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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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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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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An Honourable Mayor?

DilbertMayor Brian Saunderson has announced he is running for nomination to the provincial Progressive Conservative party in our riding to be able to stand as the candidate for MPP. According  to a story in Collingwood Today, he is not stepping down from his role as mayor, and will not do so even if he wins the nomination:

Should Saunderson receive the nomination, he said he would not be stepping back from his duties as mayor of Collingwood unless he were to be successful and elected in 2022.

I believe that this poses a threat of both real and perceived conflicts of interest and that an honourable, ethical politician should step down immediately after announcing his or her candidacy to another office. Here’s why:

Being mayor is a full-time role even though it is paid as a part-time job. The mayor cannot decide at any time not to be mayor and act as an individual or claim his acts were personal, not official. The Municipal Act does not allow that. The same holds true as a county council member: he is always a representative of the county, even when away from the county council.

A specific date for the local nomination meeting has not yet been set, however Saunderson said the riding association is planning to have it done by the beginning of April.

Saunderson will be in campaign mode from now until the provincial election in June, 2022. Stepping down as mayor shortly before the next municipal election does not absolve him of public scrutiny over his potential conflicts before then. No one can be effective and diligent serving as mayor, county councillor, and outside political candidate and still fulfill the expectations of all three.

And shouldn’t every member of a municipal council be non-partisan? Municipal mayors and councillors do not run for election on party lines. Declaring openly your allegiance to a party, and then serving (should he win) as the party’s nominee is certainly very partisan and in opposition to what I have always believed is the spirit of fair, non-partisan municipal politics.

Saunderson will be campaigning for support and funding for both his nomination and, if he wins it, for his provincial election campaign. During the next 18 months, he or his team will approach individuals and businesses for donations and support. Some of these will be companies that bid for or provide services for the Town of Collingwood or Simcoe County. These may include local engineering and contracting firms, waste management, construction, automobile vendors, and so on. No one will not see him as aw-shucks-plain-old-Brian-the wannabe-MPP: they will see him as the influential mayor of the municipality who also sits on the county council. 

Saunderson’s team during both his campaigns should also be considered as his business associates when considering conflicts of interest. Politics is not a recreation: a campaign is a business venture with large financial rewards for winners at the upper tiers. And some of those team members will be paid for their participation, not simply be volunteers. This adds yet another layer of potential conflict to his position.

In essence, following his announcement, Saunderson became a lobbyist for himself and his party. One has to wonder if he has listed himself as such on the town’s lobbyist registry. Methinks not. And did Saunderson discuss the potential conflicts with the town’s Integrity Commissioner as would be appropriate according to the judicial inquiry’s recommendations? The reporter does not say (nor is it clear if she even asked him).

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Striving for Mediocrity

DullardsOn a council laden with dunces, deadwood, and dullards, it must be some consolation to our elected representatives, that they can at least claim to be less mediocre than Councillor Steve Berman. We all need someone to measure ourselves against, I suppose, and a low bar is so much easier to rise above.

Berman’s first year in office was spent mostly consuming oxygen at the table and saying nothing of consequence. Of so little consequence were his words that even the normally sycophantic local media hardly ever bothered to reprint them. But when the pandemic struck and council retreated into virtual Zoom meetings, he rose to the occasion by occupying a video rectangle with a look of dazed incomprehension. That is something of an accomplishment for him, I guess.

To be fair, I suspect none of our council was elected for their brains, but rather for their unbending loyalty to our mayor: eight wannabe-Guilianis to their wannabe-mini-Trump. And has been made clear in their past two years in office, they clearly were expected not to show actual initiative or advocate for any projects or goals that might transfer the lustre to them and away from their leader. And in that role, Berman has shone along with the rest.

But Berman broke from the herd this week, going far enough into the fringe that Collingwood Today reported him “pushing for town staff and council to make more of an effort to stop the spread of misinformation in the correspondence section of council and committee agendas” and he “referenced the actions of Twitter to add flags to its users’ tweets when the information in the tweet was disputed.”

By which he is referring to Twitter tagging Donald Trump’s outright lies, but that suggests he must think that local residents are also lying when they write their concerns to council. 

Does that strike you as a call for censorship? Berman took to task two local residents whose mildly critical letters had appeared in the council’s recent  “consent agenda.” (Methinks he must be secretly reading my blog, too. Or maybe having someone summarize it for him because it has a lot of words in every post. Well, I welcome all readers, regardless of their literacy.)

And yet, most curiously, he didn’t include for his “fact-checking” tags the letter from Claire Tucker-Reid, on another consent agenda, which I found rife with the sort of “alternate facts” Berman claims to want to correct. But then, she was on the committee that recommended the $35 million corporate handout. And he was all for council making that donation. Not hypocritical of him at all, right?
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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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Red light cameras for Collingwood?

traffic cameras
A small but very irate number of residents have broached with me the topic of installing red light cameras at Collingwood’s traffic intersections. I hadn’t really thought about it – except to acknowledge that traffic seems to be getting busier. I’ve seen traffic backed up for 500-1,000m at numerous intersections in town – even on weekday afternoons, and seen it enough times to recognize it is the future here.

More cars means an increase in the number of bad, inattentive or aggressive drivers will also go up. Although I don’t know if the percentage remains the same, the number of bad or aggressive drivers appears to be climbing.

In my own experience, it’s worse on Highway 26 than other streets, but that’s my own driving pattern – YMMV (your mileage may vary).

Are red light cameras the solution? After giving it some consideration, I tend to agree that at the very least they may help deter the worst drivers.

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Airports and opportunities vs. The Block

Strategic Vision:
To become a premier regional commercial airport that stimulates the socioeconomic development of Simcoe County and the City of Barrie by improving connectivity, enhancing the competitiveness of the region and improving the quality of life for its residents.
Mission Statement:
To drive the region’s economic prosperity, enhance business opportunities, increase the region’s competitive position and support the travel needs of the community through increased connectivity.

So opens a report on the opportunities and challenges facing the Simcoe Regional Airport, presented to the county’s Committee of the Whole session, May 22. You can see it here, starting at page 23. The other quotes on this page are all from that report, unless otherwise identified.

Ship of fools
Ship of fools: our council

Quite a different approach from the one that most of Collingwood Council took towards our airport, isn’t it?

For a start this was done in public, not in secret as the Block – our very own Ship of Fools, rudderless on the ocean of governance – loves to conduct its business (especially when public assets are concerned). Second, it was positive, forward-thinking, and backed by facts, not the sort of negative, paranoid conspiracy theory The Block wallows in.

Airports in a modern global economy provide the critical connectivity to markets and knowledge-based resources that in turn represent key drivers of the economy. Airports themselves are not the destination but a conduit that provides critical connectivity.
“Airports play a considerable role in economic development and the most important cargo they move is people” – Richard Florida, Professor, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

I imagine this presentation made our Deputy Mayor, Brian Saunderson, squirm in great discomfort during the meeting. After all, here’s a consultant not only saying airports are good, but should be kept AND invested in! And that they bring economic growth and opportunities! Backed by actual facts, too! Quite a slap in the face to Brian’s Block, whose wacky conspiracy theory states airports are bad, costly, and should be disposed of without considering their value or economic potential.

By 2043 air travel demand in Southern Ontario will increase to 110 million passengers and a million tonnes of cargo – compared to the 47 million passengers and 400,000 tonnes of cargo in 2017.

So there’s growth predicted and a future in airports and an opportunity for a forward-thinking government to capture some of that business. But instead of wanting to embrace that growth and prepare for a better, more economically vibrant future, the ostrich-like Block are running away from it as fast as they can. They decided (in secret, behind closed doors, and without any public consultation or engagement, as they always do) to sell our publicly-owned airport instead of even investigating the opportunities.

But you already know they’re virulently anti-business, so that’s no surprise.
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