not what it is. Yet, politicians keep trying to dance like they've got 6 feet. They obfuscate, they redirect, they avoid, they keep using every trick they can think of to pretend what is never going to be the reality. It is in this context that I write the following commentary, in response to something I read in today's paper.

Regardless of the issue or the decision, the reasons supporting those decisions are just as important as the issue itself. It’s the reasons given that promote or erode the public confidence in our decision makers. It’s the reasons that tell us if our decision makers should even be making those decisions in the first place. It’s the reasons that we should use to judge their suitability for office when elections require us to choose the next council of decision makers. I believe forthrightness and consistency are among the important characteristics we should demand.
That brings me to the parking meter issue that has just been settled. Nevermind that council has wrongfully dragged the DBIA into the debate, or that the DBIA even fell for it; nevermind whether I agree or disagree with the decisions, nevermind that this see-saw decision-making keeps reversing earlier decisions, the underlying and now over-riding “reason” given has been articulated by the Deputy Mayor as quoted in your article in Thursday’s Northumberland Today. He states “The people who are paying for parking in today’s environment are the taxpayers, not the motoring public. “
This may be so, but is this a unique situation or one that needs to be changed? Let’s look at another recent decision by the same decision makers, the dog park. Again, nevermind the issue nor the decision itself, but let’s focus on the reasons. The main reason offered in support of the decisions made are that it is an amenity, a facility for the public at large. Well, how many, or what percentage of our local taxpayers have care of animals that will use this facility? It is stated that there will be plenty of parking. I didn’t see any suggestion that there would be fees associated with the use of the park so it has to follow that the entire cost of creating, operating and maintaining this facility will be borne by the taxpayer, presumably the same taxpayer that’s now paying for the parking referred to by the Deputy Mayor. This inconsistency in arguing support for decisions is very disturbing and needs careful scrutiny. It may be late in the game, but every member of Council needs to be assessed with that same kind of scrutiny, particularly the ones who choose to reapply for their seats.
My point is, how do these two decisions and in particular the reasons given in their support, reconcile? How do you explain the huge disparity between them? How do we accept that such inconsistency in reasoning council decisions is understandable, supportable or even acceptable? I know that I refuse to accept such on-the-fly arguments in support of important decisions of Council. Some Councillors may feel unfairly criticized by this but they need to speak up if they disagree, and their open council discussions and their vote should reflect their opinions on every item. That’s how we decide if they should be part of the process when the time comes to choose the next decision makers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

big water is a magnet few can resist

Cobourg has a harbour, a fantastic harbour, a man-made harbour built for a purpose many years ago. Now I might be narrow minded about some things and perhaps this is one of those things, but to me, a man-made harbour is built for shelter, nothing else. There are naturally occuring harbours carved out by mother nature, often to be found in rather remote areas, and these are perfect for nature's children. Is it a coincidence that man-made harbours are mostly found at the terminus of some sort of watercourse, I think unlikely. Location and purpose are entwined. Do birds, animals, people frequent harbours, do they derive benefits, both mutual and exclusive, you bet. But why does man build a harbour? Is it for the animals or the birds? No, it's for the boats, plain and simple. The fact that animals and birds are drawn to them is understandable and a natural thing, but it is not the intent, not even a secondary one.

With the planning of expansion for the human use of the larger part of Cobourg's excelent harbour reawakening, the non-boating population perceives a threat to their enjoyment of that feature, that enjoyment being a colateral benefit of a boating facility born of one purpose, shelter for boats. It's wonderful that such a fine facility has provided multiple secondary benefits, to be sure, but none of those benefits provides any kind of material support to help sustain the facility they so happily and freely enjoy. It is, in fact, the boating use that provides all of the resources needed to sustain this fine facility. That brings me to the old adage, those who pay the freight call the shots. Freeloading is great if you can do it but it doesn't give you any leverage, and why should it? After all, it's the "taxpayers" themselves that incessantly remind us and each other at every turn, who should be calling the shots when it comes to spending the money they provide. Same applies here.

However, even though I can't support the cause of the naturalists in this argument, I do have a solution. That solution involves putting up the money needed to develop a natural waterfront sanctuary immediately to the west of the boating harbour, bordered on the east side by the breakwater that has been part of the natural environment for some time now, and continues to be the main feature of their argument to maintain this area as a wildlife haven. That area also has central to it, the terminus of a watercourse, Factory Creek, making it a great option and one that would not be threatened by human activity at any disruptive level. Of course the opponents to such an idea would protest at the cost of such a development but this is what's required if their interests are to be addressed, indepedently of the resources provided by those greedy boat-people who want it all to themselves. I don't have a boat myself, and I don't ever expect I will, but that doesn't mean I think they deserve any less than what they are willing to pay for as well.

Our excellent harbour is a boating facility, not a natural one, not a wildlife sanctuary, a man-made garage for boats, plain and simple. The fact that things have evolved over time due to fluctuating and temporary changes in use and need, doesn't profer upon it, a special status to which it is not suited in the final analysis, and which it cannot sustain itself through the non-existent contributions of its secondary beneficiaries. Better to plan for purpose-driven uses for our entire waterfront than attempt an integration of incompatible uses that would always find fault with each other and never truly achieve a harmony of coexistence that a great waterfront has the potential to provide.

Monday, April 21, 2014

extravegance is not a virtue

Ok, so while I condone taxation as a means to a beneficial and useful end, I don't support wasteful extravegance in its name. That's what has happend in the dog park saga, at least as far as I'm seeing it. Council has voted to spend a hefty amount of tax revenue on something they needn't have, at least not to the extent they chose. There were enough alternate choices at hand that would have achieved as much for far less. The ultimate affront is that these are sunk costs which can only be 'retained' in some way as long as we spend yet more each year on yet more sunk costs. In the end, whenever that comes, those funds will bear no permanent fruit, as equity, much like a car or building lease. Leases make sense under clearly definable circumstances but this is not one of those qualified circumstances. We are using tax revenue to upgrade someone's private asset, one that they will retain and benefit from at some point, at the expense of the taxpayer. This is the type of deal everyone privately wishes for but seldom achieves. It seems that the pressure to solve the dog park issue before the next election campaign was great enough to cause such a lapse in good judgement in those corridors of local power.

I consider this to be a good example of bad decisions and mis-management. If this is the quality of diligence and decision-making we get from a part-time Council backed by a comfortable buraucracy, I'm going to reverse my stance on retaining consultants in every money and infrastructure question that comes before such a Council for dispatch. Either that, or a thorough shakeup is in order here.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

thoughts on what makes a community feel like one

The last time I flew over Canada at night I came to realize the remoteness of most communities. Looking out my window I saw clusters of lights, from huge and sprawling to tiny and almost indistinguishable dotting the darkness below. The overwhelming impression though, was the distances of nothingness that lay between them.

I realized that the people under those lights all had something in common, they lived together, relatively speaking, under the same roof we call a community. They share in the assets that make up that community, and they all share in the responsibility for them, and pay for those assets in whatever proportion they themselves have determined through an endless and dynamic process, by local governance.

Accessible to all, these assets enrich the lives of those who actually use them while the costs are shared by more than just the users if paid for through property taxes. In many communities that concept is under increasing pressure for modification as the user base shrinks as a percentage of the tax-paying base. As costs grow, the user-pay approach is gradually finding its way into more and more aspects of community life, largely through pressure from politicians who want to be seen to be concerned with keeping tax increases in some degree of check. The unfortunate but apparent effect is one of making the whole thing feel like a theme park where attractions are provided through per use fees or admission tickets, if you will. The idea of sharing the community assets  gives way to selective enjoyment, determined largely by the user's ability to pay each time. assets become exclusive and the fabric of community life is left in tatters. What once was seen to be good for the whole community then becomes a burden and suffers rejection by non-users. Too often the reduction in support ends up in the elimination of what was once an asset available to all.

Yes, taxes are high wherever you go and whomever you ask, but what is a desireable level then? How do we calculate such a level? I think most ghost towns suffered from a form of this malaise before they became deserted wastelands becuase too few were able to maintain what little they had left after the mentality of their figurative parallel to user-pay became the rule.When I say ghost towns I include all the places that dot our country from coast to coast that have not only faltered for one apparent reason or another but have also died in spirit because the willingness to share was driven out by the pragmatism of an "if you want it, pay for it yourself" approach.

Today, now, Cobourg is demonstrating a move in the direction of such a phenomenon as it debates dog parks and parking issues. User-pay is making itself gradually more significant in the guise of keeping taxes lower, yet the rate at which taxes increase each year remains relatively constant at a percent that is just under the alarm point. Meanwhile, the amenities that lend themselves to the wholesomeness of the community gradually become less accesible to the entire community and ever more the purvue of those that have the means to afford them whenever they chosse to avail themselves thereof.  Canada's Wonderland would colapse under that approach. There you pay the admission, head tax if you will, and you have access to all the amenities when and as you choose. Why then do we take the opposite approach when it comes to the operation of our town which so many find welcoming, an attraction offering many amenities that make living here such a pleasure?

We should ask oursleves, how many of the amenities we presently enjoy, were made possible by the collective contributions of the tax-paying community in the first place? How many would actually exist today if there had been a requirement that users had to foot the bill to put them there? Why then is it considered appropriate to now make them available to only those that have the means to afford their enjoyment? How many will remain viable under those rules and how many of them will eventually be considered a drain on the local resources? It's a complex and interwoven system that, while it is working well for the whole community, is more reliant on widespread contribution than it appears. Only when that balance is upset by fiddling with user-pay models does that dependance become evident and by then the decline has gone too far to keep it from eventually failing altogether.

I try to add up all the things that my taxes provide to make my life here what it is. Then I try to calculate what it would cost me to enjoy the same quality of life under a system where ther are no taxes but we must provide for ourselves. I believe I would go bankrupt trying to do that and still not even come close to achieving anything that resembles what I have now. This would likely hold true for most average folks here as well. Given this reality, I can only feel that taxation, while it feels expensive when I put the money on the table, provides a far greater benefit than my individual resources ever could. This is the collective benefit of taxation and it is a similar benefit to the greatest majority of those that are paying those taxes every year.

If you're still not convinced, consider property values. If there were no taxes to provide the amenities (which must include all publicly funded ones such as roads and maintenance, parks, protection services, etc., etc.,) we enjoy here, those amenities would not exist in the public realm and what would your property be worth? Who would even want to be living here, or buy a property to do so? It's the amenities that convey value to our properties, collectively, and those amenities are purchased with our tax dollars. The more amenities in the PUBLIC REALM, the greater our properies are valued and remain desireable. The efficiencies available through collective acquisitions by tax dollars are returned to us in very real property values that remain so as long as our public amenities are healthy and diverse.

Let's all come to and retain the realization that user-pay is the antithesis of public benefit and that user-pay is ultimately the single narrow-minded concept that will render a community devoid of goodwill and bankrupt of community spirit. What would school be like without community spirit? Our workplaces? Clubs? Teams? What would our own homes be like if they fell victim to the same way of thinking, the desire to go it alone because we don't feel we should have to pay for someone else's benefits? Who even wants to think about going there? User-pay will get us there faster than most anything else.

Let's think this over very carefully.