The election of a new Council inspires me to reflect on what has been and what might be. We elect a municipal Council to set policy and priorities, and to direct town staff in its implementation.
This should occupy our attention a lot more because we have to live with the consequences for years, even decades, to come. Yet, only a shameful 32.5% of eligible voters bothered to cast their ballot. But I’m sure the other 57% will still feel free to loudly complain about municipal politics over the next four years.
Is the poor turnout because many new residents are unfamiliar with local candidates and issues? Were they intimidated or confused by the online voting procedure? Does our increasingly urbanized, and socially fragmented electorate have less and less connection to their community? Did candidates just fail to inspire and motivate voters? Do promises to ‘limit taxes’ or improve ‘efficiency’ or ‘listen to the voters’ sound like the same tired and discredited ‘slogan’ politics that we’ve been hearing for years?
So what’s next? Beyond the vague pledges, what should our priorities be for the next four years? The broad outlines are still in the Official Plan: preservation of a rural atmosphere; preservation of agriculture; enhancement of distinctive neighbourhoods; development of a better business/commercial tax base; better transit; better connections between neighbourhoods; protection of Lake Simcoe; diversification into tourism.
A lot of Innisfil is still being built or is in the planning stages. In December 2015 there were 15 “draft approved plans” of subdivision involving a proposed total of 5,399 new residential units, of which 57% were single detached homes. So time may be running out to shape the kind of town we want.
Let’s start with transparency. Streaming Council meetings online would be a good start. Let’s make more development information more readily available. Councillors could do a better job of letting their local residents know what changes / developments are coming in the next few years. There are a whole host of “Master Plans”, either completed or in the works, covering Transportation, Transit, Culture, Tourism, Fire Services, Stormwater Management. Are you familiar with any of them? It’s where your future is being mapped out. Maybe we should slow down some residential development and focus on commercial and retail improvements?
Alcona was designated as the Town’s growth centre years ago. It has sacrificed its former modest laid-back cottage atmosphere for a new “urban” mantle. But the fragmented results are disappointing. The designated commercial/retail strip was captured by speculators; commercial lot prices are sky-high and what little has been built is turned over to franchises and retail chains. Commercial space rental rates are out of line with market potential.
Let’s set a firm limit in each development instead, say maximum 30%, of total retail space for franchise and chain stores. Let’s ensure there is a good mix of small and medium retail spaces to encourage and accommodate local, independent businesses. Let’s work with local colleges to help young ambitious entrepreneurs launch their new enterprises in Innisfil.
Let’s put a stop to retail and commercial buildings sitting empty for extended periods. Taxes should be increased on vacant rental properties after six months as an incentive to put new businesses on the street.
Let’s put a stop to the needless demolition of any useable buildings that can be occupied or reasonably renovated.
Let’s get started on simple, well-marked bicycle routes to connect our various historic neighbourhoods.
Let’s make adoption of renewable energy and energy conservation a priority in this town. Every public building in Innisfil – libraries, arenas, offices – should be designated for renewable energy technologies. Let’s make electric vehicle adoption a priority in the next 5 to 10 years.
Finally, this one really bugs me – let’s stop selling off naming rights to public assets (“Your Name Here” Public Building). I was appalled recently to see a sign outside a new Toronto public hospital. It didn’t just say “Emergency Entrance”. It was prefaced with the name of a major pharmaceutical company! The fact that many of our governments go cap in hand to beg for money from the uber wealthy just shows how downtrodden our democracy has become in relation to the corporate powers that shape our everyday environment these days. We shouldn’t have to live inside an advertisement!
OK, feel free to jump in here. What specific ideas do you have to improve our lives in Innisfil?