Friday, July 23, 2010

Transitioning York Region

We are a society wholly reliant on the world’s finite and rapidly declining oil supplies. Our daily activities like heating our homes, eating, shopping, and driving all use vast amounts of oil. To make matters worse we've purposely designed leisure activities around burning even more oil as if it was a contest to see who can consume the most. The danger this irrational energy addiction poses should have been obvious to all of us but for the most part we’ve chosen to ignore the issue figuring the energy will always be there, well guess what? We were wrong!

It may have been 2 years ago or it may still be a couple of years away but we are on the cusp of Peak Oil, that point where we can no longer increase world oil production as shown on this graph with production in billions of barrels and the year.

In the early part of the 20th century oil was easy to find and world oil reserves and production grew quickly. This cheap energy spurred on growth, innovation, massive industrialization and conspicuous consumption. This worked out great for about ½ a century but eventually new oil discoveries began to fall behind and for every one barrel added to identified reserves several were used up. At this point we had ample time to change our ways but we didn’t bother, in fact most people inside and outside the oil industry ignored the trend altogether.

Fast forward to the present and we are at the point where all of the easiest, cleanest and cheapest oil has been discovered and a great deal of it burned. Today’s new oil is generaly deeper, dirtier, more expensive to extract, requires more energy to extract and is generally found in smaller pockets, the boom times are certainly over. From this point on oil production will stagnate at best and will most likely begin to drop in the coming years. Demand however is not expected to decline as several billion Chinese and Indian peasants rush towards industrialization and consumerism.

The end game is we are heading towards much higher energy prices and if we don’t adapt to use less energy very soon we will probably face shortages and major disruptions in our way of life.

Enter Transition Towns

Transition Towns is a grass roots movement out of the UK which provides the frame work and development tools allowing communities to form their own local Transition Town organizations. Once in place Transition Town can educate communities to the issues of climate change, peak oil and economic contraction. At the same time by engaging the community, Transition Town taps the local skills, creativity and energy generating home grown innitatives to ease adaptation from our current state to a post carbon society.

From Transition Towns main page.

A Transition Initiative (which could be a town, village, university or island etc) is a community-led response to the pressures of climate change, fossil fuel depletion and increasingly, economic contraction. There are thousands of initiatives around the world starting their journey to answer this crucial question:

"for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly rebuild resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil and economic contraction) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?"

There are already 321 communities largely in Western Europe and North America recognized as official Transition Initiatives by the Transition Newwork. Hundreds of additional towns, regions, and island are in the initial stages of organization. Each of these groups has different people, different skills, different climates and different visions which will eventually result in hundreds of distinct energy descent plans designed for their needs.

Under the umbrella of each local initiative various working groups develop to focus on issue of food, economy, energy, health, spirituality, transportation, reskilling, culture and others. People who get involved can work on the larger picture or simply find a project they like under one of the many working groups and run with it. Me, I'm all about food security issues and promoting those lost skills and trades needed to make people and communites more self sufficient and resilient.

Transition Upper York Region

I think every town needs a transtion movement as I've stated before, so I'm very pleased to announce that we now have our very own embryonic organization called Transition (Upper) York Region which held its very fist open meeting last night at the Regional building in Newmarket. The attendies, (somewhere between a dozen and a score) recieved a brief primer on peak oil and the organization/methodology of the transition movement after which we broke up into smaller working groups to discuss key topics like food, health and energy. The discussions were vigourous and passionate and I'm sure most of these people will attend the next meeting dragging family or friends along with them.

I do think that Upper York Region is a tad too big and includes too many separate municipalities to be manageable but I suspect as the group grows it will become an umbrella organization with separate working groups for some of the towns. This is probably a good strucure to start with but it will surely evolve into something different.

This group intends on being very active and it should quickly build up the kind of numbers needed to represent the needs and concerns of the residents as well as actually getting things done.

In the coming weeks Transition(Upper)York Region will be hosting a screening of the movie In Transition 1.0 Aug 10th
holding another transition talk event Aug 19th
and a pub night for general discussion. Sept 15th in Richmond Hill

The Locations for these events are not yet finalized but I will edit this post once I get that information. You can find Transition (Upper)York Region on facebook here.

If you are curious about peak oil and how we are going to cope this is the organization for you. I've been waiting for Transition Towns to arrive in Newmarket for a couple of years and I'm most excited about the possibilities, I think we are going to do some good work.

Have a look at the Carousel on the side bar for additional books on peak oil and adaptation

Monday, June 14, 2010

Who does our council serve?

I was at an interesting presentation last week by the Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada, Larry Gordon, put on by the good people at CEDNA (Citizens Engaging Democracy Newmarket-Aurora)

In case you are unaware of the Fair Vote Canada I’ve included this excerpt from their Statement of Purpose.

Fair Vote Canada seeks broad multi-partisan support to embody in new legislation the basic principle of democratic representative government and ultimate safeguard of a free society: the right of each citizen to equal treatment under election laws and equal representation in legislatures.

We campaign for equal effective votes and fair representation at every level of government and throughout civil society by various means including lobbying legislators for electoral law reform, litigation, public education, citizens’ assemblies, and referenda.

To create an equal voice for every citizen and give democratic legitimacy to our laws we must reform our electoral institutions, political parties, public political funding mechanisms and governing processes to achieve these interdependent goals:

If you have any feeling that our current election system is flawed I'd recommend you investigate the work Fair Vote is doing. Even if you're satisfied its worth knowing why others feel the system is neither fair nor fully democratic.

Most of the evening dealt with voting systems and the right of all voters to be treated fairly under our electoral system. It was an engaging presentation and I think the participants came away with a new understanding of our system and the need to improve it.

There is however another campaign being run by Fair Vote which I thought was very relevant in this municipal election year calling for the banning of union and corporate funding in municipal elections.

The heart of the issue is simple;

Should businesses and unions be funding municipal campaigns?

Is there a real or perceived expectation of favouritism when a business funds a politician?

Does this funding give the incumbents who have better access to this corporate money an inordinate advantage in subsequent elections?

As a voter I feel the power of businesses and lobby groups over politicians is already too strong and believe it wrong for town vendors, contractors and developers who have an inherent financial stake in who runs council to fund municipal campaigns.

If you believe as I do that this is an important issue in municipal politics I’d ask you to contact you local representatives and ask them to complete and submit the survey which Fair Vote Canada has sent to 474 Ontario mayors and city councillors in the 42 largest cities and towns.

The survey is short, sweet and too the point and I believe most people would agree that voters have the right to know which campaigns are taking money from who so that we may better judge their actions when it comes to council votes.

1. Do you support banning corporate and union campaign contributions in all Ontario municipal elections?

2. If so, which option do you prefer? That the Government of Ontario: a) implement the ban that would be applied to all municipal elections in the province,
or b) that the government of Ontario empower individual municipalities to adopt such a ban?

3. If you support the ban, would you add your name to a public list of councillors who support it?

4. If you support the ban, would you add your name to a public list of councillors who pledge not to solicit or accept any corporate or union donations in the next municipal election?

Here is the contact information for Newmarket council; please let them know that ethical and transparent election financing is an issue to you and make sure you mention the Fair Vote Canada campaign

Don't just ask the incumbents either, each and every candidate should be disclosing if they take corporate money or if they will pledge not to.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Urban Chicken controversy comes to York Region

As I discussed in my article Things I want to see for Newmarket,

"I also want moves towards the legalization of small urban livestock, hens, rabbits, dwarf goats as part of a greater Right to Farm legislation.
Many urban municipalities in the U.K. and U.S. are once again allowing the ownership of small numbers of well tended food animals. These towns realize that peak oil will eventually impact food production and shipping costs making local food relevant again."

Now I understand that most people don’t want to see animals being slaughtered in the neighbour’s back yard but there is no rational reason that a person should not be allowed to raise a few chickens in a clean, rooster free environment for the production of fresh eggs. A ½ dozen chickens is quieter than a 100 lb dog, produce less waste, are less likely to hurt anyone and are great waste diversion/composting machines. Why should the municipality pay (and the people be taxed) to process green bin contents that can be converted to healthy food in peoples very own yards. The added value to the urban farmer is a supply of quality fertilizer for their gardens.

This brings you to the question “why are you going on about this topic yet again?”

Read this story “Coop ruffles town’s feathers” about East Gwillimbury’s move against a small, clean, urban chicken flock and you'll see why I'm up on my podium again.

While this story does not fit the Newmarket focus of this blog I would be doing the same thing as Mr Froats if I had a bit more time and room, I support the efforts of anyone who promotes urban farming and healthy food and besides I’ve met Jason and his family and they are good people.

If you support Jason’s struggle join the York Region chapter of CLUCK, (CANADIAN LIBERATED URBAN CHICKEN CLUB. For those who are residents of East Gwillimbury please contact your mayor and councillors and ask them to modify or repeal this law.

The CLUCK organization has been speading quicly with a number of local chapters forming around the country in recent months to educate the public and fight poorly designed animal laws. Recently Vancouver has voted to allow chickens and Calgary has backed off an outright ban in favour of a trial program to see if their urban chicken people can opperate without pissing off their neighbours.

In the meantime I hope this story encourages foodies, greens, or civil libertarians in Newmarket/Aurora to follow Jason’s lead in challenging irrational bylaws.

I bet Jamie Oliver would approve!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Newmarket’s While Elephant

Last night there was a Newmarket council meeting and vote regarding the possibility of a $3 million cost overrun on the renovations to Newmarket’s Old Town Hall. As this recent Era Banner article states the town set the original cost before an architect even fully assessed the job.
“The original $5.9-million figure was submitted with grant applications before an architect was called to see what needed to be done with the building to prepare it for the transformation.”

I pretty sure that most of these councillors would not call a contractor to gut their home based on their own estimates and then hire a professional to work out the real price after the fact, so why are they so willing to do so with our money? It’s not as if this is a small cost overrun either. The article mentions an additional $2.4 million would be needed but spectators at last nights council meeting are talking numbers over $3 million and of course we won’t know for sure unless the town spends another $150k to get a more accurate estimate. The way this is going we could be 50% or more over budget, good governance? Good planning? Good councillors? You decide!

Personally I think this is totally irrational; this job should have been fully assessed at the very beginning and compared to the cost of a new building. Old does not make a building valuable, it might make it historically significant but it’s not valuable unless it maintains utility and affordability. This building is quaint but is that enough? Why not just tear it down and build a new one from scratch using the same styling queues but with modern techniques, or just incorporate the north façade into a new building, at least cost out such an options for comparison. As it is I don’t thing this project is a good value and before this is over we will be hitting $9-10 million, what else could we have gotten for $10 million?

Last night’s vote was to supply the additional $150,000 needed to fully cost the job but a tied vote failed to solve the issue. Next Monday’s Council of the Whole (April 12) will address this issue again so I think its important that tax payers use this extra week to contact their councillors and express their concerns over what appears to be gross mismanagement in costing this job and let them know your opinion on whether we should spend the money for the full renovation, a scaled back version or cancel the whole thing. Even if you don’t agree with my viewpoint, be heard! Too few of us make the effort.

Oh by the way here is the newest take on the story and a list of who voted how
The vote:
Mayor Tony Van Bynen,
Ward 1 Councillor Tom Vegh,
Ward 3 Councillor Victor Woodhouse
Ward 5 Councillor Joe Sponga

Regional Councillor John Taylor,
Ward 2 Councillor Dave Kerwin,
Ward 6 Councillor Dennis Ramsarran and
Ward 7 Councillor Chris Emmanuel

Absent: Ward 4 Councillor Larry Blight

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Farmer's Market opening May 8th

Opening day for the 2010 Newmarket Farmers's market has been set for May 8th. It's important to note that because of construction, this year's market is not downtown but at the town offices at 395 Mulock.

There are also rumours of a second market this year. I don't know if it's going to be an additional Saturday location or a mid week market like they tried a couple of years ago, keep watch for an annoucement.

The Mulock location doesn't have as much parking and I don't think it's as walkable as downtown so this may be a poor year for the vendors. In my case if I have to use my car to go to market I'm just as likely to go to Aurora where the near by Wells Park is a great distraction for the kids while we take turns shopping.

For those who don't have the ability to get to the new location or want to directly support local food production there are still opportunities to join a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)where you can pre purchase a crop share entitling you to weekly deliveries(or pick up) of seasonal produce, eggs and even meat.

We've joined Cooper's CSA in Zephyr, I'll let you know how it works out.

Macwilliam Farms in Queensville also runs a CSA program as well as a pick your own opperation.

I'll add more CSA links along the sidebar as I discover them, feel free to me send links I don't have or reviews of the various CSAs. If you run a CSA I'll even give you an ad or a write up provided a basket of berries or bushel of potatoes/apples/etc is involved;)
I want to do more canning this year

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Things I want to see for Newmarket

This a rework of a post on another blog from last year, it seemed appropriate to move it over for a more local audience.

In light of peak oil, pollution, global warming and those pesky food security issues that are dear to my heart(and belly) there are a great many things I’d like to see happen to make Newmarket a better and more sustainable place for what I believe will be a harder more austere future.

No more irrational development, yes we should increased density but stop building those damn 4000 sq ft homes, and stop allowing big box developments. Mixed use high density is the best model, each block should have a grocer, a restaurant, a bar, a play ground etc. Grouping all the retail and services around main arteries that no one can walk to is insane.

LEEDs certification for all new homes and major rebuilds, simple additions must be at least R2000 compliant. If people’s houses are so inefficient that they cannot heat them affordability you will get people freezing in the dark or installing in wood stoves that create smog and lead to deforestation, not to mention the number of dumb asses that burn down their houses or gas themselves when they bring the BBQ inside.

New Commercial buildings must utilize their roofs as green roofs, Solar PV or Solar thermal applications, 12 year phase in for all existing commercial buildings, provided they can structurally support higher roof loads.

I’d like to see more open mindedness in the building codes regarding alternative building materials; Straw bail, earth bag, rammed earth etc. The carbon footprint of the building process must also be taken into account when building not just the day to day carbon use.

No more drive through businesses with notice that existing ones must be phased out in 5 years. Having both an anti idling law and numerous drive through restaurants and bank machines is irrational, either you're against idling or not.

I want the city to stop planting foreign ornamental trees everywhere. All trees should be indigenous species with at least half being productive varieties of fruits and nuts, providing both natural foods for wildlife and energetic citizens. Citizens should be encouraged to tend and harvest city trees.

I don’t want the Widening of Davis Drive for public transit lanes.
Peak oil is going to severely reduce the amount of public traffic on the roads within the next 10 years. Widening this road to accommodate transit on the assumption that oil availability or price will never impact car use is blinkered thinking. The age of the car is ending, stop building infrastructure that perpetuates a broken model.

I want people to come forward to found a transition town movement (I’ll certainly join and take part but I won’t kid myself that organization or consensus building skills are my strong point, I’m too much the lazy malcontent)
Transition towns is a great movement devoted to helping towns and communities adapt to peak oil and more self reliance.

I’d like to see the creation of a food not lawns movement. The wasted water, energy, time and fertilizer on grass are a national disgrace. The potential benefit to food security, biodiversity and the survival of pollinators greatly outweighs the benefit of the uniformly boring dead zone we call lawns. While it’s your right to have a lawn I it’s also my right to utilize my soil to grow food and not be harassed about its appearance if it’s properly tended

I also want moves towards the legalization of small urban livestock, hens, rabbits, dwarf goats as part of a greater Right to Farm legislation.
Many urban municipalities in the U.K. and U.S. are once again allowing the ownership of small numbers of well tended food animals. These towns realize that peak oil will eventually impact food production and shipping costs making local food relevant again.

I want to see tax relief and zoning concession that encourage land owners to lease, donate or even use their honking big lawns to grow food locally. Just drive around the Pony and Stellar Drive industrial area, the lawns on some of these properties could supply 100s of people with produce. The utilization of urban lands to feed people is becoming more prevalent

Stop jerking us around on community gardens. After years of improving the soil in Newmarket’s community garden the region is giving urban farmers the boot, our new location will be a dead field of clay adjacent to the Magna center. In reality the Magna location should be additional garden plots not replacement plots.

While we did get a one year reprieve on our existing location it won't happen again as construction of a new high rise Regional building is scheduled to begin next year. Since I've lived in Newmarket the population has doubled yet no new plots have been added to the program and the garden is scheduled to be moved to barren soil for a second time. How is this supporting communities?

I’d like Ontario hydro to allow us the use of the hydro corridor for garden plots. There are many acres of untended and usable land going to waste.

I want a local food cooperative selling locally grown fresh and canned produce as well as bulk purchases of food staples.
The closest we have now is this small raw food co-op I’ve used them before to buy wheat for my flour mill.

A year round farmers market would be wonderful too

I want to see the careers ended for those local politicians who think that the only thing they must offer to get my vote is more public ice rinks. There is more to life and their jobs than facilitating hockey…arrgggg!

I want to see strict enforcement of the no free range cat bylaw. If your dog, child or spouse is running amok in my yard I can call the police, if it’s a cat however you must trap it yourself because police or animal control won’t do anything. Cats and their freakishly zealot owners are apparently above a law that protects indigenous species like song birds from being hunted by a foreign and destructive species. If you’re too lazy to clean your own cat box put the cat down, don’t send it to crap in my garden. Sorry for the rant, Pet Peeve, Literally

Ban golf courses- One of the few places Ontario exempt from the cosmetic pesticide laws and a huge waste of arable land. Play like the ancient Scots did, in a pasture with the sheep, sheep dip and rocks as obstacles.

I want to see a group of environmentally aware people create a slate of like minded candidates in the next round of municipal elections.
(this had better happen soon, its election year)

I’d like the Newmarket Farmers market to have its board fired and a neutral party placed in charge. From what I’ve been told by two local vendors is that market has lost vendors because board members did not like losing market share to a better product and refused to renew peoples permits. (By the way, the best meat pies are now sold by a guy at the Aurora market.) It also looks likes some current vendors are breaking the rules and bringing out of region produce from the food terminal rather than live up to their local produce mandate.

I’d like to see at least one weekend Go train that goes down 9:00ish a.m. and came back at 5-6 pm so that people can do the Ex, trade shows, theatre, the islands etc.

More shelters at the stations, as well as a YRT schedule that actually gets people to the train before it leaves.

A couple things I missed that a reader brought up

“I'd like to see bylaws changed for development such that the provision of bicycle storage is mandatory. Currently developers have clear rules around they number of parking spots they must provide, but nothing about bike paths and storage.” I should be able to go to the store with a bike or scooter, not just a car. Hell they should even put in e-car and scooter charging stations at larger locations.

“I'd like to see some thought given to the locations of existing housing (ie neighbourhoods) and looking at where those people most likely want/need to walk/cycle to, and then a plan in place to ensure they have safe paths that are well maintained.” In fact I’d support buying houses on some nested streets and tearing them down so we can punch new walking paths between streets. The fact you have to walk 15 minutes to reach a neighbour that you see out the back window is nuts

There are so many things that I want done yet I see no awareness to the need for change. I guess there are several answers but they all boil down to 2 categories

I’m a delusional crank
People are inherently short sighted and stupid

Or maybe there are people out there who will say, "Those are great ideas, I want to get involved" and will contact me to do something.

No, you are right. I must be a delusional Crank!!! bwahahahahaahah

If anyone else wish to spout off about their pie in the sky vision for our town, send it in, I might just post it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Press release: "Holding the Line on Our Democracy" Community Meeting

I promissed more details on the CEDAN's upcomming town hall event on Democratic issues in Canada, here is yesterday's News release

Press Release – For Immediate Release February 15, 2010

From Citizens Engaging Democracy, Newmarket-Aurora


"Holding the Line on Our Democracy."

February 25, 2010


Binions Hall, Trinity Anglican Church, 79 Victoria Street, Aurora, ON

Suggested donation: $10.00/pay what you can

On Feb. 25th, join us for a local community meeting to educate and inspire local voters.

Featured Speaker:

Dr. Marco Fonseca, PhD. (Department of International Studies, Glendon College) will discuss the topic of grassroots democratic movements, with a focus on Canadian participatory democracy. He points out that, “when we do not take part in the public life of our political community, the very meaning of our citizenship - a key element of what it is to be Canadian - is at risk of being lost.” Our democracy is in crisis and it is up to all of us to let those in power know that we are watching and we want change.

Our Goals:

to reach Canadians who are still not aware that we have no sitting Parliament

to educate citizens about threats to, and the erosion of, our democratic system

to engage people, knowing that low voter turnouts and apathy lead to the election of governments who do not represent us

to tell our elected representatives to do their jobs in the House of Commons

to take action, preventing the misuse of power from being repeated.

We are presenting a petition requesting a legislative change to prorogation procedures.

We are also presenting information about related organizations so that people can take action and communicate with their government.

All local elected politicians will be formally invited to attend as observers.

Background: The shutdown of our Canadian Parliament in December 2009 by a minority government --in mid-debate of 37 pieces of legislation -- was only the biggest symptom of our ailing democratic processes. On January 23, 2010, in over 60 peaceful, non-partisan rallies of 29,000 concerned Canadians, we let our politicians know they had crossed a line. The 225,000 members of Chris White's Facebook group, Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (CAPP), proved them wrong as almost 30,000 Canadians marched in the streets telling their politicians to "Get Back to Work."

Canadians Engaging Democracy, Newmarket-Aurora is a group of local citizens who met to coordinate the January 23 rally and feel that ongoing work is necessary to engage and inform voters. We want our democracy back.

Please join us in "holding that line" for our democracy!

Press contact: Liz Jefferson Website:

For details, please call (905) 868-9183 or email

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Democratic dysfunction alive and well in Newmarket

During the last Federal Election in 2008 voter turnout dropped to a record low of 59.1%

The Ontario provincial race was even worse at 52.6%

Canadians are largely becoming disengaged from the process of government and this leads to several problems such as extremists and fools gaining disproportionate power (both in parties and government) and in many cases the recruitment of fewer and lower quality candidates.

Enter Newmarket’s Election history where we have a meagre 30% participation rate in municipal elections. This, my fellow citizens is an absolute disgrace. To further highlight our democratic dysfunction look at the nominations for the 2010 contest so far; the Mayor, Regional Councillor, and both the ward 1 and 5 incumbents are facing no challengers. So far nobody even wants to run for York Catholic District School Board trustee.

With the exception of ward 6 with 4 contenders (which is a healthy number) all other wards only have 1 candidate contesting the incumbent. Either ward 6 is an aberration of democratic zeal or everyone is taking advantage of the fact the incumbent is not running again. I'd love to spend a couple of hours and a couple of beers with Dennis Ramsarran to get the real scoop on council. If you are out there Dennis the offer is open.

What does this say about us?

It says many of us don’t realize or don’t care how much municipal decisions impact our lives. Municipal government supplies our roads, parks, water, schools, libraries and emergency services; things which matter more in the average life than a federal law allowing free trade with a corrupt state like Columbia.

It says that we don’t care about getting the best person for the job, any willing fool will do.

It says the part time nature of the positions with both day and night responsibilities disqualifies a large portion of the citizenry who work full time or out of town.

It says we don’t care how the $3,000…$4,000… $5,000 … in property taxes we pay each year is spent. If you really don’t care how your money gets spent send it to me, I do care.

It says we don’t care about choice. This is the really bizarre thing because people don’t like a restaurant that only serves one thing one way. We don’t drive the same car or own the same house yet we are willing to suffer no choice in our electoral races. You know what you get when you have no choice? You get the lowest common denominator, average people, doing an average job at best. The equivalent of pepperoni pizza for life, no other toppings, no chillies or garlic power to sprinkle on top and no choice beverage to wash it down with, everyone gets no name cola. Yummm!

People like you and I need to wake up and smell the stale burnt coffee. We need to follow council, encourage bright people who’ve never considered running or run ourselves. Support a candidate because they are smart, capable, articulate and want the same things you do, not because you know them or they’ve asked to be your facebook buddy. Demand detailed policy points not mindless platitudes and at the very least pay attention and actually vote.

Occasionally we do see slight glimmers of hope as we did just a few short weeks ago when 200 or so concerned citizens rallied against a cynical attempt to quiet the House of Commons' democratic right to question and investigate the ruling government. I want to see more of this kind of zeal at the town level.

As an Aside

If you are concerned about the erosion of our democracy at any level of government please keep the evening of Thursday Feb 25th open for the first in what may become a series of Town Hall meetings hosted by Citizens Engaging Democracy. This event will be held at Trinity Anglican Church in Aurora from 7:00 -9:00ish featuring guest speaker Professor Marco Fonseca who will speak to the issues of the degradation of democracy and grass roots civil movements.

The organizers would appreciate small donations at the door to cover the event. I’ll have more on this in coming days.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Google Street View is active in Newmarket

Google Street Vie is a massive undertaking where camera equipped cars like the one I captured last summer in Newmarket travel all the roads taking continuous pictures of the neighbourhoods. Once they are compiled and loaded these pictures give you the ability to take a virtual tour around the various cities and towns imputed.

To use Street view go to google maps and either zoom in or do a search for an adress, when you get zoomed in far enough you drag the little yellow/orange man on the zoom bar and place it on the street you wish to view and you will zoom into the street level view of the area where you can rotate, look up and down as well as move along the street like you were driving. You can also get in by zooming until you get a framed picture of the location and if you click street view in that box this you to the street level pictures.

Street View is a great tool/toy for checking out a city before travel, giving directions to friends, scouting around when house shopping or just being nosey. In some areas within hours of going live people found images of a thief scaling a house, someone taking a leek in the bushes, a few rude gestures and numerous people immortalized while they took out the garbage in their panama’s , fortunately faces are blurred out.

Go ahead and check out our town, if you find anything funny let us know.

Me I just like to gawk at houses I like but can’t afford.

It would appear I can’t maintain the blistering pace of posts that I started this blog with due to a either a wrist injury or just plain carpel tunnel. I will attempt to keep at least something fresh up weekly.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Is all well with Newmarket's big projects?

I came across this article last week in the National Post and it was quite an eye opener. It would seem all is not as calm and well run in our town as we are led to believe.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Red Tape Week: Small business being strangled

Let's look at what's happening to businesses in Downtown Newmarket:

For many months consultants have been working hard at a plan to turn lower Main Street, the historic commercial area of Newmarket, into a Heritage Conservation District (HCD). There are pro's and con's to this, but lets face it, preserving and enhancing our architectural heritage is wonderful, and something we should all embrace and be proud of. Businesses will suck up the financial implications that go along with being designated, and will wade through another layer of red tape to change a window, or put up a sign.

In the last few months the Town of Newmarket applied for, and received funding for, the restoration and expansion of The Old Town Hall in the core of the proposed HCD, The design: the addition of a seemingly ultra modern glass atrium that completely ignores the recommendation of the HCD plan for the reestablishment of the historic Market Square in the same location.

The proposed HCD plan, when implemented, won't allow changes/additions to the façade of buildings in the area, almost all small businesses, without consent of the HCD oversight committee, which will ensure the changes fall within heritage guidelines, and those appear pretty stringent. No more stucco, you'll need to restore the original brick instead. Don't even ask how much that costs. Does an ultra modern glass atrium meet the heritage requirements for the area? Good question, and probably one that will never get answered. The HCD is still in the proposal stage, so the Town doesn't have to meet its requirements.

Also in the last few months, the Town of Newmarket applied for, and received funding for the Community Urban Space Project (CUSP). This project is to turn a parking lot, the one most accessible to the downtown area, and an old arena slated for demolition, into a green space, and is directly adjacent to the HCD. One side of a line drawn on the map is the proposed HCD and the other is the CUSP. The design for the CUSP appears to be approximately 60 % concrete, also ultra modern, and incorporates parking in the lands furthest from the Main Street. It should also be noted that the CUSP also borders a 50+ acre park in the heart of Newmarket known as Fairy Lake. No shortage of green space

In this community.

Business owners (aka tax payers) on Main Street are being portrayed as selfish and evil because they voiced concerns that visitors to the area will have to walk greater distances (think of that last spot in the outer reaches of a big mall at Christmas) through the CUSP to reach the Main Street, yet the Town's own Parking By-law requirements don't even seem to come close to being met in the CUSP plan or in the lower Main Street area.

The Town claims this new green space will attract people from all over the region. One wonders if those people are all walking to Newmarket since bicycle parking has not been accommodated for in the plan either.

Business owners have been told on numerous occasions by members of Council that times are changing: everyone walks, rides a bike, or hops on a Vespa to get around. They were told that again in a Special Committee of the Whole Meeting, specifically called for CUSP on January 11th, that drew more than 100 concerned citizens. A show of hands was called for by a business owner during his dissertation to Council, to see how many people got to the meeting on foot or bicycle, and not surprisingly, only one lone hand was raised, none from the members of Town staff, or Council.

The Main Street District BIA, another layer of bureaucracy in the form of a tax levy, passed a motion (in effect, a recommendation to Council) to not reduce parking in the CUSP lands. They were ignored. This, in part, may be because the Chair of the BIA has been very supportive of the CUSP, to the extent of sponsoring an online petition in favour of no parking in the CUSP , has suggested that the BIA board was strong-armed into voting for no reduced parking, and that it was a close, 5 to 4 decision. Perhaps the Chair is unaware of the democratic process. Coincidentally, the Chair is the Mayor's campaign manager for this year's election.

Sensing any hypocrisy yet?

The Town has not informed business owners where anyone, including those same business owners and their employees, can park during all the construction that's about to begin, and one Councilor even suggested merchants should arrange a shuttle bus from a parking lot outside the area. Local residents are up in arms with business owners because they believe the additional green space at their doorstep is threatened, and are not remotely concerned that storefronts may be left empty. They are convinced that better, nicer businesses will move in. The Town, who authored this disaster, is washing its hands of any responsibility in its inability to come up with a sound plan and is pushing its agenda forward no matter the cost to businesses in the area.

At the recent Public Information meeting on January 13th regarding the HCD, the question "How the ultra modern design of the Old Town Hall and the CUSP remotely relate to the proposed HCD?" was asked of the consultants who prepared the plan. The Mayor, in his infinite wisdom from the back of the room, responded that the meeting was not a CUSP meeting, nor an Old Town Hall meeting, it was an HCD meeting so let us stick to the subject at hand. Could it be the Mayor is unaware of how the three are so closely intertwined? Again, the question was posed to the consultants. Unfortunately they were not able to respond, for the Town had not made them aware of the Old Town Hall or CUSP designs. Just an oversight perhaps?

Seems that the Mayor and the Council of the Town of Newmarket have no problem forcing business owners to comply with strict rules and regulations regarding the properties they own, by turning them into a Heritage Conservation District, but don't enforce the same rules and regulations for municipally owned lands paid for by tax payer dollars.

That seems like a pretty tight rope to be walking in an election year.

Business owners wouldn't be business owners with out facing risk. They're generally good at it. They understand the difference between a risk that's within their control, and one that isn't. So what will Main Street business owners do? Probably what some are already doing – move.

When the construction is complete, feel free to visit Main Street Newmarket – A 21st Century Ghost Town. Oh, and good luck finding parking.

First of all I don't know that much about this issue but I have a few comments

1. Parking in the downtown is more than adequate on weekdays but does get pretty tight when there are events at Fairy Lake and Sat mornings when it’s market season.

2. The rink certainly needs to come down, its a total dump, but the plan should take the attached crappy, not to code, not fully accessible community center down and rebuild it all to proper LEEDs building standards with a living roof. It's time for Governments to take the lead in doing what's right and make municipal builds modern and green.

3. A glass and steel atrium is not appropriate for a historical building. Personally I don’t always agree with keeping old inefficient buildings just because it’s old. As it is the old town hall is not strictly historical as they’ve had plumbing, heating, electrical plus cosmetic changes over the decades and it shows. If it can’t be maintained historical for a reasonable price tear it down and replace it with a better build, up to code, modern equivalent that replicates the original design. The importance of historical buildings is that it’s true to the style and architectural detail of the time not that it has the same leaky windows and porous rotting bricks it did 100 years ago. In our impending peak oil world, maintaining old and inefficient buildings just for the sake of being old is going to be a luxury we can’t afford. I'm not saying the old town hall is that delapidated yet but I stand by this criteria for keeping or bulldozing

4. Likewise expansion of the HCD mandate to dictate building modifications impedes modernization to acceptable standards and increases cost for local businesses. Some of these buildings are probably in too rotten shape to justify protection let alone the extra cost of the red tape. Don’t get me wrong I like old buildings but there are times when groups like HCD get too much control, like a Facebook friend in New England who is force to keep replacing his roof with slate tiles when he should be allowed to consider a long lasting steel imitation, and no matter what he uses for roofing material he will be banned from placing solar or solar water panels on his house.

5. We are not doing anything to promote a foot, bike and Vespa culture so why does council think so many people don’t drive. Any plan needs secure bike storage (not just a crappy rack), likewise few if any malls in Newmarket have bike parking, no dedicated spots for Vespas, e-scooters etc.

Newmarket needs to mandate secure bike lock ups, and dedicated scooter parking for all malls and public facilities. Likewise they must do a better job of making sure Malls supply a safe path from the stores to the street for pedestrians, as I mentioned last year in this post.

6. The article seems a bit like a poison pen letter and that fact its author is not attributed by the Post is disturbing. Is it one of the dissenting council members perhaps?

7. If the town is so sure car culture is on the decline then why do they keep permitting drive through food and banking? After all these operations are already in conflict with the intent behind anti idling laws.

I also have a few questions

If there is such dissent in council and the various committees and boards in Newmarket why is our local paper not covering the issue more?

Is there any merit to the accusations of strong arming for votes?

Is there a conflict of interest with the Mayor’s campaign manager?

Is cronyism overly rampant in Newmarket? Is it time to clean house and replace them all?

I would encourage anyone who has information on these programs, decisions and questions to comment, use an alias if you want.

Post Article slams council and local planning

First of all I don't know much about this issue but I have a few opinions

1. Parking in the downtown is more than adequate on weekdays but does get pretty tight when there are events at Fairy Lake and Sat mornings when

2. The rink does need to come down its a dump but the plan should take crappy, not to code, community center down and rebuild a proper green building to leeds standards with a living roof. It's time for Governments to take the lead in doing what's right

3. A glass and steel atrium is not appropriate for a historical building.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Town has no Breasts

A simple question today. What does this picture of our mayor, our regional councilor and rest of the town council say to you?

Do you notice something missing?

Breasts perhaps?

Yeah that's what I thought too. This picture in no way represents the town I live in. I actually know women who live in Newmarket, hell I even live with one them so why is our town government so awash in testosterone and poorly tailored suits

Are some of them capable? I don't know but I intend to find out.

What I do know is they are not representative of the town I live in!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Where were our local representatives?

The whole issue of the prorogation of parliament has been an awakening of sorts for a growing and vocal part of the population who believe as I do that the recent prorogation was improperly used as a means to end dissent, hide from investigation and thwart the will of the Parliament which had demanded documents the Government did not wish to produce.

The power of prorogation is not evil or wrong, it is in fact a normal procedure that is generally used as a means of closing the books on one session of parliament so that a new fresh agenda can be set with an immediate throne speech; using prorogation in this manner is both normal and ethical.

Closing down a parliamentary session while there is still a full agenda of unfinished business resulting in the death of 37 pieces of legislation is not normal. Prorogation while a government is being investigated for serious breaches possibly including violations of the Geneva Convention may be legal but is neither normal nor ethical.

Now this topic has been argued by all parts of the political spectrum and I’m not going to rehash it all again here in this forum. What I would like to know is where our local politicians stand on this issue? After all, this entire question speaks to their interpretation of ethics, what democracy should look like and their overall concern with the issues that seem to matter to the masses. I don’t care what the newspapers claim about the Jan 23 protests because I know that getting 200 people from Newmarket/Aurora protesting about anything in January is indicative of a much larger public concern, hence our local leaders should speak to this issue.

Now I would like to thank the local politicians who did contact the Canadians against Proroguing Parliament Newmarket/Aurora Branch and take part in the protest. Both John Taylor the Regional Councillor for York Region and Chris Emanuel a Newmarket Town Councillor attended and spoke at this event and it was much appreciated, but where do all the others stand on this important issue? Where was our Mayor, the other councillors and all those wannabes intent on running this fall? Aurora residents should be asking the same questions.

I don’t think all politicians necessarily needed to come out to the protest but I do think we have the right to know how they see the issue; are they for prorogation, against prorogation, don’t care or don’t understand the issue? Others will argue it’s justified and I want to hear these explanations too because these are people who want to represent us and we deserve to know their political beliefs and gauge their credibility

Further, I’d love to see a town council motion (yes I know it’s only a non binding statement ) demanding Parliament get back to fixing the economy and repairing our tarnished international image by allowing full transparency and cooperation on the Afghan detainee investigation. Total pipe dream I know but it doesn’t hurt to try. Hell, they may even decide to vote a motion in favour of Prorogation, yet we still have the right to know that’s how they feel.

While I don’t support their views the pro prorogue forces also have the same right to know what their local reps think! So speak up and demand answers from anyone who asks for your vote.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Welcome to Newmaket Watch

Welcome to Newmarket Watch

One day I read an article about what seemed to show major dysfunction in local politics and asked myself why do we know so little about what's going on in our town and in our council? Who is not really qualified or capable for the job they hold? Who proposes outlandish ideas and who supports them? Which politicians don't respect the voters or democratic values in general? How much do they pay for studies only to ignore them and then do what they want? Who produces these studies and are they affiliated with any particular council member? There are any number of things that go on in our town which we should probably know about but are generally kept in the dark about because of the lack off effort on our own part as well as the lack of professionalism by our local media.

Intermixed with these topics will be a general what's happening in the local area as far as events, fundraisers, protests, tournaments etc

I hope this will evolve into a group effort where people will take turns attending and reporting what really happens in council as well as promoting upcoming events and telling us how they turned out. This is a simple experiment in particapatory media, take part, enjoy or ignore as you see fit