(A note first to my thousands, if not millions of global readers of this blog: this is a local story. It involves local people trying to make a living from their business of providing their small community in Canada with essential needs, like food and hardware. Some of those needs are met by imported products made or grown elsewhere in the world by other local people in other countries trying to make a living; and thus, in some modest way they, we, are also helping each other.)
One of the special things about shopping in Lion’s Head is the friendly relationship you can develop over time with local business owners and staff. So, as I read the current issue (Nov. 2 to 23, 2021) of the Bruce Peninsula Press, I was dismayed to learn that those people and their businesses are hurting as a result of the implementation of paid parking, and the lack of prior consultation with them.
In the Publisher’s Column on Page 4, John Francis writes about letters on the agenda of an October 25 special meeting of the Northern Bruce Peninsula municipal council. He quotes from one written by Scott and Carla Hellyer, owners of Scott’s Home Hardware. Noting the lack of a Business Improvement Association, they write, “we wish that council would have asked individual businesses for input into paid parking in the downtown core before enforcing it during our COVID pandemic.”
Other letters, “some thoughtful, some angry,” Francis says, without naming those authors, were also critical of council’s approach: “Most importantly, local business owners feel that they were not at all part of the planning consultation process,” said one.
He goes on to blame the apparent lack of communication largely on “understaffing” at the overworked-staff municipal office, from the Chief Administrative Officer on down. As a result, no one has the time to devote to developing and implementing a sufficient communication strategy.
Now, I have to say I’ve long been a fan of The Press, and the amazing job John Francis has done over 40 years to start and keep it going, and apparently flourishing, at a time when print newspapers are an increasingly endangered species. The current issue also includes an article about the recent hiring of actual reporters on a paper that for years has largely depended on submitted content.
Meanwhile, over those many years, under corporate, ‘bottom line’ financial pressures, other local/regional news venues have disappeared, or experienced layoffs leaving them as pale shadows of what they used to be. I think back to that time in the early 1980s when the Bruce Peninsula National Park was a controversial proposal and the subject of an often-contentious, local-community debate. Numerous meetings, open houses, and other news developments mostly coming out of Tobermory were covered like a blanket by reporters from two Owen Sound-based TV satellite offices, local radio, the Owen Sound Sun Times, and the Wiarton Echo. Yours truly, based on the peninsula, did most of the reporting of the park debate for the Sun Times and the Echo, and the occasional story for a couple of Toronto-based newspapers before I became a full-time Sun Times staff reporter. But those days of ongoing, extensive, local news coverage are gone and may never come back. So, Kudos to the Bruce Peninsula Press for being there.
But, that being said, I find it ironic that what should have been a front-page story about paid parking hurting business was missed. Instead, the topic was divided in two, in the Publisher’s Column and the separate Reporter’s Notebook on Page 6, also written by the publisher. Odd, considering The Press appears to be transitioning to an actual ‘news’ paper.
If there is a communication problem regarding local government and public affairs on the upper peninsula, and that certainly appears to be the case, then the relative lack of professional news coverage is part of the problem. ‘The Press’ has long had an important role in public affairs and the peoples’ right to know. It is not “the fake news.” And beware of anyone, especially politicians, who say things like that.
The other point I want to make is that it shouldn’t be necessary to hire someone to develop and implement a municipal communication strategy when all that’s required is for someone to have the presence of mind to realize what’s needed. Was it such a stretch after all that a member of council could have said, shouldn’t we consider how this might affect local businesses?
And from there, actually talking to them would surely have come to mind. And if not? Well then, that’s a problem of another sort.
(Author’s note: This post has been edited to add some information and further comment.)