Township - Inaugural Council

The Inaugural Council Meeting for the 2018 to 2022 term of Council was held at the Port Carling Community Centre on Monday, December 3rd, 2018. The meeting began with the singing of the National Anthem and was called to order by CAO Steve McDonald. Township Clerk, Cheryl Mortimer, welcomed everyone to the meeting and declared the election. Ms Mortimer asked each Councillor to stand when their name was called. The incoming Council was then sworn into office. Ms Mortimer presented a very proud Mayor Harding with the Chain of Office. A short invocation was given by Reverend Sue Woods. Mr. McDonald then introduced the Township senior staff to those in attendance.

Mayor Harding was asked to come forward with his inaugural address. During his thought provoking speech, Mayor Harding emphasized the need for respect, communication, a balanced approach to governance and everyone's love for Muskoka. Mayor Harding thanked the prior Council for their work and outgoing Mayor Don Furniss, stating Mayor Furniss gave freely of himself and acted decisively during his time in office.

With the new Council, Mayor Harding stated he would be turning to returning Councillors and announced that:

  • Councillor Nishikawa would be Chair of the Trails Committee
  • Councillor Hayes a member of the Library Board and “alternate Deputy Mayor”
  • Councillor Edwards would be Chair of Committee of Adjustment and Deputy Mayor

Mayor Harding has kindly shared a copy of his speech with the MRA for you to read yourselves.

The Muskoka Ratepayers' Association again congratulates the newly sworn in Council.

Mayor Harding has given the MRA permission to reproduce his speech at the Inaugural Council meeting which we have done verbatim below.

I’d like to thank you all for coming today, firstly my name is Phil Harding and I was recently elected Mayor of Muskoka lakes. I know that may seem funny for me to say, but for many of you, unless someone recently got married or someone passed away – you probably haven’t seen me in a suit.

Continuing with this suit theme - Over the past number of months on a regular basis I have heard “Phil, you have to wear socks, or Phil you are going to have to wear a suit more often, Phil you need to “Look like the mayor or people won’t vote for you.” Hmmmm – did they see the final vote?

But seriously, though I am very happy and honoured to wear a suit today – I want to make one thing very clear – it’s not about what we look like, it’s not about how “polished we are” and it’s certainly not about the clothes we wear. What will make this term of council different - is a fundamental respect for each other, a respect for the process, a respect for each of you the tax payers and a true love and respect for this place we call home – Muskoka.

This LOVE of Muskoka was a common theme this fall throughout our candidate debates and I was encouraged to speak about my personal love of Muskoka. So I started each of those debates with Loving Muskoka, protecting Muskoka and ensuring Muskoka is here for our Children, our Grandchildren and our Greatgrandchildren Is the reason I am running for office. Those were the words I used then, and they are equally true today.

To further demonstrate this perspective of respect, I would like to point out that this encouragement to speak on my love for Muskoka, came from an individual you recently elected to council. What he highlighted for me confirmed one basic truth - that it’s not what is outside Its not what we have done, and it is certainly not what we wear but most importantly it’s about what is in our hearts. He showed me respect with his encouragement - which allowed me to focus on my respect for Muskoka – so Mr. Kelley – thank you.

Keeping with this Respect Theme, as we move forward over the next four years on council, we also need to respect you the taxpayer’s and the process in general. This isn’t a sprint to the finish line and this certainly isn’t a let’s make changes because everything the prior council did was wrong. No this is a methodical, a logical and a respectful approach to everything we do - taking the best of what was, finding the best of what is and creating the best of what can be. To use a boating analogy, this is by all accounts the largest ship in Muskoka and any changes we make to its course will take time. With that said, my personal goal over this term of council, is to ensure we set an appropriate course that respects, maintains and enhances all of Muskoka not just today, but with an appropriate direction for the next 100 years.

In my former marketing life when evaluating any new strategic or branding opportunity, I asked three questions. Where are we now? Where are we going? And How are we going to get there?

So where are we now?

As a starting point, I should take a moment to thank our prior council and the Former Mayor Don Furniss for his tireless efforts and dedication he and his family gave to Muskoka. Though he and I didn’t always agree on what should or shouldn’t happen, one thing for sure, Don truly gave freely of himself to this community and he acted decisively. Whether you liked his direction or not, you always knew where he stood, so thank you Don and those retiring councillors.

So where are we? Well I think this past election has made a very clear statement that we have an engaged community that have entrusted those in front of you to offer a balanced approach in everything we do – COUNCILLORS take note – a balanced approached. I will also say with 40% of your new council now entering their third term as elected officials, this tells me that not everything we have done as a council was bad so we have a foundation to build on. Our strategic plan is generally on track, yes it will need some revision but it’s a good start. Additionally our comprehensive zoning bylaw updated last term continues to provide a roadmap for property development or redevelopment. And some of our internal changes with staffing and infrastructure pulling some services back from the District have challenged the conventional norm to ensure we continue to provide the best cost/ value relation for our tax dollars.

We do have some significant challenges with residential waterfront property redevelopment disguised as commercial that is quite frankly wrong. We have some fractured relationships with neighbouring municipalities at the district and we have had a council has been very litigious which MUST be put in the past.

So were are we? Well, we are in a pretty good place with some work to do on respect. Respect for the environment, respect for Muskoka and respect for each other.

So where are we going?

The one thing that became very clear over this past year is that the Environment must be our number one priority. Our lakes and lake health are the foundation on which Muskoka has been built and must continue to be respected and protected. This isn’t about waterfront or seasonal vs. permanent, this is about protecting our greatest asset because if we get it wrong, if we make a mistake, if we miss the mark - the long-term ramifications will assuredly destroy everything good about Muskoka.

Do we need growth? Yes. Do we need economic development? Yes. Do we need to continue to expand the year-round economy – absolutely. But let me be very clear – Over development, or inappropriate development – especially on our waterfront is not the solution. Not today, not this term of council, not ever. So priority #1 in trying to solve any problems is to ensure our Environment is protected.

A second common theme I have heard is that we need to maintain the same level of service without over spending or raising taxes exorbitant amounts. We don’t need to close arenas, we don’t need to close community centres and no we don’t need to close fire halls – but we do need to approach the way we deliver these services with creative or out of the box thinking so to speak. We need to do more with less. The old adage applies, if you continue to do what you have always done, you will continue to get what you have always got.

So my personal challenge to everyone on council as well as our entire staff is to bring new and innovative ideas to the table. What automation and or website enhancements are out there to reduce staff time and increase customer service? Where are the opportunities to save money? Where can we find efficiencies? For example - Is there an opportunity to have all departments pool company vehicles to maximize their use? Maybe – maybe not – but we have to ask the question. Can we utilize a new committee structure to allow for single public meetings on planning matters vs what often happens now with public meetings at both committee of adjustment and then again at Council – this duplication of efforts wastes staff time, council’s time as well as the Public’s time.

Do I have all the answers? Absolutely not – but my simple goal is to empower those around the council table as well as our staff to be creative and to think differently.

We need to look to other municipalities, we need to look to other business and industry to find solutions – and we need to look to you, the residents of Muskoka Lakes.

The talent pool across our Municipality is truly world renown and we need to engage with each of you at every opportunity. This isn’t a secret society – we are your elected officials and you should be aware of everything we are doing on your behalf, without having to read it in the paper. And if you are reading between the lines with this statement, yes it is my goal to have all our meetings webcast by the second quarter 2019 and shortly after our budget is passed.

We need to update our Official Plan – this alone will be a monumental task, giving consideration to recreational carrying capacity of our lakes, redevelopment of waterfront commercial properties and a potential change to the policy that prohibits the downzoning of commercial properties. Let’s face it, tourism has changed, - maybe some of our policies should as well.

Finally, I have said it many times this fall, but it’s worth repeating, we need to consider the implementation of mandatory septic inspections to protect the environment as well we need to consider a good neighbour bylaw that can help address those people who rent their properties to ensure the negative impacts on neighbouring properties are minimized or all together eliminated.

So we have an idea of where we are going, but now we have to figure out how are we going to get there?

Firstly, as mentioned, the cornerstone for this term of council will be that of respect. Respect for each other and respect for you the taxpayer.

I learned a long time ago that in any disagreement, or any event needing a decision that there are three sides to any story. Yours, Mine and the Truth. And the best way to find the truth is to make sure we evaluate (or respect) all options and opinions. WE NEED TO LISTEN MORE!!

I have shared a perspective on LISTENING by a gentleman by the name of Rick Warren with a few new council members already, but I would like to share the same with each of you today to help with this respect across the municipality. This listening is a two-way street – we need to listen to you, and everyone needs to listen to everyone else involved in the discussion – this will help with finding not your perspective, not my perspective but again the true perspective.

So listen closely to the following 5 simple tips to help us become better listeners and people of understanding.

1. Withhold judgment and criticism from the start.
Be careful not to decide until you’ve heard and comprehended it all. When someone else is talking and you hear something you disagree with your brain shuts down and you are tempted to say, Stop or Time out. When this happens you never get any further. So you MUST hear the person out.


2. Keep calm.
Don’t become defensive and don’t be offensive. If you’re patient, you’re wise. You need to remain calm.


3. Be an active listener.
You become a good listener by asking questions. A person of understanding will be able to draw others out with questions.


4. Paraphrase and summarize.
To be a good listener you must be able to tell a person what they’ve just told you. And before you share your side of the story, you need to let the other person know you understand where he or she is coming from. Make sure you can put yourself in their shoes and UNDERSTAND.


And Number 5 is my favorite. Don’t speak unless you need to.
This should go without saying but if we listen, If we understand, we may not have to speak at all. We don’t need to speak just to hear ourselves talk, but after we listen, then and only then if needed, we should speak clearly and concisely so as not to cause any misunderstanding. The old saying LESS IS MORE is appropriate.


Beyond becoming better listeners, our goals over the next term of council are not going to be accomplished by me, they are not going to be accomplished by any individual councillor, and they are not going to be accomplished by you. This is truly a team effort, we all need to work together, every member doing their part. And in case it isn’t clear, each and every one of you are also the part of this team. Your input, your support and your insight is integral to this council making better decisions for Muskoka.

Again, council MUST fully evaluate all information and make decisions for everyone, adding balance to our decisions. Council must put the environment first – yes it’s that important. Kill the lakes and we kill the economy.

And council must ensure Respect is the cornerstone of each other, of the process and of you the taxpayers.

So how are we going to get there?

I hope you are getting the theme here but we will get there by one simple word - Respect – Respect in listening and respect in understanding – and respect by protecting the environment and by working together.

Because if you are like me and love & Respect Muskoka, you will want to ensure our children and our children’s children can continue to call this place home for generations to come.

On a personal note, some of you saw my facebook live post on election night and commented on my emotional commentary that came through while I was speaking. To say that I was deeply touched by the countless posts, comments, emails and text messages that flooded my phone would be a gross understatement. Each message, had one common theme in that Muskoka is in good hands, we have an awesome new council and we look forward to a return of respect. Even the amazing turn out of people here today is truly humbling not only for me, but also for each and every member of your new council. So thank you all.

And on that note, I also have to say a special thank you to a few others –

Firstly, my late parents who introduced me to Muskoka 52 years ago. Thanks to many of my family, including my Aunt who made a special trip to Muskoka today. A very special thanks to my friend Donna who came all the way from Florida who also held an amazing victory party down south for me – thank you.

And most of all thank you to my children. My son Coby here today, now lives in Muskoka and come the new year will be starting a family of his own, welcoming of the 4th Generation Hardings to Muskoka. As well, my daughter Alyssa who unfortunately due to exams in Halifax couldn’t be here today but she does send her support. I considered reading an Instagram post of hers from election night that sums up my love of Muskoka and its impact on my children, but if I did that, once again each of you would see the true emotion and love I have for my kids as well as this place.

So let me just say this. My family, my children, my friends, and of course God have all made me the man I am today, and will continue to help in leading this Municipality for the next 4 years – so thank you all.

As a final comment, I think it is appropriate to take this opportunity to announce that as we move forward with this new council, I will be turning to the three returning councillors to take an even greater role in leadership. Understanding the importance of trails and recreation to our economy, Ruth Nishikawa has agreed to return as Chair of our Trails Committee, Donelda Hayes will return to our Library Board and will also be my alternate Deputy Mayor and Allen Edwards will return to committee of adjustment as will assume the role of Deputy Mayor.

Equally as important as those councillors mentioned, I look forward to working with the amazing and talented group of new councillors here on stage - who will serve their first term on council. From meetings over the summer, through numerous candidate meetings as well as one on one meetings with each of those before you, I respect and appreciate that they have their own ideas, they have their own perspectives and they each have a very very different and unique set of skills to help provide even greater balance to your new Council.

Supporting your council, it is also my privilege to work our diverse and passionate staff who are the true keepers of Muskoka – their leadership, their initiative and their creative approach to their jobs will help protect Muskoka today and tomorrow. And finally, I am so thankfully to be able to work with each and every one of you, our engaged and valued tax payers. Let me assure you all– Muskoka is in Good Hands & Muskoka will be Respected over the next 4 years.

Thank you


Upcoming Events - Monthly Calendar

Ratepayers - Board Meeting
Aug 24, 2019 9:00am to 1:00pm
TML - Committe of Adjustment
Sep 9, 2019 9:00am to 12:00pm
TML - General / Finance Committee
Sep 12, 2019 9:00am to 12:00pm
TML - Planning Committee
Sep 13, 2019 9:00am to 12:00pm
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