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PART 3: Do Orillia's municipal politicians have any regrets?

Many pointed to the decision about the Terry Fox Circle as one they might have approached differently and say getting input from citizens needs attention
city council feb 2020
City council meets in February of 2020 - one of the last times they met together prior to the onset of the pandemic. Dave Dawson/OrilliaMatters File Photo

Orillia's City Council, elected in November of 2018, is entering the final year of its four-year mandate. The next municipal election, slated for Oct. 24, 2022, is just one year away.

With that in mind, we canvassed Mayor Steve Clarke and all eight city councillors to answer six key questions heading into the home stretch of their tenure. They were given a limit of 150-words per response.

Their responses are published verbatim. Click here to read their answers to our first question. Click here to read their answers to our second question.

Are there any decisions you've made so far this term that you regret or matters that, in hindsight, you might have approached differently?

Mason Ainsworth (Ward 3)

No.

Jay Fallis (Ward 3)

I would have approached the Terry Fox Circle issue differently.

For context: I initially considered supporting keeping the circle open to vehicles, however changed my position because of safety concerns. During the most recent decision, I was willing to support council’s compromise once pedestrianizing the circle was no longer an option. I am very happy that we were able to find that compromise.

However, my biggest regret was my approach. It wasn’t until the petition started and an initial decision had been made that I began going door to door to gauge what constituents wanted. This experience was informative. I surveyed 150 constituents and had many good conversations.

In the end, pedestrianizing the circle slightly edged out maintaining vehicular access. This gave me a further appreciation for both sides and an understanding for where my constituents stood. If I could do it again, I would have started with this approach.   

Pat Hehn (Ward 4)

In hindsight, I might have pushed for a different way to look at the Park Master Plan. I know that there were public consultations at the Library but I don’t think that enough people were really aware of what was really going to happen to the park.

I believe that we have to find a better way to engage the public on really major issues. The public showed that they cared when they rallied round and took up a petition of nearly 6,000 signatures asking that the Terry Fox Circle be kept open. Thankfully, council listened.

Tim Lauer (Ward 4)

I am second-guessing myself in regards to the new clear plastic garbage bag policy. I may have knee-jerked this one. After thinking it through further and thanks to chats with lots of unhappy constituents, I am not certain this was the right move.

First, there seems to be a lot of potential logistical challenges, privacy, enforcement etc. Secondly, I am not sure that the advertised benefits seen in other municipalities will translate to our numbers given that we have traditionally over-achieved in regards to recycling rates. Also having a problem promoting the use of plastic bags especially after encouraging folks to abandon the problematic plastic leaf bag for paper bags. I think I’ve become a fan of the good old recyclable tin garbage can. I will be open to reconsider if the program stumbles.

David Campbell (Ward 1)

I think we could have approached the Terry Fox Circle project differently. I initially voted for the ‘preferred option’ (the staff and consultants' recommended option). I did that based on input that I had received up to that point and my own view that cars and parks don’t mix. I have always felt that the city does a pretty good job of getting the information out there (through social media, press releases etc.), but what this project showed me is that there is more that can be done.

The best example is putting up the signage right at the Terry Fox Circle with pictures showing what the changes would look like. Once that happened, I really heard from a lot of people that I hadn’t before and, with that input, changed my position. I think we could use that method on a lot of projects going forward.

Ted Emond (Ward 1)

Our approach to public engagement is faulty based on recent reactions to council decisions.

Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke

The Terry Fox Circle issue illuminated some interesting dynamics.  As much as it appears this issue has now been moved forward meaningfully, I would have preferred that this had come together differently.

Council made a decision on the information it had at the time which saw the majority of respondents to public open houses and a survey support closing the Circle to vehicles. With that, council still delayed the decision for another month to allow for more public input. Very little was received during that time.

However, as we all saw, once the decision was made, there were many others who wished to make their opinion made. We are always trying to find ways of increasing public awareness and education and this illustrates the need for us to continue to do just that. Again, I believe a right decision in the end but it would have been better to get ‘there’ sooner.

Ralph Cipolla (Ward 2)

We should have paid more attention to the Terry Fox Circle. Also, I would like to review our statues in our community to ensure that we are being equitable in our thinking.

Rob Kloostra (Ward 2)

I regret not taking a stronger stand against the parking structure. In no way should this project move forward or be attached to the Transit Hub. Orillia has funding in place from the province for the Transit Hub. The parking structure is a want not a need at this point and it would be fiscally irresponsible to include. The Transit Hub is being held up while we wait for a parking study. The parking structure is why buses are still on West Street.

TOMORROW: Check back tomorrow to hear how council dealt with the pandemic and its related challenges over the past 18 months.