By now I expect you’ve read the scurrilous CBC story written by Dave Seglins or at least one of its local spin-offs. For me, the best line in the CBC piece is the description of Seglins by David O’Connor, a “veteran criminal defence lawyer,” who called Seglins a “… f—— sleazeball.”
Eloquently said, and certainly an opinion shared by others in town. I would have added a few other expletives, but I already stand guilty of egregious verbosity, so I’ll let the description stand on its own merit.
It’s a story full of allegation and innuendo, but not guilt. The story cunningly tells you some of the details from the 219-page OPP report, just enough to make readers think someone was guilty without actually saying so. And what it does say is couched in language that seems designed to further the interests of a group of council candidates, the unemployed Steve Berman in particular. (Berman has long been the easily-duped catspaw for others who also have interests in the upcoming municipal election).
In their book, The Elements of Journalism, third edition (2015) authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil say the purpose of journalism is “to provide people with the information they need to be free and self governing.” Well, this story doesn’t even get close to that lofty goal. They add (p. 9) that the first of ten items journalists need to fulfill this task is, “Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.” Not selective truth, not opinion, not sly innuendo or unfounded allegation: truth. Another miss, it seems.
Start at the top with the headline. It’s misleading and incorrect, but it sets the oleaginous tone for the rest of the piece: “Ex-MP received ‘secret’ cut of $12.4M deal in resort town run by his sister, OPP probe alleges.”
Sandra Cooper is mayor. She isn’t a mafia boss. She doesn’t “run” the town: council and the town administration do collectively. In fact, Sandra voted against many of the initiatives of
Lord Voldemort Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson and his marionette Block minions, including sidelining the hospital redevelopment, privatizing our electrical utility without public consultation, twice extending the contract of the much disliked interim CAO, calling for a judicial inquiry that could cost taxpayers $6 million or more, and the last two budgets. All of which passed because of The Block’s unanimous votes.
Yes, that’s right: they mayor voted AGAINST the town’s budget and pretty much all of Saunderson’s initiatives. But they passed anyway. So how can she be said to “run” the town? You’d think a reporter would ask those questions. But maybe the CBC doesn’t follow that sort of journalism these days.
And, no, the OPP probe doesn’t allege anything about the mayor. The story makes it guilt by association.
Second, she’s Paul Bonwick’s sister. So what? That’s not against the law. The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act is very clear in that siblings and cousins or uncles and aunts are NOT considered when determining conflict of interest. Parents, children are, not siblings. Yes, he’s a former MP. So what?
The subtext of local politics is: Bonwick was a Liberal MP and most of those at the council table and those skulking in the shadows behind these attacks are rabidly Conservative. Their dislike – even outright hatred – of anything Liberal has long been manifest in this town. Otherwise why mention his ex-MP status?
Third, the story says Bonwick “allegedly brokered” a contract “with the town of Collingwood in 2012.” Yet the story and OPP documents say that “Bonwick’s role was kept “secret” from council…” (Seglins surrounded the word secret in parentheses so the local troglodytes would think he really meant otherwise. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Page 35 of the OPP report says secret but doesn’t pretend it was otherwise.). Both the story and the report are full of allegations – none of which have been substantiated, let alone proven. But why should proof stand in the way of a good story?
The OPP don’t say he did anything with the town: he did it with a private contractor.*
How could he have brokered anything with council – nine members at the table who have to approve the decision? He didn’t lobby anyone at the table. Council was unaware he was even involved – the report clearly states that. Even most of the town staff and administration didn’t seem aware of his involvement. Pretty hard to broker a deal when you don’t even speak to anyone. There are no emails in the report between Bonwick and the mayor or any councillor about this or anything else. Pretty shoddy lobbying, I’d say.
But wait, let’s look at the date on that report. It’s from 2014. Four years ago, and the police have not charged anyone in all that time. Maybe it’s because they have since concluded that no one did anything wrong or with criminal intent?
Keep in mind that neither Bonwick nor Mayor Cooper have been interviewed by the police – nor even told they were under investigation. Nor have Rick Lloyd or Ed Houghton been interviewed. **
The first page screams, “This document contains allegations that have not been tested in court.” The court of public opinion is not a law court. Proof is required in a law court, not just allegation. In the intervening four years, there was ample opportunity to take any allegation to court – since they didn’t, the police must have had solid reasons not to do so. Curious that the story doesn’t say that.
Are there other reports, later ones that might exonerate anyone? If there’s nothing more, now the OPP have released all this material, what possible justification can the police have for not closing the investigation? Aside from caving in to political pressure, that is.
Statements in the report say that taxpayers didn’t pay for anything agreed between the contractor (BLT) and Bonwick. On page 109, Dave Barrow of BLT states he, “… took the 6.5% out of BLT Construction Services profit margin on the project.” And he also states in that conversation that BLT, not the town, paid for the consultant. So as I read that, it didn’t affect the total cost, which as I understand, had been quoted before BLT and Bonwick made a contract. It was a contract between two private businesses, not with the town.
And no, I have no idea what Bonwick was paid for, or why he received that much. I doubt anyone on council does. That’s between BLT and Compenso. Yes, it’s a lot of money but so what?
Why did the OPP release the details of bank accounts that are clearly not related to any allegations – without even informing Bonwick that he was under investigation, or that they were going to release personal information to the media? Why wasn’t that material redacted? (Recall that Seglins also recorded my brief conversation with him on my porch, without my permission or even informing me he was doing it, then shared that recording with others – so any claim that the CBC will keep personal information confidential is clearly a fiction)
On page 136, it notes, “The Sprung structure may be cheaper than a conventional structure because that is all that it is, and it only has a 17-year warranty, whereas a conventional structure will last 50 years.” That’s horseshit: the outside fabric shell has a 25-year warranty, the same as the roof of any bricks-and-mortar building, and the supports have a 50-year warranty. This could have been easily confirmed on their website but the incorrect claim was inexplicably was left in the report.
No one on council was ever interviewed to get another perspective or even to confirm some of the allegations and statements, yet there are interviews from the former CAO and others in which claims are made that are entirely unsubstantiated. For example, on p. 45, Kim Wingrove is quoted as saying that Councillor Sandy Cunningham was “the mayor’s cousin.” Well, that’s not true: they are not related by any bloodline. She states I was on Bonwick’s “payroll” when I (as a freelance writer) only did a few short-term, piecemeal contract jobs (none of which was related to recreation, Sprung, BLT, Green Leaf or even Collingwood and nothing after 2013). She even says the feisty Councillor Kevin Lloyd will “do as he’s told.” That’s at least good for a laugh.
Deputy Mayor Rick Lloyd’s alleged crime was to suggest that a staff report have more upbeat language by removing the words “if council chooses to proceed.” The investigator comments that taking those words out of the report “potentially prohibits members of Council from making an informed decision, as they may not have all the facts.” But those words were not facts, just excess verbiage. And it’s demeaning to council to suggest some empty language would be the deciding factor that directed the votes of nine individuals instead of a serious consideration of all the information. Council had the choice and made it based on presentations, staff reports, and many previous discussions including those about a much more expensive (and unaffordable at $35 million) option. Plus the public wanted a solution now, not ten years later.
The report’s creator then adds what is a purely personal comment on procedure that is both unwarranted and irrelevant: “I believe that it would be common sense and good practice to prohibit individual Council members from offering any input on what content should be included or how this Staff Report should be prepared or read.” Crap. Staff often consult with members of council on their reports, especially with the members whose initiative it is, to be sure that they answer all the questions and cover all the bases. No one on staff wants to be castigated for not doing it properly or be requested to do it again with all the data requested. It doesn’t mean the report will draw conclusions that the council member wants or that the council member is directing staff to make the report recommend a particular direction. But the intent of the council member who requests that report is important and consultation does and should occur.
Why didn’t the police bother to actually check to be sure what they were being told was factual? It seems pretty one-sided, especially the stuff on the steering committee’s role. It doesn’t even once state that the former PRC director, Marta Proctor appointed (without stating the relationship to council) her former boss from Toronto to be co-chair of that steering committee. Or that former mayor Terry Geddes on the steering committee was also a representative for Ameresco which was making its own bid to build the town a rec centre for profit (as long as we borrowed the money to do so from them at a higher interest rate than we could get from the bank).
And don’t forget that its co-chair Saunderson wanted taxpayers to fund a rec palace then hand it over to the YMCA (for which Berman was temporarily employed). Funny that neither Seglins nor the police report comment about the ethics of a committee that recommended the public pay for a $35 million Taj Mahal for the YMCA yet a YMCA executive was a voting member of that same committee. Or ask how many committee members were also Y members at that time and might have had a vested interest in the project. Or why in the final report from the committee, the Y’s promised financial commitment was mysteriously removed, putting the entire onus for the costs on the taxpayer?
Seglins writes that in 2012, Collingwood had “a total annual budget of just $82 million.” But the tax levy in 2012 was only $24.07 million (municipal portion) – surely Seglins would have confirmed his own data before making such a claim. Or not. Maybe my sense of responsible journalism is too old fashioned for the CBC today. Either way, the town would have had to borrow the money and double its debt load to build it. And then give it away.
Seglins tells us Berman (who was seen riding around town with Seglins two weeks ago, and who gets enormous, positive coverage in Seglins’s stories even when he has nothing to do with them…), “… filed dozens of freedom of information requests, and received more than 1,000 pages of emails sent by elected officials and town staff — clues about how the deal made it to the council floor so quickly.” What he doesn’t tell us is who paid and wrote the FOI requests. Or even what those “clues” were (they were, in fact, open statements by council that we wanted to get something done after decades of stalling by previous councils).
In the past, I have filed a few FOI requests myself and paid $50-$80 each for a one or two-page result. This would have cost thousands of dollars; the unemployed Berman has neither the intelligence nor the money to file that many. Someone in the shadows is behind this, but Seglins doesn’t ask who.
(To be fair: neither does the local media, but we’ve long since lost any hope that local media will actually do their jobs and not simply regurgitate what others provide.)
Seglins, by the way, denies he is friends with Berman or Berman’s Sith Lord, Brian Saunderson. And we must take him at his word because Seglins – like Brutus – is an honourable man and the CBC assures us he’s doing “noble” work. It must be just coincidental that such “noble” work helps further Saunderson’s vendetta and Berman’s election campaign.
And surely all that positive coverage Seglins has given Saunderson in recent stories was also simply more of his “noble” work, not friendship for Saunderson. Seglins alleges he isn’t Saunderson’s friend, and – like Brutus – Seglins is an honourable man. True, Seglins did admit being a friend to Stephen Christie, Saunderson’s employer, and all three belong to the same local ski club, but they can’t all be friends because Seglins is an honourable man. Right?
The investigator worries on P. 171 that “…some facts contained within this ITO that form part of the Town of Collingwood/Sprung Instant Structures project history that may fall into the categories of poor ethical behavior or administrative violations of procurement rules and/or policy.” But he acknowledges that “…these categories on their own do not afford evidence of a criminal offence.”
I worry about that, too. The report has made me very uncomfortable because it suggests there were things that council didn’t know at the time and I believe we should have known. I worry that others may have known these things and not disclosed them; thus my confidence in them is shaken (a moot point, perhaps, since this is six years past). It doesn’t mean the decision was wrong or that knowing would have altered that decision. And it certainly doesn’t mean anyone did anything criminal.
The structures we commissioned are always busy; users like them, and our council was the first in decades that finally addressed the growing demands of local groups for more water and ice time. Drive by the pool this weekend and see the cars parked everywhere, see swim teams from all over the province participating in a major event. Hundreds of families came to Collingwood to use OUR facility, to shop and eat and stay in OUR town. That’s why we did it.
We acted quickly because people were tired and frustrated with the endless delays, promises without substance, and indecision of previous councils. Nothing sinister in trying to do the right thing. The only ones who think we acted too quickly are those who had a vested interested in another result and our failure to cater to them started this vendetta. The police should have dug further into that side of the story.
PS. I’m told Berman wants local kool-aid drinkers to protest at town hall Monday before the council meeting and attempt to bully and intimidate the mayor into resigning, even though she did nothing wrong. Nothing like a gang bullying a single woman to make thugs feel manly and superior. He and Saunderson used similar tactics last term. The difference this time is that if she steps down, they expect The Block will appoint Saunderson as mayor and then really push their agenda (and vendetta) ahead. Despicable, cowardly lot, all of them. This town is weary of this hate brigade.
* Sub-contractors are never named in a contract or RFP. Who removed the old fill? Poured the concrete? Planted the trees? Installed the diving boards? Painted the changing rooms? Paved the parking lot? No one except the contractor knows. In every construction project there are numerous sub-contractors, none of whom are identified to council. The public is never informed about sub-contractors because they are the business of the contractor, not the town: payments are made only to the contractor who in turn is responsible for paying any consultants or sub-contractors.
** The police report states on page 219:
I believe we will lose opportunities to illicit the truth from several individuals if details enclosed in this ITO are made public. I have provided detail in this ITO the importance of the hold back evidence relating to the BLT Construction Services payment to Compenso Communications Paul Bonwick. The investigative team has guarded and maintained this detail a secret from witnesses. I believe that open access to this would reveal to any reader the nature and scope of this investigation and would certainly compromise the proposed investigative strategy.
Yet all of this was released to the CBC and made public, so clearly this is not a concern for police any longer. After all, it’s been four years since it was written and no one has been charged with anything. Unless, of course, CBC unwisely decided to release material that will negatively affect an ongoing police investigation in order to help the election chances of some people they swear aren’t their friends… but the CBC wouldn’t do something that unethical, right? No, of course not: they probably already know that NOTHING will come from this: no charges will be laid.