It’s time that our city council and administration sat down and did some strategic planning - some real strategic planning. Because it’s apparent that the pro forma academic exercise they went through in May means little or nothing in practice.
One of the elements of the May plan is to seek partnership opportunities to advance regional economic growth. That suggests there are some important strategic interests for Cornwall. At the time, it sounded as if councillors and senior staff believed that. The request by South Glengarry to share available water and sewer capacity was an interesting first test of the principle.
Among others would be a review of South Glengarry’s and Cornwall’s share of costs for both the Summerstown airport and the Raisin River Conservation Authority. Both use a formula derived some years ago based on population and while Cornwall’s population has remained static, South Glengarry has seen some notable growth.
There are also possibilities for a regional policing and fire protection model that should be explored to see if it is workable and would deliver any benefits.
At this point, the Cornwall tax base wholly funds the only public library and recreation complexes in the immediate area, which are actively used by many residents from beyond the city boundary. There is potential there also for some discussions for a long-term arrangement that benefits both parties.
Since Cornwall’s business park abuts its eastern boundary, it’s logical that the opposite side of the road in South Glengarry should be for similar industrial or commercial use rather than housing. So, it stands to reason there will be some competition between the two sides. The goal would be to seek out opportunities for shared growth arrangements or some other trade-offs that could make it a win-win for both – maybe not in every case but over the long term.
These are just the most likely candidates for discussion. Some deeper thinking could probably identify other similar and possibly more important issues. The implication one draws is that if the region does well, Cornwall will benefit in one way or another. After all, Cornwall currently provides the majority of local services to the region and our economic engine benefits greatly from consumers and employees living outside our current border.
Instead, last week’s council meeting saw strategic opportunities thrown on the rocks of short-term expediency. So much for the May plan.
Historically, conservative values have supported a free market approach to economic issues. Ironically, it was the conservative elements of city council that led the charge against any sort of free market unless everything is in Cornwall’s favour; instead they opted for a narrow protectionist stance that, in the long term, will be overtaken by events.
Admittedly some of South Glengarry’s tactics got councillors’ backs up, specifically a rather pedantic email sent to each Cornwall councillor basically telling them how to vote on the water and sewer issue. There was also talk of a request from South Glengarry to the local MPP to add some ‘provincial pressure.’ It was a blatant poker gambit and Cornwall’s council called their bluff. So, in the end bruised egos ruled over substance.
If cooler heads had prevailed, the motion that should have been made was a motion to defer, much as was done with the airport earlier in that same meeting. It would have enabled the two groups to sit down in a respectful manner and discuss some of the longer-term issues and find ways to advance the strategic interests of both sides. Turning the water issue from a perceived win-lose to a win-win should not have been that difficult if the will was there.
That can and should still happen, but publicly slamming the door in South Glengarry’s face may have somewhat poisoned the climate for any meaningful discussions for the time being. It’s an odd way to do strategic planning.