Ratepayers hear about airport worries and cranberry joys at MRA AGM

(July 21, 2015 PORT CARLING) About 90 people were on hand for the 54th Annual General Meeting of the Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association (MRA) Saturday, July 18, 2015 at the Port Carling Community Centre.

They heard from speakers Ron Brent on the future of the Muskoka Airport and Matthew French who told the crowd the story of from “Bog to Bottle” about the growth and change of Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh in Bala from cranberries only to include the multi award-winning Muskoka Lakes Winery.

About the airport, Brent said an ongoing fundamental challenge is the way that small planes often have to use the grass runway and he hopes one day it will be paved.

Featured photo of MRA President Liz Denyar by Norah Fountain

On the topic of Bala’s famous cranberries, French shared how the cranberry-blueberry wine is now being sold on shelves as far away as Taiwan and how the cranberry and winery tours have become a signature Canadian experience. The big news from French was that the farm would soon offer Johnston’s blueberries as they are now planting a blueberry hill at the marsh.

In Township of Muskoka Lakes Mayor Don Furniss’ address to the group, he pointed out that public Strategic Plan meetings for the Township had been well attended. However, he says he thinks the Township can still do a better job communicating with the public. He encouraged people to look at the website for Township information.

There was also the business of the MRA to deal with. For example, one motion made the association’s name change official, changing it from the Township of Muskoka Lakes Ratepayers’ Association to the now more familiar name of Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association. President Liz Denyar welcomed everyone and told members and visitors that among the many items of pride felt by the Association, the Board is especially pleased that the MRA has given over $100,000 to students in the Township in the past 50 years.

This year, the student bursary winners were Shannon Conner from Gravenhurst High School who is headed for George Brown College, and Mason White from Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School. White will be studying civil engineering at the University of Waterloo.

The new MRA Board of Directors was introduced for the coming year. They are Liz Denyar, Sharon Hunter Aiken (new Director), Jim Boyd, Doug Bryden, Dianne Davidson, Madeline Fielding, Christine McKibbin, Wayne McKibbin, Mike Silver and Mike Webb.

Next up for the MRA was a week of Township of Muskoka Lakes and District Council meetings, which members of the MRA attend constantly to keep its members informed.

For more information about the MRA, contact:

Liz Denyar, MRA President E: Liz@muskokaratepayers.ca   Dee Denyar, MRA Administrative Assistant T: 705 765-0022 E: info@muskokaratepayers.ca

Matt Richter kicks off Green Party campaign in Bracebridge

Local Greens kick off Matt Richter campaign; second in polls at the start for Parry Sound-Muskoka

Published May 8, 10am: Parry Sound-Muskoka Green Party of Ontario Candidate Matt Richter, his campaign team and supporters kicked off the 2014 election campaign last night in Bracebridge.

This is Richter’s third campaign as the Green Party Candidate for Parry Sound-Muskoka and he shared with the supporters and reporters in attendance that he is “excited to get on the campaign trail to hear what really matters to the people of Parry Sound-Muskoka and ensure their voice is heard at Queen’s Park.”

Matt Richter, Green Party
Matt Richter speaking to supporters last night

The Green Party has shown great momentum during the past two campaigns and in the 2011 election Richter had the second highest percentage of the vote for a Green Party candidate across the Province. And in a riding projections poll yesterday, the Greens were shown to be running second in Parry Sound-Muskoka with the Liberals and NDP just a point or two behind, respectively.

Last night Richter reviewed the party policy and priorities on education, sustainable energy, creating and supporting jobs and protecting our food, water and natural resources.

“The Green Party is committed”, he said, “to politics that are not about catering to special interests or back door deals, but rather about engaging in transparent and fair processes and supporting the needs and interests of Ontarians.”

Green Party volunteers
Green Party’s Stan Hunter and Matt’s eldest son, Sam Richter, greeting volunteers just before campaign launch last night

The official campaign launch happened at 6pm at the new campaign office at 200 Manitoba Street, Unit 4, across the street from Oliver’s Coffee. It will be open daily.

To contact Matt Richter or find out more about the Green Party of Ontario’s Platform, visit www.gpo.ca or email mattrichter@gpo.ca with comments and questions.

Yesterday, PC Norm Miller was first to officially open his campaign headquarters on Taylor Road in Bracebridge. The NDP will announce its candidate on Saturday and the Liberals may reveal their candidate on Sunday.

Related Articles:
Moose FM, May 7: PS-Muskoka Green Party Matt Richter launches campaign in Bracebridge

Moose FM, May 7: Norm Miller Campaign Launch

 

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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Update: Three men charged in Gravenhurst home invasion now identified

Update: Three Males Charged in relation to Gravenhurst Break and Enter identified today by OPP

Posted April 14, 3,47pm: The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Bracebridge detachment members have named the three men charged in relation to a home invasion in Gravenhurst on March 20.

Police say at approximately 11 pm, three suspects forced their way into an apartment near the Albion Hotel. The two residents inside the Gravenhurst home say they heard the suspects entering and confronted them. After a short altercation, the suspects fled.

21-year-old Glen Werney of Gravenhurst is charged with assault with a weapon and break and enter to commit an indictable offence. Also charged is 24-year-old Kyle Matts of Tay Township and 30-year-old Beau Desvreaux of Gravenhurst. Both face charges of assault and break and enter.

The three will appear in Bracebridge court on April 15, 2014.

Original Article: Break and enter in Gravenhurst leaves two residents with minor injuries

Posted March 22, 3:50pm: Three men were arrested early Friday after a break and enter at a Gravenhurst home. According to Bracebridge OPP, three suspects entered an apartment near the Albion Hotel at about 11pm on March 20. The two people inside the Gravenhurst home heard the suspects entering and confronted them. After a short altercation the suspects fled from the residence.

The victims called Bracebridge OPP who responded and began searching the area immediately with help of the Emergency Response Team and K-9 officers. The three suspects were located through police investigation by the Muskoka Crime Unit, the Community Drug Action Team, and members of the Bracebridge OPP detachment. They have been charged with

  • CC 266 Assault
  • CC 348(1)(b) Break, Enter dwelling house – commit indictable offence

The two residents had minor injuries as a result of the incident and nothing was taken from the residence. Early Friday morning there were four police vehicles and an ambulance remaining in front of the Albion Hotel near the scene of the incident on the corners of Muskoka Road and Bay Street. One man was being treated for injuries inside the ambulance. The types of injuries have not been confirmed by police.

Feature picture by Norah Fountain, March 21, 7:30am.Related Articles

Muskoka ToDaily: Home invasion leads to 3 men charged

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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Distracted Driving Campaign Starts March 8 and so does March Break: Be safe!

OPP Asking for Public’s Help with Distracted Driving Campaign starting March 8 and a reminder: It’s March Break!

Updated March 7, 11am: The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) is reminding the public that the annual school Spring Break starts today in many of our areas.

Chief Superintendent John Tod, Regional Commander of the OPP Central Region is reminding the public that with March Break starting, “there will be many children playing in areas during the day that we are not used to seeing them. Please watch for children at all times.”.

Outdoor enthusiasts are also being cautioned to use caution as milder weather is in the forecast and this will no doubt compromise the quality of snow and ice conditions. “Although winter is still very much upon us, safety and planning ahead should be always an important component of any outdoor activity in the coming days and weeks as snow and ice conditions can start to change hourly,” adds Tod.

And drivers, remember that the OPP’s Distracted Driving Campaign is continuing and that Distracted Driving has become the number one factor in motor vehicle related collision deaths. Inspector Dom Beckett, Manager of the OPP Central Region Traffic and Marine Unit is asking motorists to “please keep your eyes and attention focused on the road; that is where it needs to be ALL the time. Distracted driving related deaths can be reduced if drivers change their behaviour and pledge to always reach for safety and not for their phone”.

OPP Distracted Driving Campaign starts March 8

Release from OPP Posted Mar. 3, 10.38am: Irresponsible driver behaviour has the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) concerned about the fate of many road users this year as officers prepare to launch their next campaign against Distracted Driving (Mar 8-14).

2013: Distracted driving caused more deaths than impaired and speeding drivers

In 2013, distracted driving fatalities surpassed both impaired and speed related fatalities in fatal motor vehicle collisions investigated by the OPP.  A total of 78 persons died in distracted driving related collisions compared to 57 impaired driving deaths and 44 speed related deaths last year.

“When you consider the overall impact of these 78 fatalities last year and the 325 other distracted driving victims who have died since 2010, the number of people these irresponsible drivers have had a profound and devastating impact on is in the thousands,” said OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair, Commander of Traffic Safety and Operational Support.

“Everyone, from the victims’ families and friends to the police officers who attend these horrific collision scenes and have to notify next-of-kin, knows the emotional impact of one life lost to this senseless driving behavior trickles down to so many people who, sadly, through experience, know how badly this behaviour needs to stop,” he added.

The OPP recognizes that the only way to stop people from dying in distracted driving related collisions is to raise awareness of how serious the problem is and to have everyone make a firm, lifelong commitment to helping the police and safety partners eliminate it altogether.  According to the OPP, it can be done.

“Over and above every driver pledging to never text or talk on the phone, pledge to be a good passenger and speak up if the driver in your car is using his/her phone or engaged in other forms of distraction.  Pledge to regularly encourage your friends and family to not be distracted while driving,” said OPP Chief Superintendent Don Bell, Commander of the Highway Safety Division. “Even though our campaign only runs one week, make this a year-round commitment because it is a fail proof way to help us eliminate the tragic deaths that occur every year because of distracted drivers,” added Bell

March 18: fines jump to $280

The OPP is reminding motorists that on March 18, 2014 the current distracted driving fine of $155 will jump to $280 (this includes the increased $225 fine plus a $50 victim fine surcharge and $5 court cost).

The OPP’s Distracted Driving Campaign runs from Saturday, March 8 to Friday, March 14, 2014.  During that time, the OPP will be doing its part to eliminate the threat of distracted driving through its own awareness raising efforts and focused enforcement of distracted driving laws throughout the province.

The OPP is asking Ontarians to show their support during this important campaign.  Go to the OPP’s Facebook page and/or follow them on Twitter and let them know how you plan on helping to eliminate distracted driving on Ontario roads. The OPP will highlight some of your entries in a campaign wrap-up news release following the campaign.

NHL alumnus visits Muskoka as part of Lake of Bays Brewery and NHL alumni contest

Mike Krushelnyski in Bracebridge March 5 to kick off Lace Up with NHL Alumni

Posted Feb. 28, 3.45pm: Now that Lakes of Bays Brewing has the NHL Alumni ‘on speed dial’ as the Baysville company is the Alumni’s official brewery partner, the company has announced it has got none other than NHL alumnus Mike Krushelnyski to drop in to Muskoka next week for a personal appearance. The company issued a press release about its Lace Up with the NHL Alumni campaign kick off today. The details from that release are below. 

Lake of Bays Brewery Press Release:
Mike Krushelnyski (the friendliest NHL alumnus and best Battle of the Blades sport ever), is coming to town to kick off Lace Up with the NHL Alumni, a contest organized by Lake of Bays Brewing and the NHL Alumni Association, in which 18 lucky winners will get to play in an NHL Alumni game and after party, taking place in Sudbury on Saturday May 10.

Mike Krushelnyski in Muskoka, Muskoka News Watch, NHL in Bracebridge, Lake of Bays BreweryWho: Mike Krushelnyski
What: Personal appearance and autograph session
Where: Old Station Restaurant in Bracebridge
When: Wednesday March 5, starting at 6:30 pm
Why: To kick off Lace Up with NHL Alumni contest in Bracebridge

Come on down and meet Mike and share a Top Shelf Classic Lager with us. The life of any party going, Mike likes to bring his Stanley Cup Championship rings along and foist them onto anyone willing to try them on for size.

In addition to being a heck of a personable guy, Mike has had a formidable professional hockey career. He spent 14 years with the NHL, playing for Toronto, Edmonton, Detroit, Boston, and Los Angeles.

Mike Krushelnyski in Muskoka, Muskoka News Watch, NHL in Bracebridge, Lake of Bays Brewery
Lace Up with NHL Alumnus Mike Krushelnyski

He is a three-time Stanley Cup champ on ice (Edmonton ’85, ’87 and ’88) and one time as assistant coach (Detroit ’98). More recently, he competed in the 4th season of Battle of the Blades, skating alongside Marcy Hinzmann.

About Lace Up with the NHL Alumni

The prize: 18 lucky hockey fans get to don their skates and play in a game of shinny alongside the likes of Mark Napier, Mike Pelyk, Bill Derlago, and Jack Valiquette. (Additional NHLAA to be announced). The game is set for Saturday May 10 in Sudbury, and the after party will be at Overtime Sports Bar and Grill, also in Sudbury.

Three Ways to Enter

1. At participating licensees
From March 4 to April 22, patrons at The Old Station Restaurant in Bracebridge, Lockeroom Barrie, Boston Pizza North Bay and Overtime Sports Bar and Grill in Sudbury can fill out a ballot to enter.

The ballots also double as scratch and win tickets, awarding NHL Alumni memorabilia and discounts for Signature Series Club membership. (Signature Series Club is an online beer and collectables club launched in December by Lake of Bays Brewing and the NHLAA. Go to www.signatureseriesclub.com to learn more.)

If you’re planning to be in the North Bay area next Saturday, March 8, Walter Gretzky (aka The Great One’s dad) will be at Boston Pizza to kick the contest off, starting at 11:30 am.

The licensee draw will take place in late April.

2. At participating LCBOs
Look for ballots at nearly 70 participating LCBOs across Central and Northern Ontario. NHL Alumni will be dropping by for an awareness-raising autograph session at the following times and places:

  • March 6: Matthew Barnaby in Sault Ste Marie
  • March 8: Marty McSorley and Matthew Barnaby in North Bay
  • March 15: Timmins, Sudbury, Barrie. NHL Alumni to be announced.

The LCBO draw will take place on the week of March 20. Email us if you would like specific times and locations for those appearances.

3. On Facebook
One lucky Lake of Bays Brewing Facebook friend will get to take part. Just go to our Facebook page, like us and click the contest link. The winner of that one will receive an overnight for two in Sudbury as well.

 

Muskoka Olympian Dara Howell takes Gold in slopestyle

Dara brings home the Gold, Kim Lamarre, Bronze, in slopestyle event: Their wins give Canada even greater lead at Sochi

February 11: 8am: “I think that’s the best run I’ve ever done,” an ecstatic Dara Howell told reporters after her winning slopestyle run in the finals, held 4am this morning. Over a Dara Howell Feb 11hundred people gathered at the Muskoka Ski Club at Hidden Valley Highlands ski area to watch Dara, including many generations and relatives of the Howell family. Dara posted an 88.8 on her first run in the semi finals that started at 1 am and in her final run, she scored at 94.2

What’s Up Muskoka reporter Chris Occhuizzi was there with the emotional crowd. Read his account here in The Toronto Sun

Not only are Muskokans swelling with pride and Canada thrilled to have such a strong lead now in the overall media count, there are many other reasons why Dara’s win is so poignant and resonates across the Canada and the world of freestyle skiing. Sarah Burke of Squamish, B.C. trailblazed the sport of freestyle skiing and fought long and hard to have the event included in the Olympic Winter Games. She was a favourite to win gold at these games but her dream was cut short when she died in 2012 after a training accident in Utah. Skiiers who wanted to honour Burke by wearing Sarah Burke stickers on their helmets were told by the International Olympic Committee that the stickers would not be tolerated as they would be considered a political statement. Burke’s mother, Jan Phelan, was at the Sochi slopestyle site to see Burke’s legacy in action.

In an interview with CBC after today’s win by Dara, Huntsville’s hometown girl spoke about Burke:  “Earlier this week I said I wish a Canadian would win a gold medal, and it would be for Sarah. To be that person, I didn’t expect it and you work so hard for it, it’s truly amazing. I know she would be proud and happy and I just want to keep pushing this sport and pushing myself and doing what I love to do and I know she would honour that.”

Dara Howell has started off an exciting and historic day for women in sport. As well as the first slopestyle event, the first women’s ski jump competition also takes place in Sochi today.

ORIGINAL POST January 29, 2014: Midnight start won’t stop Huntsville from cheering on Dara Howell

Olympic cheerfest starts Feb. 10 at Midnight at Hidden Valley; Dara’s slopestyle events begin at 1am

Posted January 20, 5:40pm:  It’s not often we get a hometown girl realizing Olympic dreams and we can all cheer on slopestyler Dara Howell from the comfort of the Muskoka Ski Club on February 10.

The only catch is that her freestyle ski event will be happening midnight our time. So grab a nap and some java and join the crowd at Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area to cheer this talented 19-year-old on. The ski area has issued an invitation for those who want to join them in watching Dara make her bid for Olympic Gold in real-time.

Schedule of Dara’s Olympic Events:

Slopestyle, freestyle skiing, Muskoka, news about Muskoka, Dara Howell
Dara Howell of Huntsville competing in Olympic Slopestyle event
  • Ladies’ Slopestyle Qualifiers start at 1:00 a.m.
  • Ladies’ Slopestyle Finals start at 4:00 a.m.

Local ‘Cheer Dara On’ Details:

  • This is a FREE family-friendly event.
  • Time: From midnight February 10 to 5am February 11.
  • Where: Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area, Members’ Lounge
  • What: CBC Olympic coverage will be on the big screen; there will be activities for kids (make a sign to cheer on Dara!), and complimentary snacks. A cash bar will also be available for a limited time.

RSVP not required, but if you plan to come, organizers ask that you please join our Facebook event page by clicking here (or email dawn@skihiddenvalley.ca if not on Facebook).

Organizers suggest you wear a Dara Howell shirt (available at Algonquin Outfitters), and sport Olympic colours (red, black & white!) and/or Olympic mitts to show your support.

Photo provided by Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area and Canadian Freestyle Ski Association.

 

New Muskoka Watershed Chair and exploring the link between environment and economy

How environment can drive economy focus of February 6 event; Muskoka Watershed Council welcomes Dr. Peter Sale as Chair; Robert Bateman to be keynote speaker for Muskoka Summit on the Environment

New Chair for Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC): Marine ecologist and noted author of Our Dying Planet, Dr. Peter Sale, has officially stepped in to Patricia Arney’s

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Dr. Sale with outgoing Chair Patricia Arney. Photo by Lyndsie McGregor

shoes as Chair of the Muskoka Watershed Council. Arney has completed her two-year term with the Council, which champions environmental stewardship in our region.  The change in leadership happened at the Council meeting held on Friday, January 24, during which Sale presented Arney, a Bala resident, with a certificate of appreciation in recognition of her commitment and dedication. (Arney has been involved with the MWC since 2001 and Sale joined the Council in 2010). Lou Guerriero has also been elected as Vice-Chair. He first joined MWC in 2004 as a representative for the Town of Gravenhurst.

The Environment is Good for Business Event Feb. 6: Do you have to choose between a healthy environment and a strong economy? Experts agree that Muskoka’s economy can serve as a perfect example of how they can go hand in hand. On Thursday, February 6, economic and planning consultant Rob Milligan will explore the opportunities that exist as a result of the environment–economy connection.  Milligan, who is also a member of the Muskoka Watershed Council, is the keynote speaker at the annual Bridges to Better Business event put on by the Muskoka Small Business Centre. It happens at the Rotary Centre for Youth in Bracebridge. To learn more and register, please click here or call the Muskoka Small Business Centre at 706-646-9021 (remember to tell them you read about it here at Muskoka News Watch!). The day also features a panel of businesses with close connections to the environment, and an afternoon series of popular speed mentoring sessions, where attendees can get business advice from experts on a whole range of topics.  For more information or to register for this important event, contact Muskoka Small Business Centre at 705-646-9021 or visit www.muskokasmallbusiness.ca.

Plans well under way for 2014 Muskoka Summit on the Environment: Resolving the Environment-Economy dichotomy is also the theme for this year’s Muskoka Summit on the Environment in May. Keynote speaker for this event is renowned Canadian wildlife artist, naturalist and conservationist Robert Bateman. He heads up a great line up news about muskoka, muskoka events, muskoka news, muskoka, environment, summit, watershed, save the bala falls, lake muskokaof speakers who will look at creative approaches to closing the gap between economic and environmental considerations.

So far, speakers for the event include:

  • Robert Sandford, Director of the Western Watersheds Research Collaborative and a leading thinker on the impact of climate change on freshwater resources.
  • Elena Bennett, from McGill University, who studies the connection between ecosystem services and human well being.
  •  Terre Satterfield, an anthropologist at UBC, whose work focuses on culture and justice as they influence environmental values.
  •  Daniel Simberloff, from the University of Tennessee, is a leading terrestrial ecologist and expert on the biology of invasive species.
  • Peter Victor, from York University is an economist who works on environmental issues.

The two-day summit will feature presentations by each of these experts and will wrap up with a panel discussion hosted by CBC’s Paul Kennedy (to be broadcast afterward on Kennedy’s award winning program, Ideas). Registration is now open for the Muskoka Summit on the Environment, happening May 8-9 at the Rene Caisse Theatre in Bracebridge. To learn more, visit the Summit site by clicking here.