Casino London: It’s a gamble.

There is a lot of talk around a possible OLG  expansion and full service casino in London, Ontario and, somewhat foolishly, I’ve stepped into a few debates on it. Some people are morally opposed to a casino expansion, some are vehemently in favour of it while others sit on the fence, not sure what to think just yet. My opinion probably won’t change any minds and won’t set any course of action, so it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But a few people have asked me to expand on my thoughts so here it is, for what it is worth.

Personally, I am neither pro nor anti-casino. Having researched the benefits and drawbacks before voting “Yes” on the Point Edward casino referendum many years ago, and seeing the benefits that casino – which was overwhelmingly approved by the residents of Point Edward – has had on the village, I feel it would be hypocritical of me to say I am morally opposed. Like it or not, gambling is legal. Gambling facilities exist in our city and province in various forms, and it is accessible online. So unless it is outlawed completely, people are going to gamble. End of story. Does that make it right? I suppose that depends on your own, personal beliefs and values. There are many other legal ‘vices’ we could question for morality while we are at it, but the list is too long and we’d never get to the bottom of it all. So if you are one of those who feel deeply that casinos should not exist, it’s time to take a stand on them all and have gambling outlawed: period.

Now, with that said, do I want a full service casino in London? No, not particularly, and definitely not in my neighbourhood at the Western Fair District. A few people have asked me why I’m feeling so “NIMBY” about this, so here it is.

The entire reason to build a full service casino and expand on the slots that we currently have is to attract more people. Bottom line: more people = more revenue. If it wasn’t, then OLG would be content with the slots and racetrack that is currently in place at the Fairgrounds and this discussion wouldn’t be happening. Agreed? A casino expansion is about increased revenues and tapping into a perceived larger market, attracting a different set of people than those who are currently using what we have in place.

I live one block from the Western Fair District, home to the race track and OLG slots. I hear the horse races from October to May, and listen to the fall fair and all of its excitement every September. I see the traffic coming to and from the OLG slots which are open 24/7, and the increase in traffic on a Saturday for the Farmer’s Market. I deal with the increase because it is lending a vibrancy to my neighbourhood that every neighbourhood should have.  You won’t hear me complain about that. But we’re talking about suddenly doubling the traffic in my “backyard”, and I deserve a say in that. As a tax paying home owner of this neighbourhood, I’m not comfortable with it and won’t make apologies for my NIMBYism. I don’t want an increase in traffic in this area that a casino could potentially bring. And – while a minor factor – I surely don’t want those bright flood lights they always seem to put outside of a casino, pointing to the sky saying “come here!”, and flashing around above head constantly. Would you?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

We have OLG slot machines that run 24/7 and are doing a good business from what I can tell. We have a race track that could do better business if we invested some time, creativity and money to generate the interest the horse racing industry had at one time. If you want to talk about jobs, there’s about 60,000 of them we could currently save right there, and with potentially less money than it will cost to do a casino expansion. So why, exactly, do we need or want this full service casino, anyway? I haven’t heard compelling numbers about how many jobs it will bring, and how much revenue it will generate to make me jump up and down in support. What kind of increases will we see in patrons and revenue over what we currently have, and how will this benefit Londoners?

Building a casino is a (costly) way for the government to try to keep money at home that is being spent elsewhere, ie: Las Vegas. Gambling is already a multi-billion dollar industry in Canada between slots, bingo, horse racing, etc. with Ontario being at the very top for total revenues generated.

Wow! The Ontario government has dollar signs in their eyes when they look at our wallets, fellow citizens!

But what they (and many others) fail to understand it seems to me is that people go to Las Vegas for the destination vacation and experience. They want to get away and the ones that go have the money to do so. They quite possibly are also ones who spend their money in Canada at casinos and slots in the interim as well, so the “if you build it they will come” mentality has a great chance to flop. It is possible that after the money is invested we won’t see a significant increase in traffic making the expansion all for naught. And hey, don’t say, “Yeah, but you don’t know that. That’s just your opinion and speculation.” I’m well aware of that, but I’m also aware that you can’t guarantee the money will flow in, so either way it’s a gamble.

The bulk of people who go to casinos, whether it be Las Vegas or Ontario, are over 60 and in many cases are taking trips with their retirement homes or seniors groups. I’m not being tongue in cheek when I say that. I’ve worked at both a casino and a race track. I live right around the corner from the Western Fair slots. I’ve seen and see those bus trips, and plenty of them! Take a stroll through the slots at the Western Fair and look at the demographic on any given afternoon. Look through the paper and see the advertisements from bus companies for trips to Casinorama and the like. It’s a big business.  To make Ontario casinos a true destination, we would need to build them in multiples similar to Las Vegas with hotels and an entertainment district. And I can’t see that ever happening.

Casinos are built to keep people in, spending their money, not send them out. A casino at the Fairgrounds (or anywhere) would do just that –  keep people in a contained area, pulling the slot handles or playing a card game or two. An interesting statistic to consider is that most people spend their money on slots in a casino, with a very small percentage being spent on table games. Approximately 65-70% of people who go to casinos play slot machines. So why spend the money on the expansion for approximately 6% of casino goers who will play the tables, when we already have what people want?

A casino going to the fairgrounds would likely lead to the Fair District building their own entertainment facility to bring musical or special interest acts to add appeal to the casino. But again, why do we need it? We have a world-class facility that our tax dollars helped pay for: the Budweiser Gardens. Building another entertainment facility to hold concerts etc. would take away from revenue at the Gardens and other entertainment venues in London. I’m not comfortable with that idea. So maybe downtown is the ideal place for a casino to be built so it can work with the entertainment district we already have. But I’m not convinced that’s a solution, either.

am convinced that if anyone truly believes a casino in London will be our saving grace, whether it be in the Fair District or downtown, they are only saying it to be oppositional or head strong. Look at the financial crisis in Detroit or the unemployment rate in Windsor, and look at how the numbers of gamblers and those in poverty and addiction (gambling, drugs and alcohol) increased after the introduction of casinos there. Gambling addiction rates in these cities sit at about 5%. That’s about 5% too high, if you ask me, especially for economically depressed areas with high unemployment – just like London is. The numbers are easy to find on Google if you want to look them all up.  Any rational thinking person can see it’s not a saving grace in the least and the potential for problems it creates outweighs the jobs and revenue it will generate.

Temporary construction jobs will spring up, but how many Londoners will get those jobs? Little in the way of full-time jobs will come as a result: Perhaps a  handful more service people, most (if not all) working part-time, and a handful of croupier jobs for the gaming tables. My guess is that the croupier jobs will likely import from other cities where they have been laid off from their casino job, as has happened frequently in the last few years in Ontario. Just this past March, Caesars Windsor laid off 38 full and part-time unionized employees, off setting it with 4 part-time employees. Still think it’s the saving grace for jobs?

And what about the revenue? Any money is good money, I can’t argue with that. But consider this: we are already getting 5% (correct me if I’m wrong, please) of the revenue generated from the OLG from the Western Fair slots, so will the casino capacity and function increase – to appease the 6% of people who will use the tables – really make a difference in the long run? In my humble opinion, I can’t see it and I say, no. It won’t. I believe in spending money to make money, when the return looks solid. And it doesn’t look solid to me in this case.

I think this has been sold to many people as a great idea to save the city without all the facts or numbers. I might change my mind if some compelling figures were sent my way, but the figures aren’t there in my opinion. The risks outweigh the benefits, and we will pay for it in the end. Remember when bingo halls were all the rage? Where are they now?

Therefore, I say casi-NO. I just can’t see a casino being anymore viable in London than our slots and racetrack are now, and certainly don’t see it saving us from the ‘depths of despair’ and our bleak unemployment situation. It will hardly put a dent in the unemployment rate, and a significant spike in revenues very likely won’t happen. So why spend the money when it could be spent on more important things? It’s time to stay creative, London, not look for a quick – and quite possibly fallible – fix. But that’s just my 25 cent slot token: for what it is worth.

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That little house at 591 Maitland…

Below is an email I received today from the Historic Woodfield District stating their position on 591 Maitland, and their argument for saving it. They feel their voice has not really been heard over the London Free Press stories this past week, so I asked if I could post it to my blog.

Fair and balanced argument is important, and I appreciate the dialogue this subject has created. Please read the note from Woodfield, and see the attached picture from them as well.

So why is Woodfield going to bat for the little house at 591 Maitland?

(This is a simple, little 1800’s house that the owner/developer wants to tear down to build a bigger new house in its place.)

Given the angle of recent reporting, a lot of facts are missing.  Let’s not forget that MANY Woodfielders (and Londoners!) live in Heritage Homes that look just like this, and have been hurt and insulted by some people who have called this home ‘ugly’.

It is not ‘ugly’, it is poorly maintained and has been covered in siding which is easily removed to reveal a beautiful structure that could be returned to a lovely, affordable house in our district.

Do we demolish every home that has a poor siding choice?  What a clever trick that would be for a developer to learn about us!! (see the image attached – this is a DIFFERENT house, shown how it would look if similarly refinished).

First, and completely left out of all reports on this – 591 Maitland is a ‘designated heritage home’ protected as part of a Heritage District.  The guidelines say that it should not be demolished.  This is why LACH, City Staff, and the Woodfield Community Association all agree.  Many of you fought hard for these guidelines – we are only following them.

If we all don’t protect this one, get ready for a lot of demolitions – there are a lot of these homes .  The owner bought a designated property, and could simply have bought a non-heritage designated home right around the corner in Woodfield and all would be fine!

There are VERY good reasons for saving this home:

a)      It is a designated heritage home, and part of a Heritage District;

b)      The siding and windows are simply cosmetic mistakes that could easily be reversed;

c)       It is a home from the 1800s, that fits beautifully into its streetscape in scale, setback and design;

d)      The big, beautiful homes would be protected without a Heritage District – it is the little ones that the district preserves!;

e)      We insult those who can’t afford the mansions when we say that the small ones are not valuable;

f)       The small ones are important!  They allow us to have people of all incomes here – we love that;

g)      We can never demolish based on poor finish choices or maintenance – or this will happen constantly!;

h)      If we don’t follow the guidelines – what are we following?  Who gets to choose?

Many have told us to follow this path.

Woodfielders voted at an Annual General Meeting telling us to FIGHT for heritage in Woodfield – always.

Even if the Press is not fair – we can take it!  We have thick skin and will fight for our neighbourhood.

The Executive of…

The Woodfield Community Association

www.historicwoodfield.com

*****NOTE: The photo above is not of the house in question at 591 Maitland. This is a photoshopped example Woodfield is using to make a point that under the siding on 591 Maitland, a little gem like this *may* be hiding. This is another home entirely though.

Yesterday is history. Some decisions, a mystery…

I’m a sucker for history. Battlefields, artifacts, oral history and architecture. Heritage buildings (the older the better!) have always held a certain magic for me. From a stately Victorian, to a quaint cottage, a castle or a beautiful brick bungalow, there is nothing more magical and romantic in my eyes than old walls that hold stories and secrets from days gone by. I had an Aunt who lived in a large foursquare home. It was a grand brick structure that featured maid’s quarters, dumb waiters and back staircases somebody’s servants would have used. I walked through that home as a child imagining what life would have been like at the turn of the century when it was built, who lived there and what stories the walls would tell me if only they could talk.

My appreciation of history has made me somewhat of a preservationist, and I believe that restoration is good for the future. There is nothing more valuable to the future of a city than its history and the lessons to be learned from it. The simple fact with modern architecture is that most homes are not built to the standard they were. A heritage home is not good because it is old, but rather it has been able to grow old because its build was good. And while most of the homes were built with care and solid materials in the past, there were others that haven’t withstood the test of time.

Case in point: a little home on Maitland Street in London, Ontario, in the heart of the “Historic Woodfield District”. A home that is causing a bit of a stir in the neighbourhood, with the city and neighbourhood association pitted against a handful of neighbours and the home owners. The homeowners at 591 Maitland Street want to demolish the home that they claim is in serious need of repair, including foundation work, and is too small for their growing needs. They are seeking permission to build a new home in its place. The city’s advisory committee on heritage (LACH) and the Woodfield Community Association have refused the proposal for demolition and a rebuild, and the story has been taken to the media. Who has the ultimate right over what happens with the property in question: the city, community association or the homeowner?

The application wasn’t refused because the home itself is historically significant or protected under a heritage designation. It was refused because the neighbourhood (which, in my opinion, is the most beautiful in the city) itself is designated as a heritage district.

Walking by the property, or simply looking at the photo above, it is easy to see the house has had many alterations since it was originally built in 1884. The windows are not original, the porch appears to have been rebuilt at some point, and of course the siding is not original either. Looking at the side of the home, additions to the original structure are evident, and you can notice a bit of a lean to the home. It is nothing to look at and while there may be a little gem under that boring white siding, poorly completed additions and generic wholesale windows, well, there also may not be. What you might find hiding there is a money pit and a need for endless and extensive repairs.

I’m not a builder, contractor or any sort of expert in the field, but I am good with research, so I questioned some acquaintances that are in the construction industry. To lift and repair the foundation, increase the size of the home as the owners would like to do, and restore it to any of it’s 1884 charm (Assuming it was even built with any charm. It may have been a boring, cheap clapboard house originally.), would cost in the ballpark of $100-150,000. This is assuming the foundation is cracked and in need of repair as suggested by the owners, and to provide the space for living that they would like to add. To demolish and build a new home in its place would cost in the ballpark of $100-200,000 for a modest home that would keep in line with the other homes on the street.

One argument is that a new home will take away from the heritage of the district and the street itself. However, looking at an aerial photo from 1922, it seems the west side of this street has always been a hodgepodge of infill over the last 100 years. From the aerial photo, I was able to discern that two houses were removed sometime after 1922 to provide more parking for Lord Roberts school which is at the end of the street. Two foursquare homes remain from the turn of the century beside the parking lot, and the rest of the homes up the west side of Maitland Street vary in building dates from what I can tell, ranging from the early to mid-1900’s. One home in particular is perhaps an example of what the association is worried about happening to the street. Of all of them, it is the most out of place architecture that I can find. The boxy, multi-unit example of “modernism” (I would guess built in the 1960’s – 70’s) is the second most unappealing home on the street, the house in dispute being number one.

The west side of Maitland Street appears to
be a hodgepodge of infill over the years.

The east side of the street is a little
more uniform in its heritage with less infill.

The association points to a house at 599 Maitland as an example of what the builder in question has built on the street in the recent past, and I’m a little uncertain why. A friend suggested it was perhaps due to concerns about “scale” and how a potentially larger house would look on that street, in that spot, with the cute little cottage style home on the right hand side.

599 Maitland, centre, is not out of place
with the rest of the buildings on the street.
While the cottage on the left is dwarfed,
it seems from the surrounding homes and
aerial photos that it has always been dwarfed.

The home at 591 Maitland and its cottage neighbour appear to be two of the oldest homes on the street, both likely built in the late 1800’s. And though they were built in the same era, they are vastly different in scale. You can see that in the architecture on the other side of the street as well. If you look at the aerial shot and a modern shot of the street and houses in question below, the home at 591 is much smaller in size than the cottage next to it. The front view of the homes is deceiving to actual size and scale. And again, the 1920’s bungalow to the left is a much larger scale than both homes. The infill build at 599 fits in with the homes that flank it.

Maitland Street, 1922.

Maitland Street, today.

What exactly is heritage, and what should be preserved under a heritage designation, and in a designated area? Is every old house in a particular zone to be considered a heritage home and worthy of salvation and reparation? Or should we begin to accept that every street in every neighbourhood over the course of its life will experience some sort of necessary evolution, and that our attitude towards preservation must include preserving that ability to evolve. After all, we are creating history and heritage with every day, month and year that passes. Every footstep, nail and board that lands on a street is a part of its heritage eventually, is it not?

As I say, I’m no expert. I’m just a lover of architecture and history. And I must disclose another bias: I hate sprawl if it isn’t necessary. I believe in infill, as long as it is aligned with the architecture and integrity of the existing neighbourhood. I suppose that’s why I don’t understand what is wrong with the proposed designs for a rebuild in the neighbourhood. The proposed designs fit with the scale of the entire street (if you look, it is the cottage that is out of place in the neighbourhood, not the larger homes, and it has been there forever); the designs are tasteful and have a feel for the original period of the neighbourhood; a rebuild would increase the value of surrounding properties.

   

While I respect the position of the neighbourhood association and the reasons for certain protections a neighbourhood is given to maintain its character, I have to admit I am still confused as to why this project is being blocked. It clearly has the support of the surrounding home owners, and the house truly appears to have nothing worthy of salvaging. The common denominator to the history of the west side of the street, it seems to me, is an evolution of infill. So why block the building of a new home with the stipulation that it fits with the architecture surrounding it?

Perhaps I should disclose another bias. I’ve seen what can happen when nobody wants the headache of a “money pit”.  Our home is a 1925 brick bungalow, as are most of the houses on our street. However, a few doors down from us stands a late 1800’s virtual money pit. It is the oldest home on the street and at one time had potential to be the cutest (maybe it still does, who knows?). While the facade was done quite nicely a few years ago, it unfortunately couldn’t cure all the ills years of neglect had done to the inside.

A cute little money pit, it appears
this house is sitting empty and unfinished,
once again.

Since purchasing our home 10 years ago, we have seen several tenants and three different owners, two of whom completely walked away. We thought the most recent buyer was “the one”. Watching a stream of constant repair we were hopeful that the house would soon – and finally – be finished and inhabited. Once again, we were disappointed a few weeks ago when all work stopped, everything left half done, and dollar store “For Sale” signs were placed on a light post up the street, and in the front window of the house. All activity has ceased, and we are back to square one. In hindsight, I believe it would have been better for the original purchaser to tear the house down and build something new. I would hate to know how much money has been lost on this house over the last 10 years, but I would be willing to bet it could build a new house.

Would I want them to build just anything in that spot, and have it stick out like a sore thumb, dwarfing my home and all of those around it? No, not at all. And I don’t think any self respecting home builder would do that. I would request that the heritage of the street to be taken into consideration for the design. With the right designer, that isn’t hard to do. The builder has presented designs for 591 Maitland Street that, in my humble opinion, fall in line with the history of the street and would not be out of place. And while I am apt to favour preservation over demolition in most cases, I can’t say I feel that about this home on Maitland, heritage designated district or not.

I almost feel like I am missing something. What really is the objection to this project? Is the city and association really that concerned that a newly constructed home could in any way diminish the beauty and charm of the neighbourhood? It is impossible. Woodfield stands alone in charm and history, and I’m struggling to see how one of the designs submitted could alter that charm and beauty. In my opinion, it only stands to enhance it. While we preserve history in our neighbourhoods, we must not be afraid to also mingle old with new and evolve naturally when necessary.

The incredibly wise and highly respected Jane Jacobs, an activist who stood up to bulldozers and rallied against urban renewal and expansion, said this:

“To generate exuberant diversity in a city’s streets and districts four conditions are indispensable:

1. The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two…

2. Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.

3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce. This mingling must be fairly close-grained.

4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there…”
Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Food for thought.

Two years to work together.

It’s been two weeks since I shared my thoughts about the Mayor and his “Wedding-gate” scandal. Two weeks and still nothing has been said by the Mayor, nor the RCMP. I’m not surprised. After all Mayor Fontana informed us that he had “lawyered up” and would take a vow of silence. We won’t hear anything from Joe because he and his lawyers will stall right up until the next election, if we let them. And let’s face it, our Mayor is a very stubborn man. He isn’t going to budge of his own volition.

The past two weeks of silence haven’t done the Mayor any favours, either. A petition has been started asking the Mayor to temporarily step aside from his duties, and (at the time of writing this) has collected just over 900 signatures. Several community groups have asked the Mayor to rethink his attendance at their events, and another damning story was posted by the London Free Press with respect to a million dollar lawsuit, and what appears to be an an account of an attempted (or direct?) bribe. I was surprised to see very little feedback on London social media after that story broke. Not near the reaction we saw when “Wedding-gate” circulated. I wondered if people weren’t surprised by the allegation, felt cynical about it or had resolved to complete indifference. Personally, this newest allegation pushed me to rethink my feelings on giving the Mayor his “due process”, and I must admit that my patience with the Mayor’s silence is beginning to wear thin.

In the meantime, providing us with the second act, we had the Mayor’s sidekick and “Laurel to his Hardy”, Councillor Stephen Orser, with yet another valiant attempt to take the spotlight back from off of the Mayor with what is becoming a slapstick favourite for the Councillor: Saying or doing something wildly inappropriate and following it up with a non-apology, apology. Supporters of Councillor Orser defend his behaviour with “that’s just Stephen. That’s his sense of humour. It’s him being funny!”  That’s all well and good if he is amongst his friends in his personal life, but not in his professional capacity.  It’s inexcusable, end of story, there is no argument. It won’t wash in any workplace, and certainly shouldn’t wash when you are an elected city official. Unfortunately there is no recall legislation, so we ask you, Councillor Orser, to please grow up. Take your job seriously or make room for somebody who will.

Monday, Councillor Nancy Branscombe announced she will once again vie for the London North Centre Conservative nomination to run in the upcoming Provincial election, and that has a few people upset. She has been accused of jumping ship by some and being an “opportunist” by others. While some are angry, others are indifferent. Personally, I don’t blame her. In my practice, we seek to eliminate suffering from our lives. Suffering is man made, in that we allow or disallow it to be a defining force in our lives. Whatever you can do to avoid suffering, you do it. Because in the end, this life is all we have and it is meant to be enjoyed. I don’t care if you are elected or hired, if your job is not satisfying and you feel you have nothing left to give to it, nor it to you, you leave. But that’s to say that the reason Nan Bran is seeking the nod is to get away from what looks to have become an incredibly toxic job. She may be an “opportunist” as others suggest, who knows. But who cares. The right is hers, the choice is hers, and we have to accept it.

I never felt that municipal politics had distinct “sides” in this city until I became involved in 2010 election. (How naive was I?) I have since watched with much dismay the pissing matches between council members and citizens, and the total disregard some members of our Council have for the public. There is a growing chasm in this city, both at City Hall and in the community. The actions of the Mayor and a fair number of the Council members already have London politicos thinking and planning for the 2014 election. And among the politicos, lines are being drawn, teams are being picked, and allegations, accusations and nominations are flying off lips and fingers faster than a paper shredder shredding evidence.

It’s hard not to feel that our city politics have fallen into a well and, like little Timmy, we need a “Lassie” to come to the rescue. So who will our Lassie be? Who is brave enough to step into the ring and battle the unknown demons that are sure to be waiting on the doorstep of “2014”?  And how do we decide who is ‘worthy’ to run, and ‘worthy’ of our support? And who exactly gets to decide that, anyway? Enough people were fooled in the past to give us who we’ve got, were they not? So I wonder how it is we avoid being fooled again. I don’t think there is a way, and frankly, feeling that skepticism scares me a little. It isn’t natural coming from me, but it is what it is.

If the last two years weren’t crazy enough for you, don’t fret, because we have two more of them to go. And I don’t see them being any less crazy. It’s not going to get any better until we work together instead of against each other. We don’t have to agree on everything. Heck, I’m a Pollyanna and even I’m realistic enough to know that we won’t. But we really need to make an effort to respect each other a little more.

The Mayor should respect the public by at least telling us what he is doing to prove his innocence. I think that is fair, don’t you Mr. Mayor? If you are innocent of all these recent allegations, not just the wedding scandal, and can prove that, then please respect us enough to let us know that. You also need to respect that we are concerned for our city. A city you don’t exactly live in, but a city whose reputation you are tarnishing with these allegations. Can you respect that this concerns us, and maybe throw us a bone?

Councillor Orser, you just need to respect us. Plain and simple. No more half truths about the work you do and correspondence you receive from your constituents. No more offensive responses, or complete lack of responses, to emails you don’t like. You represent all of us, not just a few of us. And no more looking for attention at the expense of our city’s reputation. Respect us, yourself and the position you hold. By doing this, you will experience something that you may have been missing these last 6 years on Council: respect given back to you.

And sure, maybe some of the opponents to “Nan Bran’s” possible run for Provincial office have a point. Maybe she should stay and fight for us, be our Lassie and keep us from sinking further down the well. Maybe it shows a lack of respect for those who elected her if she leaves. But perhaps it shows a bigger lack of respect, for herself and those who elected her, if she doesn’t pursue what makes her happy and complete. Because if you aren’t happy in your life and work, you won’t give it your all.

Overall, we need to respect each other. I challenge every person reading this who cares about this city to make an attempt to listen a little more carefully; respond a little more kindly; be supportive instead of belittling; try boosting instead of shaming; educate instead of ignoring.

We need to rescue our own-damned-selves from the well. Two more years. We’re in this for two more years and there isn’t anything we can do about it. Well, not about all of it (ie: a divided Council in a divided city), but we can do one thing, at the very least: We can work together towards creating a better city in 2014. London is going to be what we make it in the next two years and beyond. Only by working together can we make it something to be proud of. It’s time to put our differences aside, the gloves down and our heads together. The only other choice is to stay trapped at the bottom of the metaphorical well for two more years, and I can’t imagine why anyone would be content with that. I’m not, so I’m rising to the top. And I’ll give a boost anyone who wants to come with me. Are you coming?

Wedding-gate: Did the Mayor have his cake and eat it, too?

I’ve written about some pretty questionable happenings in London politics over the last 2 years, but I’m afraid the current issue facing our city takes the proverbial (wedding) cake.

What do you do when you have a Mayor who is alleged to have used public money to pay for his son’s wedding, and is purportedly under investigation by the RCMP? Better yet, what does – or should – the Mayor do in this situation? Should he continue on, business as usual, until such time as the RCMP concludes their investigation, or should he step aside temporarily to privately deal with the allegations? Personally, I’m torn and having trouble answering that question. After speaking to several people around the city and through social media, I know I’m not the only one. Once again, the people of this city are divided and it is not a small gap.

Take a look at the information as it has been presented to us so far. Instead of linking to each story run by the London Free Press recently (because there are many), the following link gives a very comprehensive run down of the allegations against Mayor Fontana, where/how they began and where we currently stand with the matter: London Free Press, Fontana.

To recap, it is alleged that in 2005 Mayor Fontana, while a Federal MP for London North Centre, used public funds to the tune of approximately $20,000 to pay the Marconi Club for his son’s wedding reception. It is also alleged, but not entirely confirmed, that the RCMP is investigating the matter. The RCMP in a statement said they will not confirm nor deny this information until such time as charges are laid. I respect that. This is all a matter of due process, and completing the investigation in a comprehensive and fair way. The RCMP will only confirm that the matter has been referred to them.

So the question of the day has become this: Should the Mayor step aside at this point in time until the matter of the accusations and allegations are resolved? The city is largely divided in answering this question and rightfully so. It’s sticky ground to walk on.

An allegation is a claim of fact by an accuser that the accuser says they have the ability to prove. Proof (of only one Public Works cheque in the amount of $1700, it appears) has been provided to the London Free Press by those making the allegation. One would assume that this proof has also been provided to the RCMP along with the referral they have received. But where is the rest of the proof? The other cheque that was written for the balance of the reception cost? Who has it, or who can access it?  That is, if it is still accessible.

It has been 7.5 years since the alleged payment and wedding reception took place. It has been ten days since this story broke locally, and the RCMP confirmed to the Free Press that a referral for investigation was made, but that no charges have been laid. No further information has been provided, no further proof seen and no outright denial by the Mayor has been made. This time lapse with no answers and no action is what makes this entire situation smell like stale cheese. Why wait so  many years to bring the matter to the attention of the authorities? And why – if proof is at hand – is it taking so long for the RCMP to make a formal statement on the matter?

Ten days is a long time to go with questions left hanging on such heavy allegations. And these allegations are heavy. If guilty, the Mayor essentially defrauded the Canadian people who he was elected to serve. You can’t get much heavier than that, nor dirtier. But at this point, these are still allegations, and in the eyes of the law this is very important to understand. An allegation does not make it fact.

The severity is enough to have a fair portion of the city calling for the Mayor to step aside until this matter is resolved, charges are laid, proof of innocence provided or what-have-you. People simply want the matter cleared up so the city of London can continue on with its day to day business and focus on the task at hand: creating a city that can we can be proud of. Putting London, Ontario on the map and getting it recognized as player on the world stage, rejuvenating and generating a climate of positivity, employment opportunities and talent retention. Isn’t that what all of us want?

Sadly, incidents like this and all the other blights on our reputation over the last two years are making those goals near impossible. So those calling for the Mayor to step aside to limit the level of embarrassment and distraction for the city at this moment perhaps have basis for that call. That is, if the Mayor’s current issue is causing him to be distracted. Is the Mayor unable to perform in this capacity while he pleads – and hopefully proves – his innocence? Or is it our focus on the subject for the last ten days and demanding fast answers and production of proof that is causing the distraction? Are we giving justice enough time to be served, or are we rushing it based on, again, allegations and our own emotion and anger at feeling duped?
This is where I waffle and grapple with this entire subject. And I think it comes down to this: If charges are laid against the Mayor in the coming days, once the RCMP have had time to conduct a thorough investigation, then yes – I agree wholeheartedly that the Mayor should step aside, either temporarily or permanently. Of course, temporarily would suggest the Mayor maintains his innocence and would give him time to prove his innocence, as is well within his rights to do. Permanently would be like an admission of guilt. And if he is guilty, well, admission is the best thing for us all. Save us time, heartache and more wasted public money.
I am not the most patient person in the world, but at this point I have to argue on the side of time and yes, patience. We need to give this due course to see where it leads. The fact that the Mayor sits on the Police Services board is seen by some to be a conflict of interest due to the allegations (that word again) of an RCMP investigation (which has not been confirmed). I believe that until charges are laid, it is not a conflict of interest and we are jumping the gun. Should the RCMP lay charges in the matter, however, then I wholeheartedly agree with the need for the Mayor to step aside and remove himself from any such conflict.
I think everyone can agree that if this entire fiasco turns out to be true, it is very concerning and horribly damning. But what is more concerning to me is the question of how many others have gotten away with doing something like this, or currently are getting away with it. Our Mayor surely can’t be the only one, so we need to be more diligent following this story to ensure that this never happens again. We need more controls and accountability, and we need to put our energies into fighting for that accountability instead of just giving it lip service. And we need to encourage each other to get a little more educated on the people and issues with every single election – municipal, provincial and federal – and get out and vote. More voices give us strength to take back the power and control that we hand over to our elected officials on election day.
In the meantime, we just need to focus on city business and keep on moving forward. Relations around the council table have been strained at best for the last two years, and this is undoubtedly contributing to it. But it appears it is us making that contribution. The Mayor has retained a lawyer, he has advised he is finding proof of no wrongdoing and he is committed to carrying on with his job. Can that not be enough for us for the moment? Like I say, until the RCMP steps forward and gives us more direction based on their findings?
In closing, I will opine that we are just as much to blame for this “scandal”. We put our ballot in the box, our faith in the elected and then we turn our heads and go back to our day to day lives of “ignorance is bliss”. I think we need to use this as a lesson and a wake up call that dirty deeds are happening reguarly behind closed doors, where temptation is great and nobody is looking. Tell a child not to take a cookie from the jar and he will listen, as long as you are looking. But turn your back and that temptation can prove to be too great.
Wake up and start paying attention, folks. Hold your elected officials accountable, and not just the ones you disagree with based on a certain ideology or party line. It’s time to pay attention to what is happening in every level of Government, and take accountability when you don’t. But please, don’t rush due process. If the Mayor is not distracted by what is going on and the allegations that will have an enormous impact on his life, livelihood and credibility across this city – no, country – then perhaps we shouldn’t distract him. Or maybe we should. Like I say, I’m still waffling. It just goes to show, there is no right or wrong answer when we all feel we are right.  So I thank goodness for the right to due process. Annoying as it currently is, it is what it is, and we have it for a reason.

Save Lorne Ave: The battle rages on.

The following is a transcript of the speech I delivered at the “Accommodations Review Committee” (ARC) meeting on October 4, 2012, with respect to the proposed closure of Lorne Ave Public School.

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In a 1900 speech, Mark Twain stated: “Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.”  His words still ring true today.

Good evening. My name is Jo-Anne Bishop, and I am a 15 year resident of Old East Village, and the parent of two Lorne Ave students. My husband and I moved to London in 1997 and landed in the Old East Village. In that time we have seen amazing growth and change. When we were expecting our first child in 2002, we bought our first home here due to the diversity we found, and the sense of community we felt. Having a school within walking distance of our home was also a major factor in our decision. It is safe to say, that this community is where our heart lies.

At the last ARC meeting, we saw a presentation from Jack Ammendolia, an economist with the firm Watson & Associates from the GTA. Jack presented his pontifications for growth in Old East using words like “opinions”, “projections”, “forecasts” and “assumptions”. He asserted that busing vs. walking is a personal choice for families and would not be something typically used to decide a home purchase. It became obvious to me that Jack doesn’t live in London, and more importantly, the Old East Village, because that is the number one response I hear from new families who move to this area: it has a school we can walk to.

Jack admitted that there is a “fortune ball element to all of this”, and while I respect the research he was commissioned to do, I cannot imagine basing the future of a school and an entire neighbourhood on the shake of a Magic 8 Ball. The ramifications of such a decision are huge, and too important to the people of our area.

I admit:  Economics wasn’t my favourite subject in University. But if there is one thing I remember from my courses that wasn’t mentioned by Jack, it is the idea of “Opportunity Cost”. For every opportunity, there is a cost. In the case of this ARC review, the opportunity is a school closure under the guise of board savings. An opportunity to consolidate students, build additions on to schools and create pretty new spaces that the TVDSB can be proud of.

The cost of this opportunity, however, is huge:

– 250 JK to grade 8 students will be separated between 2 schools, dividing friends and severing neighbourhood ties that have been created;

– Important community partnerships will be lost;

– Daycare opportunities in the neighbourhood will be lost;

– Expensive additions to Bishop Townsend will need to be completed;

– Adult English as a Second Language classes will be lost, with 215 ESL students and their children displaced.

 

According to Jack from Watson and Associates, immigration is a large factor to growth in this neighbourhood which makes this loss even graver. This has always been a great question for me in this process: why are these ESL students – who the TVDSB receives money for – not eligible to be included in our ARC review? The board will not recognize them as being significant to the Lorne Ave school environment and include their numbers in our count. But to us, they are very significant. They are a large part of the Lorne Ave community and to the Old East Village, as are their children.

This is a huge discrepancy in this entire issue, and perhaps the greatest travesty. The perpetuation of the myth that Lorne Ave School is under populated, and underutilized. We have more children in our school than Bishop Townsend or St Georges, yet we are the target for closure, not them. Our curse is a past mistake on the part of the board: a school built for 880 students in the 1960’s. And because of this error in judgment, we are being punished. Or perhaps it goes back to the stigma Old East has tried so hard to shake? I’m not sure.

What I do know is this: Lorne Ave is full. Lorne Ave is rich. Old East is growing, and this cannot be denied. We need our school to continue to grow. This will undoubtedly take creativity on the part of the school board, but I am confident that a solution can be found. Because to say that Lorne Ave is not being used to its full potential, is an outright lie.

What is this ARC review really about? Saving a buck? If savings really are the issue, then a plausible suggestion would be to close one of the other schools – Bishop or St Georges – and move their students to the Lorne Ave building. After all, we are large enough to accommodate all the students. There would be no need for expensive additions or portables that, in my experience, are not conducive to effective learning. Only the general repairs that have gone unfinished to Lorne Ave for the last several years would be needed to accommodate this. That is where you will achieve true savings.

But save for a handful of individuals from the board, none of us in this room want to see any schools close. To those individuals the children and adults in this school are numbers and dollar figures. They appear to mean nothing outside of that. But it means something to us.

In a word, this ARC process is unjust. In the early meetings, it felt as though neighbourhoods, schools and families were pitted against each other. It was like a dog fight with Lorne Ave declared the underdog from the start, and the odds stacked strongly against us. I cannot tell you how many times I heard from people whom I spoke to about our campaign to save Lorne Ave, that we were wasting our time and energy. That the board’s decision was already made, and this process was a smoke and mirrors game to appease us, only because they had to. Some spoke from their own ARC experience, others from theory and speculation.  But to hear that was deflating, I will not lie, and it made me wonder if they were right.

And then I remembered: the only cause worth fighting for is a lost cause. If this is a lost cause, so be it.

 

Our fight will not end here. Should the recommendation to close Lorne Ave be carried forward, it will only get stronger. I and others vow to keep fighting for this school, long after tonight is over and this exhausting and emotional process is done, because I never want to see our school – or any community in London – go through what we are experiencing now.

I will close with one more quote from Mark Twain, and some food for thought:  “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made school boards.”  A harsh reflection from Twain, I know. But this board has the opportunity to do the right thing and in turn, prove him wrong.

Thank you.

Jo-Anne Bishop
Resident, Old East London and Lorne Ave Parent

 

The Führer over Fluoride

It was an intense evening at London City Council last night. In the gallery and on the floor, tempers flared, heckling resulted and the gallery was reminded to remain quiet and respectful several times. It is no surprise with two hot issues on the table: Reservoir Hill and fluoridation.

The long (and hotly) debated Reservoir Hill vote was first on the agenda. Despite many years of action and pleas to the contrary from a good portion of the public and neighbours of the proposed building site, the vote was passed by a margin of 10-5. This is a decision I truly hope they don’t come to regret in the future, nor do I think we have heard the last of it. Those against the proposed development have vowed to explore legal avenues to have this stopped. If council hoped this vote would put an end to the 20 year battle for Reservoir Hill, I suspect they have another thing coming.

The other hot button item on the agenda was the fluoride debate which was “put to rest” by a decision of the same margin (10-5), with council voting to keep fluoride in the water.  Also hotly debated, it appeared public response was divided, if not slanted slightly on the side of removing fluoride from the water. Despite the fact it was passed, this issue too will not rest. The fluoride issue will rise again, because there is an increasing number of people who feel the addition of fluoride to our water supply is unnecessary and, perhaps, unethical.

My personal feelings on the matter are simple: To be forced against our will to ingest something – anything – that could potentially be harmful is unacceptable. Looking past just the drinking water I consume and to other foods that fluoridated water or additives could be/is present in, I am concerned that we are woefully unaware of just how much fluoride we are consuming in our day to day lives. For example, various bottled beverages, black tea, canned vegetables and meat, and the vegetables we grow that are watered with fluoridated water. How much do you consume in a day? Are you aware of the concentration of fluoride in any of these foods? I didn’t think so, and me either.  If you take antidepressants or medications for osteoporosis, fluoride may also be present. The concentrations of fluoride in any of these products we consume may not be known, or readily disclosed. The symptoms of fluorosis – pain in the joints, abdominal pain, nausea, salivation – look like typical complaints we might put down to “getting old” or working too hard. Or perhaps it was something we ate.

Ahh, yes, perhaps it was.

The fact is, we have no accurate way of gauging how much the average person consumes in a day. So why add insult to injury? Why force the consumption upon us, under the guise of protecting our teeth when topical fluoride is a preferred and safer method of doing so?

Anyhow, I won’t go on about that. My opinion is nothing but that – my own – based on the research I have done and the choices I make for my health and well being. There is plenty of research to be found that can assist you in making up your own mind, just as I have, and I highly recommend you seek the information and decide on the matter for yourself.  While there is much research to support both sides of the debate – which some feel makes it impossible to decide on which side of the coin they fall – there is also quite a bit of propaganda.

Der “Führer” reared his ugly head last night during the debate, courtesy of Ward 4 Councillor Orser. Pitifully, he chose to create and distribute a flyer for the other council members that looked a little (well, exactly) like this:

Invoking Hitler to make an invalid point against fluoride.

Nazi Germany used water fluoridation in concentration camps to sterilise the humans and force them into calm submission.”, the paper reads at the bottom. A picture of Hitler is in one corner, and a girl from a Nazi poster with the words “Jugend dient dem Führer: Alle Zehnjährigen in die HJ“*, which translates to, “Youth serves the leader: All ten-year olds into the HJ.” (*Hitler-Jugend or Hitler Youth), in the other.

Once again, Councillor, you leave me at a loss for words. Your passion for particular subjects – backyard chickens, the banning of bottled water, the squashing of citizen voices and now, contesting fluoride – is admirable. But I must say, you have an odd way of sharing your ideas at times. This poster is in no way appropriate to distribute to any person, citizen or colleague. Not only is it disrespectful to those who survived the holocaust, it is fear mongering at its worst.  As Hitler himself said, “Tell a lie loud enough and long enough and people will believe it.” For as many people who state the claim that Hitler added poisonous levels of fluoride to the water, just as many deny it. Unfortunately, I can’t find compelling or reliable evidence either way to confirm or deny, so reliable sources to either account would be appreciated.

The Councillor spoke to the media today and said he sees nothing wrong with the poster. He’s shocked it’s even being discussed, and has no regrets. To the dear councillor I say this: You cannot invoke Hitler without a solid expectation of backlash. You just can’t. Such a tactic to make others see your point of view is unacceptable and completely unnecessary. Do your homework, Councillor, which includes researching all issues placed in the agenda before you, thoroughly and properly. I support your fight to end fluoridation in the water, but I can’t support such methods of presenting your case. Instead of hailing the spirit of Hitler, a properly researched and presented case could have had you hailing victory last night. Perhaps there is a lesson here to keep in mind for the future on how to win people over to your camp. When it comes to propaganda, just say nein.

There goes the neighbourhood…

‘Lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for.’ Fullan and Hargreaves

I live in an older, quaint, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse neighbourhood. A short trip from the downtown core, at one time my home would have been considered on the edge of the city. We call this area the “Old East Village”, and I can tell you, it is adorable.

When planning our move to London 15 years ago we were warned by nearly everyone we met, “Don’t live east of Adelaide. It’s a bad area.” Ignoring their warnings, we found our first apartment in a 100-year-old home owned by a sweet young family. The rent was cheap, the apartment cute and we could see the potential that was beginning to blossom in the community. Younger professionals and families were buying the homes for a song, and pride of ownership was evident. When it came our time to buy our first home, we knew where we wanted to be, and stayed right where we were: in the Village.

Some of the warnings were correct. There were issues in the Village that the residents could recognize and worked at fixing. The Dundas street corridor from Adelaide to the Quebec Street was a breeding ground for Johns, prostitutes, drug dealers and drunks. The area east of Adelaide had fallen into disrepair, and little effort was being expended by the city to revitalize it. In the last decade, the citizens and business owners have taken it upon themselves to literally “be the change” in the area, but despite our efforts the “East of Adelaide” stigma lingers, along with a few straggling problems. While others may have given up on Old East, we aren’t ready to quit just yet.

At the heart of my neighbourhood rests a school. The school my children and approximately 248 other students attend from junior kindergarten to grade 8, as well as English as a Second Language adults on the top floor. A true community school, Lorne Ave is the pulse of our neighbourhood, and has drawn young professionals in to the revitalization efforts. Built in the 1960′s, it is a large school with the capacity to hold 880 students (why, we aren’t sure), and as a result it is under capacity and has been targeted for closure under an “ARC” (Accommodations Review Committee) process. This isn’t the first time Lorne Ave has been placed on review, having received a ‘stay’ a few years ago. However, this one is the most serious, and for the first time I fear defeat. At the end of this ARC (Accommodation Review Committee) process, a school will be closed, and all indicators point to ours.

So did nearly all fingers of the people who attended and spoke at the first review meeting, and I can’t lie – it hurt. I realized that night that the stigma of Old East lingered on, despite our efforts.

“This is not about targeting a particular community or neighbourhood”, said the Chair of the meeting. And perhaps he meant it. But I don’t believe the parents and residents in attendance from the other areas believed it, or felt the same way. I went in hopeful for support from our neighbouring community, and was sorely disappointed as one by one, they paraded to the microphone and declared their support for the closure of Lorne Ave.

The first speaker of the night was a Lorne Ave parent who told of the value our school brings to the students, and the story of her son who wouldn’t be where he was now, she felt, if not for the support from the staff at the school. It was a story we hear time and again in our school, and one I could personally relate to. Following her were three other speakers, all from our neighbouring community, who’s school is also included in the ARC.

The first, whom I sincerely hoped might stand in our corner, took the microphone and stated that she was a fervent supporter of schools in the core of a city, and the communities they serve. Despite this, she fully supported the closure of Lorne Ave school. It was all downhill from there. One by one, the speakers who took the mic pointed at Lorne Ave and recommended it’s closure. My spirit was crushed until one of the final two speakers of the night from the Trillium Foundation extolled the virtues of our school, the value it brings to our community, students and city as a whole. I found a renewed hope, but my hope was sadly still overshadowed by disappointment.

At the break, a gentleman from one of the other ARC schools approached me. “Do you have children who go to this school?”, he asked. I told him yes, two children, and watched as his face scanned me once and looked surprised. He asked, “Looking around the room, how many parents would you say are from Lorne Ave?”. I responded that likely half the room were Lorne Ave parents, another good portion I recognized as being from the neighbouring school, and a handful I did not recognize. Again, he looked shocked, so I asked him why.

“That’s not what I expected after walking up Dundas Street just now.”, he said. I cocked my head and looked at him, trying to understand his implication. “So, you expected us to look like drug addicts or bums perhaps?” He chuckled and said, “Yes! Oh, no offence.” It was a little too late for “no offence” at that point. I was offended, by the entire evening, and I was ready for it to end.

“This is not about targeting a particular neighbourhood.” That’s what we were told, but sadly I don’t see that as the complete truth. If attitudes from those around us suggest anything, this is all about a particular neighbourhood – mine – and I’m not cool with that. Yes, our neighbourhood has had (and continues to have) it’s issues, but perseverance and determination has seen it come a long way and we are proud of our accomplishments, we are proud of our community members, and we are proud of our school.

The heart of the issue lies on the Dundas corridor, and the inability of the city to invest in the area, talk to the residents and get creative with a plan to turn it around. Being that it is so close to the core, I can’t understand why it has been  virtually ignored for so long. With the correct vision, it could become an incredible extension of the downtown and bring a new vitality to the city. With attention, Old East Village will continue to grow and be the best possible version of it’s diverse, quaint self. But that vision and help has to come from our city fast, before it is too late. The Village needs support from the city both to clean up the area, and to save our school.

The thought of losing our school is eating at me. The dream to reverse the stigma of our area is consuming me. The drive to fight for our neighbourhood is pushing me. I don’t want to begin to imagine what will happen to the Old East Village if our school closes. But when the heart of a community stops beating, well, there goes the neighbourhood.


Reservoir Hill: An uphill battle and a slippery slope.

Did you know: During the War of 1812, a battle was fought in London, Ontario.

It took place at Hungerford Hill (now known as Reservoir Hill), that sits where Springbank Drive and Commissioners Road meet. It is a nicely treed, hilly patch of land that overlooks Springbank Park. Details are few, but the history I have been able to find tells stories of marauding bands who plundered and pillaged through the area during the War of 1812, and an ambush on American raiders by the Middlesex Militia in 1814.

Nearly 200 years later, a battle is being fought at Reservoir Hill once again. This battle isn’t a mere skirmish, however, and might be seen as yet another marauding band, pillaging the Hill. That marauding band is our City Council. By ignoring recommendations of City Planning staff, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and the results of Public Participation Meetings held with respect to the land development, London City Council is virtually setting up to attack the area around the Hill.

The current battle began in 1999 when the original application was made by Ayerswood Development asking the City of amend the official plan and zoning by-law from an “Open Space”designation to “High Density Residential.” Five months later, in March of 2000, Council unanimously rejected the application. This led to an appeal over the next year; the development of the Reservoir Hill Group comprised of neighbours and community members to speak to the appeal; and an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing.

In February of 2001, the decision was received from the OMB which allowed the Developer’s appeal in part. Changes were required to be made in order for the Board to approve the site plan entirely. A very succinct summary of the events that followed up to June of 2011 can be found in blogs written by Gina Barber: London Civic Watch: The battle over Reservoir Hill and Discount days at planning.

Since June of 2011,  there have been more appeals, meetings, recommendations and refusals to comply with the OMB. The site plan still to this day does not conform to the recommendations of the OMB, and there are several engineering concerns surrounding the development, including the safety to hold a building of the proposed size on the site, grading and the potential for erosion. No decision has been made on this battle, that has waged since 1999, but that may change in the next week or so as this matter will once again appear before our Council.

In just nine short months, members of the Council have dramatically changed the approach they have previously taken with respect to this site plan application, and has given itself the authority to approve the application without the support of City Staff, and against previous OMB recommendations. This current Council is looking now at approving the same application it had previously rejected in June of 2009. Why, and how can they do that? These are questions many in the community have.

This is clearly another example of what Councillor Nancy Branscombe has recently referred to as “policy on the fly”. A segment of the Council appears to be giving themselves powers to do whatever they want to do, when it suits them – and they want to do it quickly. Is this wise? Of course not. The allure of the development is that it will create jobs, and that’s what the Mayor desperately wants (read: needs) for this city now. But jobs at what cost? Ignoring the recommendations of staff, the OMB and the citizens who took place in Public Participation Meetings is not only irresponsible, but it could prove to be dangerous.  Should an unforeseen incident occur due to the issues previously listed, the cost will be far greater than any benefit the City would receive from making such a rash decision, especially one that is difficult to undo. It would also set a precedent in the future that would take us down yet another slippery slope.

It should be noted who the Councillors supporting the development are.  With the exception of one, there were no surprises for me in the list of names. They are the usual suspects: Mayor Fontana, Bud Polhill, Joe Swan, Stephen Orser, Dale Henderson, Paul Van Meerbergen, Denise Brown, Sandy White and the surprise (for me) Matt Brown.

This is where you need to get involved. I would encourage you to write to your Councillors to express your concerns with this pushing through of development and ignoring of recommendations by Staff and the OMB. Construction jobs sound appealing to a city that is hurting, but not jobs that could come with a great cost attached to them. And not only at a cost for the residents of the area, but for the rest of us as well. When this development is complete, a patch of land that is pleasing to the eye and segues to our beautiful Springbank Park will be forever changed, and perhaps not for the better. Too high of a density could ruin the landscape and cause catastrophe if the right measures aren’t taken to ensure safety in engineering.

Second, if you have the opportunity, attend the public delegation to voice your concerns over the development of the area, and the hasty policies Council is making in these situations. This is not the first, and if we let this kind of practice continue, it will become the norm.

Finally, the community who has rallied around Reservoir Hill has a petition available to sign, (a copy of which I have and will gladly send to anyone who requests one.  The more signatures, the better.)  The residents of the area could really use the support of the greater public before this goes before the Planning Committee once more. (Which could occur as early as Monday, March 26th, so please act fast.)  **Note:  I have been informed the Reservoir Hill site plan will be heard on April 24th, 2012. You have plenty of time to voice your concerns to council. Please, use this opportunity to get involved.

If we let this kind of policy making become the norm in the City of London, erosion of the Hill may not be our only concern, but the continued erosion of public participation and engagement, which would come at just as much of a cost. There is a process to these kinds of decisions for a reason, and we should all take responsibility for holding our Councillors to that process.

Tangled webs and leaps of faith.

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive! ~ Sir Walter Scott

I remember my mum warning me as a child, “Jo-Anne, if you’re going to lie be sure it’s worth it, because I will always find out the truth.” She wasn’t kidding. She always caught me, but I never learned. In my teens, I told a doozy; one that hurt her very much. I couldn’t back up my story when questioned again, and she warned me, “Be sure your memory is long, Jo-Anne.” I suffered the consequences and learned from that mistake. I noted that the truth comes at much less cost than a lie and vowed to find honesty, for my benefit and the benefit of others.

We are surrounded in our every day lives by deception, omissions, half-truths and blatant lies. From parenting to politics, there is no escaping dishonesty. The art of covering one’s butt is nothing new, but I get a sinking feeling it is getting worse with every passing day. This morning alone I heard 3 lies before I knew the time. In one ear my son was telling me he “spilled water” in his bed, in the other the radio was talking of “Robocall” scandals and clandestine lunches. And I realized, this has been the norm for… I don’t know how long. But when I think of it, as long as I can remember.

And I shudder.

I have told my share of white lies, and learned to withhold the truth when the truth had nothing positive or constructive to offer. I undertook many years ago to be a decent, honest person. Sometimes it’s difficult, and other times it can be a detriment. Even if they say they do, not everybody wants to hear the truth because at times the truth can be ugly. But a lie is much more unsightly, especially when the truth is exposed. The hurt is longer and deeper, and trust disappears.

I feel hurt and mistrusting as a result of the lies I am hearing around me. My son is six, so I’ll give him a pass. We’ll downplay this incident to a fib and use it as a learning experience. I’ll instill the consequences of dishonesty, whether a “fib” or a “lie” and help him develop in his character. It is my duty as his parent to protect him, teach him and lead by example. We will value honesty and live life that we can be proud of. This is what I signed up for.

What I did not sign up for was my elected officials attempting to deceive me at every turn. Municipally and federally, I am becoming increasingly frustrated and saddened, day by day. When we elect our officials, we take a leap of faith that they will protect and serve us almost as a parent protects and serves their child. We give them our money, our personal information and our confidence that they will do what is best for us. We give our elected representatives respect, whether deserved or not, because we all know that the job they do must be very tough. But we put them there because they assure us that they can do it, and we take them at their word.

So how do we determine if they are lying when they make that promise? When we take that leap of faith and give them control of our cities, provinces, countries and livelihoods, what is to say they aren’t deceiving us? Nothing. Recent events – and events for centuries – prove it. No wonder voter apathy is at an all time high. No wonder citizens of the world have taken to the streets to protest, from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street and all its offshoots. No wonder people are angry. The world is waking up to the dishonesty, and they’re making it clear they’ve had enough. I’ve had enough, have you? Then stand up!

I want you to say this out loud, now:

“I vow to live an honest life; to lead by example; to spread truth instead of lies, love instead of hate. I make this pledge for the good of humanity.”

I’m not joking, friends, and I hope you will repeat it and live it. It is time we demand honesty from each other. When we have an outbreak of disease, we vaccinate against it and take all precautions necessary to stop it. Consider this vow your vaccination. It is time to adopt and protect one of the most core values of life: honesty. If not, it is a race to the bottom to see who can sink to the lowest of the low. And for what gain? Control. But what good does control do when you lose it? And those who seek control at all costs will eventually lose it. All things must come to an end. And what then, at what cost? Respect, dignity and conscience come to mind.

Today is a leap year, an event that happens once every four years. It is the perfect time for you to take a proverbial “leap” and make a pledge to live an honest, decent life. It is the perfect time to wake up to the dishonesty around you and hold to account those who are purveying it. We have lived surrounded by deception for so long that it has become the norm to us, but it can’t remain that way. Live a good life, lead by example and expect others to behave the same. Most of all, do not be afraid to call them on it. A higher standard has to be set by every single one of us, before we are so tangled up in webs of lies that we are unable to escape. There has never been a better time for us to make this commitment. Please, make the leap, before it is too late.