First published: January 07, 2008
Staring into a crystal ball to figure out the future is always a dicey business because nothing is really as clear as we would like to think. Yet, as the calendar year comes to an end, it is not unusual to consider about the upcoming days ahead and what they may hold.
In Northumberland, the focus for 2008 will be the three P’s: Policing, Planning and Poverty. Decisions made over the next year in these three areas will have a lasting impact, possibly changing the local economy and social structure forever. The question is whether politicians are going to be able to make wise choices for the long term or fall into the trap of taking short-term measures to placate their own ambitions.
Countywide policing will be a high profile debate. The county is reviewing its reports and undertaken some public consultations. So, the time is quickly coming where a decision will need to be made. Newly elected county warden Christine Herrington has placed this as a priority for county council. Certainly, money will be a central consideration, if a realistic proposal can be brought forward that will demonstrate clear cost savings. What will be vastly more important will be the internal struggles for power and control. Rural municipal leaders will be fighting to ensure the urban municipalities won’t take over the agenda. Cobourg, Port Hope, Brighton and Trent Hills will pull the lion’s share of the demand for service, particularly Cobourg and Port Hope. Municipalities like Colborne, Alnwick/Haldimand and Hamilton townships will not get involved if they feel they will be shoved into the background. Also, Port Hope may become a spoiler in this plan, since it has shown in the past it does not like to share services. Multiple attempts to combine forces with Cobourg have failed. There is no reason to believe there will be a last minute conversion.
If the county plan fails, then Cobourg will make its own move to adopt the OPP. There has yet to be any serious debate over the town’s plan other than a couple of poorly run public meeting that we less about public consultation and more to do with giving the appearance of democracy. Besides, the current council demonstrated in 2007 it has little intention of listening and a clear lack of respect for those who oppose their plans or do not bow to the demands of the old guard. This goes for the public or anyone on council who dares to do anything different.
This move towards the OPP will remove the remnants of local policing. Port Hope may end up with the only municipal force, paving the way for a provincial body to dictate the levels of service. This may not happen within the next five years or so, but eventually cost cutting measures taking place far away from Northumberland will mould police services here and there will be nothing to be done.
The next P, planning, centres on a fundamental debate over the make up of the community, not just in terms of development, but the future viability of the economy. The loss of Kraft is a mortal death blow and its handling over the next 12 months will shape the county for decades to come.
Cobourg has demonstrated an inability to manage its industrial base and lacks any kind of industrial or retail strategic plan. One most notable missed opportunity was the Kellogg’s plant that ended up in Belleville. Nobody questioned the economic development office or council as to why this plant did not locate in Northumberland. There is the space, the workforce and all other advantages, yet, it chose Belleville. It is this level of competence that makes one wonder if a new manufacturer can be found. And, with a long list of closed industries, the manufacturing sector is gasping its last breaths.
Already, Cobourg Mayor Peter Delanty floated the notion of converting the land to residential development. With the endless stream of retiring Toronto refugees, this would be a quick fix. The town would benefit by severing lands at the north end of the property for the Kerr Street extension, a long awaited east-west route that would bisect the town and improve traffic flow. And, a developer would get an opportunity to build more high-priced town homes and condominiums. Cobourg would also gain the much needed assessment and property taxes with little pain and effort.
Yet, this would completely transform the region into a bedroom community. Port Hope, through its AON development in the west end, has made a huge demographic shift towards an older population. With Cameco under siege and Collins & Aikman barely hanging on, there is hardly an industrial base to speak of locally. This means families and young people, in particular, will need to leave the area to get meaningful employment. The local economy will be reduced to service industry jobs that pay less and have almost no benefits. Overtime, this will create a divided economy between rich retirees and the working poor.
Which brings us to our final P, poverty. A recent social justice forum announced it will take on the task of creating a strategic plan to deal with Northumberland’s most disadvantaged. Deb O’Connor hopes this grassroots initiative will set the agenda. Yet, Cobourg’s mayor wasted no time making his own announcement regarding efforts to address poverty. This was followed by an Ontario government announcement that MPP Lou Rinaldi will be serving on a provincial task force addressing the same issue. It will be important to watch how these three agendas will play out and if there will be lots of lip service and money thrown around. The trick will be if this truly helps the most vulnerable. With the loss of good paying jobs and the high priced housing, it doesn’t look good. The poor may end up being run out of Northumberland on a rail to make room for the senior’s migration.
So, now we will have to wait and see if our municipal leaders are up tot the task of making decisions to benefit the long-term future of our great community or not. It will be up to residents to be vocal on all these concerns to ensure the debate is a good one and secure out future.