Comment - The Big Picture

By Bill Jackson - The Regional

February 11, 2009

The big picture pertaining to Caledonia's proposed urban boundary expansions has nothing to do with their location, meeting provincial growth targets, or undertaking comprehensive reviews to look at their feasibility. By reading provincial growth plan objectives, as one developer did at a council meeting on Monday, it's clear that the proposed boundary expansions and developments would be a perfect fit for Caledonia, or any similar geographic area across Ontario.

The big picture has everything to do with native land claims and related issues, Caledonia's ability to move forward as it can and should, and begs the question of who's ultimately responsible for its disposition.

Haldimand's elected council is playing a chess match, trying to find the answer.

While the province continues to allow Douglas Creek Estates to sit in abeyance, it won't allow Caledonia to expand anywhere else. Suffice it to say that the province's ambivalence to this big picture is inexcusable by now, especially after having three years to contemplate such issues since the Douglas Creek Estates dispute began.

Haldimand has already lost millions of dollars in developments that have fallen by the wayside.

Businesses in some areas have closed their doors, blaming a direct correlation with land disputes and population projections that have gone unfulfilled.

Sure, hearing it may sound like a broken record, but then again, forgetting about it and getting immersed in wag the dog distractions is exactly what the province wants.

From a news reporter's standpoint, covering county council used to be about things that were happening, not so much the things that weren't. These days the outlook is pretty bleak. Meetings often revolve around damage control.

Prior to this week's council in committee meeting, Coun. Buck Slot pointed out that there were no planning applications on the agenda.

"Not a good day for planning in Haldimand County, indicative of some of the issues we're dealing with here," he said.

Not only are there no planning applications on the table, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing wants to deny Caledonia expansion entirely, citing the need for comprehensive reviews on the proposed expansion areas in Haldimand's Official Plan. Developers and planners adamantly argue that the proposed expansions meet the province's growth objectives.

Yet the merry men at the provincial level don't even have the rocks to stand up and tell the county what the real reasons are for refusing them, leaving council floundering like a fish out of water, wondering what pawn to move next.

This political dog and pony show has been ongoing for years and it's deplorable.

Like a beggar, Haldimand goes with its hat in hand, asking for money to help it with a "recovery plan." Meanwhile it could easily be taking care of itself with a little bit of direction and backbone from senior levels of government and police.

If Haldimand is a special case, then it should be treated as one, not left to think that it isn't and have to find its way through a dead end maze in some kind of an abyss.

On Monday, council found out that a new OPP costing formula will result in more that $700,000 in additional costs. That doesn't include base salary cost increases for officers. Conservation authorities' levies are up $85,000 in total. And, Haldimand is now contemplating the postponement of some fees for new developments in order to encourage them. Such is the 'news' at county council

By refusing to accept the province's decision to disallow Caledonia expansion and deal with it separately sometime down the road, Haldimand Council - at least enough councillors - are holding feet to the fire in an attempt to seek rationale for such decisions.

That reasoning could be sought from the Ontario Municipal Board which would review the matter from a planning and legislative perspective, rather than a political one.

Moving forward in any other way, as one developer said, is detrimental to Haldimand's ability to stay competitive, and it only plays into the hands of the provincial government that would rather distract the municipality with trivial cow pies instead of fixing what's wrong at the root of Haldimand's problems.