Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Blanding's Turtle Will Have Little Chance for Survival as North Bay Sets its Sights on Becoming Ontario's Least Friendly City to the Natural Environment

It looks like opposition to a new casino in North Bay is starting to grow.  But it might be too little, too late, as North Bay Council has now twice-voted on their support for a new gaming facility on Pinewood Drive in the City's south end.

What's in the news today, however, is that the site selected by the City might be one that is already home to a unique Ontario resident - the Blanding's turtle.  Area residents are now raising the presence of Blanding's turtle habitat as a reason for the City of North Bay to look around for a different location for a casino.

And that's a potentially troubling development for Gateway Casinos. As we here in Sudbury know, Gateway is in a rush to move forward with casino projects it has on the go in cities throughout the "northern bundle" that it was the successful bidder on.  Delays to casino development could potentially cost Gateway big-time - and already we here in Sudbury have heard from at least one municipal Councillor that Gateway could abandon a site that the City has selected for a casino on the Kingsway as part of a larger "Kingsway Entertainment District" if appeals filed by the public to the casino use are not resolved by the Local Planning and Appeal Tribunal in a timely manner (full disclosure: I am one of the appellants to a decision regarding a neighbouring land use in the so-called "Kingsway Entertainment District" - my appeal relates to a zoning amendment to permit a new arena on lands to be owned by the City, adjacent to where Gateway Casinos plans to build.  Gateway Casinos is a party to my appeal as well as to appeals related to its development approvals. All are currently in front of the LPAT for a decision).

The presence of Blanding's turtle on the North Bay site could potentially hold up development for years - if it's true. And I add this point about truth knowing almost nothing about the issue, beyond what's been reported in the media today (see: "Could this turtle derail North Bay's casino plans?" Jeff Turl, sudbury dot com, January 15, 2019, and "Save the Turtle, Stop the Casino, North Bay group says," the Sudbury Star, January 14, 2019). 

Casino Site Already Zoned

Certainly, the City of North Bay's planning staff report for the rezoning of these lands in 2016 did not identify the presence of Blanding's turtle on the site - or any other environmental issues, for that matter (see: "Inter Office Memo, Planning Services," City of North Bay, October 20, 2016).  That planning report characterizes the site as being a greenfield within an existing industrial area, on the fringe of the City's urban settlement area (sound familiar to anyone in Greater Sudbury?).  In North Bay's case, however, the City interpreted the policies of its official plan that only a zoning amendment to permit a casino was needed, as the General Industrial OP policies permitted limited commercial uses.  Not sure that I would agree that a 'casino' in Ontario (run by a monopoly) is a commercial enterprise - but I sure wouldn't know what else to call it.

Anyway, if Blanding's turtle were identified on the site at that time, I would have expected that the City's staff report would have identified their presence - along with the potential need to obtain 'Overall Benefit Permits' from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).  Hence I have to take what I'm reading in the newspapers today with a huge grain of salt. 

The papers, though, appear to be reproducing some sort of press release from an organization called "Save the Turtles, Stop the Casino".  It would have been nice had the media contacted the City or the MNRF for comment on the presence of Blanding's Turtles on the site - even if it were to just to get a comment about whether anyone has ever raised this as an issue in the past.  But here we are in 2019, and I understand that local media have few resources to make these sorts of efforts.  So I'm left wondering whether this issue is actually a real issue - or a last-ditch effort for citizens to poke a stick through the spokes of the wheels that are turning for Gateway to now start building on this site.

Turtles as 'the Pigs'

But if Blanding's turtles really are there, the anti-casino forces might have hit the jackpot.  Here's the scoop: even though Ontario's legislation suggests otherwise, not all threatened and endangered species are created equal. To paraphrase George Orwell in a different context (because I've wanted to for some time now and haven't had the opportunity), all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than other.

If Ontario's Species at Risk guidance documents were Orwell's "Animal Farm" than clearly Blanding's Turtles would be the new pigs. We're not talking about some old Eastern Whippoorwill here. If there is Blanding's Turtle habitat on the site, you can forget about a casino going there quickly - unless the site is large enough to accommodate the facility and parking without negatively impacting the habitat.  

I write "quickly" because there are remedies. Under Regulations to the Species at Risk Act, you can destroy endangered species habitat - you just need the government's permission to do so. And the government pretty much always gives it. We know this because in 2017 the Environmental Commissioner, Dr. Dianne Saxe, exposed this practice (see: "Good Choices,
Bad Choices. Environmental Rights and Environmental Protection in Ontario," Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, October 2017)

Last year, the new government announced that they were axing her position to 'save money'.

So eventually, even if there are turtles living and breeding on the land, someone will be able to build there. Or will they? The government might not have the last word. Ontario's Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) can - and has - overturned government decisions related to infrastructure on the basis of negative impacts on Blanding's Turtle habitat. That kind of thing *never* happens - until it does. And it did - at Ostrander Point in Prince Edward County - after much anguish and gnashing of teeth (see: "Endangered Ontario: The turtle that toppled turbines," TVO, July 30, 2017).  And that's the evidence that Blanding's Turtles are the pigs of Ontario's Species at Risk regime.

Turtles Protected on Crown Land in Prince Edward County. In Sudbury, Not So Much

However, in Prince Edward County, the ERT was available to hear the matter.  The same doesn't appear to be so in the case of North Bay.  The subject lands in North Bay are in private ownership - so no provincial assessment needs to be undertaken.  That's not to suggest that if the turtles are there, that an Overall Benefit Permit wouldn't still first be needed from MNRF; but it is to suggest that there is no trigger for the public now to take this matter forward to the ERT.  The granting of Overall Benefit Permits is, after all, not a public process - and there is no requirement for the MNRF to post their decision to the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry.

We here in Greater Sudbury have already found out first hand that the habitat of species at risk is, generally speaking, open for development - and that includes Blanding's turtle habitat.  Greater Sudbury is currently pushing a new road - the Maley Drive Extension - right through the heart of threatened species habitat (turtles and whippoorwill) via the use of Overall Benefit Permits.  And similar in some ways to a casino development in North Bay, one of the partners for Maley Drive is the provincial government, who provided one third of the new road's capital funding - with the federal government providing another third (see: "Sudbury's Maley Drive: A Case Study in the Erosion of Species at Risk Protection in Ontario," Sudbury Steve May, April 8, 2016).

But I'm sure that Gateway Casinos would not find any comfort in Sudbury's experience with Maley Drive - a project that has been on the books for 30 years and is just now being completed.  The Overall Benefit Permit process can take time - and if there are turtles on the site, I hope that Gateway has started working with the MNRF already - or are looking for a different site for their facility.

North Bay Looking to Become Ontario's Least-Friendly City to the Environment

But it looks like at least one member of North Bay's Council wants to 'grease the wheels' as it were.  Councillor Mac Bain will tonight be introducing two motions for the Council's consideration.  Both pertain to development within the City's urban area (where the Pinewood Drive casino lands are located).  The first motion pertains to species at risk - and if adopted, would see the City of North Bay lobby the provincial government for the outcome of being excluded from applying the Endangered Species Act to any lands within their urban area.  Essentially Bain wants the Province to break the law and give the City of North Bay some kind of exception to the legislation - via a process that doesn't exist (for the record, the correct process to achieve the outcome that Bain wants would be to either amend the existing legislation or to pass new legislation).

The second motion would similarly see the City be exempted from protecting provincially significant wetlands within their urban area.  That one is interesting, because it reminds those on Council that North Bay actually has a track record of ignoring protections for wetlands, with its reference to a biodiversity offsetting exercise that the City undertook over 10 years ago that saw a provincially significant wetland destroyed - with compensating new wetlands created elsewhere - a practice that Niagara Region and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority wants to see used for a development project known as 'Thundering Waters' (see: "AG, NPCA at odds over biodiversity offsetting," the Standard, October 9, 2018).

It's unknown how a new provincial government will react to North Bay's potential request to not be subject to existing environmental regulations.  But given Ontario's already weak regime of protecting threatened and endangered species habitat and wetlands, removing the requirements for even considering the development impacts on the natural environment in urban areas can only be seen as yet another loss for our province's natural heritage features.

Pick Another Battle - You've Already Lost This One

To the good people of North Bay who are standing up for Blanding's Turtles - I wish you the best of luck, but I just don't see a way forward for this issue to be brought up in any significant way now where the public might have an opportunity to influence outcomes.  The zoning permissions are already in place - and I could not help but note the lack of any public submissions referencing turtles (or anything environmental for that matter) at the time of the 2016 zoning amendment approval.  Yes, there is still a Site Plan that's required, and yes, if there is turtle habitat, a OBP would still be needed.  But neither are a public process.  Nor are the motions that are going in front of Council this evening - there is no opportunity for public input and engagement.

So although I wish those who, like myself, who are concerned about the welfare of threatened and endangered species in Ontario - so although I wish you luck in North Bay, from where I sit, I think that you are going to find that you are out of luck.  My advice: try to save some turtles elsewhere and pick another battle - because I fear you've already lost this one.  

***UPDATED - January 16, 2019***

Well, it looks like North Bay Council voted to move forward with plans to make that City the least environmentally friendly City in all of Ontario (see: "North Bay's pursuit of environmental exemptions called 'shocking, shameful'," the North Bay Nugget, January 16, 2019).  There's more reference here to 'rules' that were in place regarding provincially significant wetlands, dating back from 2005 - a time when the Province distinguished between the importance of wetlands in Northern Ontario and Southern Ontario - with lesser protection in the North.

It's going to be hard for the provincial government to square this circle on wetlands or species at risk - under normal circumstances.  But even the previous Liberal government had been flirting with the idea of 'biodiversity offsetting' for wetlands (see: "May: Getting harder to 'drain the swamp' in Ontario," the Sudbury Star, August 4, 2017) - and Ontario has been actively using offsetting for species at risk habitat for years now.  I think what we're seeing here coming out of North Bay - home to a very important Ontario cabinet Minister - as the first salvo in a war on the environment erupting from a different level of government.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Greater Sudbury Going Off the Rails Again with Strategic Planning Process

Here we go again - or should I say, here we go off the rails again.

I read with interest a recent article published in Sudbury dot com about the upcoming Strategic Planning Process that the City was about to embark on (see: "Jan. 8 council meeting is all about the future," sudbury dot com, December 31, 2018).  Having studied Strategic Planning in University, and having led a couple of low-key strategic planning sessions for community organizations, and having been a critic of the Strategic Planning process followed by the newly elected Council in 2015, I decided to see what kind of process the City would be using this time - and where I, and others like me, might fit into it.

The answers to my questions are, in my opinion, simply shameful.  The process to be used this time around appears to be quite similar: a visioning session for Council, based on inputs from staff.  And where does the public fit in?  Looks like we've already done our part - by electing this Council to office.  That's it.

Let me explain why this is simply unacceptable.

Greater Together

In 2015, Council engaged in a Strategic Planning Process that lead to the production of a document called "Greater Together: 2015-18 Corporate Strategic Plan".  Like other municipal strategic plans, the purpose of this plan was to provide direction for municipal decision-makers and the corporation on a number of priority areas identified by...well, that's the heart of the issue, and I'll come back to it.

Here's what Mayor Brian Bigger had to say back in 2016 in the Introduction of "Greater Together"
Mayor's Statement - from "Greater Together"

Ya, ok - it sounds like pie-in-the-sky fluff stuff.  Why does something like this even matter?

Well, Greater Together certainly did inform Council's direction throughout the 2014-18 term of the last Council.  Much to the detriment of the cohesion of our communities, in my opinion.  You see, without realizing it, Greater Together laid the groundwork for municipal decision-making, and not just from a policy perspective, but in terms of process.  

No Public Engagement to Inform the Plan

In a nutshell, my beef has been that after Greater Together, Council went off on its own merry way in pursuit of what it thought were the best interests of the City and we citizens without actually engaging citizens in the decision-making process.  Not only were citizens shut out of the development of the Strategic Plan - a big no-no for any strategic plan, in my opinion - but we citizens were also shut out later decision-making processes, including those that led to the selection of various large projects.

In the Intro, above, Bigger talks a lot about what citizens want. I understand that members of Council have a pretty good idea of what the priorities of citizens generally tend to be - but let's face it: members of council, like all individuals, come to the table with inherent biases.  That's in part why listening to what the public has to say on certain and specific issues is so important.  Listening won't remove those biases, but it will provide a significant opportunity to actually hear a contrary point of view - one that we often filter out through less, shall we say, formal or robust consultation processes.

I'm firmly of the belief that a sincere effort to engage the public as part of the 2015 Strategic Planning process would have led to a different plan than the one that was ultimately adopted by Council.  Look, there's some good stuff in Greater Together, I won't deny that - but is it the right stuff, from a citizen or taxpayer perspective?  

Real Citizen Priorities?

Here's the Plan's performance measures.  I think that many might be interested to discover that the success of the Strategic Plan will not be predicated on a number of things which I think taxpayers in the City might have told Council that they would want to see, had they ever been asked.

Greater Together - Performance Metrics
One missing item that jumps out at me would be a desire to see tax increases kept to a minimum.  Although that's certainly not my priority (I believe that property tax increases have to be sustainable - but with rising prices, we should expect modest increases if we demand the same or better level of services), but I from what I hear and see on social media, I expect that my fellow citizens would have wanted the City to make a clear commitment either not to raise taxes, or to at least keep them in line with the rate of inflation.

Instead, we've got what we've got - including "Better Roads", which is a desire that I that I often hear expressed by Greater Sudburians.  But I also often hear that we need "Better transit".  And better winter maintenance.  And more affordable places for people to live.  And, well, lots of things - so how is it that one of these - Better Roads - gets singled out as a performance metric, while just about everything else outside of happiness and economic growth (ugh!) get left out?  Had the public been at the table, I think that we might have seen a different set of Performance Metrics developed to measure the success of the term of Council.

And, as an aside, I expect that with a different set of Performance Metrics in place, Council might actually have been able to point to the Strategic Plan and be able to make the claim that they did, in fact, achieve success - because it's pretty clear to me that, based on these metrics, the last term of Council can only be described as a terrible failure.

Building Support for Priorities from the Ground Up

Back to the Plan.  Let's take a look at some of these Council developed priorities.  When we do, we'll start to see just where and how things went off the rails for Council and for the City.  And as we go through this Strategic Plan, keep in mind that there was a parallel planning process underway around about the same time (albeit one that culminated after Greater Together was completed), that led to "From the Ground Up: gs2025" - the City's Economic Development Plan, which in part built on some of these ideas.  The Economic Development Plan, unlike the Strategic Plan, was informed by significant public consultation and engagement  ('community hijacks' had nothing to do with terrorist strikes!) - and it has a different flavour to it, and identifies priorities that are slightly different (apparently, the Plan is no longer available online - maybe because it includes action items that are so strongly divergent from those undertaken by the City over the past several years - like taking the arena out of the downtown.  If you'd like, here's my blog from 2016 where I offer my critique of the Plan).

Here are the priorities Council identified for Economic Growth.  Suffice it to say that my own personal bias has always been to prefer sustainability over growth, but I get that I remain in a (growing) minority on that.  But putting that aside, let's explore these priorities a little more closely.
Greater Together - Priorities - Economic Development

Downtown Development

The Downtown Sudbury Master Plan was a relatively new document at the time that Greater Together was being assembled, having been accepted by the City in 2012.  The Downtown Master Plan was the subject of a significant degree of public engagement as well, so it's not really a surprise to see Council here deciding to championing it (or more accurately, re-committing to it - as it was approved under the previous Council led by Mayor Marianne Matichuk).

But please note something here about the priority highlighted in the green box.  Yes, it's about the Downtown Sudbury Master Plan, but it's also about all 'downtowns' - so it's not just a former City of Sudbury thing.  This commitment was made to downtown Chelmsford, downtown Capreol, etc.  And that, in my opinion, was a really good thing.  And I think looking back over the term of the previous Council, there has been some success in bolstering the urban cores of some of the outlying communities.  The Capreol waterfront redevelopment initiative jumps out at me, as does the Chelmsford Community Improvement Plan.  

But note too that there is a specific reference here to "increase densification by conversion from commercial to residential".  To me, that's very interesting.  I know that the City has long sought to try to figure out ways to get more people living in our walkable, denser urban cores.  They've tried to do this in a number of ways - via community improvement programs that offer incentives for developers; by making it easier to develop in the Downtown core by removing parking requirements for new development, etc.  The official plan even has a specific policy about the use of community amenities to attract residential development.  Amenities like the Sudbury Community Arena (and others).

But really - when push came to shove over the previous term of Council, how many new residential units were created in urban core areas?  Recall that there had been some important projects - including the Brewer's Lofts - that sought to fulfill this 'priority', but when push came to shove, Council opted to tell the developer to take a hike - and today we continue to see the eyesore on Lorne Street that once was Northern Breweries sitting vacant and generating peanuts in terms of property taxes.

That's just one example.  Here's another.  In the spring of 2018, Council actually went out of its way to weaken the residential development strategy in the official plan by removing reference to the Arena.  Ostensibly this was undertaken so that the new plan would be inline with earlier decisions of Council to relocate the community arena to the Kingsway.  So what of those earlier decisions, then?  Made with little regard to the official plan's strategy for attracting residential development to the downtown?  Well, the Strategic Plan seems to suggest that the approach ultimately taken by Council to move the arena out of the downtown was just fine - after all, we're not talking about the conversion of a commercial area to a residential one.  We're talking about a significant tourism generator, right - the sort that seems to fall inline with the priority outlined in the red box.

Large Projects

Ah - now we come to the heart of the matter: investing in Large Projects.  

Where the hell did this come from?

Maybe I missed it, but I don't seem to recall anyone running for Council on a platform of municipal investment in large projects for the purpose of stimulating economic development.  Sure, there'd been talk of a few things like this for years: a new or redeveloped community arena; a motorsports park; a soccer bubble.  But there was never any comprehensive development strategy that talked about municipal investment (that talked about how taxpayers would pay for these amenities). Sure, Council under Matichuk had identified that a new convention facility (arena) and hotel should be located in the downtown - but contingent on a new casino coming to town and footing the bill.  The Downtown Master Plan laid the framework for this initiative.  So what happened?

Council under Mayor Bigger took a different direction - the one spelled out here in Greater Together.  There is a direct link between the Strategic Plan and the Large Projects initiative, through which Council ultimately decided to champion a new taxpayer-funded community arena (without looking further into the costs of redeveloping the existing facility - something the previous Council started doing, and which the Community Services Committee received a report on in June, 2013 - but it suffered a serious blow when Councillor Fabio Belli's motion to expedite a new arena was soundly defeated in October 2013 - see R-27 in the Minutes), and the Place des Arts, Synergy Centre (now the something something something centre/facility/something - can we go back to calling it the Synergy Centre please?) and a new downtown Library (which has been talked about for a long time) and Art Gallery (also talked about for a long while).

These projects were selected by Council through a competitive process that saw a number of other excellent projects being advanced (like the Eat Local Sudbury proposed Local Food Hub - see: "Eat Local Sudbury working to offer more local food in region," CBC News, October 14, 2014) and a few silly ones - like establishing a heavy rail connection between Lively and downtown Sudbury to service - well, that was the problem - to service nobody.

But the Large Projects ultimately selected by Council were selected in absence of any meaningful public input or a public engagement process.  Not once did Council ask the public, are we on the right track here?  Nor did Council ever ask the public, are we doing the right thing here by putting up public money for economic development, as per our Strategic Plan that you didn't have any say in either?

This lack of public consultation about important decisions carried on throughout the term of Council.  About what is sure to become a Case Study in how not engaging with the public leads to a terrible, stupid, dumb economic development outcome (to be titled, "How Sudbury Blew a Sure Thing and Lost a Chromite Smelter"), I wrote that Council had "a nasty habit of making decisions first, and consulting with the public later," (see: "No Social License for Coniston Ferrochrome Smelter," Sudbury Steve May, March 6, 2018).

Public Consultation Matters

Look, public consultation matters.  It could very well be that the City would not now find itself in the midst of appeals related to municipal decisions from June, 2017, that sought to relocate our community arena out of the downtown and into an undeveloped industrial area on the Kingsway.  Those June, 2017 decisions of Council were also not informed by any meaningful public consultation.  Sure, there was one heck of a lot of lobbying going on - but it is precisely because the lobbyists were out that Council ought to have taken a step back and asked itself, "Gee, maybe we should see what members of the community actually want - maybe they'll tell us that they want a new arena on the Kingsway attached to a casino.  Or maybe it'll be a new arena downtown.  Or maybe they'll tell us that what they really want is for us not to spend their money on a facility that we'll be in hock for for the next 35 years."  Of note, of course, that last option was never on the table in June 2017 - because Council had already committed to the Large Projects initiative as per the Strategic Plan.

I happen to think that the mistakes of the previous Council - about to be repeated here by an updated version of Council - have directly led to the divisiveness that we have been experiencing in our City over the past couple of years.  Sure, there have been other factors - but a lack of public input on important decisions has really led to some problematic outcomes.  It might have been that we could have had a new or refurbished arena opening this year, had Council opted to follow the groundwork that had previously been laid through policy documents that had received significant public consultation (and that would be repeated via the From the Ground Up Economic Development Plan process).  And the City could have still been in the running for a ferrochrome smelter today had it opted to work with the public, rather than without it.

This stuff matters.  We've lost the opportunity to create real jobs.  We've put what many suggest is a much-needed infrastructure project (the arena) on hold while we fight about the location.  And we've created a real and growing divide in our City.  It didn't have to be that way.  And it shouldn't be that way going forward.

A Course Correction is Needed

Look, Council has the opportunity to change course - but time is running out.  According to the Report that is going to Council on January 8, 2019, the Strategic Plan process will be facilitated by Dr. Chris Bart, FCPA.  Dr. Bart is the CEO of Corporate Missions Inc., a company that has worked with numerous businesses and municipal partners to develop strategic plans.  One of those municipal partners was the Town of Oakville, which developed a Strategic Plan in 2015.  In Oakville, their plan was informed by public input.  I don't know exactly what process they used there, but clearly it was something a little more than the nothing that was used here in Greater Sudbury.

Report to Council - Town of Oakville - Strategic Plan
Right now, the plan for Greater Sudbury is for Council to continue going off on its merry way in absence of any input or consultation from the public.  Something called "The Executive Leadership Team" (whatever that is) will have a chance to sit in on and inform the Strategic Plan process - but you and I will be locked out of it.  The Report going to Council next week is pretty clear about what role the public will play: none.

CGS - Report to Council - 2019 Strategic Plan
The Plan right now is that it's Council that will decide what the priorities of the corporation are.  The 13 members of our Council will do so in absence of a formal public engagement process - basing their decision on their own take of where they want to see the City go.  

CGS - Report to Council - Council's Role - Strategic Plan 2019
I hope that someone on Council raises the lack of opportunity for public consultation as an issue which needs to be addressed, going forward.  Other municipalities, like Oakville, plug their citizens into the Strategic Planning process, because they realize that while Council has the responsibility to set priorities, their decision to identify those priorities and how best to plan to achieve those outcomes needs to be informed by public consultation.  The public has to be a part of the process if there is to be local buy-in.

If we're about to embark on another 4-years of Council doing its own thing and shutting the public out of important decisions, I fear that this current Council, too, will only be able to conclude that success - by any measure or metric - was elusive. 

A Footnote About the Downtown

Over the course of the previous term of Council, I've heard some members of Council talking about what the "downtown" is and how we need to start thinking of the "downtown" differently - specifically, how we ought to expand our understanding of the geographic paramertres of the downtown so that, in our minds at least, the "downtown" includes that part of the former City of Sudbury that is roughly within a "square" bounded by Notre Dame on the west, Lasalle Blvd., on the north, Barrydowne on the east, and the Kingsway on the south.  This "new" downtown - which includes a large, undeveloped hole in its middle, thanks in part to a floodplain, wetland and the hills that feed them) should be the focus of the kind of development that we need to grow the City and prepare for the 21st Century.  I've seen this - and I've treated the idea as the nonsense that it is.  To think that this area of the City in any way, shape or form functions as a "downtown" is to dismiss all notion of what a "downtown" actually is or does.

And yet, despite the ludicrousness of the idea, it's right there in the City's Strategic Plan - in the Economic Development section as a Strategic Priority.  .So when Council talks about "the downtown" - or more importantly, when individual members of Council talk about the "downtown", keep in mind that they have not always been talking about the same thing.

CGS Strategic Plan - Strategic Priorities
In the minds of some members of Council, what you see above - the Notre Dame-Lasalle-Barrydowne-Kingsway Square, plus maybe the old downtown - is the Downtown.  The City's official plan identifies a different boundary, of course.  As does the Downtown Master Plan.  As does, frankly, reality.  But this is the sort of thing you get when you don't ask the public to participate in a planning process.  And this is important, too - because not only does it mean that we're all left to define the downtown in any way we want - but we're going to be basing economic development decisions on these definitions when it might not be appropriate to do so.  I get that this concept never really worked its way into any of the City's other official planning documents (like the 5-year official plan update adopted by Council in the spring of 2018), but I can't help but wonder how something like this ever ended up in any Plan in the first place.

And finally, for those following the Arena discussion - note that the Plan all along has been to shut the public out of the process.  Text in the second green box makes it clear - the public will not have any role to play whatsoever in the selection of the large projects.  Off the rails indeed.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Monday, December 31, 2018

Crystal Ball Gazing: (Mainly) Political Predictions for 2019

It's been a few years since my last end-of-year "Crystal Ball Gazing" blog (although in the summer of 2017, I did manage to successfully predict just how Greater Sudbury Council would, via a tie vote, end up selecting the Kingsway for the site of a new arena - see: "Crystal Ball Gazing: How Sudbury Gets a New Kingsway Event Centre - Not on Merit, but on a Technicality," Sudbury Steve May, June 27, 2017).  Despite nailing that one prediction a few hours before the vote, my track record with predictions has been far from stellar.  No matter.  This is a fun way to end the year, and with some pretty big events scheduled to happen in 2019, I'll take another kick at the can.

The Federal Election

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Look for a return of Justin Trudeau and the Liberals with a new majority government in October, 2019 - but one that has been slightly reduced.  The Conservative Party will make some inroads in the west, in Ontario (the GTA and eastern Ontario) and Atlantic Canada, but it won't be enough for the Cons in the face of a collapsed NDP vote that largely shifts to the Liberals for strategic reasons.  Maxime Bernier's new party will also siphon off enough Con support to ensure Trudeau's return - although Bernier will lose his own seat in Beauce, and his party will fail to elect a single candidate.

Greens might take some solace in seeing Elizabeth May returned to the House accompanied by two new B.C.-based MP's (and having had a few other candidates show strong second-place finishes in B.C. and New Brunswick).  But 3 MP's will prove a disappointment for a Party that sees Green fortunes rising around the world, but can do little to tap into the same sentiment here in Canada, in part thanks to our antique First Past the Post electoral system.  Before the year is out, May will announce her pending departure as Party leader in 2020, although she will stay on as MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh won't fare as well.  After losing a by-election in Burnaby to Liberal candidate Karen Wang (see: "Karen Wang wins Liberal nomination in Burnaby South to take on NDP leader Jagmeet Singh," the Canadian Press, December 29, 2018), the knives come out and the NDP dump Singh as leader.  Through a hasty process that ends up sidelining New Democratic members, caucus selects Nathan Cullen as interim leader, only to see Cullen lead the Party to losses in October.  While New Democrats manage to largely hold on to seats in Ontario and B.C., they are completely ousted from Quebec and make no gains in Atlantic Canada, falling behind the Green Party in many ridings in that region (outside of Newfounland and Labrador where the Greens remain dead as doornails).

The election is a nasty affair, and while immigration, the economy and climate change seem to be the big issues, for the most part the election is fought on the basis of personalities and tribalism.  With the progressive left once again rallying behind the Liberals despite past betrayals, the Liberals again manage to elect a new government in October - but the nation is more divided at the end of 2019 than ever before.

Alberta Election

In Alberta, despite a brilliant campaign by NDP Premier Rachel Notley, the Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party emerges victorious.  Kenny himself, though, is beaten up by the election, with many of his past anti-LGBTQ musings having come to light.  The UCP - flirting with white surpremacists and Big Oil (ok, actually WAY more than flirting), is tarnished as an institution and takes power under a cloud of corruption and concerns over tolerance.  

Notley's NDP isn't completely wiped out, and she stays on as Leader.  But with a UCP majority government in place, the blitz is on to destroy a lot of the good work that Notley's government accomplished over its 4-year term.  The UCP's first order of business, though, will be to kill Alberta's climate change plan and replace it with - nothing (at least not in 2019).  Albertans are outraged in late 2019 when it becomes clear (after a new Liberal majority government comes into power federally) that the feds will be applying the now $30 per tonne federal carbon price backstop to Alberta.  There is rioting in the streets of Calgary.

Oh - and about that federal back-stop.  Canada's courts will rule in 2019 that the feds have every right to price carbon in provincial jurisdictions that are not themselves applying a price on pollution. 

PEI Election
PEI Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker

Despite Peter Bevan-Baker's Green Party leading in polls in advance of the PEI provincial election, Premier Wade MacLauchlan's Liberal Party is returned with a strong majority government - thanks in part to the collapse of the PEI Progressive Conservative Party.  Green support, while strong in certain areas, proves to be thin on the ground throughout too much of the Province - and as a result, MacLauchlan's Liberals receive a stronger mandate from Islanders.  A small Green caucus forms the Official Opposition, but Bevan-Baker resigns as leader near the end of 2019 - with ambitions to lead the federal Green Party.  Green MLA Hannah Bell, easily returned to her seat, takes over the reigns as the leader of the Official Opposition.
PEI Green Hannah Bell

U.S. Presidential Nominations

With Donald Trump mired in controversy throughout 2019, thanks in part to Robert Mueller's investigation being made public in the early spring, Republicans decide that they are going to contest Trump's nomination for 2020.  Look for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to start rumbling about taking on Trump for the nomination (although there will be other contenders).

On the Democratic side, by the end of 2019, there will be no clear single contender for the Presidential nomination, although the field of serious potential candidates might be whittled down to just a few who have what it takes.  Look for Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren to emerge as two of the more serious contenders.  Warrens is already signalling her intention to run - and if I suspect that she just might emerge victorious in 2020 if she does so (see: "Elizabeth Warren Takes Major Step Toward a 2020 Presidential Run," Bloomberg, December 31, 2018).  Democrats will continue to try to twist Oprah Winfrey's arm to have her throw her hat in the ring - with no success.

Hilary Clinton will wisely opt out of seeking the nomination, but look for a return of Bernie Sanders - although Sanders will be forced to drop out of the race by the end of 2019, due to a lack of funds.  Sanders will champion The Green New Deal, with Warren providing lukewarm support - but many non-aligned voters will be looking to the U.S. Green Party, which might be under new leadership by the end of 2019, as Dr. Jill Stein resigns to make way for a bigger, more familiar name from Hollywoodland. 

Gilets Jaune

As 2018 comes to an end, the Gilets Jaune protests that rocked European cities have already begun to wind down.  But we can expect a significant degree of destabilization of established governments in the U.K. (thanks to a disastrous Brexit and the fall of Theresa May's government - only to be replaced by an unstable Conservative minority government led by Boris Johnston), France and Italy. 

Greens are on the rise in Germany, however, and continue to capture progressive voters throughout the nation.  

But the Gilets Jaune are a splintered force in Europe by the early months of 2019 - with the right-wingers and left-wingers dividing the spoils and heading their separate ways.  Unfortunately, the same is not true in North America, where the right-wing racist Yellow Vests remain a blight on the nation throughout 2019.  However, even Conservative politicians like Saskatchewan's Premier Scott Moe and Alberta's incoming Premier, Jason Kenney - are forced to publicly distance themselves from the racists (but not until Kenney is damaged by his flirtation). 


Look for big changes in Ontario.  With Premier Doug Ford on a rampage, the Ontario government will undo a decade's worth of progress made under the former Liberal administration.  The March budget will see the Ontario civil service cut to a significant degree.  It will also lay the groundwork for significant privatization of health care in the Province.  Also on the chopping block: environmental legislation, including the Environmental Bill of Rights and the Endangered Species Act.  By the end of 2019, the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks will be cut to the bone.
Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner

While Ford and his Conservative MP's will continue to be dogged by controversies and legal problems stemming from the 2018 provincial election (and pre-election candidate nomination), there will be little that Ontario's opposition parties can do.  With the Liberals rebuilding, and an ineffective New Democratic Party that long ago lost its way (and with leader Andrea Horwarth finally stepping down to make way for someone new), look for the Green Party of Ontario's Mike Schreiner to be a go-to person for media - but that's about it.  Schreiner, trying to be too many things at the same time in the progressive political void, might find a degree of wider publicity, but he needs to be careful lest he continue to alienate his base as he did with several small mis-steps near the end of 2018 (which included his support for the PC's 'back to work' legislation aimed at upending power worker's right to strike). 

British Columbia
B.C. Premier John Horgan

Despite MP Sheila Malcolmson winning a crucial by-election in Nanaimo (see: "Nanaimo Byelection Could Change Balance of Power in British Columbia," the Tyee, December 27, 2018),  NDP Premier John Horgan's government will fall before the end of summer, as Andrew Weaver's Green Party pulls its 'supply and confidence' support over the NDP's lack of a plan to address climate impacts from the publicly-subsidized LNG sector.  With a massive defeat for electoral reform, thanks in part to a wonky referendum (see: "B.C. proportional representation proposal seemed almost tailor-made for failure," Kirk Lapointe, BIV, December 20, 2018).

But Horgan will be back as Premier with a larger minority government, as Andrew Weaver's Greens are wiped out across the Province (despite some very strong showings by candidates in a dozen ridings).  The BC Greens political fortunes will resonate later in the year with a disappointing showing for the federal Greens in a national election (although as predicted above, Green leader Elizabeth May will be joined by a couple of new federal Green MPs).

Look for the resignation of both Weaver and B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson by year's end. 

New Brunswick

New Brunswickers will once again head to the polls in 2019, as Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Gallant's shaky new government falls like a house of cards.  I'm not going to  predict what the impetus for the government's fall might be, but I suspect it will have something to do with the ambitions of People's Alliance Party, and their sense that a new election will see more of their candidates returned as MLA's.  They will be proven right - but they'll be relegated to the opposition benches as a Liberal minority government under a new leader is returned to power - supported by a 'supply and confidence' agreement with a reduced-caucus New Brunswick Green Party.  That government makes it out of 2019, but accomplishes very little in the face of falling apart at any given moment.

Newfoundland and Labrador
NL PC leader Ches Crosbie

Liberal Premier Dwight Ball is done.  Look for Progressive Conservative leader Ches Crosby, son of home-province hero and former federal cabinet minister John Crosbie, to be Newfoundland and Labrador's next premier.  But the Muskrat Falls spending debacle will continue to spiral out of control - to the detriment of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Trans Mountain Pipeline

 In a hasty review of indigenous issues and orcas, the National Energy Board once again greenlights the Trans Mountain Pipeline - just in time for the Liberals to campaign vigorously on their new 'approval' of the pipeline.  But the NEB's decision will once again be challenged in the courts, and there will be no resolution of the matter in 2019.

The Continuing Erosion of Charter Rights

When anyone's Charter Rights are put at risk, everyone's Charter Rights are put at risk.  It's 2019, and we can expect - thanks to right-wing extremists in power in the U.S., Europe and provincially here in Canada - the hard-fought rights of women and the LGBTQ community to continue to be eroded (see: "Rising populism threatens LGBTQ in West and around the world," the Globe and Mail, December 29, 2018).  Look for anti-women and anti-minority initiatives in Alberta and Ontario.  Would Doug Ford really shut down Ontario's Human Rights Commission?  Just watch him - as we continue to watch his flirtations with white supremacist fascists like Faith Goldy (see: "Doug Ford and Faith Goldy — what’s wrong with this picture?" Martin Regg Cohn, the Toronto Star, September 24, 2018)  and Charles McVety (see: "Ford’s closeness with controversial evangelical pastor is problematic," Michael Coren, iPolitics, December 4, 2018) and his controversial move to roll-back the province's sex education curriculum to the last century (see: "Northern Ontario pride organizations looking to file human rights complaints over sex-ed curriculum rollback," CBC News, July 18, 2018).  In Quebec, what can only be described as a racist government in the form of Francois Legault's Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) is hell-bent on destroying the rights of religious minorities (see: "Downtown Montreal anti-racism demonstration draws 3,000," the Montreal Gazette, October 8, 2018).  Expect to hear more about the use of the 'Notwithstanding Clause' in our Constitution as the vehicle of choice for right-wing extremists in government to stomp on Charter Rights.

Greater Sudbury

Here in Greater Sudbury, expect more of the same throughout 2019 - with a few caveats - including some intra-personal conflicts on Council that broil over for reasons that have little to do with Council business.

Sudburians are excited about the appointment of an Integrity Commissioner, and take full advantage of the appointment.  Several investigations in municipal Councillor activity are launched - including online bullying by Councillors and the use of position on Council to solicit funds from local businesses.  The bullying investigation wraps up with only recommendations for a stronger social media code of conduct for all municipal employees.  Other investigations drag on and are not resolved in 2019.
Ward 2 Councillor Michael Vagnini

Internally, the City's review of the recent municipal election fiasco reveals that the City did nothing wrong, and many of the issues with the election (including with the voter's list and the need to extend the election by another day due to the collapse of the online voting platform) were beyond the City's control.  Despite this, Councillor Vagnini will continue to accuse the City of corruption and mismanagement, taking square aim at Mayor Bigger over the first part of 2019.  In the summer, Vagnini becomes the Conservative Party's nominated candidate for the Sudbury riding - a riding that he will fail to take from Liberal MP Paul Lefebvre in the October federal election (although he will have the best showing of any recent Con candidate in Sudbury).
Nickel Belt MP Marc Serre

On a related note, Nickel Belt MP Marc Serre is returned to Ottawa in the 2019 federal election with an even bigger mandate, thanks largely to his own local popularity with an assist from the national collapse of the NDP.

The Kingsway Entertainment District will be an on-going saga throughout 2019, but mostly not at the Council table.  With public opinion turning against the KED and the downtown Arts Junction, Council will largely remain tone-deaf to the signals coming from the public that these projects are unaffordable.  Those concerns, however, might be offset by a pre-election promise for federal funding for the new arena, by a Liberal government more than a little nervous about a Vagnini-run unseating Lefebvre.

But at the end of 2019, we still won't know whether the Kingsway will be the site of the new arena.  With the appeals at the Local Planning and Appeals Tribunal (LPAT) currently on hold pending the outcome of a divisional court review of matters related to the City of Toronto's Rail Deck Park and the powers and authority of the new LPAT, I anticipate that the appeals will be further held up by a new reference to divisional court specifically emanating from the Sudbury appeals.  The LPAT is presently being asked by the parties to the appeals to determine what its jurisdiction is over a number of fundamental things - including whether Party's can file responses to Reply Case Synopses - and whether the LPAT's jurisdiction for making decisions extends beyond simply reviewing a municipal land use decision on the basis of inconsistency with provincial policy, provincial plans and municipal official plans.  Motions have been filed by just about all of the parties.  Expect some or all of these matters to end up in front of divisional court - either via a losing party, or, more likely in my opinion, from the LPAT itself - as it did with questions of jurisdiction in Rail Deck - since these matters now being brought up in Sudbury will impact how the LPAT hears all future hearing events.

Related: a motion to dismiss the appeal of the Minnow Lake Restoration Group made by the landowner, Dario Zulich, will prove to be unsuccessful - so for all of those hoping to see John Lindsay and his concerns about salt loading in Ramsey Lake knocked out of the hearing process - it's not going to happen.  John and the Minnow Lake people will be there when the actual hearing gets underway in the late fall of 2019.

Beer Trends

This could be a banner year for beer in Greater Sudbury, with the anticipated opening of two new brew pubs.   Spacecraft has been rising from the abandoned Grey Hound station on Notre Dame - and while many have eagerly been awaiting for its doors to open throughout December, I think we can expect that the finishing touches will permit an opening sometime in January.

In the South End, I expect to see the much-touted microbrewery open in 2019 behind the Tap House (note that this is not a prediction, but rather a firmly worded request/demand!).  I've often wondered just why a City the size of our has only had just the one brewery - Stack  - which makes some excellent beer, by the way (which reminds me - I need to stop in today to get my Ball Drop - one for tonight, and another to age until next year).  I've been a little embarrassed to show my face at Stack since that whole Hot Box fiasco which I'd rather not get into, so I was thrilled to hear that plans were afoot for another microbrewery offering sales directly to the public (see: "City to get its first brew pub," the Sudbury Star, September 11, 2018).

As for beer itself, I'll defer to the select experts over at Beerwulf for predictions in beer for 2019 - even though I'm mildly disturbed by this whole 'low alcohol' thing.

Stanley Cup

You heard it here first: After defeating the Washington Capitals in overtime in Game 7, the Winnipeg Jets will win the Stanley Cup.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)