A Lesson To Be Learned

This past week, Procter and Gamble (P&G), a major corporation based in the United States, announced that they will be shutting down manufacturing operations at their facility in Brockville by late 2020. This means that 480 full time and about 100 part-time/temporary jobs will be lost in Brockville over the next three years. The announcement stated that most of the manufacturing that is currently being done in Brockville will move to a new facility in West Virginia with increased automation.

The loss to Brockville will be significant on a number of fronts. For example, the loss of property tax revenue to the city will be $510,000 per year. It was $800,000 in 2016, but a re-assessment of the property led to a lower assessed value and taxes. There will also be a loss to the city of $320,000 a year from water and sewer fees for the facility. Add in the loss of the money that these good paying jobs would pull out of the local economy, the loss of revenue for contractors that do work for the P&G facility and you’ve got a potentially devastating economic impact. The impact will be felt in the charity sector as well with P&G and its employees having been major contributors to the United Way of Leeds & Grenville who in turn give money to charities in North Grenville.

There’s another loss that is always felt by communities in these situations. That loss is the negative social impact that these big events have on the social or psychological makeup of a community. When communities experience these losses, some begin to lose faith that their community has a viable future or that it can bounce back. During these times, some people react immediately and emotionally as was the case with Brockville, where several residents took to social media and online forums to start assigning blame to everyone but those who were responsible for the decision, which was solely P&G. Spending your time looking for scapegoats is unproductive and just adds to the negative frame of mind that just hurts the community even further. This behaviour further divides people during a very vulnerable period, when everyone should be trying to build bridges and work together.

Much of the blame appeared to be levelled at the City of Brockville, the mayor and council. The rhetoric seemed to come mostly from uninformed and petty people who either were holding personal grudges or didn’t take the time to properly inform themselves. The reality of the situation is that there’s very little that the city of Brockville could’ve done to prevent this from happening. Municipal governments have very few tools at their disposal these days to discourage large scale businesses from leaving or even to attract them. Gone are the days of waiving taxes and fees or giving away free municipal land etc. as incentives. Frankly, no one should be interested in this type of corporate welfare anyway. In these days of tight municipal budgets, these type of giveaways just lead to further service cuts for residents.

There’s a lesson in current Economic Development thinking here. According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), 80% of new job growth in smaller municipalities comes from the expansion of existing small to medium sized businesses. Too many people think that attracting a large corporate manufacturing facility is the way to measure economic success. Now you see what can happen when communities become too dependent on these large manufacturing facilities for jobs. They can leave devastated communities in their wake. On the flip side, communities that have a more diverse local economy with a wider variety of businesses and organizations seem to be more resilient during bad economic times and sometimes even thrive.

Brockville will take this latest setback in stride and move forward. The city lost 1,000 high tech jobs in October of 2002 and lived to see another day. Over time, another use(s) will be found for the P&G facility and the jobs will return, they just may not come in the same form that they left in. Watch for new small and medium sized businesses to slowly pop up over the next few years. It may happen subtly with no fanfare, but it will happen. One can only hope that residents of Brockville recognize the value of these new businesses and fully understand how important it is to support them. If this happens, some people may eventually think that it was probably for the best that P&G left. In the meantime, the pain may linger, but the soul must stay strong.

Local Food Or Lottery Ticket

Local food is an important subject that has been gaining momentum in the region over the past few years. This publication has printed a number of articles about local food in the past, including the possibilities for local food, the benefits of it and even the reasoning behind why it’s important. Please consider the following information about the importance of local food.

1) Agriculture and agri-food is the 2nd largest employment sector in the Ontario economy. Increasing the output of local food creates jobs, helps create new businesses and adds more tax revenue to the municipality. Buying local food means that one dollar spent can circulate as many as seven times within the community before it leaves North Grenville.

2) Locally grown or locally made foods look better, taste better and are more nutritious. The food is often harvested or made at the exact right time for best flavour, freshest appearance and maximum nutritional value. Imported food often sits for days in warehouses, travels great distances and gets handled by many people before it gets to your plate.

3) Local food is safer. It’s much less likely to be preserved, chemically treated and will be handled by less people. You also know exactly where it comes from. Livestock are processed in nearby facilities and farmers are more likely to have direct oversight on processing. You can even look the farmer in the eye at their roadside stand or at the farmers’ market and ask them questions. Farmers know their responsibilities to keep food safe and take it very seriously.

4) Local food encourages both environmental and financial sustainability. Farms typically use less municipal services than the value of the taxes that they generate. A cow doesn’t drive on our roads or an apple doesn’t call the police if it’s noisy outside. As well, farms often have their own ecosystems and capture far more carbon than they could ever produce. They also preserve fertile land, protect water resources and can offer a safe habitat for a wide range of wildlife.

5) Local food ensures food security. In 2008, there was a global food crisis where food commodities prices like wheat and rice soared because of global crop failures. It created riots and massive food shortages around the world. By growing and producing more food locally, it decreases the need for importing as much food. This also means that the prices of food would remain relatively stable and only increase incrementally rather than following massive price spikes in the event of global food disasters.

6) The demand for local food has risen dramatically in the past decade. Consumers are seeking out local products more often now. At a recent local business reception, Janet Campbell, the owner of Mrs. McGarrigle’s in Merrickville, told the audience that the biggest change that she’s noticed in her business in the past ten years is that customers are demanding more and more local products and she’s having trouble keeping up.

7) A strong local food system can also help other business sectors like tourism, retail and manufacturing. Having restaurants that serve good local food, having a vibrant farmers’ market, and having local retailers selling local food products can all lead to more tourists coming to North Grenville to spend their money. Manufacturing products from locally grown ingredients can be exported and sold in other parts of the province, country and continent. All of this can lead to more jobs, better paying jobs, less time driving & more time at home for residents, and more municipal tax revenue for improved infrastructure, facilities and services.

Despite all of this, local food has had little or no support politically in this municipality. Without the local political will to pursue the many benefits of local food, it becomes that much more difficult to build a strong, sustainable local food system. Municipal political support makes it much easier to pursue essential funding, and gain access to other critical resources at both the federal and provincial government level. Doesn’t building a local food system make more sense than wishing for a large employer to ride into town (looking to get everything for free) like every other municipality in Eastern Ontario? We’re just as likely to win the lottery. Besides, local food tastes better than lottery tickets.

Going About Local Business

As part of a presentation to council at the Committee of the Whole meeting of February 21, 2017 on the Municipality of North Grenville’s updated Economic Development Marketing Plan, Tom Graham of T D Graham & Associates shared some information on job growth provided by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Since 2010, just over 1000 full time permanent jobs have been created in North Grenville. Yes, you read that right. This job growth was broken down into the following: retail – 13%, service – 13%, healthcare – 9%, building/trades/trucking – 9%, professional/technical – 6%, financial/real estate – 3%, and ‘other’ 47%. As you can see, not all of the job growth is in minimum wage jobs, which is frequently what happens when an expansion of corporate big box retail shopping takes place like we’ve seen (and will continue to see) here in North Grenville. This is fantastic news! This type of positive story is very rare in today’s economic climate, especially in Eastern Ontario. This is also an indicator that the current efforts and direction by the municipal Economic Development Department is having a positive impact.

Some people think that the biggest indicator of positive economic growth is measured by the number of new large businesses that move into town. Case in point could be the Giant Tiger facility that is going to be built just outside of Prescott. There is a belief that the municipality should have done more to try to bring that operation here because of the number of jobs that it would create. However, there are some points to consider when thinking that we need to attract these types of large operations or businesses.

For example, the Giant Tiger warehouse is actually a relocation and expansion of an existing facility. During the recent Leeds Grenville Economic Development Summit, Giant Tiger stated that most of the employees for the facility will be coming from Ottawa where they are currently working in those jobs. They couldn’t say with any certainty how many new jobs will be created by the move. As a matter of fact, because of the new technology that will be used in the new facility, it may require existing employees to move to other jobs within the facility that otherwise might be filled by new employees. There will be short term employment benefits to the area through trades jobs for construction of the facility, but there may not be much direct permanent job growth. It could be argued that the real benefit to the area will be if all of these Ottawa employees move here and buy homes. North Grenville would be a logical place for these employees to move to as it’s perfectly placed between where they’ll work and Ottawa (where their social lives, friends and family are). If this happens, it’ll become critical to convince these new arrivals to spend their money locally.

Having a diverse job market and business community is much more secure and sustainable simply by being less vulnerable to major financial events or corporate decisions that sometimes cripple areas whose economies are built around a small number of large businesses or only one type of industry or sector. This is very problematic for areas where industries are natural resource based. They can be very vulnerable to fluctuating world market prices (Alberta and oil is a great example). As another more local example, look at areas like Belleville and Brockville whose local economies were significantly impacted by the large loss of jobs at their local Procter and Gamble facilities. If one of these large employers moves to town, it’s a positive at least at first, but insulating these large employers with other diverse businesses that aren’t dependent on their ‘big brother’ is a must.

Not to be forgotten in all of this talk of job growth, is research from OMAFRA that states that in rural Ontario, as much as 80% of job growth actually comes from the expansion and success of local existing businesses. This helps to explain why the local job growth has maybe flown under the radar of most people. It’s unfortunate, but a number of small businesses each adding a few jobs over time doesn’t make the headlines or capture people’s attention quite like the appearance that a Giant Tiger would. This good news also seems to further underline the importance of continuing to support local businesses by spending your money locally. It may mean that someone you know who’s unemployed, gets that newly created job.

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.