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LETTER: ‘Astounding’ behaviour of mayor upsets protester

In Climate Change
Mar 5th, 2023

‘Surely, our lives that you disrupt are worth more than your meeting,’ says resident who protested transit changes at meeting and felt ignored by mayor
Letter to the Editor

The following letter is with regard to city council’s discussion on Orillia Transit during a meeting Monday.

On Monday afternoon a handful of people showed up to protest the mayor’s insulting comments about busing being a luxury and his attempt to cut bus service — again.

We did not pre-plan with each other, though we were not surprised to see the others there.

What was most astounding was the mayor’s complete refusal to engage with us whatsoever, refusing even to look at us. I guess he didn’t like my tone? I guess I don’t like people who refuse to look at the people they make decisions about — especially when these decisions cause harm. Mayor Steve Clarke was not perfect, but he would have never ignored us in that manner, no matter how angry we were.

I’d like to say this: If you are going to disrupt our lives in your fancy suits and ridiculously unnecessary incomes at the expense of the low income citizens of Orillia — most of us — then we will certainly disrupt your meeting in whatever tone feels appropriate. Loudly.

Respect is a two-way street. If you have none for us, you are in no position to demand decorum. Surely our lives that you disrupt are worth more than your meeting’s decorum. Might I remind you, your job is to represent us. How can you do so if you wont engage?

The mayor then tried to dodge the topic and push the vote to a different day, when those affected by his move to slash bus service wouldn’t be there to comment. Enraged at his disregard we objected loudly. The police were called.

When the time came, Coun. Ralph Cipolla brought forth the motion for discussion. Initially there was no one to second the motion. You could have heard a pin drop. The mayor tried to second his own motion but was told he would not be able to do that.

Then, from the States, just before her GPS announced she was driving, while glancing at the camera and then back at the road, Coun. Whitney Smith, who wasn’t even in the country to greet us and whose behaviour the police (may) describe as distracted driving, chimed in: “Sorry, my hand is up you guys.” She later denied knowing the topic of the vote, saying, “And sorry, what’s going to be the question? Guys, I’m sorry.”

Is this not distracted voting? Since when are councillors allowed to vote in Orillia while driving in the U.S.A.? Shouldn’t they at least have to show up for the citizens of Orillia? Shouldn’t they at least know the topic — especially one they seconded and brought into discussion? When the police were called, was this illegal driving manoeuvre mentioned, or was it just a call to silence dissent?

These two people, mayor and councillor, with ties to the states that appear stronger than their commitment to the people who have built their lives in Orillia, were two of three councillors who supported cutting services, with Smith calling the busses “dead empty” after saying she spoke to eight passengers in an hour during the early morning hours. I’m sure they would love to know their presence amounted to busses being “dead empty.”

Ultimately this motion was defeated a second time. The vote was 7-2, with Coun. Cipolla (wasn’t he supposed to retire?) and Mayor McIsaac (didn’t he refer to the City of Orillia as his “family business?”) as the only ones willing to vote yay.

Coun. Fallis had to say his vote twice to ensure it was recorded as he was interrupted by Coun. Smith’s GPS. “Sorry you guys, sorry.” She seems to say that more than anything else.

Fallis, always humble and interested in how everyday people are affected by these decisions, came over to talk a number of times. He reminded council that the city just received a grant to enhance transit services. Thanks Coun. Fallis for standing up for us, even when you are thrown under the bus.

Coun. Luke Leatherdale also came over to chat repeatedly throughout the night and declared he never supported cutting transit which he called an essential service that all types of people rely on.

Coun. Janet-Lynne Durnford came to see us when we arrived and was a vocal and articulate advocate for those who take the bus throughout the night.

Coun. Tim Lauer pointed out that the issue had already been voted down and questioned how it had come before council again, while Coun. Jeff Czetwerzuk argued that we need to expand rather than reduce service.

Coun. David Campbell reminded council that they had already made a decision to wait for a report from the transit advisory committee and emphasized that the report would give insight on any concerns. One might question why the mayor doesn’t want to hear from the committee that four city councillors sit on.

A big thank you to the councillors who actually take the time to know the people their decisions affect, and tolerate our outbursts of distress. We appreciate you and your efforts to find solutions that don’t leave the people struggling out in the cold.

Valerie Kitchen

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