Monday, January 28, 2019

A New Political and Economic Paradigm is Necessary to Confront the Climate Crisis

History teaches us that even the sturdiest economic and political paradigms eventually crumble, often quite suddenly.  My generation remembers the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.  I grew up at a time when a stand-off between rival nuclear-armed national blocs was the norm. When we dared to think about it, we cringed in fear that someone might ‘press the button’ and initiate the end of civilization.  We prayed  that American and Soviet leaders would have the wisdom not to destroy the world – or if not wisdom, at least the self-interest that lay behind the concept Mutually Assured Destruction.  For almost 50 years, the Cold War was our reality. And then it wasn’t.

Just as the hard-nosed members of the Soviet Politburo and their apparatchiks clung to their increasingly outdated socio-economic system, so too are today’s global leaders hanging on to 20th Century political and economic models that are no longer serving the interests of their societies.  Specifically, it has become obvious that the global climate crisis is one that cannot be resolved by our neoliberal hyper-capitalist global paradigm.

Since the climate crisis isn’t going to go away, there are only two choices: we either accept the end of global civilization within the next few generations, or we get our act together and do something about it.  Up until now, we’ve opted for the first approach, but largely because we haven’t realized what’s at stake.  

It’s not all doom and gloom.  A just transition from fossil energy to renewables will help limit the severity of impacts from the on-going climate crisis.  A new green deal, as many are now calling it, will also create good, local jobs and set us on a path towards sustainability and collective prosperity.  But we won’t get there as long as we continue to prioritize the good of corporate bottom-lines over the health and well-being of people and our natural environment.

The case for a just transition is based on sound economic principles and on a desire to do what’s right.  Some call that desire ‘morality’ or making decisions that consider seven generations.  Or just sustainability.  

This isn’t to suggest that past generations were motivated by a desire to do wrong or cause harm.  This fossil-fuelled world was created with noble intentions – including the desire to lift humanity out of the cycle of poverty and generally make things better.  And to an extent, that outcome was achieved through the creation of our global civilization – albeit with a somewhat spotty record of success.

But today we know that some of the fruits of our past labours include a growing level of inequality between the rich and the rest of us.  It’s also led to the pollution of our atmosphere to such an extent that the physical world is changing in ways that threaten plant and animal life – along with the existence of the very the global civilization that we created.

Armed with the knowledge that climate crisis changes everything, the choice we need to make is whether we continue to muddle along in an incremental fashion, pretending that small reforms to our political and economic systems are going to see us through. No doubt this was what the Kommissars of the old Soviet Union did, right up until everything fell apart.

Today, many are arguing that a better approach is one where we collectively take control of our future and create a new paradigm based on the principles of a just transition and a new green deal.  As Spain’s new Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez this week told the political and economic elites gathered together in Davos, Switzerland -  this idea isn’t revolutionary.  It’s necessary (see:“Green New Deal should not be feared, says Spanish prime minister,” Climate Home News, January 24, 2019). 

(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)

Originally published as "May: Climate change crisis will need a radical new approach," in print and online in the Sudbury Star, January 26, 2019.

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.

***UPDATE***  January 27, 2019.
Good news.  It looks like the City heard from residents that it was inappropriate to shut the public out of the Strategic Planning process.  A report going to Council tomorrow night indicates, 

The City will be engaging residents twice throughout the strategic planning process, first to provide input into the identification of strategic opportunities for the city and second to validate the draft strategic plan. These processes supplemental to other, previous, consultative processes, such as the 2018 Citizen Satisfaction Survey, election consultations and conversations, and other consultation done as part of municipal projects over the course of the last six months that will inform Council's discussions and their identification of priorities. 

This is great to hear.  I certainly look forward to participating in this process, going forward.

(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)