Municipal Election: Murphy makes it official, running for Mayor again

Published August 22. 4:30 pm. There’s now a race on for the mayorship of Muskoka Lakes. As expected, and as Alice Murphy had announced as early as last year in the press, the incumbent mayor is seeking re-election. She filed her papers officially this morning.

Her only opponent is Don Furniss. Like Murphy, this past term was Furniss’ first as a Muskoka Lakes councillor.

Bala Falls Update: Muskoka Lakes Township Argues Case Again for Portage at Ontario Court of Appeal

Township lawyers to argue Divisional Court was wrong to reject request for judicial review about Crown land site slated for hydro build

Published July 13, 12am: The Township of Muskoka Lakes is back in court in Toronto today. This time the Township is kicking its argument up to the Ontario Court of Appeal in its bid to block development on Crown land at north Bala Falls. Last August, the lower Divisional Court turned the Township down in its quest to protect the Crown land site slated for a hydro build, with one judge suggesting the Township’s argument was “somewhat disingenuous.”

Disingenuous defined: not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.

At the time, Lawyer Harold Elston responded, “We don’t plan to be disingenuous. There is little room between the plant and the land; land people have used for centuries.”

Today Elston must successfully argue that the lower court was wrong in not granting the Township a full judicial review of the Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) process that started back in 2003. It was over 10 years ago that the MNR announced the site in Bala would be made available for development as part of the government’s support for green energy. With a few exceptions, the Township’s wish list from the court is exactly the same as last August.

WILL THE COURT DECIDE TODAY?

According to the Court Clerk, the Court has set aside three-and-a-half hours to hear the Township’s renewed argument. The justices (expected to be Associate Chief Justice Alexandra Hoy; Justice Eileen Gillese and Justice Peter Lauwers) may give their decision at the end of today’s arguments or could reserve judgment for up to six months.

BACKGROUND: Comparing Township’s ask today of Township’s ask last August

Below is the list of what the Township is requesting from the Ontario Court of Appeal. The only new request (asking the court to quash the MNR’s ban on public use of the land) is highlighted in bold. The major one that is MISSING since the Township went to Court last August is the one that directly states the Township wants the hydro plant stopped: “an interim and permanent injunction prohibiting the issuance by the Minister of a Crown Lease to authorize the construction of a waterpower generation facility and a Water Power Lease Agreement authorizing the occupation of the power generation facility.”

WHAT THE TOWNSHIP WILL ASK FOR TODAY:

1) A declaration that the Portage has existed and exists over the Public Lands;

2) An order prohibiting the obstruction of or interference with the Portage by the Minster or any person with an interest in the Public Lands;

3) A declaration that less than 25 per cent of the Public Lands fronting on the Moon River between Bala Falls and Ragged Rapids are public lands;

4) An order that the frontage of the Crown Lands on the Moon River to a depth of six metres be set apart for recreational and access purposes;

5) An order prohibiting the obstruction or interference with the Moon River Frontage;

6) An order setting aside or quashing the Minister’s decision to ban public use of the public lands under section 28 of the Public Lands Act; and

7) Its costs of these proceedings.

For comparison, below is the list of what the Township asked for, and was denied, by the Divisional Court last August. Requests that are not being asked for again this time are highlighted in bold:

  1. a judicial review to be heard on an urgent basis
  2. a declaration that the portage connecting the Moon River and Lake Muskoka for persons travelling on those waters (referred to in the file as the “Portage”) has existed and exists over the public lands owned by the province (land identified in the file as Burgess Island)
  3. an order prohibiting the obstruction of or interference with the Portage by the Minister of Natural Resources or any person with an interest in the Crown lands (Note: This has been upgraded in the new ‘ask’ requesting the Court quash the MNR’s public use ban)
  4. A declaration that less than 25% of the lands fronting on the Moon River between the Bala Falls and Ragged Rapids are public lands AND an order that the frontage of the Crown Lands on the Moon River to a depth of six metres (referred to as the Moon River Frontage) shall be set apart for recreational and access purposes
  5.  An order prohibiting the obstruction or interference with the Moon River Frontage
  6. An interim and permanent injunction prohibiting the issuance by the Minister of a Crown Lease to authorize the construction of a waterpower generation facility and a Water Power Lease Agreement authorizing the occupation of the power generation facility
  7. The costs of the legal proceedings; and,
  8. Any further relief as counsel may advise and that the Honourable Court may appear just.

The result last time was the Township was ordered to pay court costs to the MNR of $17,000 and Judge Nordheimer stated: “The Township’s expressed objectives in bringing this application are to ensure the government’s plans for the construction of this hydroelectric facility do not inhibit public access to the waters off of the dams and to ensure that a claimed portage over the dams is preserved. There does not appear to be any dispute that the effect of the remedy sought by the Township would be to preclude the construction of a hydroelectric facility at least as it is currently contemplated.

In my view, this application cannot succeed. Under Section 28 of the Public Lands Act, the Ministry may prohibit possession, occupation or use of public lands.”

Nordheimer continued: “In my view, the Township has failed to establish that the Ministry’s decision issuing a notice under Section 28 was unreasonable. There can be no reasonable dispute that there are safety concerns with dams that include rapids, waterfalls and dams among chose other hazards. It may be that there were other alternatives to address those safety concerns but the fact that the Minister chose between different options does not constitute their decision to adopt one option over another as unreasonable.

In particular, a complete ban on public access to the Crown lands in circumstances where two people have already lost their lives cannot be shown to be so manifestly unreasonable as to justify interference by this Court.”

The Ontario Court of Appeal will hear the Township’s argument against the lower court’s decision starting at 10:30am today. It is not known whether the justices today will ask to hear from the respondents, the MNR and Swift River Energy Limited (SREL).

References and Related Articles

 

 

 

Muskoka Lakes Township hears Swift River alternate construction offer

SREL offers $100K to use Township lands other than park owned by Crown

Published April 21, 10pm: Bala United Church wants it. According to a survey, 79% of respondents want it. The president of the Moon River Property Owner’s Association doesn’t want it. But will the Township of Muskoka Lakes bite?

The ‘it’ is an alternative construction plan that would potentially protect public use of Margaret Burgess Park during the construction of the controversial hydro plant at north Bala Falls. It would also generate revenue for the Township.

On Thursday, Swift River Energy Limited (SREL), the developer for the proposed North Bala small hydro project, spelled out alternate construction plans for the project that would leave Margaret Burgess Park, beside the Church, untouched.

Instead of using the park and building a bridge across the falls, the developer proposes to use the Township lands beside the planned hydro building site (directly on the south side of the north Bala Falls), along with the Precambrian Shield parking lot diagonally across from the site.

“I am authorized today to offer $100,000 as a lump sum payment,” SREL Project Manager Karen McGhee told Council, “in return for leasing the Township land and using the parking lot during the expected 14-18 month construction period.”

Bala United Church delegates to council, asks park to be left alone; MRPOA president asks Council to not allow the use of other lands

McGhee’s offer came after a presentation by the Bala United Church in which church trustee Ian Croft said the church membership wanted to ensure the park beside the church would not be used during construction. Moon River Property Owner’s Association President (MRPOA) Sandy Currie stated he did not want to see the Township lands or parking lot (the alternate plan) used. (For more on Croft’s presentation, as well as presentations by Currie and Mitchell Shnier, see Bala United Church asks Council to accept alternative hydro build plan).

Orange is Margaret Burgess Park, Green is Crown Land-Hydro Plant Site. Blue land beside green is Township land and Blue across highway is the Shield Parking Lot. SREL proposes using the blue areas instead of the orange (the Park).
Orange is Margaret Burgess Park, Green is Crown Land-Hydro Plant Site. Blue land beside green is Township land and Blue across highway is the Shield Parking Lot. SREL proposes using the blue areas instead of the orange (the Park).

“Essentially,” explained McGhee to Council, “we would stay out of the ‘orange’ areas and they would remain open for public use during construction.  There would be no need to remove trees in the Park, no bridge over the falls, and no crane in front of the falls and there would be reduced truck traffic through town.”

She added part of the proposal could be to re-grade and rehabilitate the Township lands used after construction. McGhee wrapped up by saying she had a problem with the flow diagrams shown by the presenters who came before her. “Those flows shown are from the spring freshet, and not from the summer season so they are misleading.” Finally she said SREL would like the opportunity to discuss and help consult on local bylaws that “we see unfairly targeting the project, such as half load and blasting [bylaws].

This is not the first time Swift River has tried to spell out alternate construction plans to the Township. SREL Vice President Frank Belerique wanted to talk mitigation plans at a Council meeting on October 18th but the Mayor told him he couldn’t talk about that. A discussion about safety ensued with McGhee answering questions she claims have been answered previously and repeatedly. All Councillors were present at that meeting.

SREL asked to talk mitigation plans with Council but meeting never happened

Ahead of that October 18 meeting, McGhee says Township and all Councillors were sent an email describing the mitigation plans and the desire to discuss a potential lease offer.  Read receipts attached to that email showed at least five Councillors did receive the email on October 15, says McGhee. She says she also met with two Councillors in person to discuss the alternate plans and one other Councillor did respond directly to the email. Yet on March 10, Councillor Phil Harding sent an email to CAO Chris Wray and Clerk Cheryl Mortimer asking. “Have we actually received a formal request that we have denied?”. He

Water crashing behind MNR public notice sign shows plant site on south side of north Bala Falls
Water crashing behind MNR public notice sign shows plant site on south side of north Bala Falls and powerful effect of spring freshet, April 21, 2013

was asking the question in response to a constituent who had requested he consider the alternative construction plans in order to “Save Burgess Park”. Harding had been in the October 18 meeting when SREL’s Belerique raised the desire for a meeting to discuss mitigation plans (as a follow up to SREL’s written request). Minutes from the meeting read:

‘Belerique reviewed the current status of the project and requested an opportunity to meet with municipal staff  to discuss options to reduce impacts to the community during the project construction.”

That request was never granted. Some Councillors have told Muskoka News Watch (MNW) and others that they can not have any discussion regarding the hydro plant because of a pending defamation lawsuit, yet that didn’t stop Council from discussing the project in a public meeting on January 21 — which focused on a design concept survey that included SREL’s mitigation plans.

Mitigation plan offered up in January survey asking for public input; survey likened to ‘blackmail’, says Councillor Nishikawa

Council included a discussion about the SREL Design Concept Survey under New and Unfinished Business in its January 21, 2014 meeting. The survey seeking public input was advertised widely in local newspapers (and also on MNW) in January to gather potential plant design preferences. In it, Swift River showed a map of the Crown lands it has been provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources to use for construction purposes. These lands include the areas in Bala known as Diver’s Point, Margaret Burgess Park, and the proposed hydro plant site. The survey asked people to say whether they would prefer other lands be used as opposed to the park for such activities as trucks driving through the park and equipment being on the site, blocking the popular park for public use during construction. During the January 21 meeting, Councillor Don Furniss said he had completed the survey himself.

Councillor Ruth Nishikawa shared what she thought about the survey. “The conversation that is happening says this [the survey] is blackmail,” said Nishikawa. “This council has not made a decision. People are asking if they are going to take the park away. They already have the lease on it. It’s misinformation again.” Mayor Alice Murphy complained that “there was no place in the survey to say you didn’t want it [the plant]” and that “in order to have option one, they want land from option two to dump all the dirt and mud so we’ll lose access and portage, and this is all to be done to protect the park.” Councillor Harding added he felt the survey was biased, saying “a decision could not be based on this survey, and Council’s responsibility is to listen to the taxpayers’ voices.” Furniss countered the survey wasn’t blackmail; rather, it was a choice.

Once the survey deadline passed and results tabulated, McGhee says the survey showed 79% of respondents would prefer the park NOT be used, and 21% chose the existing construction plan. She shared this information with council on Thursday (it has been public on SREL’s web site since early February). When asked by MNW about any comments provided with the survey, McGhee said that some who said they should go ahead and use the park expressed a lack of confidence that the Township would be willing to collaborate with the company. In fact, one comment stated: “good luck getting permission [from the Township].” Another stated they wanted the vacant Township lands protected, adds McGhee, noting there was opportunity for public input from anyone with any position on the proposed site. (You can view highlights of the Design Concept Survey by clicking here).

Entrance permit request back at District this Wednesday

Next step for Swift River is to meet with the District of Muskoka Public Works committee regarding its Entrance Permit application to access the proposed hydro plant site. The Township is represented on that committee by Councillor Harding. The legal representative for the Township is also on the agenda – an appearance four Councillors and one staff member have said was never discussed at Council, nor was any direction given for lawyer Harold Elston to appear this Wednesday. Elston has been the legal mind hired to continue to block the hydro plant so it is widely believed he will try and quash SREL’s request for a District entrance permit. SREL had been asked by District to give Township the opportunity to comment, which it did in February. According to McGhee, the item has never appeared on a Township Council agenda; and the answer she says she has received from Township Public Works is that it is ‘too premature’ to comment. An entrance permit on to District land off Muskoka Road 169 is up to District only to grant.

“Swift River eager to sit down with Council…share savings with Township”: Excerpt from October 15, 2013 letter to all Councillors

Below is a condensed version of the October 15 letter requesting a meeting with Council to discuss a mitigation proposal with Council before seeking further public input. To read the entire letter in PDF form, please see References after the letter.

Township of Muskoka Lakes, Attn: Mr. Chris Wray, CAO

Re: North Bala Falls Small Hydro Project – Request for Closed Door Meeting with Mayor and Council

Dear Chris:

This letter is in response to your emails outlining the pre-requisites for attaining a closed meeting with the Mayor and Council to discuss the North Bala Small Hydro Project. {Note that there will be no discussion regarding any pending lawsuit(s) or any topics under consideration of those lawsuits}.

As the Township is aware, Swift River is in the process of completing the construction drawings and attaining the required permits for construction. As the Township is also aware, the amount of land available for the construction of the project is somewhat limited. Our design engineers have, however, managed to devise a workable plan using the lands available that is financially viable.

That said, they have also noted that should Swift River be afforded the use of certain parcels of Township lands, the construction could be somewhat simplified.

Swift River has therefore requested to meet with the Council to discuss some options that may be available for construction that could be seen as win-win-win solutions for Swift River, the Township, and the community.

In particular, the lands we are interested in using include (see attached map):

1. The parcel of land immediately adjacent to the Project site that was transferred to the Township from the District in 2011 (PIN 48029-0638);

2. The Shield Parking Lot (PIN 48029-0634); and

3. The Township’s portion of the Portage Landing Parking Lot (PIN 48154-0628) and / or permission to use the MNR portion of this lot that is currently leased by the Township. Land parcels 2 and 3 would only be used for storage of trailers, equipment (including any equipment typically found on a construction site) and construction materials. There would be a requirement to fence the area to be used. Other than fencing, the lands would not be disturbed in any way. Any disturbances, including from fence posts, would be repaired prior to leaving the site at the end of construction. The use of these parcels of land for the Project would effectively reduce the requirements of storage in other areas in and around town such as the Crown land north of the North Dam commonly referred to as Margaret Burgess Park.

There are several options for use of land Parcel 1 that we would like to discuss at the proposed meeting. These would include site access, storage of materials, installation of tower crane, etc.

These activities would require tree removal and earthworks. It is also proposed that the Township consider working with SREL to deposit the rock from the Project excavation on this parcel of land for possible re-grading and landscaping. The use of this parcel of land for the Project would reduce the requirements of storage in other areas in and around town such as at Margaret Burgess Park. If permission was granted to re-grade Parcel 1 with rock from the excavation, it would also eliminate the requirement to install a bridge over the North Channel, install the tower crane downstream of the dam and truck materials through Margaret Burgess Park. Parcel 1 would be restored prior to leaving the site at the end of construction.

Compensation ideas are welcome. Possibilities include:

1. Lump sum lease payment for duration of construction based on number of months on site.

2. Construction work completed in lieu of cash i.e. the contractor could perform a construction task(s) for the Township as payment for the lease. This could include full re-grading and professional landscaping of Parcel 3.

3. A combination of 1 and 2.

4. Alternative proposed by Township.

With respect to the Township’s requirement to address the matters contained in CouncilResolution SC-18-28/07/11: This resolution is out of date. It was written over 2 years ago when Swift River was still pursuing Option 2 and awaiting an MOE decision on the elevation requests. Since that time there has been significant progress in the development of the Project, in particular:

· The MOE Minister denied all appeal requests for the Option 2 plan;

· The facility was moved, redesigned and re-evaluated. Ultimately Swift River issued an addendum to the original Environmental Screening Review Report (ESRR) for the Option 1 plan;

· The MOE Director denied all elevation requests made for the Option 1 plan;

· The MOE Minister denied all appeal requests for the Option 1 plan;

· The federal Canadian Environmental Assessment was cancelled by CEAA;

· The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has confirmed no permit is required;

· Swift River has undertaken further heritage studies on the area;

· The upstream booms have been moved and fencing has been erected around the dams by MNR; and

· Swift River has received Location Approval from MNR.

Swift River therefore respectfully submits that it has already fulfilled the requirements of the resolution in so far as they apply to the newly designed project with the exception of a few outstanding approvals, and a decision will need to be made on the leasing of these lands prior to us applying for these final approvals.

Swift River Energy is eager to sit down with the Township and discuss how to make theconstruction of this facility as smooth as possible. It is our firm belief that the use of these lands will significantly reduce the impacts to the community. In addition, it would make our work easier. Therefore, we are open to sharing some of the savings that could be realized with the Township.

It has been a long 8 years and we are nearing the end of this Project. Now is the time to start working together on the finer details to ensure we “get it right” for everyone involved.

We await your written confirmation of a closed door meeting with the Mayor and Council on October 18th. Please let us know before noon on the 17th so we can make the appropriate arrangements.

Karen McGhee, North Bala Small Hydro Project Manager

cc: Township of Muskoka Lakes Mayor and Council

References and Related Articles:

MNW April 21, Bala United Church asks Township to accept alternative hydro plant build

October 15, 2013 Letter requesting meeting from SREL to Township: 2013-10-15 Request for closed meeting with TML

April 8, 2013 Letter from SREL to Township re ongoing issues: SREL_Letter_to_Township_re_ongoing_issues

Bracebridge Examiner, January 22, 2014: Swift River Survey Irks Muskoka Lakes Mayor

Moose FM, January 13, 2014: Swift River launches stage one of design survey

Moose FM, April 9, 2014: Court of Appeal will hear Township portage argument

MNW, April 9, 2014: Legal leap forward: Township wins right to appeal

MNW, August 20, 2013: Exclusive: Superior Court says public safety trumps other parts of Public Lands Act

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On sharing Sun Media article, Mayor Murphy Attitude Draws Scorn from Muskoka Lakes taxpayers

What’s Up Muskoka Article, Mayor Murphy’s Attitude Draws Scorn

Click here to Read Article by What’s Up Muskoka. Author: Matt Driscoll.

Muskoka News Watch fully agrees with this article and others like it published over the past four years in Muskoka newspapers. MNW Editor Norah Fountain writes she believes we have a poisonous culture being fostered at Muskoka Lakes Council and more people need to speak up about what they’ve seen and experienced.

Commentary by Norah Fountain posted March 6, 11:30am: I don’t take delight in writing about what myself and others feel is untoward behaviour on the part of some councillors in our Township. In fact, I feel ill as I write this commentary. You see, it’s even harder in a small municipality to speak up about abuse, and I am in awe of those who have the guts to say they’ve been treated badly and want it to stop. The weekly What’s Up publication, owned by Sun Media, this week published an article about people who say they have felt the wrath of Alice Murphy, the Mayor of Muskoka Lakes. Click here to read it. For her part, the Mayor was quoted by What’s Up as saying she acts in a “open and warm” fashion…and that those firing off criticism should find something proactive to do with their time and energy.” If she believes that, she isn’t leading by example.

Muskoka News Watch (MNW) readers regularly complain (off record, out of fear of retribution they say, unfortunately), to me about treatment they have seen Murphy mete out. Members and supporters of the fire department management appear to be favourite targets, along with anyone who has any opinion that differs from the mayor on the proposed hydro plant. Even a librarian giving a report about libraries was once reduced to tears during a council meeting.

A poisonous culture brewing

And the Mayor is not alone in her behaviour toward others. Recently Councillors Harding and Nishikawa berated a staff member in a public council meeting over her job fair efforts. In that case, the Mayor actually stopped the questioning that observers said was unduly sharp, reportedly on the advisement of the Clerk. It’s unfortunate that Murphy isn’t stopped when she herself takes aim at staff or someone delegating to Council.

At a meeting I attended on February 14, Councillor Nishikawa laughed derisively about the Fire Chief’s pay scale recommendations while agreeing with Councillor Harding that she couldn’t understand the report the Chief had delivered. This is a report the Council had originally requested and sent back for more work three or four times. The Mayor and Councillors sent the Chief back to the drawing board again. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that as part of good oversight, but here’s the but: in my opinion, from what I saw at that meeting and what I’ve heard has happened at others, the way the fire chief is treated might be construed as a potential constructive dismissal ploy. In other words, make the ones you don’t like want to quit.

He wouldn’t be the first staff member to leave (See Sun Media article, More Senior Staff Jump Ship). Six senior staff employees either quit, or opted for early retirement in 2012, leading one business person to ponder why in a client newsletter: “It is uncertain whether these moves are coincidental, or due to issues with the Mayor’s management style.” (Source, Muskoka Happenings, Summer/Autumn 2012).

I’m sure some staff are getting along very well with Council, but I believe no one should endure the poisonous tone of questioning I have witnessed at some Council meetings.

Then there are the people — the taxpayers and professionals hired by taxpayers — that experience ‘unpleasantness’ in and outside of Council chambers.

Stories of unpleasant interactions in and out of council

>The woman giving a historic tour of Port Carling to a group of of tourists who was stopped (some say accosted) by the Mayor on the street (The Mayor had a loud bone to pick with her for some reason).

>The man who was booed as he gave a delegation as the Mayor sat back and let it happen (Granted, the Mayor has improved and now asks for courtesy. That’s appreciated).

>There are the two people (that I know of) who have left Council meetings in tears (the first was reported by the Bracebridge Examiner – for May 2011 article, click here) who no longer wanted to endure the Mayor’s comments.

>The ratepayers who were singled out by the Mayor during a discussion on heritage minutes (Read February 2013 Metroland article, Heritage Minutes set off Mayor, here) and have been slammed at other times in the newspapers by the Mayor (Read March 2013 Metroland article in which she displays her warm approach to all: “Mean spirited RatepayerAssocn hurts #Muskoka community. Running secret society w/ ‘chosen’ Board, yet positioned as ‘conscience’ of Townshp,”). This was a YEAR ago.

>There are property owners who have dared speak opinions that don’t jive with hers and then had to go to the Ontario Municipal Board for resolution, costing them and the Township money.

>The politicians in other local municipalities, and in other levels of government, who shake their heads about her Tweet tirades against politicians and government agencies. Most recently, Oakville Mayor Burton, whom Murphy once asked for advice and then wrote to the province and federal government with allegations about Oakville that the Oakville Mayor countered were untrue.

>And yes, there’s me. I was yelled at to get out and ‘show some respect’ by an enraged Mayor striding across a public hall outside Divisional Court in Toronto. I asked for an apology, but like others, I’m still waiting. I’ve been approaching and interviewing politicians since 1979. I’ve never seen any of them act like Murphy.

Fear factor alive and well in Muskoka Lakes

I wish more people would speak up, but I can’t blame Councillors or local business people who have had their own negative experiences with the Mayor.  They say they can’t risk it. Or that it’s pointless, especially as without competition, it looks like Murphy will be the Mayor of Muskoka Lakes for another four years. Certainly, who am I to judge them? I didn’t hold my ground when she went after me that day in Toronto.  I try my best to never engage with her on social media like Twitter as she demonstrates ‘Troll-like” behaviour (see definition in this article about her Twitter tackle of Oakville’s Mayor).

Last week a Toronto political journalist called me and asked how I manage writing such commentary when I live in a small area where I can encounter the people I’m writing about in the grocery store and such. It’s hard for big city journalists, too, but small town politics are way more up close and personal.

The president of the Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA) told me he feels the negativity of what I and others have written is unproductive (I am a member of the MLA and the Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association). So have my personal friends. I agree with them in principle, and wish it were different, but as long as people are being abused in our township — be it staff, taxpayers or visitors — I think we all need to shine a light on it.

I admire the brave ladies of the MRA who sit through so many Council meetings to report what they see for those of us who can’t be there to see for themselves the way Council business is being conducted. And a big nod to local media – What’s Up Muskoka and Metroland’s Bracebridge Examiner and Banner for reporting what is happening in Muskoka Lakes. Believe me, it isn’t easy for those writers either.

Read and share the article published March 4 by What’s Up Muskoka by clicking here.

Full disclosure note: Some readers have complained that I may be guilty of ‘sour grapes’ because I was the co-campaign manager for mayoral candidate Patricia Arney in 2010. The fact is that Alice Murphy won by a landslide. Arney was in third and even if Arney and incumbent Karen Ellis had pooled their votes together, Murphy still would have won. She ran a strong campaign and Murphy once thanked me for being so gracious during the campaign. That was 2010. Articles written since have focused on the actions of Murphy since taking office. In the What’s Up article this week, Murphy also accuses the MRA of sour grapes because of her win. It is clear that many MRA members voted for Murphy.

Any mayor will get both positive and negative attention. Winning an election is one thing. It’s what your do in office that really counts.

 

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Mayor Murphy’s Twitter attack of Oakville Mayor

Murphy continues to infer Oakville Mayor a liar on Twitter re Bala Falls; ‘trolling’, misinformation appear as go to mayoral tactics

Opinion by Norah Fountain: Stop the Twits: Follow Dignity and Integrity Instead

Posted February 15, 6pm: Oakville Mayor Rob Burton said ‘No’ in October 2013 in The Toronto Star. He said No again in November 2013 in a letter to Save the Bala Falls. When presented with a letter on Monday showing the Mayor of Muskoka Lakes complaining about Oakville’s alleged involvement with the Bala hydro project to Premier Wynne and Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, Burton again said No.

But Mayor Alice Murphy won’t take No for an answer.

Burton had to repeat ‘No’ again – twice – last night on Twitter – the Mayor’s apparent fave forum for picking fights, which some might consider to be ‘trolling’ [Trolling in Internet lingo is a term for online harassment]. When pushed to his Twitter limit, Burton then gave Murphy fodder for something she’ll most likely turn into ‘proof’ that she was right all along.

The following is the Tweet exchange last night between an exasperated Mayor Burton in response to Murphy’s allegation that his answer of ‘No’ was ‘Gamesmanship’. This time, he said more than No.Murphy & Burton Tweet

No doubt some context would be helpful.

Last year, rumours swirled around Bala that there might be a company about to buy Swift River Energy Limited (SREL), the company selected to develop a small hydro project in Bala. These rumours were fueled by a post on the Save the Bala Falls web site, despite the fact the same November 13, 2013 post confirmed the Town of Oakville had said ‘it was not involved in the project’.

Read the Toronto Star article yourself and you’ll see why Save the Bala Falls was looking for clarification. You’ll see that Burton says he had spoken with Murphy and suggested it might be possible for Oakville to invest to make the project better. Word for word, here is what The Toronto Star article ACTUALLY says, despite Murphy’s repeated twist that it means Oakville is still considering buying in (she also claims in the article that she has never spoken to Burton).

From The Toronto Star article by John Spears, October 22, 2013:

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton, who sits on the board of Oakville Hydro, says he offered to invest in the project and work out a solution that would result in a safe and aesthetically acceptable power station.

But he said in an interview that Murphy wasn’t interested.

“I’ve told her: We could buy it, and we could put in the mitigations and that would be your sort of half a loaf. Then I discovered she wasn’t interested in mitigations either,” he said.

But he doesn’t want to start a war:

I have no interest in the matter unless it can be done in a friendly and congenial way,” he said.

Weeks before I read this article in October, and the first — and second times — I heard the rumours of a potential Oakville involvement, I called the project manager acting for SREL to ask if the rumours were true. Karen McGhee said she had not heard anything. A few weeks later, and pressing harder, McGhee said she was tired of this line of questioning as she had fielded similar questions over the past few months, and pointed out that “after all, any company at any time might get an offer to be bought  — surely you are aware of that.”

No argument there. Look at BlackBerry. Or this week’s merger between America’s biggest cable companies – Comcast and Time Warner. The possibility that a company might buy another is not unexpected, nor unusual, unless a government steps in to stop the buy for some reason. As a former CFO for a diamond company (the irony is not lost on anyone who knows our Township’s mayor last worked in an industry often criticized for its environmental impact), Murphy knows a thing or two about how business works. Yet her ongoing barrage belies that fact. Consider this one from last night (note she marks it as ‘Follow-up 2’ in the middle of one of her Twitter ‘filibusters’).

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 1.19.03 PMJust like Murphy said during budget deliberations yesterday that she wouldn’t want to pigeonhole future councils (regarding hospital funding), there is no way Mayor Burton can predict what future councils might do.

But will Oakville ever invest, asks Murphy

Hypothetically, let’s say The Town of Oakville (and remember, right now Mayor Burton is on the Board of Oakville Hydro) decides sometime in the future to invest in the project or buy it outright. How does that help Murphy’s efforts to stop the building of it? Maybe a new owner would be less disheartened since the bulk of the public battle is over, or maybe they would disregard the vast public input of the past 10 years. The latter could be bad, and granted, local investment is generally better, but why does it matter so much to Murphy?

The answer may be that it doesn’t matter. Not a dam. More possibly, the rumour mongering and public fight with another Mayor is a bid to dissuade any potential investors as building a hydro plant takes money. So perpetuating a rumour that Oakville wants to buy in and having Burton constantly saying he won’t get involved in a hostile project could be an effective stall the plant strategy. In that case, Oakville is just a pawn (and so is this opinion writer!).

The EXTRA bonus of using Oakville is the chance to tie in to the gas plant controversy. Murphy and her Save the Bala Falls colleagues have attempted to draw a direct parallel between a gas plant and a small hydro project. I won’t get into the energy differences, or levels of concern, but I will take a stab at the political realities which quickly leave the ‘let’s stop it like they did the gas plant’ plan a non starter. Say the gas plant was moved to save a Liberal seat. Many believe this. I have no informed opinion on that one, but I do know Parry Sound-Muskoka. The last time I checked, MPP Norm Miller isn’t going anywhere. He’s got a strong hold on our riding as a Conservative, so there’s no reason to believe the Liberals will jump to nix a contract with SREL to try and win an election here (some believe that the only reason the north Bala Falls site was released for development in 2003 was because we are a Conservative riding: that this whole drama never would have happened had it been a Liberal riding. But just as we can’t predict the future reliably, it’s hard to go back 10 years and paint a potentially different political scenario…).

This brings us back to WHY Murphy enjoys misinforming whomever will see her comments on Twitter (to be fair, her twists stick to politics; she does post encouraging truisms about Muskoka, too). Perhaps she desires a media storm of controversy (Trolling is also defined as deliberately intending to provoke an emotional response and disrupting on-topic discussion). So she compares Oakville to Bala. She drags Oakville’s Mayor into our local ‘Dram-ocracy’ so she can get ink. Shows her followers constantly that she’s still fighting.

It’s working. This editorial proves it. I’ve been sucked in.

Admire persistence but deplore tactics

The fact is, Murphy is a master of misinformation in her bid to do whatever it takes to fight the building of a hydro plant. Indeed, that’s her goal, and her persistence is the only thing for which I give her kudos. Murphy ran for mayor to stop the hydro plant across from her cottage in Bala (she herself has said that’s what made her become an activist in Bala). Many voters in Bala gave her a mandate to do that, she says, and I believe that is why many people voted for her in Ward A (some voters in Wards B & C may have different reasons, but even Township staff have said she’s ‘all about the falls’ and it’s hard for anyone to argue that Bala has not been the focus for the past four years.)

Do the ends justify the means? Big No. Arguably, the Mayor’s actions also break with Township policy C-GG-05 that states: “The Mayor assures the integrity of the Township Council’s process and represents the Township Council to outside parties in a dignified and professional manner.” That policy also as things to say staying within jurisdiction…

Simply put: Murphy’s behaviour is embarrassing.

I’m not the only one who thinks that: sources at District and Township among staff and councillors have told me they feel the same way. It’s clear at least one Mayor in another municipality thinks that, too.

Some worry that any sympathetic ear Muskoka Lakes had with government agencies and politicians in other levels of government may be gone. I think we can expect Murphy’s ongoing fight to get even more outrageous and expensive during the silly season approaching the municipal election.

What about conflict of interest?

Asked again by a reader of MNW last night: Does the Mayor have a conflict of interest? To be in conflict means there must be a money aspect. Just because she lives directly across from the proposed plant location, she says, is not a conflict because she is fighting the plant just as others in her situation are doing. Despite the lousy optics, I concede she’s argued that well. Besides, no money is at stake, unless she were to ask or get agreement from SREL to buy her property or something like that.

Where she might have a conflict of interest is in voting on anything to do with Swift River due to the defamation suit against her personally. Murphy stands to lose — or gain — money depending on the outcome of the suit. As a result, if she doesn’t want to declare a conflict of interest, it’s in HER best interests to never allow Council to speak with SREL about anything regarding the project – even if it could help the community. She knows Council is split on trying to soften the potential construction impact of the project on Bala. Four councillors have indicated they think enough money has been spent fighting and a few have been requesting an official meeting go ahead with SREL.

As well, Councillor Allen Edwards has repeatedly said he wants to hear from the people on the issue, and in a meeting last month when Council debated the topic of SREL’s design concept survey (the one Murphy called ‘disrespectful’ in a Gravenhurst Banner article), Councillor Phil Harding said he’d like to hear from people, too. If Murphy lets a respectful conversation with SREL happen that leads to any vote or decision at either Township or District, she might have to declare a conflict and not be able to vote against any compromise. That’s why I think you’ll never see any ‘real’ offers of any constructive or ‘fulsome dialogue’ to use Murphy’s own words. Her constant accusation that SREL refuses is ‘disingenuous’ – another favourite Murphy phrase that came up at least five times in the Judicial Review hearing I attended, but it wasn’t uttered by Murphy. ‘Disingenuous’ was used by the judges at least four times  in reference to the Township’s position — and once by the Township lawyer in defence of that charge.

Who really pays the price?

The worst thing in my mind (admittedly, a paradoxical opinion after saying no one can predict the future) is that my own prediction IS coming true.

In August 2011, I delegated to the present Council to express support for Option 2 (a plant option away from the Falls). I warned if Township didn’t at least try and talk reasonably with any developer, people who love Bala Falls might get everything we DID NOT WANT.

bala falls, muskoka news, bala, parking lot, new crosswalk, swift river energy, muskoka lakes, mayor murphy, norah fountain, save the bala falls
Presentation and ask of Council August 2011

We did not want extra signage. We now have it – portage signs fighting with do not trespass signs, etc. We did not want fences. We did not want a plant built on the edge of the falls. We did not want to lose access to either side of the north falls. As I said earlier, we can’t go backward in time. Option Two is gone. I left Council that day (August 29, 2011), with these words: please don’t make a long-term mess the Council’s legacy.

I thought then it would mostly hurt the people of Bala. Now I believe Murphy’s mess is hurting the entire township.

Note: Murphy is invited to respond via comment any time she wishes to this editorial on this page as opposed to typing 140 characters on Twitter. Of course, this is a ‘dram-ocracy’ and she is free to do what she wants. I just want everyone to know her comment would be printed just as she sends it.

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Twitter Disclosure: Sometimes I act like Twit on Twitter, too, and I try hard to avoid the occasional jab, but sometimes I slip. You can follow @MuskokaMedia for Non Twit like remarks and only Muskoka content or @Muskokahn for my personal views and opinions.

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Tags: Muskoka News, Alice Murphy, Rob Burton, Save the Bala Falls, Swift River Energy

Muskoka Lakes Mayor accuses Oakville of secretly funding Bala Falls hydro plant; Oakville says no

Charges Oakville considers an “unacceptable hydro plant” an acceptable Oakville investment’;  and begs province to “not put lives at risk” in letter to Premier and MP.

Posted Feb. 14, 3.15pm: Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy has again tried to drag the Town of Oakville into ongoing controversy surrounding a proposed hydro plant at the north Bala Falls. In a letter written on Township of Muskoka Lakes letterhead and distributed via Twitter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, Murphy claimed Township had learned that Oakville may be the silent financial backer of the hydro project. She proceeds to write that “As we all know, a gas plant was politically unacceptable in Oakville but an unacceptable hydro plant in Muskoka is apparently supported as an Oakville investment.”

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton was quick to respond to Muskoka News Watch (MNW) inquiries with copies of his own correspondence to the Premier and MP Raitt on Monday, in which he states emphatically,

“With respect to the reference to the Town of Oakville in the 5th paragraph of this letter (Murphy’s letter), please be advised that the Town of Oakville is not “…the silent financial backer of this project.”

Meantime, MNW was polling Township Councillors on how aware they were of the letter and its allegations. Four Councillors – Ruth Nishikawa, Phil Harding, Donelda Kruckel and Allen Edwards — say they had been advised of the letter. Nishikawa and Kruckel said it had been discussed at council at a ‘past meeting’ and Kruckel said she had been surprised to learn that Oakville was involved. Harding responded he was “advised that the Mayor was writing a letter. The general contents were discussed; the specifics were not in question.” Harding adds the letter has his full support as a Councillor concerned about navigation on our waterways. He said he was not aware of the Twitter post. A question to the Township Chief Administrative Officer requesting clarification about which meeting date the discussion about the letter had occurred went unanswered.

Council split on purported Council discussion

It was a completely different story about whether Council knew about the letter from Councillors Don Furniss, Jean-Ann Baranik and Gault McTaggart. They say they never saw the letter and it was not discussed in Council (Brad Burgess and Ron Brent are on holidays and could not be reached for comment).

Furniss was especially surprised by the contents of the letter as the Oakville Mayor had stated previously and publicly that he does not want to be involved as an investor in a green energy project viewed as a hostile project. Furniss adds he’s “seen nothing or heard anything factual that shows that Oakville has become an investor in the Bala Falls small hydro project.”

(In October 2013 in a Toronto Star article, Mayor Burton spoke about how he offered to Murphy to consider investment in the project to work out a solution but she was not interested. He stated in the article that Oakville was not interested in pursuing the project after speaking with Murphy, who was also quoted in the article. Read Bala hydro project roils Muskoka and Oakville Mayors.)

“I can tell you that if you read the minutes of the meetings, I don’t see anything in there that shows that this letter was discussed,” continues Furniss. “My position and several other councillors’ positions with the Mayor is that if she is sending letters on Township stationary under the Mayor’s name to higher levels of government that those should be reviewed by Council before they are sent,” says Furniss. “She doesn’t agree with that but you can see what happens when she sends them: they are riddled with errors.”

Furniss continues: “This isn’t the first time she’s sent a letter and in the past she’s been called on it by other councillors. She feels she can send whatever she wants, whenever she wants, on Township letterhead. I have a real problem with that. Certainly I don’t have the ability to get township letter head to send letters out.”

Furthermore he says the Mayor’s letter contains information that is completely wrong. “The Mayor’s claim that the project’s final operating footprint is 16 times larger than the original hydro plant on the site is absolutely false. Where does she get this balderdash?” Furniss warns the Mayor’s ongoing letter campaigns will only make things worse with the province. “If the Mayor continues to ignore requests of Council to have opportunity to review and comment on letters of policy to higher levels of government, it could get to the point, in my opinion, where the Township has become a leper in the eyes of the province.”

Councillor McTaggart agrees with Furniss’ concerns and emailed this response:

I do not approve of the letter for several reasons:

a- as it was sent on TML letterhead “office of the mayor”and signed as “mayor” it has the appearance of being the thoughts and position of the township and council. Without council agreement and resolution It should have been sent on Alice’s personal stationary and signed without the position of mayor.

b- the reference to Oakville is misleading. Oakville has indicated that they are not an investor, and even if they were, what right would TML have to prevent them from investing?

c- misleading errors! The proposed facility will not be 16 times the footprint of the previous power facility. I believe that the power generated will be about that multiple of the original.

This is not the first time that a letter has been sent to senior government members without discussion and review by council, in spite of requests of councillors to see and review letters that will be sent to senior government representatives.”

References (please click on images to view in larger size – and clear type): Below left is the Tweet issued by the Mayor which also contained her letter to the Premier and MP Raitt. The Tweet from the Mayor complains that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is now signing off on matters of federal jurisdiction. Below the Tweet is a copy of the letter in which she implies Oakville is backing the hydro project, followed by Oakville Mayor Rob Burton’s response to Muskoka News Watch and his letter to Premier Wynne as a result of MNW asking for his reaction to the Murphy letter.

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Dear MNW Subscribers, Some of you have complained Murphy’s letter to the Premier and Lisa Raitt is too hard to read. You’re right. It is, as it is only a picture of what Murphy displayed online. If you want to explore the letter further — and Councillors’ responses to it, click here to read a new sidebar article published February 16 entitled Who is Zooming Who, a Critical Look

Mayor tweetMayor Letter Feb 7 2014

Burton EmailEmail to Premier from Mayor Burton following MNW ask for reaction.

Oakville Mayor, Rob Burton, Muskoka Lakes Mayor accuses Oakville

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Feature Picture: Murphy turning back on cameras while trying to halt test drilling at proposed Bala hydro project site, June 2013.