It has started already, the overhyped wallet-sucking monolith of a holiday that is Christmas. The Christmas music is blaring throughout retail shops, the advertising for the do-it-all wonder gifts are filling my mailbox. Store displays are piled high with the latest things fresh off the container boat. In the US, people started lining up a week in advance for Black Friday sales in eager anticipation of trampling their fellow man to land the latest electronic gizmo. Canadian debt loads and the debt loads of countries throughout the world are at some of the highest levels ever. Yet our society still seems to think that it is a great idea to spend our way to prosperity by tacking on huge debt to celebrate a holiday that should have nothing to do with consumerism.

Do not get me wrong, I have always observed Christmas with my family and friends. Raised as a Catholic, I attended the church services, observed European traditions of Christmas meals and family gatherings. The Christmas I grew up with was not a consumer Christmas. It was a time to celebrate together the birth of Christ with those we loved. This was also the case in the time of my parents, in a postwar Europe with little more than the clothes on their backs and sunrise to sunset workloads simply to put food on the table. Christmas for them meant the traditional church services and above all, family. They did not exchange gifts, as there was no money for those types of things.

Fast forward to today and we are bombarded with advertising showing families opening box after box of presents. The pursuit of this consumer dream means that by the time January rolls around most of the “Christmas booty” will be stored away gathering dust and the hard reality of the credit card bills with their high interest payments will be rolling in. The past couple of years our family has made a conscious effort of limiting our spending and really looking at what Christmas should be about. We are trying to return to a more balanced approach to Christmas and to make it more about the traditional values that Christmas should represent. Therefore, before you don your bulletproof vest to head out to the Black Friday sales, we should take the time to reflect on what we really want out of Christmas, more debt and a temporary consumer high with a high cost interest headache or something simpler.

This week I look at Small Business, a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Six years ago, we moved to the Thousand Islands with a dream of owning a piece of countryside and running a small business. Since that time, a small business has grown to the point where we have two full time employees and the original business has sprouted several other ancillary businesses. Make no mistake; starting a small business is no easy job. The glamour of it all wears off pretty quick when you realize that you and no one else is going to have to do the “heavy lifting”. Small business in Eastern Ontario is quickly becoming the lifeblood of the local economy.

Many individuals who receive buy-out packages from previous employment decide that the time is now right to start their own business. Most of these businesses are funded by the owners themselves and usually encompass an interest or idea that they think will succeed. What is most important for anyone who is considering starting a small business is to have some type of plan and budget. For any type of regular business financing you will need to have a plan but more importantly, the process of building the plan will ensure that you have considered all of the various elements of running your business. What is also important is that your plans and budgets should be constantly reviewed and updated. One thing that we have learned throughout our journey is that nothing stays the same, competition, increased costs, and overhead means that you need to constantly adapt in order to survive.

The popularity of small business start-ups is evident with many support groups sprouting up in various communities, I am part of the Thousand Islands Rural Small Business Association, and it is a great opportunity to network and meet other small business owners. In every community, there are business improvement associations and chambers of commerce that provide support to the small business owner. Through Social Media and the web, businesses with limited marketing dollars are also connecting and sharing their products and services. The resources available for small business have never been more bountiful. The proliferation of Open Source software means that you can save money on business software and programs. Local business support organizations such as the Leeds and Grenville Small Business Enterprise Centre offer no cost consulting to those who need it.  As a future entrepreneur, you will need an idea, perseverance, patience and the ability to work unending hours and days. Most businesses need 3 to 5 years to become profitable, make no mistake, owning a small business is not easy, however it can be a very rewarding chapter in your life.

Well, it is official; you were sold a bag of goods. The auditor’s report for the Township Of Leeds and Thousand Islands confirmed that instead of the dire financial situation sold to the public by special interest groups such as CAR and TIARA as well as several candidates in the past election, the township is actually in excellent financial shape. You will remember that the Mayor based his entire campaign on how the township was in financial turmoil and that there needed to be a return to common sense. The bottom line is that the township has over 3 million dollars in reserves and there was a surplus of over $500k from the 2010 budget. The auditor also compared our township to other municipalities in terms of long-term debt and tax rate and indicated that we were one of the “best”. Therefore, I am confused as to why we are not investing in the future of this township but instead reverting to the past.

Part of the current ill-conceived plan is that we need to cut back programs such as recreation, which reduces available programs for seniors. We cannot just lock our seniors away and expect them to stare at the walls. This generation of seniors are going to live longer and will demand to be engaged, supported, and respected by the places they choose to live in. Seniors programs and support need to be developed and nurtured in this township and cutting resources for recreation is a step in the wrong direction for them. We need more not less invested in our seniors.

Likewise, young families and entrepreneurs need to be supported. We can no longer afford to have the young people of this community move away, never to return. A vision for development of sustainable small business is paramount for this community, now more than ever. We already know that there will not be huge mega-factories or giant box malls moving into this township. Why do we continue to be woefully ill prepared to accept investment into the township?

Tourism initiatives and programs are in development in most of our neighbouring municipalities such as Gananoque and Brockville. Our township possesses some of the most prized jewels in the Thousand Islands yet we have the jewellery locked away in the cupboard without a plan on how to show it off. Individual businesses and volunteer groups continue to ply the waters on their own without the necessary support or co-ordinated vision that could exist.

The current plan that our head of council has for this township is akin to hiding your money under the mattress. The bottom line is that there is no financial crisis in this township and the auditor has now made that fact abundantly clear. If we do not invest in our own township, people and businesses, how can we expect others to?

Some of you might be familiar with the Peter Principle. It states, "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to their maximum level of incompetence". What happens when the principal is applied to municipal politics? The escalation to the maximum level of incompetence can happen more rapidly than ever when you are elected to a role that is beyond your skillset. During Monday’s council meeting in the Township of Leeds and Thousand Islands Mayor Bruce Bryan apologized to the township and staff for doing such a poor job. He also stated that he was going to scale back his efforts so he could focus just on county business such as the coyote problems. Ironically, there was a news story on CKWS the same night about the coyote problems in the county and the mayor of Front of Yonge has a plan to deal with the issue so I am not sure what Mayor Brian’s contribution would be. The  Mayor himself has now acknowledged in public that he is doing a terrible job, is it not time for him to step aside before more damage is done to this township.

One would generally expect a head of council to show leadership and direction at council meetings. If you attend council and follow closely, the Mayor’s contribution to council meetings is limited to the odd comment about gravel or heavy equipment. When he does speak, he is generally incoherent and it is very difficult to follow what he says. His infrequent updates on County council are delivered verbally as there is no written report and they are also hard to follow. During debates, the Deputy Mayor has to assume the role of leader and she is the one who provides direction and focus to council and to the debate instead of the mayor. To her credit, she is also the one who provides direction on decorum and has numerous times forced the mayor to adhere to some type of appropriate behaviour guidelines. There have been numerous behaviour incidents that resulted in a code of conduct having to be implemented for council. Frequently, council has to remind the mayor to observer proper decorum and this is one of the reasons cited by former councillor Lawler to walk away from what he called a “circus”.

A leader is expected to respect their staff and use them as a resource. When the Mayor endorsed the firing of Malcolm Morris, he made a public statement that his knowledge and experience would trump everyone else’s and that he did not need a CAO to run the township. Based on what we have seen in discussions and statements at council, committee, and town hall meetings it illustrates that in fact he really does not have the skillset required. He still holds onto the delusional dream that there will be a huge factory re-located to this township, when the previous Economic Committee had done extensive study and pointed to Small Business and Tourism as the only opportunities for growth in TLTI. He states that there is no road plan when in fact there is a 20-year road plan that has been in place since 2007 and has been the basis for construction and budgeting from the Public Works Department. He is clearly out of touch with the realities within his own township.

Surely, individuals must be able to evaluate their own performance and realize when they are not capable of doing the job. He has now publically admitted that he has let down the constituents of TLTI and that he has not been up to the task. Instead of stepping down, he has decided that he should instead do less work and delegate more. Unfortunately, he was elected to do the whole job and not just part of the job. He is also not going to wake up tomorrow and be a different person with new skills. In Federal and Provincial politics, governments and leaders who are not up to the task are defeated on motions of non-confidence from the opposition and new leaders are elected. In this case, the motion of non-confidence has come from the public and now the mayor himself.

So how do you measure personal success? For many it is financial reward while for others it is the satisfaction of doing a good job. For some it is a mantra of honour and integrity. For those who know Councillor Velma Kelsey, they will know that she is the embodiment of both of these. She does not shy away from the tough decisions and is not afraid to make her feelings known on a subject. Her focus is on her constituents and making the best possible decision for them. Velma does not miss a single event in the community and her dedication to the township is remarkable. During her current term, she has been a vocal opponent to the firing of Malcolm Morris and concerned about the dysfunctional state of the current council. As an keen observer of human interactions, it is clear that this decision has made her unpopular with the other councillors and the mayor. The young men and women who sacrificed their lives for this country did so to protect the rights and freedoms we hold dearly. One of those is the freedom to speak our mind. I applaud Velma for taking a stand for what is right and for not being bullied into following other people’s agendas. The community needs to stand behind her, as she is truly the voice of the people, honour, and integrity.

At the last council meeting, the rock music was blaring in the council chambers. What possible reason could there be for having such loud music? Was it possibly there to cover up screaming and yelling during the in camera council session? Council recently passed a code of conduct bylaw to deal with decorum issues and the head of council himself has had to be warned about his conduct during council meetings and has to issue apologies to other council members. Is it possible that the public scrutiny of this council’s questionable decisions is making for short tempers around the table? Given the confidential nature of in camera meetings it is impossible to know what really went on or what happened during that meeting to warrant the loud music. The public however should be concerned that the rules of conduct are being followed in camera and that common courtesy and decorum is being followed.  Those who know me will know that I enjoy loud rock music but it certainly has no place in council chambers.

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