Small comfort from FCM

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Fat catsCollingwoodites can take small comfort from the wisdom of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I’ve been told that last week at its annual convention in Ottawa, FCM delegates failed to return our own Councillor Jeffery to their board of directors, possibly saving local taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars this term. Taxpayers will no longer have to pay the costs of her personal political ambitions with their hard-earned salaries. One less mouth sucking at the government tit.

Or maybe not. Word is that the councillor is still pursuing her ambitions by trying to get appointed to a committee within FCM, thus justifying still flying all over the country, wining and dining at taxpayer expense. Excuse me, did someone fart or is that just the stench of entitlement?

FCM has a board with a president, past president, three vice presidents and 68 council members. That’s right: SIXTY EIGHT. They are councillors from across Canada, plus the presidents of every provincial municipal organization. And the Ontario Caucus has 16 members itself!

As you can see by last year’s board list, the vast majority of them come from cities: municipalities that can afford the expense. Not many are from small towns like Collingwood, probably because they know they can’t afford the luxury. And even when they can, they send their mayor, not a junior councillor.

One of those other board members, by the way, is from Simcoe County council, so he already represents the region and its municipalities. And his expenses are covered from county revenue.

FCM boards, caucuses and committees meet all over the country, from Newfoundland to the Northwest Territories to British Columbia and everywhere in between. Taxpayers have to pony up for flights, meals, hotels and whatever entertainment the delegates’ expense accounts allow. Did I mention yet that The Block put NO RESTRICTIONS on Councillor Jeffery’s spending? No accountability, no oversight, no limits… and no cold camembert and broken crackers for her. Must be nice to have friends in high places.

At Collingwood Council, May 29, Councillor Jeffery presented her much-anticipated report that was supposed to justify her unlimited (yes: The Block really gave her an UNLIMITED expense account the last time they voted) expenses for FCM. You can watch it on Rogers TV here, starting at 1:56:36. Curiously (or suspiciously) there was no hardcopy provided so residents could read it. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t exactly about what she has done for us.

We expected her report to detail the direct benefits Collingwood has received: the dollars FCM has given us for projects, for events, for initiatives she has launched for Collingwood and our neighbouring communities. Or even for small urban municipalities in general. And we got none of that. She doesn’t list a single thing that she has brought to Collingwood as a direct result of her role. But at 1:56:48 she says it’s “on our behalf…”! Yet she didn’t mention a single initiative she launched.

In her verbal, number-dense report, Jeffery mentions a few of the generic things FCM has been involved in – from which all Canadian municipalities benefit, and which we would get without her participation. But she also lists money we get from other levels of government for which she has had no role in procuring.

The HST rebate, for example – for which FCM lobbied successfully more than a decade ago – was granted in the 2004 federal budget long before Kathy was on the board. The feds give it to us, not FCM.

The gas tax rebate is a permanent rebate in the federal government budget, declared by the federal government as such as early as 2009 (thanks also to the lobbying efforts of AMO since before 2011). And the province has had a gas tax rebate in place since at least 1988. Municipal rebates from the province started in 2004 and were made permanent in 2013. Reports on municipal allocations are made yearly by the Ministry of Transport. FCM has little to nothing to do with these provincial allocations.

But the spark for these gas rebates sprang from the FCM’s Big Cities Mayors Caucus of 2002. Some of these ideas also came from a report filed by the Ontario-based Inter-Municipal Team on New Revenue Sources (IMTNRS) in April of 2003. FCM collectively didn’t get on board until May, 2003.

So while municipalities are thankful for FCM’s participation and advocacy for these ideas, no matter how she tries to take credit for them, Kathy wasn’t involved in their implementation.

The federal Clean Water and Wastewater Fund is an infrastructure program funded by the feds and the provinces (municipalities have to pay a share, too). FCM doesn’t contribute to it or get involved in the applications or eligibility tests. Even FCM’s website doesn’t try to take credit for that fund!

But Kathy says it’s “as a result of the advocacy…” at 1:58:26. Not hers, apparently. Someone else’s. Many someones, and many years earlier, it seems.

At 1:58:40, Deputy Mayor Saunderson lavishes praise on Jeffery for her “good work on the governance committee.” The committee she never mentioned, the work she never mentioned. The committee that is so important, FCM doesn’t even list its members or activities on its website. Maybe Brian wasn’t listening to her report.

Now I don’t advocate we quit FCM. It does great work on behalf of every municipality in Canada. In fact, I’m a great believer that the town should always be a member of FCM, as well as Ontario associations. Our membership fees help them fund their efforts.

And I believe councillors – when their budgets allow – should attend their conferences (assuming they actually attend the workshops and seminars, and don’t spend their days bicycling around the town or offsite visiting friends – as some of The Block have done this term). Despite The Block’s resistance to learning, some of it might seep through.

I would even cautiously endorse participation in the board and committee structures of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) – with the caveat that the expenses of the participants must be monitored and justified, not unlimited and open-ended. But to participate in FCM at the board level is an unjustifiable expense; the benefits we get as a town from direct participation are at the very least questionable.

Of course, money doesn’t matter to The Block because it’s not their money they’re spending. They’ve already racked up much more than $1 million in legal and consulting fees pursuing their private agendas and personal vendettas in their efforts to destroy our electrical utility, our water utility, our IT services, the airport, and to prevent the hospital’s redevelopment, so why should another $10,000 or more a year matter to them? Besides, they can always ratchet up your taxes, utility rates and user fees to cover it, as they have already done three times this term. Your money clearly grows on trees, right?

Collingwood deserves better.

(PS. Do you think the pro-Block local media – which has pumped her ascension to the FCM board so much in the past – will cover her failure to get re-elected? Me either…)

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