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Steele cuts coaching ties in Midland, joins Stayner Siskins

MIDLAND – Midland Flyers president Gerry Asselin thought he was clearing up a few simple details with head coach Dave Steele when the two exchanged words last week.

It turned out to be much more.

During the March 16 conversation, Steele told Asselin he would be leaving the team to join the coaching staff of the Stayner Siskins.

That touched off 72 hours of activity, leading to the Sunday naming of Keith Cyr as Midland’s head coach for the 2016-17 season. Cyr had served as the chief scout for the Flyers this past season.

“Dave informed us that he was going to go to Stayner and, in his words, he thought it was a better fit for him,” said Asselin. “Dave was a hardworking coach and very generous with his time, helping with different aspects of the team, so we wish him the best.”

Steele joined the Flyers two years ago. This past season, he guided the team to a third-place finish in the Georgian Bay Mid-Ontario Junior C Hockey League standings, compiling a 19-16-5 record.

Midland was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in five games by a rejuvenated Penetang Kings squad.

Steele praised Asselin for the support he received in Midland.

“Gerry has been so fantastic and is so committed to the team,” he said. “There was no hard feelings…. (Stayner) was just a far better option for me.”

The dramatic improvement by the Flyers, who finished last the previous season, did not go unnoticed around the league.

“As soon as our season was over, I was approached by three teams that were interested in getting me involved in one capacity or another, be it general manager or head coach,” said Steele.

But even then, Steele said his intention was to stay in Midland.

“I had been in Midland and we had grown a far better club than what I had seen previously, but it was a ton of work,” said Steele.

The lack of a large volunteer base, plus limited funding, led to Steele doing far more than just coaching. Before long, he found he was adding scouting, mentoring, game-day operations and sponsorship.

“It became so much like work that it wasn’t worth the benefits of the fun part, that being coaching,” he said. “I’m a businessman and I run two companies, so my time is very valuable to me.”

Steele said previous dealings with Stayner general manager Richard Gauthier provided the comfort level he needed to accept the coaching position.

The Siskins, who compiled an 18-17-5 regular-season record this past season, were eliminated in six games in the opening round of the playoffs by the Caledon Golden Hawks.

Barrie-Innisfil MP pushing for infrastructure funding promised in budget

Barrie-Innisfil MP John Brassard still awaits specifics about infrastructure funding from last week’s federal budget.

Brassard said the Ministry of Infrastructure and Communities has a list of projects he submitted from both municipalities he represents, compiled based on pre-budget talks with ministry officials about priorities related to infrastructure within the Liberal budget.

“I’ve been pushing in Ottawa that the easiest way to ensure the funds flow quickly to where they are needed is to use the gas tax funding formula that already exists,” Brassard said.? “By using the gas tax funding formula, cities and towns would know what to expect in terms of funding and be able to apply it to list of projects including transit and roads.

“It would also be applied in a non-partisan manner, ensuring equitability across the country,” he said. “The Liberals campaigned on infrastructure being a non-partisan issue and on that I agree.”

Which would also be good news for Barrie-Innisfil constituents. Brassard is a Conservative, as is Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MP Alex Nuttall.

Last Tuesday’s federal budget offers $120 billion for new roads, bridges, buildings, pipes, etc. in Canadian communities during the next decade – or about twice the commitment of the previous Conservative government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are also offering to pay half the cost of approved projects, instead of the normal one-third while sharing the bill with municipalities and provinces.

Mayor Jeff Lehman has said Barrie’s list could include pipes and road repair, but also critically needed capacity such as the south-end arterial roads and Highway 400 interchanges.

The federal investments would focus on three areas: public transit, social infrastructure such as affordable housing and seniors centres, and green projects like clean energy infrastructure.

Barrie has an affordable housing strategy, which encourages the development of more housing, provides financial incentives, protects existing housing stock and discourages condo conversion.

Its goal is to build 600 new affordable housing units during the next decade.

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Police lay impaired-driving charges

A Gravenhurst woman was charged with impaired driving and dangerous operation of a vehicle Saturday night.

At 11 p.m., Orillia OPP stopped a car for speeding on Highway 11 North in Severn Township.

Kaitlin Harding, 23, was arrested on the scene and was later released on promise to appear in Orillia court April 12.

An Orillia man was charged with impaired driving and refusing to provide a breath sample Sunday night.

OPP arrested the man after responding to a crash on Michelle Drive in Orillia and found the car on its roof. The driver had sustained minor injuries and was taken to the hospital but was later released into police custody.

Randy Mortley, 24, was arrested and later released on a promise to appear in Orillia court April 5. 

Innisfil man suspended from driving caught behind the wheel

INNISFIL – A 23-year-old Innisfil man was caught driving while suspended.

South Simcoe police say a driver was pulled over during a RIDE check around 2:20 a.m. Saturday.

While speaking with the driver, the officer spotted a notice in the passenger seat for driving while under suspension.

Police say the driver had been stopped less than 12 hours previously for the same offence by another police service.  

He was again charged with drive while under suspension.

Innisfil retiree pays off new truck with $100,000 win

Cookstown’s John Hepburn won $100,000 with his ENCORE ticket.

Hepburn matched six of seven winning numbers on his selection, making him a happy man.

“I checked my tickets a number of times before I realized I won,” he said, while at the OLG Prize Centre in Toronto to pick up his cheque. “I was in disbelief. And when I told the retailer, even she didn’t believe me!”  

The retiree is a regular LOTTO 6/49 and LOTTO MAX player.

“I have been playing the same numbers since 1993.”

Hepburn, a 62-year-old father of two and grandfather of four, has some immediate plans for his big win.

“I just bought a new truck. I will pay it off right away!” he said with a smile.

The winning ticket was purchased at Pioneer on Yonge Street in Barrie.

Midland property taxes likely going up

MIDLAND – Midland residents will likely see an increase in their property taxes this year.

Midland council met March 23 to discuss the final draft of the 2016 budget, which contains a 0.59 per cent tax increase for an average family home in Midland. This means an average increase of $16 annually, of which $10 will go to the municipality. The remainder will go to Simcoe County and the school boards.

Town treasurer Marc Villeneuve pointed out the figure is just the “median” increase for Midland residents.

“Some people will pay more and some people will pay less,” he said.

Coun. Pat File said looking at the median increase is a “bit misleading” for the public.

“I’d caution against using those numbers,” she said. “Sometimes it gets reported that everybody is paying the same amount and people get upset.”

The total 2016 tax levy – taking into account all of the property-tax levels across the municipality – will be one per cent higher than last year.

Villeneuve said there was a $29,000 shortfall in estimates from the 2015 budget, which needed to be made up by taxpayers. The recent contract settlement for also added $137,000 in spending.

Deputy Mayor Mike Ross, who characterized himself as “Mr. Zero” when it comes to property-tax increases, said he hopes additions to future budgets will be offset by an equal amount removed in order to make it revenue neutral.

“I look at it as being like balancing our household budget,” he said. “We’ve got to draw a line in the sand somewhere.”

Ross said council spends “a lot of money on a lot of different things” compared to most communities in Simcoe County.

“We are a very generous people and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “But, when we bring our projects forward, we need to make it revenue neutral.”

Council did make some cuts to the budget, removing $45,000 for economic development and a planned records-management system.

The budget has not been finalized. It will be reviewed and voted on by council March 29.

Will takes place during coming weeks

INNISFIL – Residents can help with the town-wide cleanup from last week’s ice storm by neatly and safely placing branches and other tree-related debris on the side of the road.

Residents are asked to make sure they don’t block the road in any way and that traffic can still flow through. Town crews cannot guarantee when they will come by all areas.

Starting during the next 24 hours, a full-scale cleanup of the town will begin that will take several weeks.

“Once again, we feel for those who are still without power at this time and we want you to know that we are still working to make sure you have electricity back as soon as possible,” said Deputy Mayor Lynn Dollin.

“We thank residents for their support and co-operation in the weeks ahead as we launch a full-scale clean-up effort to return things to normal.”

As of late Sunday afternoon, no more than 250 customers were without power in Innisfil.

InnPower continues to work around the clock to restore electricity to everyone.

Residents who do not have hydro can e-mail InnPower at [email protected] or call 705-431-4321.

With heavy rains forecast for Sunday and Monday, residents are asked to be cautious about the potential for flash floods and water pooling on roads. Town staff will be monitoring the situation. 

Group opposes French class cap

A parents’ group worries public school boards’ capping of French-immersion enrolment could create divisions between children and their parents.

"There are going to be winners and losers if a school board only offers a program to a certain number of kids," said Betty Gormley, executive director of Canadian Parents for French (Ontario).

While Gormley’s group has been closely monitoring the situation at five Toronto-area school boards where competition is fierce for French-immersion spots, she noted it could end up happening across the province, including Simcoe County, as more parents seek to enrol their children in French-immersion programs.

"There’s a danger of capping the programs," she said, adding the issue creates two classes of students and goes against board policies of inclusiveness.

"In some schools, it will create a lot of tension between parents. Any board that has capping will justify their capping."

As well, Gormley said, students who don’t get into an immersion program in Grade 1 can’t enter the program in grades 2 or 3, which creates even more inequity.

"If you’re denied access in Grade 1, you don’t get another chance," she said. "You’re going to have some parents who are very disappointed."

But Anita Simpson, superintendent of program and innovation with the Simcoe County District School Board, said the number of students admitted is determined by a number of factors, including the growing issue of attracting qualified French teachers. As well, she said, some school properties can’t accommodate more portables.

"Many boards use lotteries, but we chose an online application," she said. "We know we can’t accommodate more than 40 at any particular school."

Simpson said the board will welcome its fourth crop of Grade 1 French-immersion students at 12 of its schools, including Orillia’s Regent Park Public School, in September.

"It is an extremely popular program," Simpson said, adding the board has a goal of starting two classes of 20 students at each of the selected schools. "There’s not an area of our board that’s not served by the French-immersion program."

Parents hoping to enrol their children in schools that fall under the auspices of the region’s French-language public or separate boards must have a close francophone relative or successfully pass an interview process. The public board, meanwhile, starts core French for all students in Grade 4, while the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board introduces core French in Grade 1.

"There are some other options out there, but they’re limited," Gormley said, adding not studying French will hurt the students in the long run as they lose employment opportunities to their bilingual brethren.

Introduced more than three years ago, the local public school board program now has almost 2,500 students enrolled across the region. The offering replaces extended French, which is gradually being phased out and provides students with about half of their courses in French, compared to French immersion, which only features English classes in Canada’s other official language starting in Grade 3.

"We know they’re like sponges (in Grade 1)," Simpson said. "We want to offer families as rich an experience as possible. Speaking a second language is a leg up in life — not just French, but any other language."

As well, she said, there could be a day when her board creates a full French-language high school to accommodate immersion students as they make their way past Grade 8.

"I could foresee a French secondary school."

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