Editor’s note: The Voice invited each Ward 1 by-election candidate to submit an opinion-editorial on the theme of their choice. This is the last in the series. Election Day is next Tuesday, September 15. Find those of other candidates here.

 

Put first things first—financial stability

In our family, we have always honoured public service and volunteerism. With that in mind, I want to greet and thank our Mayor and council and my fellow candidates for their service. It is an honour to be a part of such an important event for our community. I also want to thank our award-winning newspaper, the Voice, for the opportunity to present my Op-Ed.

Wayne Olson. DON RICKERS

During my career in business and manufacturing, I was exposed to many different and challenging situations. My job was to rebuild dysfunctional companies using creativity, common sense and leadership. Most often I would be engaged by a consortium of customers, banks and unions; each party had a different perspective, which meant I had to juggle conflicting demands and expectations.

My first task was to restore the dignity of work by rebuilding trust and the capacity to make incremental and no-cost improvements to the production process. We called them “low hanging fruit.” Once operational and financial stability was established, we would begin to work to establish a robust production system to run the business.

Since there is more to learn from problems than successes, I would always establish a formal problem-solving process, including a comparison to Best Practices. There are lots of nearby municipalities who have better managed their debt and services, and there are opportunities for shared services like line marking. After years of varied and global experience, I can tell you that the problem was never the people. It was always the process. My motto could have been: “Fix the problem, not the people.”

Over the years, I have developed a particular method of discussing issues and solving problems. I always start with the positives and then move into the deficiencies. I would have to say that, in general, our community is getting a lot of things right.

My first positive is the establishment of a policy framework to address our financial issues. One component is timely reporting, which led to the early completion of Pelham’s Financial Information Report to the provincial government, and the completion of the first Annual Report for the Town of Pelham. Accountability is the essential first step to trust and stability. I congratulate the CAO and the staff on these significant achievements.

Accountability is the essential first step to trust and stability. I congratulate the CAO and the staff on these significant achievements.

Putting it mildly, our long term debt is high and our financial resources are limited, and we are not able to sustain our infrastructure. Accordingly, the Annual Report includes a series of prudent financial measures to “Ensure Financial Stability.” Debt is addictive: easy to acquire and hard to retire. A sound foundation has been established by this council. I am hoping to be able to patiently work with these policies to restore financial strength.

My opponents in this election have not given the matter of our financial stability enough attention. It is almost as if the only way out of our financial situation is more development. I fear that just as much as debt is addictive, so is development. Progress will not stand still but past experience should tell us we need to be careful and patient.

My second positive would be our volunteer community, including our non-profits, our faith communities, and our service clubs. Our world would grind to a halt if it wasn’t for our wonderful volunteers. Imagine trying to address the needs created by the pandemic without them. With our vast reservoir of capable and talented people of all ages, we need to create more opportunities for our residents to volunteer in our community.

The third positive would be our homegrown, true Canadian success stories. Our stables, commercial nurseries, growers and farmers have taken impressive steps to ensure biodiversity in their operations. Congratulations to all of them for succeeding and expanding in challenging times.

There is nothing better than shopping for fresh produce, baked goods and preserves at our local producers. In doing so, we are helping to ensure our food security and our food sovereignty. The Ontario government has announced $215 million dollars of support for our producers. As a member of council, I would want to advocate government-to-government to make sure that our farmers and producers get a fair share of these funds.

My fourth positive would be our Town staff. In my work as a volunteer crossing guard, I got to know our staff as respected colleagues. I give full credit to the staff for handling the COVID-19 crisis, working to develop the new on-demand transit option, and keeping the infrastructure operating. It is inevitable that we will be asking our staff to do more with less. This is common with every recession. As a member of council, I would work make sure they have the tools, including the training, to do their jobs.

NRT OnDemand is precisely the sort of incremental and innovative program that we need in our community. It is invaluable for those connecting to Niagara Transit. Very importantly, transportation is a major controlling factor in enabling seniors to age at home. There are lots of people who need to get to appointments, treatments and to visit loved ones. As a member of council, I will be looking for the high impact, low cost, important services.

If I was building a company from scratch, I would build it from the “outside in,” meaning from the direction of the suppliers and from the direction of the customer. In business, most really great suggestions come from the suppliers and customers. In the case of our Town, our individual citizens and committees of council serve the purpose and achieve superior results. The town committees are an excellent means of communicating with residents and accessing citizen creativity.

After establishing the positives, I would typically move on to the deficiencies that attention.

Our community is being defined by our excessive debt levels. Excessive debt is forcing us to think very differently than if our reserves were full and our debt low. The options are limited because the vast majority of our spending is structural. There are lots of other communities who have done this better. I would want to look at all of the revenue and cost options and I would focus on our debt and make our future decisions based upon good old, practical farmer’s common sense.

It has been suggested that our existing industries are placing a strain on our infrastructure, our environment and creating too much traffic. I differ with that assessment. I think that our businesses have been very responsible in matching their needs to to the available resources. The primary corridor to the QEW is Victoria Avenue. Most of our businesses are located within a couple of kilometres of Victoria. If our industries are straining our resources and they are already located on transportation corridors, where should they go?

“Industrial development” has also been proposed for Ward 1, including “heavy industry.” Heavy industry typically uses vast quantities of water resources both upstream and downstream. Our water resources are really only adequate to support our existing agribusiness and farms. Let’s make sure that we match our industries to our environmental capacities, not work toward some impractical pie-in-the-sky vision of development. Development doesn’t need to be the answer to every question.

Let’s make sure that we match our industries to our environmental capacities, not work toward some impractical pie-in-the-sky vision of development

Rather than fault our businesses, I would prefer to be an advocate. Let me give you an example. Our commercial nurseries depend upon migrant workers. Our nurseries and growers are doing a great job but one can reasonably expect that new guidelines will be put in place for housing, safety and working conditions for migrant workers because of problems elsewhere. I know the value of industry associations and how much they can influence senior government policy. As a member of council, I would seek associate memberships in various industry associations to stay on top of the issues.

Our agribusinesses are wonderful examples of the entrepreneurial spirit and social responsibility. In fact, one commercial nursery has volunteered the full and free use of two greenhouses for a “youth co-op.” Essentially, young people would be given an opportunity to grow vegetables in a co-op setting and earn their volunteer hours. Our youth would learn from the best. Produce would be donated to Pelham Cares. Imagine broad community partnerships and links to the University of Guelph, Community Futures, and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. As member of council, I would work toward seeing this exciting idea come into existence.

It has been suggested that we need to identify and develop transportation corridors for heavy trucks. We are pretty well served by our mature road system in Ward 1. North and south, we have Victoria. East and west we have Sixteen, Metler, Highway 20, Canboro and Webber. If you are talking about the village of Fenwick alone, we must be talking about an east-west corridor because we really only have Canboro Road. That likely means that Foss will be developed as an east-west transportation corridor. Is that what we want? It sounds like a needless duplication to me.

If you take a drive around our ward, you really get a sense of place. Read the gate signs on our farms and you will learn how long people have lived here. You will know instinctively why our predecessors settled here and you will be reminded why we happily live here today. If we allow ourselves to be told what to do for two or three generations, we will lose our identity. Our heritage includes our streetscapes, institutions, business and farm associations, and it is the names we gave to our streets and our buildings. I would immediately advocate to establish a Pelham Heritage Committee.

As I noted earlier, OnDemand is one of the commonsense ways that we can help seniors to age at home. There are plenty of services like Meals on Wheels, home care, snow removal, leaf removal, low cost maintenance, and social contact that help our seniors stay at home. Our Pelham Seniors Advisory Committee is doing a great job in telling our seniors about the services available to them. I would understand and optimize these services before I would ever move into “accessory dwellings” and “laneway homes.”

It is pretty clear that our cannabis industries are not going to comply voluntarily with our reasonable standards of community responsibility. Our capable Cannabis Control Committee has done a terrific job of creating our Interim Control Bylaw. I understand more work will be done in the fall to make our bylaws more comprehensive. I am in favour of full enforcement of our bylaws.

We need to very cautious and precise about the “frills” and “luxuries” that could be cut in the inevitable post-pandemic era of “do more with less.” I am thinking specifically about arts and culture. Our community needs to support artistic excellence, creativity, outreach and the financial health of our arts and culture assets. I would seek to create a committee to ensure that we have an arts and culture framework for the future.

So there you have it: Pride in our community and way of life, pride in our people and enterprises, realistic optimism about our future, focus on our threatening financial situation, protection of our heritage, and support for arts and culture. That just about sums it up.

If I am elected as your councillor in Ward 1, it will be a terrific honour and responsibility and it will be my full-time job. Our future is serious business. I have funded my campaign from my own resources and individual donations. There will be no need for me to remove myself from any of council’s deliberations due to a conflict of interest. I will always be there to vote our interests.

Thank you for reading my Op-Ed. I hope it gives you the required insight into how I would represent Ward 1 on council. I hope that you can favour me with your vote. Finally, please remember to call those who are isolated by social distancing. Your call will be greatly appreciated.

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