More Good Tidings:  The Mississippi Mills Council Meeting on January 28, 2020 

by Theresa Peluso

I think I may just start looking forward to Council meetings! Those of you who didn’t attend last Tuesday’s meeting missed a truly inspiring experience.  And, apart from the very moving ceremony that Elder Larry McDermott led, the rest of the evening was very civil and productive.

Recordings of the Council meeting and the Committee of the Whole meeting can be found at here and here.

This Council meeting report will focus on aspects of the meeting of particular interest to me; namely aspects that reflect good governance (or not), and aspects that address issues with a societal or environmental component.

A very special guest

First, a little background on events that culminated in the invitation to two special guests, Dr. Larry McDermott, an Algonquin Elder from Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation and Executive Director of Plenty Canada, and Mireille Lapointe, former Chief with Ardoch Algonquins.

In the past, our Municipal Council has acknowledged the presence of Indigenous Nations on this land before the arrival of settlers. This year Mayor Christa Lowry who had attended a blanket exercise led by Mireille Lapointe, former Chief of the Ardoch First Nation, committed to developing and providing a meaningful experience of this acknowledgement, as a first step in renewing in an official way, the friendship between the Algonquin people and settlers.  To this end, Mayor Lowry invited Dr. Larry McDermott , an Algonquin Elder from Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation and Executive Director of Plenty Canada and Mireille Lapointe, to participate.

To start the meeting, Mayor Lowry shared a story of her own family who had enjoyed a close friendship and good neighbourly relationships with Joe Bay and his Algonquin family who lived in this area many years ago.

After introductions by the mayor, Elder McDermott and Mireille Lapointe shared a smudging ceremony with our elected officials whose participation on behalf of us all symbolized a “Nation to Nation” event celebrating a renewal of our relationship.  This was my very first experience of the smudging ceremony, and I am very grateful to Mayor Lowry and Mississippi Mills All My Relations organizers Sue Evans and Bev Hunter for making this possible.

For those of you who, like me (until now), are unfamiliar with this ceremony, it is a custom of Indigenous Peoples to create a cleansing smoke bath ritual to purify body, mind and spirit.

This happens, for example, in preparation for a meeting before discussions take place.  The ceremony begins with the Elder lighting with a match, Indigenous medicines consisting of tobacco, sweetgrass, sage and cedar mixed in a shell or ceramic bowl and using an eagle feather to fan the medicines until they smolder.

The plants used have different significations:  tobacco to open the door to the spiritual world and carry our prayers to the Creator, sage to eliminate negative energy, cedar to offer protection and grounding, and sweetgrass to teach kindness.  The Elder then takes the bowl and offers an opportunity to anyone in the gathered circle to bathe different parts of their body with the smoke from these four medicines.

This opportunity was offered to all the Councillors and Staff members seated at the table.  This ritual was profoundly moving and seemed to captivate everyone in attendance.  Although I tend to be a little wary of rituals in general, I was truly affected by this ceremony – I could feel joy and hope in the air, and a sense of community with everyone there.

Following the smudging ceremony, Mayor Lowry read the land acknowledgement statement that had been carefully written through consultation with Elder McDermott and with support from Councilor Jan Maydan and representatives from Mississippi Mills All My Relations, Bev Hunter and Sue Evans.  The acknowledgement which is now part of the official record is the following:

We acknowledge that this sacred land on which Mississippi Mills is now located has been a site of human activity for over 10,000 years and is rich in Indigenous history. This land is the ancestral and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation. We are grateful to the Algonquin ancestors who cared for the land and water in order that we might meet here today.

Before settlers arrived, this territory was subject to the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Nations to peaceably share and care for resources. After settlers arrived, it became subject to the Three Figure Wampum Belt, last carried by Algonquin Elder William Commanda, which commemorates the sharing of this land with English, French and Indigenous Nations under the governance of Natural Law.

We recognize with gratitude the knowledge and contributions that the Algonquin Peoples bring to the Municipality of Mississippi Mills. Today, Mississippi Mills is also home to other Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island. We extend our respect to all First Nations, Inuit and Métis people for their valuable past and present contributions.

We are mindful of broken covenants and the need to reconcile with all our relations. Together, may we care for this land and each other, drawing on the strength of our mutual history of nation building through peace and friendship being mindful of generations to come.

Elder McDermott explained the significance of each step in this ceremony as he went along.  He also stressed, echoing Mayor Lowry’s affirmation of the friendship between her grandparents and the First Nations people, the positive interactions between immigrants to this land and his people.  (Any negative interactions were completely absent from Elder McDermott or Mayor Lowry’s comments.)

He displayed a copy of the “Pledge of the Crown” wampum belt created and given by the British in 1815 that he carries, and explained that it was an expression of love and peace between the British Crown and a large gathering of different Indigenous tribes.  This belt expressed a sacred promise that the Crown would not interfere with their right to possess and govern all the land that was theirs before the war.

In his Call for Action Elder McDermott made several references to the report issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the commitment in this report by the Government of Canada to align our cultural values with those of the First Nations so that we ALL honour our Earth by protecting and nurturing our natural environment – by combining modern science and native wisdom to live as ONE with Nature.  Elder McDermott also called on all of us to honour cultural diversity in Canada – to live in harmony with other people.

This being the year 2020, the year of perfect vision, would that we all heed Elder McDermott’s Call for Action by matching our actions to these goals!

Public Meeting

There was one deputation this evening, by Julie Stewart, County Planner, accompanied by our municipal Planner Niki Dwyer, to explain how the County’s Sustainable Communities Official Plan meshes with Mississippi Mills’ Community Official Plan.  She addressed the three main areas subject to modification: the Natural Heritage System, agricultural lands, and rural settlement areas.

In addition, Planner Stewart also referred to the need for the municipality to ensure that water, wastewater, and stormwater plans were all sufficient to meet the requirements of any new development.  It seems, despite repeated statements by Minister Steve Clark of Municipal Affairs and Housing, which assured everyone that red tape would be removed for developers, there have been no new statements from his Ministry.

Perhaps a realization that all this “red tape” is actually needed to ensure consumer protection from shoddy business practices?  Slowing down development also provides a chance for municipalities to safeguard Mother Nature from further degradation, in keeping with Elder McDermott’s Call to Action.

Then followed a public meeting on a proposed development on Riverfront Estates of a 44-unit apartment dwelling.

The developer had asked for a zoning by-law amendment to reduce the setback from adjacent agricultural land from 10 metres (in Almonte the 30-metre setback required for rural developments does not apply) to 6 metres, and to increase the maximum density of the property above what had already been set.

A number of objections were raised by residents:  the encroachment on adjacent agricultural land (which the developer also owns (!)), the lack of information regarding the provision of affordable housing as recommended by the Provincial Policy Statement, and the added parking and traffic stresses to what is already a congested part of Almonte.

Committee of the Whole meeting

After a short break, the Committee of the Whole started, chaired by Councillor John Dalgity.

During the review of the CAO Report, Council Jan Maydan asked for an update to Community Official Plan Amendment 21, referenced in this report.  This amendment, which focuses on rural and agricultural land use in Mississippi Mills, has been appealed, and therefore any decision-making regarding this amendment has been frozen.  In the meantime, the original Community Official Plan (COP) is being followed.

Although outdated, this COP appears to contain sufficient provisions to safeguard our natural heritage areas and agricultural land, gifts of Mother Nature.  Let’s hope that any future amendments by our Council to the COP improve on these protections.

Roadside Spraying The next major item on the COW agenda was the 2020 Wild Parsnip Management Plan in the Roads and Public Works Report (see this link ).

Councillor Bev Holmes asked Director of Roads and Public Works (R&PW) Guy Bourgon and Environmental Compliance Coordinator Abby Armstrong what methodology had been used to determine the levels of infestation on these roads. The explanation was that the summer student hired last year for this assignment used a Geographic Information System (GIS) to do this.

Then Councillor Holmes asked if last year’s information was being used to determine this year’s level of infestation (difficult to do at the moment, given all the snow!), and the reply was yes.  (In other words, a wild guess.)

Then Councillor Maydan pointed out that herbicide treatment of wild parsnip at the County had decreased by 85 percent, and wanted to know what the results were for Mississippi Mills. To which the response was that R&PW were working on that now (that pesky snow problem again), but that they were moving towards more spot-spraying.

Mayor Lowry asked if R&PW had any plan to continue the Native Pollinator Project by over-planting with native seed, as Lanark County have done, and to follow the County’s other actions (including the reduced use of pesticides) to help sustain and encourage monarch butterflies. Ms. Armstrong replied that she would need to contact Lanark County Public Works on that initiative.

The question was also asked if R&PW had considered creating an Integrated Vegetative Management Plan like Lanark County’s, to which Ms. Armstrong said she would follow that up, and could implement a Mississippi Mills version this year if that was Council’s wish.  (Recall Council’s motion two months ago to do exactly this, in conjunction with Friends of Lanark County (FOLC).  Why the delay?)

Deputy Mayor Rickey Minnille expressed concern that R&PW’s assessment might be incorrect, and hoped that the Agricultural Advisory Sub-Committee (AASC) could provide input on what areas to boom- and spot-spray.  Ms. Armstrong replied that the roads designated for spraying were not a final decision, and that R&PW would consider removing roads from the list (unlike what happened last year, I guess, where R&PW didn’t budge despite receiving a petition against spraying signed by nearly 500 people and countless letters objecting to all the boom-spraying).

Councillor Holmes then mentioned that R&PW sprayed mowed lawns last year, and asked if this was the County’s policy as well.  Again, Ms. Armstrong said she would check with the County. Why wasn’t this done last year?

Councillor Cynthia Guerard pointed out that, in fact, Lanark County have a grooming policy – they don’t spray maintained lawns – and asked if this could be part of Mississippi Mills’ policy.

R&PW Director Bourgon said that it wasn’t always the case that property owners with mowed lawns objected to spraying, and also suggested that property owners might not continue to mow their lawns after the spraying period.  This suggests a rather cavalier attitude towards boom-spraying an untested poison where there is no need – just to satisfy the whims of a few property owners.

Councillor Maydan reminded Ms. Armstrong that FOLC was to be consulted, and also that organic farms needed to be exempted from spraying (which the AASC will determine).

At the end of this discussion the following motion was passed:

THAT Committee of the Whole recommend Council receive the 2020 Wild
Parsnip Management Program as outlined in the Environmental Compliance
Coordinator’s Report dated January 28, 2020, as information;
AND THAT Committee of the Whole recommend Council direct staff to
participate in the joint tender being issued by the County of Lanark for roadside
weed spraying;
AND THAT Committee of the Whole recommend that Council Direct Staff to
include information on the follow-up report regarding the continued pilot Pollinator
seed project, three components of the Mayor’s Pledge, an Integrative Vegetative
Management Plan, and information from Lanark County’s management program.
CARRIED 

(Addendum: Following this meeting, Ms. Armstrong published a request for residents to provide feedback – before February 13 –  on R&PW’s proposed plan to combat wild parsnip.  More information can be found here.

Finance and Administration

The 2020 budget was then passed, following some questions by Councillor Guerard about the plans for a new water storage facility for Almonte.

There were also questions regarding how municipal drainage works are handled.  It seems that requests of repair or improve drainage works are initiated by the property owner affected by drainage problems, and these owners then work with municipal staff on a course of action to repair/improve them.  The cost is borne entirely by these property owners.

Questions also arose concerning the redesign of the municipal website – long overdue – and Councillor Mayden praised Acting Clerk Jeanne Harcourt for her hard work in helping to make this happen.

Mayor’s Report

Councillor Denzil Ferguson posed a question on broadband Internet, in connection with Mayor Lowry’s Report on the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference she attended.  He wanted to know where Mississippi Mills stood with respect to Premier Doug Ford’s announcement of upcoming broadband pilot projects for rural communities like ours.

The answer was that there was no new information, and that the emphasis was on municipalities to develop partnerships with interested broadband companies.  She also explained that although Bell Canada have a new product to expand broadband access, the market they’ll be targeting is the low-hanging fruit – which doesn’t include us.  There are some other possible leads involving COGECO and another unnamed entrepreneur, but no definite answers for now.

Conclusion

Again, I found this meeting to be very positive, with a genuine effort to constructively deal with the concerns of residents.  If Mississippi Mills can work hand-in-hand with the positive social and environmental initiatives now being promoted by Lanark County, we can all look forward to achieving our pledge to honour our Earth by protecting and nurturing our natural environment, and living in harmony with other people.

The next Council meeting takes place on February 4 (just one week after this one).  I guess I’m looking forward to it!