Apr 172014

By Robert Washburn

Ontario-ElectionWith the recent visit of Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak to Northumberland last week and Premier Kathleen Wynne’s upcoming visit to Port Hope next week, it appears the unofficial general election in Ontario is already underway.

It is serious campaigning. Taxpayers pay some of it, as politicians devise ways to make it look like government business; and other times it is a partisan event funded by the party.

It is an opportunity to streamline messages, field test policies, and take the temperature of the electorate. Meanwhile, there is plausible deniability where no one admits they are in election mode.

Apr 162014

By Robert Washburn

Online-VotingWith a municipal election taking place this fall, along with a possible provincial election this spring, the introduction of network voting should be a top priority for Northumberland County as the current system is no longer sustainable.

Voter involvement continues to decline to record lows, with less than 50 per cent of eligible residents casting a ballot in the last provincial election. So, the need for electoral reform is vital.

To make matters worse, the federal government offered a series of changes last week gutting the current system.

In a report released by Ontario Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essena last June, called the Alternative Voting Technologies Report, he outlines the stark realities. There is an overwhelming need to modernize the electoral process.

Apr 162014

By Robert Washburn

FairWagesNow-2It is hard to imagine a hike in Ontario’s minimum wage would do much good across Northumberland. The growing number of empty storefronts on main streets, plazas and inside malls is a sign of the troubled nature of the local economy.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government approved a hike in the minimum wage to $11 per hour starting in June. While local, labour, poverty and social justice advocates praise the increase (although many say it is not enough), neoconservatives and businesses condemn it, saying it will kill jobs.

Critics hold on to an antiquated view first proffered in 1946 by economist George Stigler. He was the first to say minimum wages hurt employment (even though they had been around in Canada since 1918).

When they were introduced or increase it put pressure on low-wage workers to either increase their productivity or they would be laid off, he argued. In most cases, there were reductions in the workforce.

Apr 152014

By Robert Washburn

Port Hope fire station

Port Hope fire station

The world of politics in West Northumberland seems ready to explode.

An angry group of Port Hope residents are demanding answers from council about a proposal to consolidate and relocate two local fire stations. Resident Dan Christie is leading a growing number of residents who argue it will increase fire and emergency response times, waste taxpayers money and potentially increase fire insurance rates.

But this is not the only protest going on.

Bill Thompson is feeding birds in Cobourg harbour, expressly ignoring the local bylaws. He is worried the ducks, geese and swans will die. So, he makes a daily trek to the harbour to provide them with food. He has already been given two tickets, costing him $105 each time.

But supporters are coming out of the woodwork. Thirty volunteers from a nearby wildlife centre came out in support recently. People are walking up to Thompson and giving him money for food. Others wanting to help regularly join him.

Apr 142014

By Robert Washburn

I would like to thank Councillor Forrest Rowden for his response to my column, in which the relevant excerpt is publish on Consider This. Mr. Rowden deserves equal time and space on this website in all fairness and for balance.

Sadly, I made a really dumbass error. I called his fellow councillor Jay Sherwin instead of Larry Sherwin. Jay was on council with Rowden in Hamilton Township back in the 1990s. Larry is the Cobourg councillor today. I got them mixed up. Stupid me. I deeply regret the error.

Mr. Rowden’s rousing defence of his time was clear. The column stated he has it pretty easy. As protection services co-ordinator, he is responsible for the police and fire departments.  He took the opportunity to share with readers how his time is also spent sitting on the bylaw committee, the Waterfront Trails Committee, Lakefront Utilities Committee and he is chair of the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority. Also, he is a member of Conservation Ontario.

Okay, but does he do all of that directly due to his position as protection services or is it additional responsibilities given to him by council (or did he take it on himself)? Maybe I was being too technical, but I believe police and fire are under the umbrella of protection services. I am not too clear as to how bylaws, waterfront trails, the local utility and the conservation authority are directly related to protection services. However, I do not doubt he attends the meetings.

Still, he wants Cobourg citizens to know he is a busy guy.

But this does not address the central argument of the column. He continues to defend the conservation authority and does not address the contention that he let Cobourg residents down by not arguing for a dog run in James Cockburn Park.

It is great Mr. Rowden attends all these meetings. I am sure it is a busy schedule. But, what initiatives has he brought to the table at each committee? What projects did he start and see through? How have Cobourg residents benefitted from his actions around the table?

That is the bottom line.

And, it applies to all Cobourg councillors.

As the fall municipal election draws closer, councillors will be touting their accomplishments. But, voters need more than grocery lists. They deserve details. What did each councillor actually do for the town besides fill a chair in a meeting room? How did taxpayers benefit from their work?

Many committees outside the town provide a stipend for participants. It would be interesting to know how much councillors get paid to attend these meetings. It would be even more interesting to see if taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.

There is no doubt Mr. Rowden is a busy man. And, he deserves credit for the work he does. So, let him be specific. It is one thing to say a committee or staff have done “this”, but it is another to say “I have done that”. Let’s not confuse the work of others and the work of individual politicians seeking re-election.

The question still remains: Is Rowden getting the job done for Cobourg residents? It will be up to voters, not columnists, to decide.


Apr 142014

This is an excerpt from a column by Councillor Forrest Rowden entitled: Please abide by Town bylaws

I would like to let you know that I do support dog owners in the Town of Cobourg. I have been working with Councillor Larry Sherwin (not Jay Sherwin as columnist Robert Washburn indicated in last week’s column) for the last three years to secure a suitable off-leash site so that no one is in violation of any bylaws. The conservation area, also known as James Cockburn Park, is a park for everyone and not just a ‘dog park’. All conservation areas within the Ganaraska Region Conservation Area allow dogs to walk with their owners on leash only, which has been a rule of the GRCA for quite some time. Cobourg Council is trying to accommodate all types of users, which is why we have a library, a skating rink downtown, Legion and soccer fields, walking and bike trails, and bicycle lanes for cyclists to feel safer when riding on our streets. Our new dog park will not cost any more than any of these types of uses, and I am sure it will be well used.

I would like the public to know that Mr. Washburn may have not gotten all his facts straight. Election or not I will defend the work I do as a councillor, here is a list of committees I am involved with as Protection Service co-ordinator: Police Services Board, Fire Service, Bylaw Committee, Waterfront Trails Committee, Lakefront Utilities Committee, chair of the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority, and am a member of Conservation Ontario. Plus I volunteer for a couple of charity fundraisers and the Museum when I can.

The original full version appeared here on April 13, 2014

Apr 142014

student-vote-democracy-word-cloud1-1024x791By Robert Washburn

If young people had voted in greater numbers during the last federal election, Stephen Harper would not be running this country, according to a recent study.

Despite where one sits in the political spectrum, that is a shocking statement.

But according to pollster Nik Nanos, his research suggests this is absolutely true. Even more prophetic, he says the tone and content of the political debate at the time would have been very different, as well.

Working with the Institute for Research on Public Policy, Nanos examined what would have happened if a majority of young people had voted in the last federal election.

Apr 142014

As part of the Crosstalk show, at CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, I was involved in a call-in about the future of community newspapers last Wednesday. Transcontinental Media shut down The Georgian, covering Bay St. George; the Coaster, from Harbour Breton; and the Charter, which covered the Placentia area. These have all been rolled into the nearby regional newspapers. It has also added a paywall metred system to the St. John’s Telegraph. Please listen:

Apr 132014
Forrest Rowden

Forrest Rowden

By Robert Washburn

Cobourg will finally get a new dog park on William Street, despite months of lobbying and years of effort.

For Councillor Larry Sherwin (original article stated: Jay Sherwin. I regret this error), a huge sigh of relief could be heard, if not literally, certainly metaphorically. Sherwin has wrestled with this issue since he arrived on council four years ago. The rollercoaster of ups and downs, near solutions and outright disasters has made this a cross he has born during his tenure.

All the petitions, presentations, direct talks and public consultation could not move councillors last week. A last ditch attempt by Judy Smith Torrie, on behalf of the Friends of James Cockburn Park, barely caused a blink as councillors approved a decision to lease property at 520 William Street, costing the town $18,000 ($1,500 per month) and $50,000 for site development.

Councillor John Henderson estimates it will cost taxpayers $147,000 over five years.

For opponents, it is easy to condemn Sherwin. He is the most obvious target. Henderson said he could not support the motion. Councillor Donna Todd voted against, saying proper public consultation was not done.

Feb 042014

By Robert Washburn

voter stationAs municipal politicians in West Northumberland County shake hands to greet residents at their levee’s this week, the starter’s pistol for the fall elections is going off.

For those in office, it is far too early to register officially, but don’t be fooled: the race is already underway.

What will determine the outcome? These are a number of issues that may well play into the campaigns as the days unfold.

Downtown revitalization is one. Both Port Hope and Cobourg spent a lot of money and resources to create strategic plans for the centerpiece of the local retail economy. This is only one piece of the financial pie, but it is high profile and a big concern. Continue reading »