I considered not going to the Community Services meeting on Monday. The agenda didn’t look all that promising, not much on it other than the request by the Middlesex- London Health Unit to amend the smoking by-law to include public outdoor areas. The legitimate media would be interested, looking for fireworks, or at least a couple of sparks, on this issue, since it has been a hot topic in the past. My observations would probably be superfluous.
However, attendance has generally been my strong suit, so a few minutes after the start of the meeting found me in my accustomed uncomfortable place on a front bench in the third floor gallery. A few other spectators were present as well, no doubt awaiting the outcome of a particular issue on the agenda. The most notable of these was Dr. Graham Pollett, the Medical Officer of Health with a couple of colleagues.
I wondered why he was there; why wasn’t he on the council chambers floor on the second floor where he could make his pitch? I soon saw why; he wasn’t listed as a delegation on the agenda. Unusual, but perhaps that would happen after there had been an initial glance at the proposal. Later, I learned why.
But first, there were a number of items to deal with, especially the matter of the a letter from the Provincial Ministry of Colleges and Universities announcing an end to funding for Employment Resource Centres in the library and in the city’s Ontario Works office.
The cuts were not entirely unexpected; the province had been warning that they would be coming for a couple of years. Still, it was a hard blow. A lot of people depend on these services for job searches. Besides, it would mean the loss of 18 jobs, 16 at the public library and two at Ontario Works.
Both Bill Armstrong and Dale Henderson expressed grave concern over the loss of these jobs. What is our job strategy? Henderson wanted to know. He wanted staff to come back with an action plan to put people back to work. With measurables.
That was ironic. Both Henderson and Armstrong, along with the mayor and five others (Swan, Polhill, Orser, VanMeerbergen and Denise Brown), had voted yes to budget cuts only last week that would inevitably lead to job losses much greater than this. How did they think those cuts would be accommodated?
But then it was on to other matters. The committee was being asked to approve some updates in the Special Events Procedure Manual to acknowledge some changes in provincial legislation. The province, in preparing itself for a fall election the previous year, had loosened its restrictions on alcohol in public parks. Staff recommended that the city try having a beer garden at special events. The committee concurred.
However, a couple of delegations used the opportunity to lobby the committee on a matter of greater interest: the noise by-law for special events. A representative for Bethany’s Hope Foundation urged the committee to take it easy on “Rock the Park” which provides some funding to the charity. It invariably violates the noise by-law, thereby losing its $500 deposit. In the opposite corner was a member of the residential community which abuts the park. They wanted the by-law to remain untouched. As it was, the noise rattled the windows in their homes.
The community had some sympathizers on the committee in Harold Usher and Bill Armstrong. The latter proposed that the issue of noise levels and their effects on hearing be sent to the Medical Officer of Health, but the mayor would have none of it. You need only look at what the health unit wanted to do on the smoking front, he said bitterly. If you sent it to them, they would say shut down all entertainment, they don’t want anyone to have any fun.
Henderson saw the concerts as a great business opportunity for the city. He had tried to propose increasing the number of decibels allowed even before he had heard from the affected residents and he did so again. He suggested increasing the decibels allowed from 90 to 100, despite the fact that he agreed that this would be 10 times as loud.
Neither Henderson nor Fontana lives in the city; they and their families and neighbours don’t have to live with the impact. Fontana wanted staff to bring back some more information on extending the hours of operation and increasing the allowable noise levels. Expect a public participation meeting on the issue in the not too distant future.
Then came the request from the Health Unit, three of whose members had been sitting patiently in the gallery for more than two hours.
The letter from Dr. Graham Pollett noted that the Middlesex –London Board of Health had passed a motion that council be asked to establish a smoke-free public outdoor spaces by-law to ban smoking in public recreational areas, patios at bars and restaurants, 9 meters from doorways of public places and workplaces, and to limit smoking to designated areas at public events and festivals and on hospital and university grounds.
Given the mayor’s earlier suggestion that the Medical officer of Health was a party-pooper, I anticipated that this request would be given short shrift, and I was not entirely wrong. Bill Armstrong, himself a smoker, proposed that there be a ban on smoking around and on playgrounds where children were involved. The mayor, also a smoker, concurred. But anything further would be going too far. When Armstrong proposed including bus shelters, Fontana warned, “Now you’re going to lose me.” Perhaps he didn’t realize that children also ride the bus.
Usher was strongly supportive of the direction Pollett was suggesting. He was sick and tired of having to walk through second hand smoke, and, while he didn’t mention it, being twice a cancer survivor still undergoing treatment probably doesn’t make it any easier. He wanted the public to weigh in on the issue.
But Henderson saw it all as an attack on democracy, the thin edge of the wedge, punishing people for their habits. The real issue wasn’t the tobacco. It was all the additives, and he proceeded to list them faster than I could write. I looked them up later; a total of 599 were mentioned as possibilities. But he mentioned one that I didn’t see on the list: gunpowder.
And, as he so frequently does, he had a great idea. Rather than banning smoking and thereby threatening to turn off all the tourists who would be ticketed while hanging out in front of the JLC or the Convention Centre, why not do something different? Why not establish London as the home of the gunpowder-free cigarette? Just get someone to manufacture them. It would be a great tourist attraction. It led some of us to wonder just what he had been smoking.
It was clear from the continued discussion that the members of the committee had little understanding of their own current by-laws or provincial legislation. As they shared misinformation, I saw Dr. Pollett shaking his head.
I asked him why he hadn’t spoken to ensure that they were properly informed. He had offered to speak to the committee, he replied, but he had been informed they would simply deal with it as an item for direction, no help needed.
So instead of getting facts about the recommendation, they listened to themselves and fantasies about cigarettes as a tourist attraction.
It was enough to make you think we should be adding some gunpowder to cigarettes, not removing it.