August 29, 2012

Progress still slow in helping the disabled

As published in The Erin Advocate

Since talking is always cheaper than doing, I am always skeptical when governments talk about the need for additional talking. Such was the case when I read MP Michael Chong's announcement of a Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.

I may be a fine one to talk, being in the word trade, but like most people I am not in a position to directly make things better for the disabled. I wrote about this issue in 2010, but strangely, nothing appears to have changed.

Maybe businesses would pay more attention to customers than to columnists. If you were to walk into a downtown store and notice a three or four-inch concrete step, a difficult barrier for anyone in a wheelchair, would you be willing to ask the shopkeeper what could be done about it?

Removing these barriers in some older buildings might present a prohibitive cost, but there are other buildings where relatively inexpensive concrete work could make a big difference.

Municipalities with more than 10,000 people (like Erin) are required to set up an Accessibility Advisory Committee, with a majority of the members having disabilities, according to the Ministry of Community and Social Services. Erin's obligation is being met through an initiative at the County level. Store steps could be a topic for discussion.

Since one in seven people have a disability (one in five by 2036), the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act aims to make the province accessible – by 2025.

The federal government initiative focuses on employment issues, since that falls within their jurisdiction.

"The future of growth and prosperity in Canada is dependent on getting more people into the labour force, including Canadians with disabilities," said Chong. "The Panel is interested in hearing about the various ways employers have recruited and supported employees with disabilities at various stages in their careers, and how these best practices have benefitted their businesses."

This is all well and good, of course, but some disabled folks might be surprised that the Panel is setting out to identify barriers and disincentives to their employment. I thought they were fairly well-known, along with the need for laws and incentives to help change behaviours and attitudes.

An on-line consultation process starts next month, so if you want to participate or get more information, email: panel@hrsdc-rhdcc.gc.ca or go to www.hrsdc.gc.ca, where you can also reach the federal Office for Disability Issues.

On the provincial side, where most disability issues reside, new rules came into effect this year. The Accessibility Standard for Customer Service applies to any person or company that provides goods or services and has one or more employees.

Businesses (and non-profit groups) must now make a plan to accommodate the disabled, including communication, allowing assistive devices and service animals, welcoming support persons and telling customers when accessible services are not available. They must also train their staff to make sure this happens.

Businesses can go to www.ontario.ca/AccessON to find out all the requirements, and run the Compliance Wizard software to help sort it all out.

Other provincial initiatives include mandatory changes to recruitment and hiring processes, and changes to workplace equipment. An emergency plan is already a must, but other measures will not be required until 2015 for the public sector, and 2017 for the private and non-profit sectors.

Some accessibility changes will come through the Building Code, and there will be other standards for the built environment in public spaces, which will apply only to new construction and redevelopment. These will cover not only buildings, but recreational trails, outdoor patios, playgrounds, pedestrian traffic signals and parking lots.

Change may be happening as slow as molasses in January, but at least it is flowing in the right direction.

Councillors could lose pay for breaking Code

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town Council will discuss a new Code of Conduct for themselves next month, which could result in councillors having their pay suspended for up to 90 days if they breach it.

A draft of the Code was presented to Council in April by former Town Manager Lisa Hass, and a revised version came up at the August meeting. Discussion was deferred to the September 25 meeting, but not before Mayor Lou Maieron expressed reservations about such a Code.

He said existing laws are sufficient to regulate local politicians. These include the Municipal Act, the Town's Procedural Bylaw, other Ontario statutes on conflict of interest, elections and privacy, and the Criminal Code. The Code of Conduct is an option that allows municipalities to set further standards.

"A written Code of Conduct helps to ensure that the members of Council share a common basis of acceptable conduct," the draft says. "These standards should serve to enhance public confidence that the Town's elected and appointed representatives operate from a base of integrity, justice and courtesy...It is not intended to replace personal ethics."

Other towns have adopted such Codes, including Caledon, where investigations are done by an Integrity Commissioner. In Erin, it is proposed to have investigations by a "Special Committee made up of persons not directly involved in the complaint". They would review the complaint form, written submissions and background documents, and interview witnesses.

In Caledon, there's a $125 fee for making a complaint, which is refunded so long as the complaint is not frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith. It is also not refunded if it turns out that there was no offence, or that the offence was trivial, unavoidable, or "committed through inadvertence or an error of judgement made in good faith."

The Erin process would include opportunity to resolve the complaint informally. Council would be advised in a confidential report of any formal complaints, but the public would not be informed unless the Committee finds that there was a breach of the Code. Then there would be a public report to the full council, including recommendations on a penalty.

In addition to other consequence imposed by law, the Municipal Act allows these penalties for Code violations: a reprimand; repaying money received; returning a gift or benefit; a requested apology; removal from a local Board or Committee; or suspension of pay for up to 90 days.

Here are some highlights of the proposed provisions:

• Members must not make false or misleading statements.

• Members must not use their influence of office for other than official duties.

• Members must not accept fees or gifts related to their duties, for themselves or their families, unless permitted by various exceptions. These include gifts of social protocol, legal political donations, volunteer work, benefits provided by other governments, and food at community events.

• Confidential information and details of in-camera meetings must not be released, or used for personal gain.

• Town property, equipment, supplies and on-duty staff must not be used for personal purposes, including a re-election campaign.

• "Members shall conduct themselves with decorum at Council...Respect for delegations and for fellow members and staff requires that all members show courtesy and not distract from the business of Council during presentations and when other members have the floor."

• Unless business is legally required to dealt with in closed session, members are to conduct their duties in an "open and transparent manner", so that the public "can view the process and rationale which was used to reach decisions."

• Members are to communicate council decisions accurately to the media and public, even if they disagree with them, in order to maintain respect for and integrity in the decision process. "A member should  refrain from making disparaging comments about Members of Council and Council's processes and decisions."

• No member shall borrow money from any person who regularly does business with the Town (except banks), or accept payment or benefits in exchange for referring business to any person or company.

• Members must show respect for staff and not interfere with their duties.

• "Members shall conduct themselves with appropriate decorum at all times. As leaders in the community, members are held to a higher standard of behaviour and accordingly their behaviour should be exemplary."

August 22, 2012

Seniors group welcomes Erin participants

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin seniors who are looking for a broad range of interesting social activities may want to get involved with the Guelph Wellington Seniors Association (GWSA).

Of course, it does mean getting yourself over to the Evergreen Seniors Community Centre, on Woolwich Street near Speedvale Avenue in Guelph, but for many people, that is not a problem.

More difficult, perhaps, is the prospect of meeting a bunch of people you don't know. But as one the largest seniors associations in Canada, with almost 3,000 members, chances are you will find others with similar interests. The group has a mandate to serve all of Wellington County, so why not take advantage of what is available?

"The more, the merrier," says GWSA representative Pat Gage.

The GWSA mission is: "To empower older adults to be active, to be involved and to age successfully." The membership fee is only $22. Go to www.gwsa-guelph.ca for information, or call the centre at 519-823-1291.

I am not suggesting that anyone ignore the excellent services for seniors offered here in Erin by East Wellington Community Services (EWCS). The Seniors Centre at Centre 2000 is home to the Day Program for frail seniors and those with dementia, as well as a variety of weekly exercise, craft and card-playing events for more active seniors.

There are other local services such as foot care and hearing clinics, day trips, home help and guest speakers. Go to www.eastwellingtoncommunityservices.com for more information.

The Guelph group does things on a scale that is not possible in a small town. They have 90 organized programs, four full-time staff and more than 500 volunteers. They raised half of the $3.2 million needed to build and equip their 25,000 square foot seniors recreation facility, which opened in 1992, and now have an annual budget of more than $500,000. Major funding comes from the Ministry of Health, as well as the United Way, and there are some activity fees.

The centre not only has activity rooms, but a small library, a computer room, a billiards room, a gym/auditorium (with shuffleboard) and a dining room, plus outside activities such as golf, walking, canoeing, skiing and skating.

Courses are offered in everything from Chronic Pain Management to Watercolour Painting, and Yoga to Internet Social Networks.

Programs include a monthly hot lunch for isolated seniors, and senior volunteers who help other seniors find services they need, especially to live independently at home as long as possible. There is nutrition counselling, and the option of weekly in-home visits from a trained volunteer to help with exercise.

A newsletter called The Sentinel comes out 10 times a year, on paper or via download, as a forum for comments and a source of information on seniors issues. They have an on-line newspaper called Take Advantage of Your Seniority, at paper.li/gwsa/1335534623.

GWSA information is also available at gwsaguelph.blogspot.ca, plus Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, Flickr, and of course, Twitter.

Their Twitter feed has 1,492 followers, including me, and it is consistently interesting. My Twitter feed is interesting too, but it has only 33 followers. I guess I need to post more often and promote myself more aggressively.

Maybe I'll get around to that next month. My employer of the last 20 years has just gone into receivership, and I'm not ready to retire, so I've got some more urgent fish to fry.

Skatepark noise angers residents

As published in The Erin Advocate

Loud noise from the newly-installed skateboard ramps near Centre 2000 has sparked a protest to Town council from nearby residents.

Several residents attended last Wednesday's council meeting, saying the noise level is severe on Daniel and Pine Streets, and that activity at the park was going on too late in the evening. OPP officers were on the scene several times to disperse skateboarders and BMX bike riders.

"I feel like my home has been stolen – I can't sleep in my own home," said one resident. "My property has been devalued."

"It is a nightmare," said another. "We need to educate the kids, and the kids' parents."

Council immediately authorized the spending of $21,600 from the skateboard park budget to have sound dampening equipment installed as soon as possible, and instructed staff to investigate options for a constructed or tree-based sound barrier.

Council also voted to limit park use to the hours of 9 am to 9 pm, which will require a change to signs that have been made, but not installed yet.

The sound dampening will include rubberizing the bottoms of the ramps ($5,400) and attaching walls to enclose the open area under the ramps ($16,200). Unlike in some skatepark parks, the Erin ramps are moveable structures sitting atop a flat concrete pad. Concrete ramps would have cost about $150,000 more, which was not considered feasible.

The pad and ramps were recently installed just west of the arena (less than 10 metres from the closest back yards), after many years of community fundraising and council debate, and with the help of a $60,000 Ontario Trillium Grant. The skateboard budget is $160,000, with only about $121,000 spent so far.

The ramps were ready earlier than expected, on the weekend of August 11, and kids were able to use them immediately, even though other elements of the park were not ready.

"It's a huge novelty now," said Centre 2000 Manager Graham Smith. "Right now it's out of control, but there won't be so many kids normally."

Two security cameras are installed in the area and monitored from the arena office, and two more will be installed soon. Smith said arena security lights should remain on in the area, to deter vandalism.

Council asked that signage and a planned 10-foot fence around the pad be installed as soon as possible. Some residents said that the park should not have been open for use until all construction was complete.

"We are reacting as quickly as possible to an unanticipated problem," said Mayor Lou Maieron.

The Town's 2005 Noise Bylaw says: "The people have a right to and should be ensured an environment free from unusual, unnecessary or excessive sound or noise which may degrade the quality and tranquility of their life or cause nuisance."

However, the noise bylaw does not apply to activities that are specifically exempt, including: "Sporting, recreational and entertainment events in public parks, buildings or grounds authorized by the municipality."

Mayor takes heat after forgetting party emails

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron came under scathing criticism at last week's council meeting, after he said he had forgotten about an email informing him in advance about a taxpayer-funded retirement party held in April.

In a June 5 report, the mayor said he had been unable to answer taxpayer questions about a party for former Town Manager Lisa Hass. "Please explain how $5,000 of taxpayers' money was spent on this celebration without Council approval? Without the mayor knowing at all, until he signed cheques?" he wrote, and concluded, "Other than being invited and asked to bring greetings as the Mayor, I was not involved or consulted in this at all."

But an email from three months earlier, from the mayor to Treasurer Sharon Marshall, addressed as Personal and Confidential, was published with the council agenda last week. On March 5, the mayor asked about the planned party:

"Is funding for this coming out of the employee social fund or will it come from the 2012 budget? ...just getting the information as I know I will be asked the Q's...Lisa deserves a wonderful retirement send off. But like anyone else, she had her friends and her foes, and her foes will ask the tough Q's. Being prepared is the good boy scout motto."

Marshall responded the next day, "We do not have a formal, consistent 'party' policy. The scale – and therefore 'costs' – are tailored to the person retiring. The taxpayer pays the cost of any function run by staff – including retirement parties...Where does this end up in a budget? The costs are allocated to "admin misc" if it is for an admin staff (as Lisa is)."

At last week's meeting Maieron said, "I honestly forgot about those two emails."

Councillor John Brennan told the mayor, "The whole thing troubles me. I don't think you handled this as well as you should have. Your report was fraudulent – it wasn't true...I can see why staff would see this as a personal attack.

"You didn't bring forward concerns when you had ample opportunity. The June 5 report was misleading."

Maieron said he had not been misleading, but just forgetful. He complimented Administrative Assistant Connie Cox for doing a great job on the party, but said he had been unaware of the traditions involved and maintained his right to question the cost and lack of clear policy.

Councillor Barb Tocher said staff acted properly and that Maieron could have got more information through discussion with them before launching his public protest.

"You talk about being clear and transparent...but it seems to me you were not doing your homework," she said. The mayor could have suggested the need for a celebration policy, "but the rest of the gobbledygook in that report didn't need to be there."

Council did vote unanimously to have staff work on a celebration policy.

In his latest report to council (submitted in July but deferred to August), the mayor suggests that the three "lady councillors" should not have discussed the retiree's gift. Cox had asked Tocher for advice about the gift, and whether the mayor should be consulted.

Tocher said she later had an informal conversation in the hallway with a councillor about the gift, and that a third councillor walked up and joined the discussion. She said there was no intent to meet behind the mayor's back, but that she was under no obligation to report the conversation to him or the full council.

"These types of non-transparent, un-accountable actions need to stop now," said Maieron, suggesting that the councillors' conversation "could be considered an improper council meeting". He said that it effectively bumped up the value of the gift from the 25-year long-service award level of $250, to a final amount of $676.

The appropriate gift amount is unclear, however, since what Cox called "very extravagant" gifts had been given to retiring department heads in the past. The gift for Hass was a single retirement gift, with the $250 long-service award amount applied towards it. "This enabled me to purchase a suitable gift for Lisa's status without overspending," said Cox, in her June response to the mayor.

In his last report, the mayor says that some taxpayers "state that there seems to be a sense of entitlement and subterfuge in how this event came to be".

Treasurer Marshall says that all the invoices were properly processed as per the Procurement Bylaw, and paid out of amounts designated for celebrations in the budget approved by council.

Councillor Deb Callaghan apologized to staff who were embarrassed by the controversy. "Staff did follow policy. I don't think staff did anything wrong, and there was no intent to mislead council or the public."

Councillor Josie Wintersinger said, "There were errors on both sides to some degree. We'll all take some of the blame and move on."

Maieron summed up the situation in his opening comment of last week's debate: "It's too bad it turned out this way."

Mayor blasts Town in fish farm dispute

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron stepped down from his chair and appeared as a delegation before his own council last week, urging the Town to take action to resolve long-standing problems with land next to his fish farm.

Councillor John Brennan, temporarily chairing the meeting, told Maieron, his wife Karen, and their lawyer Kevin Sherkin, that council would hear the presentation but make no response, due to ongoing legal proceedings.

Silvercreek Aquaculture is located on Mountainview Crescent in Erin village. It is separated from the nearby Erinbrook Subdivison by a 17-acre wooded lot. Stormwater draining from the subdivision has caused serious problems for the fish-raising operation, Sherkin said.

Silvercreek was to be given possession of that land under the terms of an Ontario Municipal Board order, but the deed was never registered, he said, because of problems with use of an easement intended only to allow the developer to monitor drainage.

The Town has now advised that over $30,000 in taxes is owing on the land, and Sherkin said this should be paid by the developer or absorbed by the municipality.

Silvercreek also wants a fence erected, as specified in the OMB decision, said Sherkin. Silvercreek was not properly notified of a change to the subdivision agreement to remove the fencing requirement, he said.

He is also demanding resolution of problems with the drainage system, which he said, "is faulty and is damaging Mr. Maieron's business."

Town applies for infrastructure grants

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town of Erin will apply for federal grants of more than $1 million to offset the cost of the Station Street dam project, repairs to the water tower and new flooring at the Erin arena lobby.

With Station Street in Hillsburgh closed due to instability caused by the adjacent pond, council has authorized temporary work to get the road re-opened. No decision has been made about permanent work to replace the bridge, rebuild the road and rehabilitate the dam, which could cost $2.6 million.

The Town is seeking a grant of $1 million for that project from the Community Infrastructure Investment Fund (CIIF). Funding of 50% is possible in some cases, but the limit is $1 million. Projects for 33.3% funding have priority, said Treasurer Sharon Marshall.

Mayor Lou Maieron was assured by staff that the grant would not lock the Town into a plan of action, and that the grant could be scaled back if a less expensive project is undertaken.

Applications for 33.3% funding are also being made for two other projects. Repair and resurfacing of the interior of the Erin water tower is expected to cost $140,000. Replacement of the lobby flooring in the Erin arena is expected to cost $90,000.

The grant program is for improvements to existing infrastructure, and must be completed by March 2014. A project must be one that would not otherwise have been done by that date without the grant.

August 15, 2012

Hunters, horses and hounds just want to have fun

As published in The Erin Advocate

I went to see the Summer Games last week. Not the big ones in London, but the more informal ones hosted by the Eglinton and Caledon Hunt (ECH), a local club that helps preserve an old English tradition.

An invitation to the event arrived in my mailbox because our property is close to the route for one of their hunts, the woods and farmland in the 10th Concession near 5 Sideroad. For decades I've heard their horns and the cry of hounds, and seen their red jackets off in the distance, but had never met them.

It turns out they are a most hospitable crowd, based at the Caledon Riding Club in The Grange Equestrian Neighbourhood, a beautiful series of farms north of Cheltenham on Creditview Road. And while considerable expertise is needed for the training of hounds, horses and riders, it mainly for social and recreational reasons that they gather.

In the welcome message of the club magazine, Master of Fox Hounds Alastair Strachan says that people are drawn by "the good times, the horsemanship and the privilege of riding across miles of scenic private lands that would otherwise be inaccessible."

The club has taken great care to maintain good relations with landowners, since access is essential for their sport. They ride on the edges of planted fields to avoid damage to crops, and move slowly when they encounter livestock. They used to drop off bottles of wine to landowners, but now they treat them to a nice lunch at events like their Summer Games.

It included a Parade of Foxhounds, a live Mock Hunt, the Mimosa Cup steeplechase and timed race for pairs, and a Relay Race.

Informal hunts are conducted in the Spring and Summer, with the official season in the Fall. The territory ranges from Inglewood to Highway 6, and from Caledon up to Owen Sound. They hunt in two groups, with the first flight of experienced riders jumping fences to follow the hounds closely, and the "hilltoppers" taking a less difficult route.

Since foxes are relatively scarce, they usually find a coyote as quarry. (They do not release an animal to be hunted.) The group is led by a Master of Fox Hounds, with the help of a professional Huntsman (who is also responsible for hound breeding, training and kennel management). Then there are the Whippers-in who herd the pack along the approved route (much like the Whips who manage our parliamentarians).

Coyotes do not enjoy much public support. Many people consider them to be a growing threat, and not nearly as cute as foxes. They are wily as well, and on most hunts are able to elude the hounds – it is usually the sick ones that don't make it.

I have no interest in hunting of any sort, especially the killing of prey for sport rather than out of necessity. Still, I find the culture of it fascinating, and can see the excitement of riding cross-country. As a hound owner, I find these dogs amazing, and of course the horses are magnificent and very talented.

The hunting tradition has generated huge controversy in Great Britain. The hunting of foxes and other mammals was outlawed seven years ago, but supporters have been lobbying to have the ban repealed. The hunt has also been a high-profile symbol of the aristocracy.

ECH is an offshoot of the Toronto Hunt, which was founded in 1843. In 1919, George Beardmore built a new equestrian facility at the corner of Eglinton and Avenue roads, at that time open countryside, and it came to be known as the Eglinton Hunt Club. In 1945 they moved to Leslie and Finch Streets; then in 1963, with Toronto development encroaching on their territory, they moved to Caledon.

It costs about $2,000 for a full adult hunt membership with ECH, much less for younger riders or those who only want to attend social events and post-hunt breakfasts.

The club will be hosting an Old-Time Barn Dance on the Eighth Line of Erin on September 29, billed as "the most fun you can have with your clothes on". More information on the event and other aspects of the club can be found at www.eglintoncaledonhunt.com, or their blog, www.eglintoncaledon.blogspot.ca.

August 08, 2012

Pilgrim helping victims of West African drought

As published in The Erin Advocate

Looking at the brown lawns and stunted crops here in Erin, one gets only a hint of the drought crisis having a more serious impact in other parts of the world.

Some crops here will be covered by insurance, and Ontario has appealed to the federal government for financial help for livestock producers, whose forage crops are often not insured.

Nearly half of US counties have been declared agricultural disaster areas, and there are fears that that food shortages and rising food prices will trigger another recession.

Imagine then what it is like in the Sahel region of West Africa, where low rainfall has devastated crops and raised the spectre of famine for people living near the edge. The stability of some communities was already undermined by migrations of refugees and armed conflict.

Some 18 million people are facing serious food shortages in countries that are totally unfamiliar to most Canadians: Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria and Cameroon. The United Nations and international aid agencies are stepping up emergency relief, but as always seems to be the case, available funding does not come close to meeting the needs.

For a crisis that could require $1 billion in aid, is it worthwhile for an individual Canadian to chip in $25 or $50? The answer, of course, is yes – not only for the real help that an accumulation of small donations will create, but because governments are often spurred into action when individuals care about an issue.

Erin's Heidi Matthews is on a pilgrimage this week, joining a group that each summer since 2002 has walked from the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland – a place that honours early French Jesuit missionaries who introduced Christianity to the Huron Wendat Nation. Their headquarters was the nearby Sainte-Marie among the Hurons fort, the first European community in Ontario, established in 1639.

That mission was led by the martyr for whom the Catholic church in Erin is named, Jean de Br├ębeuf. The Jesuits, who also initially staffed the Erin parish in the early 1960s, have a tradition of advocating for social justice.

Matthews has her own tradition in that field, working for almost 20 years with the national Catholic aid group Development and Peace (D&P). She's also part of the Climate Change Action Group of Erin (CCAGE), which has been warning of the dire consequences of a rapidly warming planet.

Walking on pilgrimage to a holy place is an ancient tradition, with a difficult physical journey intended to enhance a person's spiritual journey. The group is hiking 15-30 km per day this week, camping at conservation areas, church back yards and farms, and uniting with other Ontario groups for a mass arrival of up to 1,000 people at the shrine this Saturday.

The walk is intended as a spiritual exercise, with various meditation themes and time set aside for reading, singing and prayer. But when she heard about the emerging crisis in West Africa, Matthews decided to ask people to sponsor her, with all donations going to D&P. She was surprised to raise $2,300 for the cause, including $500 from the Rotary Club of Erin.

"I was flabbergasted – I didn't expect to see that," said Matthews, who has been training with daily walks alternating between 25 and 10 km, mainly on the Elora-Cataract Trailway. She notes that there is a "wimp wagon" on the trek, a vehicle for those who need relief from blisters or body pains.

While a drought may be considered partly a natural disaster, she said the suffering that ensues from disruption of the food system is a failure of government and business.

"Who suffers the most? It's the poor people," she said.

In May, D&P targeted $5 million to specific regions, working with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a partnership of 15 churches and church agencies striving to end global hunger. They later expanded their response, with an appeal for donations supported by Canada's bishops. D&P distributes both food and seeds, and supports programs to improve agricultural production and nutrition.

“Our local partners are able to go where the needs are greatest and where communities are most vulnerable,” said Guy Des Aulniers, Emergency Relief Programs Officer at D&P. “Their local knowledge and expertise allow us to monitor the situation closely and support effective programs."

At this point, Matthews requests that people donate through the Development and Peace website, www.devp.org/en – or through other agencies that focus on long-term self-sufficiency for developing nations in the global south.

August 01, 2012

Province takes control of home care agency

As published in The Erin Advocate

Reports from health authorities are normally pretty dry, filled with statistics and vague promises of progress. Recent ones surrounding accusations of erratic service at our regional home care agency, however, have taken on a more dramatic tone.

Tension has been high between the Waterloo Wellington Community Care Access Centre (WWCCAC), which coordinates nursing and other in-home care to the sick and elderly, and the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (WWLHIN), which provides direction and provincial funding to area hospitals and the WWCCAC.

Here are some excerpts from press releases and public reports, which tell at least the surface highlights of this story.

"WWCCAC announces the departure of (Chief Executive Officer) Kevin Mercer effective Monday, July 16, 2012. The Board of Directors thanks Kevin for his contributions to the organization and extends their best wishes to him as he pursues new opportunities in the future."

Did he resign? Did he get a generous severance package? Is it any of our (the taxpayers') business?

Ministry of Health, July 13, 2012: "Ontario has appointed Brenda Flaherty as supervisor for the Waterloo Wellington Community Care Access Centre to address leadership, governance and operational issues...The appointment comes in response to a recommendation by the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network Board based on the findings of a recent organizational review and report.

"(She) will work to implement the report’s recommendations and will ensure that CCAC clients in Waterloo Wellington receive quality care, better access and value for their health care dollars. As Supervisor, Ms. Flaherty will report directly to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care."

Is the minister embarrassed at having to get personally involved in this mess? In February, the ministry refused to intervene, when requested to do so by the WWCCAC.

Minister Deb Matthews: "We take the findings of the organizational review and the recommendation of the LHIN Board very seriously. I have full confidence in Brenda Flaherty’s leadership. She has my full support to make necessary changes that will ensure sound management...”
 
A WWLHIN Briefing Note, July 4, 2012, says an extra $3 million was given to WWCCAC over the last two years to "accelerate its own transformation". But, "by the end of summer 2011, the WWCCAC started communicating that it would need yet more financial resources to meet service demand, or it would have to reduce services. This was the third consecutive year the WWCAC had sent the same message, at approximately the same time, to the WWLHIN."

There were extensive discussions surrounding a Performance Improvement Plan, but it appears the WWCCAC board was at odds with its own staff and did not have adequate control. The WWLHIN found the WWCCAC reform proposals inadequate and hired an outside consultant to review the matter.
 
Consultant's Report, June 21, 2012: "The review team concludes that a failure of leadership at the highest levels within the WWCCAC resulted in a degree of organizational disfunction with regard to its role in the larger system in Waterloo Wellington, especially with regard to its formal relationship with the WWLHIN.

"Services restrictions were put in place with virtually no advanced notice to the provider community [nursing companies], and some patients were immediately impacted in terms of their ability to access care. Later, when WWCCAC determined it would end the year in a surplus position, restrictions were lifted and providers were asked to increase volumes...but found it difficult to respond on short notice.

"The Provider Community describes this as a situation that has occurred repeatedly... and they clearly state that it has had a direct impact on patient care, access and ultimately quality. This situation could have been avoided or at least mitigated through more contemporary and thoughtful processes on the part of senior leaders."

The Guelph Mercury reports that CEO Mercer sent a letter to providers, asserting that variations in client care were "well communicated at all appropriate authorities".

Is it too much to expect that the province ensure firm control and fair sharing of health care dollars, and efficient resolution when problems arise? This situation went on far too long, and similar ones probably exist in other parts of the province. There seems to be a culture of entitlement within agencies, which does not serve the public good, and responsibility goes right to the top.

LHINs were created in 2005 to allow local decision-making and improve public accountability. But they've been slammed by Conservatives, such as local MPP Ted Arnott, as another expensive layer of bureaucracy between government and the public. It will be interesting to see if they survive.