Let’s Play “Spread the Virus!”

FacepalmsI see Collingwood Council wants the province to end the lockdown, but hasn’t said anything about improving public safety or accelerating the vaccinations if that happens. That suggests to me they are okay if the coronavirus spreads again, and strains our hospital’s already stretched capacity to deal with it. At least, that’s the message I got from the latest facepalm-worthy discussion and motion by council this week. As reported on CollingwoodToday:

Collingwood council is demanding an explanation from the province for the local lockdown and asking for the town to be returned to red zone (or lower) restrictions effective immediately. 
Council is also calling on business owners and residents in the town to start a letter-writing campaign calling on the province to lift the lockdown in Collingwood and allow local businesses to reopen.

I chuckled to read that a small town is “demanding” anything from the province. That’s like an angry toddler having a temper tantrum in a box store because their parents won’t buy them a big toy they see on the shelves.

Municipalities are not independent: they exist at the province’s whim and tolerance: they depend on the province for funding and authority. A more mature, more politically-astute council would have realized that you do not demand anything of the province: you ask. And politely. You maturely present facts, develop an argument based on logic and reason, make a report, dress it up with some pie charts, and you present it respectfully. You don’t whine and cry and demand.

Logic. Reason. Respect. Okay, I think I see the problem…

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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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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 $100 Million Mayor?

Your tax dollars at workIn a story on CollingwoodToday, our mayor, Brian Saunderson, shrugs off the costs of his Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (the SVJI) as being but a drop in the bucket for the town’s annual budget:

He noted the town’s annual budget is nearly $100 million, and the inquiry costs amount to less than ten per cent of the yearly budget.

Perhaps he was flustered by being challenged over the egregious waste of taxpayers’ money on the SVJI and just pulled that budget figure out of his hat. Perhaps he plans to spend a LOT more of your tax dollars on reports-about-the-report-about-the-report so we end up with a $100-million budget. Perhaps he just wanted to inflate his own status so he looks more important as he campaigns to be the next MPP while he stays in office as mayor. But the town’s actual budget, according to Collingwood’s audited financial statement for 2019, shows a revenue of $61.6 million, with expenses of $60.3 million. However, you really need to read an audited report to understand the town’s costs and revenue streams, not simply the projections in a budget.

Yes, I suspect you’re wondering, too, if our mayor is clueless about the town’s finances. After all, $60 million is hardly an unsubstantial amount. In fact, it seems outrageously high for a small town with 24,000 residents. But it’s still a long way from $100 million. And you’re probably wondering why the media didn’t call him out on that, too. So am I.

The town also collects taxes for the school boards and the county: these get passed along to these authorities and are NOT part of the town’s operating budget. In fact, the town’s own operating budget is considerably less than $60 million: page 24 of the audit shows it was $34.1 million in 2019.

You should spend a little time reading the audit, or at least more time than our mayor seems to have spent on it. You might find some interesting data, like how much the town really got from the sale of the airport (page 26): $2,067,531, or about half of what Saunderson and the former council said we’d get (the selling price was $4.1 million). Given that the airport was assessed at around $6 million a few years back, I’d say we lost a LOT of money on that sale. But I digress.

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Saunderson to Flog his SVJI at the County

On the County of Simcoe agenda for Feb. 9 is a motion from our mayor for the rest of the county to support the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) and back his run-on motion:

…Collingwood’s efforts to advocate for the Province of Ontario to make review, and/or commence consultation with the municipalities of Ontario and other stakeholder groups, such as the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, to make changes to the municipal legislative framework including, but not limited to, the Municipal Act and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act pursuant to the recommendations of Associate Chief Justice Marrocco in his report, “Transparency and Public Trust: Report of the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry”.

I have a suspicion this will lead to Saunderson later asking the county to help Collingwood pay for this $9-plus-million debacle. After all, if they support it, even in principle, they might be willing to pay for it. 

But for now, I have to wonder: how many of our county councilors will take the time to read the inquiry’s 900-plus-page, legalese-dense report and its 306 recommendations before voting? If they do read it, I expect they will not approve the motion.

A lot of those recommendations, as I’ve pointed out in previous posts and below, are redundant, or even irrelevant. Some are very specific to Collingwood, some are vague, and some are simply inexplicable. A representative from another community should not accept them all in some blanket motion: I expect a thoughtful politician will instead pick out those few that might be relevant to his or her municipality (or the province) and deal with them.

Saunderson, of course, will try to convince the rest of the county councillors this is a grand and glorious thing all about openness, accountability, and best practices. Piffle. For that, I can only warn you: caveat emptor.

As I see it, Saunderson is merely grandstanding: pushing for visibility and media coverage while he campaigns for the nomination as the PC MPP candidate. Not very subtly, either, but he can’t campaign on his record of putting up roadblocks to the hospital’s redevelopment, can he?

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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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