Part 2: Pressing Issues, Alignment & Innovative Solutions

The Institute of Southern Georgian Bay > 2021 Events > Part 2: Pressing Issues, Alignment & Innovative Solutions

7-Part Online Discussion Series, February – November, 2021

We believe that Southern Georgian Bay can meet today’s needs of the planet,
its people, and economic vitality…without compromising the needs of future generations.

Part 2: Pressing Issues, Alignment & Innovative Solutions
March 10, 2021

Regional CAOs weigh in on our sustainable future


  • Rob Armstrong, CAO, Meaford
  • Shawn Everitt, CAO, The Blue Mountains
  • Sonya Skinner, CAO, Collingwood
  • George Vadeboncoeur, CAO, Wasaga Beach



In this second session in Our Sustainable Future series, participants heard from four regional CAOs on their take on the top pressing issues affecting the Southern Georgian Bay region. Coming from varying backgrounds, they each had similar issues and perspectives on how municipalities might work together on cross-boundary issues, communicate with their residents and visitors, and inspire civic engagement from all ages.

From a planner perspective, Meaford’s Rob Armstrong focussed in on community-informed plans being updated to align with sustainable goals. Shawn Everitt of The Blue Mountains, with his community service experience, stressed the need to communicate early and often with community while looking to provide a range of stock and types of housing. As an engineer of change, Sonya Skinner of Collingwood believes in regional bridge-building on a wide variety of issues. George Vadeboncoeur of Wasaga Beach thinks education around civic engagement for young people, and showing the benefits of learning about community issues for all, is essential to shape communities and drive better voter turnout. Throughout the session the chat was lively with discussion and the question and answer period offered more details and some next steps for consideration to set agendas for future initiatives where regional municipalities may work together.


It is evident, and accentuated with COVID-19, that change is constant and is happening at a frenetic pace. The Our Sustainable Future series was implemented as a way to ignite a regional sustainability vision, and facilitate the development of a guiding roadmap towards a more resilient, inclusive, safe, and sustainable Southern Georgian Bay.

Taking a regional and holistic approach, the Institute seeks to inspire and collaborate with community members to enable sustainable change in the region. This online and interactive series is creating awareness of, and generating discussion about, what makes a vibrant, sustainable community. It is also meant to encourage citizens to learn more about their community and “become the change they want to see” via three key streams:

Regional speaker series – to learn from leaders across the province who are successfully integrating sustainable development initiatives into their respective communities. Attendees are encouraged to participate in the community discussion beyond the series.

A community of practice – to bring together individuals, from all sectors, for knowledge sharing, collaboration, and to drive lasting change in the region.

Transparent feedback loops – will enable the community to have more coordinated, collaborative, open and transparent communications to drive greater change, continuous improvement and adapt accordingly.

While a comprehensive understanding of community-based sustainability strategies is important, local action and measurable progress of sustainability are the long-term goals of this initiative. As such, key outcomes of this series will include the development of an action-oriented initiative roadmap to address current Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) related gaps in the region:

  • Mapping out sources of capital for key demonstration projects;
  • Capabilities to measure and track regional progress; and,
  • Successfully develop and deliver SDG-focused projects beginning in 2021.

The Institute of Southern Georgian Bay volunteers are excited to help YOU envision a path forward to drive sustainable development in the region. Let’s get to work!

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” – Robert Swan

In this second session of the seven-part Our Sustainable Future series, Chief Administration Officers (CAOs) from across the region highlight their most pressing issues, potential alignment for accelerating action, and the use of innovation and integrated planning in addressing climate change and seeking ways to become more sustainable in doing so.

Presented by The Institute of Southern Georgian Bay in partnership with The Municipality of Meaford, Town of The Blue Mountains and supported by the Centre for Business and The Co-operators session speakers identified that fragmented and siloed practices of the past will no longer suffice for today’s world.


  1. This region represents a nexus between urban and rural, so how do municipalities plan together to mediate the effect of “the tsunami of development” on existing infrastructure, and agricultural and natural green spaces.
  2. Enhanced civic engagement and community outreach through a variety of online platforms and kitchen-table discussions is key to celebrating successes and collaborating on movement forward, with municipal leadership, staff capacity for strategic initiatives, and the involvement of residents and other organizations.
  3. Sustainable efforts and opportunities identified within various secondary municipal plans need to be integrated into Official Plans and Strategic Policies and backed with financial budgets and innovative funding models. Climate Action Plans involving municipalities and counties will help.


Rob Armstrong is the CAO of the Municipality of Meaford. A trained planner with a background guiding development to professional standards as a member of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI), Rob brings a seasoned opinion to the regional table. His top issues revolved around the pending “tsunami of development” headed our way.

He hears residents wondering if the region is ready and understands the worries about aging infrastructure. He feels Meaford is ready with master plans in the works for parks and a new Community Well-being Plan, as well as a Transportation Master Plan focussing on active transportation. These strategies have considered this external growth pressure. Rob suggested Meaford needs to review downtown visioning to balance urban design and ensure heritage is retained and that Official Plan updates are able to properly guide development well into the future.

He noted that a Climate Action Plan at the county level will help, while recognizing the agricultural and rural areas are important as one of the area’s top employers. If we are to collectively satisfy the present without compromising the future, the region’s municipalities will need public input, kitchen table discussions and a “distributed consultation model” to ensure everyone has a voice. As Meaford’s CAO, he sees his role as championing these issues with his council and the larger community.

CAO Shawn Everitt of The Town of the Blue Mountains has a long history in public service, having joined The Blue Mountains in 1993 as arena manager then progressing through managing community services to his current role. He has a strong focus on building a leadership team and communicating early and often with his community and stakeholders.

He expressed his belief in the benefit of regional meetings and feels every voice needs to be heard. He suggested the best way to move from a plan to execution is through communication, as it eliminates the road blocks created when the community doesn’t know what is happening.

“Everything we are doing,” he said, “is really trying to enhance that community engagement.”

He sees the need for attainable housing across the region and looks to innovative solutions like a current development turning a former retail location into a housing project. He suggested there is a great need for a variety of stock and range of types of housing. Shawn noted the Town of the Blue Mountains has long had a sustainability lens, and has continued to survey community within phases to develop a vision and build The Blue Mountains Sustainability Plan to guide the future, with the participation of the people who live there.

Sonya Skinner, CAO of the Town of Collingwood was trained as an engineer and has brought her skills to bear on multiple transformative projects from managing modernization compliance with the provincial Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change to re-envisioning the roles and strategy of the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority. She also noted the great importance of dialogue with community and inclusion of all. She suggested there is a need to build a bridge for dialogue as this will bring forth lots of good ideas.

She said there are many issues and she has a wide range of ideas she would like to see in regional discussions: from varieties of transportation, inclusion and diversity, and housing to water and waste water treatment, natural heritage, economic development as well as arts and culture and policing.

She believes working together to find the best ideas so the region can collaborate on some innovations would be a great way to move forward, and that we need to explore ways of marrying public and private contributions for these projects.

George Vadeboncoeur, CAO of the Town of Wasaga Beach has a background as a Land Use Planner and in Public Administration. This has served him well over 37 years in public service, 25 as a CAO, with the last 15 years serving Wasaga Beach in that leadership role.

He believes the fundamentals for success in anything we do are found in civic engagement by getting more people involved in the decision-making. The benefits of promoting engagement, in lots of online ways and by reaching out to community to show how they may be engaged, is a positive process.

“Local government leaders and community-minded people cannot affect change on their own,” he said. “They need positive and constructive citizen input.”

He suggests the required civics course in high school should be taught as a full credit course to get young people more involved in their future. He thinks involving local leaders in this education would benefit all the community. George feels encouraging people to help shape their communities will build awareness of issues in the community and boost voter turnout.

Q & A: led by moderator Brandon Houston:

What would be the benefits you convey to youth in getting engaged with the municipality? What is the easiest way for anyone to engage with the municipality?

George: with projects youth are passionate about – skateboard park, twin pad area – go to them and ask for their input so they feel engaged – they have associations to ask – use technology through “Let’s Talk Wasaga Beach” to ask people to share their views on various subjects and promote the opportunities to engage.

Shawn: look at different ways and find out how individuals want to be communicated with – The Future Story in Town of the Blue Mountains is one way – but we need to take every opportunity, be creative and innovative, and staff reporting should come up with a range of tools – we have to be listening – see how youth can be involved in an official plan process to build community.

The Sustainable Development Goals offer a framework – how would we go about using that?

Sonya: the SDG framework is a good snapshot of what it means to be vibrant and sustainable; they come with a built-in set of tools – looking forward to learning more about measuring efforts toward these goals.

Rob: we are in the nexus of where rural meets urban, so a key thing is to have a very grounded discussion – the SDG framework provides the background for that discussion to provide mutual understanding – we have to protect rural areas and we need to help people understand why we are doing that – for food, for environment, for the future.

What do you see as the next step towards communities all working collaboratively together?

Sonya – community engagement on priorities and future vision –  the CAOs/Mayors group starting will help to get discussions on the table – we can see who else we need, where the money comes from, how to collaborate on grants.

George various municipalities have boundaries but we really are one large community that shares a number of things – policies could be consistent across municipalities especially in Official Plans and sustainability and themes that cross municipal boundaries – get planning staff together to apply some consistency across the region.

Shawn – the regional aspect has been such a long time coming – we need to celebrate where we are collaborating – the efficiencies gained would blow our minds – transportation master plan could be worked on together – we should always be looking regionally – transit is already winning so take it and move it on throughout the region.

Rob – Grey County CAOs have interest in a Climate Change Action Plan – we all have to implement the same, so we all have to coordinate – have discussion on future opportunities across municipal boundaries and involve the upper tier on policies.

Do you think by working together we’ll be more successful in pushing back against potential provincial government MZO’s, which may threaten our natural heritage features (eg. wetlands)?

Sonya – an MZO needs to be requested by a municipality – we need to work together on how we preserve our environment – we need to support our economy by not paving paradise to put in a parking lot.

Rob – Meaford has an “environment first” policy..

With the importance of building on success, could you share an example of pilot projects with a potential for scaling?

Shawn – the early active transportation initiative which created The Georgian Trail as a partnership between four municipalities of the day – these opportunities are longstanding where you have shared responsibility of a 33-km trail through different communities.

Sonya – The Business Development Centre in Collingwood is a good example of municipalities coming together for mutual benefit – also works with federal and provincial governments and offers services across the region – the kind of tool we need to transform our economy.

George – the secondary suites program in Wasaga Beach allows property owners to renovate to provide attainable housing in approved areas – allows people to age at home, have a supplementary income or bring extended family to live with them.

What are the barriers when engagement is successful on plans, but they don’t seem to go anywhere?

Rob – challenge of resistance to change – how do we deal with it?

George – Plans have to be incorporated into formal municipal documents like Official and Strategic Plans with policy frameworks as goals with action items identified as what council wants to achieve and financial aspects have to find their ways into budgets so they all work together to move things forward.

Shawn – all of the secondary plans have to be supportive of the Official Plan – many projects can be identified but sometimes high-level documents (such as The Blue Mountains Sustainable Path) are hard to interpret into actions that have dollar values attached – as early as possible, attach financial implications to support implementing the ideas.

Sonya – focus is very important, it’s easy to say yes without the ability to truly deliver – harness the ability of the public to support what local governments need to be doing – we have to find ways on how we do things together – we can get the money, but what do we want to do together?

How do we move forward?

Sonya – Engage Collingwood – direct route to staff on what council wants to hear about – you can always talk to your council member – this group brings forward ideas.

What should we be thinking about over the next five years?

Rob – work together to protect what we have – look to our neighbours to understand the growth coming our way and how our regional neighbours dealt with it.

Shawn – increase stock and range of accommodations and continue community engagement – as we look at regional it is important to define and understand the character of each community.

George – we will continue to grow at a phenomenal rate, so, as new people move here we need to make them feel part of our community and be engaged and that we have the services to provide to them.

Sonya – quoted Grey County CAO Kim Wingrove, saying “we have to think about full build-out” – if everything in the Official Plan is done, what does that look like? We have to not think about the next thing, we have to look at the big picture – do we have natural heritage and linkages and the many things that go with it? We don’t get vibrant and sustainable communities unless you have community inclusion and relationships.


It was a busy chat for the session, with participants offering ideas and answering questions posed by moderators.

“Integrated Community Sustainability Planning Process:  a way of engaging community in understanding a sustainable future, co-creating and updating a community vision, and linking to ongoing planning and collaborative action. ICSPs emphasize long‐term thinking, collaboration, partnerships, and continuous monitoring and evaluation to ensure success.”

Audience: What do you see as the most pressing threat to your community’s sustainability?

“Balancing built areas and their impacts with nature and green spaces.”

“Threats to the natural environment from development pressures, climate change, population pressures, pollution, monetary and political pressures.”

“Housing for all.”

“An integrated sustainability plan that considers mitigation and adaptation to our changing environment and uses most current approaches such as green sustainable development of housing – both new and current.”

“Definitely green space. Green spaces keeps temperatures and humidity steady, they absorb rainfall and reduce run-off. Human health is improved when people have access to nature. Wildlife corridors keeps other creatures safe and reduces conflict with humans. The EU has spent millions of Euros looking into the importance of green space in urban development and that research is available for us to use.”

“Housing that is affordable, transit that is effective and maintaining green space and the shores of GB.”

“More and deeper partnerships between municipalities as well as organizations that serve the whole region.”

“How can we manage shoreline erosion and degradation in a more holistic, sustainable way that includes opportunities for using nature-based solutions to work towards restoring natural shoreline.”

“Education so both local and visiting community members understand the implication of growth and overuse of the local environment.”

“…need for greater diversity of housing options; transportation options (all forms), and healthy wetlands.”

“Connecting the existing community with the plans for future development – a visioning process to include the historical community and enhance the future without erasing or ignoring the rural lifestyle we have.”

“Infill housing needs to be in character with the existing neighbourhoods and of reasonable density.   We don’t want to ruin the beauty/community that attracts people to our area.”

“Regionalization could support housing for all and climate change opportunities to support the development process. Great example of a not-for-profit that drives climate change and sustainability initiatives on a regional basis: Sustainable Waterloo Regional Initiative

“Another is Peterborough – – linked and collaborating with the City of Peterborough and regional municipalities.”

“The Sustainable Waterloo Region model has been replicated in other communities – Green Economy Canada is doing this and has other examples:

“Excellent recommendation George about bringing out a civics course and all its learnings by connecting students with leaders in the community!  Fabulous idea!”

“When I ask people why they don’t engage, it is mistrust, cynicism and feeling their opinions don’t matter or make a difference How do we change that?”

Audience: Have you participated in official plan or strategic planning in your community? Give us the one word that describes your experience.


“I have participated and felt included and heard. I also saw some of my input in the results of the process and that means my thoughts and interests are held by many.”

“I often wonder how to address cynicism and mistrust.  My best thinking today is the building of actual community relationships and connections so people have personal contacts with staff and council and vice versa.”

“A change in our voting system where we feel our vote matters would be important to bringing back the public input. City of London’s experience in Ranked Order Balloting is very interesting and how it has changed some of the community engagement and dialogue.”

“When we did the Vision 2020 project, we had one of the highest levels of civic engagement recorded in the Country.  They key was marketing; how the information was asked.  We did a campaign called The Supreme Ruler campaign.  You are the Supreme Ruler – what are you going to do ?  It REALLY worked.”

“It was easy and I saw my voice reflected and openness to follow up :)”

“Formal, frustrating but changing (4 words).”

“I did participate (in Vision 20/20) and felt heard.  It was excellent and better than ever done in the past”

Audience: What advice would you offer to CAO’s working to increase sustainability in our communities?

“Sustainable solutions are not ALL on the shoulders of the municipalities.  By having more community engagement distributes the burden and $.”

“$ follows vision.”

“Use existing standards that already are approved and available (e.g. FCM or elsewhere) so we don’t reinvent the wheel – that leverage the regional Mayor/CAO committee – climate/sustainable lens, regional lens and individual uniqueness.”

“Sometimes regional collaboration needs a high-profile joint project. In our case it might be re-purposing of the Terminals as a project of national, provincial and regional importance. It need not cost a lot to develop a range of exciting prospects at various scales of transformation. If we create the right vision, the money might follow.”

“As someone who has successfully received grants for secondary plans and conducted community engagement to fullfil them with good input, then succeeded in getting them to council for approval – only to see them collect dust and not put forth the policy, staff commitment and budget, so relate to this challenge of bringing forward community input with no political follow through…one of the big reasons I am here today…”

“…things (put forth from strategic plans) gathering dust. Yes, finding things going to the back-burner is frustrating!”

Other comments:

“Comments on the massive development happening regionally could be a great opportunity to review, consider working together on adoption of the Green Development Standards and Guidelines for development process which would support UN Sustainable Development Goals #11. Collectively the municipalities could work on this together.”

“Green development will be critical to protect our emissions.”

“Green Development Standards  Halton Hills, London Ontario, Vaughan, Richmond Hill and others that are using this process for how we are developing our neighborhoods.

“It would be nice if the speed of achieving sustainability dreams/goals does not get outdistanced by the speed of development across our region.  This regional approach is long overdue!”

“Green development standards for growing communities.

Tool for developing municipal green development standards for new buildings”

“Regional projects but not single-tier – we lose our authenticity as communities if we are all blurred together as one – amalgamations showed this pretty clearly!”

“…there is already so much being elsewhere that we can leverage and keep up with the speed/demand – see … FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) – let’s not reinvent the wheel.”

“CLEAN AIR PARTNERSHIP | Clean Air Council Green Development Standards Workshop.”

“Do you think by working together we’ll be more successful in pushing back against potential provincial government MZO’s which may threaten our natural heritage features (eg. wetlands)?”

“Look at what is happening with Pickering/Ajax and how Ford is going through a backdoor to MZO. How could the region create a standard around sustainable development for housing that would create a common platform and consistency of application.”

“SCATEH (Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness) has formed a Southern Georgian Bay housing sub-committee and work has started.  It’s very exciting, regional including Wasaga, Clearview, Collingwood, Blue Mountains and Meaford.”

“Secondary suites are also a logical opportunity to incorporate energy efficiency retrofits, and if they generate more income there is a way to fund the initial cost.”

“The (SCATEH) idea is be able to share and collaborate with the new regional Mayor/CAO committee, Town committees, etc.  It’s trying to view the issue through a fully regional lens and get everyone talking the same language.”


Overall what is your impression of the event as a way to engage people in thinking about the future sustainability of our communities?

“…an ideal format to engage a broader range of people in the discussion. Thanks for doing this! Keep it up!”

“Very happy with your focus on sustainable development!”

“Wonderful to learn the perspectives of the CAO’s. Their voices are an important part of the overall conversation.”

“Events can be good if conducted in a more collaborative manner.”

“Thank you for providing the space, opportunity, etc to get conversations going.”

“A good beginning towards the municipalities working together, informed by community involvement.”

“I feel there are many more who could be at the table – especially note the absence of upper-tier representatives from planning and CAOs from more rural municipalities who could learn from their more “urban” counterparts”.

“It was great to hear the four CAOs working together. This event really demonstrated how much we can gain from working together!”

“This is an interesting series. It would be great to see more coverage of this in ways that will gain a great cross section of each of the communities in our region. Public discourse and involvement is essential to making change.”

“You’re doing everything right, now it’s about getting more people involved, building the awareness of the direction to work regionally. Perhaps looking for ways to connect like- minded people between communities, those interested in culture, climate action, development, investment and so on.”

“I love it but also recognize that there was a distinct lack of youth, diversity and new people involved. In my opinion, language can be intimidating and even words like sustainability can scare people from participating. I think participation could be increased with careful and more inclusive marketing and approaches.”


“We used the adaptive management approach and we did build a lot of policies into our Official Plan. We expect significant community involvement this time around.” Rob Armstrong, CAO – Municipality of Meaford on the renewal of the 2014 Sustainability Plan and Official Plan update now underway.

“This is a huge step in the right direction that this region will really flourish from.” Shawn Everitt, CAO – Town of the Blue Mountains – on the call for regional municipalities to work together.

“We have to find a way to move to vibrancy and sustainability together.” Sonya Skinner, CAO – Town of Collingwood – on bringing public and private contributors together to find the right ideas to synthesize and move more quickly.

“We need to encourage greater civic engagement to shape our communities.” George Vadeboncoeur, CAO – Town of Wasaga Beach on educating young people and community members about the benefits of getting informed and involved.