The mayor has asked me to write the ‘Update from Town Hall’ so she can have a well-deserved break. I’d like to discuss the lessons learned during this incredibly stressful period and why this is so valuable as we move into Stage 3 of our re-opening.
It seems like an eternity since the middle of March when so many directives, changes and orders transpired on a daily basis—closures of community centres, schools, businesses, restaurants, our theatre and more.
I remember our first Zoom meeting and I think we all wondered how this was going to work as it was rather chaotic. Three months later it runs like clockwork. This is not an accident; practice, maybe, but most certainly the consequence of a capable leader who works in the background smoothing the way by providing guidance, leadership, and delegating, always collaboratively to ensure the best outcome.
Under the leadership of our mayor, council has become flexible, adaptive, and willing to make difficult choices even when those choices were often murky. I’d like to credit our Town and District staff with showing a great deal of resilience in supporting all of us as we bumped along.
What I have learned is collaboration is key. Some of the most contentious issues dealt with over the past six months, starting with the floods, have been through a strong collaborative process. Case in point was the joint letter signed by all mayors and the District chair sending a strong message to seasonal residents that we still welcome them in our community but with a great deal of caution. This letter was widely communicated and well received. Municipal collaboration has become ingrained in how we govern in Muskoka. I hope this becomes the new norm as we begin to delve into what’s next.
Since the first days of COVID you heard everyone say, ‘there is no playbook for this’, and indeed this has unequivocally been the case. What is also true is the need for strong leadership. When this all started, it became increasingly apparent we didn’t have all the answers, we had to learn to listen and become educated on what to expect for pandemic planning. We heard ‘listen to the advice of your health experts’ and, thankfully, this advice was taken at the very top and all the way down. We have been fortunate to have had very strong leadership from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and this continues to the present day.
At the time of our first re-opening, council sought direction from representatives of our business community and asked ‘what do you need from us?’ The answer was a resounding appeal to ensure our businesses remained safe for all. Council immediately responded with its support. Further, while the community at large was discussing the necessity of mask wearing, our mayor made her views known in support well before it was required by our health unit, providing much needed guidance.
Our council doesn’t always see eye-to-eye on everything and indeed we’ve had some enthusiastic debates around the virtual table; however, I would like to think that every one of us has had the opportunity to be heard and that has been key in keeping our heads above water as we navigate one of the worst crises in our history.
We have big challenges ahead of us and councillors will be tested on many fronts. Here are just a few:
In just a few days, Town Council will be determining the timing for the construction start of the downtown streetscape project. This decision will not be taken lightly and no doubt leave some businesses uncertain about their future.
At District, we need to implement the resolution supported unanimously to address systemic racism. This includes the promotion of equity and inclusion for all Muskoka residents, and will be supported by a Citizen Advisory Committee.
The District’s Climate Change Action Plan will be tabled. There is hope by some of us that this will be a roadmap towards sustainability in our region. The experiences of dealing with COVID-19 has created an awakening to the possibilities for change to address one of the biggest challenges of our time.
Decisions will be made about the new Fairvern. The new build must be reflective of lessons learned from the devastation in other long-term care facilities. Thankfully, we were spared this heartbreak in Muskoka.
District Council is undertaking a governance review with almost unanimous support for a decrease in the size of council. The path forward is not entirely clear.
The provision of affordable housing is still top of the agenda. Some community members have expressed an interest to step up and be part of the solution. This will require bold decision-making by all of us.
Finally, to all those in our community who have been doing their part: stay safe, be kind and keep up the good work. There is light at the end of this tunnel.
Main image: Photo of Deputy Mayor Nancy courtesy of Nancy Alcock. Town Hall photo by Dawn Huddlestone, Huntsville Doppler.
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