Monthly Archives: April 2016

Blast From The Past

There’s an old idea that’s been getting some traction in the national press over the past few months. It’s the idea of having a guaranteed minimum income. What might be most interesting is the fact that voices on all sides of the political spectrum have been supportive of the idea.

For a little historical background, let’s look back to 1974. ‘Mincome’ as it was called, was an experimental Canadian basic income project that was implemented in Dauphin, Manitoba. The project was funded jointly by the provincial and federal governments of the day. The purpose was to determine whether a guaranteed unconditional income would improve individual health and community life.

The project was fairly simple. If an individual has no income from any source at all, they receive a basic entitlement. As earned income increases, the benefit declines, but less than proportionately. As a result, low-income earners receive partial benefits so that they aren’t worse off than they would have been if they had quit their jobs and relied solely on income assistance. This means that there is always an incentive to work, and people who work are always better off than if they didn’t.

A final report was never issued when the experiment was stopped in 1978, but a University of Manitoba professor did an analysis of the results in 2009 and published her report in 2011. One of the arguments against this type of program was that it discouraged people from working. According to the report, only teenagers and new mothers worked significantly less. It was concluded that mothers of young children who wanted to stay home longer with their children were now able to, without fear of putting their family in financial peril. Teenagers worked less because they weren’t under pressure to help support their families (often causing them to leave high school before graduating), which directly resulted in more teenagers graduating from high school during that period.

Some of the observations related to health were that hospital visits during the Mincome experiment dropped 8.5% with fewer work related injuries and fewer emergency room visits from accidents. There was also a reduction in rates of psychiatric hospitalization and the number of mental illness related consultations with health professionals. The conclusion was that stress and anxiety about poverty was reduced, and therefore people were healthier both physically and psychologically.

Another argument against the program was that it would cost too much. However, based on the drop in health care costs due to reduced frequency of use, the cost savings of eliminating government programs like CPP, Employment Insurance, disability and other welfare type government programs designed to keep people from falling into poverty and throw in a reduction in WSIB claims due to a decrease in work related injuries, accidents and illnesses and it sounds like the potential for significant savings. This would also eliminate the frustrating application process for these programs which too often denied benefits to the people that needed them based on technicalities or a lack of recognizing unique circumstances. In fact, according to several Queen’s University professors, the cost of replacing these programs plus providing every adult with an annual income of $20,000 and children with an income guarantee of $6,000, would be $40-billion. The Fraser Institute calculates the total cost of Canada’s current income support system (payout plus administrative costs) at $185-billion in 2013.

Another positive impact would be the possibility of increased economic activity. Lower income people spend between 95-115% of their income on goods and services. So, if lower income people have more money because of a guaranteed income, they’ll spend more on goods and services which could be a nice boost for the economy and local businesses. Also consider the amount of increased tax revenue that could be collected.

Recently, the Ontario and Quebec governments have expressed interest in reviving the idea and trying it in their provinces. There’s also been a desire on behalf of a federal cabinet minister to review the possibility.

The conclusion from the professor’s report was a very important one – “people appear to live healthier lives when they don’t have to worry about poverty”. If improved health, more educated people, increased economic activity and eliminating poverty are the potential results of this type of program, why wouldn’t our elected officials implement this program? Why not try this program in an area like Eastern Ontario that has higher rural agriculture activity and higher self employment, where an illness, a disability, financial problems or severe weather events can be financially devastating to families?

What do you think?

Door To Door Licensing

Back in the spring of this year, a young man from an energy marketing company came to my home (a common occurrence in town) and told me that he was there to inspect my furnace. I remember that he was dressed in a uniform from head to toe with the company name very visible. He was very convincing and stated that he had the authority on behalf of his company to enter my home. When asked exactly who had given his company that authority to enter my home and inspect my furnace, he said that he only knew that he was told to do it by his employer. I told him that he couldn’t come in, no matter whose authority he thought he had. He began to get visibly frustrated because I wasn’t letting him into my home. He then attempted to step past me through my doorway, so I quickly stepped in front of him to block him from entering. I couldn’t believe that he just tried to enter my home by trying to walk past me! I had specifically told him that he did not have my permission to enter my home! I angrily told him that he needed to leave my property immediately! I went inside and posted a warning for other residents on Facebook and debated phoning the police.

After some research, I discovered that only your insurance company (who you get your house insurance from) might send someone to inspect your furnace, but only after sending you a letter by mail and setting up an appointment with you. The only reason they might want it done is if you were changing policies or had a new insurance company and your furnace was an older one. I’m concerned about what kind of damage one of these individuals could do if they gained access to one of our vulnerable resident’s homes (theft, assault, fraud, intimidating people into signing unwanted contracts etc.).

To keep these people from harming our vulnerable residents, this fall I e-mailed and sat down to discuss the situation with Fire Chief Paul Hutt. As one of his responsibilities, the Chief oversees by-law services. I asked if there was currently a by-law that regulated the activities of door-to-door salespeople. He said that he would sit down with the by-law services officer and they would look into it and see if there was anything currently in the by-law book. I provided him with copies of by-laws dealing with this topic from both the city of Prescott and the city of Brockville, so that he had an idea about how other municipalities in the area handled it. I also suggested to the Chief that if there isn’t a by-law, that one be created (or if there is one, that it be amended) and include mandatory licencing by the municipality of North Grenville. This would mean that it would be illegal for these individuals and companies to go door-to-door without a licence issued by the municipality. An application would need to be submitted and approved, as well as a licencing fee would be charged to any company or individual who wanted to conduct legitimate door-to-door selling in North Grenville (charities and non-profit organizations would be exempt). Each individual would also have to show proof of that licence when asked for by the homeowner or tenant. If unlicensed or unable to provide proof of their licence, the company and/or employee would be subject to a significant fine.

I saw that “Door to Door Sales (Amend Licensing By-law 14-08)” was on the agenda for the Emergency and Protective Services section of Monday December 7th’s Committee of the Whole meeting. Hopefully, Council agreed that it’s critical to protect our vulnerable residents and that everyone should feel safe in their home by voting in favour of this by-law amendment.

Rising Up From Down South

If you haven’t been paying attention to what’s happening politically with our neighbours to the south, it might be worth taking a look. There are some fascinating things going on in both the Republican and Democrat presidential candidate races that have some parallels to what’s been happening here in North Grenville.

Some people know Donald Trump is in the race for the Republican nomination for president. Regardless of how you feel about him, there is something that is becoming very clear. Though he has no political experience and is apparently personally financing his own campaign, he’s winning. Many Americans are fed up with their politicians being bought with corporate campaign financing and then they turn their back on the people. So, along comes Trump saying that he’s different and that he doesn’t need that corporate money.

On the other side, there’s something interesting going on in the Democratic presidential nomination race. Even before the race started, Hilary Clinton was being declared the winner by many and even being talked about as the next president. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders was considered an upstart and a novelty when the campaign began. As American economist Robert Reich put it, Hilary is the best candidate for the current political system and Bernie Sanders is the best candidate to start a political revolution. Well something has been happening on the way to Hilary’s acceptance speech and that is that she’s in the middle of a dogfight.

Some of the ideas that Sanders is promoting are: to remove corporate financing from political campaigns and to have a single payer healthcare system (just like in Canada) among others. These ideas (though nowhere near what Trump is talking about), are similar to Trump’s approach to his campaign, in that they are both considered as anti-establishment. Judging by the success of both Trump and Sanders so far, it seems very apparent that Americans are very unhappy with ‘status quo politics’ and are looking for alternatives.

Why should this matter to us here in North Grenville? It matters because it would be great to see people inspired by this anti-establishment movement and have them start to challenge some of the tired and worn political philosophies and ideas that have been used unsuccessfully for years here in North Grenville. The good news is that over the past few months a window of opportunity seems to be opening. There seems to be a genuine willingness on behalf of certain members of council to respond to input from residents, beyond a pat on the head or a meaningless statement of support.

However, the most important component is still missing from this equation and that’s a dialogue coming from residents. In order for the establishment of the past to be cast aside and a new way of thinking to begin, it’s critical for us as residents to seize this opportunity that we’ve been waiting for. We have a chance to step forward and engage those on council who are receptive. So talk to your neighbours, talk to your friends or other community minded people about getting involved now.

Municipal budget meetings are being held right now. This is a perfect opportunity for residents to step forward and give their input on how our money will be spent over the next two years. Yes, these budget meetings are about the preparation of a TWO year budget instead of the usual one year budget. So, it’s even more important than ever for people to come out and share their concerns or offer their ideas on what the budget priorities should be. There may not be an opportunity for budget input next year, so now is the time!

Is this the dawning of a new era of local politics? I for one certainly hope so. Will you join me and help to forge a new establishment that includes input from all residents?

Rural Municipal Councillor Study

I recently came across a study that was just released by the Rural Institute of Ontario. It was titled ‘Municipal Councillor Profile’ and it’s purpose was to “set out to document demographic characteristics of municipal councillors, perspectives on barriers to candidacy and stories of successful strategies for encouraging civic engagement”. Though the study used province wide data, it focused specifically on rural communities. The study was 34 pages long and surveyed 606 councillors or heads of council throughout Ontario. For a copy of the study, you can email me at almaeaststreet@gmail.com.

Some of the statistics taken from the study were surprising, but most were not. For example, gender and age were two areas that were given more study. Ontario municipal councillors are on average predominantly older, male, high income and with more education than a typical average rural community resident. 75% of Ontario’s councillors are men, with men holding 83% of mayor or heads of council positions. The median age for councillors and mayors is 60, while the median age for Ontario residents is 40. Only 9% of Ontario municipal councillors are between the ages of 18 and 40. On an interesting note, these trends were consistent across both rural and urban municipalities. Some of the reasons for the age discrepancy stemmed from things like: daytime meetings held when younger people are typically working, young family commitments, low councillor salaries mean that a younger person may have to work an additional job(s) and an overall lack of time compared to an older person who may be retired or only working part time.

In 2014, 77% of candidates were men and only 23% of candidates were women. This gives a clear indication that women are underrepresented in municipal politics. Sadly, this trend is consistent across Canada as well. In 2010, female representation on municipal councils was only 24% according to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. However, in terms of election success rate, women outperformed male candidates 43% to 37%. Some of the most common issues revealed by interviews and focus groups on the lack of women in municipal politics were: a lack of socialization for girls as leaders, too few female role models, a lack of self-confidence, a feeling of intimidation and a lack of comfort working in a male dominated work environment.

The study also showed that incumbents or returning councillors had a distinct advantage over new candidates. Incumbent candidates had a 62% success rate in the 2014 municipal election compared to new candidates who had a success rate of only 25%. This can be discouraging to many people who may see running for council as a futile effort. This can directly lead to a lack of quality candidates, making for both weak community engagement and a weak democratic process. Locally, this was even higher with all incumbent candidates being re-elected with two council spots being filled by new candidates simply because two members of council were retiring from municipal politics.

“Councils with a majority of longstanding incumbent members, re-elected over a number of terms, are seen by some to hold communities back, as councillors can become averse to change and restrict the adaptation that is necessary to meet evolving needs and opportunities”. Conversely, younger councillors are sometimes perceived as lacking experience, as wanting to re-invent the wheel and lacking in leadership skills that may be developed over a lifetime of experience.

Reading through the study, one important theme kept resonating throughout. That theme is that rural communities ultimately benefit from increased community engagement from a more diverse group of people. Better two-way communication & sharing of information, more opportunities for real public input and improved accessibility to members of council seem like good places to start. What would encourage you to become more engaged in the community?

Separate Ways

What exactly is economic development? Upon ‘googling’, this definition sounds like the most comprehensive: “From a policy perspective, economic development can be defined as efforts that seek to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community by creating and/or retaining jobs and supporting or growing incomes and the tax base.” Based on my limited knowledge, that sounds about right. It also shows that economic development is very important, especially for a municipality like North Grenville that is seriously lacking in middle income jobs.

Economic development is currently part of the planning and development department of the municipality. For some time now, people have asked why they’re together as one department. This seems like a lot of eggs in one basket. Because of the significant residential growth that’s expected in North Grenville over the next ten years or so (an estimate of 3000 new homes depending on who you talk to), you would think that the planning department would have its hands full and should be the primary focus for a director. At the same time, based on the definition above, economic development seems equally important, if not more so. Why doesn’t council consider making economic development it’s own department and have it operated by a director and staff dedicated solely to its purpose, rather than sharing a director with another equally important but busy group? It would make sense for the municipality and council to consider directing significant budget resources to this area to start attracting investment to North Grenville.

Consider that nearly two thirds of our working residents have to leave the municipality every day for work. This means that they are more likely to spend their money outside of North Grenville as well. That money spent locally could create more jobs and add more tax revenue for the municipality. Also consider the increased traffic, shorter life span of North Grenville roads and the pollution caused by all of those vehicles on the road every day. Will the number of people leaving North Grenville for work increase or decrease with our anticipated residential growth? There’s currently very few middle to high income jobs here, so logically, it appears likely that number would increase. However, it stands to reason that if there were more of these jobs, more people would consider living here and buying a home. Why would a family move here when it would add at least an hour to their time away from home and family each day? In order for the number of these jobs to increase, the economic development department will have a vital role to play.

Raising taxes isn’t necessary to create an economic development department, it’s only a matter of re-allocating budget resources to where they’re potentially most productive. It should be considered an investment that has the potential to bring back many more times that money in new tax revenues and new jobs. There’s also funding available through both the federal and provincial governments to help pay for projects like this. The economic development department has applied for this type of funding before, both for itself and on behalf of local businesses.

What North Grenville doesn’t currently have for economic development is “boots on the ground”. Instead of hiring an additional employee for economic development if council decides that’s not an option, North Grenville could work on renewing their partnership with the North Grenville Chamber of Commerce and the Old Town Kemptville Business Improvement Area (BIA). These organizations, if supported by the municipality, could provide someone to do the necessary legwork to recruit businesses and build relationships with prospective partners. If the municipality doesn’t want to add more staff, then it should seriously look at granting money out of this year’s budget to one or both of these organizations (and help them apply for further government funding) so they can pay a full time employee to do this critical type of work.

Economic development in Eastern Ontario is a very competitive field. Every municipality in the region is competing with each other for the very few opportunities that come along. Economic development staff in North Grenville seem to be well organized and prepared for these opportunities. Some of the smaller municipalities have no economic development staff, so we have an advantage on them. However, the only way to press that advantage is to have someone dedicated to doing the job of “knocking on doors” in order to pursue opportunities, rather than sitting and waiting for one to show up like everyone else. You can prepare to win the lottery, but if no one picks the numbers and buys the ticket, you have no chance of winning. We need a ticket, good jobs are too important for us to not be in the draw.

The New, Old Way

Rather than wait for a bunch of money to ride into town to kickstart local job creation, fill empty storefronts, fill empty buildings at Kemptville College and stimulate the local economy in North Grenville, there’s a way for residents to do it themselves. Craft breweries, cheese factories, credit unions, farmers’ markets and even that downtown Kemptville women’s clothing store that women keep hoping for, are all possible through the creation of local co-ops.

Co-ops are community businesses that are formed to seize local opportunities or respond to local challenges and are owned by the members who are also typically the customers of the business. The more money that the members spend at the co-op business, the more profitable the co-op becomes. Each member of a co-op is entitled to one vote regardless of level of investment. No single member can take control of a co-operative and decisions are made by the majority based on the idea that members ultimately know what is best for them. The members elect the Board of Directors and choose what to do with the profits, including things like: share the profits among members, re-invest it into the co-op to build cash reserves, to purchase new assets or to hire more employees to name just a few.

According to the Ontario Co-operative Association website, there are some stats to consider when looking at a co-operative as an option to start a business. There are approximately 1300 co-ops currently in Ontario and there are twice as many co-ops still in business after ten years, than any other type of business enterprise. Co-ops operate in more than 90 countries and employ over 100 million people around the world. In Ontario alone in 2010, co-ops directly accounted for almost $1.5 billion in income and the equivalent of over 22,000 full-time jobs for Ontarians. Co-ops in Ontario also generated $1.3 billion in tax revenue for government services. In 2010, eighteen retail co-ops earned more than $333 million in revenue, eighteen insurance and investment co-ops earned revenues of almost $2.9 billion and twenty two agriculture, forestry and fishing co-ops brought in revenues of $456 million.

If you were to hop in the car and take a 45 minute drive east to the town of Embrun, you’d get an idea of what would be possible through the creation of co-ops. Embrun has an agricultural co-op that owns a large full service ‘Independent’ (Loblaws) grocery store franchise, a Rona building supply store, a gas bar, a car wash and a car repair garage among other agricultural holdings. Area residents can buy a share for only $100 and may even apply for credit to make purchases at any of the co-op businesses.

London Brewing is a successful beer brewing co-op in Southwestern Ontario who were the first workers’ co-operative brewery outside of Quebec. They wanted to open an employees’ co-op because they wanted employees to have meaningful work and the co-op allows employees to be rewarded for that meaningful work through profit-sharing. They also wanted employees to have an equal say in the direction and operation of the brewery. Visit their website at www.londonbrewing.ca.

The Empire Cheese and Butter co-op located just outside of Campbellford, Ontario has been around for over 135 years and is owned by local dairy farmers who supply the milk to make the cheese and butter products. Known for their trademark cheese curds, they supply cheese and butter products to stores all over Eastern and Central Ontario including locally at B&H. To find out more visit www.empirecheese.ca.

With successful examples such as these, it’s not hard to believe that a community-based co-op is not only possible in North Grenville, but it might be the best solution for bringing in some of the types of businesses that people seem to want. No matter what type of business you’re thinking of, co-ops are a viable alternative to the traditional forms of doing business. Why wait for the money to ride into town, when we have all that we need here already?

The Fun Zone

I recently came across a photo of several volunteers assembling a temporary street hockey rink in downtown Gananoque. My first thought was what a fantastic idea to bring families downtown to have some good, clean fun. I should’ve followed up with a friend that lives there, to see why they did it and whether it was part of an event. I imagine that a full day or even a weekend of street hockey could be quite the fun event for families and young people. It could also potentially be a relatively low cost event and a great way to draw people downtown.

This got me thinking about North Grenville and specifically Old Town Kemptville. I posted the photo on Facebook asking if people thought it would be great to do something like that on Prescott Street. I got mostly very positive reactions, but there was also scepticism about how difficult it would be to be able to do it because of the amount of time it takes and the red tape involved in closing a street. Not only are certain conditions, approvals and permits required with the municipality for a street closure, but also with the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville as well. Depending on who you talk to, this process takes several months, forcing event organizers into long range planning when they may not have the funding or required information available to start the approval process.

Over the past few years, events like the Dandelion Festival that have been held in Old Town Kemptville have had many hoops to jump through in order to close streets. There’s no doubt that closing streets for events adds significantly to those events. It allows the events to expand and be more accessible to visitors by allowing people to walk around freely and browse the attractions and local businesses at their own pace. This is especially appealing to families who can allow their children to roam without worrying about them around vehicle traffic. The longer that people spend at events like this, the more money they’ll spend at those local businesses too.

To cut down on the red tape, how about declaring a certain area in Old Town Kemptville like Prescott Street and Reuben Crescent to be a ‘Festival Zone’ and streamline the process for getting the necessary approvals and permits for that area? Instead of needing four months to plan for closing a street, it would only take four weeks because the area was already designated for that purpose. For example, if the Lions Club decided to host a street hockey event in the ‘Festival Zone’, it would be quicker and easier for them to do it. This would encourage other organizations to host events in Old Town too. Who knows how many times a group wanted to host a great event in Old Town Kemptville and decided not to because of the long and daunting task required to close a street? This might also encourage someone to step forward to revive the Dandelion Festival or create a new event to replace it.

Sometimes economic development is not just about attracting businesses or deciding which businesses would be most successful in a certain area. Sometimes it’s about finding ways to bring residents to that area to in order to support the businesses that already exist there. After all, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, 80% of job creation in rural areas comes from the expansion of existing small businesses. Making Old Town Kemptville a widely recognized social centre through community events could go a long way towards supporting those local businesses. It’s also a lot easier to attract new businesses and fill available commercial spaces when the existing businesses are healthy and vibrant with plenty of foot traffic.

What do you think?