Fat Louis -Seems like City Council can’t do anything right.
An Odd Thought
By Fat Louis

Seems like City Council can’t do anything right. Not content with their poorly thought out anti-bear policy/garbage debacle or the ever-ongoing arena farce, they have gone from the frying pan and into the fire. Literally—taking aim at backyard fires with their proposed changes to the Open Air Burning bylaw. The issue lit a fire under our usually complacent populace—Sudbury citizens were smoking mad!—and the resulting backlash was both loud and effective. Council backed down.

But the idea isn’t dead. No issue ever truly dies in this town. It is doubtful Sudbury’s council will ever meet a bad idea it didn’t like. And this one, like all the rest, will be back. Someday, when the local citizenry are no longer paying attention, the clowns at Tom Davis’ Square will bring it back from the dead—unwilling or unable to understand why if failed the first time.

There were three main problems with the proposed policy: 1) It suggested charging a $50 permit for something that was free. 2) It planed to include a mandatory inspection by city-certified bylaw officers. 3) Said inspections included checks on indoor fire alarms.

For a citizenry already facing a tax increase (and Sudbury seems addicted to these increases, adding 3% annually) another $50 was a slap in the face. “Cash grab!” was the cry heard throughout the region. The city touted the expected $10,000 cash infusion the new program would bring and rushed to explain the costs of current rules—one article insisted that 14 firefighters are needed to answer each false alarm…and few of those even result in a fine!—but scepticism was rampant.

And can you blame people for doubting? The city’s numbers were, as always, badly flawed. The 14 firefighters stat is just one in dispute. A commentator, purportedly in the know, said that only two firefighters were ever sent to investigate complaints. Should the situation warrant more, the call would then be made to send an entire fire crew. And that was the smallest of the city’s mathematical errors. The more glaring was the inspection fee scam. Rather than make money, as they suggested, the change to a fee system would cost taxpayers. The current crop of bylaw officers simply weren’t up to the job as laid out. Inspecting thousands and thousands of properties, especially when those properties are spread throughout one of the largest cities (by geography) in Canada, is a monumental task. Meaning more staff needed to be hired. What’s the yearly salary of a bylaw officer? Probably more than $10,000!

And that brought up the third issue, the indoor inspection. People were, rightly, terrified about letting city inspectors into their homes. Were they just going to check the fire alarms? What about carbon dioxide alarms? And what happened if they just so happened to see other ‘issues’ while inside—were they obliged to report them? Would failure to meet the unspecified ‘standards’ mean a fine?

It didn’t take long before a petition went up collecting signatures against the change. The local media, sensing the impending backlash, gave the issue prominence. Everyone in the city could see the truth—the vast majority of people were not happy.

Part of the problem was the vagueness of the bylaw. Did ‘open air’ include enclosed fire pits? What about chimineas and other such ‘outdoor’ fireplaces? Would the new rules affect wood burning barbeques? And where did campgrounds fit in? Were there special rules for certain more-rural areas? The city would have a lot of angry campers if bonfires got banned.

Sure other cities in the north have fees for outdoor fire permits. Of course their costs are a fraction of what Sudbury proposed. And they don’t bother with none of this indoor-inspection BS either. But that’s typical for our city. Forever finding ways to outdo everyone else…too bad it’s never in a good way. Thankfully city council saw the error of their ways (it took a while but they got there) and set the motion aside. Now citizens need to stand guard against the next bit of foolishness.Read Fat Louis' previous columns