Report on October 1 Council meeting

A Seemingly Normal Meeting with Some Oddities and a Worrisome Health Issue: The Mississippi Mills Council meeting on October 1, 2019

by Theresa Peluso

As expected, based on my perusal of the October 1 Council meeting agenda, this three-hour long meeting held no surprises, although there was some rather strange politicking and a worrisome situation for Pakenham, which I’ll explain in due course.

The meeting started almost immediately with two delegations. The first was an explanation of the Walking School Bus by Danielle Shewfelt, our Public Health Nurse, and Tawnya Boileau, School Health Coordinator, both from the LGL District Health Unit.

The Walking School Bus (WSB) program consists of providing a safe, healthy, efficient, reliable way for children to walk to school instead of being driven.  The advantages are many:  for the children, better health, higher academic performance, greater safety awareness and increased connection with the community; for the school, more engaged students and less traffic in the school lanes and parking lots (and consequently less pollution and greater safety for the children taking school buses).  With the help of a $100,000 fund from Green Communities of Canada (a non-profit organization), three such initiatives were set up, of which the Almonte initiative (from Augusta Park to the schools on Paterson St) is still operating.  This program has expanded from one day to five days a week, but does not take place during the winter months – so it will resume in the spring.

As a result of questions by Council, we learned that this is a morning-only mode of travel, because school regulations (strict end-of-day student-dismissal policy) and after-school activities create complications.  (Some Ottawa schools seem to be able to deal with these concerns, since my 6-year-old granddaughter takes advantage of a daily WSB to get to her after-school program.)

We also learned that the children participating are in the JK to Grade 4/5 range, that great emphasis is placed on educating the children on how to negotiate the different types of crosswalks and on preventing motorists from endangering the children.  In addition, we learned that what made the two other WSB initiatives fail was lack of promotion (marketing) and insufficient school involvement, as well as the availability of other walking options.  The reason for the winter-season hiatus for the Almonte WSB is mainly the shortage of funding (volunteers are given an honorarium of $15 per route).

Both Ms. Shewfelt and Ms. Boileau hope they can expand the program to run all year, and perhaps to a second school route, since they have seen successes with winter walking events here and in other regions with lots of snow.  If they can find enough WSB leaders, and sufficient money and commitment from stakeholders, this project can evolve to become a permanent program.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic if a way were found to make the WSB an integral part of how children get to and from school all year – just as we older folk did back in the day – and remember, for us it was 15 miles, barefoot in the snow, and uphill both ways!

The second delegation was by Doris Rankin, on Pakenham’s Community Trail. This initiative started three years ago at a Seniors Forum. Seniors participating in the forum were concerned about having safer, increased opportunities to be more active. What’s good for seniors is good for all other age groups, especially children.

Subsequently, the report from the OMAFRA FICE (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs First Impressions Community Exchange), pointed out that in Pakenham you couldn’t see the river from the main street and there was little signage or activity posted about the river.  Such a brilliant, simple observation!  And Pakenham businesses saw the potential for marketing their town to tourists as a beautiful place to visit and stay, at any time of the year.  (Remember that two of the Seven Wonders of Lanark County are located in Pakenham.)  This two-kilometre trail, which links up various sections already used by the public, has been mapped out, undergone a topographical analysis, and obtained approvals to cross private land, but work needs to be done to develop parts of the trail (e.g., building paths through fields and woodlands), increase points of access to the trail, and make most of the trail navigable by people of all ages and abilities.

The committee have spoken with the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority about pricing and building walkways through the marsh between the Five Arches Bridge and Elizabeth Street, and also with the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, United Way – Day of Caring and the Pakenham Business and Tourism Association.  It is planned to phase in various sections of the trail as time and resources permit. Suggested next steps are to find funding to survey the path and develop concept drawings (estimated at $10,000) for Phase 1.  Phase 2 would consist of adding look-outs and developing the trail, and Phase 3 would entail building the marsh boardwalk and connecting the trail with the OVRT.

Ms. Rankin, in answer to questions from the councillors, explained that the Lanark County’s Tourism strategic plan to encourage visitors to linger and explore the community fits closely with the goals of the trail.  She also explained that the Pakenham Community Trail committee have approached Cavanagh about having them donate their excess construction materials, and that the committee have applied for grants.  Ms. Rankin estimated that the cost to build the trail would be between $50,000 and $100,000.

During discussion following this delegation, councillors decided that this initiative fitted very well with the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) mandate, and that the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and the Accessibility Advisory Committee could provide valuable input.  However, it was also pointed out that the DPR budget is stretched to the limit, and so the community will need to help fund the trail.  Councillors also suggested that the Pakenham Community Trail committee discuss with the Riverwalk Committee ideas for raising funds and building their trail.  Councillor Ferguson asked Council to approve sending the information on the Pakenham Community Trail to the Community and Economic Development Committee (CEDC), and for Tiffany MacLaren (Community Economic and Cultural Coordinator) and Calvin Murphy (DPR Director) to assist with this project.  The intent of this motion is for the CEDC to flesh out development of the trail, arrange for surveying it, and determine the viability of various options.  Councillor Ferguson’s motion passed – so it looks like the Pakenham Community Trail now has wings – or legs!

The delegations were followed by the Council of the Whole (COW) meeting, chaired by Deputy Mayor Minnille.

In the Reports from municipal staff during the COW, two items entailed a lengthy discussion.

The Library Report, authored by CEO and Chief Librarian Christine Row, concerned the Almonte Friendship Oven (AFO).  The AFO, brainchild of the Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardens (NTCG) volunteers, was built with free labour from local residents and with funding from several community organizations. It has been in full operation for a year, always with the goal of creating a place where the community can gather to prepare and share meals together, centred on local food, gardens and farmers’ markets. These volunteers have been very conscientious in providing training, supervision, inspection, management and maintenance of the AFO.  However, insurance coverage has been an ongoing discussion.  The fact that the AFO is on municipal property means that the municipality needs to be an important part of this discussion.

After much debate by the Councillors, they ended up agreeing with CAO Kelly that our municipality needs to formalize its relationship with the NTCG volunteers and to establish the municipality’s position for the long term, and ensure continuity, since volunteers come and go.  The plan is for staff to review how friendship ovens in other communities are being managed (including the issue of partnerships and insurance coverage) to come up with a policy for Mississippi Mills.  Council approved a recommendation for the municipality to accept ownership of the AFO in partnership with the NTCG, and to enter into an agreement to formalize maintenance, operational expectations going forward.

The next item that involved much discussion was in the Roads and Public Works report.  Reducing the speed limit of a road is apparently a matter of great concern!  Apparently, most of the 42 households on Golden Line Road had signed a petition requesting that the speed limit be reduced for safety reasons, including the lack of shoulders on this road, its narrowness and poor signage.  (Reflecting on how little heed was paid by this same Council earlier this year to a petition by 480 people to halt roadside spraying, one wonders if all petitions are valued equally.)  It was requested that the speed limit (which is the 80 km/h default for all country roads) be reduced to 60 km/h, which is actually the speed limit posted by the City of Ottawa on the section of Golden Line Road completely within its jurisdiction.  Councillor Holmes pointed out that few motorists actually drive the exact speed limit, so that 80 is actually interpreted to mean 100 km/h, which creates an extremely dangerous situation for pedestrians and cyclists.  Amen to that!

The Director of Roads and Public Works, Guy Bourgon, pointed out that because Golden Line Road is on our municipality’s boundary with the City of Ottawa, the latter would need to be included in any discussions.  Councillor Ferguson agreed to posting appropriate signage, but objected to lowering the limit, arguing that this would create new problems.  A motion was made that the speed limit be reduced to 60 km/h and that Council send a formal request to the City of Ottawa to agree.  During the Rise and Report part of the meeting later on, Councillor Maydan asked for a recorded vote on this motion, which was approved 4-3 with the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Councillor Ferguson voting nay.  I found it puzzling that a recorded vote would be requested for such a mundane item.  What exactly was the reason?

In any case, the missing part of the puzzle in all this is the lack of enforcement of speed limits.  Although the road through the hamlet of Blakeney has a posted speed limit of 50 km/h, quite a few drivers drive considerably faster than that, including snowmobile and ATV operators (who ignore the 20 km/h speed limit they must observe on roads with speed limits of 50 km/h or less).  Nevertheless, Blakeney residents may be inspired by this decision on Golden Line Road to come up with a petition of their own to reduce the speed limit on Blakeney Road through their hamlet.  We should all be working to prioritize people over vehicles in our communities!

In the Mayor’s Report, Mayor Lowry announced that the Almonte Heritage Redevelopment Group had been given an award by the National Trust for Canada, for their rehabilitation of five heritage buildings in Almonte.  She also encouraged people to attend a Blanket Exercise workshop to be held on October 19, which is sponsored by All My Relations, an organization that fosters respect and reconciliation among indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.  In the Lanark County Council report Mayor Lowry mentioned that the informally organized OVRT Task Force would transition to the OVRT Working Group (reporting directly to Lanark County Council) to promote and increase use of the trail. A total of 20 new signs will be installed on the OVRT to display rules for using it responsibly, as well as contact information.  It seems that business owners also want to be able to post promotional advertising on the OVRT.

During review of the Information List, several items were singled out for special consideration.  Councillor Holmes referred to a resident’s letter asking for a speed reduction from Main and Coleman Streets to Metcalfe Park, to which Mayor Lowry suggested that staff install a SpeedSpy to collect traffic data for that section of the road. In connection with this same item, Councillor Dalgity mentioned that there was too much speeding from Highway 29 to Bay Hill and to the roundabout at Appleton Side Road, which endangered the increased number of pedestrians and cyclists using those roads.  Councillor Maydan remarked that, in the Master Transportation Plan published a few years ago, a number of pedestrian crossings have been identified, and suggested to Council that this item be directed to the Public Works Committee for review.  In my opinion, traffic-calming measures, supplemented with a good dose of law enforcement, would go a long way to remedying these problems.  A cheaper solution would be photo-radar, but people seem leery of that option.

One major issue discussed during this meeting (both as part of the Information List and under New Business) was the recent decision by Community Home Support Lanark County (CHSLC) to withdraw home care services as of March of this year, for residents in Pakenham; this decision also affects Carleton Place residents.  This withdrawal of services was made without prior consultation with the affected communities, and without any prior warning.

Bridging Generations in Pakenham, as explained in their letter to Council, have tried every means within their power to persuade the CHSLC and the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) that they report to, to restore these essential services and funding for them.  The LHIN is refusing to reconsider their apparently politically-motivated decision, which resulted in realigning the LHIN boundaries to exclude Pakenham and Carleton Place and in cancelling resource allocations to these communities.  For readers unfamiliar with this nomenclature, LHINs are community-based, non-profit organizations funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to plan, fund and coordinate services delivered by hospitals, long-term care homes, and home and community care.

There are actually two LHINs involved in this issue.  Unlike the rest of Mississippi Mills, Pakenham has historically been supported by the South East LHIN, which is centred in Perth.  (Carleton Place is in an identical situation to Pakenham.)

The map in this link shows that Pakenham and Carleton Place are under the Champlain LHIN (Western sub-region) jurisdiction – but they’re not! (The Champlain (Western sub-region) LHIN extends to just beyond Deep River, Barry’s Bay and Lanark Village, and includes Arnprior and all of Mississippi Mills – except Pakenham – and Carleton Place.) It seems that, for historical reasons, Pakenham and Carleton Place are part of the South East LHIN, which includes Perth and extends as far south as Kingston and Belleville.

Clearly, the name LHIN seems to be an oxymoron, since in this situation, it is NOT local, integrated, networked and is not providing the residents with necessary health services, specifically home-support services. Just some examples of home care services are nursing care to change bandages and clean wounds, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, healthcare supplies such as walking aids and braces, personal care for invalids, transportation to medical appointments, and home hospice services.

Councillor Ferguson explained that transportation to medical appointments is a huge concern.  Apparently Pakenham residents need to spend about $125 one way for a taxi to take them to medical appointments in Ottawa, and the same again for the return trip.  Residents who travel to Arnprior are in the same predicament, although the distance is shorter.  Councillor Ferguson has asked the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, in their roles as County Council representatives, to push for transportation subsidies for these residents.  At the conclusion of this discussion, it was quickly agreed to approve the motion that Mississippi Mills join Carleton Place in forming a delegation to the Ontario Minister of Health Christine Elliott to explain the dire situation of their residents and request an urgent solution. Council will also send a letter to Minister Elliott, requesting equity, including funding, related to Home Support Services for Mississippi Mills residents, with a copy sent also to Premier Ford and local MPP Hillier.

It seems odd that this issue didn’t receive the same level of attention at this Council meeting as the speed limit on Golden Road.

Just in case non-Pakenham residents are heaving a sigh of relief that we’re not directly affected by this situation, consider the following.

According to an article in the Hamilton Spectator dated July 20, 2019 and titled “How Ontario’s new regional health teams will operate is anyone’s guess in ‘low-rules environment’”, our new provincial government are going to change how our health system will be administered, using their tried-and-failed method of shooting first and asking questions afterwards. (See this link.)

The authors, Grant Lafleche and Joanna Frketich, explain that:

No one is sure how they (the new Ontario Health Teams (OHT)) will be governed or funded, or how they will function. But they will be the way forward for health care in the province…Even those creating the groups in Hamilton, Burlington, and Niagara don’t know how they will share scarce provincial dollars, be accountable, or what kind of voice the communities they serve will have.  The Progressive Conservative government itself doesn’t know, providing only the vaguest of details and saying the teams will evolve over time.

… A massive overhaul of the health-care system in Ontario came into effect June 6 under the Connecting Care Act. An investigation by The St. Catharines Standard and The Hamilton Spectator provides the most comprehensive coverage to date of the restructuring, considered the biggest change since Medicare.

The plan announced in February puts a super agency named Ontario Health in charge of the entire health-care system — from hospitals to community care to organ donation to cancer care. It will oversee dozens of regional groups, called OHTs, made up primarily of health and social service organizations working together to integrate services locally and help area residents navigate the system. (end of quote)

So, folks, in all likelihood our whole municipality will get to experience what Pakenham and Carleton Place are going through, and then some, as we get to be guinea pigs for this seat-of-your-pants approach to health care in particular, and governance in general.  Stay tuned!

Under New Business, there were several items of interest.

Further to the request for a dog park in Riverfront Estates, it was fairly quickly agreed that more study was required.  There were questions regarding the location, and concerns regarding liability, maintenance and lack of public consultation.  This item was referred to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee for further study.

A Letter of Support for Cogeco Connexion concerning access to high-speed internet and telecommunications services was approved.  Councillor Holmes asked if approving this letter entailed any obligations on the part of the municipality, and was told that there were none, and that Cogeco already plan to use $1 million of their own money to try to fill in the gaps in their broadband network by running fibre through Mississippi Mills.  This looks promising – but we shouldn’t hold our collective breath, I think.

Another Item of New Business was the Proclamation of Waste Reduction Week (Oct. 21-27).  Councillor Holmes rightly pointed out that a great deal of publicity was necessary to make this initiative effective.  The Department of Roads and Public Works will publish ads educating the public on how people can help reduce waste and conserve resources.  I am all in favour of this initiative, but previous similar initiatives haven’t really changed the amount of single-use plastic produced, purchased and thrown out.  The Province needs to implement a program with teeth that will force manufacturers to reduce packaging, and that will dissuade people from wasting food, avoiding single-use plastic, and buying too much stuff. As for littering, which is still a big problem, perhaps it’s time to install hidden cameras – or more policing?

A motion by Mayor Lowry to provide annual municipal support for the Clayton Recreation Club and the Union Hall Community Centre was quickly agreed to.  This Staff will determine an appropriate funding formula, which will be reviewed by Council for discussion at a future date.

At the very end of the agenda was added a Notice of Motion, which means just that – it is advance notice of a motion that will be presented at a subsequent Council meeting.  Councillor Dalgity put forward a motion to suspend the rules governing such notices to have this item discussed immediately.  (The item concerned accelerating the process for researching and pricing the installation of two sets of traffic lights, one on Ottawa Street and Paterson, and a second on Ottawa Street and Sadler Drive.)  In answer to the concerns voiced that there was insufficient justification for waiving this by-law, and that Council needed to respect the process, Councillor Dalgity argued that the safety of the Almonte children crossing these streets was at risk, and the item needed to be dealt with immediately.  Even to the untrained person, it seems obvious that one can’t go installing traffic lights willy-nilly without performing a proper study, and that one can’t go approving costly projects without budgeting for them.  In the end, Councillor Dalgity asked for a recorded vote.  Councillors Dalgity, Maydan, Guerard and Holmes voted yay, and the rest nay.  Could this have been a(nother) politically motivated attempt?

In conclusion, if we could dispense with these petty political manoeuvres, our municipal Council could be much more productive.  With all the arbitrary provincial cutbacks and rule changes coming down the line and being dumped on our municipalities, wouldn’t the logical choice be for Council to work TOGETHER?  There has already been good evidence of collaboration – let’s have more of that, please!