Where is Collingwood’s Pandemic Response?

StumpedI admit I am stumped. I have been looking online to find something that tells me what Collingwood council has done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year. I’m looking for real, concrete, measurable steps, things that benefit our community; things that residents and businesses can point to and say “This helped me survive.”

I don’t want to read about promises, nor bloviations, nor self-serving proclamations with all the substance of a bad dream. We get enough vapid, banal content from our shambolic council already. Watching a council meeting is like being trapped in an elevator with a serial farter who won’t stop talking. This, however, is important. They’ve had a year to create plans, to assign money, to reach out, to help residents, and do something positive and meaningful. I’d like something we, as a community, can boast about. But I can’t find anything.

Now, just because I can’t find any indication of anything substantive online doesn’t mean they haven’t done it. Perhaps I missed it. With such threadbare local media content, I might have simply overlooked a story. So I am calling on my readers to fill me in: tell me what positive, concrete solutions council has approved, how that has helped you, what funds they have used to help the community, how much money you have received. Please, if you know them, answer my questions below.

But before I offer some questions, let’s consider some things about Collingwood. We have a higher-than-average number of seniors here, and a large segment of people working in the hospitality and service sectors. We have a lot of people on either fixed incomes or in minimum-wage jobs who are vulnerable to layoffs and lockdowns. We also have a lot of seniors in long-term-care facilities. Surely all of these are the most vulnerable people in our community, most at risk from challenges caused by the pandemic. Surely a compassionate, caring, moral council would have immediately reached out to help these groups first, right?

After all, the town takes your money: surely council can give some of it back in a time of great need to help the community. That would be the ethical and the moral thing to do, right?

So what did they do? And where are the stories about it? Surely our sycophantic local media would be praising our council to the heavens if they actually did something.

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What would $9 Million Buy Our Town?

Back a few years ago, the 2010-14 council led by Mayor Cooper approved building for the community several important structures and buying for public ownership several properties, any of which — indeed, several of which — could have been built for less than the $9 million cost we taxpayers are burdened with paying for the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) this term.

For example, the new firehall we commissioned in 2012 cost $4.75 million. For roughly twice that amount, you know what you got from this council? Right: a report. And not just any report: we got a digital report, that, despite being full of vague, generic, and irrelevant recommendations, we’re told is as important as providing clean drinking water. Excuse me while I do a facepalm over that claim.

When we built the firehall, we also upgraded the OPP station — which the town owns — to meet the province’s operational standards. That cost another $800,000. A new firehall and a renovated police station: $5.55 million. Not even close to $9 million, and they’re still standing, still in use, still publicly owned. This term, you got a digital report.

For $5 million, the 2010-14 council upgraded and covered our swimming pool for year-round use, and added a warm-water therapy pool to it for our seniors, had the change rooms rebuilt, added a viewing area, seating, competition diving boards, upgraded HVAC and water systems, and paved the parking lot. That’s $4 million less than this council’s important-as-clean-drinking-water digital report.

And then for $8.5 million, we commissioned and built a new, publicly-owned hockey and skating arena and rink, with dressing rooms, a canteen, benches for spectators, and meeting rooms, all so local teams and clubs didn’t have to drive out of town to practice, and the community had a year-round space to skate and play.  The builder even threw in $500,000 of extras for free. Still cost us less than the $9 million digital, important-as-clean-drinking-water report and it’s there today for the whole town to use.

And we did both of these publicly-owned recreational facilities without costing taxpayers a penny. Two top-rated, environmentally-designed, publicly-owned recreational facilities for about $13 million that will be providing the whole community with service and enjoyment for many more decades. Compare these to the as-important-as-clean-drinking-water digital report you got this term that will be with us for… maybe a couple of months? If that.

In 2013, we also bought Fisher Field for about $500,000, which was then privately owned, securing the town’s soccer pitches for the community, and making future upgrades viable because the public now owned the land. And we also upgraded and rebuilt two public tennis courts to meet community demand, and built a new public park and playground called J.J. Cooper Park.

You got a report this term. A digital one at that.
More Dilbert

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The $9 Million Dollar Mayor

Throwing money awayMore than eight million of your dollars have been spent to date on the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI), and it may top $9 million if you add in the costs the town doesn’t include in its calculations, as well as the proposed $700,000 report-about-the-report. And that should stick to our $9 million-dollar mayor.

There is a breakdown of the SVJI costs as of Dec. 18, 2020, on the town’s website. Sort of. The $8,098,547.40 total doesn’t include two key components: first, the salary and expenses of the inquiry’s judge. While that was paid for by the province, not simply by local taxpayers, it’s still a cost we all have to bear in our annual income tax paid to the province. Even the lowest provincial judges make at least $250,000 a year, so the true SVJI costs should be another $500,000 or even higher.

Then there are the unreported costs for town staff, too, and we do pay these: including overtime, time and paperwork to respond to and accommodate the SVJI requests, travel, time and paperwork to respond to residents’ questions and requests about the inquiry, time to set up rooms and hearing space, to provide water, electricity, and advice, to move departments out of town hall, then back again, for any incidental costs to accommodate the inquiry. How much that was I cannot estimate, but because so many senior staff were involved, I’d guess it easily tops $250,000 spread over the inquiry’s time here.

On top of that, there’s that $700,000 additional to be spent for staff to write a report about the report — a task we’re told is as important as ensuring our drinking water is safe. I’m sure you’ve already read my comments about that expensive, bureaucratic codswallop.

And we’re not sure if that’s the final tally or there are still bills to be paid. The town hall cash register keeps singing to the Nine-Million-Dollar Mayor’s tune.

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As Important as Clean Drinking Water?

Dilbert
I wonder how the people of Walkerton would feel about Collingwood CAO’s statement, reported in Collingwood Today, that implementing the 300-plus recommendations of the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) is “equivalent with the top priorities we have, like providing clean drinking water.”

I wonder how many people in our town will be saved from a painful, water-borne illness and possible death if, for example, the town encourages the province to implement recommendation number two:

2 Describing the mayor as both the head of Council and chief executive officer blurs the fact that the mayor is the head of Council and the chief administrative officer (CAO) is the head of staff. There must be a clear division of roles and responsibilities between the mayor and the CAO, a separation of the political from the administrative.

Nothing like a ‘clear division” to make the community safe from evil.

The Walkerton tragedy was the result of a failure to ensure clean drinking water. More than 2,000 people fell ill, and six died. From that event came the province’s Safe Drinking Water Act that makes council members personally responsible and liable for ensuring the water residents receive is safe, and changed the way municipalities managed their water supplies. And can you please tell me how this is equivalent to producing a report-about-the-report?

Seems to me it belittles the people of Walkerton to compare their suffering and trauma with the results of a questionable inquiry that cost taxpayers more than $8 million that could have been better spent fixing our decaying roads and sidewalks, and upgrading our own water treatment plant. And keep in mind that the SVJI report is a summation of opinions, not a legal decision. 

So please help me understand why Collingwood’s CAO thinks that reporting on the 300-plus recommendations that were mostly generic, irrelevant, or appear outside the inquiry’s mandate — and relate to events that are now at least eight years old — are on equal footing to ensuring we have clean water.  

Okay, I do understand that it is highly unlikely that most, if any, of our council members have read through the entire 914 pages, and need a precis; perhaps the whole thing reduced to a dozen bullets on PowerPoint slides, written in a large font and read aloud, slowly, at a council meeting. After all, none of them were elected for their intellectual prowess, and reading was never their forte. But is it worth another $700,000 of your money to explain it to them?

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The irony, the hypocrisy

Mob ruleThere’s a letter on the council consent agenda that will either make you shake your head in wonder at the brash irony of it, or laughing at a writer who plays a fawning Rudy Giuliani to Saunderson’s Trump.

It’s from Claire Tucker-Reid, the co-chair of the former Central Park Steering Committee (SPSC; our current mayor was the other), the committee that can be argued to be the cause of this recent and expensive turmoil that led to the town wasting more than $8 million of your money on a vindictive judicial inquiry (or, as some believe, a vendetta). The inquiry enriched lawyers but did nothing for the rest of us. Sure, we got 300-plus mostly generic or irrelevant recommendations, but can we fix the potholes with them? With $8 million we could have.

The letter’s author is also a self-professed member of the small, disruptive, special-interest lobbying group “Better Together Collingwood” (which was neither better than nor together with the rest of the community) that tried to bully council through mob rule into giving the YMCA a $35 million handout back in 2012.

And to top it off, she was the “campaign chair Mayor Saunderson, for the last 2 municipal elections.” No conflicts there, right?

You might recall that the SPSC had its own conflicts, not least from having an employee of a developer who made a competing proposal to build a rec facility as a voting member. It had a YMCA representative voting. What about the personal relationships between the writer and the former director of the PRC? Didn’t the inquiry rail on about how personal or business relationships were “hidden conflicts” even though they weren’t legally recognized as such?

If you accept the conclusions of the judicial inquiry that conflicts of interest exist outside the legal requirements of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, then from what I see, this letter is pretty hypocritical. But there has long been a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do block of Saunderson supporters for whom such considerations of fairness or transparency do not apply.

What about the committee’s refusal to share critical information with council six or more months before the final report was presented? And failed to share its meeting minutes with council, thus keeping council in the dark about its machinations. This knowledge might have caused council to shut the committee down much earlier because it had failed in its mandate (to develop a partnership), or at the very least it should have changed the nature of both the committee and the discussion around building a recplex.

Examining their activities, I find it hard not to conclude that the  CPSC acted in a secretive and deceptive manner. But I digress.

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No Enemies; No Accomplishments

Have you ever read this poem? I hadn’t, until recently. But now it makes sense. Take a moment…

No Enemies

You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.

As Wikipedia tells us, Charles Mackay (27 March 1814 – 24 December 1889) was a Scottish poet, journalist, author, anthologist, novelist, and songwriter, remembered mainly for his 1841 book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, a copy of which I have buried somewhere on my bookshelves. His other works are pretty much forgotten today.

You might have also have heard his poem spoken while watching the Netflix series, The Crown, season four. In it, Gillian Anderson, playing “the Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher, responds to the Queen’s question about creating political enemies by reciting the poem from memory. Thatcher says, in effect, “bring them on; I’ve earned them.”

I was thinking of that poem and what it meant to have political enemies as I read in the local media* the petty, insulting, Trump-like spume from our own council around the recent Judicial Inquiry report coupled with the fumbling attempts to justifiy the egregious cost.

Enemies, as Mackay tells us, are what to expect when you work hard, do good, and stand up for your beliefs. And, it seems, my former council sure has its enemies at the table today. I doubt the current council has any because they’d have to stand for something or actually do something first.

From their comments in local media, I doubt any of those quoted actually read the report fully, let alone bothered to question any of what was, in my opinion, a flawed process and pre-determined outcome in which guilt would be assigned to those “enemies.” Our council, it strikes me, used the interview not to discuss moving forward or anything constructive, but merely to vent and bloviate (while clearly mis-informed about some salient facts, too**). How very Trump-like they have become. Since when did every councillor get to speak for the municipality? Are their personal opinions now official statements, no matter how ill-informed?

But then, I wondered, how many at the table are even capable of reading anything even a fraction as long as the contentious report, let alone comprehend or analyse it? Few if any, I suspect.

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