My father used to say that the purpose of government was to create “the greatest good for the greatest number”. Coincidentally, the motto of Simcoe County is “For the Greater Good”. That perspective seemed to be missing from the public consultations held on November 26 for the proposed creation of a Cookstown Heritage District. According to press reports, about 100 residents attended the last meeting in Cookstown, with a number of people voicing opposition to the idea.
At the core is a fear and distrust of local government. On one side are those who focused on perceived personal gain or loss and feel personally threatened by any regulations. (“We don’t need anyone to tell us what we do with our home”). Understandably, they are concerned about property rights and property values, given that the single largest investment people will make is in a home.
Those in favour spoke in terms of perceived benefit to the community as a whole: “a historic designation would make Cookstown a more viable destination point”; “we could be one of the prettiest town’s in Canada”; “Cookstown’s economic survival depends on cultivating its historic roots”…
Coincidentally, a newspaper series has been documenting how Canadians are increasingly drifting away from civic engagement and participation:
“We are moving from a more collectivist ethic to a more individualistic ethic. That seems to be one of the most important transformations going on and it’s producing a declining sense of trust and confidence.”
This discussion seems particularly relevant to the Cookstown Heritage debate. And the outcome is important to Innisfil as a whole because Cookstown is a vital part of our community. The Inspiring Innisfil 2020 strategy aims to build on our local resources to address the challenges we face. Cookstown’s historic assets are part of that. While it wouldn’t be wise to place too many expectations on a Heritage District designation, it could be a significant tool that can be reviewed and amended from time to time. But it will require a spirit of cooperation and consensus, and a shared vision of what Cookstown – and Innisfil – could be. The alternative that some residents seem to prefer would be to hunker down in their sovereign domains and watch their surrounding neighbourhood transform randomly according to powerful economic and demographic forces. The results might not be so pretty.