Letter To The Editor: Letter Writer Says Free Speech Is Being Muzzled In Muskoka Lakes

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Letter To The Editor

It is shocking that on July 3rd local residents, wanting to celebrate Canada Day in a public park, were deprived their right to free speech at the Township of Muskoka Lakes council meeting.

I was there with many other Township residents to signal our disagreement with Swift River Energy Ltd.’s (SREL) decision to deny us our right to hold our annual Canada Day celebrations at our traditional location beside the Bala Falls in Margaret Burgess Park. Apparently the province has leased that parkland to SREL for its construction of the proposed hydro plant. There was no official notice that this transfer had taken place, so we were shocked last week to find out that SREL now claims the right to decide who can use the park and who can’t.

Our Canada Day celebrations are open to all. They are not about politics or power plants but cake, ice-cream and fireworks. Frustrated by SREL’s threat to charge anyone they wanted with trespassing, some 60 concerned citizens converged on the township council meeting to express our concerns. This was a well behaved group composed mainly of seniors. They had agreed among themselves that one person would speak on their behalf.

Imagine our surprise when council refused to hear any delegations from this group. As this meeting had only been announced the day before, there was no way to follow council protocol that people who wish to speak must request to delegate at least seven business days in advance.

Citizens were understandably upset. Mayor Don Furniss and his Probity team campaigned on a platform of openness, transparency and civility but when they had a chance to demonstrate tolerance and civility, they chose to silence us. (Thanks to Councillors Kruckel, Nishikawa and Currie for voting to hear us.)

In a group this size you’d expect a few complaints and shouts of “Shame”. But who would have expected that Mayor Furniss would feel so threatened that he would call in the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to keep pesky voters in check? What prevented our Mayor and council from listening to our concerns? Why would they presume that we had nothing to say worth hearing? And why would they bring in armed OPP officers when all we were requesting them to do was listen?

This is not the leadership we were promised. In his inaugural speech last December Mayor Furniss said: “I believe it is essential to listen to each of you, communicate effectively, and operate in a fair and balanced manner, to earn your respect as a leader. There will certainly be numerous opinions on every issue we consider as Council – even dissenting views, – if you can believe that! I am convinced however, that through open, respectful discussion around the table, your council can move towards consensus on every issue.”

Real leadership is about finding consensus. Calling the OPP doesn’t earn you respect.

Cathy Malcolmson
Bala, Ontario

5 COMMENTS

  1. Good morning, MPs, CTV News Toronto, and CTV News Barrie, W5, What’s Up Muskoka!

    This is a very personal, local and national issue that needs your attention and to STOP a hydro plant from being built in our beautiful town of Bala, Ontario, over the internationally recognized Bala Falls. A local landmark, aboriginal land, and absolutely beautiful natural falls!! I am providing you with some background to the story, as well as adding my personal story at the end. I need your help!!!

    I am writing to you today, Senators and Members of Parliament, Toronto and Barrie CTV News, W5, What’s Up in Muskoka, and fellow cottagers and residents of Bala!

    Please take a few minutes to review the emails below as well as watch this video: http://savethebalafalls.com/

    My hope is that the MPs will take note and help us stop the insanity of this private energy company. And, that the media will take note of this, and help us tell our story and help us fight. This has been a 10 year fight, one which we are not going to stop fighting for!! Preservation of beautiful, God designed, enjoyed by all swimmers, boaters, cottagers, permanent residents, scuba divers, tourists, businesses, families and friends, and international tourists.

    The video shows residents love for the town, the businesses that do NOT want the new hydro plant, and the Mohawk Indians also fighting to save the falls. It also shows that the Mayor of Muskoka Lakes, Mr. Don Furniss, is not a very professional politician, not sharing the views of all his constituents, showing his conflict of interest (he must be an owner in the Swift River Energy Corporation), he stops Township meetings because he cannot handle the heat being put on him from residents, he won’t listen, he won’t take a lie detector test because he knows he is being dishonest – you can actually see it on his face, and he is trying to push this through for his own personal gain…HE IS NOT A GREAT REPRESENTATIVE FOR THE PERMANENT OR SUMMER RESIDENTS in our beautiful town.

    Disgraceful and disrespectful to Canada…The Mayor did NOT allow the residents of Bala to celebrate Canada Day at the falls with friends and fireworks!! He threatened to call the OPP and have people charged with trespassing!!

    Bala, Ontario – Bala Falls!
    Bala is a Canadian community famous for the Bala Falls. It is located in Muskoka Lakes Township in Ontario, where Lake Muskoka empties into the Moon River.

    It is considered one of the hubs of cottage country located north of Toronto. Thus, its year-round population of several hundred is increased by thousands of seasonal residents and weekend day-trippers during summer months. It is known as the Cranberry Capital of Ontario, as the province’s largest cranberry farms, Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh and Wahta Iroquis Growers, are located nearby. It was once the smallest incorporated town in Canada, until amalgamation as part of Muskoka Lakes Township.

    History Bala was settled by Thomas Burgess in 1868. Thomas Burgess opened a sawmill and store to serve the area’s scattered settlers. Thomas Burgess named it after the town of Bala in Wales with which it is officially twinned. Located on the Canadian Shield, it proved unsuitable for farming and its fortunes declined as logging became less economically viable. Railway connections helped to re-establish the village as a popular location for summer resorts. In 1914, the town incorporated with Burgess’ son as the first mayor making it the smallest incorporated town in Canada.

    After being rated by National Geographic as the best of the 10 Best Trips of Summer 2011, National Geographic Traveler magazine has ranked Muskoka as one of the 20 Best of the World 2012 travel destinations.

    This is a world-wide rating – Muskoka is rated with Central Africa’s Virunga Volcanoes, Guatemala, and Peru.

    That is, Muskoka is special. And protecting the natural beauty is a responsibility, and something worth fighting for.

    The proposed hydro-electric generating station would blast away the Muskoka bedrock and put a 100′-long poured-concrete building in direct view of the most popular place from which to view the falls. Both the north and south falls would just a trickle throughout most of the year. Over 500′ of the only publically-accessible shoreline in the area would become restricted as too dangerous for the public.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    To my fellow Bala Cottagers and Friends: You are welcome to use the distribution list (the more we send out the better)…and please add your own personal story and reasons to preserve our beautiful Bala Falls!

    Sharon Elliott Haig’s – Personal Story about Bala!

    My email sent to the Township of Muskoka Lakes, March 11, 2015

    SAVE THE BALA FALLS! Please VOTE AGAINST THE HYDRO PLANT.

    Ruining our beautiful town and falls, for what…no benefit to the town! Only selfishness on behalf of the Mayor for personal gain! Councillors are to vote on BEHALF OF THE RESIDENTS, and not voting for their own personal again. It sounds like the Mayor is trying to push this vote through quickly…This must have to do with his own personal gain. This is a conflict of interest, and he should abstain from the voting.

    Our family have been cottagers in Bala for over 100 years, and have always brought family and friends to Bala to visit the falls. I have grown up in Bala since I was six months old (now I am also 50…and going to spend my summer vacation in Bala), spent many summers there playing, swimming, fishing, boating, spending time with friends and family, taken swimming lessons at Jaspen Beach, and swam and fished at the Bala Falls. Many many many great memories of the Bala falls. My parents retired from their full-time jobs in Toronto to retire in Bala, which was their plan since 1957. My mom passed away two years ago this month, but my father is still living there, and plans to be there for a long time, and we are hoping as a family to retain our cottage for as long as possible. PLEASE DO NOT TAKE THIS AWAY FROM ME. I now live in Ottawa and travel five hours to get to the most beautiful place on earth. I travel to Bala 10 to 12 times per year…this is my home…Bala, and the Bala falls. Please do not ruin it for me and my family!

    My family has paid their taxes every year and supported this town and township, but am now very dismayed at what the Mayor, Mr. Don Furniss, is promoting to ruin OUR TOWN. My mother did many many projects, one being the RCMP Musical Ride coming to Bala, which had never been done before…it took over four years of work…why, because she want to promote Bala and bring people, especially school children from the region, to Bala!!

    It is appalling that for construction purposes, the company is wanting to cut down 100 year old trees. And, blasting through the rocks and causing the land to deteriorate for a hydro plant is just terrible. The sound pollution would also be terrible during the building process and again ruining the peacefulness and calmness that the Moon River and Lake Muskoka provides to all who live or visit Bala.

    Using the Portage parking lot for two years or more, which includes two summers, would DRASTICALLY reduce their business dollars, and direct tourists to pass right by Bala businesses. Plus, this would also inhibit Bala United Church regular attendees and guests parking at the church.

    Widening the highway would also be a GREAT DISASTER for permanent residents and summer cottagers in Bala, Port Carling, Gravenhurst and area. Where are people supposed to walk to get from one side of the town to the other? This is ridiculous and again would ruin the land, especially the Portage, from the history of Bala.

    People who have lived in Bala for many many years, should have their say comments heard as VERY IMPORTANT compared to anyone who just ‘moved into the area in recent years’. Like the Mayor!! He doesn’t live there, so he doesn’t care about Bala! Perhaps the hydro plant should be moved to Torrance where he resides, which would cause less disruption and wouldn’t affect the Bala falls. Councillors need to defer this vote until such time as all alternatives have been researched, and documented and presented to the public before any decision is made.

    The Township Councillors should be working their hardest to KEEP BALA THE WAY IT IS. The Bala falls is the HEART of the TOWN. People come from all over the world to see the Bala falls, they certainly won’t come to see a hydro plant.

    I care about my family’s safety and the safety of all visitors and residents who come to visit. The Township Councillors should care also about safety for all people!!

    Please consider my comments and make the RIGHT decision on behalf of the Bala and Moon River property owners…VOTE AGAINST THE HYDRO PLANT DEVELOPMENT.

    SAVE THE BALA FALLS!!

    Sharon Haig
    105 Meandering Brook Drive
    Ottawa, Ontario, K1T 0B4
    (613) 739-4446
    email sharon.haig@sympatico.ca

  2. It is wonderful to see the waves of support for stopping the Bala Falls Power Plant. I have been Idle No More on Bala for over ten months stopping this project while everyone works to get it canceled please support occupybalafalls
    #themuskokalorax

  3. I grew up in Bala and attended Glen Orchard Public school. I have visited Bala every year as an adult since I have moved and now live elsewhere. I love the Bala Falls so much that I have rented a cottage for a week this summer on the Moon River. I am so looking forward to sharing the experience with my daughter and niece. I find it disheartening that I will not be able enjoy this much longer if the Hydro plant is not stopped. Do not destroy Bala for the benefit of Big Corporations.

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