Council Rewards Its Friend. Again.

Our council has found yet another way to reward its friend, despite the recommendations in the report from the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI) warning about “apparent” conflicts of interest with friends. Page 7 of the full SVJI report states (emphasis added):

Councillors and staff should avoid providing or appearing to provide preferential treatment to close friends and family. They should not conduct municipal business or encourage the municipality to contract with individuals with whom they have a close relationship.

Recommendation 42 states (emphasis added):

The Code of Conduct should state that Council members cannot use their position to “influence the decision of another person to the private advantage” of the Council member, his or her family and/or “immediate relatives” as defined in these recommendations, friends, business associates, or staff at the Town of Collingwood.

Four recommendations warn about doing town business with friends. Yet a recent story in CollingwoodToday noted a new bylaw that will certainly benefit the company of a close friend of many at the table. It would require,

…the insurance policy for fire department response fees to be paid to the municipality either by the insurance company or by the owner. If it is not paid, the town would add the amount to the property owner’s tax bill.

Fire Marque was contracted by the town to chase after insurance payments on behalf of the municipality. The salesman who sells Fire Marque’s services to municipalities is our former mayor, Chris Carrier.

After our fire department responds to a fire or accident, Fire Marque rushes in to grab the insurance payouts. Some of that is paid to the municipality (I can only assume this gets paid against the dep[artment’s budget). Fire Marque keeps 30% of what it gets as a collection fee.

I wrote about this company back in 2017 when the previous council granted their friend’s company its sole-sourced contract (July 12, 2017, and July 19, 2017). It was a test of integrity for The Block when handling town business with a close friend. Which it inevitably failed.

The contract was passed with no one at the table mentioning their relationship with the salesman. No one even whispered a complaint that it was yet another sole-sourced contract the previous council handed out like party favours. None of the Block asked for staff reports about the company, to investigate other insurance alternatives, or what the potential impact would be on homeowners who suffered a fire.

I can find no indication that anyone at the table declared a conflict of interest over this issue then or now. Nor that the salesman himself divulged the relationship as the SVJI recommended (emphasis added):

194 “Suppliers must declare and fully disclose any” apparent, real, or potential conflicts of interest or unfair advantage concerning “the preparation of their bid” or “in the performance of” their contract. Examples of such conflicts include:
a engaging family members, friends, or “business associates of any public office holder” at the Town “which may have, or appear to have, any influence on the procurement process, or subsequent performance of the contract”;

But, you may well cry, I already pay for fire service in my taxes. And you likely pay home insurance, too. So the municipality is double-dipping by asking to be paid again for a service you already paid for. Your insurance rates will likely rise after the payout, so you’ll be paying a lot more there, too. But council wasn’t concerned about the impact on its residents.

A recent story from Moose Jaw underscores the issue. it opens:

A Moose Jaw couple wants homeowners and renters to be aware of what their insurance says about fire coverage after learning they might have to pay $10,000 to the fire department.

Their story continues:

The couple later received a call from Fire Marque — an Ontario-based insurance company that collects on behalf of fire departments — that gave them a claim number and asked for their insurance. The agent also told them that the MJFD had instituted this recovery policy in 2015 but had acted upon it only recently.
The resident was unsure how much she would be charged since the bill had not arrived yet. She doubted that she and her husband would have to pay since they have insurance. Yet, she wondered how she missed the news that the MJFD would collect for attending to her home.

Here’s what I wrote back in 2017:

“What Fire Marque does is to bill insurance companies for the cost of fire department responses to emergencies – costs already paid for by your taxes. As explained on Elliott Insurance:

Fire Marque is basically a collection agency. They’ve enticed the municipalities to sign up with them to collect fire department coverages from the insurance companies’ policies. So after an individual has a fire, the fire department will send off information to Fire Marque about the situation and what it cost the fire department. Fire Marque will then contact the person who had the fire and ask who their insurance company is. Then they basically bill the insurance company for the fire department charges, up to the limit that is allowed under the [homeowners insurance] policy.”

Seems still relevant, today.

There are three other recommendations about your friends and their businesses in the SVJI report, all of which this council blithely ignores because they clearly don’t believe these restrictions apply to them or their friends. For example (emphasis added):

57 The integrity commissioner should have the necessary resources to provide ethical education and material for Council members. Council members must receive training and education on the Code of Conduct, conflict of interest rules, and other pertinent legislation and policies. Conveying accurate and comprehensive information to Council members on managing conflicts must be a priority. The training should also make it clear that each time a Council member reviews a report, the Council member should consider whether the report affects his or her business interests or property, or whether it affects a family member, relative, or friend.

103 The Code of Conduct should explicitly state that staff are
prohibited from giving preferential treatment to family, relatives, or friends.

194 “Suppliers must declare and fully disclose any” apparent, real, or potential conflicts of interest or unfair advantage concerning “the preparation of their bid” or “in the performance of” their contract. Examples of such conflicts include:
engaging family members, friends, or “business associates of any public office holder” at the Town “which may have, or appear to have, any influence on the procurement process, or subsequent performance of the contract”

In 2017, I also wrote that this contract seems to violate a clause in the province’s Fire Protection and Prevention Act that states:

No action for damages from accidental fire
76 No action shall be brought against any person in whose house or building or on whose land any fire accidentally begins, nor shall any recompense be made by that person for any damage suffered thereby; but no agreement between a landlord and tenant is defeated or made void by this Act. 

But I guess that doesn’t matter to this council either, where a friend is involved. As the Elliott Insurance website concludes:

The people who buy insurance are the same people who pay taxes. What is the most economical way for that community to get more funding for their fire department? Is it through a program like Fire Marque or through direct taxation? I would say economically it is far better through direct taxation. I think people respect and understand fire departments [fighters] and they really have a trust in their local government, so if they raise some rates to provide the extra funds for the fire department, the community will understand. I believe the community would think that was far better than trying to get the funds through a program like Fire Marque.

Collingwood deserves better.

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2 Comments

  1. Jeffrey Brydges

    Lobbyists’ registry and lobbyists’ registrar: how do they, and their related judicial inquiry recommendations, fit into the story and did the former mayor register? Will the story further unfold through the virtual public meeting and the mayor’s open and transparent answers to questions?

    • https://www.collingwood.ca/council-government/lobbyist-registry/lobbyist-registry-search

      According to the town’s lobbyist page, Carrier lobbied the fire chief on behalf of Fire Marque from “12/01/2019 – 01/15/2020.” I can find no other entry for him or that company. However, he is also shown as lobbying council members, including the mayor, twice in 2021 and once in 2020 on behalf of DiPoce Management, a development company.

      Carrier donated to the 2018 election campaigns of the following members of this council, too: Doherty, Hull, Madigan, McLeod, and Sanderson. Why there is no declaration of their relationship with him relating to the current bylaw, I cannot say. Perhaps the Integrity Commissioner should be asked to look into it.

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