As I listened to the sixth Council of Central Elgin being sworn into office on December
1, 2014 I thought about the challenges that lay ahead for this Council and exactly
what they are promising to do when they swear these oaths.
As a foreign monarch is still the official Head of State in Canada, there is a legal
requirement to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II; however, there has still
been no line inserted into our Oaths of Office in which the member of Council also
swears allegiance to the electorate of this municipality or to the people of Canada.
I do wonder how this allegiance to a foreign Crown works if our parliamentarians
one day vote to eliminate the Crown as our Head of State. Will our Councillors then
have no allegiance to anyone?
The oaths sworn also contain the promise to serve the people of this municipality
fairly, without bias, prejudice or favouritism, to the best of their abilities.
That is all anyone has ever asked members of Council to do. Just as in Mayor Marr's
inaugural speech where he says he has been advised to "listen carefully, communicate
your thoughts in a respectful manner, make your decision after you have all
the facts, ... [and] be honest with yourself and to whoever you are dealing with",
that is not always what has happened.
In the redevelopment of Port Stanley harbour, this Council will have their abilities
to act fairly, justly, without bias, prejudice or favouritism, and in a fiscally
responsible manner, challenged to the limit over the next four years. There are
individuals, groups, and business interests all waiting in the wings hoping to get
a slice of the pie for their own personal gain, and all too often, also at taxpayers'
For example, the Save a Silo campaign is the brain child of one individual
who has managed to get support from the local hard copy bi-weekly publication and
the Port Stanley Village Association (PSVA), a group comprised of approximately
one per cent of Port Stanley's population. In their presentation to Council they
presented no documentation identifying what would be required to convert a silo
to their desired use, what that conversion would cost, or how to pay for that conversion
(other than public funding from the harbour divestiture investment fund, or from
interest earned thereon). They presented no market research to identify the impact
retaining a silo would have on other potential development of the site, or on the
property value of the site as a whole. They presented no market research to give
realistic revenue projections from converting one of the silos or how that revenue
would flow into municipal coffers. They do not take into account that other renovated
silos in the province are on well-travelled highway routes from somewhere
to somewhere; whereas Port Stanley is not. It is at the end of the line,
off any main traffic route. It's like trying to project submarine revenues from
Ramouski, which is on a main route and has a naval base and three other tourist
attractions, onto a submarine located in Port Burwell, which is also at the end
of the line on secondary roads going nowhere in particular.
These oaths carry the same force as an oath sworn in a court of law. Should a member
of Council be proven to have advocated/promoted the interests of one group or person
over another or others, then they will have broken their oath and technically should
be able to be held to account the same as if they had committed perjury. I don't
know if it's ever been done, but it certainly would make an interesting legal challenge.
This silo property, and the one where the domes once stood, were never part of the
harbour divestiture deal; and as such, no money from the harbour divestiture fund
should or can be spent on these properties. But groups waiting in the wings do have
their eyes on the $1.5 million interest earned on the harbour divestiture investment
fund. Linda Easton, in her article on the PSVA AGM published in the Lake Erie Beacon
November 28, 2014 edition, states on page 7 that, according to Councillor Dan McNeil,
$800,000 of that earned interest will pay for the demolition of the silos. In Ted
Halwa's presentation to Council he may have been thinking that this earned interest
could also fund the renovation and preservation of one of the silos as he presented
no concrete plan to fund his silo preservation/renovation request.
There has also been a claim made that the silos are an important part of Port Stanley's
history. Really? Cement grain silos exist all over Ontario; they are exceedingly
common, not rare. When and if McAsphalt moves out of Port Stanley, will there be
a claim made to preserve at least one of their storage tanks as an important part
of Port Stanley's history - despite the stink, pollution, and spoiling of our main
beach and harbour area? Maybe we should keep the loose coal field at the end of
the east pier and not pave or cover it over. After all, coal shipments were an important
part of Port Stanley's history.
Council's challenge in this, and in all aspects of harbour redevelopment, is to
do what is in the best interests of the entire municipality and all
of its taxpayers, not just one community in it or one or two groups within that