Our Sustainable Future: Get Inspired, Get Informed, Get to Work!
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 4: The Changing Role of Municipalities
May 12, 2021
Mayors discuss challenges and opportunities
The second event in the Our Sustainable Future series brought together four Mayors and a Deputy Mayor from the Southern Georgian Bay region to offer their insights into how they might work together on pressing challenges and emerging opportunities. Mayors Barb Clumpus, Meaford; Paul McQueen Grey Highlands; Brian Saunderson; Collingwood and Nina Bifolchi, Wasaga Beach; along with Deputy Mayor Rob Potter, The Blue Mountains, offered insights on what the top three priorities are in their municipalities and how those priorities are changing the way municipalities need to think and act. They brought their own perspectives to the discussion, while also recognizing the benefits of collaborating and dealing with cross-boundary issues.
Building on previous discussions in the series, this presentation attracted over 80 attendees. It offered municipal leaders the opportunity to discuss the changing role of municipalities in addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
In our post-pandemic world, municipalities in Southern Georgian Bay have a chance to collectively explore potential alignment on six major themes, which have arisen out of the Institute’s work. Chair Rosalyn Morrison outlined these in her opening remarks as:
- Develop a sustainable framework for sustainable development.
- Plan for affordable, obtainable housing with a needs assessment to look at the overall stock and range of housing needs.
- Obtain greater economic and ecological sustainability through green development and investment.
- Improve social wellbeing through a focus on diversity, mental health and safety.
- Increase civic engagement from all ages and demographics.
- Explore social finance to provide more access to capital for social ventures.
TOP THREE ISSUES & INDICATIONS FOR CHANGING ROLES OF MUNICIPALITIES
Though many ideas were presented, these top issues offered a view of the affects on the roles of local government:
- The pace of growth as a stress on local infrastructure creates an intersection of issues, including pressures for variety in housing, impacts on traffic, need for public transportation, as well as local workforce development. This requires big picture and multi-sector consideration at all levels.
- Civic desire for community involvement has increased the need for clear communications and public engagement in visioning and planning. Municipalities are now managing more outreach and responding to social media messaging to engage with all stakeholders in a variety of ways.
- Collaboration amongst municipalities is already happening for efficiencies in common services, further alignment could guide collective sustainability, stronger connections and continued mutual awareness and dialogue as local governments respect neighbouring municipalities.
WHAT THE MAYORS SAID
Four mayors and one deputy mayor offered their insights into these themes by looking at their own top three issues and examining some best practices to move forward together.
Barb Clumpus, Mayor of the Municipality of Meaford, suggested the escalating growth and the subsequent change in local demographics in Meaford’s rural and urban mix has led to a currently-in-progress revision to the municipality’s Official Plan to guide land use and develop strategies to deal with growth. The new plan is working with Meaford’s Community Health and Wellness Plan. She identified the shift in the role of municipal government to seek broader partnerships for a strategic regionalized approach. “Everyone has the opportunity to contribute to this learning that we have to do,” she said.
Mayor Clumpus noted there is no blueprint for recovery in a post- pandemic world, so meeting the urgency of development demands and addressing the limited infrastructure capacity to meet growth will need a “creative connection to the wider community”. She is willing to explore a variety of resource opportunities by blurring the confining boundaries across the region to achieve “innovative evolution” in the Southern Georgian Bay region.
Mayor Paul McQueen of the Municipality of Grey Highlands spoke of the positive affect of a much more informed and involved public in these days of unprecedented change. He suggested the three main issues in Grey Highlands are affordable, attainable housing (especially with housing prices up as much as 30%); better broadband access, and strategic and sustainable balanced development.
Mayor McQueen gave an overview of the community values Grey Highlands references as “measured against our vision.” Having seen many changes over a 24-year political career, he sees a need to balance community need (workforce) against the pressure of growth (housing for employees). He thinks working together regionally toward everything from over-tourism, where attractions actively move tourists around the area, to joint committees on common challenges. Better communication and sharing ideas and innovations will benefit the Southern Georgian Bay region as a whole.
Town of the Blue Mountains Deputy Mayor Rob Potter spoke about how municipalities have more than ever on their plates. As a member of the team which put together the town’s Sustainable Path document 12 years ago, he sees sustainability as increasingly more important. Complex issues haven’t gone away, and some more challenges have jumped to the front of the line in the pandemic, notably growth pressure and regional transportation.
He sees increased growth, and the traffic created by it, as a challenge to all. He believes in regionalization without centralization, so there is a need to “right size it” so as not to push all development into urban areas. Deputy Mayor Potter offered some statistics on growth in population and how there are more fulltime people moving here to their previously-owned secondary residences. This has brought more families to the area, so school enrollment is also up. Town of the Blue Mountains already works with neighbours and regional mayors meetings now reinforces the importance of sharing knowledge and resources across Southern Georgian Bay.
Mayor Brian Saunderson of Collingwood recognized the similarity of issues each municipality faces and emphasized the tension between the growth coming and its impact on community. He believes in community-based planning to protect green spaces, grow smart, enhance community well-being, and keep public connections to the natural environment. He sees post-pandemic governance as much more inclusive, so community and stakeholder groups are able to partner proactively with their local governments to build resiliency. In this way residents become involved in planning for the future within a regional perspective.
He suggested the method of looking at challenges economically, socially, environmentally, and culturally is the “municipal equivalent of the social determinants of public health”. Mayor Saunderson offered the pandemic has shown the importance of a regional economy as self-sufficiency has led to shop local initiatives. He sees issues like attainable housing and transportation as strongly interconnected. Moving forward, a regional perspective on creating good jobs, supporting telecommuters, assessing the health of residents and their needs as well as welcoming visitors in a collaborative approach will support sustainability throughout the Southern Georgian Bay region.
Wasaga Beach Mayor Nina Bifolchi suggested municipal roles have not changed much through the pandemic, as there are mandated services the government “closest to the people” deliver. She commended her staff and community for working together through the crisis and noted Wasaga Beach’s top three challenges as creating year-round jobs in the traditionally seasonal community; investing in local infrastructure like the new twin-pad arena and library; and social media communication to offer the facts to the people, which Wasaga Beach does through its Truth Corner on its website.
Mayor Bifolchi observed a regional perspective “has its merits” as Simcoe County has many opportunities for a regional approach. In Southern Georgian Bay, it makes sense to work together to support hospitals, transportation and tourism. But, she also noted some reports just sit on the shelf without any action and collaboration does not work for every issue. Different communities will have different needs, so forcing collaboration won’t serve the public. Instead, she suggested municipalities need to identify areas of common ground, leave the rest and get to work together on what is appropriate to do together as the best option for taking initiatives forward in Southern Georgian Bay.
An honorary last word went to Clearview Mayor Doug Measures who said he found the presentations of his regional colleagues “encouraging” with the ideas of collaboration and holding open discussions such as this series will benefit all people across Southern Georgian Bay area. He suggested residents remember the decisions politicians make are those that have to be made and sometimes cost money. He suggested everyone involved respects tax dollars and the only way anything continues is through this respect.
FINAL WORDS – CHOICE QUOTES FROM THE MAYORS
“We have a really strong history in our area, it’s so unique and diverse, that ties us all together.” Mayor Paul McQueen, Grey Highlands
“We’re going to have a lot of interaction with that (Official Plan review), and that is a very good thing.” Mayor Barb Clumpus, Meaford
“Collaboration can be with other communities, but also inside our communities with our own residents and stakeholders.” Mayor Brian Saunderson, Collingwood
“Keep talking and keep listening. Keep the conversations going. We will find the solutions.” Deputy Mayor Rob Potter, The Blue Mountains
“Be bold and put yourself out there with your community.” Mayor Nina Bifolchi, Wasaga Beach
“It’s not as easy as it looks, that’s for sure. Good job.” Mayor Doug Measures, Clearview
WHAT YOU SAID – THE CHAT
“Meaford also has a new residents group called Imagine Meaford. The members of this committee bring much expertise related to development from their careers. They are a positive group intent on assisting council and staff by working with us and developers to bring the best possible projects for our community.”
“The manage vs stop aspect is important to note. It seems to me that many people are wanting leaders to “stop” growth, but the reality is that it’s not possible to do that. It’s a huge effort to be proactive to get ahead of it, and manage it appropriately.”
“Managing the development can happen from a regional lens, to support new green development standards and climate initiatives to support resources and capacity.”
“I urge the mayors to consider wildlife and pollinators as among their constituents. We need to be sure that the creatures that we share the land with also have a place to live safely and securely. Wildlife corridors, botanical and allotment gardens create biodiversity in urban areas as well as filling the needs for exercise and mental health for humans.”
“To Nina’s point about not all issues in the municipality need collaboration, could the group define some key areas to start and where collaboration might help and let’s have some successes and see how it works. Then we learn and can do it some more as needed.”
“I agree, workforce is a major challenge, how could we collaborate to market this area as a great place to move to because we have a fantastic lifestyle, jobs and affordable/attainable homes to live in.”
“Taking action on climate change as an outcome could be regional to help the municipalities on growth, development driving shared resources, knowledge and policies etc.”
“Successful collaboration starts with a “desire” to work together and see what might be possible, rather than just discounting the effort.”
WHAT YOU SAID – SELECTED COMMENTS FROM SURVEY
What advice would you offer to municipal leaders on how municipalities can evolve to meet pressing needs?
“Work collectively across the region. The environment is fluid we mustn’t let man-made borders affect the need and our efforts to reverse the damages done.”
“Help residents understand what growth we should be anticipating and lead a dialogue around how to maintain the elements of our quality of life that we most highly value.”
“Someone is going to have to put their foot down on development. The area can’t manage what has been built now and what is still to come down the pipe is liable to destroy the very thing that people are moving here for. There is no solid plan to preserve greenspace, wildlife or views.”
“More communication and opportunity for input – not just from the regulars, but through outreach and inclusion activities to survey ALL residents and tax payers. Too much decision-making is concentrated at staff and political levels. Liked what some said (Wasaga Beach on communication opportunities and Collingwood on community-based strategic planning) about including community voices and input in decision-making. Others pay lip service to this but really let their staff drive.”
“Population growth and new development are the most pressing issues and will require increased sophistication from Councils and staff. Suggest a regional “best practices” task force to share approaches to planning and affordable housing, and possibly transportation and infrastructure.”
“Need to develop ways of encouraging stronger civic engagement as social media has replaced deputations as a way for public comment. Need to give deeper consideration to Official Plans and their impacts on housing and environment, need to continue to strengthen regional cooperation in a meaningful way beyond meetings only.”
What was the most impactful action we could take based on what you heard?
“Ramp up our climate action plans. We ought to have been implementing them for 40 years and we are now just at the planning stage.”
“Address housing issues for all socio-economic needs and young and casual workers who need rentals. Also, transportation and labour mobility, around the SGB region, need continued emphasis. Promote the region as a destination and work together.”
“Provide an event for Mayors and CAOs to come together, be invigorated by someone new to them and facilitate an opportunity for some really big picture regional thinking. Ask for a 10 X bolder long term VISION.”
“Revisit a regional approach with the three most important items that each Mayor talked to, and ask them how a regional perspective could work with the three items. Put in writing and summarize opinions for the public to see.”
“Continue to have municipalities meet and work on common goals, don’t stop the dialogue now.”
“Referring to the action that the Institute can take, I think it is best positioned to encourage dialogue among civic and other community and private sector leaders in a manner similar to these Forums.”
“Be engaged in the political process in the right places (not social media), start having the right conversations with longer-term thinking and decision-making.”
“The question of how much development, expansion would be allowed in terms of what the infrastructure can support.”
“Develop a shared newsletter from the Municipalities discussing shared issues and alignment opportunities.”