Simcoe County Council Notes

More Seniors Wait Longer For Housing As of Dec. 31, 2008, the County of Simcoe had 3,224 families on the waiting list for assisted housing, which is down slightly from 2007’s 3,317 families. However, although applications fell last year, the number of seniors rose; the older residents made up 25 per cent of the waitlist. Their number has grown to 787, up from 566 in 2005. Seniors waited on average 3.2 years, while singles waited 2.3 years and families 1.5 years. Demand for housing rose in Elmvale, Stayner and Wasaga Beach. WiFi Traffic Up At Libraries Almost 600 people accessed wireless internet at Simcoe County libraries in December. The highest usage was recorded in libraries in Tay Township, where 159 people logged onto the service. County Museum Cashes In The Simcoe County Museum saw its donations rise almost $104,000 in 2008; donations totaled $161,775. The museum’s strategy features more grassroots public relations and appearances at lower-tier municipal events to raise awareness and donations.


Visiting restrictions at G&M

Collingwood General and Marine Hospital is not allowing visitors due to the outbreak of a contagious virus on the first floor of the Hume Street facility. The hospital, in partnership with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, implemented the ban on Wednesday. In a news release, the hospital said that so far 10 patients are suffering symptoms of gastroenteritis, “including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and fatigue.” While visitors are not being allowed at G&M, the hospital said “exceptions are made for partners and labour coaches of obstetrical patients, critically ill or dying patients and for emergency room patients as approved by the physician or nurse.” As well, outpatient services – including diagnostic imaging and day surgery – remain open. However, the hospital said if anyone accessing those services is ill they should refrain from coming in. The hospital says the gastrointestinal outbreak is “easily transmitted” so people visiting the facility should be diligent about washing their hands when arriving and leaving. Linda Davis, the hospital’s chief executive officer, echoed the hand washing sentiment. “Our best defense against spread of any type of contagious illness is to isolate those patients affected and to ensure everyone washes their hands thoroughly,” she said in a news release. “We have also implemented increased housekeeping measures to guard against the spread of the virus to other inpatient units.”


Council members raise concerns over special meeting

Two members of Collingwood council have raised concerns over the calling of a special meeting of council that is slated for this Monday. Mayor Chris Carrier has called a special meeting of council for Monday at 9 a.m., at the Royal Canadian Legion. The meeting is to hear a presentation from Brig-Gen. Denis Thompson and Chief Warrant Officer Christopher White about Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. Deputy Mayor Sandra Cooper said the content of the meeting isn’t the issue but she is concerned that once again the mayor has scheduled a meeting and announced it to the public without the rest of council having any knowledge. "Council wasn’t aware of it until he sent out the press release," she said. Cooper said when special meetings are called, it would be nice if "we could see the agenda before it goes out to the media. You pick up the newspaper and you read it." This is the second time in the past several weeks that Cooper has raised concerns about not receiving information before it’s released to the public. Cooper voiced her displeasure with Carrier sending out a press release on Collingwood Ethanol before it was sent to council. She said the meeting on Monday should have been scheduled as an informal session, open to the public, but not a special meeting of council. "I would look at it a different way. I think I would have had it informal," she said. "It’s not questions of us being asked." Carrier said the representatives from the military contacted the municipality to do a deputation but were unable to make the regular 5 p.m. council meeting. He said this would allow them to make their presentation to council and the community. Carrier said he had only received concerns from Counc. Ian Chadwick. Chadwick was concerned with the timing of the meeting, saying he will be unable to attend because of work commitments. However, he said he thinks special meetings should only be called to deal with municipal business. "Special meetings should be held for matters of urgent municipal business," he said. "This is nothing against the military."


New policy could end holiday homework

The public school board has developed a new policy that could make homework during the March Break and Christmas holidays a thing of the past. The policy was presented to the Simcoe County District School Board’s programming committee April 1 and could be approved later this month. It contains provisions that would limit "next-day" homework and prevent teachers from assigning work the day before a holiday and making it due the day after. The policy also makes it necessary that homework marking provide constructive feedback, and not just a stand-alone mark. However, some trustees noted the issue of group work was conspicuously absent from the policy. "I don’t plan to support this unless group work is addressed," said Trustee Nancy Halbert. "As a parent of three children, group work has become a nemesis for me." Many trustees say they frequently receive calls regarding homework, and the board has been examining recent studies that have found too much homework can have a negative impact on a student’s family life. Along with taking time away from other activities, homework, especially group work, can put considerable strain on parents, studies have said. The policy was developed so the board would have universal guidelines for teachers to follow that would also limit the impact of homework on family time. Halbert, who represents New Tecumseth and Bradford West Gwillimbury, said many of her constituents are shift workers and can’t always help their children with homework or facilitate the travel required for after-school group work. Superintendent of instructional services Lindy Zaretsky said the board is awaiting the outcome of further studies before it includes group work in the policy. She said she would like to see the current policy move forward with the intent that it be updated as more information becomes available. Student trustee Hart Murdoch said while he likes some of what is in the policy, he questions whether it will have any actual impact in schools. He is currently a student at Bradford District High School and he said his experience is that some teachers will assign the homework they want, regardless of the policy. "Some of our more experienced teachers I could see being a little bit defensive of this," he said. "I worry that this makes a lot of sense on paper, and that students like this on paper, but will teachers listen to it?" The committee forwarded the policy to the board meeting at the end of April for approval. If approved, it could come into effect by the 2009/2010 school year.


ARC puts forward three recommendations

Members of the Accommodation Review Committee agreed to disagree Monday night. The committee, convened by the Simcoe County District School Board to come up with solutions regarding declining enrolment in the area, initially set out to come to a consensus on one solution but instead it is sending three recommendations to school board trustees. The 38-member committee first met one year ago. It set out to review high schools in Stayner, Collingwood, Elmvale, Penetanguishene and Midland and to make a suggestion about how to solve enrolment issues. Wasaga Beach was included in the process as a possible school site. Wasaga Beach does not have a high school and parents and politicians have been lobbying for one for many years. On Monday, the committee approved the three recommendations that will be presented to the board’s senior administrative staff this morning by committee co-chair and superintendent of education Janis Medysky. The recommendation that received the most support is a five-school scenario defined as status quo with upgrades. The committee recommends that all five existing high schools remain open and receive the renovations they require to properly serve the student population, whether its removing capacity in schools that have too few students or adding to schools that are over crowded and require facility upgrades. A second recommendation that was supported by three committee members is a four-school scenario that would see Elmvale District High School remain in operation, one high school remain in Midland and Penetanguishene with two schools to serve the catchment areas of Collingwood Collegiate Institute and Stayner Collegiate Institute. The scenario could include the construction of a high school in Wasaga Beach. A third recommendation supported by three committee members is a six-school scenario that would see all five existing high schools remain in operation and a school built in Wasaga Beach. The decision to finalize the three recommendations came right after a public meeting held Monday in the gymnasium of Stayner Collegiate Institute. More than 200 people attended the meeting, many coming to the microphone one by one for one-and-a-half hours to make a plea in support of Stayner Collegiate or voice their opinion that a high school in Wasaga Beach is long overdue. Educators said small schools have the highest graduation rate and politicians said Stayner Collegiate is pivotal to the community. People speaking on behalf of Wasaga Beach said they want their children to go to school in their own community and have a chance to reap all the benefits. Although the accommodation review committee was established to assess the physical structures of the schools – the bricks and mortar as it is often referred to – community members continually brought the discussion back to community and quality of student life. Throughout the process, Wasaga Beach and Clearview demonstrated their growth potential and community members defended their threatened schools as Clearview Township residents and politicians pleaded with the school board to protect their school and not allow Wasaga Beach to construct a school at the expense of theirs. "There is no reason a community of 16,000 should lose its school so a community of 16,000 can have one," said one Grade 11 student at Stayner Collegiate. With a lot of public support voiced for the five-school status quo scenario, Shawn Davidson, a Clearview Township municipal councillor who operates businesses in Stayner and Wasaga Beach, asked the committee after the public meeting if members would consider voting to reprioritize the recommendations. He said the committee could distance itself from the four-school scenario a little further by strengthening its support for the six-school scenario. Stayner Collegiate teacher Jared Singleton asked the committee to consider putting only the five-school recommendation to school trustees, saying the committee came close to a consensus on the option than members ever thought they would and it received a clear majority. But the committee did not vote on Monday night except to finalize its draft report containing three recommendations. The report will go to a special facility standing committee meeting on Apr. 14 and a special board meeting on May 14. The public is allowed to make scheduled delegations at both meetings by contacting Rita England at 734-6363. School trustees are expected to make a final decision on June 17.


Home-care workers demand travel pay

BARRIE – Barrie Red Cross home-care workers – including some working in the Midland-Penetanguishene area – hit the picket line April 2 for a local one-day strike. Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have been holding rotating strikes across the province since March 24, demanding their travel expenses be paid. “We have been trying to get this through negotiations, and lobbying the provincial government on the issue,” said Cathy Carroll, secretary-treasurer for SEIU Local 1. “Essentially, they have to travel between their clients and they aren’t paid for it.” While the home-care workers are paid mileage, they are not paid for the time spent on the road. Carroll said they should be compensated. “There is not a person in this province that I can think of that, if their job requires them to travel, that they don’t get compensated for that time,” she said. “Even pizza delivery guys get compensated. It’s just not fair.” Last summer, workers voted 88 per cent in support of a strike. Red Cross personal support workers have been in a legal strike position since March 23. The home-care workers ensured essential clients continued to receive the care they need during the strike. [email protected]


Four more doctors mulling Midland move

This is going to be a banner year for physician recruitment in Southern Georgian Bay, predicts David Gravelle. The physician recruitment officer told The Mirror he already has one family doctor scheduled to start July 1, and several other potential candidates who are currently scoping out the area. “We just sent him a contract this week, and he has confirmed he is coming,” Gravelle said, adding two other doctors will be coming for visits in May to look for homes. “They haven’t signed contracts yet, but I am optimistic the reason they’re coming to look at real estate is because they’re going to move here.” Gravelle noted he had a fourth visit scheduled for April 6, but it was cancelled due to the weather. “We’re very optimistic that this is probably going to be one of our best years for recruitment for our community. We didn’t have a great year last year – it’s a big decision for them to move, and it just didn’t line up – (but) people who were looking at coming last year are probably going to make it in 2009.” The Southern Georgian Bay Physician Recruitment program currently has four incentives to lure prospective doctors to the area: • a paid visit to the community; • a $20,000 financial incentive (spread out over two years); • relocation costs; • a welcome package from the community that includes gym and golf club memberships, boat slips, curling memberships and more. “Our toe is just in the water in terms of incentives,” he pointed out, noting some communities in the province offer no incentives, but have unique attractions like a teaching centre. However, he added, others – such as Brockville and Hastings County – offer a $150,000 cash incentive. “We’ve never contemplated that. We don’t have that kind of money. Those are major county-wide initiatives, and our community has said this is (just) a bit of a helping hand to pay off debt or buy furniture for your home.” Despite the money being spent on incentives, Gravelle said he doesn’t believe the Midland-Penetanguishene area is buying doctors. “We’re basically just helping them get their practice started,” he said. “When a doctor comes to our area, I don’t think the money plays a big role in it. I think it’s the lifestyle, being able to have a diverse career, to do family medicine and ER, or hospitalist…. It’s one of our unique selling points.” The other key selling feature, he said, is the opportunity to live where they would play. “A unique selling feature is the community that we have to offer – that Southern Georgian Bay lifestyle that we all live and love.” It’s because of that, he said, that he doesn’t get frustrated when he “loses” a doctor to another community. “All I try to do is put our best foot forward. If they come, they come,” he said. “If there’s a doctor that’s going just for the money, that’s probably a doctor that we don’t want in our community.” Gravelle said he doesn’t believe any of the doctors that have opted to come to the area did so solely because of a cash incentive. “I don’t think we’ve recruited anyone who is here for the money. The people who have come here have come because they were recruited by me, in conjunction with a colleague that was already here, or they had visited the community and (determined it) was a perfect fit.” As for the ethics behind offering cash incentives to bring a doctor to a community, Gravelle said he looks at the challenge the same as if he were a corporate headhunter. “I look at a physician as a large business owner who has staff, suppliers, etc. (It’s similar to) recruiting a vice-president.” Gravelle has researched what companies do to recruit executives, and he said it’s similar to physician recruitment. “In the corporate world … it’s all about the money, and money is status. We haven’t gotten to that point because, at the end of the day, doctors are civil servants,” he said. “(Offering incentives is) ethical (and) it’s proper, but there has to be a balance. I’ve never gotten into a bidding war with another community. We don’t negotiate it.” The goal for the 2009 fiscal year, he noted, is to recruit four to five doctors, a number he said the program is in line to meet. “We have the financial resources to recruit that many. If we did that, we would be in great shape,” he said, noting the program recruited one family doctor and three emergency room doctors last year. Gravelle will be heading to Halifax next week, where he will lead a session on incentives at the Canadian Association of Staff Physician Recruiters’ fifth annual conference. “It will foster discussion,” he said. “If we all work within (the) code, then what we’re doing in terms of recruitment, we (will be) doing it as ethically and morally as possible.” [email protected]


Pressure on Liberal budget to deliver

Ontario’s Finance Minister, Dwight Duncan, will deliver his government’s much-anticipated provincial budget on Thursday and area officials will be watching closely to see what goodies it contains. Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson told The Stayner Sun he will be looking for the Liberals to deliver several key things for Ontarians, who are struggling to survive the economic downturn. For starters, Wilson said the government should implement a three-month sales tax holiday for the purchase of new cars. He said the move would help people wanting to buy a new vehicle and aid the automotive industry. Continuing on the vehicle theme, Wilson said the government should introduce an incentive to get old cars off the road. He suggested a $2,000 rebate towards the purchase or lease of a new car, when an older vehicle – say 10 years or more – is turned in. He said the move would stimulate the economy and help the environment. As well, the Conservative MPP said the government should "implement broad-based relief to Ontario businesses, including, but not limited to, moving the corporate tax rate down from 14 per cent to 10 per cent. Doing so means all provinces in Canada have the same rate, which would result in Canada having the lowest corporate taxes in the G8. Other provinces are doing it. We should too." The Liberals would also be wise to implement a retail sales tax holiday on hotels and attractions to promote Ontario tourism, a move that would benefit everywhere, Wilson said. Another smart move the government could make would be to introduce a "five per cent annual cap on property assessment increases and send MPAC assessors back into the field immediately to bring assessments inline with actual property values," Wilson said. In other areas, Wilson said he would like to see the government fast track the Highway 26 redevelopment and start planning for the highway to be redeveloped all the way to Barrie. He also wants to see the government "introduce an initiative to immediately begin [building] new long-term care beds throughout Simcoe and Grey counties to bring the exceptionally high waiting lists down." Clearview Township Mayor Ken Ferguson said he wants the budget to provide funding for municipal infrastructure but also for other areas. "There are bigger things than just infrastructure [money] for municipalities," he told The Stayner Sun. "Farmers, entrepreneurs, small business owners – they all need help right now. All of these groups interest me." Despite wanting the Liberal government to loosen its purse strings, Ferguson said he questions whether such a move will have any long-term impact on the struggling economy, a thought he said many others are mulling over. "You can throw money at a lot of things but what if it doesn’t work? What about next year and the year after that?" Ferguson said that whatever funding the government does announce with Thursday’s budget, it needs to make sure the details are communicated. "Show people how you’re going to do things. Tell them. Don’t dribble out announcement after announcement after the budget for the next four or six weeks," he said. "Whatever you’re doing, get the information out on the street fast so people can start accessing things." He said Clearview has lots of projects on which it could spend provincial dollars. He said funds could be put towards improving another bridge in the municipality. Also, funds could be used to rebuild Nottawasaga Concession 10, to County Road 91 – a project that Ferguson said will cost $3-million to $4-million. Clearview could also use money to help pay for the new emergency centre hub – a facility that will house the fire department, police and ambulance – on the eastern edge of Stayner. And, he said, funding could also be put towards the new library branch that’s needed in Stayner. "We have lots of spots where we can spend money," the mayor said. Premier Dalton McGuinty announced Monday that his government will spend $27.5-billion on roads, schools, hospitals and public transit over the next two years in an effort to create 300,000 new jobs. McGuinty said the huge infrastructure investment – which he said will be detailed in Thursday’s budget – will be topped up with another $5-bilion from the federal government. Finance Minister Duncan has indicated that this week’s budget will include a deficit of about $18-billion over two years. Doug Mills is on Clearview Township’s economic development committee. He said he expects the Liberal budget to focus on helping the automotive industry because of its huge presence in Ontario. "Help for small and medium size business – I’m not holding my breath. You’ve got to remember tax revenues are down," Mills said. He added that with more Ontarians out of work and an aging population, the government might focus attention on health care and education. Debbie Kesheshian is the executive director of the United Way of South Georgian Bay, an agency that helps fund various social organizations and programs. She said the budget should include funding for an array of social programs, in particular the Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy. "It’s fine to have these strategies but they need to be funded," she said. The strategy, announced in 2008, aims to reduce youth poverty by 25 per cent in five years, Kesheshian said. She said the Liberals should present a budget that does more to help the disabled and unemployed. And the budget should include stipulations that allow for more tax benefits for people and corporations that are donating to charities. The Liberals should also invest in proven charitable organizations. Kesheshian said charitable organizations can often deliver services and programs far more cost effectively than government. A budget that included more Ontario child benefits and an increased minimum wage would also be helpful, she said.


Grass fire along tracks in Tottenham

New Tecumseth firefighters from Tottenham Station 3 battled a grassfire that started in Tottenham Sunday evening along the railway tracks. The fire started along the CP Rail line north of Mill Street between the tracks and the yards of homes on McCurdy Drive. The New Tecumseth Fire Department has responded to three grassfires this spring, including two along railway lines. Sometimes passing trains throw of sparks when they hit stones igniting the dense dead grass. Residents should keep in mind that fire permits are required before you light any outdoor fire. They can be obtained atyour town hall.