Category Archives: Municipal Politics

Whitewash

In early January, Council was presented with a report by outside consultants on the state of the shared service agreement between Collus/Powerstream and the town. The report, however, was rejected by council as flawed – wisely, it turns out – and the following motion was made (emphasis added) that night:

THAT the motion be deferred for one month to allow the president and CEO of Collus/Powerstream to review and comment on the report, and that the report be further circulated to the interview participants and CPUSB to provide any corrections/clarifications that may be reflected in an updated report.

This report, however, was now public and widely seen as negative in the community, although few realized how flawed and inaccurate it was. But council made it clear in the motion that it wanted to see ANY corrections or clarifications and to have them all included in an updated REPORT. It got neither.

As one of those interviewed, I was sent a copy of the report and asked to comment on it according to the motion above. My response, provided to staff on Jan. 26,  was 27 pages long, detailling what I saw as numerous factual and perceptive errors. I’ll get to my concerns, a bit further below. The Collus/Powerstream board also provided a 12-page response highlighting inaccuracies and misconceptions it found in the report, plus there were several other responses.

Council was provided only two of these responses by staff prior to last week. The majority of the responses were not provided to council by staff until late Friday, Feb. 13, and only then a single copy was placed in one binder in the council room, labelled ‘confidential” by the administration, with instructions not to remove the contents from the room. This despite several emails I sent to staff requesting my comments be shared with council.

How many councillors do you think spent several hours in a small, dingy room in town hall on a holiday weekend reading these comments? Consider, too, that they also had 295 pages of agenda to crawl through before Tuesday’s meeting. Looks to me like the administration didn’t want them read. How utterly open and transparent.

Instead, what council got in its agenda – and the only thing to enter the public record – was merely a two-page letter from the consultants – not the updated report council as directed – that said, basically, that the concerns raised by the responses were ignored. A list of minor word changes was included – not the full list of ANY corrections and clarifications as council directed:

Based on the responses received, the recommendations and conclusions in the Report remain the same.

That was followed by 17 pages of self-aggrandizing resumes to let us know how experienced the consultants are at this sort of report. La-dee-dah. None of this was what council directed staff to provide.

In my opinion, the administration whitewashed this one, in part because it looks like the administration made a serious strategic error in releasing the report prematurely and is now trying to cover its collective ass. In part, It’s also my opinion that there is a political agenda at town hall that I see causing a growing rift between admin and Collus staff and the water operations. Morale, I’ve been told, has plummeted.

And the result may end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

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Open for Business, But Not For Your Input

Did you happen to read the town ad on the inside page in the Enterprise Bulletin this weekend? February 6, top of page D7? I’m betting you didn’t because no one I’ve spoken to seems to have read it. And since you can’t find the ad on the EB’s website, you won’t have read it online, either.

But you should because it likely affects you and possibly in a big way.  It may change your life and not in a positive manner.

It’s on the town’s website, buried under a user-unfriendly URL here: www.collingwood.ca/node/11875.

It looks innocuous enough at the start:

In accordance with the Retail Business Holidays Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. R.30, as amended, and Ontario Regulation 711/91 – Tourism Criteria, the Town of Collingwood hereby gives notice of a Public Meeting and intent to pass a by-law to incorporate proposed changes to the Retail Business Holiday Exemption By-law, during its regular meeting of Council to be held Monday, March 2, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers, 97 Hurontario Street, Collingwood.

But read a little further and you’ll find these two bullet points:

  • Allowing retail business establishments to be open to the public Family Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, in addition to the other exemptions provided in the by-law.
  • Review of application from the Business Improvement Area and the Chamber of Commerce to incorporate a town-wide exemption encompassing all retail business in Collingwood.

That’s right: council intends to pass a bylaw to permit retail stores to open on statutory holidays – two of them among the most important religious holidays of the year for Christians. And they didn’t warn anyone this was coming. But read on, there’s more.

Open for business, not for your input

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The Hypocrisy Starts

HypocrisyIt didn’t long for the hypocrisy to start at council. Monday night, council approved a five-year contract for an unsolicited proposal from the town’s only (monopoly) taxi service without going to an open bid process.

Yes that’s right: this council approved a sole-source contract in its first two months of this term. No tender. No RFP. No public input. It wasn’t advertised. It just came in, unsolicited.*

And the contract lasts five years – beyond the term of this council.

Yes: the same people who loudly lambasted the previous council for sole-sourcing a contract for Sprung (although staff recommended it because Sprung was the only supplier of that product in Canada), made a sole-source decision themselves this week.

And the same irate, sycophant bloggers who damned the previous council for that decision were entirely silent when their friends did the same thing. Isn’t that just a little bit hypocritical?

Ah, the smell of hypocrisy. It’s like the smell of bacon, but more pungent. More like rotting flesh.

During the election campaign, the previous council’s single instance of sole-sourcing was widely attacked by several of those who were later elected to the table: including the deputy mayor, councillors Ecclestone and Doherty.

Where, oh where, were their voices in protest when a sole-source contract came to council Monday? They voted in favour, the issue of sole-sourcing never once raised its ugly head.

And here’s the kicker: the Deputy Mayor only the previous meeting made a motion to “address” sole sourcing in the procurement bylaw (although it is already dealt with in the comprehensive bylaw, which it appears he did not read before making his motion).

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Professional Politicians? Not Here…

There’s an editorial in the January 29 edition of the Collingwood Connection that underscores how little the local media really understand local politics, and how biased it remains. Which is unfortunate, because buried within this vitriolic screed was a nugget of wisdom; a salient point about local politics.*

First, it begins with an essential error by criticizing councillors for not showing “…they’re willing to work as a team -as they’ve been elected to do.”

In non-partisan municipal politics, only individuals are elected. Not teams. Yes, there was a slate of candidates with similar ideologies who ran and many of whom were elected (most of the current council, in fact). But that doesn’t make them a team any more than a bus full of passengers is a team.

Sports teams are filled with people on the same side chosen for their skills that complement those of the others. The sport-related metaphor of council as a team is not merely inappropriate, it is wrong. A herd of cats and dogs might be a better metaphor.

That doesn’t mean councillors can’t work as a team after they are elected – and most do, either collectively or in small groups because they share common goals – but they were not elected as a team and have no obligation to act as one. In fact, the whole notion of electing a team is pointless in this context, given that an election result is also the product of chance, not merely campaigning.

Teams are appointed or chosen, not elected. They have leaders and distinct agendas. Mayors may be the titular head of council, but have no say over who gets to be on their council “team.”

The fact that most municipal politics and councils are non-partisan and not team-based is actually one of its strengths. It means elected representatives can follow their individual conscience and goals, and are not chained to a particular party platform, nor someone else’s agenda. The media apparently don’t grasp this elementary concept.

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My Goodbye to Local Politics (for now)

I had meant to read a statement at last night’s final meeting of Collingwood Council, but I misplaced my printout between the time I left home and the meeting’s start. I remembered most of it, but may have missed a few words. Here’s an edited version of what I said with some notes from what I had written for the occasion:

First, I’d like to thank staff for all their help and support these many years. Staff have helped make council’s ideals, plans and goals into reality. Without them, we would have floundered and run aground on our unconsummated ideas. We have an excellent staff here, who always have the public’s best interests in mind. I sincerely appreciate their efforts on our behalf.

I have been fortunate to serve as council representative for the past 11 years. I am grateful for all the opportunities I have had to do good for the community and to serve the greater good.

I am particularly privileged to have served this term. This council has done more good for the community than any council I have know over the past 25 years, both as reporter and as councillor. I want to thank all of my council colleagues for their dedication, their support and their passion these past four years. I am honoured to have served with all of you.

I congratulate the the incoming council and wish them all the very best luck. I am sure they will be successful because of all the hard work this council has done for them.

I look forward to being able to serve the community in other ways, as a volunteer, as a contributor and as a supporter in the many areas and activities we have. Thank you to everyone who has believed in me, has voted for me, and shown confidence and faith in my goals and my vision these past 11 years.

Before You Become a Politician

IgnatieffNo, this isn’t about me. This is about federal politics. I never had an inclination for higher levels of politics, those other arenas, other battles, nor the lofty separation of politician from the electorate such roles entail. But some of it is relevant to those who want to enter municipal politics; indeed to all levels of politics.

It’s a letter from the former leader of the Liberal party, Michael Ignatieff. And a touching letter it is.

After an glorious entrance into politics, hailed as the next Pierre Trudeau, a towering intellectual giant among the pygmies, Ignatieff was eventually elected leader, then battled and buffeted by the political Pulcinellas – both internal and external – so badly he was turned into a caricature (as was his predecessor, Stephane Dion). And in the world of politics, you can survive being loved or hated, but not laughed at. His party failed miserably in the election.

Ignatieff resigned, then shuffled off ignominiously, back to academia. He now teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Still, I had great respect for him, for his intellect, and tremendous empathy for his travails. It’s hard to be a man with honour on that field.

In this letter, posted on The New Republic, he writes to an admirer who asked his advice about entering politics. Ignatieff opens by stating,

All I’d claim is that my thoughts come with what Scott Fitzgerald called “the authority of failure.”

I think as most politicians realize (or come to realize once in office), failure may not always be of your own making in a world of increasingly personal, negative and angry politics where blame is cast about like birdseed on a windy day. Even success can be framed as a failure by opponents, and the message spread by the channels of newspeak: social media, well outside the control of any politician’s spin.

Dissembling, combined with egregious nastiness, has long been a signature component of politics. Ignatieff seems not to have recognized this until he was already swimming with the piranhas:

I had the vocation for politics. What I didn’t have was any aptitude for political combat. I took the attacks personally, which is a great mistake. It’s never personal: It’s just business. It was ever thus. You can prepare yourself for combat by going in as a staffer, watching it from the sidelines, as I did when I was in my twenties, but believe me, when you step in the ring yourself, the first punch always comes as a shock. That’s when you’ll know, as you snap your head back into place, whether your first instinct is fight or flight.

I went into politics thinking that, if I made arguments in good faith, I’d get a hearing. It’s a reasonable assumption, but it’s wrong. In five and a half years in politics up north, no one really bothered to criticize my ideas, such as they were. It was never my message that was the issue. It was always the messenger.

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Thank you for your support

Thank you everyone who voted for me this election. I am delighted and honoured that you once again gave me your confidence and trust to represent you for another term in office. Unfortunately, although there were a lot of you, it wasn’t quite enough. I will not be returning for the upcoming term, but perhaps I will run again in 2018.

I promised this term, as I always have done, that I would keep the interests of all of Collingwood in the forefront; to make decisions I believe are in the best interests of everyone to be fully open and transparent in my decision making, as I always have been. I believe I have kept that promise.

While I am personally disappointed, after 11 years in of service in public office, I can look back to many accomplishments and positive results. I was especially fortunate to have served this term in what I believe has been the best council in the past 25 years. What we accomplished in terms of financial sustainability alone is a significant task no other council has managed to achieve. Plus we answered the community’s two-and-a-half decade demand for more water and ice time. This council set the bar very high. It has been a fulfilling experience to serve on council.

During my time in office, I have worked with many people at the table and on staff, and I thank all of them for their efforts on behalf of the town. I have been proud to work with you on our common goals.

I have also made some real friendships in that time. I have been especially fortunate to have served this term with people I both respect and admire and we have formed close bonds in a common vision for the community. I cherish these connections and hope they continue outside the political arena.

Good luck to the new council. It is always challenging to be at the table and I wish them all the best of luck. I hope I can continue to serve the community in other ways.

I will also continue to post here, to write, to read, to pursue my scholarly and cultural interests, and to make social, political and other comments as I do so. I will be updating my other social media content as well over the next few days.

A Modern Take on Gorgias

GorgiasPlato’s dialogue Gorgias is mostly about the difference between content and form. Or rather it’s about how Socrates saw the difference between philosophy – content and truth – and rhetoric – form and words. Both of which are practiced and studied today in much different forms from what they were in ancient Greece. But the essential core of his argument is still there for us.

Socrates felt rhetoric  – oratory – was shallow; merely using words for persuasion, for effect, for emotion: it lacked the validity, the meaning and depth of philosophy. It lacked truth and knowledge.

If you look at the dichotomy in Gorgias as one between science, fact and evidence on one side, and pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and angry bloggers on the other, then it makes sense in a modern way. Instead of the speeches he discusses, imagine them like this: as blog posts. Gorgias argues his speeches are about freedom – angry bloggers often argue their posts are a right, and they have freedom to write whatever they please, to belittle and demean others without punishment. A modern Socrates might label these sophists “A” types.

What kind of change, then, does rhetoric effect in the soul? Socrates infers from Gorgias that it is persuasion. What kind of persuasion? One kind of persuasion “provides belief without knowing,” and another “provides knowledge.” Clearly knowledge is better than true belief, which is better than false belief, and more knowledge is better than less knowledge. But rhetoric merely imparts belief, Gorgias admits, and experience shows that rhetoric produces both true belief and false belief (454e). By this reasoning rhetoric, to the extent that it is a theoretic art, is powerless to effect the best possible change (knowledge) in the soul of the hearer, but it has the power to effect the worst possible change (false belief) in the hearer’s soul.

This may be the main reason that Socrates stops discussing the greatest of goods and begins to discuss the greatest of evils. It is important to protect one’s soul against the worst effects of rhetoric. Socrates refers to the greatest of evils, in slightly different formulations, over a dozen times. The subject matter of the greatest evil takes many forms, most notably that of injustice. Can the state of soul called false belief be reconciled with the state of soul called injustice?

One could easily apply Socrates’ views about content versus empty form to the local political scene: the debate between financial facts, facility facts and council accomplishments versus the fictions, fantasies and outright lies presented in attack ads, on social media and angry blog posts. Wikipedia tells us:

Socrates believes there are two types: “…one part of it would be flattery, I suppose, and shameful public harangue, while the other—that of getting the souls of the citizens to be as good as possible and of striving valiantly to say what is best, whether the audience will find it more pleasant or more unpleasant—is something admirable. But you’ve never seen this type of oratory…” (502e). Although rhetoric has the potential to be used justly, Socrates believes that in practice, rhetoric is flattery; the rhetorician makes the audience feel worthy because they can identify with the rhetorician’s argument.

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