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Protest held at potential site of new town hall

February 15, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Wendy Gabrek

On Saturday, February 9, resident tax payers of New Tecumseth held a friendly protest  in front of the former Alliston Union Public School building. Their main concern: the cost to revamp the space at $17 million, to transform the space into a new town hall, versus the cost to bring “clean water” to Tottenham, via the Collingwood pipeline.

The Times spoke with protesters, and protest organizers, here are their thoughts:

What is the main vein of your protest?

“Public dissent regarding five councillors approval of a new $17M+ Administration Centre at the site of the old Alliston Union Public School in Alliston,” said protest co-organizer Nancy McBride.

“My main vain is hoping they reconsider this plan,” adds protest participant Katie Curran Gordon. “I don’t feel like they’ve considered other options that will save money but still accomplish what they want for an administration building.” 

“New Tecumseth council needs to prioritize on spending the residence money respectfully,” said protest participant, Dr. Cam Simone. “Spending $17.5 million dollars on a new administration building is not one of them. I find it puzzling that certain New Tecumseth Ward residence, being the majority are not in favour for a new administration building, yet the councilor(s) are in favour of it.”

Who was involved in organizing the protest?

“Through Facebook, Cam Simone commented that we should protest it,” said McBride. “I commented that I would be in, and Katie Curran Gordon messaged me to see if I was serious. So I made and event and we started sharing it.”

Will this protest lead to a full-time “watchdog” type group on other issues, like as occurred with the ‘Save the Beeton Woods’ group?

“I believe so, yes,” said McBride. “But it will be one encompassing all of New Tecumseth. What happens in one part of town affects another part. We have been looked at individually for so long and issues have been kept separate.  By working together, we can accomplish so much more. We all want the best for all our residents. And we have seen all of our residents seen as equal by our council for far too many years. We are only as strong as our weakest link. Council has taken on a life of its own and in many cases does not seem to be representing the needs of their constituents.”

What are you hoping to achieve through the protest?

“We were hoping to achieve awareness for the many residents that do not follow town issues and instead trust that our council will make decisions in our best interests,” said McBride. “Through awareness, we are hoping to get residents throughout New Tecumseth to become involved and pressure council to listen to the people they represent.”

“I was hoping that the mayor/councillors hear what we are trying to tell them,” said Gordon. “This is OUR tax dollars that are paying for this big shiny building and I believe we as tax payers should have a say in what we are paying for.”

What is the history of this issue?   

“During the election, residents began to question it’s need and started to look at money saving options that would bring the town together,” said McBride. “There has been money spent regarding a new centre and the proposal did not recommend it. But five members of our council refuse to even vote to look at other options. Mayor Rick Milne, Councillor Fran Sainsbury, Councillor Wayne Noye, Councillor Donna Jebb and Councillor Shira Harrison-McIntyre are the five opposed to discussion.  There is documentation that appears to look at options, but it was written after the old Alliston Union Public School was already being remediated. At the last meeting with public input about the budget, where many residents spoke to council and were not in favour of the proposed $17M+ Administration Centre, those members of council refused to discuss the issue. At that time, Councillor Michael Beattie let council know he would request a recorded vote on the issue.”

What resulted on the day of the event? 

“Approximately 15 attended and loads of people were in support with their honking and waving and comments on Facebook,” said McBride. “Mayor Milne drove by and waved.  Councillors Michael Beattie and Stephanie MacLellan attended the protest and showed their support for those protesting in the frigid weather.”

What do next steps look like?

“Next steps include a protest prior to the Special Meeting tonight,” said McBride. “Followed by attendance at the meeting with signs. High School students have been and will continue to be encouraged to attend events and meetings. This decision affects them.  They will be taxed in the future as it will take 40 years to pay off. Protests will continue until council listens to their constituents.”

“My next step is to protest (Monday) in front of the building and sit in during the budget meeting. I also want them to see the youth that they are going hurt in the future,” adds Gordon. “This is a 40 year plan so my children will get stuck with this bill and that’s not fair!” 

“(I will) keep protesting,” said Dr. Simone.

Should the admin centre plan proceed as planned/council choose not to reopen the issue, what stance will you take personally?

“I will be furious if they go ahead with this. I have been promised clean water since 2000. In 2016, council decided that $4.3M for reverse osmosis in Tottenham was too expensive and would not work.  Since then I have discovered that the water Alliston and Beeton receive from Collingwood is reverse osmosis,” said McBride. “And now they want to spend $17M+ on a building for the town, before we ever get clean water! Ludicrous.”

“Since last year the amount has increased by a significant amount and the shovels haven even touched ground,” said Curran Gordon. “I hope they can put their needs aside and listen to what we, as the tax payers are asking. Tottenham doesn’t even have safe water coming out of their faucets and last time I checked clean water is a human right!”

What impact has the water issues in Tottenham had on you personally?

“The water issues in Tottenham have consumed me for 3 years now,” said McBride. “My water is often brown and disgusting. We have had high levels of trihalomethane for years. I am concerned about my girls because they grew up using this water and the town never let us know there was an issue.  Trihalomethanes can cause miscarriages, still births and all sorts of cancers. The iron levels create iron bacteria that harbour all sorts of illnesses.  And they flush that through the pipes to our homes 3-4 times a year because it causes pressure issues in the pipes.  I have gone to our council, The Ministry of the Environment, Ontario Public Health, Simcoe-Muskoka Public Health, Simcoe County District School Board, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, MPP Jim Wilson, MP Kellie Leitch and no one cares. Cheryl Ann Schmidt and I created a website www.tottenham-water.ca, as well as a Facebook Group and Page of the same name. We have researched the issues and tried to spread awareness all this time. The proposed pipeline does not have enough water from Collingwood for all of New Tecumseth unless we spend $40M to upgrade that system. Alliston’s water will begin to suffer as they have to use the wells more and more. The Water Master Plan is already spending $80M in upgrades for the town.  And we have yet to pay off the existing pipeline. I have asked the town for a meeting in Tottenham about our water since early 2016. My request was repeatedly ignored. Finally after 3 years, I petitioned the town for a meeting and in October I was told they would grant us one.  Since then, the town, The Ministry of the Environment, Simcoe- Muskoka Public Health and Ontario Public Health have had a meeting about having a meeting in Tottenham.  But the residents are still waiting.  Tottenham-Water has  so much information, you could write a book about it.”

General thoughts on council procedure and flow of information to the public?

“Currently, information sharing between the town and its residents is not effective,” said McBride. “Most of the population are busy working, raising families and dealing with everything life throws at them. Our education system has not instilled in most of us the importance of municipal government involvement and understanding. As Canadians, we have been to compliant and trusting of all levels of government. Most don’t even vote. But now we are waking up to the importance.  The municipality has a website and a Facebook Page. But I believe Alliston, Beeton and Tottenham need an information board for the town on the Main Street that would inform us of upcoming meetings, important issues and ways to have our voices heard.”


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