Mayor and deputy mayor hopefuls talk county issues
By Chad Ingram
Published Oct. 16, 2018
County residents gathered in the great hall at Fleming College campus the evening of Oct. 11 to observe an all-candidates meeting featuring the mayoral and deputy mayoral candidates of the county’s lower-tier municipalities. The mayor and deputy mayor of each municipality comprise the eight-member, upper-tier Haliburton County council. In Algonquin Highlands, Mayor Carol Moffatt reclaimed her seat by acclamation, and deputy mayor is chosen by councillors from among themselves. The same system is in place in Highlands East. In Minden Hills, current Ward 1 Councillor Lisa Schell has been acclaimed deputy mayor for the upcoming council term.
The final in a series of all-candidates meetings organized by the county’s media, the evening was moderated by former Times owner and publisher Jack Brezina.
On poverty reduction
Candidates were asked what their approach would be to reviewing poverty reduction strategies that are currently in place, and creating new ones moving forward.
“We have attacked poverty in Highlands East through education,” Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton said, who’s held his position for the past 12 years. “Plus, we have opened the Central Food Network for the county, and we have the food bank there as well.”
Burton’s competitor Cheryl Ellis was unable to make last week’s meeting due to a family medical issue.
“Education is obviously a big one,” said Minden Hills mayoral candidate Jarrett Campbell, who owns a trucking and storage company in Minden. “We need to start getting more programs for our youth. We need to start getting them more hands-on in the trades.”
“I’ve been happy for the past two-and-a-half years to sit on the poverty reduction roundtable for the City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County, which deals with an integrated approach with all the stakeholders across the region, to move the yardstick forward,” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin, who is seeking his second term. “I think it’s a nice start, but I think a serious discussion with the new term of government about some new plans, that maybe we could move those yardsticks a bit quicker.”
“First of all, I think it’s a joint effort,” said Minden Hills mayoral candidate Wayne Hancock, currently public works supervisor for the Township of Cavan Monaghan, explaining there needed to be co-operation between school boards and municipalities. Hancock also said that zoning bylaws needed to be reviewed to allow for smaller, more affordable alternative forms of housing.
“There’s two parts to poverty and the main one is housing,” said Dysart et al Mayor Murray Fearrey, who’s been mayor (formerly reeve) some 35 years and on council more than 45. “We try to address that by bringing seniors housing complexes here,” Fearrey said, adding that moving seniors out of small homes and into multi-unit buildings frees up those smaller homes for sale to younger families. “The other thing is jobs, and I’ve been working closely with Sir Sanford [Fleming College], met the new president, working with the high school to create the kinds of classes . . . that give them the types of opportunities to go into the workforce. We have to take them out into the field, introduce them to the contractors, let them see what their future could be. That’s the answer; get people working, and get them housing.”
“I think we need to work with our provincial partners and our partnership with the City of Kawartha Lakes, we don’t stop doing that,” said Dysart et al Deputy Reeve Andrea Roberts, who’s running against Fearrey for the mayor’s chair. Roberts has served 12 years on council, the last four as deputy mayor.
Locally, “I think we’ve got a couple of really organizations such as SIRCH and Places for People . . . there are organizations that are operating in our county that are really trying to lift people up . . . I think we need to support that.”
“So I think working with our local organizations, here, and we know housing’s an issue and I think in Dysart we need to do something to support housing options for people,” Roberts said. “And support the basic income guarantee. I know that’s gone with the province, but it should be reinstated.”
Earlier this year, the Ford government announced it was cancelling the basic income pilot project that had been in place under the Wynne government.
“I think the long-term solution is, and . . . I say long-term because I think we haven’t really done a very good job at it, and that’s our economic development,” said Dysart et al deputy mayoral candidate Dennis Casey, who is currently councillor for Ward 2 of the municipality. “And my favourite phrase is a healthy economy is a healthy community, so it’s going to take time. But once we get doing that, I think healthy economies here will do a lot to answer the question that you’re asking.”
“The other issue is transportation,” Casey said, “Getting people places, getting people to their jobs and that, in the long run, will help the poverty issue.”
Patrick Kennedy, former EMS director for Haliburton County, is running against Casey for the deputy mayor position in Dysart et al.
Kennedy recommended a review of the existing poverty reduction strategy at the county level, “and invite the groups together to come and develop a new goal system, do new planning, to ensure that we’re not overlapping one over the other.”
“Also, training programs designed to fill specific niches within the community will help get people back working, and housing initiatives are currently underway,” Kennedy said, adding that achievable goals needed to be set for the short, medium and long term.
One resident, citing the county’s high poverty rates, suggesting that municipal staff are paid too highly, and referencing amalgamation and a reduction in council size in the City of Kawartha Lakes councils, asked for candidates’ positions on reconstruction of local government in an effort to save monies that could then be redistributed on other municipal responsibilities.
Hancock said he believed Minden Hills council was currently too large, and could be reduced from seven to five members.
“As far as the two-tier system, I believe the two-tier system should remain until we get accountability and taxpayers feel they are getting work for the taxes they pay, because that’s not happening right now,” said Hancock. “So, I do believe [in] reducing council, I believe in streamlining the process to eliminate duplication. Between the county and municipalities we have much duplication that I believe can be eliminated.”
“Certainly, my opening remarks dealt almost exclusively with this,” Devolin said. “Certainly, I think there’s lots of things to analyze to see where there’s savings that we could have to get better value. I’m presuming that it’s a jump to single tier, but I think it’s worth a long look in the next four years to see what we can do to achieve that.”
During his opening remarks, Devolin, as he has on several occasions, indicated that there are more alternatives than just the status quo or a single-tier amalgamation.
“That polarizing perspective is based on a false assumption that those are the only two options,” he said, indicating there could be ways for the county’s four municipalities to achieve saving through co-operation and sharing resources.
“I’m the same as many people in here,” Campbell said. “I don’t even know what this job pays. I’m just not happy with the way the money’s getting spent. It’s going foolishly, and I think it needs to be handled like it’s ‘our’ money, not ‘my’ money.”
“I’m certainly not opposed to looking at all the ways to improve our services to all the municipalities,” said Burton. “I’m not convinced, and it will take a lot to convince me that amalgamation does save money,” he said, but added that certainly sharing the provision of services across the county should be looked at.
“Single-tier versus the current system we have, the premise is single-tier is going to be more cost-efficient and deliver services in a better way, and unfortunately that hasn’t always proved to be the way,” Kennedy said. “I did a lot of research and Alberta’s actually come up with a great model called the confederation model where they review each of the programs at the local municipal level and the county level, and determine which area is best suited to deliver that program and/or department. And I’m all in favour of taking a countywide look at our programs and assessing it that way.”
“I think because it’s come to a head with this particular election, I, like most councillors up here, I think, that we owe the decision justice by having a good, in-depth study of it,” said Casey. “But I also want to comment that currently, we are sharing a lot of services. I know in Dysart’s case, we plow some of the county’s roads and the county plows some of ours.”
“All four municipalities’ IT systems are run and administrated by the county,” Casey said, adding the chairs of each of the municipalities’ environment committees were now also holding joint meetings, and that there have also been joint purchases of software.
“I’ve heard everything on amalgamation from it’s inevitable to never,” Roberts said. “And while I am cautious about it and have been . . . having been at the county [level] for the past four years, a lot of people, it’s all what they think, or what they surmise, or what they’ve heard from someone else. So I would be in favour of doing a study at the county level, a professional study to see the benefits and the costs, and I don’t mean just financial cost savings, it is about our towns and our hamlets. So I would be in favour of seeing a study done on that. We should be looking at efficiencies in government, no matter what.”
Referencing the question asker’s reference to the number of municipal employees on the province’s so-called “sunshine list,” Roberts indicated that $100,000 didn’t buy what it did at the time the list was initiated, and said municipal employees within the county are paid less than their counterparts in other regions.
“Compared to the board of education, or the medical or health-care system, I’d say we, by far, are lowest of any county in Ontario,” Fearrey said, referring to wages. “The other issue is, do we look at amalgamation, or do we look at one tier? Absolutely. I’m open to look at anything, only, though, if we acquire savings. Councillors’ wages are not what’s going to save the money. So, if we think that’s what we’re going to do by reducing council, that’s not going to happen, folks. We’ll spend money in other ways.”
Fearrey referred to amalgamated municipalities where staff wages were brought up to match the highest of their member municipalities.
“Nobody went down, everybody rose to the top like cream,” he said. “I’d have to be sold it by an honest review.”
On climate change
Candidates were asked about Haliburton County’s lack of a climate change action plan, and what the barriers to creating such a plan have been.
Casey referenced the joint meetings that are now taking place between the chairs of four municipalities’ environment committees, “and I think that’s our start. I don’t know why [it’s taken so long], it’s just as though everybody’s kind of woken up now, that climate change is here,” he said.
Casey said he’d push for county-level action on the issue.
“In all honesty, personally, I’m just beginning to understand it, and I think that’s likely part of the problem,” he said, indicating that while the more environmentally conscious members of the community may be well-versed in the causes and effects of climate change, not everyone was as savvy. Casey said he’d work to further educate himself on the subject.
“I don’t understand why we haven’t moved ahead with a climate change action plan,” Kennedy said. “I’ve been involved with emergency planning, the whole time I was director of emergency services, it’s always been in the forefront as planning for the worst and hoping for the best, and I’m proud to say that I was asked to rewrite the county emergency response plan in Algonquin Highlands and Minden Hills. So that component of it, is working forward to start to deal with climate change.”
“I would like to hear answers from the current councillors as to why we haven’t moved forward with the other half of that program,” Kennedy said.
Burton said the climate change is a topic at the forefront of work by Highlands East’s environment committee.
“Yes, I’ll support a climate action plan at the county level, and I can’t answer why it’s taken so long to do.”
“I’m not a member of council, I can’t answer that,” said Campbell. “But when I’m elected, I plan on being part of that committee, and I do support that plan.”
“I agree the time is now, finally, that with the action plan, we need to have it unified and do it at the county level,” Devolin said. “Preparedness in Minden Hills, we have a little experience with that, and we’ve spent a good portion of this term of council dealing with preparedness and I think the time is right.”
Minden Hills council passed an emergency management plan during this council term, part of that plan dealing with flooding of the Gull River.
“I agree it is a county issue, I think it has to be at the county level,” said Hancock. “Municipalities should be keyed into that system, we should be members of that.”
“If we don’t move on change and we don’t move quickly, pretty soon they’re saying that the temperature in Ontario will be like Kentucky,” Hancock said. “So, you’ve got to get your head around it, it’s changing right now, it’s melting around us. We don’t have the snow levels, it threatens the trout population that we so dearly love, so what are we doing? Why aren’t we moving? That’s the big question, and I would say we have to move now. Not in five years. Not in 10 years.”
“It just hasn’t received the priority at the county,” Fearrey said as to why the county has no climate change action plan. “And it should have. I think that now we understand, that we’ve got better education, and education is what it’s all about.”
Fearrey said he supported the creation of a climate change plan.
Roberts agreed with Casey that only in the recent past have councillors come to realize the full implications of climate and the necessity for municipalities to deal with them.
“I think councillors are just realizing, not that they’re not aware of climate change, but that we really have to do something, and have that plan,” she said. “We are the lowest level of government, municipal government, in a very small municipality, and we don’t have a lot of staff, both in Dysart and at the county.”
“It’ll definitely be on the table at county council, that climate change plan,” Roberts said.
On public transportation
Candidates were asked for their views on the county providing some form of transportation open to public use.
“The [transportation] task force has presented one, basic option, which is a shared ride solution,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think it addresses the specific needs.”
Kennedy said he thought the Uber model being investigated by the county deserved to be looked at. That model would function similarly to the system in Innisfil, where the municipality subsidizes Uber rides for residents.
“Innisfil’s had great success with it,” Kennedy said, adding he was open to looking at any sort of alternative transit system.
Casey is a member of the transportation task force.
“Whatever we come up with, and we do need to come up with something, it has to be balanced,” he said. The county has commissioned a $50,000 implementation plan for a mixed transportation model and Casey said if he is to be elected, he would like to use his experience on the task force working on transportation at the county level.
Roberts said that transportation, like waste management and other issues, is a complex one where solutions are sometimes slow to materialize.
“I do feel that whatever the outcome, it will need to be door-to-door,” she said. “I really do [have], and I’ve expressed concerns about a bus route-type system, so I do hope it would be some type of door-to-door pickup. But I do feel we owe it to the people of Haliburton County to follow up and have some sort of transportation system.”
Roberts pointed out that there are specialized services currently available for those who are disabled and HHHS provides a service to transport residents to medical appointments.
“There’s a need, nobody denies the need, the problem is a solution,” Fearrey said. “And I’m not sure that busing people from Dorset, to Haliburton, and then to Cardiff is going to work. I just don’t think it’s going to be feasible, financially. I think there needs to be a made-in-Haliburton solution, I’m not sure what that is. I’m anxious to see the results of the study that we’re going to get in November.”
Hancock referenced the Uber model and its success in Innisfil, dial-a-ride systems and neighbour-to-neighbour ride-sharing programs.
“A transit bus system, I don’t see it working in a rural area, it’s not financially viable,” he said. Hancock said that those with disabilities and seniors were most in need of transportation, and that a registration list for a booked ride system should be set up through the county.
“I’m excited to see the outcome from the consultant’s report,” Devolin said. “There’s a public will to do something – we absolutely did that. One of the big things that’s been a byproduct . . . is the stakeholders and those services that are already being paid for, like the HHHS bus . . . social support that are paying for taxis. We’ve broken down some of those silos in discussion and every analysis that I’ve heard here today has been part of the consideration in the last two and half years, and I’m hoping that we come out with an outcome that’s doable, and it’s a beachhead, and the first step won’t be the last step.”
“Obviously there’s a problem, I don’t have the answer, but I’m willing to work with anyone on this council to come up with a Haliburton County solution,” Campbell said.
“Yes, we should be looking at a sustainable, countywide solution,” Burton said, “and I do mean countywide. I’m waiting to hear the results from the transportation plan.”