The first in a series of 13 Town Hall meetings took place in Port Carling on Monday evening, Nov. 15. The meetings, devised by mayor-elect Alice Murphy, were designed to introduce the new councillors (who take office Dec. 1), and give Muskoka Lakes residents an opportunity to talk about the issues that matter most to them.
The Port Carling meeting, probably the only Town Hall meeting with all 10 new councillors in attendance, attracted about 65 attendees. It began with Murphy asking for an “informal dialogue” that would lead to more formal, specific discussions down the road. The meeting was mainly facilitated by Walt Schmid, the township’s chief administrative officer.
Reading from a prepared list, Murphy asked residents to indicate which issues they are most concerned about. Her list included “Balanced and responsible land use” (e.g., proposed zoning law changes, Hanna’s Landing and the Port Carling boundary expansion, the Bala Falls hydro project, and resort development/expansion); “Fiscal accountability and affordability” (e.g., economic development issues, financial reporting and budgeting); Community services (such as community centres, medical, education and sports); and “Council and staff” (e.g., council committees, meeting times, and future town hall meetings and citizen focus groups).
Murphy was mainly successful at getting attendees to avoid getting bogged down in specific issues; the goal was to identify the priority issues for councillors to focus on going forward. Nonetheless, many participants asked tough questions of the new councillors. Among them: would the councillors-elect stick with their opposition to Hanna's Landing now that they were in office?; who actually has jurisdiction over Bala Falls?; how bylaw violations are investigated; how to put more controls on developers who start projects and don't finish them properly; and, does Port Carling actually want economic growth?
Murphy also polled residents on what they would like to see happen on the “blast site” next to the Falls. New district councillor Phil Harding said he had been in touch with the owner and thought the township might be able to rent it for use as a parking lot or market site, but many residents expressed interest in buying the site outright as a municipal park.
There were many questions and few answers at the Town Hall meeting. But the fact that the new politicians are actively seeking public opinion and participation is certainly a step forward.
We also appreciate the new council’s agreeing to hold a Town Hall meeting in the GTA. We hope this is a sign of increasing communication between cottagers and the township over the next four years.
If you would like more information, please contact the MLA office at 705-765-5723
Rick Spence, MLA Director