Bones of Contention: Saunderson’s Campaign Emails

no more BSIn his latest email to potential supporters (dated Mar. 18 at 10:12 a.m.), Mayor Brian Saunderson again tries to leverage his role as mayor and Simcoe County councillor to get enough votes that will allow him to leave those roles he had committed in his oaths of office to perform “truly, faithfully and impartially exercise this office to the best of my knowledge and ability.” Yeah, right. But even though he seemingly can’t wait to be free of those responsibilities, he still boasts about his positions as he trawls for supporters:

As the Mayor of the Town of Collingwood, I serve on the Simcoe County Council which includes most of the municipalities that form the Simcoe Grey riding. As a result, I am well acquainted with many of the issues affecting our communities and feel qualified to represent the people of Simcoe Grey at Queen’s Park. 

How can asking for support for one job while promoting his mayoral activities to people who might do business with or have legal dealings with the town, the county, or the province not be an apparent (aka perceived) conflict of interest? It’s the same sort of conflict railed against in his beloved Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI). The judge at the SVJI noted in his report that (emphasis added),

Public perception that a councillor or a staff member is subject to an apparent conflict of interest can erode confidence in a municipal government… a failure to appreciate the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest and of disclosing real and apparent conflicts of interest to maintain public confidence. 

It seems the recommendations in the inquiry into decade-old events are only for others to obey, not for him. Yet Saunderson continues to waste our tax dollars to promote his SVJI, even to the absurd degree of having staff engaged in redundant investigations. While he blithely ignores the potential (apparent) conflicts in his actions, the rest of us can see them — and his hypocrisy — clearly. I’ve written about the perception of conflict of interest, the SVJI, and Saunderson’s job-hunting in the past (see below for links)*.

Of course, the honourable, the ethical, and the RIGHT thing for him to do would have been to step down as mayor when he announced he was going job-hunting for a better-paying position in Toronto.  Clearly, he wants out of his responsibilities as both mayor and Simcoe County councillor, but still won’t let go of the paycheques and benefits he gets from the job he wants to quit. How ethical is that?

In the email he admits he is focused on his job-hunting quest and apparently not on his mayoral duties (emphasis added):

My team of 25 volunteers and I are networking daily throughout Simcoe Grey to connect with and listen to what people like you feel are the key issues.

If he’s spending his days pursuing his personal ambitions, how can he do the town’s business? You know, the role he was elected to do, and promised to do it “truly, faithfully and impartially exercise this office to the best of my knowledge and ability,” but now wants to do something different.

Even though he wants to get out of that commitment, being a mayor is not something you do only when you have a few free minutes. So why is he still being paid for that job when he admits he’s busy doing something else? Something else he’s doing daily.

Entertainingly, the subject line for the latest email was ” PC NOMINATION – BRIAN SUANDERSON FOR MPP UPDATE.” Apparently his “team of 25 volunteers” can’t spell his name correctly. And even then they have to shout it in puerile all-caps letters like someone new to the internet. And they omitted the hyphen in Simcoe-Grey. None of which is confidence-building in Saunderson’s communication skills. But perhaps I read too much into it and that’s just the way he wants it spelled in the future.

Saunderson also comments in the email that public input “has helped me to form a meaningful platform around… Hospitals and Schools.” (the incorrect capitalization is in the original, and it’s not the only error of this sort. Apparently, he’s not savvy enough to have someone with editorial expertise proofread this stuff before it gets out to the public. Okay, I may be pickier than most, given I spent a few decades as an editor, writer, and reporter. But still, you’d think that he’d want to make a better impression than that.)

Given his role on the  2014-18 council in the town’s efforts to block the redevelopment of our own, local hospital, I shudder to think what plans he has for others in the province. He’s already shown he’s keen on privatizing publicly-owned facilities and assets without public consultation. What does that bode for our healthcare system? 

But you notice that he doesn’t elaborate on that “platform” with any detail. On his website, schools are not even mentioned (which speaks volumes to the credibility of his claim he has anything to offer them). As for hospitals, you only get this vague, generic puffery:

Implementing policies and programs to support our Simcoe-Grey regional healthcare sector, Long Term Care facilities and the much needed expansion of our community hospitals.

Of course, he doesn’t lay out any “programs” nor addresses the complications of having a Simcoe-Muskoka healthcare unit cover a wider region than just Simcoe-Grey. Or what he intends to do with the province’s longterm care facilities (which really should not be privatized in order to provide better, standardized, not-for-profit care, but Saunderson seems to favour privatization over public ownership). Or say anything about funding anything, let alone expansions. This isn’t a “platform” as much as a collection of procrustean one-liners.

Expansion of our community hospitals? He was deputy mayor on the council that fought our own hospital’s expansion! No one in this town will — nor should — forget his role in that debacle. Caveat emptor: maybe what he did here is his model for the rest.

And as for his alleged affection for “public input,” when Saunderson was deputy-mayor, council sold our town’s publicly-owned electricity utility and publicly-owned airport to private corporations without even the pretense of public consultation. Council surreptitiously decided everything during roughly 40 closed-door meetings. The public was kept in the dark, even after the sales by an obscurantist cabal at the council table.

When that council held a  single public meeting to address residents’ growing concerns over the town’s continuing roadblocks to our hospital’s redevelopment, the public outcry at that meeting was simply ignored. Instead of listening, the town brought in a highly-paid consultant and lawyer (both sole-sourced at taxpayer expense) to chide the public for being upset and to praise council’s actions. I suspect that’s the sort of “public input” we can expect from Saunderson if he becomes MPP.

When he says in his email he “would very much appreciate your support to be your voice at Queen’s Park”** his history suggests he won’t actually listen to your voice; he’ll just say the things he wants you to hear.

Two residents, Tim Fryer and John Megarry, have been in front of council numerous times, asking for answers to questions about the SVJI and how it went from an estimated cost of around $1.5 million to more than $8 million (and likely more than $10 million if all the actual costs were added into the total). Both men have provided their questions and their documentation in hardcopy to the town’s administrative staff and all members of council. But despite their numerous requests, neither resident nor the public have received answers from the mayor to explain how the SVJI’s costs spun out of control. Saunderson evidently doesn’t want your input if you question his actions, just your support. Or perhaps he’s too busy doing his daily networking he boasts about in this email to deal with such petty issues like accountability and taxpayers’ concerns.

He also promises he has a platform for “Covid-19 Recovery for Families and Businesses.” Given that the current council — under his leadership — has done nothing for local businesses or families during the pandemic and numerous lockdowns, and certainly hasn’t donated a nickel to anything that would help them survive, what sort of “recovery” does he have in mind? Thoughts and prayers? Or simply platitudes?

On the other hand, while he’s been in office, the town has spent at least $10 million of taxpayers’ money pursuing the vendetta around the decade-old utility sale and the construction of new, public recreational facilities (instead of following his committee’s recommendation to give the YMCA corporation a $35 million handout!). Even today council continues to waste taxpayers’ money and town resources pursuing its obsession with the past.

And finally, what’s curious and troubling is that this email was forwarded to me from someone who is not a Conservative, not on any other Conservative mailing list, nor ever been a party member. Yet she continues to receive emails from him asking for her support. She asked me how Saunderson’s team got her personal email address. I cannot say how she was inscribed in it, but like her, I am suspicious: she previously served on a Collingwood committee or board.

Saunderson’s resignation is long overdue. Collingwood and Simcoe-Grey deserve better.

~~~~~

* Please take a moment to read, in chronological order, the previous posts I published on Saunderson’s potential conflicts of interest, his dubious ethics in this job-hunting campaign, and his past performance:

  1. An Honourable Mayor?
  2. Saunderson’s Role in Blocking the Hospital Redevelopment
  3. Why Saunderson Should Resign Now
  4. Saunderson’s Still Here
  5. Enough B.S. (Brian Saunderson)
  6. Seven Years in Politics? But Where?
  7. Should Children be Recruited in Party Politics?
  8. Still Can’t Escape the B.S. (Brian Saunderson)
  9. The Inquiry Cost $250,000 More? Where We Lied To?
  10. Let’s Play Spread the Virus!
  11. Saunderson Still Won’t Do the Right Thing

** I have not seen any indication that Saunderson has repudiated the endorsement for his MPP job hunt he got from a local blogger who was cited in an earlier human rights court challenge against Maclean’s magazine over alleged racism. Perhaps he does not realize how an endorsement tainted by ostensible racism might appear to other potential supporters.

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