Brian the comedian

ClownFollowing the success of Collingwood’s Comedy Duo, whose act has taken them on tour across the nation on the taxpayers’ dollar, our Deputy Mayor has entered the ring as our jester-du-jour. And since the Duo’s main act was sidelined recently by not being allowed to keep a snout into the FCM trough, it looks like Brian’s act may be the foremost comedy skit in the council burlesque. Who would have thought a lawyer could also be a clown?

At a recent Council meeting (June 12, 2017) he had the audience in stitches with his new routines. And not just his always-risible English gaffes when he starts his speeches with “moved by me…”! You can watch it on Rogers TV starting at 1:22:23 when he presents a request for a staff report (cunningly not included with the meeting’s agenda so as to keep the element of comic surprise alive when it was presented!).

Watch and listen. Brian uses words like “accountability” and “transparency” like they are something he suddenly discovered and we need to get to them now. Like frickin’ right now. And staff better give us a report about them because these are hot stuff!

Too bad the camera didn’t pan out to catch the baffled looks on the faces of his minion Block members. Heads were shaking and rattling sounds could be heard from them. Blockheads had never heard him use those words before, at least not since the election campaign and certainly not directed at them. The Block stands for secrecy, for scurrying behind closed doors to discuss policy, to making decisions via email not in the public. For conniving and conning, for ignoring the public and blaming everyone else.

Yet after two-and-a-half years in office, here is Der Leader suddenly telling them he wants to see more “accountability,” more “transparency.” They must have piddled themselves in terror. What, they wondered, do those words mean?
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Small comfort from FCM

Fat catsCollingwoodites can take small comfort from the wisdom of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I’ve been told that last week at its annual convention in Ottawa, FCM delegates failed to return our own Councillor Jeffery to their board of directors, possibly saving local taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars this term. Taxpayers will no longer have to pay the costs of her personal political ambitions with their hard-earned salaries. One less mouth sucking at the government tit.

Or maybe not. Word is that the councillor is still pursuing her ambitions by trying to get appointed to a committee within FCM, thus justifying still flying all over the country, wining and dining at taxpayer expense. Excuse me, did someone fart or is that just the stench of entitlement?

FCM has a board with a president, past president, three vice presidents and 68 council members. That’s right: SIXTY EIGHT. They are councillors from across Canada, plus the presidents of every provincial municipal organization. And the Ontario Caucus has 16 members itself!

As you can see by last year’s board list, the vast majority of them come from cities: municipalities that can afford the expense. Not many are from small towns like Collingwood, probably because they know they can’t afford the luxury. And even when they can, they send their mayor, not a junior councillor.

One of those other board members, by the way, is from Simcoe County council, so he already represents the region and its municipalities. And his expenses are covered from county revenue.

FCM boards, caucuses and committees meet all over the country, from Newfoundland to the Northwest Territories to British Columbia and everywhere in between. Taxpayers have to pony up for flights, meals, hotels and whatever entertainment the delegates’ expense accounts allow. Did I mention yet that The Block put NO RESTRICTIONS on Councillor Jeffery’s spending? No accountability, no oversight, no limits… and no cold camembert and broken crackers for her. Must be nice to have friends in high places.
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How to piss off The Block

Calvin & HobbesThere’s an easy three-step process anyone can follow to piss off the seven-member Block on council (as well as the town’s administration):

  1. Do something good for a change;
  2. Accomplish something for the community’s benefit;
  3. Don’t involve The Block in the process.

And that was just what was done last Thursday when our MPP Jim Wilson made a motion on the floor of the Legislature to have the province fund the redevelopment process for the General & Marine and Alliston hospitals. This isn’t the cost to build, but rather the costs involved in going through the lengthy and expensive process: legal and planning costs, studies, consultants, reports and, of course, the inevitable challenges to the plan at the Ontario Municipal Board (yes, The Block will likely order the town to file an OMB challenge…)

Kudos to Jim for his support and his efforts on behalf of the community. His motion passed. The costs for the process won’t be coming from hospital operating costs or foundation donations meant for equipment and services. That’s no small amount given that the estimate for the bureaucratic process is around $9 million.*

Compare Wilson’s efforts to The Block’s and the administrations roadblocks and resistance. Positive versus negative. Pro-community versus self-interest.

Now given this was a big announcement and very important to the community, Wilson arranged for a local presence to show its support on the day of his motion. All local politicians, hospital board and staff were invited to attend. Arrangements were made for transportation, for a tour of the Legislature, and for lunch there. And guess how many of The Block and town staff attended?

None. Not the interim CAO. No one from the planning department. Not even Councillor Jeffrey – the council rep on the hospital board – bothered to attend. That pretty much sums up the arrogance and the disdain The Block feel for our hospital and for our community. NONE of them went down to Queen’s Park even to fake their support.
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Madigan to chair do-nothing committee

MadiganA story in last week’s Connection has the headline, “Madigan named chair of Collingwood development, operations committee.” Councillor Madigan has the dubious honour of chairing a standing committee that does nothing of value, has no decision-making authority and – like the rest of the standing committees – is redundant, ineffective and inefficient.

Which is an absolutely perfect fit for a loyal Block member. It makes them look busy without allowing them to meddle in anything important, and lets them boast about their engagement without actually doing anything or engaging anyone. The emperor’s new clothes at its finest.

Congratulations are in order. He gets to direct a committee whose sole task is to forward every issue, every report and every delegation to the full council where everything must be repeated and re-read to get anything done or a decision made. The eye-rolling and snickering are just staff’s way of saying how much they appreciate having to go over the same material twice for an audience in which few understand it no matter how many times you tell them.

And just look at the terrific media coverage standing committee meetings get… All right, that’s another joke. They get almost none because their main task is to procrastinate, defer and delay. Hardly makes for good copy, does it? Even the sycophantic local media strain yet fail to make it less snooze-worthy (the above-referenced article being a prime example).

The standing committee system has been broken ever since it was implemented. It adds a thick layer of red tape to everything. But since it is the brainchild of their beloved interim CAO, The Block treat it like a divine commandment handed down from above. They cannot even imagine the barest possibility of contemplating the notion of going against their interim CAO even when he leads them into the bureaucratic quagmire or into such bureaucratic dead ends as the standing committee system.

Just think of all the successes they’ve had under his guidance. Collus-PowerStream, IT, the water utility, the airport development, the hospital redevelopment, the utility boards, staff morale, the town’s reputation, the water pipeline… oh wait. Those are all failures. Abject, dismal, soul-crushing failures. But I’m sure The Block doesn’t see them the same way the rest of the community does. In their eyes, these are successes and damn those who say otherwise.

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We were lied to. Again.

DeceitOn Monday, the Block chose a new representative for the town’s half of the Collus-PowerStream board. They advertised the position in the local media and accepted applications from several qualified local residents. They made it look like they were actually going to follow the proper and legal process for the first time. They went in camera to discuss the applications. And who did they appoint when they came out?

Councillor Deb “What’s a dividend?” Doherty. Yes, the same councillor who complained about not getting a dividend from the utility after she and her colleagues gutted the utility and killed its revenue stream. The same councillor who complained that in the 50% board partnership in which each side has the same number of votes, the other side “holds all the cards,” sets the rules and controlled the purse strings. The same councillor who has NEVER once this term gone to the utility to speak to its staff or find out their side of the story the administration has been spinning.

That’s right: The Block chose one of their own, and arguably the least qualified person among them to hold that position.

What a slap in the face to all those applicants who put their names forward, thinking The Block would act in good faith. Wouldn’t that have been a pleasant change? But of course they didn’t.

They blatantly ignored the public applications. They intended to do so all along. The whole public application thing was a lie. A despicable act of deception.

This is so unethical, so outright underhanded and sneaky it beggars further description.

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Albert and the Lion

There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That’s noted for fresh-air and fun,
And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert, their son.

A grand little lad was their Albert
All dressed in his best; quite a swell
‘E’d a stick with an ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle
The finest that Woolworth’s could sell.

Albert 'Arold and Others
So begins the poem, The Lion and Albert, written by Marriott Edgar. I first read it in the book pictured on the right: a book that accompanied a collection of 78 rpm records in which Stanley Holloway read the poems (click to see a larger image).

I was perhaps nine or ten years old when I first found them in the family collection of 78s, along with the book of 12 poems and their drawings. We had an old, hand-cranked 78 record player in the basement and I used to go there and crank it up and listen to the scratchy old records. I loved them.

I loved the process of having to wind it, to set the heavy head on the platter and release the catch to get it spinning. I recall we also had an electric one – trec chic – in the basement where it had been exiled to, along with other odds and sods from my grandparents, like an old tube radio that was almost as tall as I was and had a half-dozen knobs on the front. In those days, I could still walk to the corner store and buy replacement tubes for it with my weekly allowance

Holloway at that time wasn’t known to me from any other performance. He wouldn’t appear in the film My Fair Lady until 1964. But I delighted in his voice and from him I learned a bit about British vaudeville, burlesque and even about the era of the Pearly Kings and Queens.

I used to parade around in my basement, swaggering, shouting out the words of the poems and monologues that I soon memorized. “With ‘er ‘ead tucked underneath ‘er arm…” about Anne Boleyn was one of my favourites. “Sam, Sam, pick oop tha musket Sam…” was another.

That was then. Somehow, over the years, I lost track of the book, forgot the sounds and the words. We moved from the house to a smaller apartment in 1962, and the old 78s and its player vanished, probably tossed away or given to neighbours. As I reached my teenhood, other fancies and interests took hold. I didn’t even think about them until many decades later.

When my parents died, I ended up with some of their belongings. Among them was a thin, battered, old book: the “libretto” for those Stanley Holloway records. A book I had read and reread many times in my childhood. Taped and retaped, it has been in someone’s closet or drawer probably every since I last looked at it. It’s the same one you see here, in the scan of the cover. It was published in the 1930s and was my father’s. He brought it to Canada, likely when he emigrated from England, in 1949. It’s one of the few things I have left of him.
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As Elvis leaves the building, so do we all

Day of the Dead ElvisNo one gets out of here alive. We all die. And with us go into the dustbin the dreams, the values, the ideals, the culture we grew up with, we shared, we ensconced in our daily existence. And the clutter we accumulated during our lives.

Elvis has left the building and, sooner or later, so shall we all. And as we do, the value of our own material legacy will diminish with each day.

A recent story in The Guardian tells of how once-treasured Elvis memorabilia is falling in value, as collectors age and die off, leaving a younger generation to sell it off at bargain rates. A younger generation not imbued with the Elvis worship of their parents or grandparents, not prone to spending income on his waning memorabilia. They want none of this: taking on Elvis is cultural appropriation.

I imagine a grey-haired, Beatles-besotted relative chortling with some internal “I told you so” glee as he or she puts the late collector’s Elvis collection onto eBay. But their time will come, too.

It’s a very Buddhist lesson on why we should not become attached to material things. Despite our passion for them, despite our sense of connection between them and the stages in our lives, as in the George Harrison song, all things must pass. Even Elvis is transient.

The Beatles’ generation, coming so quickly on his heels, scoffed at Elvis, much the same way The Clash generation scoffed at the Beatles, the same way the Beyoncé generation scoffs at The Clash. Pick a pop movement, a fashion, a theme, a style, a fan base: from its lofty temporal perch someone looked down on someone else’s movement. It was ever thus; even Shakespeare fell from grace after he died. Tastes change, new generations come to maturity and power, new technology and new politics come into play, changing the conversation. Today’s pop culture fades into tomorrow’s nostalgia, takes on a patina of kitsch even while we fondly recall it.

I remember a set of plastic figurines of the Fab Foursome made for sticking into a birthday cake beside the candles. They originally sold for a dollar. Then as the Foursome’s star rose, they sold for dozens of dollars. When they ascended into musical mythology and eBay arrived, it was hundreds. Yet they too will join Elvis memorabilia in yard sales, as those of us who lived then pass away. Already children ask, “Paul who? John who?”

Who will pay more than pocket change for a souvenir of Al Bowlly these days? Who has collectible nostalgia for Rudy Vallee? Ruth Etting? Paul Whiteman? Guy Lombardo? Bing who?
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Sadly, it’s business as usual

Missed targets
I suppose you expect I am disappointed that not a single one of The Block had the spine, the moral compass, the ethical guts to resign after killing the hospital redevelopment. After all, I called on them all – plus the interim CAO – to resign immediately. Not doing so, I said, would prove everything I ever said about them. They didn’t budge.

Well, my compensation is that I get to say “I told you so.” Again. I suspect I will repeat those words several more times this term.

People only disappoint you when they don’t live up to your expectations. My expectations for this group are low. Abysmal, really, based on the reality of their performance to date. They constantly strive to reach mediocrity, but consistently fail to achieve it. If you expected from them secrecy, conniving, backroom deals, conflict of interest, inflexible ideology and rigid self-interest, then I suppose your expectations have been met.

I didn’t really expect any of them to actually resign. To resign would take courage, commitment and a deeply held caring for the community. Attributes that are most notable in their absence among this group. They would have to take responsibility for their own acts instead of blaming others. I hardly expected them to start doing something so antithetical to their natures now. Hyenas can’t change their spots, can they?

It’s not as if they and they alone killed my faith in humanity. After all, they are not the first politicians to be unethical, and more concerned about feathering their own nests than about the community. Nor will they be the last. There have been other politicians before them who lied to their constituents, who put personal agendas over the greater good, who used their office to conduct vendettas and who handed out sole-source government contracts to friends and family. There have been politicians before them with closed minds who refused to consider other viewpoints or to learn anything. This group won’t be the last of them, either.

Failing to resign, it will be business as usual for them, continuing to lurch and fumble and stumble their way along, tearing down as much of our town as they can along the way.
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The Block killed the hospital. They MUST all resign. Now.

The actions of The Block and the town’s administration have resulted in the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital losing its chance for redevelopment. The province didn’t include funding for the local proposal in its budget. The next opportunity for such funding will be at least a decade away, if one ever comes along.

If any of these people have even a shred of decency, of honour, they will all resign immediately. If any of these people felt even a twinge of shame for misleading the community while they pursued their own personal – and very destructive – agendas, they would resign.

There is a flaccid story about this appalling situation in the Collingwood Connection. In it, the hospital CEO blames the failure on a “lack of alignment” between the town and the hospital board. That’s his polite way of saying – as was made abundantly clear at two public meetings – the Block and the administration continued to put up roadblocks and red tape to prevent the hospital from moving to its preferred site.

Why wasn’t the mayor asked to comment in the newspaper article? She speaks for the town, not the interim CAO. Just more yellow journalism.

And as expected our interim CAO didn’t take responsibility, but expressed “surprise” that the hospital’s CEO would suggest the two were not aligned. No one who watched or attended either of those council meetings where the hospital board was confronted, grilled like felons, shown great disrespect would be “surprised” at this claim of non-alignment. Their only surprise might be at the cautious, reserved language the CEO used in describing this debacle.

They, and they alone, killed the dream.

And right after he received the news, the hospital CEO quit his job. Coincidence? After The Block killed his dream project? I don’t think so either.
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‘Senator’ Jeffrey gets more money again

Greedy piggyThe Block once again rewarded one of their own by granting Councillor ‘Senator’ Jeffrey an unlimited expense account to wine, dine and party across Canada on the taxpayer’s dollar.

The Connection story is headlined, “Collingwood councillor seeks Federation of Canadian Municipalities seat. That – like so many other Connection headlines – is incorrect. She has held the seat for the last two-and-a-half years, paid for by you, the taxpayer. This is just to extend her entitlement, a blank cheque without the messiness of accountability.

The Block think that your tax dollars should be shovelled into that maw, with no restrictions, no reporting and no accountability to go along with an unlimited expense account. These people just hate the whole concept of accountability that much.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) holds its conferences and meetings all over the country. Jeffrey gets to fly to them, to stay in posh hotels, to eat and drink as she pleases, without once having to show that this in any way benefits Collingwood. Yet there is Councillor Doherty quoted in the paper defending her friend’s excesses:

Coun. Deb Doherty said the town gets great value and Jeffery’s position keeps Collingwood connected at the federal level.

Such great value that when Councillor Lloyd asked to defer the motion while staff prepare a cost-benefit analysis to show what value it had, The Block shut him down. They trembled at the very thought of exposing their friend. They don’t want the truth to come out – that taxpayers are funding Jeffrey’s personal political ambitions with absolutely no benefit to anyone else here.

Such great value that Doherty couldn’t name a single one in public, even though she has attended FCM conferences to support her buddy’s schmoozing for votes. The result of which was a stand-up-comedy-routine report to council, but no concrete evidence of benefit to the town.
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The DM’s height of hypocrisy

There’s a story in this week’s Connection with the misleading headline, “Town asks hospital for public meeting”. The online version has it as “Collingwood asks hospital for public meeting.” Neither is correct. The “town” wants nothing of the sort. The mayor – who speaks for the town – has never expressed that on behalf of council. Actually, she voted against the request. But the real headline is buried in the opening: “Collingwood’s deputy mayor wants council and the hospital to put out a united front on the redevelopment plan.”

Well, it’s clear to see why the Connection is being called “Saunderson’s campaign headquarters” these days, don’t we? Saunderson does not speak for the town or for council and the paper should know that.

This is the same deputy mayor who was disrespectful, adversarial and confrontational towards the hospital on March 2 at a public meeting. Now he wants to be buddies. Not going to happen.

And at the next public meeting a few weeks later, the interim CAO was even more adversarial and confrontational. But it seems Brian has conveniently forgotten those meetings or the public’s reaction.

This is the height of hypocrisy: pretending that they want to make kissy face with the very people they showed such open dislike and disdain for. The only “united front” he wants is for the hospital board to bend to his will, and stay where it is.
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Collingwood deserves answers

The Most Secretive Council Ever
The Most Secretive Council Ever has never told the public why it has been so intent on damaging this community. We have never had an explanation why they are so inflexible, so hostile to other ideas, so adversarial to opinions other than their own. We have never been told why they are so focused on their own entitlement and give no thought for or support to the residents and taxpayers in Collingwood.

We have been kept in the dark about their motives and goals while The Block continues its destructive rampage against community institutions through these past two and a half years.

So much hatred, so much anger, so much selfishness, so much secrecy and deviousness in one council. This lowering of standards is unprecedented. But the electorate deserves to know why they were betrayed by the people they voted for, deserves to know why so many campaign promises were broken, why personal agendas and vendettas take precedence over the greater good.

We should and be told in public, not have The Block scurry behind closed doors as it always does when anything important or controversial is raised. And you know the local media will NEVER ask them why, or ask the tough questions about their motives.

So here is my list of things we want to know. I’m sure it’s not complete and you, dear reader, could add more to it.

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Three, six, seven, nine… how many basic plots?

Seven plots?When I was in school, back in the last century, I was taught there were three basic plots in which every story ever written could be classified: Man-vs-man, man-vs-nature and man-vs-himself. That was in the days when it wasn’t politically incorrect to use the word man to mean everyone. Today we’d say it differently, use other pronouns, but the meaning is the same.

Three is a bit simplistic, sure. The list has been expanded on by authors, academics and critics ever since. And by robots, too. Last summer, a story in The Atlantic told of university researchers who used software to parse through 2,000 works of literature to determine there six basic plots:

  1. Rags to Riches (rise)
  2. Riches to Rags (fall)
  3. Man in a Hole (fall then rise)
  4. Icarus (rise then fall)
  5. Cinderella (rise then fall then rise)
  6. Oedipus (fall then rise then fall)

Which is one less than Christopher Booker lists in his lengthy 2004 book,The Seven Basic Plots:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

Around the end of his book, Booker actually lists two more plots which are, historically speaking, not as common (by his assessment, they are late additions to our literary canon, although I think that could be argued against), so he discounts them as less important:

  1. Rebellion Against ‘The One
  2. Mystery

Both genres are popular today and should not be overlooked (where would we be without Star Wars or the DaVinci Code?). So it’s really nine plots. Or more? Booker has two variants under the ‘Rags to Riches’ plot: failure and hollow victory. If you include them as separate themes, the seven in the title expands to eleven.

But can one really reduce all writing to such a short list? Do all stories fit so comfortably into these archetypes? Some find it easy to poke holes in such generalizations. Others to broaden the spectrum with more items on their own list.
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This man should resign

Interim CAOCan a municipality operate effectively with a toxic relationship between the mayor and the CAO? Can staff avoid being involved in the confrontation? Can the public expect the best service and support from its leaders if the two top people are at odds?

Clearly not. A story in The Connection reinforced just how bad things have become in town hall between the mayor and the interim CAO.

Once you read it, I believe you will agree with me: the interim CAO must go. Now. Right now. He is an embarrassment to everyone. This behaviour is intolerable. It doesn’t matter that he is The Block’s darling. He should resign or be placed on administrative leave without delay.

I asked why he was still allowed to work for the town back in 2016. I asked it again earlier this April. I will ask it again: why is this man still working for Collingwood?

This story reflects badly on the town. This term, Collingwood has already suffered considerable embarrassment, a tattered reputation, hostility and disdain from our municipal partners and neighbours, and we have an adversarial position against our airport, utilities, and hospital. The buck has to stop somewhere. 

Is he behaving like this because our mayor is a woman? Or is he this aggressive to everyone? Did he behave like this in the other municipalities where he worked? The mayor should contact them and find out. But it’s Collingwood where he is now and it’s Collingwood that has to deal with him. He should go. 

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More council secrecy, more council scheming

SchemingOn Monday’s council agenda there are again two in-camera topics that reinforce just how much little respect The Block have for process, ethics, the public, legality, openness and transparency. The Block will – again – secretly discuss privatizing our water and wastewater services to the out-of-province, for-profit corporation, EPCOR, and also secretly discuss appointing new directors to the Collus-PowerStream board.

Both should be discussed and decided in public. Both should have had public input or consultation. But why should The Block change habits now?

The backroom, sole-source EPOCR deal is so shady it could have been a script for The Sopranos. No public input, no public discussion, no RFPs. Make ’em a deal they can’t refuse. It doesn’t get any dirtier than this.

The result has already been decided behind closed doors. The taxpayer is screwed. Again.

As for the board appointments, the town’s own policies, procedures and bylaws require all board and committee appointments to to publicized and open to residents. These appointments were handed out like party favours, instead.

And all applicants MUST signs an application stating they are eligible residents. Unless of course you are one of the nudge-nudge-wink-wink cronies of The Block. Then they just appoint you without the muss and fuss of legal process. And they’ve done it TWICE this term already (after first illegally firing the former utility board). Looks like they’re doing it again.

Of course, you’re not surprised. You’d only be surprised if they did something ethical, something for the good of the community for a change.

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