May 30, 2012

County seeks input on economic development

As published in The Erin Advocate

Wellington wants to be more competitive in attracting investment and tourists, and is looking for ideas from local businesses and residents.

"The County of Wellington has decided to step up and develop a strategic plan to help map out our economic future," said Warden Chris White in a statement on the 2012 budget. It has $100,000 for new economic development initiatives, including $75,000 for a strategic plan to be done with Waterloo Wellington Community Futures.

"We must move off of our dependency on residential property tax and expand our commercial and industrial base."

In January, county council set up a formal Economic Development Committee, including Erin Councillor Ken Chapman. The new Economic Development Officer, Jana Reichert, formerly of Community Futures, has been discussing Erin's situation with Mayor Lou Maieron.

"I hope Erin sees me as a resource," said Reichert. "I can help you connect with investors, try to get funding for new initiatives and see what the priorities are."

Erin's efforts in this area are in disarray at the moment. The Town's volunteer-based Economic Development Committee had started a survey on the equine industry. But Chair Brian Gentles recently resigned, citing lack of support and direction from town council, and the committee has been temporarily dissolved.

Mayor Maieron has been pushing to have Economic Development as a Council Committee, with the ability to take more aggressive action to boost local business.

In the meantime, Erin residents and business people can contribute to the County's strategic plan. It includes an economic analysis of Wellington, identifying industries that will drive the regional economy, developing growth projections for them and developing strategies to boost employment.

Direct comments can be made at the website:, in the Have Your Say section.

Everyone is welcome to attend an Erin Focus Group on Wednesday, June 13, 9-11 a.m. at Centre 2000, to exchange ideas. Refreshments will be provided.

The website also has a link to an on-line survey. Naturally, it asks about the various positive things in Wellington, and there are many. More interesting is the section in which people can describe the opportunities (i.e., problems) that exist. The county cannot solve them all, but they can be part of a collaborative effort.

Here's what I wrote in the opportunity section of the survey:

• A consistent, long-term publicity effort is needed to enhance Wellington's image among potential business investors.

• Moderate population growth and immigration is needed to build the workforce and improve the consumer base for local retailers.

• Good quality cell-phone reception is needed in all rural areas.

• True high-speed internet is needed in all rural areas. The County's Rural Broadband project was inadequate in Erin.

• The County roads system needs to provide truck bypass routes for major bottlenecks, such as the downtown area of Erin village.

• A better network of bike lanes is needed on County Roads, through the Active Transportation Plan, plus a better network of off-road trails.

• Adequate ambulance service is needed in Erin, for residents and businesses. Thirty-minute waits are unacceptable.

• Land acquisition funding is needed, as in Halton and Peel, to create more Conservation Areas.

• More high-profile cultural events are needed to attract tourists.

My final comment is that economic development is too important to be left as an optional activity for municipalities. The Wellington Economic Development Strategy should guide local strategies.

The County should set some minimum standards to ensure that each municipality does a good job of promoting itself, and that the efforts are coordinated to promote the regional economy.

May 23, 2012

Escape to local forests and trails

As published in The Erin Advocate

Do you ever need to escape the well-trodden sidewalks, the din of cars and trucks and the straight lines of buildings? There are public tracts of forest in the Erin area set aside for just that purpose.

In addition to popular routes such as the Woollen Mills Trail (off Millwood Road in Erin village) and the Elora Cataract Trailway, there are trails on parcels of rural land maintained by Wellington County and the conservation authorities. No hunting, no dirt bikes, no snowmobiles, no bicycles – just walkers, and dogs.

The trails don't lead anywhere special, apart from the wilderness along the way. They are simple paths winding through land where the terrain is too irregular for farming.

The Robert Baker Forest Conservation Area is located at Winston Churchill Boulevard and Grange Sideroad, with 90 acres of woodlands and wetlands maintained by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC).

The access point is .4 km from the corner along Grange, and a small network of trails undulates past a series of ponds. Some are bright green and bursting with obvious life, while others are like black mirrors, reflecting the sky in shades of blue that are richer than the sky itself.

The trees are a mix of cedar and spruce, with stands of birch and maple. There are no direction signs, and if you want to walk a 30-minute loop, the trail is a bit easier to follow going clockwise. In the opposite direction, the turn-offs to the left are not always obvious. You may end up at a fence on Winston Churchill instead of back at Grange – not lost, just needing to retrace your steps.

The area is named for Bob Baker, a CVC forester from 1970 to 2000, who was involved in the planting of more than 5 million trees. He now operates a forestry service on the Ninth Line of Erin.

The Peacock Tract is a Wellington County Forest, near the communications tower on Trafalgar Road, 1.3 km north of County Road 50 (the former Peacock Sideroad). The trail goes past wetlands and mossy rock outcrops, as it cuts behind neighbouring properties.

Softwoods dominate at first, but further in there is a wide open maple bush. The whole loop takes about 40 minutes, or a bit longer if you are walking an unruly hound, with a tendency to dash off after scents and wrap her leash line around trees.

 The Ospringe Tract, managed by the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA), is located on the Fourth Line of Erin, .7 km south of County Road 124 (turn at Denny's).

On a sunny winter's day you can hear the water gurgling under the ice as it drains away from the cattails. You can hear the trees crackling in the cold and see the trails of deer and coyote tracks in the fields nearby, with sweeping views of undulating farmland and scrubland.

Most of it is natural growth forest, but a small section was reforested many years ago, with the conifers towering over 80 feet tall. This hike also takes about 40 minutes.

Another forest managed by the GRCA is the Johnson Tract, located on the Second Line of Erin, just south of the Garafraxa Town Line. For more details, see the Erin Insight column from May 4, 2011, at

Also worth a visit is Scotsdale Farm, a beautiful piece of land just south of Ballinafad, which has been open to the public since 1982. Stewart and Violet Bennett lived there for 40 years, raising Arabian horses and Shorthorn cattle. Stewart was President of the Beardmore Tannery in Acton, Vice-President at Canada Packers and President of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

The couple bequeathed their 219 hectare farm to the Ontario Heritage Foundation to ensure its protection. (They also donated $1.3 million to the Georgetown Hospital, which created the Bennett Centre for seniors.)

Archeological evidence of an Iroquoian village from the 1500s has been found on the land. The original farm homestead was built in 1836 and the barn is at least 130 years old. The farm has been used as the setting for several movies and The Campbells TV series, and as a conference centre. The Bruce Trail runs through the property, which features a moraine, escarpment outcrops, forests, wetlands and pastures.

The farm is suitable for picnics, exploring with children and hiking. The 3.9 km Bennett Heritage Side Trail branches off from the Bruce Trail just south of the entrance to Scotsdale, and goes between the farm buildings. It crosses a small dam on Snow's Creek, which flows south and east from Ballinafad. All streams in this area drain to the Credit River at Norval.

The Bennett trail meets the Eighth Line, where you could cut south, and use the Maureen Smith Side Trail join the main Bruce Trail, and loop back to Trafalgar. Or you could follow the Bennett trail farther east as it crosses Owl Creek, then runs beside Silver Creek, ending up at 27 Sideroad. This creates a much longer loop back to Trafalgar, so check the posted maps, or download one (Google "bruce trail bennett") before you set out.

There are hiking videos available on YouTube for Scotsdale, the Peacock Tract and the Johnson Tract, posted by

May 16, 2012

Solmar would pay for initial sewage plant

As published in The Erin Advocate

Solmar is pressing ahead with plans for more than 600 new homes in the north end of Erin village, inviting public comments and promising to pay for the initial phase of a sewage treatment plant.

"We've been very patient," said Maurizio Rogato, a planner with Solmar Development Corp., who hosted a public meeting last week at the Legion hall. "Your input is actually important."

It was an informal session to explain the initial concept and allow residents to ask questions – not part of the legal planning process. New housing has been on hold for the past five years while Erin has studied growth and sewage issues with its Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP).

Solmar plans to file its development application with the Town of Erin very soon, for the 300 acres they own between Dundas Street and County Road 124, from the Deer Pit to the wooded area east of the 10th Line. They are planning a mix of commercial, employment (industrial) and residential development.

The exact number of homes has not been determined, but Rogato expects it to be "upwards of 600". That would mean a significant increase in the population of Erin village, which now has about 3,000 people. County projections show growth to about 4,400 by the year 2031, but it could be higher.

"There is a need for jobs, and a need for housing for young people and seniors," he said.

(Maurizio Rogato of Solmar explains plans at public meeting.)

The area will be developed in stages, with a mix of densities to include detached homes, semi-detached and townhomes, said Rogato, but not likely any high-rise apartment buildings. Some housing is designated as "affordable," including a section for seniors.

The County guideline is six homes per acre, but that is a county-wide average, so a lower number could be negotiated for Erin.

"It will be denser than you're used to," said Rogato. "There are density regulations that we have to abide by – it's not our choice."

No subdivisions can be built until the SSMP is complete, possibly next winter. Solmar is starting its application now, to run concurrent with the SSMP, since the initial phase of the planning process is expected to take two years.

A sales program could then start. But provincial policy requires sewers for new housing developments, and there is a need to find an alternative to aging septic systems and holding tanks for existing buildings, so it could be several years before anything actually happens.

"Instead of only providing servicing capabilities for our lands, we would build a modular facility," he said. "The Town could decide – we don't want municipal services here. But should the Town decide one day to have those, it could be accommodated through the modular facility...There will be enormous setback requirements. It won't be in the middle of someone's neighbourhood."

No plans have yet been made for the waste facility, but Rogato's "guess" is that Solmar would spend about $3 million on it, including service for the non-residential area. It has not been decided whether it will be on the developer's land, or further downstream in the village. CVC will have to determine whether the West Credit River can handle the discharge, and approve a preferable location.

"Modular" means that a small plant could be built to handle sewage primarily from the new development, plus some capacity for other village properties in urgent need of sewage service. There would also be treatment for local septage – the waste pumped out of septic tanks, and the holding tanks behind downtown businesses. The septage component would be at the Town's expense, said Rogato.

The Town would likely assume ownership and responsibility for the plant, just as it does with other infrastructure such as roads.

The plant could later be expanded by the Town to handle more waste, as a sewage system is phased in throughout the urban areas. The cost of a full plant is not known, but informal estimates put it at more than $50 million.

Actual work on sewers has to wait not only for the SSMP, but for an additional environmental assessment on the treatment plant itself. Even then it could take decades to hook up most of the urban areas, since some homes have septic systems that are relatively new.

"We will never get the whole town on sewers," said County Councillor Ken Chapman.

The Solmar land had been owned by Duncan Armstrong, Reeve of Erin Township from 1987 to 1994. Just before the development restrictions of the Green Belt legislation were to take effect in 2005, Town Council added the land to the Erin village urban area, opening it up for future growth. It was owned by Mattamy Homes, and then by Solmar.

"These lands are slated for development," said Rogato. "The conversation isn't so much 'when' or 'if' the lands develop. The more important conversation is 'how'. What is the outcome, what is the desired community input?"

Some at the meeting were not happy with the prospect of significant growth, with one audience member saying to Rogato, "It doesn't matter what we say, you are going to go ahead with this and make it work."

Rogato said that while Solmar is pressing ahead, it hopes to do so in a "cooperative" manner and that the entire development is likely to produce a financial gain for the municipality. People are welcome to contact the company for information or to make comments by email: Solmar is a Canadian company based in Concord, which has developed residential, commercial and industrial projects over the last 25 years.

"For me, the most important part of the plan is the employment lands, because that's going to be sustainable, that's a long-term approach for Erin," said Rogato, noting that the Town's help will be needed to attract business to these lands. "That's a tax base that the Town can count on, that's jobs that the public can count on. And the only way you are going to get good employment lands to function well is to have them properly serviced."

Of the 300 acres owned by Solmar, only 125 acres would be residential. The plan also includes 40 acres of employment (industrial) land, 12 of commercial development along County Road 124, 40 of wooded greenspace with trails, 15 of parks, 15 for a school site and three for a place of worship.

Another 14 acres is marked as a Stormwater Management Pond. This is located next to the public land of the Deer Pit, which was recently regraded to enable stormwater drainage. The water travels through a pipe under the Elora-Cataract Trailway, just south of the Solmar land, down the 10th Line and into a tributary of the West Credit River.

The homes will have at least R2000 energy efficiency, but Rogato is not sure it will be feasible to build them to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard. LEED is an international building certification program, focusing on sustainable site development, water and energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environment quality.

"We're interested in affordable solutions," he said. "But we are committed to some form of environmental development."

SSMP finally finishes background study

As published in The Erin Advocate

Three years after the first public meeting for the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP), the Town's consultants have produced a Background Report and a Problem/Opportunity Statement, which were presented at a second public meeting last week.

About 150 residents came to the Shamrock Room at Centre 2000 on Tuesday, many with questions about sewers and new subdivisions. Project Manager Matt Pearson of B.M. Ross described the research done so far, at a cost of more than $300,000, but could not give definite answers to many of the concerns about infrastructure improvements.

"You're not going to hear what it costs – we're not there," he said. "That's what's important to a lot of people, is dollars, but we're not going to talk about that because we don't have anything, so that might be a bummer."

The SSMP is an Environmental Assessment being done by the Town of Erin, at the insistence of Credit Valley Conservation and the Ministry of the Environment. One of the goals is to eliminate dependence on aging septic systems in the urban areas of Erin village and Hillsburgh. New subdivisions and downtown redevelopment are on hold until the study is done.

Issues such as how to phase in a sewer system, where to located a sewage treatment plant and whether the West Credit River can handle the discharge from a plant, have not been studied yet. Costs are dependent on technology choices that have not yet been studied, and on the level of financial support that senior levels of government might provide.

Phase 1 was only intended to gather information about the community and the local environment. The study now enters Phase 2, in which B.M. Ross will continue to consult with the public, the Liaison Committee and agencies such as CVC, studying strategies for the next 25 years.

There will be engineering work to develop a series of possible solutions for sanitary sewers, water supply and storm water – along with criteria for evaluating the alternatives.

There will be another public meeting, and council will have to choose one of the solutions in order to complete the study. Pearson said this could all be accomplished in the next 10 months. In 2009, the total study cost was estimated at $420,000.

A sewage plant would require its own Environmental Assessment, after the SSMP is done. And while Solmar Developments will soon start the planning process for a subdivision and commercial / employment lands north of Centre 2000, actual construction cannot take place until the SSMP is done and a sewage strategy is adopted. 

"They are going to pay their share," said Pearson. "They're not going to pay your share. But the bigger things are, the more efficient you can do them. They're developers. They're in the business to build lots, sell them and make money. But they have rules to follow, so they're not going to be building a sewage plant tomorrow or for a couple of years.

"The Town wants to work with them, to say 'Can we do something together? Can we get some of this kick-started? How do we share in the costs? How do we share in the benefits?"

More information and opportunity for input is available on-line at, or by contacting Pearson at, 1-888-524-2641. Previous Advocate coverage can be read at (search SSMP or click on Sewers label).

Pearson reminded people that a majority of the urban lots, many in the older core areas, are too small under current regulations for replacement of a basic septic system. If a system fails, even on a medium-sized lot with municipal water, a more expensive tertiary (or proprietary) system may have to be installed.

"When you start talking 25,000 bucks for a proprietary system, you want to have alternatives," he said.

In 1995, the cost of a proposed sewage plant, for Erin village only, was estimated at $25 million. An environmental assessment was undertaken, but the plan was abandoned due to the cost and community opposition.

People are speculating that it now could cost well over $50 million for a plant to serve Erin village, plus sewage pumped down from Hillsburgh. When someone suggested $100 million, Pearson said he didn't think it would be that high.

It would also be built to treat local septage – the waste pumped from septic tanks and holding tanks, which is currently spread on farm fields or trucked long distances to other plants.

"You want to build big enough, so you're not back there looking at expanding them too early," he said. "You want to build them expandable if you can, but you don't want to overbuild them. It's a trick, it's a crystal ball thing using best available information...There's a pent-up demand for housing here."

He said there is plenty of local land in the urban areas to meet the county's population targets, but "probably not" enough to meet the economic demand of people wanting to live in Erin.

"I don't think you're going to develop a lot of facilities without some government help – it's just not affordable from scratch," he said. "With a plan like this, you shop it around for grants. That's the mayor's role, council's role. Grants come out all the time. You have to be in place with a plan and an argument to get your share."

He said grants normally cover two-thirds of the cost, with the balance divided among the homes that are served. The debt would be repaid over several years.

Homeowners will be obliged to pay their share of sewage system construction. But Pearson will recommend that if they have a good septic system, they may not have to pay the cost of hooking up to the sewer for a certain number of years. There could also be situations where a failed septic system is replaced with a holding tank until the sewers are ready.

He warned against a piecemeal system, or allowing both public and private waste handling over the long term. That could be more expensive overall, and create problems with property values and perceptions of fairness.

He said they could identify the cost of replacing all the regular septic systems with tertiary ones. They are meeting with the Ministry of the Environment to determine the standards for the quality of the effluent that can be discharged into the river. He said the discharge standards are "really, really high" and if Erin can't meet them, then tertiary systems could be a fall-back strategy.

Key statements

The SSMP Vision Statement was developed two years ago, while the Problem/Opportunity Statement was recently approved by council, and presented to the public for the first time last week. Together, they are intended to guide the study process. Here is the text of each.

Vision Statement

The Town of Erin will remain a vibrant, safe and sustainable community, located at the Headwaters of the Credit and Grand Rivers. The Town will continue to capitalize on its proximity to large urban centres, while maintaining its excellent community spirit.

With a strong employment base, and a range and mix of housing, a higher percentage of the residents will work and continue to live within the Town of Erin. Visitors will enjoy the small-town atmosphere, unique shops and surrounding rural charm. Through responsible development and servicing, the Town's rich natural environment will be protected and preserved.

Problem/Opportunity Statement

Presently, the Town of Erin lacks a long term, comprehensive strategy for the provision of water and wastewater servicing in the villages of Erin and Hillsburgh. The following limitations are associated with the current status of servicing within the Town's urban areas:


• Wastewater is treated exclusively by private, on-site wastewater treatment systems. Within the Built Boundary of the settlement areas (Hillsburgh and Erin Village), private property investment and redevelopment is restrained by increasingly stringent setbacks required for septic systems, small lot sizes and the presence of private wells. Additionally, there are limited facilities in the area accepting septage from private systems for treatment.

• The settlement areas (Hillsburgh and Erin Village) have been identified as areas of modest growth under the Places to Grow Act and by Wellington County population projections. At present, the servicing infrastructure is inadequate to meet future demand to 2035. Lots sized to include septic systems will not allow for projected future development to occur in a manner consistent with the need for smaller, less-expensive homes in the community as identified in the Vision Statement.


• Partial water servicing in Erin Village and Hillsburgh limits the operational and cost efficiency of the systems and inhibits redevelopment and future development.

• The capacity of the existing system will need to be augmented to address current limitations and the needs of future development.

Stormwater Management/Transportation

• The West Credit River currently shows impacts from urban stormwater drainage, resulting from limited stormwater management infrastructure. Given existing impacts and potential future impacts related to development, there is a need to assess existing and future stormwater management and transportation infrastructure planning strategies.

The Town of Erin Official Plan outlines a community-based process for completing a Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) to address servicing, planning and environmental issues within the Town. The SSMP study area includes Erin Village and Hillsburgh, as well as the lands between and surrounding the villages.

Under the Master Plan approach, infrastructure requirements are assessed in conjunction with existing and future land uses using environmental planning principles over extended time-periods and geographic areas. Servicing scenarios are evaluated using environmental, technical and financial sustainability lenses to define a preferred strategy.

From community input and feedback, a Vision Statement outlining the community's ideas for the future of the Town, has been developed. The Vision Statement will serve as a guide throughout the SSMP process, assuring the development of the SSMP is consistent with the community's goals for the future.

The first phase of the Master Plan process is the definition of a Problem/Opportunity statement. This statement serves to provide guidance and direction during the development of alternative community planning and servicing strategies during the second phase of the SSMP process.

May 09, 2012

Follow me on Twitter, use #erintown hashtag

As published in The Erin Advocate

I promise I will never tweet about what I'm having for dinner, what I'm buying at the store or my views on the Maple Leafs, even if they were to make the playoffs. For better or worse, my tweets will always be connected to Erin, just like this column.

This is an invitation to follow me on Twitter. It's a way for me to publish brief bits of information, plus photos and interesting links.

I am a latecomer to Twitter, having just signed up during the winter while I was laid off from my regular job. I'm back to work now, but just three days a week, so I still have lots of time to poke around town looking for things to write about.

Twitter is free, easy to use and helps build up bonds of common interest. You just sign up at, register yourself with a brief profile, and start sending tweets - blurbs of text limited to 140 characters.

This creates a feed of messages that will be available to people who have chosen to "follow" you.

Your Twitter page will have three main lists: your tweets, an ongoing stream of tweets from people or organizations that you are following, and the people who are following you.

If you get tired of someone's tweets (even mine), just click "unfollow" and they stop coming. That's what I've done with people who treat Twitter as a diary of their mundane daily activities.

You don't actually have to tweet anything if you don't feel like it - you could use the site just to read tweets from those you are following.

If you receive a tweet that you think others would enjoy, you can "re-tweet" it out to your followers. You can also send a tweet reply directly back to the sender.

A word of warning: tweets are much more public than emails. They are more like a broadcast. Unless you make your account private with a password, you can't control who follows you, or how they might re-tweet your messages. If you say nasty things about other people, the messages could be traced back to you and land you in legal hot water.

It's not very private. People who follow you can look at your home page and see all your tweets, followers and who you've chosen to follow. It's a social network, a crowded place, with 140 million active users sending 340 million tweets and 1.6 billion search queries every day.

Like anything else on the internet, some of the content can be considered offensive, slanted or boring.

But if you are interested in Erin issues, please consider following me. I only tweet a few times per week, and I promise accuracy, fairness and a reasonable attempt at interesting, just as with the column.

The other suggestion I have is a "hashtag", which is enabled by the search-ability of the system.
If Twitter users in Erin want their messages to be easily found by others in Erin, it is as easy as using the same unique word in every tweet, starting with the # symbol.

I suggest that the hashtag be #erintown. I have started putting it into my tweets.

If you click on the term, or put it into the Twitter search field, you will get a listing not only of my tweets, but the tweets of anyone else who uses the term.

You can use #erintown in your text, instead of the word Erin, or just tag it on at the end. The effect will be like a community bulletin board or forum.

It is important to note that I am not in charge of it. I have only suggested a hashtag, something that anyone could do. Apart from my own tweets, I cannot moderate or control the content in any way. People are fully responsible for what they put in their own tweets. If I don't like what's on this resulting list of tweets, I will simply stop using the hashtag.

Looking at the positive possibilities, though, it could be a way to promote Erin events and businesses, and a way for people to make comments about local issues of interest.

Of course, if you want to write more than 140 characters, you could start your own blog or plaster the town with posters, but a traditional Letter to the Editor is still the best option.

I will also be using my Twitter account to promote this column, and to link people with my blog, where I re-publish my writing after it appears in the paper.

The technology for building a stronger community is out there, and it's free. Let's use it.

May 02, 2012

Political parties need a democratic shake-up

As published in The Erin Advocate

Canada's political system needs a good shake-up to make party leaders more accountable to elected members and the constituents they represent.

The reforms to question period proposed by Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong would be a good start. They would remove the right of leaders to completely control who asks questions, and encourage a more intelligent exchange of ideas in parliament, as detailed in last week's column.

People with power, of course, will want to retain it. More drastic changes will take some serious pressure from those who ultimately hold it and delegate it to politicians – Canadian voters.

Chong may be a Conservative, but his proposals for change are radical in the best sense of the word. They would help restore faith in a system that has fallen into disrepute.

He is seeking a change in law to remove the requirement that party leaders give written approval for every election candidate.

"We are the only western democracy to have that provision," said Chong during last year's election campaign. "We need to take that power away from party leaders and give it to the local riding associations to restore grassroots democracy."

That comment touched a nerve, earning him an outburst of applause from an otherwise quiet crowd at an all-candidates meeting in Erin.

If ordinary members of a party felt they had more power over policy and candidate selection, it would encourage participation in the political system. Precautions would have to be put in place, however, to ensure that a local nomination could not be hijacked by a last-minute surge of new members.

Once MPs are elected, they deserve the protections of democracy within their parties. Under the current system, if an MP behaves poorly or does not follow the party line, the leader can decide to eject them from the caucus. If forced to sit as an independent, an MP's participation in parliament is severely limited.

"Caucus membership should be a determination of the whole caucus on a secret ballot vote, and not of one leader," said Chong. He also believes caucuses should have the right to trigger a leadership race by a secret ballot vote.

"When you know that the leader no longer has the power to kick you out of your caucus, when you as a group of backbench members have significant say over the leadership of your caucus, and when you know that the leader can't deny you your party nomination in an election, it empowers you to vote much more freely on many bills," he said in an interview.

Chong also supports reform to create an elected Senate, but it is not his priority: "Before we introduce democracy into the Senate, we ought to restore it to the House of Commons."

He will continue to promote these reforms to fellow MPs in the coming years, but what he really needs is the support of the prime minister and cabinet.

"If you put these three reforms into place, you are restoring our parliamentary system of government to what it once was in Canada – these are not revolutionary reforms," he said. "You're not stripping the leaders of their power, you are simply rebalancing. The unwritten aspects of our constitution have been abused too often in the last half century, to the benefit of the party leadership and to the detriment of democracy."

Leaders such as Preston Manning and Paul Martin have campaigned with promises of democratic reform, said Chong, but been unable to effect lasting change.

"Too often in the past, the best of intentions and the best of commitments have been made, only to fall by the wayside once the party gets into power."

If a single party attempts to reform itself by allowing more free votes for MPs and giving them greater freedom to express the views of constituents, it is often portrayed in the media as disorganized, undisciplined and off-message, thus ceding an advantage to other parties.

"The only way this is really going to work is if we make the changes in law," he said. "If you force them down on all parties, then no one party can claim advantage. The euphemism of being disciplined is really stripping MPs of their right to represent their constituents by freely expressing their views."

150 sign bottled water petition

As published in The Erin Advocate

A petition opposing the Nestlé Waters application to continue extracting water in Hillsburgh was signed by about 150 people in Erin last week.

It was part of a film night at the Legion hall, organized by the Climate Change Action Group of Erin (CCAGE). The Fast Forward Film Festival was presenting Bottled Life, documenting the efforts of community groups in several countries to stop or control water taking by Nestlé.

The petition was to have been presented at last week's Town Council meeting, but was not. The Town has no authority over water extraction, but does have the ability to comment on the application.

Councillor Barb Tocher had asked about the application at the April 24 council meeting. Town Manager Lisa Hass said it is currently being reviewed by hydrogeological consultant Ray Blackport, who will submit a report to council.

Councillors will discuss how they want to approach Nestlé's application once they receive that report. In response to another question from Councillor Tocher as to when the Town had to submit its comments, Hass said the MOE generally allowed the Town plenty of time to do so.

"We love our Town of Erin water! Please keep it here," the petition says. "We have excellent water and water services in the Town of Erin; hence I oppose the extraction of bulk water by Nestlé Waters for the purpose of transporting it by tanker truck 50 kilometres to Aberfoyle, Ontario for filling in plastic bottles."

The statement also supports a request for a review of Ontario's water permit system, saying it does not conform to Ontario's Statement of Environmental Values. CCAGE and Friends of Hillsburgh Water are urging people to show support for such a review by emailing Environment Minister Jim Bradley at

The ministry relies on Nestlé to test water levels and quality, and no significant impacts have been found. The permit would allow a spike pumping rate of 1,135 litres per minute, taking up to 1.1 million litres per day. The normal rate is 25 per cent of that.

"I think it's crap that Nestlé monitors its own water," said one audience member at last week's meeting. "An unbiased report is needed."

Citizens have until May 20 to submit comments on water issues related to the Nestlé application. Go to and enter registry number 011-6182. Click on the item, then on the Submit Comment button to the right.

Some residents wary of well protection

As published in The Erin Advocate

Some Erin residents are skeptical about a new effort to protect municipal wells by regulating activity on nearby properties.

About 20 people came to hear a presentation and ask questions at an information session last week, hosted by the CTC Source Protection Region, a new agency dedicated to protecting drinking water.

The current plan affects only municipal wells, but Chair Susan Self said protection may be extended to private wells in the future.

Attention is now focused on maps showing red zones close to municipal wells. These areas, which include farmland and homes with septic systems, are considered vulnerable to contamination that could affect the water supply. The new protection is part of the Clean Water Act, resulting from the inquiry into fatal well contamination in Walkerton in 2000.

There are two Hillsburgh wells, one northwest of the village on Trafalgar Road, the other near Victoria Park. Erin village has two active wells near 17 Sideroad and Eighth Line. The Bel-Erin well, just south of County Road 124 on the Ninth Line, is not currently in use, but it has the largest red zone, encompassing more than 100 homes to the south.

Some residents are concerned about inspections of their property, which may cost them up to $200. If forced to replace a septic system, they may need to install a larger-capacity system to meet today's higher standards.

"These changes in my opinion would make marginal improvements at enormous cost," said Dave Dorman, who lives in the Bel-Erin red zone, in a written submission to the agency. "It is difficult for the local homeowners (in the Red Zone) to feel good about spending their monies on source water protection when this well was put out of service 9 years ago."

Erin Water Superintendent Frank Smedley said the Bel Erin well is a valuable Town asset, and he would not want to decommission it unless necessary. It still has good water quality, though the sodium content is high, and a new filter system would be needed to bring it back on-line. One or two additional municipal wells may have to be drilled as the population of Erin village increases, he said.

Construction of a sewage system would eliminate issues surrounding septic systems in urban areas. A public meeting about sewage and future development will be held on Tuesday, May 8, at 7 p.m., in the Shamrock Room at Centre 2000.

Detailed maps and more information about  Source Water Protection can be accessed at, and on paper at the Erin library. Background on the new system was published in the April 18 Advocate, and can be read at

Periodic septic inspections in red zones are expected to be carried out by the local building inspector as a result of changes already made to the Ontario Building Code. The Town may have to hire a Risk Management Officer (RMO) to deal with other threats such as fuel and pesticide storage, and spreading of manure on small farms that have not been required to adopt a Nutrient Management Plan.

"Municipalities are authorized to charge fees for inspection and approving risk management plans for existing threats," said Wellington Planning Director Gary Cousins in a report to county council last week. "Some areas are considering not charging any fees as the water protection measures have a broad public benefit."

While the prime responsibility falls to local municipalities, Cousins said the county may be able to help them deliver the protection. Mayor Lou Maieron is hoping the county will hire an RMO to service several municipalities.

County Councillor Ken Chapman, who also lives in a red zone, was critical of the Source Water meeting format, which only allowed people to question agency staff informally after the presentation. He wanted a format in which questions could be asked publicly, with everyone hearing the response.

"It's smoke and mirrors," he said.

 A second round of consultation will be held this July, with a proposed plan delivered to the Minister of the Environment by August 20. Source Water enforcement would not begin until late 2013 at the earliest.

"CTC" refers to the territory that includes three watersheds: Credit Valley, Toronto and Region, and the Central Lake Ontario area east of Toronto.

The provincial government has provided some "stewardship funding" for the process, but has not promised to cover the looming costs for municipalities and residents.

"The Province wants enhanced well security for municipal wells and as such it seems fair that the Province fund these enhancements as opposed to a select group of homeowners," said Dorman.
It would be unfair if real estate values were lowered in the red zones, he said, especially since determination of those zones "may not be entirely factual".

He suggests that municipalities pass bylaws requiring all homeowners to have their septic systems serviced and/or pumped out every 3-5 years and send in a copy of the receipt, instead of having costly inspections.

"We should protect and preserve all aquifers," said Dorman. "These 'unprotected' aquifers may be future sources of water for municipalities and they warrant protection now."

He also urged the province to fully fund public education efforts, and the town to provide incentives for home owners to replace old toilets with low-flow models.