It was during the first week of December 2018 that Algonquin Highlands, Dysart et al, Highlands East and Minden Hills held inaugural meetings of their newly-elected 2018-2022 councils. As such, it seemed appropriate to look back at what was said, and promised, to see how councils are tracking as they reach their mid-way points.
You’ll see those mid-term reports in today’s Highlander, following these opinion pages. We’ve also done a recap of County council.
Without a doubt, each of our councils has been hampered somewhat by COVID-19. They could never have planned for the bulk of their second years in office to be sideswiped by a global pandemic. It has delayed a number of things on all of their to-do lists. A perfect example is the County of Haliburton’s shoreline preservation bylaw. Best case scenario is it may be in place for the spring. They had hoped to have it operational as of this past summer.
Looking back on the Dec. 5, 2018 Highlander, it is interesting to note that only one council spoke about “a long-term vision” for its municipality. That was Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. Perhaps one of our biggest criticisms of not just these councils – but all Haliburton County-based councils for years – is the lack of long-term vision and the strategic planning and execution that goes with that vision.
In relationships, and in private businesses, we often sit down over coffee and paper and pen and ask ourselves ‘where do we want to be in five years, 10 years, 20 years and beyond?’ We don’t see enough of these types of discussions in our council chambers.
Of late, for example, we are hearing that our County is changing. We are seeing small, family-owned cottages giving way to large waterfront dwellings by people leaving the GTA due to COVID. Our councils are reacting, in some cases increasing the footprints for structures while also allowing decreases for the tiny homes set.
We are slowly seeing public policy aimed at protecting our lakes. There is talk of making sure all of this development doesn’t harm our trees and lakes. However, the big picture discussions are lacking.
Our councillors need to be visioning about what the County and its townships want to look like in the future. There are a number of challenges this County is facing. While seasonal residents and tourism are a major backbone of our economy, there remains a need to diversify. What type of industries or businesses do we hope to attract?
We keep hearing about better broadband and cell coverage, yet many of us still experience pitifully poor service. Some of the promised changes could take five years. What are we supposed to do in the interim?
Some of the other big-ticket items that need to be hashed out include our lack of affordable housing. While there have been a few developments in recent years, it isn’t enough. We also have a growing senior population that is demanding more and better services. In a community that struggles to have a walk-in clinic, that is another major issue moving forward. It’s great the County has hired someone to work on physician recruitment and retention but more must be done.
At the moment, it feels like our governments are mostly reactionary, little boats bobbing around on the waves, doing their best to keep afloat. Instead, they should be charting a very clear direction, bringing the right people on board, and then sailing full steam ahead.