It is now three months since the developer Bob Forrest ordered the demolition of the designated heritage building at 184-186 Main Street South and we are still waiting for the report from the Town’s Commissioner of Development and  Infrastructure Peter Noehammer. 

What on earth is causing the delay?  

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee, members considered a letter from local resident, Elaine Adam, who posed a series of questions about the demolition:

“What actions will the Town take against the developer to make sure that consequences are severe enough that other developers will not repeat this? Is this an illegal act, is it criminal, have the proper legal authorities been involved? What safeguards are in place to protect the adjacent buildings? Why does Mr Forrest have his properties for sale even though there is an investigation by the Town and there is a Stop Work Order in place?”

The Committee Chair, Billie Locke, asked for an update and got one that was short and to the point with no elaboration. The Town’s Senior Planner, Adrian Cammaert, says there is an open and ongoing investigation and

“that is pretty much all I can say”.

No-one tries to prise any more information from the taciturn planner. No-one asks when the investigation is expected to wrap up. Or how many people are working on it. Why is everyone so incurious?

Take it down. 

Shortly after the unlawful demolition I spoke to Jacques Carrier, the man who tore the old building down. He told me - in the presence of one of the site supervisors from Prime Design Build - why it was demolished and who ordered it. No-one from the Town has since approached me and I conclude from this the facts are not in dispute. Nevertheless, the Town seems to be agonising about what to do next. The Mayor, John Taylor, vows there must be consequences but we don’t know what he has in mind other than a full rebuild and he won’t tell us.  

Let me be absolutely clear. The Town should prosecute Forrest.

The demolition of a designated heritage building in the heart of a Heritage Conservation District without permission from the Municipality is very, very unusual. In fact, I am still trying to find a close parallel.

Few parallels. 

Last month I contacted over 50 Ontario municipalities who have 134 Heritage Conservation Districts between them. I wanted to know if there had been any unlawful demolitions of designated buildings within any of their Heritage Conservation Districts and, if so, whether a prosecution had been brought under the Ontario Heritage Act or Building Act or both. So far, I’ve come up with one case from Markham where the owner demolished a residential property at 249 Main Street in Unionville’s Heritage Conservation District without approval. The owner pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000.

So far as I can tell, most prosecutions involve illegal alterations of buildings – not their wholesale destruction. In Hamilton, for example, with seven Heritage Conservation Districts, there have been no prosecutions for demolitions – only for alterations such as driveway widening and window replacement without the necessary heritage permit.

Next door to us in Aurora a prosecution has been brought for the demolition of a non-designated property on the Town’s Heritage Register without the Council’s consent. But, importantly, this was not within Aurora’s sole Heritage Conservation District. The case is now before the Courts.

The Town will be hosting a workshop on heritage issues on 27 January 2020 from 9am – 12 noon in the Council Chamber at 395 Mulock Drive, Newmarket. It is open to interested members of the public. It will be run by Community Heritage Ontario.

There will be lot of very unhappy people if we don't know by then what the Town intends to do about the unlawful demolition of the Simpson Building in the heart of the old downtown.

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Photos above right. Before and after.

 

Since records began 138 years ago, 17 of the 18 hottest years globally have occurred since 2000.  

It looks like 2020 will also sizzle.

As I tap this out Australia is on fire. I worry about what’s happening. I have relatives down under and one has already seen 250 acres of his property go up in flames, destroyed in moments by a raging bushfire.

Walter Bauer, the excellent Green candidate for Newmarket-Aurora in last October’s Federal Election tells me that during 2016, our worst year for fires in Canada, about 1.2 million hectares burned. So far, the Australian bush fires have consumed almost 6 million hectares.

Arctic melting fast

Climate change is not some future threat. It is happening right here and now and the pace of change is accelerating. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the planet as a whole. 

In 2016 the Arctic land surface temperature was 2.0°C above the 1981-2010 average and a staggering 3.5°C increase since the record began in 1900. In 2018 we saw temperatures in the Arctic 20 degrees Celsius above we would normally expect. In the Far North roads are buckling and the infrastructure is failing as the permafrost thaws.

But for most of us it is out of sight and, therefore, out of mind. 

In June 2018 I was down in Toronto at the ROM for a stimulating but unsettling one-day symposium on Canada’s Far North. Michael Byers, 51, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, told us 50% of Arctic sea ice had disappeared in his lifetime. We are now seeing the loss of 13% of sea ice every decade. 

Sea ice will soon be gone

The climate scientist Peter Wadhams believes we shall see an ice-free Arctic much sooner than we think. There is only one quarter of the ice left in the Arctic (measured by extent and thickness) as there was 30 years ago.  

Wadhams’ gentle and matter-of-fact delivery only underscores (at least for me) the horror and significance of what is happening in our own back yard in the Arctic. And yet, pathetically, there is next to no public debate about the consequences and what it will mean for us in Canada.

Many of the statistics here come from an article I read a couple of years ago by British academic, Jem Bendell, who predicts near-term societal breakdown as storms, floods and fire become run-of-the-mill, overwhelming agriculture and degrading marine eco-systems. His article was too apocalypic and doom-laden for my taste. 

...and then we see these terrible fires across Australia, continent-wide, leaving no sanctuary for animals nor people.

Bigger than Brexit

I look forward to hearing more from the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who is moving on to become the UN special envoy on climate change at the end of this month.

He has a big job on his hands. Bigger than Brexit.

Saving the planet.

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Debbie Fletcher-Queen and David Kempton from Drawdown Newmarket-Aurora will be making a presentation on the climate emergency to Newmarket’s Committee of the Whole on 13 January 2019. 

Screenshot from the Guardian

Update on 6 January 2020: as of today 8.4 million hectares have now burned. This is from the Guardian and shows the area burned superimposed on a map of southern Ontario:

The background story in a nutshell. 

In August 2018 contractors employed by the YCDSB to reconstruct the car park at the Canadian Martyrs Elementary School in London Road, Newmarket used heavy machinery to compact the ground, sending massive shock waves through adjacent homes in Harrison Drive and causing damage. No-one was warned beforehand. The Board denies liability and says residents should claim against their own home insurance policies and their insurers would, in turn, claim against the contractor’s insurer. This proved impossible as insurance companies do not insure against earth movement. The homeowners were left to repair their properties at their own expense. 

It has been a long – and so far unsuccessful - struggle to persuade the YCDSB to (a) admit they made a mistake and (b) promise to do the right thing in future by changing their flawed policies and procedures and by keeping proper records.

Keeping a record

Even the best run organisations make mistakes. But they learn from them, determined not to make the same mistake twice.

Smart organisations develop an institutional memory – they remember when things go wrong – and they keep records to verify and, where necessary, fill in the gaps.

Unfortunately, the York Catholic District School Board does neither. It cannot remember if it keeps records on a range of important matters. Its record keeping needs a complete overhaul.

Obsolete

The Board’s current policy on records and information management (RIM) makes multiple references to a “manual” which we now know is obsolete. It has not been updated since 1997. These manuals are not mysterious. They are important as they tell staff - and inform others - how records are created, maintained, preserved or destroyed.

The Board last updated its Records and Information Management policy on 31 May 2016 when the old obsolete manual still retained pride of place with multiple mentions.  (You can read the Board's inaccurate and wholly misleading policy by clicking the link at the bottom of this blog.)

What on earth was in the minds of members of the Policy Review Committee who presented the report to the Board knowing the policy as described was a complete fiction?

On 11 October 2018 I asked to meet the Director of Education, Ab Falconi, in person to discuss the vibration damage and to ask what the Board was going to do about it. (photo: above right) The following day he thanked me for “identifying my preference” and said he would call me. This response was way too open-ended for me. I submitted a raft of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests asking about previous complaints about construction work on school premises across York Region. 

Structural Engineer  

I asked to address the Board and on 30 October 2018 I recommended it jointly commission with the residents of Harrison Drive a report from a structural engineer on damage that may have been caused to our homes. I suggested the Board pay the lion’s share and the residents, as the innocent party, a peppercorn. The minutes of the meeting were inaccurate and didn’t remotely reflect what we were asking for. When I asked for the minutes to be corrected I was ignored. This established a pattern where legitimate questions and concerns were regarded as an inconvenience.

On 18 December 2018, over two months after I had submitted my FoI requests, I was told there were no records that would answer my questions which, besides complaints, touched on a range of related matters including gas leaks on school property and contractors’ performance. I was told:

“access cannot be provided to your requests as the records do not exist.”

I found this extraordinary.

It begged the question of how the Board which is responsible for 85 elementary schools and 16 secondary schools, employing more than 5,000 teachers serving 54,000 students, currently manages its records.

Stonewalling. YCDSB RIM page 2

I asked to see the Records and Information Management manual and on 28 January 2019 I was told this was not possible as the records and information management policy and procedures were under review. No evidence has been shown to me that this review ever happened.

I called in the Information and Privacy Commissioner who found there were indeed no records. And when I asked for sight of the famous manual I was told this would require yet another FoI request to the Board which I submitted in June 2019. It was ignored and I appealed for the second time to the IPC. 

On 9 October 2019 – and only after the IPC’s intervention - the Board finally admitted the manual was obsolete and had not been revised for decades.

On 19 November 2019, the Director of Education, Ab Falconi, told me:

“While the Manual you requested may be obsolete, YCDSB has a current Records and Information Management policy (Policy 109) that governs the management of records and information in a disciplined, co-ordinated and strategic manner.”

Whoaaa! I am not taking any of that on trust. I want to see the evidence that the Board’s records management is “disciplined, co-ordinated and strategic”. From where I am it looks like a dog’s breakfast.

New protocol

Mr Falconi tells me that since the property damage at Harrison Drive the Board has brought in a new protocol which allows for a “case-by-case consideration” of the need to examine properties before construction work starts. But nowhere does it mention who pays if damage occurs. Indeed, the Director tells me:

“I do not anticipate any policy or procedure changes for this purpose.”

But this is precisely what is required. 

If damage occurs who picks up the tab? 

Months earlier (on 10 April 2019) Mr Falconi told me:

“I am sorry to hear you were unable to facilitate a claim with your insurance company.”

But he did nothing about it beyond expressing regret, saying everyone he consulted believed an insurance claim was 

“the appropriate course of action”.

Clearly, it wasn’t. We were unable to claim against our home insurance policies as these do not cover earth movement and vibration. So why did he sit on his hands? Why didn’t he go back and ask his experts for another opinion given their initial advice was incorrect?

Load of old cobblers

For me, the matter has now gone beyond property damage – disconcerting as that is - to something more fundamental. I want to know how the Board can claim with a straight face that its records are

maintained and retained in keeping with guidelines established by the Province of Ontario and as outlined in the Board’s Records and Information Management Manual” 

and that 

“Staff shall be trained on their responsibilities as outlined in the Records and Information Management Manual.”

when we all know that is a load of old cobblers.

Delegation to the Board declined

On 15 November 2019 I asked to address the Board for the second time saying I wished to give members an update and make recommendations. My request was declined

“given a previous delegation and communication from Board staff surrounding these items”

A week later I asked the Director of Education if he would engage with the two central issues I had raised with him on many occasions previously: who pays if damage occurs and how does the Board organise and manage its records?

Mr Falconi chose not to reply so I am none the wiser.

So, where does this leave us?

Records Retention Schedule

I now accept as fact that there is no records and information management manual but, on the other hand, there must be a document that does the same job – even if it is called something else.

I have now submitted yet another Freedom of Information request for sight of the Board’s current “records retention schedule” – a document which probably fits the bill.

The Province tells us:

“A record retention schedule is a document that describes the type of records managed by the organization, the length of time they must be retained in a business area to meet operational or legal requirements, and how the records should be disposed of.” 

I sent in my request on 18 December 2019 reminding the Board it had 30 days to comply – otherwise another appeal would be going into the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The Board’s Privacy Officer’s response was to tell me the 30-day clock doesn’t start ticking until my cheque has been cashed!

Oh dear! 

Why can’t they just give me the schedule?

Time for the Ombudsman

In the meantime the Ombudsman of Ontario is considering our contention that maladministration on the part of the York Catholic District School Board has led to a serious injustice – that we, the residents of Harrison Drive, have had to pay out of our own pockets to repair damage to our homes caused by others.

The Town of Newmarket will be considering a staff report in the April-June 2020 quarter on whether it needs to bring in a new by-law to protect residents from rogue organisations such as the York Catholic District School Board who are prepared to walk away from the damage they cause and are unwilling to do the right thing.

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Click below to read the Board's Records and Information Management policy.

The day after Donald Trump’s impeachment by the US House of Representatives I find myself in the Art Gallery of Ontario enjoying their splendid exhibition on political satire from 1800 to today.  

The exhibition “Crossing the Line” says this:

“Humour can be a powerful weapon to fight hypocrisy and corruption, and politicians, monarchs and the clergy have long provided easy targets for satirical artists.

Political cartoons critic the antics of people in high places. Inspiring debate and provoking a range of responses, from amusement to outrage. While witty and playful, visual humour can also be biting and cruel.

Where do you think political satire crosses the line? Even satirists themselves do not always escape unscathed: they have been fired, imprisoned, attacked and even killed for their images.”

The exhibition includes a series of ten lithographs by the American Sandow Birk, drawn in 2017, which lampoons Trump and his administration. 

I learn that Sandow Birk based his series on an 1800s edition of The Adventures of Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais and illustrated by Gustave Dore which

“tells the story of the misadventures of two bumbling giants. In his version, Birk portrays American President Donald Trump as the lumbering giant, unaware of the destruction he is causing.

Permanently fixated on his cell phone, the president appears oblivious to real world problems.

Through the guise of humour, Birk comments on Trump’s impulsive nature and on the issues circling his presidency – such as Russian relations, climate change and threats to democracy.”

Indelible Record

Trump's recent letter to House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, written over six pages 

“for the purpose of history and to put my thoughts on a permanent and indelible record”

complements the drawings perfectly.

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(To see more drawings click the link below)

Boris Johnson’s emphatic victory in last Thursday’s General Election means the UK will now be leaving the European Union on 31 January 2020. 

The details of Britain’s new relationship with the EU are still to be settled but Johnson wants everything wrapped up by the end of next year. Easier said than done. 

We shall learn more about the Government’s plans on Thursday (19 December) with the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech.

The Conservative Manifesto tells us:

“Boris Johnson’s new deal takes the whole country out of the EU as one United Kingdom. It takes us out of the Customs Union, allowing us to set our own tariffs and do our own trade deals. It allows us to pass our own laws and ensures that it is our courts that enforce them.”

It goes on:

“We will keep the UK out of the single market, out of any form of customs union and end the role of the European Court of Justice…. We will negotiate a trade agreement next year – one that will strengthen our Union – and we will not extend the implementation period beyond December 2020.”

Get Brexit Done

Boris Johnson now has a colossal majority in Parliament to do whatever he wants. His simple promise to the voters to “Get Brexit Done” won the day. But will the EU play ball?

Self evidently, the EU will not want to agree terms of trade which disadvantage their own producers. What will happen to the UK’s hugely important service sector? Will the UK’s car manufacturers still be able to export their vehicles to the EU without tariffs? And what about the future of aerospace – an important UK industry? What is going to happen to Airbus? The wings are made in North Wales and shipped to Toulouse in France to be assembled with other parts that come from across Europe. Are these arrangements going to continue as before? Unlikely. 

Mark Carney has warned that decoupling the UK from Europe could mean that some key UK industries could become uneconomic

Boris makes it up as he goes along

We do not really know how Johnson will deal with the millions of practical problems thrown up by Brexit. With Boris the past is not a reliable guide to the future. 

Over his years in the public eye, first as a journalist and latterly as a politician, Johnson has always embellished and fabricated. His speeches and statements are full of evasions, half-truths and out-and-out lies. This is presumably why Donald Trump gets along so well with him.

The Conservative columnist Peter Obsorne has launched a website to track Johnson. He tweets when the PM is caught telling a whopper.

When one of the BBC’s most feared political interrogators, Andrew Neil, sought an interview with Johnson during the election campaign he was ignored. Neil, who had interviewed all the other Party leaders, was livid

The Observer's political columnist, Andrew Rawnsley, says the election result means we shall at last find out what the shape-shifter Johnson really believes

So, where does this leave Labour?

Sitting on the fence

The Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, sat on the fence on the biggest issue of the day. No-one knew if he was for or against Brexit. He stayed studiously neutral in the election while promising, after he’d won, a second referendum on a renegotiated withdrawal deal or the status quo. Aaaargh! After three and a half years of debate on Brexit this was a contortion too far.

Corbyn reasoned he would alienate Labour leaning voters if he nailed his colours to the leave or remain masts and ended up satisfying no-one. His trumpet made a very uncertain sound.

While Corbyn was trying to be all things to all people, Johnson was purging the Conservative Party of pro-EU MPs and honing his simple message promising to get Brexit done. Outflanked, the populist leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage, threw in his lot with Johnson. He would not field candidates in Conservative held ridings - giving them a free pass - but he would contest Labour and Liberal ridings.

In the election, the Conservatives percentage share of the vote increased only marginally, by 1.2% (compared with the previous election in 2017) but Labour's support fell through the floor. 

Constituencies that had been Labour since the dawn of time - including Tony Blair's Sedgefield - now returned Conservative MPs. How this will change the dynamics within the Conservative Party is, for the moment, uncertain but it will surely come into play at some stage.

This election was all about Brexit and Johnson won. If it goes pear-shaped he has no-one else to blame.

But, being Johnson, he will try.

The Scottish Question

The relentless rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP) which enthusiastically embraces the EU is the other big story of this historic election. The SNP is pressing for another referendum on independence which Johnson flatly refuses. (Under the devolution settlement it falls to the UK Parliament to decide.) But if the SNP sweeps the board again in the next Scottish Parliamentary election on 6 May 2021 it will claim a fresh new mandate for another referendum which may be difficult to resist. 

We may yet see the kind of constitutional turbulence in the UK which, though dormant now, has long been a feature of politics here in Canada.  

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Update on 16 December 2019: From the Globe and Mail: Brexit and the future of Conservatism.

Update on 23 December 2019: From the House of Commons Library: Why the trade in services is so important to the UK