Sculpture Stolen from the Tree Museum

Despicable. Thieves made off with a table that was part of a sculpture installation at The Tree Museum on Doe Lake Road near Gravenhurst. It was taken some time between the morning of Wednesday, March 28 and Thursday morning, March 29, Stolen is an 8' table with text along the front. This work by Anne O'Callaghan was first installed in 1998. "I cannot express just how upset I am that some one would take my work," says O'Callaghan. She asks if anyone sees it to please let her know. The curators will
 now have to place a gate at the entrance to the Tree Museum site, which will still be open to walkers, but not to cars. The gate it is not to prevent people going into the site, but to prevent anyone from stealing more work from the site which has always open to anyone who wishes to visit this unique cultural feature.Stolen Table

The Tree Museum is located on a 200-acre woodland lot that combines the pleasure of a walk in the woods with the surprise of contemporary site-specific sculpture. The installations are permanent, and the site is open year round. Nature, an integral part of the installations, presents a constantly changing situation for the artists and those who view their works.

Note; Picture of the missing piece to be posted soon.

Anyone with any info on the missing table sculpture, please contact:
EJ Lightman & Anne O'Callaghan, curators

The Tree Museum is at 1634 Doe Lake Road/Muskoka Road 6, Gravenhurst, Ontario P1P 1R3

Congratulations Technology Award Winners

The Pathways to Intelligent Communities event last night saw several winners of awards for their work using technology. Congratulations to Luke Swanek for his use of technology to bring the first ever TEDx program to Muskoka! He won for Most Innovative Use of Technology.

The inaugural TEDxNipissingU event featured 12 live speakers (including a stormchaser, CEO/engineer, educators, authors and musicians) offering short talks on their interpretation of the theme "What's Possible." The use of a free live web cast and an iPhone app ensured that nobody (in Muskoka or the world) would miss out. Worth noting, the event was the first TEDx event to work with high schools (3,000 happened worldwide in the past 12 months). Luke is a FedNor youth intern and has truly exemplified the potential that the program has to offer the creative and technology community in Muskoka.

Nominator: Lorna Denne

Nancy Tapley of Bondi Village Resort won for Best Web Presence.


The Bondi Resort site and Blog has increased not only the profile of the resort, but of Muskoka as a whole advocating on behalf of the entire economy and communities in this area. The Bondi Resort Blog receives approximately 9,000 page hits each month from all around the Globe. Twice this Blog has been nominated for an e-tourism award, and twice it has been nominated for Best Canadian Blog. The newly remodelled website for Bondi Village Resort has increased the traffic to the site, through the use of videos, on-line booking pages, etc. and presents Muskoka in an excellent light.

Nominator: Sharon Webster

You can learn more about the 2012 nominees and the event by visiting

Congrats to all and thanks to those who nominated me for two awards. I was honoured to be named amongst all that talent!

Wireless tower worries in Muskoka Lakes

Update: Wireless towers will go ahead.

Background Story: Bell wants to install wireless towers that look like trees. Back in 2002-03 when a volunteer team I led wrote a combined fibre-wireless plan, we suggested no towers should be more than 100 feet and camouflage should be a recommendation. Camouflage for towers is not new – Hawaii was doing it back then and other states, too.

On March 26 Township of Muskoka Lakes Council will look at the matter of locations for Bell towers again. So far, councillors have cited health concerns (anyone who has a microwave or wireless telephones in their house should have no complaint — wireless towers give off less than Health Canada requirements).

Second concern: tower height. That ship has sailed. I think we should have towers of less than 100' due to visual pollution but municipalities have often opted to approve large towers to cover larger areas. One source said a Couincillor worried out loud that an airplane might hit the camouflaged trees. If they would bother to look at the regulations before opening their mouths they'd know anything over 150 feet has to have a light on it. But a camouflaged tree with lights would defeat the purpose, so these must be under that restriction.

The last concern is valid: We deserve a full picture of how Bell will maintain these towers so their fake trees don't look straggly….

The Bottom Line? If this council cares at all about economic development, it should support enabling technology in our township that still has so little choice outside of 'urban' Port Carling and Bala. The latest Rogers upgrade, by the way, gets a failing mark. It's hardly better than anything we've had before. The promised 7.2 mbps down and 5.7 mbps up is non existent. Finally, an honest tech said 4 down is the best they've been seeing with customers here and 1 up. Stick with the local ISP providers people — Indiiginet and Vianet to name two using the Core Broadband solution. If you invest locally, you can urge broadband providers to improve their equipment for greater speed and bandwidth. At the same time, every one needs to be reached by a solution now — so I hope township does the right thing for economic development and allows Bell to proceed as it could help keep our seasonal residents here during the week and here longer, spending dollars locally.

Final comment: The only right solution includes fibre. At the very least, all our hotels should have access to this so they can offer video web conferencing, etc, to conference crowds. That is something our governments should help subsidize to help our resorts compete.


No Cost Saving Measures? Er, that’s on the next page…

"It was like the air was sucked out of the room," recalls a bystander who attended the March 5 District of Muskoka Council meeting. A source told MNW that during budget discussions, both Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy and Councillor Ruth Nishikawa demanded to know why there were no cost savings alternatives proposed in the current budget package. That brought on a series of puzzled looks and sudden quiet, says the source. The councillors were told the items they were looking for were on the next page. Oops.

There are several mention of alternative cost saving measures — including Page 92 of the agenda package that includes a sub-headline "Options for Cost Savings". MNW has no confirmation as to whether Page 92 was the 'next page' the councillors were allegedly directed toward in this particular discussion. It's an easy oversight to miss an item in a large package — especially when councillors have had an all day council session before showing up for District.

Perhaps the Muskoka Lakes Council schedule is too wearing on some councillors if they don't have time to find information they are rightfully concerned about. The council has elected to hold township council meetings on Tuesday before heading to District meetings on Tuesday nights — a full schedule. And with packages for Township not being posted until late Thursday and some reports not available until Council day, it's no wonder items can be missed. (Note the Muskoka Ratepayers last week in the Gravenhurst Banner complained about the most up to date township budget package was not available until the Friday before the Monday council meeting). Perhaps it's time for Council to re-consider the meeting schedule? Muskoka Lakes township is represented at District Council by Councillors Ruth Nishikawa, Allen Edward, Phil Harding (365MuskokaPhil) and Mayor Alice Murphy — the latter two have the daunting job of splitting their personal lives between their homes in Toronto and Muskoka — a task that has taken a personal toll as the Mayor noted in a What's Up feature last fall.

Numbers don’t lie, but they may not tell the whole story. Who really pays for federal budget axe & municipal rate cuts?

“The real job that we have to accomplish is to change the culture of official Ottawa from one of being spending enablers to one of being cost containers," said Treasury Board President Tony Clement at the Manning conference on Saturday as the pre March 29th budget buzz grows louder.

Interesting focus coming from Clement charge some critics who can't leave G8 spending out of any discussion, but perhaps the point is that the 'real job' is to help make us LOSE focus on what we SHOULD be focused on. To obscure the actual impact of budget results. After all, numbers don't lie, and I'm not saying politicians do (not all of them, anyway), but they sure are good at distracting us. So while critics dig up old complaints about Clement's spending again, they lose sight of the bigger picture. Closer to home in Muskoka Lakes, it was the old bait and switch routine this week that's not new, but was perhaps more audacious this time around. What follows is a rambly budget commentary that purposely goes around in circles (it's a metaphor for what can happen during budget season — just come along for the ride and see if your head spins, too).

Let's start again with the feds. It's not unusual for a government to start making hints about what might be in a budget, so it's no surprise that media were asking lots of questions this weekend and pushing to see if federal public servants should be as worried as the Public Service Alliance of Canada has been telling them should be for months. Clement has the job of trying to reduce government spending. In The Globe and Mail Saturday, a report states Clement acknowledged the government expects pushback from unions (no surprise, the petitions started coming back in June), but also suggested that incentives could be a tool to motivate public servants to keep cost in mind when going about their daily jobs.

That nugget of advice seems a little harsh for the average public servant when they know that the government had hired consulting firm Deloitte Inc at an estimated cost of almost $20million or about $90,000 a day to advise cabinet ministers on how to help make the deficit disappear — or at least shrink.

While it might make a deficit dent, how does reducing spending by possibly cutting public service jobs really help the economy? Doesn't wiping out public service jobs attack the middle class that's paying the lion share of taxes now? People who think public servants are fat cats need to think about what would happen if we didn't have unionized positions such as those found in the public service or education system. Unions have been under siege by this government and while unions should take a harder look at their asks, the rest of us can't afford for them to lose all their strength.

Here at home in Muskoka Lakes this week we saw our Mayor crowing about decreasing the property tax rate. Every cut has a reason and impact, and this time, just like so many times with past councils, it's the increase in property assessment value that makes it possible for the property tax rate (that used to be called the mill rate) to be decreased. In the past, taxpayer groups would cry foul when councillors pointed out the mill rate had been brought down as they felt it only happened on the backs of waterfront property taxpayers (which is pretty much the case but such is the danger of owning a waterfront property in Muskoka). Concerned taxpayers would say touting a lower rate was a smoke and mirrors move as it would still cost taxpayers more. Not only that, but in a 140 character Tweet, only the decrease stands out. The reality is that there was a tax hike of 4.2% to cover spending. In Bracebridge, it was 2.9%, but that council's press release started with the increase and explained how it got there — no attempt to bury it. Numbers don't lie, but sometimes politicians will try and make the language around the numbers foggy enough to make the tax bite appear less irritating. When the MLA reTweeted the tweet announcing Council had managed a property tax rate decrease, perhaps they were a bit lost in that fog.

As always, let's demand openness at all government levels. Tell us what the increase is and why clearly. Tell us how the increase (or decrease if explaining cuts) can align with any strategy to improve our future. In the case of Muskoka Lakes, the tax rate hike is explained as necessary to do necessary upgrades. But there are also other areas of spending that have not been answered to the satisfaction of many. Such as why buy property now? And what 'might' cost a cool million? As for hinted at cuts in public service, we need to know how such cuts might cost us in the end — from payouts for axeing jobs to potential tax revenue losses, service losses, and the possibility of those persons ending up on EI. Can the public service be more efficient? Presumably these people in public service did some job providing service, so will we miss that service? No doubt there are efficiencies to be found, but what is the true cost of cutting those jobs? What is the Return On Investment on the $20million the government is spending to decide to make cuts? How long before that money is made back? Cut here. Lose there (lost services, slow ROI on spending to figure out how to cut spending, lost tax revenues from middle class). Decrease the property tax rate here because the folks over on the lake are going to pay for it there. Who really pays and who profits? Without a straight line drawn to impacts, who knows? Going in circles again. Yes, that's the point.


Muskoka Lakes Heritage Meeting on hold; Review Board awaiting answers

Update: March 16 Heritage Meeting Cancelled. A proposed public information session regarding heritage in Muskoka Lakes to be held March 16 at 6:30 p.m. has been delayed. No new date is available, but it could be after March as the Township has told the Conservation Review Board it needs until the end of March to answer questions about who owns what parcels of land it wishes to designate.

The Township Heritage Committee has requested that the March date for the public meeting be reconsidered as it was scheduled during the upcoming March Break and interested parties may not be able to attend. The committee is also getting more money than ever before ($25K, up from $2K) from the new 2012 budget for consulting required for Heritage Districts. This may be a smart move for the committee as the Conservation Review Board wants the committee to provide more information in regard to its first batch of designation proposals that critics say were incomplete. Some objectors have expressed concern that property descriptions were sometimes vague and potentially incorrect. Plans for a heritage district around Bala Falls, for example, included designating the Shield parking lot and Portage Landing, which the Ministry of Natural Resources says is partially owned by the Crown. The Board wants to understand what land, if any, CP Rail may own – and whether the Township contacted owners before requesting designations. CP Rail and the MNR are both objecting to the designations. The Review board requested the additional information by February 24 but says the Township has asked for more time to clarify ownership questions. Township planning staff say the Township has until the end of March to respond. Meantime, there have been changes to the Heritage Committee. Councillor Phil Harding is taking over for Allen Edwards and seasonal resident Tom Millar has left the committee. For information about any upcoming public meetings or the next Heritage Committee meeting, interested members of the public should contact Committee Chair Ruth Nishikawa. The committee should be applauded for planning to get public input on the proposed designation. Councillors have said there is a lot of misunderstanding of the potential benefits and pitfalls of a heritage district. Note: as long as the Township owns the land it is designating, the municipality is free to act on — or ignore — the Conservation Review Board's recommendations. If the province does own part of the land (which MNW believes to be the case), the province could potentially stop the designation of lands it partially owns. Meantime, the Review Board says it does not know if a parking lot has ever been designated as a heritage site before, adding they don't keep stats like that.

UPDATE: Ontario Climate Change Readiness report

Once again, you can't separate Economy from the Environment: "The costs of adjusting to climate change in the future will only continue to increase if we don’t take action now," says Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. He says the Ontario government is off to an encouraging start in preparing the province for the impacts of climate change. In his report Ready for Change? An assessment of Ontario’s climate change adaptation strategy released this week (Mar. 7) at Queen's Park, This is good news, says Miller, given the slow progress on other climate change issues. "The government is facing challenges in developing plans to further reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, but is doing a lot better with its strategy to adapt to climate change. We need actions to both reduce emissions and adapt to the changes – they are complementary."

While endorsing the government’s plan, Climate Ready, Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan, 2011-2014, the Environmental Commissioner pointed out there are gaps in its strategy to limit the damage that will be caused by fiercer and more frequent ice storms, heavy rains, and heat waves.

The Commissioner’s report says the government must improve its strategic plan by prioritizing the actions that are needed, setting specific targets and timelines, identifying dedicated funding, and outlining the responsibilities of key government ministries.

"For example, despite the importance of our energy distribution and transmission system," says Miller, "the Climate Ready Plan released in 2011 does not identify any actions to be taken by the Ministry of Energy. This concerns me because scientists are predicting an increase in devastating ice storms, like the one that toppled power lines and transmission towers and caused blackouts in 1998. And the long-term decline in Great Lakes water levels could reduce electricity generation capacity by more than 1,100 megawatts."

"Climate change is one of the defining issues of our age," insists the Environmental Commissioner, "and it’s already having an impact on our lives":

  • It threatens thousands of tourism and recreation jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the tourism industry. The ice-fishing season on Lake Simcoe has been getting shorter for the past two decades; the lake still hasn’t completely frozen over this year.  Skiing and snowmobile touring have also been harmed by warmer temperatures.
  • First Nations communities in the north, such as Attawapiskat, are worried about the continued safety of winter ice roads that bring in needed supplies. Northern Ontario faces more rapid and extensive changes to its climate than the rest of the province.
  • In July of 2009, Hamilton got 109 mm of rain in two hours, one of the biggest bursts of rain on record in Canada. Insurance losses were between $200 and $300 million. Following unprecedented rainfall in Peterborough in 2004, floods swept through the downtown, causing more than $112 million in damage.

Miller says the province must take the lead in helping local communities and municipalities adapt to climate change. "I was pleased that Ontario funded a Community Adaptation Initiative and, with the federal government, a Regional Adaptation Collaborative. Unfortunately money for both programs runs out this month."

"I understand the Ontario government faces fiscal challenges right now," says the Environmental Commissioner. "But the costs of adjusting to climate change in the future will only continue to increase if we don’t take action now. The government itself has indicated that the cost of extreme weather events could rise to $5.66 billion per year by mid-century."