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Opinion: Dave Dale, An ounce of foresight is worth more than a pound of apologies

Unfortunately for the Cassellholme board, what’s remaining of it anyway, they didn’t have very good political advice or didn’t follow it. The “dithering” faux pas handed Coun. Bill Vrebosch all the mud he needed to throw at them while draining their political capital and tarnishing their professional reputations.
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There's a way not to do things that are political in nature and foresight helps.

What does Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Cassellholme Board of Management have in common?

They both need better political advice.

Trudeau’s decision to be a beachnik on vacation for the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation last Thursday was myopic. And flying over Kamloops and the Indigenous community of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc to get there, ignoring invitations to attend their event, rubbed salt in a gaping wound. More than 200 unmarked graves were found at the Kamloops residential school in late May, sparking outrage coast to coast to coast as it symbolized Canada’s genocidal construction. Several thousand more unmarked graves have either been found at other schools in various provinces since, or predicted to be discovered in the near future.

Trudeau and his handlers mistakenly thought it was better that the leader of the country shouldn’t lead on such an occasion. By Saturday, he was on the telephone apologizing for the misstep.

I’m sure setting aside the day for personal reflection sounded like a good idea at some point in time. If that was the case, the Prime Minister should have let everyone know his true itinerary.

I suspect it was also a desperate make-up vacation for his family after dragging them through a fruitless pandemic election.

And Trudeau is likely grappling with his own truths and reconciling with what is going to take place this winter. I hope there is a plan, although it may depend on how long he wants to actually lead the Liberals if it requires playing ball with the other parties.

Maybe that trek on Tofino sand was his version of a “walk in the snow’ and we’ll hear about his decision in the coming weeks. His father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau retired in 1984 after a walkabout in an Ottawa blizzard.

Perhaps it would be better if the son spent Thanksgiving weekend reflecting on global gluttony and whether he’s getting good advice lately.

Speaking of turkeys, the cursed Cassellholme project is stirring up the political waters with heated exchanges fuelled by poorly-worded marketing materials. It’s all part of a larger bonfire of the vanities in Nipissing District that’s been smouldering for decades.

The latest stink is over a marketing pamphlet Cassellholme circulated that blamed a nearly $2.6M time-delay price hike to $122M on the “dithering” by partner councils this spring.

Deputy Mayor Tanya Vrebosch, first to resign from the Cassellholme board, posted a ‘whistle blower-like’ statement on the issue through her Facebook page Friday. It came after several news stories involving her father Coun. Bill Vrebosch, newly appointed by North Bay council to the board, and Coun. Mark King, board member and proponent of the redevelopment to go ahead as planned.

On the near horizon for every municipality is 2022 budget deliberations, with each of the partner communities facing a hefty bill. North Bay’s challenge includes another big infrastructure project waiting for approval – the proposed twin-pad rink and community centre planned for the Steve Omischl Sports Fields Complex. The construction cost, plus financing is estimated to be nearly $50M.

Tanya, North Bay’s budget chief, alleges the Cassellholme board lacks proper procedures and isn’t transparent, stating her attempts to get answers were met with derision. She wants the board’s handling of the issue and the project reviewed, suggesting the final cost could go higher. And she outlined the timeline of decisions to show it wasn’t council dithering that led to the extra few million being tacked on top.

Also raised were issues about a new spin-off corporation being created.

She admitted voting in support of a motion choosing a name of a new corporation and who would sit on its board, but Vrebosch said “…there was never a motion from the board authorizing the actual creation, reporting structure, financials, legal obligations etc.”

Cassellholme’s refurbishment and expansion have been discussed ad nauseam for more than 15 years and, at this point, it is hard to explain in a nutshell. The key issue has been about who will hold the construction debt with partner councils and the province not wanting to put it on their books.

All avenues were explored, including how to restructure the corporation so it could keep the liability with Cassellholme, but nothing worked. The cost estimate, meanwhile, nearly doubled from just a few years ago and all efforts to ensure the local communities don’t have to hold the debt has failed.

It’s interesting the word “dithering” is what it took to shake things up recently. That’s how I described a half-decade ago North Bay council’s handling of the arena replacement issue. Strategic options and potential partnerships for multi-sport recreation facilities died on the vine over two decades.

And I remember the frustration people felt when the Vrebosch duo told opponents of the Omischl site that there was no more time to study things, it was time to move forward. It’s a smidge ironic the shoe is on the other foot right now.

Unfortunately for the Cassellholme board, what’s remaining of it anyway, they didn’t have very good political advice or didn’t follow it. The “dithering” faux pas handed Bill Vrebosch all the mud he needed to throw at them while draining their political capital and tarnishing their professional reputations.

For the price of a steak dinner at Churchill’s I would have told them they shouldn’t spend municipal money on propaganda that insulted their own partners. I have learned, through experience, that certain words can trigger responses that are more passionate than expected.

And if you want to pull someone’s chain, tell them they’ve been dithering. It works every time but you might not like the reaction.

I smell another apology brewing.

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses related to his work can be sent to [email protected]. To contact the writer directly, email: [email protected] or check out his website