Collaborative Consultation to End the Year – with a Convoluted Coda:  The Mississippi Mills Council meeting on December 17, 2019

by Theresa Peluso

Mayor’s Annual Address

Mayor Christa Lowry began the meeting with a review of the year gone by.  She reminded Council and the attending public of the great loss to the community of Deputy Mayor John Levi soon after the last municipal elections.  She then described our new Deputy Mayor, Rickey Minnille, as a welcome addition to Council, and “full of charisma and heart”.

Of course there was mention of the Toronto Raptors’ achievement last June as the first team ever from outside the U.S. to win the NBA Championship, and the spill-over effect as Almonte made headlines in the Washington Post.  Also highlighted was Mississippi Mills’ growing fame as the “Small Hollywood of the North”, thanks to the Hallmark movies being filmed here.  Mayor Lowry also mentioned numerous appointments to staff, including our new CAO and our new Fire Chief.

Major projects were mentioned, including completion of the Stewart Community Centre, Victoria Street upgrades, cross-overs in Pakenham and Almonte, and expansion of the Almonte daycare centre by 63 spaces..

Soon after, the first of three delegations began.

The Silver Chain Challenge

Jeff Mills, Community Development Coordinator of Carebridge Community Support, gave some background on the Silver Chain Challenge.

Mississippi Mills, which started Bicycle Month in June 2008, is ahead of the curve in promoting active transportation, since it was seven whole years later that Ontario proclaimed June as Bicycle Month.  Bicycle Month has been a resounding success in our corner of the Province, as it continues to fulfill its aim of encouraging safe bicycling as a way to stay fit, have fun, and meet other people in the community.

Mr. Mills explained that the Silver Chain Challenge is one of many activities during Bicycle Month. This is a friendly competition between a growing number of participating communities from across Eastern Ontario to inspire and promote more active, safe, and healthier communities. From June 1 through 30, participating municipal residents are invited to log their kilometres, whether walking or biking. The community and county that records the greatest number of kilometres biked or walked wins the Challenge. In 2014, two counties participated, with a total of 316 participants who walked or biked 47,536 km. Compare that with the 2019 results, when six counties participated, with a total of 2,235 participants who walked or biked 94,494 km!

Mr. Mills asked our Councillors to work with residents to organize walking and riding activities during Bicycle Month, to continue to make walking and cycling infrastructure priorities in our municipality, including the OVRT, and to set an example by participating themselves in Bicycle Month activities, and by challenging other municipalities and counties to do likewise.

August Street Park Activities

Mr. Mills then provided an update on Augusta Street Park (ASP). Friends of ASP was first formed in the spring of 2011, with huge involvement from Linda Nilson, who was present as part of Mr. Mills’ delegation this evening.  Ms. Nilson and her neighbours wanted to transform the park from a “party place” for aimless teens to an inclusive park open to all ages and all levels of ability.  They also wanted this park to be a memorial to the four children from this neighbourhood who died in the 1965 fire.

They have had a huge level of support from the rest of the community to realize their vision.  Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardens have created and maintained a garden in the park.  Businesses such as Ultramar, organizations like the Hub and the Almonte Civitan Community Hall, and numerous individuals have all found ways to help. NBA Canada contributed by revitalizing the basketball court at ASP, and produced a hugely popular video which highlighted Linda Nilson’s daughter Sarah, enjoying the new amenities.

Every year the Friends of ASP hold a series of events called Five Wednesdays in July (200 to 300 attendees per event) to celebrate the park. They are now planning to fund-raise to build a small appropriately-sized splash pad for the park.

Planet Youth Lanark County

The third delegation was by Fraser Scantlebury, Regional Director of United Way East Ontario.  He gave an inspiring account of Planet Youth.  This program was started in Iceland in the mid-1990s, to address a huge problem with youth disaffection, as evidenced by alcohol abuse, drug abuse and high levels of cigarette smoking.

Between 1998 and 2018, as a result of this innovative program, the percentage of Grade 10 students in Iceland who had been drunk in the past 30 days fell from 42 percent to 5 percent.  The percentage of students who smoked daily dropped from 23 percent to 2 percent, and the number of Grade 10 students who used cannabis once or more in their lifetime dropped from 17 percent to 6 percent.  During this time, as a result of various interventions, adolescents have spent more time with their families and in extra-curricular activities, and peer-group relationships have improved.  And what’s more, the incidence of bullying, juvenile crime and youth entering drug treatment has decreased.

According to Professor Inga Dóra Sigfúsdóttir, Founding Director of the Icelandic Centre for Social Research and Analysis (ICSRA) at Reykjavik University: “We learned through the studies that we need to create circumstances in which kids can lead healthy lives, and they do not need to use substances, because life is fun, and they have plenty to do—and they are supported by parents who will spend time with them.”

Globally there are 110 communities in 30 countries participating, and Lanark County is the first community anywhere in Canada to embrace Planet Youth methodology. So we’re pioneering this project here!

Planet Youth Lanark County (PYLC) is headed by a Steering Committee with leadership and support from many local organizations in addition to United Way, including local school boards, the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, Open Doors for Lanark Children and Youth, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and police service boards.  PYLC have signed a five-year service agreement with ICSRA, and have engaged with the Public Health Agency of Canada to develop a Canadian context for this program. At present, PYLC have collaborated with the school boards to acquire grade 10 youth data to establish a baseline. They will now focus on a five-year prevention and education program, and then conduct a survey every two years to monitor changes.  They are also hoping to expand this program to other municipalities and counties in Canada.

Mr. Scantlebury stressed that one important factor in reducing youth disaffection is the amount of time parents spend with their children.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be “quality” time; it can be just “quantity”.  Simply being in the same room with your teen, each of you doing your own thing, is beneficial. In answer to a question from a Councillor, he said that vaping will probably be included in subsequent questionnaires, as well as any other kinds of harmful activities that have been overlooked.

Mr. Scantlebury emphasized that Planet Youth Lanark County are not requesting money from Mississippi Mills Council.  They are, however, seeking support from Council to further this community-based program by having our Councillors participate in an upcoming ICSRA workshop, and partner in public meetings and media events that publicize this program.

Consent Items

The CAO’s Report for December, the Drinking Water Quality Management Report for the third quarter, and the Financial Report to the end of November passed fairly smoothly.  The minutes from the various Advisory Committees likewise.

Discussion then moved to particular motions that had been highlighted in the Finance and Policy Advisory Committee Report (F&PAC Report).  First, it was recommended that the current Delegated Authority for competitive procurement for Mississippi Mills remain in force, with some minor adjustments.

Mayor Christa Lowry thanked the Finance and Policy Advisory Committee for their hard work on this item, then asked if the Delegated Authority process would be referred to staff for review and for recommendations on next steps.  Treasurer Rhonda Whitmarsh agreed that would be the case.  This was approved.

Then, there was a motion from the F&PAC Report related to Debt Management; namely, to update the debt management policy within the context of the Municipal Strategic Plan, Long-Term Financial Plan and the Asset Management Plan.  One of the concerns raised was whether our municipality should establish debt limits, as has been done in some other jurisdictions.  Treasurer Whitmarsh suggested that the motion on the table be amended to include “considering best practices of other municipalities”.  The motion was then carried.

Departmental Reports

The Roads and Public Works (R&PW) report consisted mainly of an update on Green Stream, a source of funding through the Canada Infrastructure Program (CIP), to upgrade our municipality’s underground infrastructure (water-main, sanitary-sewer, etc.), some of which dates back to the 1930s.

R&PW Director Guy Bourgon presented an analysis done by staff as to possible sites eligible for this funding.  It was agreed that the municipality apply for funding through the CIP to upgrade the infrastructure for Queen/Martin Streets from Princess Street to the Maclan Bridge.  After some constructive discussion on this motion on various aspects (other infrastructure-upgrade options, possible additional funding, the likelihood of tax increases, options for long-term financing, the number of grant applications already made by our municipality, etc.), this motion was carried.

Next up was the Planning Activity Report. Director of Building and Planning Niki Dwyer explained that the Land Sale Bylaw had been amended to address Councillor Jan Maydan’s concern (raised at a previous meeting) about the definition of “developed parkland”, which will now be exempt from rezoning for other uses.

Planner Dwyer then, on a different aspect of the Report, explained that the number of requests for zoning amendments had increased by 97 percent in 2019.  She pointed out that this increase resulted from the high level of building activity this year, plus the fact that much of this building took place on waterfront lots (which have more zoning restrictions).  Planner Dwyer also mentioned that there had been a 42-percent revenue increase from 2019, and anticipated a similar increase this coming year.  The report was approved.

Next up was the Bylaw Service Contract.  In 2018, Council authorized the execution of a two-year contract with Municipal Law Enforcement Services (MLES) to provide enforcement services to the municipality for matters related to animal control, parking enforcement and general bylaw enforcement. The contract will be terminated at the end of this month.

Councillor Maydan expressed her satisfaction with this new re-organization, and with how this agency was handling bylaw violations, because her job as Councillor was made easier by the fact that fewer upset residents were contacting her. As a result of the overall positive feedback, the contract was renewed for another year.

Administration and Finance

All the 2020 municipal grants were approved without discussion.

The Final Procedural Bylaw was also approved.  As a follow-up to removing the open-forum section (explained in my previous report), staff will prepare a report for February outlining various public engagement strategies and opportunities for Council’s consideration. It is planned to have the new Procedural Bylaw in place by the first meeting in January.  At that time, Councillor John Dalgity will replace Deputy Mayor Minnille as Committee of the Whole chairperson.

Information Items

Mayor Lowry announced that Light Up the Night and the Almonte and Pakenham Santa Claus parades were another huge success this year, and thanked the many volunteers, community organizations, businesses, churches, and clubs who contributed their time and enthusiasm.  Mayor Lowry also thanked Tiffany MacLaren, Community Economic and Cultural Coordinator, for all her hard work in synchronizing everyone’s efforts.

County Report

Amendment 21 to Mississippi Mills’ Community Official Plan was finally approved by the County.  In the main, the County’s restrictions on potential urban sprawl seem to have been kept, although the possible impacts on natural habitat and agricultural lands are not clear.

Mayor Lowry also mentioned the provincial changes to our current health care management, in which LHINs (Local Health Integrated Networks) are being replaced by Ontario Health Teams (OHTs), and said the County wants any new OHT to include Lanark County in its entirety, unlike the current LHIN situation.

Some concern was raised regarding the County’s parking changes on the section of County Rd 29 that runs through downtown Pakenham; specifically, the County’s new bylaw, which now restricts parking along County Rd 29 for 25 metres on either side of the follow streets: Waba Rd, Elizabeth St., and Jeanie St., presumably to permit better sight-lines in connection with the new cross-overs.  Councillor Denzil Ferguson

said that he’d had enough of Pakenham hogging the limelight at Council meetings with various pedestrian safety and parking issues, and wanted this bylaw discussed before it became yet another bone of contention.  He questioned whether this 25-metre distance exceeded provincial requirements.  Mayor Lowry said she would try to get clarification from the County.

Return to Council session

All motions approved during the COW were formally approved with little discussion.  Then, under New Business, Councillor Cynthia Guerard’s motion was up for discussion.

My initial interpretation of Councillor Guerard’s Notice of (this) Motion at the previous meeting was incorrect. In fact, her motion was for the two Mississippi Mills Councillors on Lanark County Council (Mayor Lowry and Deputy Mayor Minnille) to prepare written reports from the County Council meeting and Committee meetings, to be included in the Mississippi Mills Council agenda.

Over the past year, Mayor Lowry’s practice has been to provide an oral report and brief written highlights on all County Council meetings.  In response to Councillor Guerard’s motion, Mayor Lowry pointed out that all the details are available on the County website.  She also said that County meetings are open to everyone, and that Councillor Guerard is welcome to attend and hear the discussions for herself, which didn’t seem to suit Councillor Guerard. Then Councillor Guerard upped the ante, and said the information on the County website is insufficient.  What she now wanted was a detailed written account of every single agenda item discussed at the County, including the details of who said what about which item.  Mayor Lowry explained that she didn’t have time to do as requested, especially since the timing of both the County and municipal Council meetings was such that she couldn’t submit this information in time for the municipal cut-off date for agenda submissions for Council meetings.  Mayor Lowry then offered to circulate the County Council minutes to all Councillors before the meeting, with an invitation for questions from Councillors about any item in those minutes. But this didn’t appear suitable either. When Acting Clerk Jeanne Harfield asked Councillor Guerard exactly what she wanted, the Councillor’s response then was that she wasn’t sure.

Councillor Jan Maydan tried to help out by proposing that Mayor Lowry provide a short one-page synopsis of items pertaining specifically to our municipality, and advise Councillors of any upcoming items of interest that would be discussed at the County – which is what Mayor Lowry already does.  But somehow this didn’t suit Councillor Guerard either, and she then went on to revisit old grudges related to the recent Waba Road no-parking decision, and then something that happened over a year ago in connection with a mis-directed letter from the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing – before she was called to order by Mayor Lowry.

In the end, Councillor Guerard’s motion was lost because no one voted for it. After the Council meeting ended, I saw Mayor Lowry engaged in a conversation with Councillor Guerard, who was still seated at the Council table.  I assume Mayor Lowry was trying to better understand and address Councillor Guerard’s concerns, and bring the old year to a close in an amicable way.

To conclude, it seems that our new Council is developing a somewhat productive working relationship, with perhaps one exception. Mayor Lowry, Deputy Mayor Minnille and Councillor Ferguson are doing everything in their power to keep our meetings positive and constructive.  If all our Councillors can commit themselves to being guided by the principles of honesty and fairness, respect for the health and safety of all their constituents, responsible management of our resources and natural environment, and if they can reject any negative influences, next year will herald a positive synergy for all of us in Mississippi Mills.  That’s certainly my wish for the New Year!