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Councillors vote to go after AWARE Simcoe for $5,000

In AWARE News Network
Nov 25th, 2015
Beeton Woods

Beeton Woods

By Kate Harries AWARE News Network

Simcoe County councillors voted yesterday to collect $5,000 in legal costs from AWARE Simcoe in the Beeton Woods case.

Mayor Rick Milne of New Tecumseth, where the woodland that is to be clearcut is located, urged his fellow councillors to “move on” and waive the costs awarded by a Superior Court judge.

But the majority, including Warden Gerry Marshall, insisted AWARE must pay.

“We are of course disappointed by the vote to pursue the costs,” said AWARE Simcoe vice-chair Sandy Agnew. “However, we were encouraged by the discussion about using the funds to plant trees. We will be meeting to decide our response.”

Milne was one of several who expressed support for some of AWARE’s goals and hoped that both the county and the environmental group could learn from the Beeton Woods experience.

“This is a group that is trying to help us run a better government and be our eyes and ears out there,” Milne said. His motion to waive was seconded by James Leduc, deputy mayor of Bradford-West Gwillimbury.

Deputy Warden Terry Dowdall suggested that the award could provide an opportunity for the county and AWARE to work together on an environmental project, like planting trees.

“It isn’t a huge amount of money but I think probably to this organization it’s huge,” Dowdall said. “I would think if we could do something like that it would really send a message that we’re supportive of the environment as well.”

Others were adamant that the money be collected.

“This was taken to court over a loophole or a technicality and we won that challenge,” Ramara Mayor Basil Clarke said, adding that the court awarded only a portion of the county’s costs.

Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes noted that the county still has to pay approximately $17,000 in lawyers’ fees.

Referring to earlier budget discussion, Hughes said that not to collect the $5,000 would “add insult to injury… The working poor and the people who we’re trying to support and have been supporting could well use the other money that’s left over for maybe groceries to put food on the table, and pay their rent.”

In his remarks, Hughes confused a reference in a letter to county council from Maude Barlow on behalf of Council of Canadians’ 935 supporters in Simcoe County with AWARE Simcoe’s membership.

Leduc pointed out that the cost of collecting the award should be taken into account, as well as the time of councillors and staff at the meeting. “We’re sitting here right now 10 minutes into this debate and I’m assuming our wages over the last 10 minutes (are) going to get near that $5,000 range.”

The motion to waive the costs was defeated. The vote tally was not given.

Adjala-Tosorontio Mayor Mary Small-Brett proposed that the $5,000 be directed to the South Simcoe Streams Network.

Oro-Medonte Deputy Mayor Ralph Hough suggested that AWARE Simcoe be asked to work on tree-planting as a way of paying the award off.

Dowdall and Innisfil Deputy Mayor Lynn Dollin supported the idea of in-kind contributions, but Small-Brett refused to accept this as a friendly amendment.

“In-kind doesn’t work for me,” said Wasaga Beach Mayor Brian Smith. “I cannot support any amendment that does not receive the $5,000.” Smith added that he did favour putting the $5,000 towards “environmental needs.”

Warden and Penetanguishene Mayor Marshall agreed with Smith. “I think you have to have a face on whatever you do,” he said, explaining that “if people say ‘What happened to the money?’ you can see what happened to the money – so we received $5,000, on the other side of that we received a donation of $5000 worth of trees being purchased, you’ve got money in, you’ve got receipts out… Everything balances and everybody’s comfortable, it’s got a face on it.”

The motion to proceed with cost recovery and donate the costs to the South Simcoe Streams Network passed.

Springwater Mayor Bill French declared a conflict on the issue. He said it was not pecuniary, but based on his participation on AWARE Simcoe’s vision committee two years ago.

The legal costs relate to an injunction to stop the clearcutting of the Beeton Woods that was sought by AWARE Simcoe pending the outcome of a judicial review of a county council decision to allow clearcutting. AWARE Simcoe based its judicial review application on violations of procedural fairness in the way the county conducted a hearing into the matter.

Yesterday’s decision, taken in Committee of the Whole, must be ratified at the next council meeting.

Opinion: The warden got it wrong

3 Responses to “Councillors vote to go after AWARE Simcoe for $5,000”

  1. Donna Baylis says:

    When a county pursues costs from a community group of residents/taxpayers — a group of engaged people who are well aware of the costs and what is at stake — a chill goes through me. The group was acting as a voice for a significant number people in Simcoe County who believe that clear cutting forest for development must not be undertaken deceptively or lightly. Even a hand slap will stop people from standing up in the future.

    • Shelly says:

      This is where it is impossible for regular people to be heard. Lots of people voiced their opinion that clearcutting is a poor option when there are already plenty of areas void of trees suitable for their needs elsewhere. These councillors want to punish their own constituents for helping the public be heard. Is that what we are reduced to? We can’t stand up for ourselves unless we have enough money?

  2. Joanne Lewis says:

    I am extremely disappointed with County Council’s decision to to retrieve $5000 in court costs form AWARE Simcoe. It does not matter for what purpose the money is used, it sends the message of “don’t you dare challenge us” to the residents of the county. This is dangerous and undemocratic, in my opinion. Kudos to New Tecumseth Mayor Rick Milne and the other members who voted not to retrieve the money from AWARE.

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