In 2014 Elvis Presley is just not COOL

It’s that time of year again. No I don’t mean the summer trip to the cottage, or time to get the AC system serviced. No it’s Elvis Festival time. This year as an added bonus they have tacked on an extra day of endless toneless droning that encompasses the whole of the downtown core of Collingwood. When is this yearly dose of self-flagellation going to end? In the run up to this event I have not talked to one local resident that embraces or even likes this festival. Those that are in charge of us, keep telling us it’s great for tourism. If making us the laughing stock of Ontario is good for tourism I can think of a lot cheaper, less inconvenient ways of doing it. Yeah those CBC and CTV news fillers covering the Collingwood Elvis Festival are not laughing with us folks they are laughing at us. When I try and explain it to friends from out of town, they give me a look of bemused bewilderment and usually ask “and the towns connection to Elvis is???” Let’s face it ladies and gentleman in 2014 Elvis Presley is no longer cool. Elvis impersonators even less cool. So what do you think the impression of a small town in Central Ontario is that embraces these two things? That’s right NOT COOL. Take a look at some festivals that are cool: Wakefest – that has now left town. Ride for Sight – what could be cooler than motorcycles? Also left town. Corvette Days – very cool and long gone. It is way past time for this town to grab itself by its collective boot straps and start re-imagining itself. Maybe by having an annual Rock festival similar to the ones they have in England – Glastonbury, Knebworth, Hyde Park. There are loads of farmer’s fields that could be used for this purpose and as far as I know no one else is doing it in Ontario. What could be cooler for a towns image than “Coldplay Live in Collingwood” on the Billboard top 100.

The Elvis Fest reminds me of a girlfriend I once had. It ended up the only thing I was getting out of the relationship was the Visa bill at the end of the month. $40,000 to cover last year’s Elvis shortfall.
Keeping with the girlfriend analogy, sometimes you stick in a relationship because you are used to it and you are scared of the unknown. Then when it’s all finished up you find there is a whole world out there that you have been missing out on. What we are missing is a slew of mid-summer festivals and events that are a lot more relevant to this town, area, province, country’s history and culture and maybe even a little more chilling. Nothing new and exciting is happening here, because our town halls collective attention is on foisting this 1950’s and 60’s American popular culture icon on an unimpressed populace. Come on – Priscila Presley making an appearance??? I bet she doesn’t even spend a night in Collingwood. The local accommodations are probably not up to her impeccable standards. (BTW our mayor just started following her on Twitter, I had to again try and control the gag reflex).
Don’t get me wrong I am not saying ban the festival. But make it pay for itself. Meaning no subsidizing the event. Any town resources that go into making this event possible get reimbursed by Elvis Presley Enterprises in the form of a licencing fee. It should also pay for its own extra policing and EMS overtime costs. You would soon see this festival go the way of the dodo bird.
I really hope that with a few new faces on town council, this coming October, we can finally start to have some open and honest conversations about this event and its future. Maybe a few town hall type meetings to get the actual residents of this town opinion on the whole thing. It is not a fate-accompli that we have to fund and run this thing every year.

Adult Commentary about the Collingwood Elvis Festival

I posted this in September of last year. I thought it would be a good start to get the conversation rolling again; being as this tacky festival is about to kick off again.

I always judge the importance of something or someone in popular culture by whether it has its own Wikipedia page. The Collingwood Elvis Festival does not. It has a one line entry in the actual Collingwood, Ontario page but that’s it. So this festival that is so important to this towns identity, it’s such a draw, it brings so much worldwide attention to our towns tourist industry, doesn’t even get its own Wikipedia page. In fact take a look at this:

That is the Wikipedia entry on Elvis Impersonators. Did you see it? Did you see a few lines about the “World’s biggest Elvis festival in Collingwood, Ontario”? No neither did I. Because in the whole world scheme of all things Elvis, Collingwood isn’t even on the radar.
How much money did we send off to Elvis Presley Enterprise’s after this year’s festival? Seriously I’m asking, if someone knows let me know. EPE is the money making venture that now handles everything Elvis. Nothing Elvis in the world gets done without handing a piece of the action to this company. Here’s a thought, being as our town is shamelessly promoting this American icon of popular culture, every July for 20 years. How about EPE kicking back some money into the kitty to keep this thing viable?
One thing that I have always wondered is WHY??? Why do we celebrate Elvis Presley in Collingwood once a year? Was this a favorite vacation destination of the King back in the sixties relaxing with his entourage down at the Georgian Manor Resort? Did he have a friend or family member from this area? Did he write a song about this towns ship building heritage? Or did Elvis do an unknown Mountie movie in the area that I don’t know about? The answer to all this in an emphatic “NO”. In fact when the king was alive I bet he couldn’t have picked Collingwood or Ontario from a map of the world. So again WHY? There are so many other things that are relevant to our local history, culture, geography that we could celebrate in a festival; and yet we celebrate someone who in the end was grossly overweight through hedonistic self-indulgence and was so addicted to prescription and other drugs, he didn’t know what day it was. Not much of a roll model.
Thinking about it, I will answer the WHY for you myself. This started as a talent contest in 1994, during the early nineties recession. The town was still reeling from the shipyards closure 8 years previously and the development of Blue Mountain into a four season mega resort, was still 10 years away. The town needed something to boost the local economy and this seemed to fit the bill. So it was promoted and grew in leaps and bounds year after year until it has morphed into what we see today. But that was then this is now. We have plenty of things to draw people to our town, it has become a summer and winter playground for the large population bases south of us, we don’t need it anymore.
So again I say, have your festival by all means. I will put up with the road closures and the whole of downtown becoming a parking no go zone and delay doing my banking. I will put up with the droning (mostly) amateurish Elvis music ear worming its way into my consciousness for 72 hours a year. But stop picking my pockets to pay for it, make it pay for itself.

Worlds Apart

I have not been posting at my normal pace lately. Apart from the fact that nothing has really grabbed my attention politically on any level of late (summer blahs maybe?), I have been enthralled by the Fifa World Cup of Football. Yes that annoying competition that comes around every 4 years and completely ruins your normal CBC viewing schedule.

I actually enjoyed this World Cup more than I have for many years. The reason was this time around I had no illusions of what my country of birth England would achieve in this tournament. In fact for the first time ever I avoided the first two matches that they played both 2 – 1 losses against Italy and Uruguay. I watched the final game England played, a dour 0 – 0 tie against supposed “minnows” Costa Rica which only enforced my opinion of the dire state of the English game.

My first memory of a World Cup was in 1966 which was held in England. The final was at Wembley Stadium between England and West Germany. My family and I were driving back from a vacation in Snowdonia in North Wales, which in those days prior to Motorways was a tedious 8 hour drive. The final was on the car radio, the roads were deserted as we drove home. This was the most exciting sporting event that I have ever followed. England were 2 – 1 up with 2 minutes to go until full time and West German defender Wolfgang Weber tied the game. In 11th minute of extra time Geoff Hurst scored his second goal of the game which actually wasn’t a goal. The ball hit the under side of the cross bar and did not cross the line but the goal was awarded because of a language barrier between the USSR linesman and the Swiss referee. With 1 minute left in extra time the Germans were swarming the English goal looking for the equalizer, Bobby Moore cleared the ball from the penalty area to a waiting Geoff Hurst who actually admitted later that he was just trying to get the ball as far into the German end of the field as possible, to run down the clock. He picked up the ball just past the half way line, dribbled the ball for around 20 yards and shot into the German goal. Some fans were already on the pitch thinking the game was over, so that goal should probably not have counted either. But that is football for you. Geoff Hurst is the only player to score a hat trick in a World Cup final.

4 – 2 was the final score and England had won the 1966 World Cup.

In our car it was complete pandemonium, hooting, screaming, hugging. Along the road people had parked and were dancing around their parked cars. As we drove home, it seemed everyone was out celebrating this historic win. The family dynamic of this game ended with my youngest brother being a life long “Hammer” (West Ham United supporter) Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters (who scored the other goal) played for West Ham. My oldest brother (who now lives in Germany) ended up being a Manchester United supporter because of the midfielders Nobby Stiles and Bobby Charlton from this English team. No lasting affect for me I have been a transient football club supporter over the years appreciating a style of football rather than blind tribal loyalties.
For English football it has been going down hill from that point ever since with these two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum in footballing terms. Germany won the World Cup yesterday in Brazil for the fourth time and England went out bottom of Group D after 8 days. That 1966 World Cup their only international success in close to 50 years. My three brothers continue to have a deep dislike for the German football team. But for the first time ever yesterday afternoon I found myself at one of my German buddies houses cheering on the very efficient, excellent German team who beat a very boring defensive Argentina 1 – 0 with a 113th minute goal from 21 year old Mario Götze.

My three brothers see the fact that I was cheering for Germany, as English football sacrilege, in fact my older brother told me my grandfather Billy Barrett (who lived through the London blitz) “Would be spinning in his grave”. But I love good football, played the way its supposed to be played, the way Germany plays the game.

Germany after a couple of early (England) type exits from international tournaments back in the early 2000′s completely rebuilt their national football structure from the youth level up to the national team. Yesterdays World Cup victory was a culmination of that project. The English Football Association still hasn’t figured it out and gave the manager Roy Hodgson, a nice fellow but a person with a very mediocre football CV, a free pass on his teams pathetic showing in Brazil, setting them up for more football misery in Euro 2016 in France.

So for the immediate future in terms of football I will be saying “Deutschland Uber Alles”.

Steve asks “What’s the 2014 Patio issue?” Here’s my answer………

……. and it can’t be asked and answered in a survey. It can be summed up by two words “Clean Sweep”.

It’s weird I was thinking about this the other day and bingo Steve’s blog post:

Arrived in my email box.

As many of you know I have been living in Collingwood since 2000. A relative newcomer compared to many of you. In that time I have followed local politics on an on again off again basis with varying amounts of interest. I would say in all that time the least amount of attention I paid to the local political scene in Collingwood was the first 18 months of this current councils mandate. One reason was I had some rather large business issues that I was trying to deal with. But the second and most important reason was I thought that finally the town had voted in a fiscally conservative council that was quick to deal with a couple of my pet issues. Namely the mess on the corner of Hume/Hurontario and the lack of recreation facilities.
I started to have some serious doubts with the councils ham-fisted approach to the soccer dome at Pretty River Academy. Then realized this was the same old fight that has been fought in this town since years before I arrived here. Then I started looking a little closer at the recreation tents decision making process and like pealing the layers from an onion, the OPP investigation, mushroom farm,. As I have said I voted for every member of this council with the exception of Kevin Lloyd. So I thought it was way past time that I went down to town hall and see what I had voted for.
I’m not like some of the folks that I see down there, I go maybe once or twice a month. When I have been in attendance I can quite honestly say that I was shocked by the nepotistic cronyism. I have never seen a political body that constantly ignores the wishes of the people that voted for them, talks so blatantly about openness and transparency and at every opportunity scuttles into the back rooms for “in camera” sessions. Abuses the office by constantly voting as a block of 5 whatever the issue.
So the 2014 “patio issue” is staring all of you in the face. For the first time on the local political landscape you can vote for a slate of candidates that are in some cases new to politics in Collingwood. In other cases not aligned with any of the old protagonists, but most important of all you get a chance for a complete remake of the political scene in this town.

Granted the “Clean Sweep” is not as sexy as a fight between small town governance and the “little guy just trying to make a living”. But I can guarantee the long term affects will be more important than the placement of a few tables and chairs on a sidewalk ever was.

A “Made in Collingwood” solution to affordable housing

I’ve been talking a lot lately about affordable housing. I agree wholeheartedly in Gail’s comments on the subject in my previous post. With one exception leave the government at all levels out of it as much as possible. I have seen with my own eyes the blight that covered almost a third of the UK’s housing stock in the name of “council housing”. Which was very successfully eased back to a more reasonable 10% by Margaret Thatcher who legislated the sale of council houses to their tenants in the 80′s at around 50% of the value of the property’s. And in 5 short years made Britain one of the highest percentage of home ownership in the western world. Council estates in the UK are basically dirty run down ghettos with high crime rates and unemployment.

Back to Collingwood. Governments at all levels are not going to start building rental accommodation anytime soon. So that leaves it up to people like me to fill the void. Let’s assume that this current ProvLib government is not going to ease up on the provincial tenancy act, which is vastly skewed in favour of the renter over the landlord.

I believe that a local housing authority should be set up on a private/public not for profit basis. Maybe utilizing the existing “Access to Housing” or the “Housing Resource Centre” or something completely new. Landlords and tenants can register themselves, pay a fee and be equal partners in a symbiotic relationship. Tenants and Landlords have to be accepted and go through an application process to be part of this registry. Landlords properties have to be inspected for building and safety standards, infractions are noted and landlords are given a time frame to get any issues fixed. This inspection process could be picked up by the local municipality building department. Tenants have to be vetted for being previously good tenants by having checkable references as to whether they paid rent on time (or at all) without loud noisy parties and left previous rentals in a clean and tidy state. Any infractions on either side can lead to either landlord or tenant being removed from this registry making it impossible for either side to be part of a fair balanced rental process. Anyone outside this system is on their own, leaving bad landlords and bad tenants to their own devices. They can deal with each other; crappy tenants living in crappy landlords properties.

Call me old fashioned, but nothing is more important than a roof over your head. On both sides of this equation we have plenty of bad actors. On the landlord side, properties that are dirty, run down and not meeting any building or fire regulations. On the tenant side renters that always seem to have enough money for beer, smokes and dope but no money for rent and live like complete pigs. So basically what I am saying is let’s have an local organization with some teeth that has resources for landlords to be able to effectively remove delinquent renters. And gives decent renters somewhere locally to go to get landlords to take care of problems with rental properties.

I would gladly be a part of the above system as a landlord. I would be willing to pay one months rent per unit per year to be registered with this type of system, believe me that would be cheaper than dealing with some of the crap I have dealt with over the years. Renters pay a finders fee of half a months rent on the signing of a lease and pay a registration fee when they join. I suggest if we had a system like the above more private citizens and investors would step up and buy houses to rent for investment purposes.
This libertarian fiscal conservative would like to see private enterprise take the reins of this problem and solve it with a little government backing and help. Nanny state politics and politicians have got us to a place where there is a 0.7 rental vacancy rate in the area. maybe its time to try something different.

Gail Michalenko on Affordable Housing

I had left Gail alone since she filed her nomination papers. Thinking about it, I am not really sure why. Maybe because she is a housing advocate and I am a landlord. I guess I presumed we would be on opposite sides of the spectrum on that issue, which is one that is dear to my heart. She made some good points in her comment on my post here:

So I contacted her via email and asked her to comment on affordable housing as a blog post. Strangely enough I agree with much of what she says as follows:

Affordable housing, both rental and home ownership are important for many reasons. There are economic development implications for the municipality and for taxpayers related to a lack of affordable housing. If people cannot afford to live here this impacts on the labour force and on the ability to attract new businesses. Businesses looking to establish in a location do take into account that there will be housing opportunities based on the wages they plan to pay.

As a community that currently has a focus on tourism there is a need for service workers who struggle to make ends meet and often work two or three jobs.

From the perspective of the taxpayer the costs of doing nothing are high. It is a proven fact that when families who do not have stable housing their children do not learn well and there are higher costs in the areas of education, health care and the criminal justice system as a result.

Taking it out to the most extreme situation of homelessness it costs the tax payer $1,900 a month for someone who is homeless compared to $700 or $800 for an apartment for that same person.

These are just a few of the reasons why it is important for our community to focus on the issue of affordable housing and to be concerned with low vacancy rates. To have a healthy blended community where there are housing opportunities for all the vacancy rate should be between 4% & 5%. Our most recent CMHC rate is .7%. Barrie’s Mayor Jeff Lehman put it best when he said this is a system that is broken.

Mayor Lehman also accurately pinpoints a problem with all levels of government who happily shuffle the issue off to the next level of government when in fact it has become such a problem across Canada that it can only be solved collectively by all levels of government. There are many solutions – some of which are already working well in other jurisdictions and not all of which cost a lot. The long term costs of doing nothing are higher.

Time for the OPP to clear the air.

I just realized it’s now 16 months since it was announced on various media outlets, that the OPP anti rackets branch were conducting an investigation into certain members of Collingwood Council and others closely connected with them. Since that flurry of activity which occurred around those early days in March 2013 the rumour mill and speculation has been rampant. I’ve spoken to a few people that have been interviewed in regards to this investigation. Most of those people were pretty tight lipped about what was discussed. What I was told was on the condition that I did not blab about any of it on this blog. That’s why this perpetual “blabber mouth” has also been very quiet on the subject. Officially the general populace has been kept pretty much in the dark for much of the 16 months.

I believe the time has come for the OPP to make a statement on where this investigation is at. We are four months out from a municipal vote with a shadow still being cast on an incumbent Mayor, an incumbent Deputy Mayor and an incumbent member of council; all running for re-election. I believe the closer it gets to voting day now, any announcement can be labeled as political interference whatever the conclusion is.

I personally would like to see the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and three other council members removed from council by the voters of this town, not because of rumour and innuendo in connection with an incomplete OPP investigation. I guarantee that’s the picture that will be painted on the 28th October if this has not been concluded by that time. There was plenty of evidence in the public domain to conclude that even if some of these people had not acted in a criminal nature, they had certainly acted with a complete lack of ethical thinking and standards, which I believe should be enough to send them packing.

So whoever is responsible for these types of decisions in the OPP it is time to raise the veil of silence that has surrounded this whole affair since March 2013 and clear the air. So that this election can commence on its own merits.