Berman’s Cowardly Comment

Cowardly lionLate last month, Collingwood council heard from the town’s inquiry legal team* justifying the cost of the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI), which many residents feel was an exorbitant waste of our tax dollars. The Collingwood Connection reported that Councillor Berman engaged in a to-and-fro with Will McDowell (of Lenzcner Slaght**):

Coun. Steve Berman asked if the parties involved had been more forthcoming with information, would the cost have been less. McDowell said there were many opportunities for those involved to lay their cards on the table, but “they didn’t do that.
“I don’t think you and I are disagreeing with each other,” he said in response to Berman.

By not being “forthcoming,” is Berman slyly suggesting that witnesses lied while testifying under oath? If so, I wonder who put him up to it. This taints every witness with a patina of guilt. Apparently, he lacks the courage to be forthright enough to name whomever he believes was lying. 

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The Inquiry Cost $250,000 More? Were We Lied To?

Hidden costsFormer councillor Tim Fryer is back on the agenda this coming week, making another delegation to the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee about the true costs of the judicial inquiry (aka the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry, or SVJI). I admire Tim’s tenacity at trying to get the truth out to the public about this debacle. My respect for him has risen considerably since he’s been off council, but I wish he had been such a bulldog for the truth when he was at the table (I wrote about Fryer’s last appearance in front of the committee here).

At the very end of the agenda, you can read Tim’s letter, starting on page 161* and continuing through page 166. What’s most interesting is that he included a letter from the town to EPCOR, included on pages 163 and 164. That letter shows the town agreed to pay EPCOR’s legal costs over the SVJI of $250,000 or more. Yet those costs do not show up on the town’s most recent official accounting of the costs for the SVJI (read it here) **

For a council eager to censor “fact-check” residents’ comments and letters so they conform to the party line, it seems highly hypocritical to find that the town itself isn’t forthcoming about the facts. Yet we now learn that $250,000 was mysteriously left out of the calculations. As Fryer writes,

I figured if a $4 Walmart or $8 Tim Horton’s expense charge could be included then certainly something like the $250,000 or more of EPCOR’s legal expense coverage, as per the Side Letter Agreement terms established with council after the CJI was initiated, should be too.

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Still Can’t Escape the B.S. (Brian Saunderson)

no more BSIt’s late February as I write this and still our mayor, Brian Saunderson, refuses to do the ethical, the moral, and the RIGHT thing for the town and resign his office while he openly hunts for another, out-of-town, better-paying job.*

It’s been more than a month since he admitted he doesn’t want to be our mayor and instead wants to be the riding’s next MPP. Seems to me he desperately wants to be somewhere else, getting more money and out of Collingwood as fast as he can. But he’s still, brazenly taking the mayor’s paycheque while he campaigns for another job. I don’t know how others feel about it, but it seems to me he’s trading ethics for base personal ambition at the taxpayers’ expense.

And you must be asking yourself what about all those high-and-mighty recommendations in his beloved judicial inquiry (aka the SVJI) that say council members should avoid apparent conflicts of interest? After all, the town spent many millions of our tax dollars to get them (instead of spending the money on fixing roads and sidewalks). Does he think those recommendations don’t apply to him while he campaigns to get out of his commitment to serve Collingwood? It appears blatant hypocrisy to simply ignore those recommendations when they prove inconvenient. And it surely discredits the report.

I’m told Saunderson’s campaign to be the next MPP has the endorsement of a local blogger** who was cited in a 2007 human rights complaint against Maclean’s magazine over alleged racism. The magazine was “accused of publishing eighteen Islamophobic articles between January 2005 and July 2007.” Although the BC Tribunal dismissed the case in 2008, in its ruling it stated that the “article at the source of the complaint contained historical, religious and factual inaccuracies, relied on common Muslim stereotypes and tried to ‘rally public opinion by exaggeration and causing the reader to fear Muslims.'”

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Another Sad Day for Collingwood

It’s sad to see any council devolve into pettiness and paranoia, but not surprising when this thin-skinned group does.

In a story on CollingwoodToday, council voted 4-3* to censor “fact-check” letters or comments from the public.

It’s so very Stalinist of them that they need staff to ensure the public’s comments march in step with the party line. What next? Purges? Gulags? Show trials? Oh wait, we already had that with the SVJI.

And what qualifications do staff have to read and censor “fact-check” public content? Are they trained for this in any way? Are they educated in journalistic investigative techniques? Are they widely-read polymaths with knowledge of dozens of fields and subjects? Who decrees whether any statement is factual or not?

What if, for example, a creationist comments about the presumed age of the earth? Do staff have to wade into a contentious religious debate and correct them, stating the scientific facts about geology and radioactive isotope dating, crossing out “6,000 years old” and writing in “14.54 billion years old”?

What if, say, a minister writing to ask for support for a food bank, suggests the demand has risen 150 percent. Will staff censor “fact-check” the figures to ensure the council is aware that the demand actually only rose 148 percent? If a resident writes to complain there are hundreds of potholes on their street, will staff race out to count them and censor “fact-check” to note there are actually only 89 potholes? This could easily become the theatre of the absurd (albeit fitting for this council).

Or is this role limited to censoring “fact-checking” only those writers and residents known to be critical of the party line? Perhaps just to those writers who contend that the already-excessive official figure of $8.2 million for the costs of the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) was actually much higher because it didn’t include hidden costs like the payments to sole-sourced consultants and lawyers appointed without proper tendering processes before the SVJI began, or the costs of staff time and expenses to accommodate the SVJI’s needs, or the $700,000 as-important-as-clean-drinking-water-reports-about-the-report that staff will be working on until at least next fall. or even the cost of the OPP investigation (which since 2014 has not found anyone guilty of anything). Why, some might think the cost is much higher, wasting closer to $10 million of taxpayers’ money than the official figure. I’m sure those writers will be sternly censored “fact-checked” for their temerity at challenging the party line.

Will members of the public whose writings have been censored “fact-checked” then be publicly shamed at the council table when the consent agenda is brought up for approval? Will councillors call them out, chastise them, accuse them of mendacity? Did I use the word “Stalinist” yet?

And do staff get to censor “fact-check” members of council as well? If, say, the mayor claims the pool and the new arena only have a ” lifespan of about 15 to 20 years” will staff censor “fact-check” him so the public is aware of the facts: that the outer skin has a guaranteed lifespan of 25 years (the same lifespan as the roof of a standard steel-and-brick building), but the frames have a guarantee not to corrode for 50 years!

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The Hypocrisy Goes On

Anyone having supervisory responsibility for the completion of a task will invariably protest that more resources are needed.
Hacker’s Law of Personnel, coined by Andrew Hacker in The End of the American Era, Atheneum, 1970.

At the end of the Feb. 8 virtual meeting of Collingwood’s “Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee,” under “other business,” Councillor Jeffrey (~2:02:20) worries about the “lack of staff resources” the mayor has at his beck and call. She wants to “make sure he has the benefit of the resources he needs to do his job.” She wants the town to hire or appoint him another assistant. Ka-ching! 

Is that not the wildest hypocrisy? Jeffrey and our current mayor were both part of the council that stripped the former mayor of her executive assistant (a position in town hall for at least two decades previously) in mid-2018. Some of those on that council felt she didn’t need one. They turned the assistant out of her office and made it into the council mail room.

In her term, Mayor Sandra Cooper went to many meetings, in and out of town, attended hundreds of town events and community occasions, met face-to-face with business leaders and citizens every day, attended conferences, met with ministers at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa.

I have known every one of our mayors since 1990; I covered them for the media for a dozen years; I served on council under three of them, and in those three decades I never encountered a mayor who attended more events, or engaged the community more than Sandra Cooper. She was in the office almost every day (when not away on some municipal business). She was tireless in attending to her job, and not just the official responsibilities: she cared more about the people of this community than anyone I ever saw in the mayor’s chair before, and certainly after.

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Will Madigan Pay for Inquiry Costs?

lawsuit?In a recent story on CollingwoodToday about the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI), Councillor Bob “Lapdog” Madigan commented that he wanted, “…those who are responsible for this need to be held accountable.”

Since neither the inquiry nor the OPP found anything illegal or criminal in the proceedings (no charges have been laid, although the OPP began its investigation in 2014!), the basis for a lawsuit would be… what? Council’s opinion? Or just Madigan’s umbrage?

We assume from the story’s headline, “Council wants to know litigation options following inquiry,” that he and others at the table want the town to sue people involved in the events because they made decisions the current councillors don’t agree with. Or maybe because those whose decisions displeased their wannabe-autarch-mayor, who launched this inquiry. Or just because a former council wouldn’t cough up the $35 million handout for the YMCA Saunderson and his committee demanded from taxpayers in 2012?

Well, Bob, when we measure accountability for this ongoing debacle, we must include you and your fellow Blockheads who voted for the inquiry, back in 2018. All of you need to be held accountable because you five started this and who ended up wasting $9 million or more of taxpayers’ money on it. If you’re suggesting that those who are responsible for this debacle should be the ones to pay for it, then open your wallet, Bob, because you’re one of the five.

This inquiry was sneakily called for at a council meeting in Feb. 26, 2018, at a time when three of the nine members of council were absent and could not participate in the discussion or vote. It was approved by a razor-thin majority of five: Saunderson, Ecclestone, Jeffrey, Doherty, and you, Bob Madigan. This is who should be held accountable for the costs. You ordered it, you pay for it.

You and the rest of council were warned then that the costs could escalate very quickly.  Chief Justice Heath Smith – who was originally chosen to oversee the inquiry – provided the report on the Mississauga inquiry with a letter about the potential cost escalation to the town (it was shared with staff and all members of council) to “give some idea as to potential costs.” according to the newspaper. Council blithely ignored her warning. And at least one ditzy councillor back then rather dimly didn’t think it would cost anything at all! 

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Enough B.S. (Brian Saunderson)

no more BSYet another week has gone by and our mayor, Brian Saunderson, stubbornly refuses to do the right thing for the people of the town of Collingwood, and resign. He continues to pursue his personal political ambitions at the expense of both our taxpayers and the credibility of the office. Not to mention tarnishing the reputation of those on council and staff who refuse to stand up to him or call on him to resign.

Resigning would be the honourable and ethical thing to do, but I do not believe residents can expect that from Saunderson. You might want to take a moment and read what I’ve previously written about him and his campaign to be our next MPP here:

  1. An Honourable Mayor?
  2. Saunderson’s Role in Blocking the Hospital Redevelopment
  3. Why Saunderson Should Resign Now
  4. Saunderson’s Still Here

In announcing his run for the nomination, Saunderson essentially told voters he doesn’t care about the job of mayor he was elected to do. But he wants to stay in office sucking at the public tit and collecting his mayoral salary until he can walk away from it as MPP, in June, 2022. If that happens, I imagine he’ll shout “So long, suckers!” as he drives to Toronto.

If he doesn’t get nominated as the party’s candidate in April, 2021, he will be politically washed up in an office he didn’t want to be in, likely bitter and vindictive towards the people who failed to fulfill his ambition. That will be us, by the way: local taxpayers.

His refusal to resign shows how little he really cares about his $9 million judicial inquiry and its 300-plus recommendations about real and apparent conflicts of interest. It can now be seen as merely a tawdry ploy to get him votes in the last municipal election. He’s a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do opportunist.

If this is how he mistreats Collingwood’s electorate after barely two years in office, imagine how many more opportunities he will have to mistreat Simcoe-Grey’s residents if elected MPP.

Do it once and do it right, Brian: resign now.

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My Report About the Report About the Report

Dilbert again
As I predicted (correctly) late last year, Collingwood Council was given a dumbed-down, $700,000-as-important-as-clean-drinking-water-report-about-the-judicial-inquiry-report. More than 900 pages of the original report reduced to a mere 15 to report on the report. And as I also predicted, it would include pie charts.  You can read it here: “STAFF REPORT #CAO2021-02 Phase One – Collingwood Judicial Inquiry Next Steps.

You can also look at the PowerPoint presentation made to council — which, as I also correctly predicted, would have the report “reduced to a dozen bullets on PowerPoint slides, written in a large font and read aloud, slowly, at a council meeting.” Plus it had pie charts! Nostradamus couldn’t get much better than this. 

I get it: Saunderson’s 900-page, $9-million report** with more than 300 often irrelevant, redundant, or vague recommendations, laden with legalese and moral bloviating is simply too much for most of those at the table to process. But, I suspect, so is a 15-page summary. After all, it has to be read and as we know from watching their meetings last term, the majority at the table really don’t like to read.*

Of course, we didn’t elect the A-team to council. We didn’t even elect the B-team. It’s more like the C-Minus-Team. Big fonts, small words, and lots of pie charts for this lot. More cowbell, as the meme goes. Until, that is, staff can figure out how to make the agendas into colouring books and hand out crayons in meetings.

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A Municipal Challenge to Democracy?

Freedom of information?
Collingwood has joined other local municipalities asking the province to revamp its Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA; a guide from the Information and Privacy Commissioner to the Act is also available here) to make the process more restrictive and less open. While some of those changes might seem appropriate to outsiders, I see buried in the wording of the request some dark challenges to our democracy.

The story in Collingwood Today is titled, “Freedom of information rules ‘archaic’ and in need of modernization, says Collingwood clerk.” Democracies depend on some core attributes: openness, accountability, transparency, and privacy. The motion suggests neither the bureaucracy nor our elected officials respect those attributes and want to restrict or remove them from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

It’s bad enough that the majority of our council — including our current mayor — were at the table last term and eagerly participated in the most secretive, deceptive municipal government this town has ever seen. They betrayed the public trust by holding many, many closed-door meetings in which they decided without public consultation to sell our publicly-owned electricity utility to an Alberta for-profit corporation*; they decided without public consultation to sell our publicly-owned airport at less than the assessed value to a private individual; they heard a sole-sourced lawyer advise them behind closed doors to hold a judicial inquiry; they decided behind those closed doors to call for an inquiry without public consultation, then they appointed that same same-sourced lawyer to represent the town without due process of the procurement bylaw, and they planned and schemed to erect roadblocks against the hospital’s much-needed redevelopment. All while hiding themselves from public scrutiny.

Most of the same group that betrayed the public trust last term is back at the table this term. Little wonder they don’t want FOI requests to expose them. And at least one of the newcomers wants to implement a form of censorship on public comments. 

Do you notice a trend here? Do you see those campaign-trail promises of openness, accountability, and transparency being broken before your eyes by a group of callous, self-interested politicians? Democracy under siege?

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Saunderson’s Still Here

Berman and Saunderson
Brian Saunderson, right, with sycophant.

A week has gone by and our mayor, Brian Saunderson, has still not done the right thing by the town of Collingwood and resigned from his office. He continues to pursue his personal ambition at the expense of both the local taxpayer and any credibility he might have had.

As my readers know, Saunderson announced he didn’t want the job of mayor and is campaigning to be our local MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament). However, he announced he is staying on as mayor until he gets elected, which won’t be (if it happens at all) until June, 2021. Until then, he continues to suck at the public tit while he campaigns for his new job.

As I have written in the past, an honourable mayor would have resigned. Not doing so essentially spits in the face of his beloved judicial inquiry recommendations about apparent conflicts of interest. Such blatant hypocrisy is not un-noticed here.

Ethical politicians in other municipalities who understand how accusations of conflicts of interest and influence peddling can arise when a municipal politician campaigns for a role in a higher tier government. They have called on the province to amend the Municipal Act so that municipal politicians who run for another office must resign their municipal role. Not that Saunderson cares what other politicians think, ethical or not. This is all about him, not about what’s best for others.

The flaccid, local media ignores the issue. Saunderson’s fawning sycophants on council turn a blind eye so as not to lose his approval. A pat on the head is all they want from him to be happy.

Collingwood deserves a mayor whose focus is on our community, not himself. but there is no greater good in Saunderson’s ideology: only a greater Brian. If he wants to show he really has the community’s interests at heart, Saunderson would resign. But I suspect few, if any, expect him to do the right thing.