Mayor Brian Saunderson swore an oath at the council inauguration in 2018 that included the promise to “truly, faithfully and impartially exercise this office to the best of my knowledge and ability.” And yet barely halfway through his term, he announced he wanted to get out of that commitment and leave town for a better-paying job as an MPP in Toronto. What sort of “best” is that for Collingwood?*
When someone is actively campaigning to get out of one job and into another, I doubt anyone else would consider they can or will do their current job to the “best of” their ability. But yet he stubbornly refuses to do the simple, ethical, and honourable thing: resign from his mayoral office while he campaigns for another job. His personal ambition overrides his commitment to the people of Collingwood.
Saunderson also announced that even if he wins the nomination, he will continue to stay in office and suck at the public tit while he prepares for the provincial election. He will take the mayor’s paycheque for a job he wants out of, until he wins the provincial election, in mid-2022. Then he will kiss Collingwood goodbye. He seems unconcerned that he is taking taxpayers’ money for a job he is trying to leave.
The public also has cause to wonder how well he will do his mayoral job “to the best of” his ability if he doesn’t win the nomination. After all, he’ll still be here, likely otiose and dysfunctional in a job he clearly doesn’t want to do, but mired in it for another 18 months.
Seems clear to me that promises mean nothing to our mayor. That bodes ill for any promises he makes should he win the nomination and campaign to be the riding’s MPP.
Saunderson also promised in his oath of office to “disclose any pecuniary interest, direct or indirect.” Campaigning for the party’s nomination requires candidates to lobby for supporters and donors, some of whom will have business ties to municipalities both in town and in the riding. That can put a mayor who is also a member of county council into a quagmire of potential conflicts of interest, particularly the confidence-eroding “apparent” kind his beloved Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI) chastened others for. The judge at the SVJI noted in his report that (emphasis added),
Public perception that a councillor or a staff member is subject to an apparent conflict of interest can erode confidence in a municipal government… a failure to appreciate the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest and of disclosing real and apparent conflicts of interest to maintain public confidence.
Refusing to leave office while job hunting blithely ignores public perception and that eroding confidence; doing double duty to discredit the inquiry’s report and recommendations. Yet, hypocritically, Saunderson continues to lavish money** on promoting the SVJI even though it contained a recommendation that would require him to be more forthcoming about his apparent and potential conflicts (emphasis added):
12 The Province of Ontario should amend the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act to broaden its scope beyond deemed pecuniary interest to encompass any real, apparent, and potential conflict of interest.
In his campaign to shed his mayoral responsibilities, Saunderson may receive money or promises of support. What if that comes from a company or someone who works for a company that does business with the town, the county, or even within the riding? How can the public be confident that there wasn’t a tacit understanding of returned favours or influence at the municipal or county level? That’s where “apparent” or “potential” conflicts of interest enter the equation: because the public cannot see behind the curtain, the SVJI warns, public trust requires politicians to avoid even the appearance of conflict.
And the oath of office also included this:
2. I have not received and will not receive any payment or reward, or promise thereof, for the exercise of this office in a biased, corrupt or in any other improper manner.
Is it really possible to separate donations or support towards his job-hunting campaign to be relieved of his unwanted role as mayor and county councillor from those roles themselves? I don’t see how it can be done in any ethical or moral manner that is transparent and inspires public confidence. The public has the right, even the responsibility, to ask cui bono (who benefits)? Donors expect something back for their money; to be repaid through political obligations. If he doesn’t win the nomination (or the election) and his ambition remains bogged down here, how will he repay them?
But even without support or donations, surely there is an “apparent” conflict of interest when someone is actively trying to get out of one job and into another. If a department head or senior staff person at town hall announced they were applying for a job in another municipality but would stay on here, collecting their salary and benefits until they were hired elsewhere, wouldn’t that be cause for a lack of confidence in their ability to do their job here? Why is the mayor treated any differently? ***
With the province often at loggerheads with municipalities over funding; downloading; chaotic vaccine rollout; cuts to education, healthcare, and services; conservation authorities; clean energy; property assessment, and more, surely there is a potential conflict when a mayor who is supposed to defend our municipal interests jumps ship for the side causing those problems.
Collingwood and Simcoe-Grey deserve better.
* You might want to take a moment and read what I’ve previously written about Saunderson, his campaign to be our riding’s next MPP, and his refusal to the ethical and honourable thing by resigning as mayor:
- An Honourable Mayor?
- Saunderson’s Role in Blocking the Hospital Redevelopment
- Why Saunderson Should Resign Now
- Saunderson’s Still Here
- Enough B.S. (Brian Saunderson)
- Seven Years in Politics? But Where?
- Should Children be Recruited in Party Politics?
- Still Can’t Escape the B.S. (Brian Saunderson).
- The Inquiry Cost $250,000 More? Where We Lied To?
- Let’s Play Spread the Virus!
** The egregious lack of transparency over the real costs of the SVJI remains a thorny issue that has severely eroded confidence in local politicians. Many taxpayers are angry at the cost and want the town to tell the public the actual costs. Not just the sanitized version presented late in 2020 ($8.2 million). The real costs include the costs of the sole-sourced lawyers and consultants hired before the inquiry to set the stage for it (several millions of dollars); plus the costs of the secret negotiations with EPCOR to pay the for-profit corporation’s legal bills at the inquiry ($250,000); plus the costs of bringing back the legal team that represented the town back to justify the costs to council; plus the costs of the administration’s $700,000 as-important-as-clean-drinking-water reports-about-the-report that will keep being reported until the fall of this year, plus the costs of advocating the report and its recommendations around the province. I expect the real costs, if ever pried from the obscurantist bunch at the council table, will prove to top $10 million. And that doesn’t even include the costs of the OPP investigation, ongoing since 2014 without charging anyone after seven years.
*** As Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote in his book, De Officiis (On Obligations) 1.25:
…a citizen who is substantial and brave, and worthy of a chief place in the state, will shun and abhor, and will give himself wholly up to the state, pursuing neither wealth nor power; and he will so watch over the entire state as to consult the well-being of all its citizens. Nor will he expose any one to hatred or envy by false accusation, and he will in every respect so adhere to justice and right as in their behalf to submit to any loss however severe, and to face death itself rather than surrender the principles which I have indicated.
In that same section (De Officiis, 1.25), Cicero also wrote:
…let those who are to preside over the state obey two precepts of Plato, — one, that they so watch for the well-being of their fellow-citizens that they have reference to it in whatever they do, forgetting their own private interests; the other, that they care for the whole body politic, and not, while they watch over a portion of it, neglect other portions.
and perhaps even more relevant to the job seeker:
Most pitiful in every aspect is the canvassing and scrambling for preferment, of which it is well said by the same Plato, that those who strive among themselves which shall be foremost in the administration of the state, act like sailors who should quarrel for a place at the helm.
Wise words, sadly ignored. But then who at the table would you imagine reading Cicero or any other classical author? Me either.