This post is to serve as a digital record of my monthly report delivered to council on the 15th of April, 2019.
It’s been an exciting month in the Village of Belledune and the world at large.
The brothers and sisters of USW 7085 and Glencore have broken off talks in their Collective Bargaining negotiations. And inside these walls, we are yet to figure out a means to effectively communicate with each other and the public in general.
I chose the title of Responsibility Vs. Accountability this month because they are often thought of as synonymous. They are not. There can be a vast difference between responsibility and accountability, and I sincerely believe that it is critical not just for those sitting around this table, but also the electorate to keep in mind when making decisions on those they elect, the criticism they level and the judgements they make.
When you are responsible for something, it means that you are the person who is in charge of doing the work or delivering the end result. You can be responsible and accountable, but generally, it works out that this is only the case for small pieces of a larger project.
Think of building a house, Stevie may be responsible to install the electrical and accountable if the electrical work is not up to snuff. For the overall construction; however, it’s Jimmy the general contractor who is Accountable to the client.
In our municipality, our staff is responsible to execute on the directives given to them by us through the CAO. The CAO is accountable to the council if those directives are or are not carried out. We as a council are accountable to the electorate if the responsibility of leading this Village towards a better future.
Childcare in the Village
Recently I had the opportunity to back the cars out of the garage and, I found the campaign brochure that I sent out to all of the Village when I ran for this chair in 2016.
First I was taken back by the people in the family picture who sadly are no longer here. I also looked at my priorities to see if I could confidently say that I checked them off. By committing to these priorities I made myself Accountable to everyone in this village to pursue them. I am also the person responsible to initiate movement on those priorities. Which I can proudly say that I have done, despite mixed results I believe that I can go to the community in 12 short months and stand by my record.
Youth strategies and community development go hand in hand. Together with initiatives from Councillor Duivenvoorden and Clerk-Treasurer Cormier we were able to create and very soon implement a new home purchase program that will provide up to half of the downpayment required (2.5% of the assessed value) to purchase your first home in Belledune. Also, via a great idea from Clerk treasurer, we helped dozens of local high-school and post-secondary students receive meaningful employment over the last three years.
For my part, I pushed for the creation and fulfillment of the Health and Wellness coordination position. I was also the one who kept pushing for action on the School property, as some on the council seemed content to remain in a committed lease agreement that was going to see the building grown in and utterly useless in a short time. Now Darrel unlocks the doors to the gym where I see young and older families alike, playing pickleball, basketball, foosball and getting active in the evenings.
I also chaired and directed the efforts on the past two budgets that finally standardized the way we support local groups, including an annual guaranteed contribution for Jacquet River School.
With all of that said, there is one enormous gap that this community needs to address:
Access to childcare.
According to the Bank of Canada, the average cost to run a household in Canada is $88,245.00 (in 2016). Seeing that according to the last census our average household income level is $58,212.00, and although this is higher than the provincial average, we need to increase the earning potential for families in our village. One way to do that is to ease the burden on families by providing access to affordable childcare so that both parents have a better chance to find gainful employment.
Through my investigations around the demographics of the community and surrounding LSD’s, it would be hard for an independent provider to turn this need into a for-profit initiative. This challenge, in large part, is due to the wide range of ages of the children in the village requiring the service. Due to regulations, it is not permissible to have these children sharing the same space. The most reasonable way forward is to form a Non-profit organization that could filter massive subsidies from the community, province and federal government into the operations. I have begun to identify individuals who could sit as directors on the board of this NPO, and it is my goal to incorporate before our next meeting.
After examining a few options including this very building we realized that it would make the most sense to seek out tenancy at the Jacquet River School. This would facilitate before school and after school care. While also allowing us to piggyback on initiatives of the Food Bank and Breakfast programs currently running at the school.
After discussing with Mark Donovan of the Anglophone North School District, he agrees that not only would this be a strong addition to the community as well as a way to help ensure the long term viability of Jacquet River School.
The next steps will be to contact local design companies to provide estimates and design documents pro-bono so that a fundraising goal can be set and various local and government partners can be tapped to fund the project. This will not be the boondoggle that the ATV trails project has become. Once this project gets rolling there will be transparency, and Accountability to the dollars spent and progress made. Because it is the responsibility of everyone currently old enough to make decisions in this community to make those decisions with the livelihood, security and prosperity of those to come in mind.
The Grasshopper and the Ants
There are a lot of items on this week’s agenda that have to do with questions of responsibility and accountability. An issue inside this organization is that we have no problem perceiving, protecting or claiming responsibility for various tasks, initiatives and deliverables. But we have a very difficult time holding ourselves or others accountable.
This is due to the culture within the council and admin, as well as the community as a whole. This culture is one of entitlement because we have never been held to account for our failures to evolve and improve.
In Aesop’s fable, the Grasshopper and the Ant, a Grasshopper is living large on the abundance of grass and food that the summer has sent his way. At the same time, a nest of ants work hard to prepare themselves for the upcoming challenges that they know will inevitably come.
The Grasshopper is entitled because during the summer he was never held accountable for not having enough food, as it was always provided for him with ease. Once the winter arrived, his responsibilities became all too real and shirking them in the summer came home to roost. The ants who spent the summer working had large stores and simply left the grasshopper to die. The Grasshopper was held accountable for his failure to prepare.
Yes, this is a children’s story, but the lessons apply to our village. Due to our industrial tax base, we have lived fat and happy in an eternal summer. While the ants, our neighbouring communities have invested in their municipalities to attract and retain people, manipulate regional governments and create “shared services” that will end up having our village’s tax base become spoken for.
The case will be made that the people who make up the rank and file of the industry around here don’t live in Belledune, and they don’t, not anymore. That the ants who supply services to these families are entitled to the revenue that currently keeps us playing music during the summer. They wouldn’t be wrong to do so, and they will be successful.
As it stands if we were to lose the bulk of our tax base, it would hold everyone in this community accountable. Council would lose the ability to make the bold investments needed to strengthen our community, staff would be for the most part laid off, there wouldn’t be enough money to keep them on. And services would dry up to the electorate in a blink. If you thought that snow removal and culvert repair is tough now, wait until the metaphoric winter.
So, in a step of being more accountable to the people of the village and the people around this table that I work with, last month I levelled an accusation at Clerk-Treasurer Cormier, that her not allowing me to participate via remote access was improper and done so with malice, this was not the case. I misinterpreted the legislation, as well as our audio video system’s capabilities, it was unfair of me to level that accusation and I would like to apologize for the disparagement around that topic.
There are many instances in today’s world where the Grasshoppers of the world are responsible for making decisions with no sense of accountability. Like what is going on with climate change. There may be many who read this who simply will not live to face the accountability for the decisions made around tables like this one and larger chambers in Fredericton and Ottawa; however, to borrow a line from one of my favourite shows that started it’s final season last night, Winter is Coming.
The sooner we as a council, as a community, province and country realize that our responsibility to make decisions and take action to strengthen our community lies in our hands, and that even though we might not be able to see the consequences of entitlement and inaction, we will be held to account, either in this generation or the next and inaction today, will rightfully earn you the contempt of those to come.