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Brian Atkins considers himself a professional problem solver, running his own business where he “deals with toptier clients to address their needs”. He says he’d like to take what he’s learned in his work life and apply it to Dysart council. He is one of the founding members of the Haliburton Waterfront Owners group, who opposed the shoreline preservation bylaw passed by County council in August.
Issues in Dysart et al
“One of the cornerstones of my campaign is solving issues with connectivity. We’re past the point that cell phone and internet are nice to haves.” Atkins said a friend of his passed away earlier this year, noting that, during his time of need, he couldn’t get a cell phone signal. “We need to do everything possible to clear the roadblocks and the hurdles and get [these investments] going. If we want to attract people to the region, you must have strong cell and internet services.”
“I think it needs to be explored. There’s too much time and energy being wasted by not having everyone on the same page.”
Atkins believes community investment is key to the long-term success of Haliburton Highlands Health Services. “If we were able to chip in a couple hundred thousand dollars for HHHS to buy a piece of equipment, so that [doctors and nurses] want to stay here, then that’s absolutely [what we should do]. To attract these people, we need to invest… If we can do that, the question of having to close a hospital site would disappear, because they will both be utilized and busy.”
Atkins believes County council needs to take the lead on identifying areas for large-scale housing development across the Highlands. “There is a lack of action right now. How can you solve a problem when you’re not even looking at the file?” He said the community needed some “quick wins” and promised to consult with staff, both in Dysart and at the County. “I’ll bet a lot of money that there would be solutions just by talking to our staff. We need to engage them and listen to them.” He said he sees “no reason” why tiny homes couldn’t work in Haliburton County.
“We need to hang up a sign that says we’re open for business, we’re open to removing roadblocks to get things done in a fast and expedient way. If we do that, the poverty level will start to decrease because people will have jobs. The best way of getting out of poverty is, obviously, to make more money. But if the opportunity isn’t there, you can’t do it. We need to give everyone the tools to allow them to make more money.”
Shoreline preservation bylaw
Atkins has been one of the biggest critics of the County’s new bylaw. “In the consultant’s report, it says there’s little scientific evidence to the effectiveness of shoreline bylaws. That should have been enough for them to hit the brakes.” His main concern is with the width of the buffer zone between water and undisturbed land, currently set at 20 metres. “It should be five metres max.” He suggests there’s a lack of desire among ratepayers to have a bylaw at all. “I’ve spoken to hundreds of people. You’d be surprised at the number of people that still have no clue this bylaw has been passed… we need to open up the channels of communication so people are aware of what’s going on.”
“You need short-term rentals. But it’s very important to separate the people that are running it as a business as opposed to someone who is renting it just to pay for a new roof. If you’re running it as a business, it needs to be treated like one, and they need to pony up some money and pay the appropriate taxes. They need to kick in their share.”
Atkins said he sees the benefit in establishing a municipally-run transit system, but that he’d like it to be selfsustaining. “If it can be run in a net neutral, or even a positive financial position, then we definitely need to explore it. It would allow people to move around the County, we could market Haliburton as a place to do business. We can’t rule anything out at this point, except for running it [at a loss]. We can’t keep going back to the taxpayer and expecting them to pick up the tab over and over again.
Vision for the future
Atkins believes Dysart’s next council needs to do a better job of promoting the community. “We need to write the book on how to attract more people.” He believes the township needs to be more proactive in reaching out to different organizations, such as colleges and universities, to sell the area to recent graduates. “If we can do that, we can be leaders in different fields.”
Focus for 2023 budget
“I want to invest money into things that are going to have a high rate of return. Let’s spend some money and send road crews down for [specialized classes] and teach them so they know how to fix roads and maintain them properly. We can’t keep spending money on the same things over and over again.”
Brian Atkins the candidate
Atkins has been visiting Haliburton County regularly since childhood, purchasing his seasonal property in 2015. “I’m there 95 per cent of the time.” He said his number one priority would be reopening the debate at Dysart council on the shoreline preservation bylaw. “I’ve been on this file since day one. I know the ins and outs. I know all the answers.”