Friday, July 18, 2014

I keep updating this so I'm hoping its not reposting every time to peoples RSS feeds. My apologies if it does.

An Open Letter to Wakefield and our Northern Rural Communities

If you love your town

Progress is coming your way and you might not be able to recognize it when it does. The process has already started for you so perhaps it is better if this is directed to the smaller towns even further north of you. It is not too late for them perhaps.

This is my handy guide for recognizing how I believe Progress is done. This is my opinion only. I repeat. It is my opinion only. Others will disagree violently and accuse me of many things. I am used to it. Even as I write this I know nothing can be done. It is the way it is. But by understanding the process I'm hoping Wakefield and other town residents will stand strong together. That has not happened in Chelsea.

And all of this will happen because there just isn't enough money in Municipal coffers. You will be told Progress is the only way to save your village. That, unfortunately, may be true. Progress is what Municipalities have to do. Unless there is another way I don't know about. Unfortunately there has I believe never been one municipality who has gone through the Progress of which I speak that has come out of it without an unmanageable debt. Costs always seem to end up being more than projected income. And the costs to service that debt grows.

I wrote this simply to spare some grief for those who still believe in the rural nature of the place they wanted to live. If you can look out the window and see green fields and forests do not take them for granted. Always remember that Progress depends on apathy.
  • Who you elect is more than important. It is critical. Make sure none of your councillors or the mayor own large tracts of land in the region or prime centre town property. And if they do, you will want guarantees about what happens to that land during their time in office. Zoning, e.g.
  • If there are large tracts of land in your region, know what is happening to them. Farmers and owners deserve a fair market value. Evaluate if by purchasing these lands to dedicate to greenspace at fair market value if your municipality will actually save huge expenses down the road for infrastructure. You can find out who owns what and their assessed value here: There is information online to find out who owns a particular numbered company. A numbered company is usually created so that if it goes bankrupt it writes off its debt and the parent company is not affected. It is important that any contract with a numbered company includes obligations by its parent company if at all possible. I do not know if that is possible.
  • Beware the back-room deals. Large tracts of land that are sold behind closed doors. A fair part of the mountain that cradle's Chelsea Village, e.g. was sold to a man who made the Church an offer they could not refuse with the blessing of the then Mayor. The land was sold at below market prices and the residents affected were not given a chance to express an opinion or bid on any part of it. The deal was done before they knew about it. It is now a Spa. A hotel is planned. Some people would call that a clever business move. Others would say it was unconscionable. 
  • Know who your elected official's friends are. Make sure they are friends with a few of the little people in this world. Some people do not know the difference between a house and a home.
  • Watch those wee little things in the paper about rezoning land. Learn to recognize what those letters on the map mean.
  • Go to Council meetings if you are able to and if not, read Minutes of meetings. Know who your councillor is and say boo now and then. Support your councillors if they are honest. Make sure you stand up and speak if you see your councillor being subjected to any forms of intimidation. 
  • Do not let Progress hijack your Council. You will recognize this when democracy as it is intended is no longer recognizable. It has reached a bad stage when your Council begins to seemingly act like Stepford Wives… well you will know what I'm talking about when you get there. Let's just say that if all your council members agree with each other and are patting you on the head and telling you there is nothing to worry your little heads about--start worrying. Plastic smiles are the worst. Avoid them.
  • PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT. Listen to the drumbeat. Rumblings will start in the community telling you that you need something. In the case of Chelsea it was a new community centre. At the island of EB Eddy the First Nations will be getting a Friendship Centre. In Farmpoint it was an Old folks Home. Sometimes those needs, such as the Old Folks Home are wanted and needed. But who provides those things and at what costs? Make sure you can separate out needs from wants. Why is someone telling you what you need? Figure out the difference between "nice to have" and "vitally important." Know your town's budget. You don't need what you cannot afford. Understand spin. In Farm Point, e.g. they must accept development in order to have their Old Folks Home. Is this a decision they "had" to make? Do you know the answer to that? It is critical to recognize options you are not given to entertain. When asked to choose between this or that, find a third, fourth, fifth option if you can.
  • Innocent people will be used as tools to promote the agenda. It is not their fault. Those who want Progress are very clever.
  • Environmental laws, rather than actually serving the environment are twisted into tools to bring Progress. Actual real environmental issues tend to be put aside to serve instead the agenda of Progress. Your septic field may be fine but you will have to partake in the big new one now. They may be building in the Gatineau Park but we don't have time or staff to look at that. You'll need a permit to cut a tree but Progress can raze down forests. You get to watch. You will feel sometimes that rules and regulations are only for the little people.
  • Pay attention to your elders. If they are in a ruckus and making noise it's because they are likely to be more familiar with things than you might be. If your elders are raising hell at Council meetings, listen to them. They know whereof they speak and they are from a generation that still believes in integrity and sacrifice and fiscal responsibility.
  • Make sure you are familiar with the budget of any project undertaken and watch its progress like a hawk. Things promised to be 2.6 million for example will suddenly seemingly overnight turn into 10 million. Watch for changes such as 2 houses per acre turning into 4. You will be told it has to be done. That may morph into 6 or 8. You cannot believe promises.  Perhaps the elderly of Farm Point's Old Folks Home are so far from Wakefield they'll need amenities near by? Just a few little stores and such. Who could deny such things to our dear elderly? Will water lines have to be put in to meet the Old Folks Home needs? Bait and switch is often used.
  • The most important thing to watch for is divisions. The population will find itself pitted against each other over some of these projects. It is the divide and conquer tactic. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOUR COMMUNITY. Constant arguments and divisiveness will wear you down eventually. That is what Progress wants. Progress wants you to give up. And you will. Very very few will not.
  • Progress coming to a small town is particularly cruel. In small towns everyone knows everyone else and the lines between doing and saying what you believe can become extremely difficult. Everyone knows and likes the guy at a particular business who is advocating for Progress, but it doesn't mean you have to support him if it goes against your beliefs. You can simply say I love you and will support you but not in this because I do not like what is happening.  It is important to be true to yourself. Your friend may be dependant on Progress and the people who bring it. This is not his fault necessarily. Just like you, he is trying to survive. Show compassion but stand your ground. True friends will understand. Adults will understand. If they cannot understand still try to find compassion and do not get into arguments. There is no reason for you to lose a friendship over an outside influence whose duty is only to itself.
  • Progress wants to see you argue about some things but not others. You will argue over what colour to paint the roof of a new mega store instead of if that store should be there or not. Direct your own arguments.
  • You will be confused. That's deliberate. You will be overwhelmed with technical information and long-winded spin tactics. It will take up most of your time. Progress wants that. If you try to understand that you will face bureaucratic stonewalls and access to information request forms and significant delays. You will be told that what you see is not what you see. This is a very sophisticated form of manipulation. The greater the lie, the more willing people are to believe it.
  • Be prepared for an incredible amount of push back. This will happen particularly if Progress gets any kind of negative press. You will be told you are wrong, stupid, silly, etc. These attacks can be outright or they can be cleverly inferred. Ignore it. Continue always with your position of seeking the truth. Do not let them intimidate you. All you are asking for is facts. You have to learn to be tough. In small towns most people are kind and honest. They have never had to deal with the kind of dishonesty, deception and outright lies before that Progress sometimes brings. So much so, that it seems incredulous. Trust your instincts. Know Progress will lie. Know they will stretch the truth. Know they will say one thing one day and another the next. Stick to your guns. Keep careful records so you can call them on past promises or statements.
  • Watch always for the ways of rhetoric. One of the most favourite methods of not directly answering a question is redirection of debate to something that is controversial in the community, taking the spotlight away from the original question. Keep to your question. Have them put an answer on record. Here's a very handy guide to forms of verbal manipulation:
  • I don't normally quote a nazi but here it is: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
  • Progress, if it receives any kind of negative press, will immediately launch into a rush mode before anyone has a chance to react. Meetings will be held immediately to vote in things that are controversial. Do not allow decisions to be rushed. Insist on the time necessary to fully explore any proposition or intended vote.
  • Progress always hires a marketer or communication consultant. This person is not necessarily going to tell you the truth. It is often what they don't tell you that is most important. Organize your own meetings, moderators and facilitators. Do not allow someone else to direct your meetings, e.g. anyone who would stand to profit from Progress. Write your own agenda.
  • Legal threats will abound. Silence of dissent, such as mises-en-demeures, will be flying faster than a mosquito in a windstorm. Unlike the rest of us mere mortals who have learned how to handle disagreements, this group in favour of Progress have big pockets and delegate all wrangling to lawyers. They don't get their hands dirty. They don't care about you. They will never have to look you in the eye. They want to scare you.
  • Reports will be commissioned. Lots and lots of them. Make sure you understand the full parameters of what the initial request was and ensure it includes all options so it does not reach biased conclusions.
  • You will be asked to participate in some of these projects so they may then say they asked for participation. They know 50% or more of the people will not be bothered to show up or participate. All of the facts will not be on the table, such as true budget figures. You will feel like a fool if you, having participated, learn the costs have become outrageous. You will not want to admit this. After all, you've made so many new friends and you've all worked so hard together and wasn't it fun! Think of how nice it will be! You will stick to the project like glue even when it triples in price. This is how divide and conquer works. You will be fighting for Progress when you never even wanted it when you started out. You will have forgotten how you and your neighbours had asked repeatedly that your village be kept rural in nature.  You've forgotten that. You've forgotten about your neighbours that are struggling. You will be working for Progress. They like that. Talk to each other first. Do your own survey. Know what you want or don't want first before participating in any public consultation and stick to it.
  • The words "Community Building" will be thrown around a lot. You already have a community. You don't need to create an artificial one. You will not recognize your community once Progress has arrived.
  • Somebody is making money. A great deal of money. It is not you. You can recognize those who are advocating Progress because they aren't eating at Jean Burger or the Tulip Valley. Always follow the money.
  • You will likely be told not to worry about the costs as most of it will be absorbed by the developments and businesses. What does that mean? Will they be paying the money up front? Will you as taxpayer be taking on the debt with a promissory note? That is a different kettle of fish. What will the interest on that debt be? What if they do not honour their agreement? What protection do you have? Look at this promise carefully.
  • Those who want Progress will have very strong organized lobby groups. You need the same thing to represent your citizens. Do not cavalierly assume your Council is acting in your best interest. Organize this the instant you see Progress coming your way. Stay united. Progress will attempt to buy many of the people in your group. They will go so far as to make them dependant on their Progress agenda. People will become quiet. It is not their fault.
  • The silent majority is insignificant. This is very important to know. They are silent. They do not count. They will not be there to support or reject you. The only thing the silent majority is responsible for is that unjust things will happen simply because the silent majority has allowed it; by not voting, by not speaking out, by not participating. They have allowed some of the worst atrocities in history to happen. It is an historical reality. We have not learned from history.
  • The "perceived" needs to rationalize Progress may sometimes be orchestrated. Do not take anything for granted. Go to the source. Is the water really bad at the schools, e.g.?
  • It is the oldest game in the book to ask taxpayers to take the risk financially while Progress turns your fields and forests into pretty artificial village centres and developments. Cantley is not a fair example as the developer there took on the costs, did not ask for public funding or grants, kept to the Municipal guidelines and reaped his profits as did the Municipal coffers. When developers and businesses are asking for public funds. Be wise. Think about it.
  • Those on fixed-incomes will be forced to leave because of increasing evaluations and taxes. It will be a sad time for some. New people will arrive. Eventually you won't know your neighbour because there are just so many of them.

I wrote this because if nothing else I want to stress again and again, please please avoid the divisiveness. It is the worst. You will disagree. This is normal. It is part of the democratic process. Nobody is the bad guy. Fighting only raises your blood-pressure. Agree to disagree. If necessary refuse to discuss it. Make your views known through process, such as votes and/or questions to councillors. Stay happy. Be compassionate with each other. It is nobody's fault. You didn't stand a chance.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reality Chelsea

If you ever thought there was a place for Reality TV, cameras following around the odd assortment of characters in Chelsea these last few years would have had a number 1 rated show. Between the deeply divided public, the short-staffed Council, the swarming developers and the unhappy business people, it made for high drama. Somewhere in there were the "extras", i.e. the taxpayers not in on the game who watched all this in either utter frustration and/or bewilderment from the sidelines. If they weren't busy ignoring the whole thing. They were mostly people who went to work, came home exhausted, did chores, handled all those things they had to do and got up the next day to do it all again. They had neither time nor energy to devote to the game.

The announcement on Thursday of the go-ahead on the $23 million mega sewer and water system was a season finale at its finest. Vindicated were the Municipality and Hendrick's Farm whose contested voting procedure was found to be legal it can be presumed. The announcement came the day after the Financial Analysis of Chelsea's Debt by Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton was published on the Municipal website. It also came the day before Le Nordik Spa began cutting down trees and putting in a road likely to their new hotel. 

The empire-building started long ago by then Mayor Jean Perras and Council has begun--they who busily sold lots in its "green environmentally friendly community" and rezoned green land to commercial zones.  That's what cash-strapped Municipalities do. On Chelsea's website, ten development projects are listed in varying stages of construction. Four of those projects are in Farm Point. Many will go from red to green now. It has begun. But is that the end of it?

No. Of course not. There's always next season. What will the population do when they realize that their crumbling pot-holed hell roads will not be renewed anytime soon? The debt-analysis document pretty much had to restrict that full budget for a few years in order to make all things possible. What will Marc Shank of Chelsea Creek and associated developers do, having clearly indicated that he and his compatriots were not at all happy carrying the lion's share of the debt?

And what about the fog and mould-infested, money-down-the-proverbial-drain broken Meredith Centre?  Let's not get into the existing legal wranglings. And that landslide on the 105? And how about the whole disruption over the construction that is about to happen? Given the Municipality's track record on septic systems, the concern is palpable. And what about those illegal sheds on Meech Lake? Or building a treatment plant on a landslide zone? And that DEBT! The list goes on. The Almighty better bless our new councillors, engineer and Director General. The headaches have just begun for this intrepid crew.

The new mega sewer and water system has culminated in unbridled relief and joy by many who have waited a very very long time. They should be given their day in the sun because they certainly worked for what they wanted. For this group, the mega-sewer and water project will solve long-standing problems in the village for businesses, developers, municipal offices, schools and 100 or so residents. It promises to realize the Visioning Process done so long ago. With the go-ahead particularly relieved are those who love Hendrick's Farm; Carrie Wallace and Sean MacAdam presumably exonerated from having been accused of voting illegally. This group and the Municipality has been subjected to a stream of often vitriolic criticism effectively silenced by mises-en-demeures sent out both by Mayor Green and other parties.

For others, it is a day of mourning. They also worked hard. For those, there is little consolation or even respect for their seemingly lost battle to prevent what they see as environmental degradation, possible financial armageddon for taxpayers and the Municipality, fundamental changes to what they knew as their community, and a worrisome door waiting to be opened to further development. Faced with lack of transparency and numerous bureaucratic roadblocks, this group did not fair well. For them, there is only the constant label of being alarmist negative spoilsports. Instead of actually being heard, this group has been subjected to mises-en-demeures, ridicule, dismissal and outright hostility from some sectors of this still-divided town. 

At the end, who is right? Who knows. But both sides need to be honoured as Chelseaites who worked hard for what they believed in despite all odds. If this town can ever unite, it surely could be because they all care deeply about what happens to it and that deserves respect.

As for me? I didn't get what I wanted. The taxes are going up, the potholes continue and judging from Le Nordik's first move, the trees are coming down.