Editorial – The North Grenville Times http://www.ngtimes.ca The Voice of North Grenville Sun, 22 Apr 2018 15:09:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.5 Changing of the guard http://www.ngtimes.ca/changing-of-the-guard/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/changing-of-the-guard/#respond Wed, 18 Apr 2018 18:54:17 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=12061 The impact of the recent North Grenville Rural Summit continues to be felt, and not only in the municipality. Elsewhere in this issue you can read the statement made to the Ontario Legislature by MPP Steve Clark, one of the many political and agri-business people who attended the event on April 7. In addition to […]

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The impact of the recent North Grenville Rural Summit continues to be felt, and not only in the municipality. Elsewhere in this issue you can read the statement made to the Ontario Legislature by MPP Steve Clark, one of the many political and agri-business people who attended the event on April 7. In addition to the organising committee, Steve paid special tribute to Councillor Jim Bertram, the man whose drive and vision made the Summit possible. Jim has been working, ever since he was elected, to bring about a greater awareness of the needs, issues and concerns of the rural community, as well as the potential economic and social benefits that attach to agri-business generally. Steve Clark referred to him as “a true champion of rural Ontario”, and it was a shame Jim had to miss the event. But fighting for your life against aggressive cancer is a far higher priority for anyone.

But, thanks to the work Jim and the others on the organising committee put in over the past months, the overall response to the Summit has been universally positive, and there is now a hope that we will see a permanent committee, or some other form of rural affairs oversight, at the municipal level. Jim Bertram was part of a team that included Deron Johnston, Jim Beveridge and Donovan Arnaud, and even a cursory glance at the list of sponsors, business supporters and the suppliers of food and beverages, shows just how much of a community event it was.

This is National Volunteer Week, and the Summit was another in a very, very long list of activities taking place in our community that depend on volunteers for their success. Without volunteers, and the support they receive from local business, this would be a much poorer place in terms of quality of life and care of our neighbours. The attendance and public participation in the Summit shows how much residents and business care about rural issues, and how great is the potential for further growth in that field (not a pun!).

However, we can’t be sure that the all of the current council will take advantage of the positive energy left behind by the event. There was clear resistance to the very idea of the Rural Summit at the municipal level. Jim Bertram was on the point of investing his own money just to make it happen, and, although the municipality provided a $5000.00 grant for the budget, which amounted to about 33% of the total, it was reluctantly given. This should not have been the case, as such an event is clearly laid down in the Municipality’s Strategic Plan.

At the Council meeting following the Summit, positive remarks were made by the Mayor, the CAO and Councillor Tobin: yet not one of them mentioned their colleague, Jim Bertram’s name. Councillor Arnaud at least indicated that the success of the Summit would lead to future events, and declared that “this is the beginning of something much greater”. Donovan Arnaud had stepped in to fill in for Jim Bertram after Jim’s health required him to take a leave of absence from his municipal duties. His remarks were positive and welcome.

The remarks of CAO Brian Carré were concerned entirely with the takeover of the campus by the municipality, his favourite subject these days. Apparently, the Rural Summit somehow proved how correct the municipality was to take over the property. It was, he said, “a testament” to the decision of the municipality. Without mentioning Jim Bertram’s role in the Summit, Mr. Carré said that “it was an afternoon that certainly made us feel good about the fact that we have acquired the campus”. It’s a pity there was not more support for Councillor Bertram before the event, and some recognition of his role afterwards.

Councillor Onansanya was not present at that meeting. Mayor Gordon then launched into a most surprising and rambling speech about what he termed the “disease” of human trafficking in Ontario. He blamed it all on the “politically correct atmosphere in Ontario”. Given the other serious issues facing North Grenville, I doubt that human trafficking is one of priorities our municipal council need to be dealing with these days. The mayor did then move on to mention the Rural Summit in one sentence, again with no mention of Jim Bertram.

I don’t know, but to fail to mention a colleague then in hospital fighting for his life, while at the same time taking pride in the event that he had promoted and they had resisted, seems just a little lacking in class. Perhaps they need to admit, if only to themselves, that they have been negligent of the needs of this community, while one of their members, in spite of health problems, put together a team of residents and provided North Grenville with an event worthy to be brought to the attention of the provincial legislature. Small-minded and petty. Time for a changing of the guard.

Best wishes to Jim, and congratulations to Deron Johnston, Jim Beveridge and Donovan Arnaud, as well as the many individuals and businesses in the region who made this event such a success.

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Here comes the sun http://www.ngtimes.ca/here-comes-the-sun/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/here-comes-the-sun/#respond Wed, 11 Apr 2018 19:00:21 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=11969 I don’t know about you, but I would like, for a short while at least, to forget about snow in April, coming elections (in fact anything to do with politics, politicians, or bureaucrats), the state of the world, and my declining health and increasing age. Let us, friends, for this week at least, focus on […]

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I don’t know about you, but I would like, for a short while at least, to forget about snow in April, coming elections (in fact anything to do with politics, politicians, or bureaucrats), the state of the world, and my declining health and increasing age. Let us, friends, for this week at least, focus on the positives, the aspects of life that make us happy, bring us joy and make each day an adventure (a peaceful, non-threatening adventure, of course). And what, you may ask, are those things? Ah, I reply, let’s investigate and see!

Looking through this and other issues of the Times, I am immediately struck, as I often am (but not as often as some would like me to be) by how much is happening in our locality. Students are being recognised for “kind, selfless and thoughtful actions”. The recent Rotary Science Fair at North Grenville District High School is another example of the high quality of young people we have, and the potential they show for the future of our country.

Other young people are joining with their elders to put on theatrical productions. In fact, the live drama scene in both North Grenville and Merrickville is not only alive, it is flourishing. Plays and musicals, of a very high quality, are a regular feature of the theatre world here. So much so, that it can be hard to attend everything that is happening: not really a bad situation for the audience member.

The importance of these events is not just that they provide an occasion to go out and have fun. They also display the amazing level of talent, energy and creativity that exists in our community. It seems to me that hardly a week goes by without something appearing in this paper celebrating another sporting achievement by young people, whether in hockey, baseball, athletics, or some other event.

The Neon Night Fun Run has brought all of this together in one wonderful event. Young and old alike join together to participate in a healthy and fun way to raise money for children suffering from cancer. As an article in this issue says: “The event has managed to raise more than a quarter of a million dollars for Childhood Cancer Research over the past four years”. Isn’t that phenomenal?

Justine Stroud, another young person, had the bright idea of giving one of her stuffed toy collection to anyone donating to Rideau Hill Camp. Brilliant initiative. Nancy Peckford writes this week about the growth in girls’ hockey, and the contribution young hockey players in the community are making to the Adam Harlow Fund. How can we not be optimistic when we see what’s happening?

But it’s not just the young people who should be celebrated: the activities of their parents and grandparents also add so much to the quality of life we enjoy. In addition to the overwhelmingly impressive contribution of our drama and musical theatre groups, the people of North Grenville and Merrickville-Wolford are activists when it comes to our world, the environment, the elements of life that keep us healthy and alive. In just this issue, there is an article about the effect of gardens on climate change, much about the upcoming Sustainability Fair, an announcement on a seminar on tree health, an article on reducing the use of plastics in the community, and one welcoming the return of maple syrup making in the area.

The Rural Summit last weekend was a resounding success, with a larger than expected attendance, and the foundation laid for what we hope will be a permanent Rural Affairs focus in the Municipality. Congratulations to the organising committee, and most especially, to Councillor Jim Bertram, whose idea it was.

North Grenville is a wonderful community, with so many residents involved in so many ways, usually as volunteers. Our service clubs and organisations like Community Living or Kemptville and District Home Support, don’t just ask for money to continue their vital work, they give us something in exchange. Big Band Dances, Comedy Nights, Catch the Ace, and other events, are put on for our enjoyment and to support important work. There are almost too many BBQ’s, Fish Fries, and other gastronomic activities than are good for our diet! No-one is complaining: we know what’s good for us and for the work that goes on as a result.

So, there you are. If those people who like to carp and criticise that there’s too much negativity around would just look beyond the obvious (and the Editorial page), they would see a record of community activism, care, compassion, and fun. Yes, fun. It is an essential part of life, something that oils the gears when they start to stick and squeal (like so many politicians and journalists!). Sometimes we need to get off our high horses (or, in my case, a rather small pony) and stop taking ourselves and everything else too seriously.

As a professional historian, I am constantly struck (again, not as often as some would wish me to be) by how many people have played a role in the history of North Grenville and Merrickville-Wolford over the past couple of centuries. They probably thought that they were really important too, but how many of them do we remember? Perspective: that’s what we need more than anything these days. We are playing a part, an important part at times, in a long story that is not over yet. We should play that part responsibly, to the best of our abilities, knowing all the time that we can agree, disagree, pout, sulk, cheer and celebrate as the case may be. A century from now, even a decade or a year from now, we may well be gone and forgotten. So, as Phil Ochs once wrote: “Won’t be asked to do my share when I’m gone; so I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here”. Amen to that.

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Country roads http://www.ngtimes.ca/country-roads/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/country-roads/#comments Wed, 04 Apr 2018 19:00:04 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=11758 It seems strange to think now that, back in 1997, when amalgamation was the main topic of conversation, the Council of the Town of Kemptville were deeply concerned by the fear that the town’s residents would find themselves unrepresented in the new North Grenville Council. (See the final article in the series “Road to Amalgamation” […]

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It seems strange to think now that, back in 1997, when amalgamation was the main topic of conversation, the Council of the Town of Kemptville were deeply concerned by the fear that the town’s residents would find themselves unrepresented in the new North Grenville Council. (See the final article in the series “Road to Amalgamation” in this issue). With no ward system, the fear was that no-one would be elected to represent Kemptville and argue its cause. As it happened, that was one danger that did not materialise under amalgamation: it seems that quite the opposite happened instead.

This coming weekend, the Rural Summit takes place at Parish Hall on the newly-acquired Kemptville Campus. It is one attempt to bring to the forefront of peoples’ thinking the issues that matter to rural residents in the municipality. A small step, as it happens, as the agenda doesn’t seem too taken up by rural issues, but it is a step in the right direction. As readers may remember, last year’s Summit, organised by municipal staff, included a bus tour of the rural area, as if it was some kind of safari park full of fascinating creatures.

The fact is that rural North Grenville contains the majority of residents and the largest part of the municipality, and has been neglected for far too long. The main hamlets have slowly been losing those assets which give life and vitality to the local community: general stores, schools, libraries and churches. While the Municipality have been spending large sums on trails in the Kemptville zones, local residents in Oxford Mills have had to pay themselves for a new gazebo in Maplewood Park, in spite of it being a municipally-owned park and gazebo.

The Public School in the same village is about to be closed, and it seems it is only the local parents and children that are at all concerned about trying to keep it open. The Community Association in Bishops Mills had to campaign for years to be provided with any kind of financial support for their community hall. Burritts Rapids had to agitate to have any say in the plans to use the village for Fire Service activities or road alterations. Since amalgamation took place in 1998, South Gower no longer has a core hamlet, and, without the efforts of local business in maintaining a successful general store, it, too, might have become a dormant community.

The neglect with which the rural areas have been treated by local government has been disgraceful. As Kemptville develops more concrete-filled developments, the potential of the rural parts of the municipality has gone unrealised. The acquisition of the old Kemptville College might have been seen as an opportunity to change that, but it seems doubtful.

But beyond the hamlets, there has been a drop in the quality of life in rural parts generally. The latest surveys by the Rural Ontario Institute show that Ontario’s rural communities experience a much higher level of isolation, lack of access to services and transport, and a bigger impact from things like high hydro rates.

This is the problem, but what is the solution? It seems strange that three of our small five-person Council members live in the rural parts of the municipality, yet it is really only Councillor Jim Bertram who has shown the level of interest that one would expect from them. Jim is the one who came up with the idea of a Rural Summit, although his current state of health means he will not be present next Saturday. His hope has been that the Summit could lead to a more permanent process by which rural concerns could be addressed; specifically through a Rural Affairs Committee of Council.

There used to be an Agricultural Committee, but it was left to die by previous Chair, Tim Sutton, who preferred to focus on Economic Development, not rural issues. The Summit will only address the more peripheral issues involving rural affairs, but it is at least an acknowledgement that rural residents exist and have issues that are quite different from those in the urban area. Perhaps if farmers, business people, and residents in the municipality outside Kemptville could be allowed to meet and share problems and concerns on a regular and official basis, solutions could be found, initiatives discovered, and steps taken to promote rural agri-business, local growers, and producers for farmers markets and agricultural co-operatives.

In this election year, it may be opportune for rural residents, and those prepared to support them, to find candidates and platforms that express their hopes and ambitions. It is not just a cliché to say that “if you eat today, thank a farmer”. The future of North Grenville must not be built on more and more houses and less and less agriculture. If we really want to be Green and Growing, we had better remember where the Green part comes in. Our hamlets are in danger, they are neglected and left to wither. Our urban area is in danger of becoming even more of a dormitory town for people working in Ottawa and Brockville than it already is. Things have to change.

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Down the rabbit hole http://www.ngtimes.ca/down-the-rabbit-hole/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/down-the-rabbit-hole/#comments Wed, 28 Mar 2018 18:57:01 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=11612 This is a time that would get the most optimistic feeling a little paranoid. I write a couple of articles some months ago about the dangers that social media platforms could pose to our freedoms and access to information. Facebook, I noted, uses algorithms to decide which posts you get to see, depending on what […]

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This is a time that would get the most optimistic feeling a little paranoid. I write a couple of articles some months ago about the dangers that social media platforms could pose to our freedoms and access to information. Facebook, I noted, uses algorithms to decide which posts you get to see, depending on what you’ve indicated are the things that interest you in the past. There are ways of controlling the content you see on Google, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms, all designed to present you with what they think you’d like to see. The danger, I thought, was that they could also use the same methods to present you with what someone else wanted you to see.

Paranoid? Alarmist? Apparently not. You will have read about the problems Facebook are having because of the link that has been shown between their database contents and a company called Cambridge Analytica. The company used Facebook profiles of around fifty million “friends” to provide false news stories, videos and other media during the US election to blacken Clinton and promote Trump. Now it transpires that the same tactic was used during the British referendum on Brexit, to sway the vote in favour of the U.K. leaving the European Union.

To add to the links, it was a Canadian who developed the algorithm used in both cases, in part through a Canadian company, AggregateIQ, based in Victoria, B.C. The financial links to the Russian Government are gradually becoming clearer too. The assumption is that these companies, and those who were behind them, such as Steve Bannon, are still active in preparing for the American mid-term elections in November, and even in Canadian elections here in Ontario. The world is getting smaller every day.

More paranoia? That’s the big picture story. The problem is how to decide on the proper attitude to, and use of, platforms like Facebook in our own everyday lives. How can we know that we aren’t being fed what has become known as “fake news”? Perhaps it is significant that the revelations about Cambridge Analytica, AggregateIQ, and Russian meddling in elections is coming from traditional print media outlets like the Guardian in Britain and the Washington Post and New York Times in the U.S.

This might seem a million miles away from North Grenville or Merrickville-Wolford, but for the fact that it was the profiles of regular people that were being used to spread disinformation to them without their knowledge. I would repeat what I wrote months ago: we’ll need to be much more aware of what we read, to judge it carefully for its source and consistency. I know there are people in our own community who like to disparage the Times, claiming that it is all just our opinion, that we’re not a “real” newspaper, etc.

This is not a phenomenon confined to North Grenville, however. Other community newspapers around the province have been faced with similar attacks, even from municipal councils. The Voice of Pelham, in the Niagara region, had their communications with the local municipal council ignored, their papers left in the Municipal offices trashed, and all because they had reported on council activities. They were met with cries of “not a real newspaper”, in spite of the fact that they, like the NG Times, are a member of the Ontario Community Newspaper Association and News Media Canada.

You may have seen the article in the Ottawa Citizen last weekend about the disagreement which has been impacting on our relationship with the Municipality of North Grenville. Let me here express our thanks to the many people who wrote letters, or posted on our website and social media, supporting the Times. We are grateful, indeed.

There is a real need for the media to report on municipal affairs. This is not always a negative thing: much of the time, things go along smoothly. But when it comes time to shine a light on more negative aspects, it should not be seen as an attack on democracy, or an unacceptable intrusion on what doesn’t concern us. We need to accept the role of the media, while remaining cautious and not accepting everything we read as factual and reliable. No-one is infallible.

But given the events surrounding elections and referenda, and the ease with which Facebook and the public have been used by governments and those working for vested interests, it is vital that newspapers and other media platforms are open and transparent. If readers know where we are coming from, our “biases and opinions”, if you will, then it makes it easier for readers to judge for themselves. We do not, and will not, ever agree on opinions and positions. That is the joy and strength of democracy. But we must be properly, and accurately informed.

The freedom to be so, and to state our opinions and ideas, is one which we should be most careful to protect. That is our job, our responsibility and our privilege.

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A gag, but no joke http://www.ngtimes.ca/gag-no-joke/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/gag-no-joke/#comments Wed, 21 Mar 2018 19:00:39 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=11475 Elsewhere in this issue you’ll find not one, but two press releases concerning the deal arrived at between the Municipality of North Grenville and the Ontario Government. By the time you read this, an announcement will have been made to the media, and we will have coverage of that in next week’s issue. As it […]

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Elsewhere in this issue you’ll find not one, but two press releases concerning the deal arrived at between the Municipality of North Grenville and the Ontario Government. By the time you read this, an announcement will have been made to the media, and we will have coverage of that in next week’s issue. As it stands now, there is very little, if anything, that is new in the statements released last week. When the draft agreement was originally announced at the end of last year, we found out that North Grenville will be getting most, but not all, of the land at the College, and most, but not all, of the buildings there.

This has been a process led and dictated by the provincial government, which imposed a gag order on the municipality throughout the past four years of talks. Now that we are less than 80 days away from a provincial election, the Wynne Government have finally agreed to make public the results of those talks. The announcement comes at the same time as the Liberals nominated David Henderson as their candidate in this riding for the election, a useful synchronicity.

The government statement is, of course, a party political statement, and seeks to place the College deal into a wider context of political gift-giving, with grateful comments from the Mayor and CAO attached. The Municipality’s statement is short on specifics, and it is hoped that the formal announcement this week will put some meat on the bare bones we’ve been given to date.

It is a real concern, hopefully to be allayed, that the agreement will be signed and sealed before the residents and taxpayers of North Grenville have a chance to see the terms that have been agreed to on their behalf. One can only hope that some form of public discussion will be possible before we are legally bound. It should be remembered that Mayor Gordon made a commitment back when talks began with the Province that the deal would not cost taxpayers a cent, and that none of the College lands would end up in the hands of developers. 633 of the 850 acres will be taken over by “wholly-owned not-for-profit corporation, which will operate at arm’s length from the Municipality”, according to the Municipality’s statement. What will happen to the rest?

It may be assumed that there will be some kind of provincial financial support, at least in the first few years, when, according to earlier statements by the municipality, the campus will be running at a deficit. The two French-language school boards have already signed leases to use some of the campus buildings for the next five to ten years. Are those leases going to transfer to the Municipality, and what other arrangements have been made to sign up tenants for the remaining lands and buildings?

All of this will be made known, and hopefully already has been when you read this. But the entire issue has been clouded in secrecy and defensiveness. It is completely understandable that negotiations should remain confidential when what CAO Brian Carré has called “probably the most significant file in this municipality since amalgamation”.

Throughout the years of talks, the response of the municipality to any request for details, or a simple progress report on the situation, has been “there’s a gag order in place, we can’t comment”. Time and time again, it was stated that an announcement would be made shortly, and nothing happened. People began to worry, other groups got in touch with the Province to offer alternative arrangements, but there was an exclusive deal in place between the Ontario Government and the Municipality of North Grenville and it was the only game in town, regardless of whether it was the best option for residents.

Even publishing the fact that options were available made the municipality angry and resulted in a deeply divisive dispute the municipality initiated with the NG Times, which has yet to be settled. The genuine hope is that this new deal will provide the people of North Grenville with a new lease on life for the College, without excessive cost and loss. The very last thing we want to see is concrete being poured over the old farmlands on the east side of CR 44, which the CAO stated have been left out of the deal because, “bottom line, it was simply too expensive” and didn’t really fit into the future vision for the Kemptville Campus Education and Community Hub. “Too expensive” implies that the rest of the campus had a price that was acceptable. More than a single cent of taxpayer’s money? Too many unknowns, which will, we all hope, turn out to be inconsequential when the full deal is finally revealed. Fingers crossed.

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Are you ready? http://www.ngtimes.ca/are-you-ready/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/are-you-ready/#comments Wed, 14 Mar 2018 18:57:51 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=11386 It didn’t take a prophet to predict that 2018 was going to be a really interesting year in politics. With both a provincial election and a municipal contest in Ontario, life was going to be full of politicking, campaigning, attacks, counter-attacks, and all sorts of fun things for the political junkie to enjoy. But I […]

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It didn’t take a prophet to predict that 2018 was going to be a really interesting year in politics. With both a provincial election and a municipal contest in Ontario, life was going to be full of politicking, campaigning, attacks, counter-attacks, and all sorts of fun things for the political junkie to enjoy. But I don’t think any prophet would have been willing to predict what we’ve already seen in just the first couple of months of 2018.

Without even waiting for election campaigns to kick off, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went to India. Enough said? Between fancy costumes for all the family, which had to have been ordered, made and delivered well in advance of his trip, and an invitation to a man convicted of the attempted murder of an Indian cabinet minister to attend a formal dinner, Trudeau managed to dissipate a lot of the charisma and credibility he had worked so hard to build up. I suppose he should be glad there’s no federal election this year!

Provincially, we have already had the strangest start to the political year one could imagine. There was a general feeling that this year’s election was almost in the grasp of the Tories. After all, the Liberals have been in power for a long time, the Wynne Government has managed to alienate large swathes of the population, and, no matter what your political allegiance, there was a sense that enough was enough and a change was overdue.

Then the world got turned upside down. First of all, the Progressive Conservatives ditched their leader, Patrick Brown, in a move that many suspect was initiated within his own party. Poor Patrick quit, then decided to run for his old job again, then decided not to, and quit again. The way seemed clear for a new start, a positive message of renewal and energy on the part of the PC’s, and an opportunity to launch a campaign with all the media dazzle of a leadership celebration.

Unbelievably, they managed to make a complete mess of that too. Injunctions trying to delay the vote were rejected by the courts – a bad way to show party unity. Then the actual vote became a farce, with a seven-hour delay due, apparently, to technical problems, meant that they ran out of time in the hall they had rented and had to leave before the final results were known. They had to withdraw into a smaller room, with no opportunity for those gathered for the announcement to hang around. The party faithful were told they had to go home. Gone was the hope of a media event showing delirious Tories celebrating the election of a new and dynamic – Doug Ford? Well, maybe.

At the time of writing, Christine Elliott refuses to accept the victory of Doug Ford, claiming that she had won most of the ridings and the popular vote too. Refusing to take the oh-so-sophisticated route followed by Hillary Clinton in a somewhat similar situation, Ms. Elliott may end up in court trying to overturn the election results. If she succeeds, and even if she doesn’t, party unity and the anger of both groups of supporters will make it very difficult to present a happy and united face to the voters of Ontario in June.

Even Steve Clark, an otherwise strong candidate in this area, will have to overcome the bad public relations disaster this has proven to be. He will be facing, in all likelihood, a strong Liberal candidate in David Henderson, long-time mayor of Brockville, and it should make for an intriguing contest.

And then there’s North Grenville. I don’t want to bore people with the on-going saga of the misrepresentations of the Times by all but one Council member. That is an on-going saga. I would, however, like to apologise for what was language that went over the line in a recent editorial on the subject. I can only say that feelings of betrayal and accusations that I am a threat to the democratic rights of the people of North Grenville made me overreact and write a word or two that I would not ordinarily write. My apologies.

I find we are still faced with a very autocratic Council (aside from Jim Bertram), who clearly believe in the chain of command. Coming from police, military and bureaucratic backgrounds, they believe in protecting those under them, and expecting others to acknowledge their positions. This is a pity, as they have, in my experience of almost fifteen years covering municipal council, become so firmly locked in the “Bubble” that develops around small elites, that they simply don’t see what is happening outside the Bubble. Perhaps the many letters and posts will help them to get some perspective? Time will tell. They only have until October 22 to see the signs.

Yes, it has already been quite a political year, and we’re only in March! Imagine what could happen next.

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I read the news today http://www.ngtimes.ca/read-news-today/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/read-news-today/#comments Wed, 07 Mar 2018 19:16:25 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=11260 These are strange times for newspapers in Canada. A recent survey across the country shows that in the last ten years, more than 16,000 Canadian journalists have lost their jobs, twenty-seven daily newspapers and 222 weekly have either closed or merged operations. That is a worrying statistic. Part of the reason for this is the […]

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These are strange times for newspapers in Canada. A recent survey across the country shows that in the last ten years, more than 16,000 Canadian journalists have lost their jobs, twenty-seven daily newspapers and 222 weekly have either closed or merged operations. That is a worrying statistic. Part of the reason for this is the growing consolidation of newspapers, with more and more community papers being bought out by the large corporations like Postmedia and Torstar (owners of the Advance). In an attempt to shore up declining advertising revenue, these corporations have been closing local papers and merging others, as they did with the EMC and Advance a few years ago.

This has resulted in less local news being carried in what once were local newspapers. Instead, according to David Beers, the founding editor of the independent Vancouver newsmagazine, “The Tyee”, and adjunct journalism professor at UBC: “”You’ll be reading your local newspaper and you wouldn’t really see your own concerns reflected in it. The reason the Tyee is able to get so much of its readers’ support in financial hard cash contributions is [because] every day we wake up and we just figure out how to defend and hold accountable our local region.”

The trend towards closing down such sources of local coverage was illustrated in November last year, when the two mega-corporations, Postmedia and Torstar, traded 40 local community newspapers with each other, and shut down most of them. The move resulted in 291 job losses.

In an article in the journal “The Conversation”, Marc Edge, professor of media and communication at University Canada West, in Vancouver, and the author of “Greatly Exaggerated: The Myth of the Death of Newspapers”, noted that the merging of newspapers is a serious issue for all Canadians:

“The savings available from mergers of news media companies are considerable, but they invariably involve cuts to journalism. The cost to the public of a reduction in news coverage is arguably the impairment of democracy.”

Edward Greenspon, President of the Public Policy Forum, has also warned of the problems that arise from this consolidation of news reporting in corporations interested primarily with profit, not with informing the public about local issues. In a broadcast of the CBC current affairs show, “The Current”, he stressed that the problem of falling revenues affects all media, not just the corporations, although their much higher operating costs and expenses makes their position more perilous. The public has come to expect free access to news and local stories, and so newspapers have to find other ways of financing their operations in an era of stagnant, or even declining ad revenues:

“Therefore you need new sources of revenue … we need to have reporters on the ground who are digging up stories, who are patrolling the beat of other democratic institutions in the country. How do we finance that? It’s time to figure out solutions,” he said.

The role of the local newspaper is to inform residents about what is happening in their community. It is not to sell ads only, or to simply repeat the contents of press releases and barely-disguised advertising promotions. As more newspapers compromise their local coverage for fear of alienating potential advertisers, the need for a free press becomes more critical. This requires, however, some important considerations. The press must be credible: people have to believe that what they read is as complete a picture as possible. All sides of a story or situation need to be heard, and that requires the media to be willing to publish items that are critical or negative about themselves.

It is also, in my opinion, absolutely vital that readers understand the viewpoint of the media too. It is essential that the public know the ideological, political, and social point of view of those presenting the news. This used to be taken for granted in Canada. People knew that a paper was Liberal or Conservative, or what its philosophy was. Then, at least, readers can put what they may read (in Editorials, for example) in context. Pretending that any of us is objective, unbiased, or without a point of view is simply unrealistic. None of us are blank pages, automatons with no thoughts or ideas of our own. The very choice of which stories to report is a subjective one, a decision about what is important or relevant to readers. This can best be done by those living close to a story, not by a corporate staffer living elsewhere, or fearful of being in any way “controversial”.

That is what we try to do in the Times: let you know what we think, so you can judge what we say, and why we may say it. Freedom to speak your mind, even for newspaper people, is a fundamental part of our system, and, far from being a threat to our democratic rights, it is a bulwark to protect them.

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Threatening democratic rights http://www.ngtimes.ca/threatening-democratic-rights/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/threatening-democratic-rights/#comments Wed, 28 Feb 2018 20:00:17 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=11164 We have published, in this issue, what must be considered the most remarkable document to come out of the Municipal Centre in all its history. A letter to the Editor has been received from the Mayor and three of the four councillors of North Grenville making some extreme statements and claims. The context for this […]

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We have published, in this issue, what must be considered the most remarkable document to come out of the Municipal Centre in all its history. A letter to the Editor has been received from the Mayor and three of the four councillors of North Grenville making some extreme statements and claims. The context for this is important. Late last year, Mayor David Gordon deliberately lied to the people of North Grenville on the subject of Kemptville College, following an article in the Times. It was, I repeat, a lie, knowingly and deliberately contained in a statement read, but assuredly not written, by him.

The Times chose not to go to law over it, as the cost to the Municipality would come out of taxpayers’ money. Instead, we consulted the Ontario Ombudsman, and, as a result, were referred to the Integrity Commissioner. I made a few approaches to both Mayor and CAO, Brian Carré, asking for a meeting to talk about the issue, but was completely ignored. Last week, we officially informed the Municipality of this process, and we subsequently received the letter in today’s issue. And what an odd document it is.

It states that the Council and staff are doing such important work that it is “unacceptable for anyone to subject Councillors and/or staff to insults, derision or other derogatory comments”. Note that this comment is not aimed at the Times. That comes later. It is directed at everyone in North Grenville who would criticise the way council or staff do their jobs. What they mean by derision seems to be anything that finds fault with them; derogatory comments are those which would dare say that some people might not be very good at what they do. No examples of this are given.

The comments about the Times are very troubling indeed. Not because they claim we have been criticising them, but because negative comments from the media, in their eyes, are “bullying and an attempt to advance an agenda which threatens the democratic rights of the residents of North Grenville”. What agenda are they talking about? How is covering the municipal council and staff, and reporting on their activities, or lack thereof, a threat to the democratic rights of residents?

Trying to curb freedom of speech is far more of a threat to those democratic rights. Claiming, as they do, that they are also encouraging “residents to express themselves on matters of public interest” is nonsense, if any criticism is “unacceptable”. So, as long as we say that they are doing a fine job, and not in the least lacking in vision, transparency or achievements, then we are free to say what we like? That kind of policy is usually found in places like North Korea and Russia. I honestly expected better, and more personal integrity from people like Donovan Arnaud and Frank Onasanya.

The claims that the Times has made “malicious”or “defamatory” statements needs to be backed up by them. We have never made personal attacks against individuals, only against the way they do their jobs. Ironically, last week’s issue contained a glowing tribute to staff in the Public Works Department, well deserved too. It seems that “malicious” to these individuals means anything that they don’t like. Saying that the Times has made “various defamatory attacks” on council and staff is in the same category as the lies the Mayor told the people of North Grenville last year. It is completely ridiculous that we have a Council that cannot take valid criticism and is so thin-skinned that they don’t appreciate freedom of speech, either from the media, or the general, taxpaying, voting public.

I have had meetings and conversations with each of these four people, in which they have said things which would certainly have embarrassed them had they appeared in print. I have kept their confidences confidential throughout. They have broken that pact – all but one member of council, that is. Jim Bertram did not sign the letter. The only member of Council to actually do anything, to act as a councillor for the people of North Grenville, is having to withdraw and deal with a major health crisis. The rest have chosen this moment to write this arrogant and self-serving letter. Cowards. If we have defamed them, sue us. This attack, this claim that no-one, public or media, has the right to find fault with them because they are so important is the real threat to the democratic rights of the residents of North Grenville. They should be, but probably are not, deeply ashamed of themselves.

These four, as well as whoever wrote the letter (which I know none of them are capable of doing), have displayed such an arrogance, such a deep-seated conviction of their own importance, that they do not deserve to hold the positions they do. Their contempt for the people of North Grenville, who have every right to find fault, or to ridicule the ridiculous, shows such a paranoia and deep distrust of democracy and free speech, that they cannot be allowed to carry on this way. Time to throw a light on “politically neutral” bureaucrats who live on taxpayers money, and condescending representatives who think they have become better than the voters who put them there.

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Heritage is people! http://www.ngtimes.ca/heritage-is-people/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/heritage-is-people/#respond Thu, 22 Feb 2018 20:00:40 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=11059 This week Ontario is celebrating Heritage, one of the more understated weeks in the Ontario calendar, unfortunately. For many people, the word “Heritage” refers to something that is not considered to be a part of their lives. Heritage means the Acropolis in Athens, or the Great Pyramid in Egypt, or some other wonderful ancient building. […]

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This week Ontario is celebrating Heritage, one of the more understated weeks in the Ontario calendar, unfortunately. For many people, the word “Heritage” refers to something that is not considered to be a part of their lives. Heritage means the Acropolis in Athens, or the Great Pyramid in Egypt, or some other wonderful ancient building. Eastern Ontario doesn’t really stand out for that kind of heritage.

But heritage (spelt with a small “h”) is so much more than just architecturally significant buildings. It also includes music, art, stories, songs, service clubs, festivals, and so much more. Our heritage, the heritage that is ours, is what we have received from our past, and that means what we have been given by those who came before us. Our heritage is people: the people who wrote and sang the songs, built the houses, farmed the land, joined the clubs and kept the social, cultural, spiritual and even political life of our communities alive for us to inherit.

This is our annual Heritage issue, and this time we want to put the spotlight on that aspect of our shared inheritance. People came here and settled the land, after other people had lived and valued it for centuries before them. People brought their songs and stories from elsewhere and made a new culture, a new identity, in Canada, in Ontario, in these municipalities. North Grenville may be only twenty years old this year, but it has deeper roots that go further back to South Gower, Oxford-on-Rideau, and the little village of Kemptville.

Heckston, Oxford Mills, Oxford Station, Bishop’s Mills and Burritt’s Rapids (with or without apostrophes!) have had a heritage of their own growing over the decades. Merrickville is celebrating its own 225th birthday this year. There have been other small communities that have known growth and decline over the years too. Patterson’s Corners, Newmanville, East Oxford, Bedell, Actons Corners, Farmer’s Union, Millar’s Crossing and others, all had their time, their stories and their people.

We have lost many fine buildings over the years, some of which are still missed, others we had no chance of saving. But we still have the heritage of the people who came before us. The North Grenville Historical Society, and the Merrickville and District Historical Society exist to record those stories, to keep alive the memories of times past, in photographs, letters, diaries, municipal records, family histories, and so many other formats. The archives operated by the two organisations in Kemptville and Burritt’s Rapids, all volunteer-run, are time capsules in which are preserved the history of our past, our shared story, which is our heritage.

But heritage is not just the past. We are part of the story too, and we add our part to it. We had the Dandelion Festival, now we have Kemptville Live. We’ve had HeyDays for years now, and we’ve added the Sweetheart Brunch to the story too. We lost Leslie Hall, but we’ve given new life to old buildings and, for good or ill, put up new structures that will be part of our future heritage. The Municipal Centre, Colonnade, some of the newer church buildings, will never be considered architectural beauties, but they are here now and our children’s children will wonder what we were thinking!

At a recent NG Historical Society meeting, Brenda Ball, of Hubbard & Co., spoke of the work her late husband and his team did in restoring and reinventing older buildings in Spencerville. And she pointed out that none of them have a heritage designation, yet they give the village a sense of its own identity, its heritage and the people who made it come alive. Sometimes, buildings matter only because of the people associated with them. The NG Archives has a wonderful sketched plan of Kemptville which lists every building in the Prescott-Clothier downtown area in 1872, naming every business and the occupant of each building. It was composed in 1957 by Eddie Hassard, who lived in South Burnaby, Vancouver, and he drew it from memory of what he called “my dear old home”. It is a remarkable testament to the power of heritage, to the importance of place and the people who made that place a “dear old home”.

We have many newcomers settling in our communities these days, and it is really important that they realise and value the roots of the place they have come to call home. The future of our service clubs and other voluntary organisations depends on new blood coming in, and this will only happen when people feel they are becoming part of something that has a history, traditions, a sense of identity that is different from somewhere else. So, our heritage, and our inheritance to future generations, is what we decide to build in to that heritage we have received. Political, cultural and social differences don’t matter in that context: they, too, add to the mosaic, to the story we share with past and future generations. Our heritage, at heart, is our people.

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The Ontario election campaign has started http://www.ngtimes.ca/ontario-election-campaign-started/ http://www.ngtimes.ca/ontario-election-campaign-started/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 19:53:57 +0000 http://www.ngtimes.ca/?p=10986 With just four months to go before the provincial election on June 7, the campaigning has already begun. The Ontario PCs are dealing with a meltdown at the highest levels of their party, with both the party Leader and President forced to resign after accusations of sexual misconduct. Then they were hit by the revelation […]

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With just four months to go before the provincial election on June 7, the campaigning has already begun. The Ontario PCs are dealing with a meltdown at the highest levels of their party, with both the party Leader and President forced to resign after accusations of sexual misconduct. Then they were hit by the revelation that about a third of the party’s membership list was fraudulent, requiring about 62,000 names to be struck off and candidate nominations in two or three ridings to be reopened as a result.

Rather incredibly, this has not been the fatal blow that many Liberals in Ontario might have been hoping for, and expecting. Instead, PC support seems to be holding and local MPPs are out and about pointing fingers at the current Government in an attempt to change the focus of voters back to the long and less than distinguished record of Kathleen Wynne and her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty.

Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark and Ontario PC Labour Critic MPP John Yakabuski (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) were on the road touring the riding last week and emphasising the lack of confidence that business has in Liberal policies.

“We heard loud and clear from small businesses and industries here in Leeds-Grenville that they are suffering as a result of soaring hydro rates, growing red tape and rushed changes to labour policies,” said Steve Clark during his trip. “These are the people who create jobs and bring investment to our communities. It’s time they had a government that listened to their concerns, rather than telling them to go out of business if they don’t like what’s happening.”

One of their targets was the recent rise in the minimum wage and other business related issues covered in government legislation. The latest statistics on job losses in the Province seems to support their contention that large numbers of part-time jobs have been lost as a result of the minimum wage hike. Other workers, who have not been laid off, have nevertheless lost some benefits, been forced to take on extra costs, such as buying their own uniforms, and even having to hand over their tips in restaurants to their bosses.

To make matters worse for the Liberals, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce also released statistics showing that only 23% of businesses in the province are confident in Ontario’s economy. The confidence index is less than half of what it was in 2012. Three-quarters of those contacted by the Chamber put the blame squarely on the economic policies of the Wynne government. Fairly damning and a worrying sign for the ruling party in the upcoming election.

But the Liberals are fighting back. The minimum wage raise was meant to be part of that response, and we can expect to hear about other gifts to the voters being revealed in the coming few months. One of these is likely to be directed at voters in North Grenville, with the long-awaited announcement on the future of Kemptville College. Having successfully dragged the Municipality along in protracted talks for the past three years, it is – surprise, surprise! – about to let voters here know how much of the College lands and buildings they are prepared to let us have, and at what price.

There is some concern within Liberal ranks in this riding about running a candidate against Steve Clark this time. No matter what party you support, it is hard to deny that Steve has been a good representative for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. He appears to have an unassailable position coming into June’s election. Hence the Liberal conundrum about which sacrificial lamb to nominate. But perhaps there is room for an upset here? After all, Gord Brown may have won the federal election in 2014 in spite of the Trudeau victory, but his majority was greatly reduced from previous contests, and that was a surprise.

Either way, this is going to be a fascinating election province-wide, and we have a municipal election to look forward to after that. What a great year for political junkies!

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