The strange life of Bobby Fischer

Bobby FischerForty five years ago this month, a momentous event took place in Iceland that shook the world. After 21 games spread over almost two months, the eccentric American chess master, Bobby Fischer, ended 24 years of Soviet dominance in chess after beating Soviet grandmaster, Boris Spassky. It shook the world at the apex of the Cold War. I watched it unfold, a memory I will always  carry.

Many years later, former Russian grandmaster, Garry Kasparov, commented,

…in the Soviet Union, chess was treated by the Soviet authorities as a very important and useful ideological tool to demonstrate the intellectual superiority of the Soviet communist regime over the decadent West. That’s why the Spassky defeat […] was treated by people on both sides of the Atlantic as a crushing moment in the midst of the Cold War.

Back in those days, I played chess with more enthusiasm, skill and grace than I can muster today. Bobby Fischer was one of my early chess idols whose games I followed (I still have books of his games on my shelves). I remember very clearly that year when he was playing Boris Spassky in Iceland. 

I was working in a bookstore in Toronto back then, in that summer of 1972. Every day after a game had been played, I would go out at lunch and get a newspaper. With my chess-playing co-workers, we would go over the match move by move. Try variants, explore alternatives, discuss the results. And look in awe at what masterpieces he wrought on the chessboard.

It wasn’t just the game or the skill of the moves that fascinated me (not all of those games are great, I admit). It was the sudden appearance of chess in the forefront of Cold War geopolitics and the larger implications of the match on the world stage. If you didn’t live through the era, it’s hard to explain how the Cold War affected international and domestic politics, or how a chess match could be the fulcrum of boisterous nationalism on both sides of the divide.

But in the summer of 1972, chess was newsworthy, gaining front page status, and time on the evening TV broadcasts. Chess was cool, chess was sexy, chess was in – not just for me, but for all of pop culture. Chess sets sold faster than they could be stocked. And 29-year-old Bobby Fischer was its golden boy. 

Last week, I started reading Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall, by Frank Brady. It is the most comprehensive biography of Fischer yet and reminds me somewhat of Walter Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs: both subjects were troubled, difficult but brilliant men. Both ran off the rails, but Jobs always managed to get back. Fischer never did. It’s a heart-rending, troubling, but fascinating story.

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Bullying the hospital again

Schoolyard bulliesBrian Saunderson never seems to tire of creating conflict with our local hospital. When he’s not acting all lawerly and grilling the volunteer members of the board and its representatives like guilty suspects in a trial, he’s coming up with new ways to be confrontational and adversarial. All in a vain attempt to make it look like he, the town administration, and his sycophant Block minions are not the cause of the problem. Sneaky, Brian, but ineffectual.

You, dear reader, know the truth. You’ve followed the story here, you’ve watched the hospital representatives being attacked and insulted by Brian and his buddies on council and staff when after public presentations to council. You’ve heard the disrespect and the snide remarks, the condescending piffle from taxpayer-paid, sole-sourced consultants and out-of-town lawyers. You’ve read the media stories about the continuing roadblocks and demands the town has put up.

You know without any doubt that The Block and the town administration are to blame for the failure of the redevelopment plan to get ministry funding. No amount of misdirection, no self-righteous lawerly blustering can hide that.

And you also know that local media’s biased reports favour The Block’s antagonistic stand, rather than offer objective reporting. That makes them complicit in this mess.

There’s story in the Connection this week, headlined “Collingwood hospital not ready to release feedback on development plan.” The article notes that the process is still ongoing and the hospital will first respond to the province, then provide the information to the entire public. That’s not enough for Saunderson because his sense of entitlement doesn’t include “everyone.” Saunderson is quoted as saying:

I do find it concerning we’re not being made aware of what these comments say until after a response has been generated. When the hospital says on their website community engagement and consultation is an important part of the redevelopment process, if you don’t have that process until after you’ve framed your answers to these questions at this important juncture, I’m not sure the community consultation is really beneficial.

This from a guy who has gone behind closed doors with his sly buddies to discuss the hospital redevelopment more often than they’ve discussed it in public (not to mention all the other local issues they refuse to discuss openly – selling Collus-PowerStream, selling our water utility, breaking the shared services agreement, creating a new IT services department and hiring three people, selling our airport and so on…). This from The Block who have avoided ALL public engagement and consultation for more than two and a half years over selling our electrical utility, selling our water utility, breaking the shared services agreement, creating a new IT services department and hiring three people, selling our airport, contracting with Fire Marque to the detriment of residents,  and so on… ain’t hypocrisy grand?

And note: the article doesn’t quote the mayor, who speaks for council and the town, but gives centre stage to Saunderson.
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Why hasn’t a new CAO been hired?

Block Stress relief kitThe town was supposed to be hiring a new CAO, to replace John Brown, the unpopular interim CAO currently in the corner office. But although he’s supposed to be gone by September (I can hear you cheering now at that thought), that’s barely six weeks away. And we have heard nothing yet from council about his replacement. By now, a new one should have been in place. Announcements should have been made in the local media. But we’ve heard… nothing.

Smells fishy? It’s as if The Block still intends to keep Brown on, to extend his contract for a third time. I can hear you gasping in horror at the thought. I know: even for those who don’t agree with my other sentiments about this council, it’s unsettling to think on it. Brown is arguably the least popular administrator in this town, since I arrived here in 1990. Possibly the least popular person here, period. And he apparently has fewer supporters in the community than even his main idol worshipper, Brian Saunderson (whose remaining community supporters can be counted on the fingers of one hand and still have enough digits left over to flip him the bird…)

At $225,000-plus a year, Brown’s salary is more than the premier of the province is paid, and at least $50,000 and maybe even $100,000 more than another CAO could be getting. Renewing his contract has cost taxpayers at least $100,000 and perhaps double that. Not to mention the costs in legal and consulting fees he has racked up – more than $750,000 to date and more in the pipeline – to pursue his objectives. None of which have benefitted the town or our residents. So you could argue that by supporting and retaining him, The Block have wasted more than $1 million of your money so far. But take heart: they have raised your taxes three times and given themselves a raise three times, too.

I haven’t been able to glean any details about what happened to derail the recent recruitment process, except that The Block interfered with previous practices and as a result, like everything they touch, it is seriously screwed up. Seriously broken. A simple process that they turned into a disaster. Like always.
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Utter contempt at council

Utter contempt for residents and taxpayersUtter contempt. That’s what The Block showed for process at council, on Monday night. And for ethics. And for you, the residents. Utter contempt.

But when they want to give benefits to their friends or themselves, boy do they rise to the occasion. Which of course they did, Monday. Anything for a buddy, no matter what negative effect it has on residents. No matter how it will exacerbate ill will in the community, or create bad feelings towards town hall. No matter what it will do to your insurance rates. As long as their friend gets his, who cares?

As I predicted last post, had proper policy and procedure been followed, what should have been a dead issue was returned to the council table by Councillor Jeffrey – she of the unlimited expense account and adipose sense of entitlement. If she or any of the Block had even the slightest regard for procedure and the standing committee system, the Fire Marque report would have died there. Should have died there. But The Block have so far failed to show any respect for anything that gets in their way, so of course she wouldn’t do as as a more ethical councillor would. Democracy be damned.

I told you so.

Besides, the salesman for Fire Marque is the former mayor: a close buddy to all of The Block. Doesn’t matter to The Block if the contract is bad for the 20,000-plus homeowners and renters here. Screw you is The Block’s attitude towards residents. If it’s good for their friends or their in-laws, it gets passed.

Doesn’t matter to The Block if the very idea of charging people for emergency response to accidents was rejected unanimously last term as an unethical practice. Doesn’t matter to The Block if you already pay for fire services through your taxes and the contract is unethical double dipping. Doesn’t even matter it if violates the province’s Fire Protection and Prevention Act. It benefits their buddy, so it gets passed.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s a sole source contract and their leader, Brian Saunderson, promised there would be no sole source contracts this term. “No exceptions,” he said. By my calculations, The Block have handed out more sole-sourced contracts than all of the previous councils for the past 25 years COMBINED. The word hypocrisy doesn’t even begin to cover it.

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The test of integrity

Got insurance?I’ve been complaining all this term that Collingwood’s standing committee system is broken. It is redundant, ineffective and expensive. It continues in use only because it was the brainchild of the interim CAO who The Block worship.

But it is about to come under a test: one that will determine the integrity and ethics of both the system and The Block.

On July 10, the Corporate and Community Services Standing Committee received a report on the services of Fire Marque, an insurance collection agency. The report was requested by Councillor Jeffrey, close friends (as are all of The Block) with one of the company’s salesmen: the former mayor.

What Fire Marque does is to bill insurance companies for the cost of fire department responses to emergencies – costs already paid for by your taxes. As explained on Elliott Insurance:

Fire Marque is basically a collection agency. They’ve enticed the municipalities to sign up with them to collect fire department coverages from the insurance companies’ policies. So after an individual has a fire, the fire department will send off information to Fire Marque about the situation and what it cost the fire department. Fire Marque will then contact the person who had the fire and ask who their insurance company is. Then they basically bill the insurance company for the fire department charges, up to the limit that is allowed under the [homeowners insurance] policy.

Fire Marque keeps 30%, and the rest goes to the municipality, essentially double-dipping. The homeowner or accident victim then faces a potential increase in his or her insurance policies as a result. So the homeowners get hit twice: through taxes and again through higher insurance rates. No, the municipality won’t lower your taxes because they double-dip. You’re still on the hook. Again from Elliott Insurance:

On the negative side, as insurance companies, our premiums are driven by our claims costs. So, if we are now paying for fire department charges that we were not paying for before, our claims are going to go up, and we will have to raise premiums to cover the extra costs. When you look at it from a community wide basis, financially it would be much better for the municipalities to just add a few dollars to our taxes because the same people who pay property taxes pay insurance.

Knowing it could raise insurance rates, homeowners may be reluctant to report a fire until too late.  They may try to put it out themselves rather than risk the rate hike. The very same effect happens with car accidents and home problems already. The new contract could end up putting more people’s lives and homes at risk because they hesitate to call for a service they know they will have to pay for.

Setting aside the ethics of this practice (read the full piece on the linked site and decide for yourself), the double-dipping, the harm to the taxpayer and whether the town should encourage ambulance-chasing tactics, let’s look at the standing committee system again.
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What will the secret EPCOR negotiations cost us?

Shady dealsI was reading about the failed attempt by EPCOR – an Edmonton-based, for-profit corporation – to purchase half of Innisfil’s Power utility (InnPower) last year. Back in Sept., 2015, there was a story in the
Barrie Examiner that noted:

INNISFIL — Town council has approved the sale of 50% of InnPower (formerly Innisfil Hydro) to Edmonton-based EPCOR to create a new ‘strategic partnership’.

At a public meeting to discuss the sale (remember public meetings and public engagement? Those are processes you got last term… this term it’s all about secrecy), PowerStream’s CEO, Brian Bentz commented on

…the “exclusivity clause” in the EPCOR offer, which precludes consideration of other deals for a period of six months…

EPCOR, you may recall, is currently trying to buy the town’s half of Collus-PowerStream. The administration has been negotiating behind closed doors with EPCOR for the better part of a year. Earlier this year, the administration signed a deal to start the buying process. Is there a similar clause in the agreement with Collingwood?

In Innisfil, the public was given a chance to openly comment on the proposal (an event unlikely to happen here in Secretive Collingwood under The Block). Former Innisfil mayor Barb Baguley spoke out about the process (Barrie Examiner):

During the open forum portion of Tuesday night’s meeting, former Innisfil mayor Barb Baguley took exception to the town even considering such a partnership for water and wastewater services and questioned why residents weren’t better informed about the potential partnership discussions.
“The issue of selling any part of it is something I’m really concerned about,” she said. “My question is, if you are going to sell the safety of water and the protection of Lake Simcoe with wastewater treatment, shouldn’t we be talking about that? Shouldn’t we be having a conversation with the public?
“I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. There’s not enough information for people to make a somewhat educated opinion,” she added. “It had not come out that clearly…”
“I don’t think we have to know every paragraph in a contract. We need to know the intention and why we need to do this,” she said. “I’m not saying I’m for or against (a water and wastewater services partnership). I’m saying I don’t understand.

At least the residents in Innisfil were given the opportunity to ask questions and make comments. Nothing like that has happened in Collingwood, although the discussions here have been going on behind closed doors since January 2015.

And look the whole public engagement Wasaga Beach has gone through over the sale of its utility this term: open, active and transparent. The complete opposite of what Collingwood has done.

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