Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Open Letter to Greater Sudbury Council re: Kingsway Entertainment District Site and Building Design and the Need for Public Engagement

The following is an open letter to Greater Sudbury Council re: the Report to Council dated August 9, 2017, from CAO Ed Archer regarding Site and Building Design for the Kingsway Entertainment District.

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I am writing today with regards to a Report to Council, dated August 9, 2017, prepared by CAO Ed Archer, with regards to the Kingsway Entertainment District and the community events centre development initiative (see: http://agendasonline.greatersudbury.ca/?pg=agenda&action=navigator&lang=en&id=1132&itemid=13757).  The Report proposes that Council endorse a number of actions as part of a way towards developing lands on the Kingsway for a community events centre and a casino, including confirming a single-source contract for Cumulus Architects, described as the architect for Gateway Casinos.  The Report also recommends that Council proceed with site and building design in conjunction with obtaining land use approvals.

I strongly urge Council to hold off on issuing a single-source contract to Cumulus Architects, and to not proceed with site and building design until appropriate land use approvals for a community events centre and casino are in place.  Similarly, I also strongly suggest that Council not finalize any property purchase until appropriate land use approvals are obtained.

At this time, the subject lands are not zoned to permit a community events centre or casino.  While I understand that the Report is recommending that Council add a 'community arena' use to the zoning for lands intended to be used for a community events centre, it is not clear that this approach is in keeping with the City's Official Plan, as community facilities of this nature appear to only be permitted in Regional Centres and the Downtown (the proposed use does not appear to be contemplated for lands designated Industrial by the Official Plan).  Further, the City has already expressed a position that a land use permission for a casino in the Kingsway location will require an amendment to the Official Plan.

Site and building design are likely to be constrained by specific land use issues unique to the site.  For example, we know that there are development constraints already on the site in the form of necessary setbacks from the existing landfill area.  An analysis of site topography may also identify restrictions for development.  On an earlier (2014) application to rezone part of this property, the City of Greater Sudbury identified two other significant issues which appear to require further study, namely: the potential presence of species at risk habitat on the subject lands (blanding's turtle and whippoorwill); and issues related to traffic.  Issues related to road salt and the contamination of surface water from runoff into the Ramsey Lake Watershed - a significant source of our City's drinking water - may also lead to further development constraints.

Proceeding towards site design at this time, without first knowing whether the proposed uses are appropriate for the lands, or what development constraints may be imposed through further technical studies related to natural heritage, community safety and traffic, is akin to putting the cart before the horse.  It may also lead to the costly duplication of designs and cause the City to spend more taxpayers money to resolve issues after the fact.

The single-source contract to Cumulus is suggested by the Report due to what are perceived to be time constraints with site and building design.  The Report does not appear to take into consideration the need for public consultation and engagement.  The Kingsway Entertainment District, anchored by a new community events facility and a casino, represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the City.   The development of this site should not be rushed.  Development, including site and building design, should benefit from significant public engagement.  For example, we have a chance to here to create true carbon-neutral facilities, which will assist the City in meeting its greenhouse gas reduction commitments.  We have the opportunity to influence the flow of traffic along the Kingsway through the creation of high occupancy vehicle lanes.  And we have the opportunity to design the site in such a way that it is truly integrated into the physical and natural environment, including the use of bioswales and permeable hard surfaces to address stormwater runoff issues.  There are likely many other design elements that the public would like to see addressed through a comprehensive design process that truly engages the public.

The legitimacy of the entire project may be at risk if Council does not receive the public's buy-in through significant engagement. After all, it's our tax dollars that are going to be paying for this project.  Any site and building design process that does not commit to fully engaging the public will be problematic for the City to obtain the social license it needs to move this development initiative forward.

With this in mind, I strongly urge Council to reject the Report submitted, and to not pass the recommended resolutions.  Instead, I urge Council to direct staff to undertake a Secondary Plan for the entirety of the Kingsway Entertainment District, so that all land use issues, including the appropriateness of the site for the development proposed, along with planning constraints, may be addressed in a truly comprehensive manner that engages the public.  I have written to Council about the need to for a comprehensive process for this new District in the past (see: "An Open Letter to Greater Sudbury Council Regarding a Kingsway Entertainment District," July 11, 2017).  I again implore Council to consider a Secondary Plan as the only legitimate way forward for the Kingsway proposal.

At the very least, please hold off on site and building design until land use permissions are obtained.  And please ensure that significant public engagement is built into any site and building design process.

Thank you for considering these comments.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Site Design for the Kingsway Entertainment District Must be Unfettered by Constraints, Include Public Engagement

Whoa. Hold your horses, City of Greater Sudbury! 
A report dated early August from Ed Archer, Greater Sudbury's CAO, envisions moving the Kingsway event centre and casino developments ahead via some form of 'comprehensive process'. It sounds good, but it certainly appears that the process the CAO has in mind is one that will likely shut the public out of meaningful engagement. Par for the course for Greater Sudbury.
Some things to be concerned about:
1) Although 'public consultation' is referenced as part of a "Site Design Strategy", the timeframes are short. And since the strategy is to be led by Gateway Casino's preferred architect, it's not clear at all how much of an influence public opinion might have on the shape of the buildings and the overall site (Archer's report goes to some length to indicate that many of the design elements of a casino are pre-determined - which, I'm sorry to say, is nonsense - if the province is going to invest in a building to meet the needs of our community, it ought to bloody well meet the needs, and not come in a pre-fab buildable box).
2) About that sole-source contract. Why is the City suggesting that only an architectural firm - one used by Gateway - is the appropriate vehicle for site design? We're talking about a project that is MUCH larger than a casino here. Why not tender, and let's see if we can get some interesting and innovative firms to get involved with the design of this new Entertainment District? I realize that there is a perception that "time is of the essence" - but give me a break - we are talking about a once-in-a-generation project here. Let's not rush this.
3) Public involvement must be an integral part of site and building design. I sincerely hope Council amends the Report so that it's clear that public consultation and engagement must take place throughout the process - at the beginning, pre-conception; and after a concept plan for the site is developed. The public must be involved in helping shape the direction of this development.
4) Oh, and about the desire to comprehensively develop the site? How is that going to happen when the Report also directs the City to beging a re-zoning process for a 'public arena' use? No way. The rezoning needs to be put on hold and addressed as part of a larger Official Plan process - a process envisioned by the report as necessary for the Casino use to move forward. You can't address development 'comprehensively' when you first go ahead and set out the criteria for a portion of that development through zoning - not unless you're willing to revisit zoning at a later date. And that doesn't appear to be in the cards here, and frankly would be redundant.
5) There is no need to start building roads here now - not until issues of servicing and a comprehensive site design process that plugs in the public has been completed. If you start building roads, you constrain the design process - and that's absolutely not the way to do it.
6) Purchasing the property prior to determining whether the site is appropriate for an arena is also something that our Council ought not to be doing. If zoning eventually can't be achieved, the City is going to be left with a piece of worthless, unserviced industrial property. Taxpayers need to be protected here - Greater Sudbury needs to postpone the purchase of this property until all planning approvals are in place.
So while I agree that the notion of 'comprehensive site development' is one that the City ought to strive for, clearly this Report is mostly unhelpful in moving us in that direction. Plug the public in, stop introducing site constraints, and start by providing facts to the public so that we may participate in a design process informed by this information (like, how much is servicing this site really going to cost taxpayers?).
Again, this is a once-in-a-generation project. Let's take the time we need to make sure that we get this right.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

It's Going to be More Difficult to 'Drain the Swamp' in Ontario

“Drain the swamp!” might have been the cry that helped put Donald Trump in the White House, but as far as preserving Ontario’s natural heritage goes, it’s really bad advice.  Swamps and other wetlands – bogs, fens and marshes – have been disappearing from the landscape at an alarming rate.  Once viewed as unproductive land that stood in the way of expanding agricultural operations and subdivisions, the movement to conserve wetlands for their ecological functions has been growing.

What Donald Trump might not understand is the very important role that wetlands play in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Northern Ontario’s vast Hudson Bay Lowlands contain some of the most extensive peatlands in the world.  These “unproductive” bogs are actually providing a significant ecological service to the planet by sequestering carbon – as much as one third of Ontario’s annual carbon emissions, according to provincial figures.  Smaller wetlands in developed urban areas can also help regulate temperatures by minimizing heat island effects.  Wetlands also stabilize soils and decrease the impacts of flooding events.

Last month, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry released its much-anticipated “Wetland Conservation Strategy for Ontario”.  An earlier draft of this strategy had drawn some critical comments from environmental organizations like Ontario Nature, and Conservation Ontario – the umbrella organization for our province’s 36 Conservation Authorities.  The good news for wetlands is that Minister Kathryn McGarry seems to have listened to the advice of the conservation experts – for the most part. (see: “Help protect wetlands,” Ontario nature, November 9, 2016, and “Conservation Ontario’s Comments on “A Wetland Conservation Strategy for Ontario 2016-2030” (EBR# 012-7675),” January 9, 2017).
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The new strategy includes important targets for halting the net loss of wetlands by 2025, and achieving a net gain in wetland area and function by 2030. Using 2010 as a baseline, these targets will provide a yardstick for the Province to measure the success of the strategy’s implementation.

The strategy calls for additional funding for mapping wetlands - an important starting point for the discussions that need to take place between the various level of government and governmental organizations charged with looking out for the health of wetlands.  Indeed, the the web of bodies who oversee wetland conservation sometimes appears to be as complex as a wetland ecosystem.  The strategy acknowledges the roles of all partners, and states that it wants to do better - but it seems that some gaps still remain.

The gaps are there because oftentimes wetlands are located inconveniently on private lands.  Regulating land uses on private lands isn't as straightforward than for lands in the public domain.  And that's where a lot of Ontario's wetlands have been lost.  Many of the existing tools identified in the strategy are ones that aren't being used in many cases to protect wetlands - and the toolbox itself might not be large enough.  Cut and fill by-laws might prevent wetlands from being filled in by private landowners, and municipal tree cutting by-laws might protect trees from being harvested, but there is little protection for wetland 'understory' - all of the other plant species that make wetlands wet.  Even today, authorities appear to be perplexed about how to save a significant Great Lakes coastal wetland from a private landowner bent on destroying it (see: "Sault residents react to developer's logging activity," SooToday.com, July 27, 2017).

Still, there's a lot of good in the strategy - from raising awareness to promoting partnerships, to a commitment to protect and conserve all wetlands deemed provincially significant in mid- and Southern-Ontario.  The strategy also calls for a review of the Ontario Wetlands Evaluations Manuals, which might strengthen wetland evaluation (see: “What will the future hold for Ontario’s wetlands?” Ontario Nature, August 3, 2017).

The strategy, however, stops well short of extending protection to all wetlands.  Only the largest, most diverse wetlands – those determined by evaluation to be provincially significant – will remain protected.  Regional and local wetlands will continue to be exposed to displacement by development.  The difference now will be that where wetlands fall victim to urban and economic development, they may need to be replaced elsewhere.

This practice is known as “offsetting” and it’s extremely controversial. On the one hand, offsetting can assist in achieving a net gain of wetlands by allowing less-productive natural wetlands to be destroyed based on a commitment to build or enhance a wetlands elsewhere.  On the other hand, the ecological services provided by smaller wetlands are not well understood, and permitting their continued destruction may lead to negative local outcomes.

Offsetting could lead to the creation of ‘Big Box’ wetlands at the expense of local diversity. And that seems to be at odds with the results of a recent University of Guelph study that determined smaller wetlands are more effective than larger ones at filtering pollutants before they enter rivers, streams and lakes (see:“Destruction of small wetlands leads to more algal blooms, Ontario study finds,” Sudbury.Com, July 23, 2017).

Ontario has already ventured down the offsetting road for species at risk habitat.  The results have been mixed.  While offsetting is a practice intended to be used as a tool of last resort, that’s not what appears to be happening , with roads like Sudbury’s Maley Drive and other infrastructure projects being pushed through the habitats of threatened and endangered species without much in the way of assessing alternatives (see: "Ontario's Environmental Assessment Process is Failing Species At Risk in Sudbury," Sudbury Steve May, April 26, 2016).

Ontarians should continue to demand the government to conserve all wetlands – not just the largest - for their natural heritage values, biological functions and the role they play in climate change mitigation and adaptation. However, even with offsetting, one thing is clear: it’s going to be harder to justify ‘draining the swamp’ in Ontario in the future, due in large part to the Province’s collaborative wetlands strategy.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

An edited version of this post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "May: Getting harder to 'drain the swamp' in Ontario,'" online, and in print as "May: It's getting harder to 'drain the swamp' in Ontario," August 5, 2017 - without hyperlinks.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Open Letter to the City of Greater Sudbury Regarding Anti-Muslim Soldiers of Odin in Our Community

An Open Letter To: Chantal Mathieu, Director, Environmental Services, City of Greater Sudbury.

It’s recently come to my attention via a post made to social media that there is an organization in our City that has been picking up and disposing of used needles found in municipal parks and on the City’s trails.  Please see this post, for more information: https://www.facebook.com/SpottedatSudbury/posts/759248067581230


I am writing to you today because I am concerned about a number of items in relation to this matter.  First, the group in question, the Soldiers of Odin, are a white supremacist, anti-immigrant organization that has been engaged in a public relations campaign to create acceptability of their organization through community outreach initiatives.  The public relations campaign is designed to project a veneer of public respectability for an organization founded on hate and anti-immigrant values – and which to this day has not repudiated those stances, despite claims of having reformed. Many of the members of Canada’s various Soldiers of Odin chapters remain engaged in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim politics, and routinely appear at protests directed against Muslims (see: "Far-right Soldiers of Odin members ‘not afraid to use violence,’ intelligence report warns," Global News, June 28, 2017).

While appropriate waste disposal of refuse found in our community spaces is something that is generally undertaken by municipal staff, I understand that picking up refuse from our public spaces is a task that all community members are urged to undertake.   To that end, the City of Greater Sudbury provides a number of options to facilitate community involvement in keeping our public spaces clean, including Adopt-A-bin, -road and –spot initiatives, along with organizing Clean Up Blitzes.  The City even supplies volunteers with materials to assist with clean-up (see: "Litter Clean Up Programs," City of Greater Sudbury). I’ve had the pleasure of participating in a number of these efforts.

At all times of my public participation, I’ve been required to sign a waiver, indicating that I understand the hazards associated with the volunteer work, and indicating that I would not hold the City liable should I injure myself while picking up refuse in our City’s public spaces.

I don’t know whether the Soldiers of Odin have similarly signed liability waivers prior to what appears to be their participation in organized efforts to clean up used needles from our parks, but I would strongly suggest that if members of the Soldiers of Odin haven’t acknowledged that they won’t hold the City liable during their clean-up efforts, that there may be an unacceptable level of risk for the City here – especially since the Soldeirs of Odin appear to be targeting a very problematic form of refuse for their clean-up’s (used needles, which are a biohazard).  It is also unclear what training group members may have received in advance of these organized clean ups that would, at least in part, help address liability issues associated with the clean-up and disposal of biohazards.  I believe that these sorts of clean-up tasks are best left in the hands of our municipal professionals to deal with, unless community groups can demonstrate a satisfactory level of expertise.

I suspect that the Soldiers of Odin, who appear to have little respect for Canada’s laws, given their obvious and contrary view of Canada’s top law, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, have even bothered to contact the City to address potential liability issues with their efforts to dispose of biohazardous materials.  I sincerely hope that the City of Greater Sudbury will take appropriate action and advise the Soldiers of Odin to desist from their undertakings, out of concerns related to the City’s exposure to legal action, and out of respect for our unionized professional staff whose job it is keep our parks and public spaces clean and free of hazardous materials.

However, if the Soldiers of Odin are operating with permission of the City to engage in efforts to clean up our public spaces, I would like to take this opportunity to remind the City of its own Diversity Policy, which clearly states that “equality and inclusion are fundamental human rights for every individual,” and that, “leading by example, we aspire to make diversity a core and abiding strength of the City of Greater Sudbury.”  As outlined in the City’s Diversity Policy, the City of Greater Sudbury will, “encourage public and private organizations to respect and adhere to the objectives of this policy.”  Further, the Diversity Policy calls on all organizations in the community to “ensure that all existing policies and practices..are built upon non-discriminatory bases.

The Soldiers of Odin, through their continued white-supremacist and anti-Muslim activities, are not an organization that shares these values of equality and inclusion.  Given the City’s Diversity Policy, an organization that does not value inclusivity, and whose core values are at odds with these values, should not be associated with the City of Greater Sudbury in any manner – and that includes their participation in activities like cleaning up refuse and biohazards from our municipal public spaces.

As someone who is concerned about creeping hate in our society, I am strongly urging the City of Greater Sudbury to take public action to distance itself from the activities of the Soldiers of Odin, and to take whatever actions may be necessary, including and up to legal actions, to prevent the Soldiers of Odin from using our parks and public spaces as a part of a public relations campaign. If the City has inadvertently authorized the activities of this group, without the knowledge that their stated values are contrary to the City’s Diversity Policy, I sincerely ask that you revoke whatever permissions you may have granted this organization.

The presence of anti-Muslim organizations like the Soldiers of Odin in our community is bad enough as it is, but I accept that it is likely that something that very little can be done about, unless legal lines are crossed.  That’s the price that we have to pay for living in our democratic society, under the rule of law – and I for one accept having to pay that price.  However, accepting the presence of an organization that threatens and bullies Muslims in the name of white supremacy does not mean that our municipal corporation should be seen as condoning these efforts.  Indeed, the best course of action is, in my opinion, confronting the hatred of these organizations, and publicly declaring that they are unacceptable in our community, due to their discriminatory values.

Of course, beyond that, I remain concerned about the liability exposure that the City may be accepting by allowing untrained professionals to organize clean-ups of biohazardous materials in our parks and open spaces.  I would be concerned about these activities no matter whether it would be the Soldiers of Odin or the Green Party undertaking this sort of clean-up.  And based on the liability waivers that I have had to sign in the past, I know that this is a real issue for the City.

For their information, I’ve copied this email to all members of Greater Sudbury Council, as the issues I’ve raised here with you may not all be within the purview of Environmental Services to address.  I’ve also copied Darryl Taylor, President of CUP local 4705, for his information, due to the labour issues identified here.   I’m also sharing this email with the Sudbury Muslim Society, and the Islamic Association of Sudbury, as they may not be aware of anti-Muslim group operating in our community.

I am also posting this letter to my blogsite, so as to share my thoughts and concerns with the community at large.

Thank you for your time and consideration of these issues.  I look forward to hearing back from the City with regards to the matters that I've raised.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada) 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Greater Sudbury Council is Out of Control

Maley Drive. A new Kingsway Entertainment District. Four-laning MR 35. Six-laning MR 80 to the Valley.  Straightening the S-curve on the Kingsway by buying up vacant lots. Building a new parking facility at Bell Park. Funding for a new Synergy Centre, for a new library, for a new art gallery, and for the Elgin Greenway.

All at a time when the experts are telling us that our city and region is not likely to experience growth.  And not just right now – but over the next 20 years.  All at a time when the experts are telling us that we are an aging community – and that more of us will be living on fixed incomes in the coming years as we transition from the active workforce and into retirement.

Taking the bus around the City, I can’t help but notice the number of For Sale signs that seem to be growing almost as quickly as weeds fed by June rainstorms.  Yes, the rate of unemployment isn’t presently something that should worry us – but with a cold housing market and expectations of rising property taxes thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars of new spending that our Council has committed us too – most for projects that we do not need and which will not help us grow jobs beyond temporary construction jobs – we need to worry about the long-term sustainability of our City.

In 2014, voters kicked out most members of what can only charitably be described as a lackluster Council.  Criticized as divided, and unable to take action, candidates standing for election in 2014 vowed to be more decisive. The Council that we elected to replace our previous under-performing Council  is one that clearly wants to be seen as making decisions and getting things done.  For many in our community, that’s enough – and it may very well be enough to see the current Council mostly returned to office in 2018.

Priorities

However, what is becoming clear is that the spending commitments being made by this Council are lacking prioritization, and lacking any solid financial plan for their implementation.  While approaching senior levels of government for funding remains an option (with unknown and unknowable outcomes), debt financing appears to be the solution that Council has struck upon for funding many of the projects that they have approved or are now entertaining.

In normal circumstances, debt financing presents a viable option for municipalities – especially if funding is directed to constructing a municipal asset that is intended to have an economic impact  Debt financing a new events centre, for example, makes more sense, due to the anticipated economic spin-offs, than for the creation of a new road, like Maley Drive – a road that is not anticipated to result in any new economic activity, but simply the relocation of existing economic activity at best.  It’s not as if the ore trucks will stop driving around the City if we don’t construct Maley Drive.
Of course, maximizing economic development potential should be priority one for Council – especially if debt financing a community asset is considered  But instead of following the advice of Council’s own hired expert from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and instead of listening to our local Chamber of Commerce, or looking to the experiences of other cities that have built events centres in their downtowns, our Council opted to embrace an economically risky venture on the Kingsway, primarily out of the hope that by doing so, it might stimulate additional development in the area.

In other communities in Ontario, the approach embraced by our Council might have some merit.  The creation of a brand new Entertainment District anchored by an events centre, a new casino and a motorsports park might be a way of capturing new economic development activity that complements existing core areas of the city while stimulating job creation and ultimately growth.  But Greater Sudbury in this respect is not like most other similar sized cities in Ontario in that we know we are not growing – there is no growth available for us to capture.

Confronting the "Growth Paradigm"

Some members of our Council believe that this is a defeatist message.  They believe that our City can capture growth by embracing bold new initiatives, and improving our roads.  They may even be correct about how some new initiatives could potentially lead to growth in our community – but for the most part, the initiatives they’ve embraced – Maley Drive, 4-laning MR 35, and putting the community events centre in a greenfield on the Kingsway – are the wrong initiatives needed for our City to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Not only will they not lead to new job creation and growth - they'll actually impede our ability to fund the initiatives that will deliver long-term, creative class jobs.

More importantly, ignoring facts and evidence that is available and known when making decisions – and substituting personal opinions about growth expectations in place of facts and evidence – is a sure-fire way to doom our City to the consequences of irresponsible decisions. And make no mistake – this Council has exceeded expectations when it comes to making irresponsible choices for the City.  Even those Council members who initially passionately embraced locating our community events centre in the downtown core, and who then opted to select the Kingsway as the only remaining choice left on the table – they too are complicit in this gross irresponsibility.

Maley Drive and 4-laning MR 35 have long been on the books as road projects that the City (and before amalgamation, the Region of Sudbury) deemed necessary.  That few elected officials ever questioned whether the assumptions about traffic patterns today and going forward 30 years into the future are the same as those made back in the 1990s when the roads were first proposed shows a complete lack of vision on the part of a series of elected Councils.  Yes, I understand that the recently approved Transportation Master Plan continues to identify both road projects as priorities – but this plan was based on traffic data from 2005 which has not been updated and does not take into account changing transportation patterns – and is based on population projections which were significantly more rosy than what the experts are now predicting.

At the Council table this week, another road project long on the books reared its head – the 6-laning of MR 80 to the Valley.  Yes, this project is one that our traffic engineers have deemed necessary – even in a circumstance where growth is not anticipated to occur over the next 20 years. 

Confronting the Sprawl Paradigm

Of course, we know that the outlying areas are experiencing small gains in population, primarily at the expense of the inner city, which the Census shows to be losing people.  So the desire to push out and build new infrastructure that services a sprawling area of the City seems like a natural thing to do, for some. After all, if Chelmsford, Val Caron and Hanmer are where the only growth is happening (even if that growth is primarily from cannibalizing population from the former City of Sudbury – probably as a result of offering Valley homeowners a break on their taxes through Area Rating) doesn’t it make sense to widen roads and extend pipes to service new subdivisions?

Well, no – because the cost of taking this is approach is one that we can’t afford.  Growth never pays for growth –we know that from study after study.  It is a universal truth, despite what elected officials might claim when they thump their chests and point to all of the new property taxation greenfield growth will bring in.  Look at Mississauga they might say.  And in response I would say, yes, please, look at Mississauga – a City that relied almost solely on growth for new revenues in the 1980s and 1990s, but by the year 2000 was in such an infrastructure deficit that annual property tax increases to pay for work that the City should have undertaken itself at the time of its development bonanza have left now left Mississauga ill-prepared to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.  Of course, Mississauga has one advantage over Greater Sudbury – it at least is still growing – but it’s not growing by developing more greenfields.  It’s growing by building up, and not out – and that’s a lesson that our current Council just doesn’t seem to want to understand.

Municipal Investments as Economic Development Catalysts

And that takes us back to the prioritization of municipal projects our Council has approved.  Some of these projects can clearly act as catalysts for economic development – although with limited or no growth expected on the horizon, it’s not at all clear that the economic activity normally associated with projects like an events centre will be our experience, no matter even if the events centre had been located in the most sensible part of the City where maximum benefits could be expected (that would be the downtown). Ultimately, the City should be focusing on livability – the creation of new and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure so as to meet the needs and expectations of the existing generation and the one that comes after it.  After all, those are the people who are going to be paying for the decisions now made by our Council, particularly if debt financing is the way forward.  Even if senior levels of government pour money into municipal projects, it will be the next generation that picks up the tab – as both the Province and the Feds are already up to their eyeballs in hock.

But this Council seems determined to ignore the needs of the existing and future generation, and instead are committed to a spending spree on projects that might have seemed good ideas in the 1980s – but which are clearly not in keeping with the tide of history and the experiential needs of the very job-creating taxpayers that we hope to attract to our City to look after us in our fixed-income old age.  We know that millennials are highly mobile, and therefore quite selective with their employment choices.  We know that businesses and industry that rely on the creative class to fill their jobs and show leadership in innovation are looking to progressive cities as locations for investment.  We know that Greater Sudbury is in competition with places like Ottawa, Halifax, Kingston and Barrie as centres that are striving to champion a narrative that balances livability with low costs and a high level of citizen engagement in cultural, entertainment and social matters.

And yet although we know this, we choose to spend our money on building roads we don’t need, upgrading roads that are not expected to see their traffic volumes increase, and building community facilities in areas that can only be accessed by cars – the very antithesis of creating a livable community.  That we do this through debt financing makes it even worse.  But that we do these things at the expense of otherwise investing in making our City livable is simply absurd.  The priorities of the Council are all wrong.

Evidence-Based Decision Making

And it’s not like Council doesn’t know this.  The City has an Official Plan that embraces the concept of promoting livability. And we have a recently approved economic development strategy that offers up 101 or 117 projects to move the City forward, most of which have a focus on helping create a livable community.  We know that our City is in a competition. We have the documents that map a way forward for our City to do the best that we can, with the constraints that we face.  But none of that seems to sink in.  Hell, we’ve even got one member of Council who appears to pride himself on NOT reading reports and documents.

Council hired an expert to determine the best location for a new events centre.  Council ignored the expert’s advice. Council hired an expert to tell the City what infrastructure it should now be investing in – and rather than looking to fixing what we have at a time when growth is not expected, Council instead commits to extending infrastructure – and commits to the additional maintenance costs it’s going to have to pick up as a result.

Through the Fire Optimization Review, Council had a chance to take real action and finally eliminate the perverse subsidy that exists in this City that favours outlying area homeowners at the expense of inner-city residents, it decided against taking any action at all.  When you have a lower tax rate in one part of the City, it’s not entirely unexpected to see growth occurring there.  When you have a lower tax rate in one part of the City and no actual aggregate growth in population occurring throughout the City, it’s not unexpected to see the lower-taxed area experience growth at the expense of the higher-taxed area.   That’s what’s happening in Greater Sudbury, according to the Census.  And it’s perverse, because we know that on the whole it costs more to provide services to residents of the outlying areas than it does to inner-city residents.  We’ve got area rating backwards – if anything (and I’m not saying I’m an advocate of this approach), we should be taxing the inner city at a lower level of taxation than outlying area properties, because if there is to be growth, it ought to be channeled towards those parts of our community where we can get the biggest bang for our buck: those areas that save the City money, are more livable and can be more easily retrofitted to meet the needs of the 21st century.

If we were growing, we might be able to have it both ways – the majority of growth in the inner city that will have lower costs to the City, with some more expensive-to-service growth in the outlying areas.  But we are not growing.  As a result, every development choice we make is one made at the expense of seeing development occur in other locations.  And on this count, our current Council is doing all that it can to accommodate inefficient growth in the outlying areas, by championing more development in rural areas through land division policy changes, and by approving houses on large lots on the urban fringes.  I get that just saying No is often not politically popular, but if our Council had made a concerted effort to promote sustainable development at the outset of its mandate, saying No to development initiatives that work against the financial health of the City would have been a lot easier.

Focus on Sustainability

But really, there’s little desire on the part of this Council to do much that’s sustainable.  Too many Council members are convinced that the way forward for our community lies in the pursuit of growth, rather than working within the constraints that we have. And that’s a huge problem, because we have decisions being made by elected officials that are not based on fact and evidence.  Council is chasing after unicorns – and it’s going to lead to our ruin. Pursuing the growth paradigm is not option – and people like me who repeat this truth over and over again to our elected officials are not being “defeatist” – we’re being pragmatic with the hand that our City’s been dealt.

I am encouraged by some of the decisions made recently by Council to move forward with the downtown Synergy Centre – a facility that really could stimulate new economic activity in our community.  I’m less thrilled with the idea of a new library and art gallery, even though I am a supporter of the arts and a frequent user of our municipal library system (but at a time when we ought to be practicing a little more fiscal restraint, it's not clear to me these two projects will be catalysts for economic development).  I’m happy that Council as least suggested that the groups behind these initiatives look to co-location – but I’m appalled that Council didn’t the do the same for a community events centre, opting instead to assess the merits of a stand-alone facility, either for the downtown or the Kingsway.  Co-location of the major projects which Council championed should have been a part of any options assessed.  And had Council actually engaged the public through an appropriate public consultation process on the events centre, the Synergy centre, the library or arts gallery, it might have heard that loud and clear from a public that seems to be more concerned about saving money than our Council does.

Public Consultation and Engagement

And had Council opted first to consult the public on a community events centre, I expect that they would have also heard, loudly and clearly, that this was not the time to spend a $100 million on a new facility when retrofitting the existing community arena at a smaller price would lead to many, if not all, of the same outcomes as a new events centre. I suspect Greater Sudburians would have embraced a more sustainable, good-enough solution over what many are already calling reckless spending – especially since the location selected by this Council has not yet been determined to be viable for this kind of community facility.

But Council, in its wisdom, opted not to engage the public.  And a public, eager for information about projects that will critically effect the future of our City, and the budgets of taxpayers, were left at the mercy of a developer-driven public relations campaign that often provided misleading information or failed to correct the record of assumptions made by the public.   Maybe public engagement wasn’t something that Council really wanted at all – given the outcry that emanated from the public prior to the Maley Drive decision.  And Council might have had the recent experience with Lorne Street in mind, where it did decide to engage the public in providing input related to cycling and walking – and after hearing loud and clear that these were priorities in the community, chose to ignore the public’s advice.

I’m happy that Council is tentatively moving forward with the Elgin Greenway project, as it’s the sort of project that will help make our community more livable.  The Elgin Greenway, at least, was subject to considerable public consultation, through the recent Downtown Master Plan process.  I’m upset that Council opted to scale back the Greenway, out of concerns related to expenses – especially in light of the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new projects that they’ve opted to proceed with.  Nickel and diming the Greenway just doesn’t wash – especially with Maley Drive – a needless road to nowhere – in mind.

Working Together to Build a Better Future

Despite some of these small victories for livability and economic development, the off-setting decisions to approve new roads and upgrade roads at a time when growth is just not occurring, and the decision to promote sprawl through road projects and putting community facilities in urban-edge greenfields can’t be ignored.  Nor, too, can the opportunities that have been missed by Council be ignored.  The conclusion is an obvious one, if a difficult one for me to arrive at, given my relationships with and past support for some of the members of our current Council.  It has to be said, though: Greater Sudbury Council is out of control. 

We have an opportunity coming up in 2018 to elect new members of Council.  Hopefully, my fellow citizens will opt for candidates that will use facts and evidence as the basis for decision-making, and who will champion sustainability rather than embrace a mythical growth paradigm.  Candidates who understand that spending must be constrained and focused on priorities that we need to make our communities livable and attractive to current and future residents, while acknowledging changing realities and trends (such as the need to confront the climate crisis at all levels; a shift towards electrified vehicles and alternative methods of transportation; and, a desire to end inefficient subsidies directed primarily towards those who don’t need them) should be the preferred choices of citizens.

Over the next year, I guess that’s what I’ll have to be working towards.  Not because I want to, mind you – I’d much rather not find myself in this position.  But I’ve got three children to answer to – three children whose future I very much want to be bright, and whom I very much want to see grow and prosper in this community.  I fear that the future this Council has committed to creating is destined to be one that does not meet the wants and needs of my children.  And so what choice do I have?  Other than to pick up and move to another community (something so many have already done, and whom I can’t fault for taking that action – as it’s not one that’s ever far from the back of my mind), there’s only one option remaining: to fight for the future of my children, in my community.

The good news for me is, I know that I won’t be alone. Others will take this leap with me – because if there’s one thing that the recent grassroots effort to promote a downtown events centre has shown, it’s that there are many in the community who are committed to fiscal, social and environmental sustainability.  There are many who are waking up to the fact that our current municipal Council members are making bad decisions which threaten the health and economic fitness of our City.  There is a palpable sense of anger, for sure – but there’s also a growing sense of hope and fraternity.  Together, we can do better. 

And we must do better.  Our children’s future depends on it.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada) 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Collaboration – Not Confrontation – Needed for Relationship Reset with Indigenous Peoples

It wasn’t just the rain that put a damper on many Canada 150 events last week.  What was billed as a national feel-good party was tempered by questions raised throughout the nation about whether 150 years of Canada was worth celebrating at all.  National headlines were made when the Bawating Water Protectors erected a teepee on Parliament Hill just a few days before Ottawa’s Canada Day celebrations (see: “Teepee erected on Parliament Hill highlights pain of Canada 150, activists say,” the Toronto Star, June 29, 2017).  In Halifax, a Mi’kmaq ceremony was interrupted by several off-duty members of Canada’s armed forces, who were later revealed to belong to a Western chauvinist group that requires members to beat up left-wing protesters as a part of its admittance process (see:“Canada’s top general apologizes for incident at Indigenous ceremony,” the Toronto Star, July 4, 2017).  And in Thunder Bay, Barbara Kentner, a member of the Waabigon Saaga’igan Anishinaabeg nation, succumbed to injuries she sustained after being hit in the stomach by a trailer hitch thrown from a moving vehicle – an incident which may have been a racially-motivated hate crime (see: “NAN – Deeply Saddened by Death of Barbara Kentner,” NetNewsLedger, July 5, 2017).

Clearly, there’s a lot of work and effort that must be undertaken if Canada is to become a nation that takes seriously the need to reconcile with indigenous people, as called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  That work starts with acknowledging the wrongs inflicted on indigenous peoples by our governments and social and religious institutions. It requires us to acknowledge that the harm continues to this day – and will continue as long as the relationship between Canada and First Nations remains unbalanced.  Changing that relationship will require institutional overhaul.  Amending Canada’s constitution may have to be considered, in order to provide a framework consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) – a declaration Canada has supported since 2007.

Should we choose to continue to ignore the need to change Canada’s relationships with indigenous peoples, the risks to Canada are considerable.  Resource projects are already on the front-lines of indigenous legal challenges. Our courts are adversarial and create winners and losers.  What’s needed going forward is a commitment to a more collaborative process – one that has at its very heart the notion that the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples must form the starting point of true nation-to-nation co-operation.

Canada’s legal traditions, based on the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’, have led to the subjugation of indigenous peoples and the dispossession of their lands and resources (see:“‘Doctrine of Discovery’, Used for Centuries to Justify Seizure of Indigenous Land, Subjugate Peoples, Must Be Repudiated by United Nations, Permanent Forum Told,” The United Nations, Meetings Coverage, May 8, 2012) .  The primary beneficiaries of this racist doctrine have been the Crown – or more specifically, Canada’s federal and provincial governments and institutions.  At the very heart of our civil society exists a culture of oppression that we are slowly coming to acknowledge.

Fear is a part of any change – and fundamentally altering the unbalanced relationship between indigenous peoples and Canada is no exception. Some fear that a shift may give indigenous peoples and First Nations a veto over resource projects like bitumen pipelines.  However, as pointed out by a recent paper on indigenous consent and resource extraction, published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, nation-to-nation collaboration that starts with free, prior and informed consent has a better chance of minimizing adversarial legal actions and confrontational protests (see: “Indigenous Consent and Natural Resource Extraction,” Institute for Research on Public Policy, July 4, 2017). 

Rest assured that if Canada doesn’t begin the process of taking seriously the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and fails to implement UNDRIP, the future will be filled with confrontation that perpetuates a culture of oppression and wastes our scarce collective resources.  


Our nation’s 150th birthday reminds us that we Canadians have a duty and an obligation to fundamentally alter the settler/colonial relationship that we have benefited from – not as a way of atoning for the actions of our ancestors, but as a way of demonstrating compassion and equity for the generations yet to come.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

This post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "Sudbury Column: Collaboration needed to reset relationship,'" online, and in print as "Collaboration, not confrontation, needed to reset relationship," July 9, 2017 - without hyperlinks.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

An Open Letter to Greater Sudbury Council Regarding a Kingsway Entertainment District

The following is an Open Letter to Greater Sudbury Council Regarding a Kingsway Entertainment District.

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I am writing today with regards to the recent decision to locate a new community events centre on a site located on the Kingsway, east of Falconbridge road. It is my sincere hope that Council reconsiders this recent decision, in light of the progressive policy environment which exists in the City's Official Plan, the Downtown Master Plan, and “From the Ground Up”, the City's strategic economic development plan – all of which have been the subject of significant public and consultation, and all of which indicate that a new events centre facility should be located in the City's downtown. By making a decision which ignores the public promise made by this and previous versions of Greater Sudbury Council – and without the benefit of an appropriate public consultation process - you have betrayed the trust of Greater Sudburians, along with the long-term development vision established for our community.


Council should reconsider the events centre decision based on recent decisions to locate the Synergy Centre, a library and arts gallery downtown, possibly through a shared facility. An events centre could easily be a part of shared community facility as well, possibly saving the City substantial costs. At the very least, the option for sharing a single facility ought to be evaluated prior to Council proceeding any further with decisions related to the Kingsway site – an industrial site which has never been evaluated for a community events centre, unlike our City's downtown.


At this time, the site selected by Council has never been evaluated for its appropriateness to be home to a community facility like an events centre. The site is designated Industrial in the City's Official Plan, and zoned M1-1 – a zoning category that permits a range of uses, but not a community events centre. It is not clear that a simple change to zoning – or a minor variance that adds an event centre use to the current zoning permissions – will conform to the City's Industrial land use policies in the Official Plan. Indeed, as far as I can tell, institutional uses like community facilities are not permitted in Industrial designations. Also, establishing a new community facility use in this location appears to fly in the face of the City's Downtown and Regional Centre policy environment.


Further, there remain several known constraints to development which have not be adequately explored, including the generation of traffic from the events centre use, and from other uses which appear to be contemplated and contingent upon an event centre locating on the Kingsway site. It is not known whether the existing transportation network in this location can handle anticipated traffic volumes – or even what those traffic volumes might be.


Also, the subject lands, while designated Industrial, may be home to species at risk, including blanding's turtle and whip-poor-will. At this time, to my knowledge, the lands have not been evaluated to determine whether they contain species at risk habitat. An evaluation that assesses the lands for the existence of habitat must be undertaken prior to any change in land use.


The subject lands are located in the watershed of Ramsey Lake – a critical drinking water source for the City that is already experiencing issues with phosphorus and salt loading from surface run-off. The events centre use appears to contemplate significant surface parking, and other uses which may occur in the area similarly will likely require significant surface parking. Surface parking in this area may exacerbate existing problems in the watershed. As such, careful evaluation of stormwater is necessary and should inform any decision to change land use permissions.


The presence of a landfill site to the east of the subject lands also represents a development constraint that will need to be considered, going forward.


With the above in mind, I strongly urge Council not to move forward with any changes to the zoning of the subject lands – or other lands in this area – until appropriate technical evaluations have been concluded that address these known issues. Proceeding in absence of technical studies, and based solely on Council's site selection decision, will be premature and will put the City and we taxapayers at risk of an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board – an appeal that the City could very well lose, if appropriate technical studies are not first carried out prior to a change in use. A change in zoning must be based on sound planning principles – and those have yet to be demonstrated for the community facility use proposed for the subject lands.


With that in mind, I also submit that it is premature for the City to acquire the subject lands from the current owner. I strongly urge the City to wait until appropriate zoning is in place before acquisition occurs. It would be irresponsible of the City to acquire lands for a use which has not been demonstrated to be appropriate – and which may never ultimately be demonstrated to be appropriate for the proposed community use, given the industrial setting.


While I am clearly not in favour of locating our new community events centre on the Kingsway, if it remains Council's will to proceed, at the very least the range of uses in addition to a community events centre which have been publicly proposed for lands on the Kingsway – namely a casino, hotel and motorsports park, along with other possible uses such as a waterpark and restaurants, and a community recreational use in the form of an additional ice pad – should go through a comprehensive land use evaluation to determine whether they are appropriate for the subject lands, and if determined to be appropriate, to set out a policy direction for development.


Council should use this opportunity to direct staff to undertake a Secondary Plan for a new Kingsway Entertainment District. A comprehensive land use exercise, undertaken as an amendment to the City's Official Plan, that addresses known and unknown development constraints and identifies through policy a vision and direction for future development on the lands, would be preferable to a piece-meal approach where every proposed used comes forward individually with site-specific applications for Official Plan amendments and re-zoning. The creation of a new district within the City on a greenfield site represents a golden opportunity for the development of a Secondary Plan.


So as to be in keeping with our existing Official Plan, a Kingsway Entertainment District Secondary Plan should look at design options for proposed development that minimize vehicular traffic and prioritize transit and alternative transportation options. Low-impact development options should be required, along with the use of living, green infrastructure to manage stormwater. Carbon neutral or carbon negative buildings should be required, so that these new facilities are doing their part to mitigate against climate change.


Policy should be informed by a complete cost-benefit analysis that determines the overall costs of the project for the City, and identifies anticipated benefits. A cost-beneft analysis should also identify the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions that the City should expect from the new uses, and include options for off-setting emissions. The cost-benefit analysis should also consider whether the addition of a community recreational ice pads on the Kingsway may lead to the closing of community recreation centres in other locations, and what impacts those closures might have on travel time and emissions for residents. The cost of lost economic activity from the closure of the existing community events facility in the downtown should also be weighed against anticipated new economic development.


At every opportunity, evidence and analysis should inform how a new Kingsway Event Centre is shaped and built, through a comprehensive process that prioritizes sustainability and minimizes costs to taxpayers.



If Council refuses to revisit its recent decision and remains committed to the Kingsway, we have just one chance to get things right – to create an Entertainment District in this location that is sustainable in the long term – economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. Based on designs that I have seen in the public realm for a community events facility in this location, what appears to be clear is that no one is thinking along the lines of sustainability or comprehensive development. If Council remains committed to the Kingsway, than please use this opportunity to direct staff to undertake a Secondary Planning process – so that we Greater Sudburians can have the facilities that we'll need to position ourselves to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)