Blog Squatting

I have been Blog Squatting here as a continuation of my self-admitted local democracy experiment. I would like to thank Jim Duff as my benevolent Bloglord (blog landlord) victim for his indulgence, his turning a blind eye, or simply a lack of interest that has allowed me to indulge myself and experiment here.

Blogging can easily become narcissistic blathering. For the time being, I am hereby evicting myself from being an uninvited main voice on this blog that is not mine. I lack the skills, time, commitment and wider social connections needed to build this Blog towards anything resembling truly relevant discussion. Perhaps in modern times building that sort of relevance is becoming close to impossible. I will try to explain later in this post.

The basic questions I have been trying to answer recently are: How will small communities, lacking a politically involved local newspaper remain involved in their own politics and municipal destiny and what new modern tools are available to fill any gaps left by the disappearance of that local paper? I have yet to find a good answer, and I believe that the tools do not yet exist to replace good local journalists. Communities like Hudson who lack good local papers will diminish in some ways we don’t yet fully understand. Such change will come first to small communities, but where we once had multiple Montreal English dailies we now have one mostly branch office English paper. More of our media is controlled by fewer corporations, never a good omen for having balanced insight among citizens.

I’d like to thank those who have followed me on this period of the blog, an interested and interesting gathering of people who think and care about Hudson’s future and are willing to contribute their thoughts at the risk of judgement. You are quite unique within the municipal political landscape; even participating is a small group discussion can be a scary task in a small town divided into factions and social groups. Very few will like a post, fewer still will discuss it positively and contribute something, and even fewer will ever reasonably object to a position taken and almost no one will circulate a link to all their friends. Debate towards consensus eludes most of the modern world, so bullies will dominate the decision making.

The real control of municipal direction has always existed within an interested subset of any community and their willingness to get involved in any issue, either constructively or destructively would dictate the relative success of failure of successive Councils.

The cycle seems to repeat, driven by an almost insignificant part of our population that becomes disproportionately noisy for what they see as good reasons. One hundred citizens at a monthly council would represent less than 2% of citizens and half are there for constructive comments and initiatives. Ten angry hecklers at the last council represent less than 0.2% of citizens angry enough to debase themselves with inappropriate action. Only a very tiny percentage will form small groups to circulate angry emails and Facebook posts calling to dismantle and replace the Mayor and Council.

It’s easy for me to draw the logical conclusion that 98+% of Hudson citizens are happy enough with the government by a few elected fellow citizens to just not get involved. An alternative question is: If only 1% care, why should I? As I better understand this process, I begin to question whether what I write will be constructive or destructive. Am I better serving the 1% or the 99% and how might I ever balance both sides when one side remains mostly silent? Am I promoting peaceful progress or fomenting dissatisfaction and disruption?

We need dreamers and idealists. But, it can be too easy to get caught up in passion and belief and begin to lose sight of what is possible within the confines of past failures, existing constraints and the overbearing laws that govern municipal governments. None of those are the responsibility of any current council; government is in fact the political science of bureaucratic checks and balances that limit any government’s ability to move off course too quickly. The system is designed to prevent bold actions that happen in less than the time between elections when the people can speak again. It is painfully easy to overwhelm a municipal government drowning in past problems and red-tape with good ideas or well meaning demands and it is absolutely possible to freeze them to failure with only a small group of angry citizens.

I thank and admire all who serve our community, those have served us and those who will serve in the future as Mayor or Councillor. You undertake to dream of a better future for our town, and to work for low compensation and too little respect within a system designed to keep you from doing anything significant without massive support of a silent majority, while enduring the slings and arrows of a tiny minority. Without citizens like our Mayors and Councils, we’d suddenly cease to govern ourselves and quickly be absorbed and homogenized into a bland mediocrity completely unlike Hudson of past times.

Will Social media, including blogs like this one, improve local politics? I believe that social media will not easily join us into causes or drive progress based on broad vision and consensus. Especially in a small town environment with tightly woven social structures that can become quickly judgmental.

We who create blogs or Facebook groups risk dividing ourselves into significantly smaller and smaller groups of like minded people on narrow focused single issues. Until we find a formula that actually engages significant portions of a population into real respectful debate and discussion towards consensus, we will fail to make ourselves relevant.

I suspect that Bloglord Duff may come back in the near future and that his hiatus may have been pondering many of these same issues. Perhaps, Jim will have found some answers that elude and frustrate me, if so I will happily support his efforts to engage and educate more people in discussion.

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20 thoughts on “Blog Squatting

  1. Peter,
    You are absolutely right in saying that the majority of citizens don’t really care what goes on in their town, and I’ll add, except if it affects them directly and in their pocketbook that is. It’s a shame but it is what it is.
    Some of the 98% of this silent majority may decide to leave Hudson if they believe that services have diminished and taxes have become excessive.
    People vote with their feet.

    I happen to be amongst the 1% that does care probably because I know firsthand how effective an engaged council can be for its citizens. Municipal politicians versus their federal and provincial counterparts, are the closest to their constituents and so are better placed to meet the needs of their residents quickly; therefore, I disagree that the system is designed to prevent bold actions.
    In the four years that I was a councillor, and a green one at that, we managed to *repave Cameron, *repave Cote St. Charles, *shore up the hill from Mount Victoria to the tracks, *build a fire station, *restore the old Halcro cottage, *implement light pollution and escarpment protection by-laws through an engaged and dynamic environment committee, *keep the golf courses on their toes concerning pesticide use, *commissioned a green gas emissions audit and action plan through a full government grant, *received a grant from the government to establish a Family policy for families and seniors, *acquired the old medi-centre to store our archives at little cost, *commissioned an organizational and performance analysis, *incorporated a Business Improvement Area, and in the last year of our mandate, *instituted policies that would bring about checks and balances regarding accountability in the administration. Last, but not least, *we convinced recalcitrant taxpayers to pay their fair share of municipal taxes and finally, *booted out an embezzler who operated under our collective nose from who knows when.
    So, no I don’t think that providing residents with a better quality of life is something that is not doable. When there’s a will there’s a way.

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  2. I need to stop big footing conversations and defer to my council of exerts who read and sometimes comment on this blog for discussion on this comprehensive comment.

    I’m hoping that several participants engage in this discussion where it fits their knowledge and interest. How effectively were these things accomplished, quality an cost? Are they lasting parts of current Hudson? Why are the edges of Cameron crumbling already? Have we really stopped development on the escarpment, or are we still at risk.

    Also, what wasn’t accomplished might be far more important to our future than what was, so what to blog participants think were the major misses of the Elliott administration. PMAD or Greenhouse Gas anyone?

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  3. Well, it’s easy to be an armchair quarterback and hindsight is 20-20 vision. Personally I am proud that we build a fire station which will still be here long after I’m gone. Some residents still talk about how much it cost, well that’s what happens when you neglect your infrastructure, you pay at today’s prices. Can you imagine how much it would cost to build in 10 years. How can you have a 1950’s building serve the needs of modern firefighting and complying with the government’s Shema de Risque. How come it was never done before? How come everything else was left to crumble and passed off to the next set of councillors? No political will to spend the money and pass on a well maintained town to the next generation?
    Are the edges of Cameron really crumbling, I haven’t noticed, I’m too happy rolling quietly down the hill. It seems fine to me, especially compared with the terrible state of Main road where I live.
    We now have by-laws protecting escarpments by preventing the cutting down of trees, and building on them, whether it is enforced, I certainly hope so.
    As far as Greenhouse Gas emissions, well it seems to me that Hudson residents consider themselves “green” and that this was a great way to analyze the emissions from our buildings, our rolling stock, our septic systems, etc. After all, didn’t 2 current councillors go and hear “Al Gore” on climate change? We are doing something for the next generation. I was really annoyed when this administration replaced an oil furnace with another oil furnace in the Public Works garage. This was certainly not recommended in the audit’s action plan.
    And regarding the PMAD, adopted in late 2011 in the National Assembly. Was it not presented to all the MRC’s in 2012? and they had quite some time to see how it would impact their towns and make suggestions on exceptions. Then the individual towns had to get their urbanist departments working on a brief in 2013? Well, I can tell you that in 2013, Hudson’s administration was pretty well straight-jacketed by an investigation that highjacked our time and resources.
    If you want you can also analyze Liz Corker’s administration. Things were achieved, some of us now have sewers and better water, we now have buses that run in Hudson. All councils can make a better quality of life for their residents. All you have to remember is that the interests of the citizen should always be at the heart of all decisions-making.

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  4. Oh Mr. Ratcliffe,

    Where do I begin. I have followed your blog over the last few weeks, but refrained until now from posting. But seeing that you are about to take a hiatus I felt that it would be my last chance to share my thoughts with you.

    Although I appreciate your desire to conduct a local democracy experiment I do not agree with your conclusions. Yes council meetings may only be drawing 2% of the total population but I don’t believe that should lead to the conclusion that 98% of the population is satisfied with the state of the town’s affairs. The lack of attendance can be interpreted in many different ways. Indifference, apathy, frustration and yes for some satisfaction. But it is not as black and white as you make it sound.

    If you’d like to discuss figures, how about the figure of 6%. That is the number of people whose input was used to form the basis of our strategic plan. (appendix 1 of plan – which is still missing from town web site) That’s right – millions of dollars and countless projects will be launched on the input of 6% of the population who showed up to a single meeting many months ago. So if I were to use your logic I could say that 94% of the population was satisfied with the status quo and saw no need for a strategic plan, n’est pas?

    There are no simple answers to the issues that face our town, and we many not agree on how to solve them. But contrary to what you make think, I do believe in growth and development. But they must be managed and should not sacrifice our most treasured natural resources. I believe in democracy, transparency and free speech which is why I consistently re-appear at meetings pushing for more citizen input and council accountability.

    While I may not always agree with Councillors, I know they work hard and it is appreciated. But for them, as those before them, it is a learning curve, with pressures from all directions. They, as others before them can and will make mistakes. Keeping that in mind we can only hope that they will see that not all input from the outside is meant as an attack. This town has an abundance of talented people so willing to help, which I have seen shunned over and over again – what a waste! I would also like to point out that I have been attending council meetings for the last few years (3 different councils) but I have only seen you at the last few. I urge you to continue to attend. And instead of being annoyed with the occasional heckler perhaps recognize how truly frustrated they must be to do so. Did you ever consider that in light of recent legal actions some people may just be too afraid to say ANYTHING in public for fear of being misconstrued and accused of defamation? Do you see that heckling may be their “safest” was to express themselves. I urge the administration to find a better way to handle these “defamation” issues. We are building walls where we should be building bridges. I also wish to commend Councillor Spencer for having the courage to speak up when he thought all was not right and hope we can expect the same from all our council and administration to keep us on the right path. If mistakes have been made, let’s fix them and move on. We have paid a high price for our blind trust in the past and I am happy to err on the side of caution.

    It was with much anticipation that I awaited Mr. Duff’s blog and have missed him in his absence. His fearless reporting of town politics was something that left a huge gap when the paper closed. We need you back Jim, are you in?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ms. McCartney;

    You might be surprised at how much I agree with you on many of these issues. And please never mistake my not appearing at Council for not being involved or well informed I might be, or how much contact and input I have initiated without notice.

    The silent majority is our biggest challenge in all levels of government because it implies satisfaction rather than constructive input. I don’t know how we’ll fix that, but if 6% responded to Council’s questionnaire that may be a new record high, and I applaud them for at least asking. I do believe that Hudson has lacked a proper Strategic Plan as long as I’ve been around.

    Heckling in Council is indeed a symptom, but I believe it still demeans and discredits the heckler far more than the Council and is unacceptable. Other more silent forms of protest should be undertaken. Present petitions with 100 or more signatures, placards and signs if allowed, be creative without demeaning your valuable message.

    The current Council are not on top of active files adequately and I know that leads to frustration and appears as incompetence. It is really the DG’s responsibility to execute policy and ensure that Council is well prepared with enough information on the hot issues. There are improvements to be made there.

    Council’s stand on taking legal action against citizens is absolutely wrong. They strongly know my opinions on that and I have been disgusted by their tone and actions on this issue.

    I have supported Rob Spencer’s right to take his action since day one, if however the Mayor is cleared of all accusations my feelings on the validity of his actions and his personal judgement may change significantly. But I applaud him for swimming upstream as he’s seen fit. Had he convinced even one other Councillor to sign on to his complaint it would have increased the power of action by at least tenfold.

    You are 100% right that Council does not sufficiently engage and utilize local citizens with interest and talent. I haven’t found a way to change that, the protective bunker is too solid.

    Jim Duff has been a valuable part of Hudson for a long time, I too miss his input. But as his good friend, I wonder what might be his motivation to disrupt the peace he can now find and to return to contribute to a small population blog.

    Jim Duff and Louise Craig owe Hudson nothing, rather the debt is more Hudson owes them a huge debt for decades of contribution. With no clear way to monetize a blog, the risks surely outweigh the personal benefit so if he comes back it will indeed be a gift from Duff.

    Tearing down the walls and building bridges will be a challenge, it may be already too late for this term. I hope that some great candidates come forward in the next election, they would be well advised to form a shadow committee now and take positions publicly.

    Thank you for your input to this blog, and for your persistence and interest at council.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Recommandation 51: Break the Secrecy

    In an essay that I wrote to the Charbonneau Commission in 2014, I proposed that the Commission include in its recommendations the needed legislative changes to regulate meetings behind closed doors of municipal organizations to allow access for citizens to the full information on question that concern them directly. I mentioned that it was a low cost measure that proved its value elsewhere in Canada, mainly in Ontario, as well a in the United States, where these measures are called the Sunshine Laws.

    To my surprise, the Commission Charbonneau has retained my proposal, making it formal with its Recommendation 51. The commissioners (in a unanimous decision) urge the Quebec government to adopt measures to limit the exceptions of the public nature of deliberations by elected municipal representatives, with the inspiration of articles 239 and 239.1 of the Ontario Law of 2001 on municipalities.

    I would refer interested citizens to consult The Sunshine Law Handbook on Open Municipal Meetings in Ontario available on the Ontario Ombudsman Website for complete information on the municipal laws and restrictions for elective officials.

    Since the publication of my essay on the Commission Charbonneau Website, I have received messages by elected municipal officials and concerned citizens from all over Quebec about the secrecy of municipal council deliberations. Much of the frustration of these individuals comes from not knowing all the facts and having the feeling that what goes on behind closed doors is suspect.

    Open municipal meetings as is done in Ontario could greatly clear the air of suspicion in a small city like Hudson. That means opening the “caucus” with the same restrictions as they have in Ontario. Our own municipal council could adopt these same measures, without waiting for enforcement by the Provincial Government. This way, we could prove that a municipal government can really be transparent on its own.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Great contribution Luc, Thank you.

      The historical practice of a closed caucus and unanimous approval by Council has always insulted my thinking. Especially in municipal politics where we all live together closely.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Luc , I am totally in favor and applaud you in your request for transparency. Peter and Eva, that’s about the most honest exchange I’ve witnessed in a long time. Civilized and honest. We have for the most part missed those exchanges between this adm. and its citizenry. I do for the most part , Peter stand w/Eva whom I’ve seen time and time again along w/ Luc shut down by our Mayor and Council in not always fair or respectful ways for asking the tough necessary questions. I have never seen Eva lose her cool when confronted by sneering dismissive factless answers.
    There was a time when dads and moms back from ww2 volunteered selflessly for all municipal duties from VON to War Memorial Library to Council. My dad was a Hudson Heights councillor in the 50’s and 60’s and it was non-paying. They didn’t mind volunteering after having spent dangerous years in a conflict that didn’t pay at all .This may have seemed not selfless just necessary. In those days community centered around schools , churches , Ben’s ,and 2 old railroad cars in Benson Park that housed peewee hockeyers, little league ballplayers ,and figure skaters. It was our community center. School stages were used by players’ and music clubs. Our high school was a small feared winning contender in the Montreal sports region. Anyway nostalgia doesn’t accomplish much but that spirit returned could work magic. Alas we are all too busy maintaining mcmansions, 3 cars, and cell phone plans. We dump all our entitled requests on our municipal administrations like it was our just due instead of asking how we can help. Unfortunately this Mayor and Council have reacted poorly to these onslaughts of electorate demands and have stumbled badly. I do not believe they are on top of their files other than to roll out glossy brochures. I can hear my Dad and his fellows of his generation whispering , just fix the potholes and water leaks and the people will step in to help with the rest. It’s been fun, Peter.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks Brian, and anyone who continues to participate. If Duff gets back at it, I will support him any way I can.

    I’ve been in sales all my life mostly owning my own small business an I know that if you want to get anything done, never reply with disrespect even if you are confronted with it.

    Fixing the infrastructure should be part of our culture, not part of the yet to be finalized strategic plan and such spending requires a will to act.

    In my humble opinion: Too much hinges on acceptance and finalization of the strategic plan and finalized zoning, conservation plan and PMAD. These things are being used as a blocking point that defeats the plan itself and allows an excuse to not immediately do things that the strategic plan calls for as basics. It’s like an infinite loop going nowhere for a long time.

    The shrinking time left will tell if the current Council can get themselves visibly up to speed and have an answer or explanation for lack of answer to every unanswered question at last council. If they can’t start a meeting with that done, then they’re behind before we start. Those things are really the DG’s responsibility, and those answers should be on the town website before the next meeting so they don’t drag the next meeting down.

    Again, from sales: Engage and understand your enemy with discussion to find the information you need to break down the blocking points to progress. Seven people can’t have the correct answers unless they talk to both sides. If it’s all opposition versus council then both sides aren’t communicating well. It’s the angry and disgruntled you need to interact with, sometimes you will learn something and you can always make everyone happy. But it should be fun or at least respectful or no one will come forward to do this leadership thing for us.

    The complexity and responsibility have grown exponentially since you father’s time, but the principle that we’re all on the same side in a small community should not have. Too often we seem like a bad high school soap opera with people not talking to each other and worse. Fix that and we might fix the town, and our leaders need to be the example for us.

    Engage the people, there’s a lot of knowledge and passion being wasted here.

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  9. Agreed , but has it really changed that much since our fathers’ time or are we just thinking, committeeing , texting, twittering, concepting, mission statementing and visioning it to death or hiring others to do while we are multi-tasking our way to mediocrity ? I better watch I don’t twist an ankle stepping off this soapbox.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. One of the joys of my life is my daily dose of “Charlie Rose” His guests are knowledgeable, opinionated and I feel that I learn something new after every episode.
    Today the panel was discussing the results of the NY primaries and one of the panelists said “It is time for the convening of the Sanity Caucus”
    That hit home for Hudson. We need to get this back on track and we need a “Sanity Caucus” who , I presume are many of the people who read this BLOG.
    Perhaps Jim could invite a number of the BLOGees to a meeting to develop a strategy for recovering the Town we all love.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Be careful preaching sanity as a virtue in Hudson.

      You don’t have to be crazy to try to fix Hudson, but for the past few years it sure helps ease the pain of swimming upstream.

      People brave enough to voice an opinion, listen to the other sides and join a group discussion is what we need.

      A few voices can be ignored, many voices singing the same tune can accomplish what we need to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m actually going to assume there’s nobody out there and express a view on last night’s strategic planning session at the community center. Talking to myself online is cathartic . I did see Jim there. My interpretation was colored by my having just read in great detail the complaint points by Rod Spencer to MAMOT. If the alleged violations by those named there and mentioned : Mayor Ed, Natalie Best, Nathalie Lavoie, and Vincent Maranda did indeed occur we have ourselves a municipal mess worthy of folklore. So knowing some behind the scenes background the new mutant strategic plan presented and leading to a call for committee volunteers was lunchbag letdown and feels like deja vu all over again. Blog to Peter………….are you there?

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    1. I’m here, back from a fun weekend in Kingston playing with my grandkids. That was planned long ago to coincide with a James Taylor concert that conflicted with Hudson’s strategic planning implementation meeting. Looks like I made the correct choice, the concert was great and I’ve heard nothing good about the meeting. I’m going to be slammed with real work this week, but I’ll break my blog silence for a few minutes without a formal post.

      The strategic plan was a sky high reach, I would have always preferred early fast action on things that needed doing. Prove that we can do something to move forward and then engage the citizens in future plans.

      Instead, we’re perpetually waiting for parts of everything to approve anything. Without the strategic plan and normalized zoning, etc. we can’t approve any significant developments that that same plan says we really need. So we’ve stalled for about 60% of the mandate and it’s unlikely that we’ll see any concrete action (foundations in the ground) before the next Council is elected. By the strategic plan count we’ll be a couple of hundred new taxpaying properties behind what we needed to do.

      Our fiscal situation remains unclear, but if there’s any significant positive to this Council it’s that they’re clearing the decks on many past issues like audited statements and accurate fiscal positions, plus getting the Quebec part of the sewage grants mostly approved immeditaely improved our worst case by over $5 million. So I would have seen that clearance as a good time to spend $2-3 million on the things we need most that don’t require the approval of the strategic plan. Pave some roads, drill a well, fix Pine Lake. But above all else DO SOMETHING.

      The process of leadership often involves a big reach and then a big dragging forward of the naysayers. Cooking a plan in relative isolation and then hoping everyone sees it as the universal truth and brilliance for the future is an unlikely scenario when there’s relatively little visible action and change to date.

      I’m standing by my doomed to failure posts, at this rate we’ll get the fiscal position clear enough to allow us to be logically merged into Vaudreuil Dorion. Hell, I hear even the Hudson Yacht Club is extending geographic limits to attract new members. So, one small step at a time, we’re starting to accept the future that Hudson can no longer sustain itself as a stand-alone entity.

      Unless we get some new leadership in the next Council and Mayor, it’s just a matter of time.

      On Rob Spencer’s complaint, which I have not read, there can be no middle ground. If Rob is correct in any significant complaint then he’s been the hero, if all are proven to be incorrect then he’s the zero that’s dragged this council into the swamp and drowned it. Time will tell, the bureaucracy grinds slowly, the slower the longer it self-perpetuates.

      There’s still time for this council to make something happen, that will determine much of how we look back on their time leading us.

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      1. I prefer , “person of a considered dissenting opinion” to naysayer . Helps me sleep at night. Rob was always in a tough spot as being from the previous administration and probably grew tired of the never-ending pot shots Ed and his crew lobbed at the past. It was ungracious of them and they deserve what they reap. They will quickly become the past and hopefully a new council will just forget them as posers and move to proper governing. I have read Rob’s complaint and have never known him to be disingenuous or given to exaggeration . If half of it is validated I can’t see how some of the involved people can stay on. I feel we are stuck until the hearings are complete. Anyway the strategic plan is back in committee(s) so that should carry them till Nov./17.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. I am away this weekend in Kingston area. Picton today. Hudson could learn a lot from Prince Edward County.

    Will break my 12 step blog recovery next week.

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  13. Brian,

    I agree on the Rob Spencer complaint, I have great respect for him. I also have great respect for Ed Prevost, so I’m deeply conflicted by the allegations grinding through the various Commissions at great legal expense.

    We must ignore what we can’t change and that includes the past. I’ve said many times that each and every Hudson citizen shares the blame of past administrations and especially lack of oversight.

    Wish there was a faster way forward, but the system is not designed for speed.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Brian,

    I like your re-definition of naysayer. That said, the rumour mill in Hudson churns at incredible speed and many considered dissenting opinions are based on third and fourth generation distortions of borderline facts.

    Hence the critical need for an absolutely transparent government in any small town.

    There is probably a TV series in Hudson’s future, an unholy mix of Gomer Pyle, Game of Thrones, Hawaii Five O, and Scandal plus a bunch of others for good measure.

    Liked by 1 person

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