By Dan McNeil
(April 2020) – The last “Village View” highlighted elements of the 1989 Port Stanley Official Plan that supported moving forward with a proper public parking lot at Erie Rest beach. The intent was to show that this local development was not only supported by policy, it was logical, important and fundamental to the future. It was not the product of amalgamation and thus something imposed by Central Elgin (CE). This infrastructure project was approved by the last CE Council in 2017. Ironically, the plan was initiated because of the concerns of area residents and quashed recently because of the strong objections from several local residents. Portstanleynews.com has posted an excellent chronology of CE staff analysis with these Council deliberations.
How can a few ratepayers trump the community good? A recent example comes from London where sidewalk projects mandated by provincial policy have been shelved because of politics. This example is germane because it highlights the community good versus the desires of individual residents in a specific area. It also highlights the balance required in ‘listening’ to residents versus blindly following an external policy.
The current Council’s Official Plan priorities and its 2019-2022 Strategic Plan are pertinent. You probably know nothing about this Strategic Plan as it identifies several of CE’s communication challenges including: “We are a large community with disparate parts. In many quarters, people still do not recognize or accept the concept of Central Elgin. Identifying priorities commonly accepted across the municipality is challenging.”
The Strategic Plan for this Council says: “We have a reputation externally as a ‘cool’ and progressive area, with growth, beaches, small towns, and prosperous looking countryside. We have parks and trails providing opportunities for active lifestyles and enjoyment of our natural surroundings. We offer numerous amenities for retirees. We have well-functioning infrastructure, with capacity for growth.”
The current Official Plan is not dissimilar to Port Stanley’s from 30 years ago, with goals “To facilitate public access to the waterfront on a year-round basis. Council shall endeavour to secure public access to the Lake Erie beachfront from Port Stanley Beach adjacent to the west pier of the Inner Harbour to the west boundary of the village.”
Municipal governance has its unique challenges. It gets even more difficult with our two-tiered system, vague shared responsibilities (like economic development and tourism) and competing regional demands. Municipal taxation is an anachronistic way to fund community infrastructure. This can create the idea that ratepayers who have more, and pay more, deserve more attention. In municipal governance there is a chaotic intersection of infrastructure budgeting, safety concerns and property rights.
It is natural and normal for property owners to want to keep, or limit, ‘outsiders’ from their area. That is one reason why some quieter, older communities do not want sidewalks. Providing safe, accessible, and consistent infrastructure to support people’s movement and enjoyment is simply the right thing to do. This is particularly true when this infrastructure supports every aspect of our community plan that aspires to provide access to our lake and beaches to everyone.
There is a military adage about ‘making decisions’ and ‘giving orders’ that leaders must learn. When giving orders make sure you know what you are doing and then stick to it, otherwise the result is: “order, re-order, dis-order”.