On Tuesday, July 17, the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee held a meeting. Its sole purpose was to retreat behind closed doors (as this council does at every opportunity) and discuss the sale of our publicly-owned airport.
To date, this council has already held 16 in camera meetings about the airport. And during these secretive meetings, our council not only decided to sell our airport, but not to hold any public consultations about that sale. Not once this term has anyone on council said WHY they wanted to sell a successful, busy, publicly-owned airport. Not once has anyone at the table or in the administration presented a business case for selling it, or compared the pros and cons of ownership.
It’s all been done in the shadows. Backroom deals. The airport sale will be authorized July 23 without having had any public consultation.
This ongoing secrecy was poorly received by our municipal partners on the airport board who weren’t even informed about the move. So alienated were they that both Clearview and Wasaga Beach decided to stop contributing funds to the airport’s maintenance, and to withdraw from the airport services board.
Not that Brian Saunderson and his Block minions care a whit what others think about them, about Collingwood’s reputation or how the public feels about the deception practiced by this council.
It’s a seven-year old story about the abuse of power, of corruption, of personal ambition thwarted, of an insatiable sense of entitlement, a craving for attention, and a clique of ruthless people determined to exact vengeance for a perceived slight. And it’s still being told today.
It began in 2011 after the former council refused to build Brian Saunderson’s proposed $35 million “Taj Mahal” rec centre with public money and give it to the YMCA. Instead, an alternate staff plan was approved: two new, state-of-the-art rec facilities were erected at a fraction of the cost, and kept in public ownership. That annoyed Sanderson began a seven-year vendetta against everyone involved. Street protests were organized with Saunderson as their loudly vocal spokesperson. Deborah Doherty’s partner paraded in front of a town hall with a sign demanding officials “inpeach” council (Doherty is now on council).
And in 2014, several election platforms were built on stories produced by one reporter at the CBC.
CBC reporter Dave Seglins, is back in town, sniffing around for another story that will no doubt again discredit those associated with that 2011 decision, plus others who have been targets of various council motions and actions this term (the airport, the sale of Collus, the judicial inquiry, for example).
In between is our sordid tale about revenge, and a determined smear campaign using taxpayer-funded resources. Corruption is defined as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” Who stands to gain by any of this? Look to the council table.
The story that Seglins is writing will rehash what he published in 2013; pieces that discredited incumbent politicians, residents and town staff without anything even resembling evidence of any wrongdoing. (more on that, below).
The question you need to ask yourself is when reading this is: Cui Bono? Whose good? Who benefits from these stories and the harassment? Whose campaigns will wave them about in the municipal election and without a hint of the hypocrisy, decry this “corruption”?
Seglins has approached at least five people here in the past week, alleging he has “court documents” about some of them. These include Mayor Sandra Cooper, former MP Paul Bonwick, former Deputy Mayor Rick Lloyd, former Collus utility CEO Ed Houghton, and myself. There may be others who have not contacted me about it.
All but Cooper are all private citizens, not politicians or public servants today. To date none of these people have told me they have seen the alleged documents, nor been contacted by the police for any wrongdoing or investigation, nor served documents for court appearances. Their lawyers, I’m told, have not seen them, either. Are we going to get another story based solely on unfounded allegation and innuendo?
In Canadian justice, an accused has the right to know the name and see the face of the accuser. Not, apparently, in the CBC: anonymous attackers can discredit and smear their opponents from the shadows.
The headline on the media release reads, “Alectra selling its shares in Collus PowerStream to Collingwood.” What it should add is that Collingwood residents and taxpayers were betrayed by members of their own council and administration. After a three-year campaign to screw us, The Block have won a major victory in abhorrent behaviour. They are privatizing our electrical utility and next year will do the same to our water/wastewater utility, to the same corporation.
Our publicly-owned utility will be sold to EPCOR, an out-of-province, for-profit corporation that pays a dividend to the city of Edmonton only, and that will raise our electricity rates as soon as they are allowed. Our utility will be privatized within a year, with no local control, no local representation, no local input. And it’s all been done to us behind closed doors.
What will Collingwood get from the sale? Basically nothing, once all the legal fees, consultant fees, taxes and kickbacks are paid. We will have lost everything just to satisfy some personal vendettas.
In fact, with the changes made to staff, to departments and the termination of the shared services agreement, and the skyrocketing legal and consulting costs approved by The Block and this administration, operating costs are already escalating. Your taxes will be raised significantly to pay for their vile acts.
It is a devastating blow to the hardworking staff in Collus-PowerStream. It will be devastating and extremely costly to residents once the deal is finalized. This is the lowest moment in our town’s history. It goes way beyond merely being unethical and immoral: it has the stench of corruption about it.
If you read the media release published by the Town of Collingwood this afternoon you will realized just how much you have been lied to these past two years. It’s titled, “Council to pursue Hydro Share Sale discussions with Epcor.” This is the “unnamed company” whose name The Block and the administration tried – unsuccessfully – to hide from us.
But like I warned you: The Block is privatizing our water and wastewater services, too. All without any input or consultation from the public:
In addition to submitting an offer on Collingwood’s remaining interest in Collingwood PowerStream Utility Services Corp, EPCOR has proposed a services arrangement to operate the Town’s water and waste water system under the Town’s continued ownership.
And yet the media release has the unmitigated gall to add,
The Town plans to hold a public information session once more information is available that will provide more details of the EPCOR proposal and seek public input.
Folks, you already know this is a foregone conclusion. After two years of outright deceit and deception, your input no longer matters. The deal is already done: a fait accompli, and nothing you say at this point makes any difference. You are about to lose control of both water and electrical utilities – lose control of the rates, service levels, quality and delivery – to an Edmonton-based corporation you’ve probably never heard of.
The Most Secretive Council Ever has comfortably assumed the mantle of The Most Secretive and Corrupt Council Ever. As I warned in a previous post, The Block was going to appoint someone’s friends to the Collus-PowerStream board – and do it both illegally and unethically. And last Monday, they told us they had done it. Fait accompli.
But as you have learned this term, laws, procedures, ethics and morals are for others to obey, not for The Block.
According to a story in The Connection (apparently the EB couldn’t be bothered to report on it online and I don’t get their print version…):
Michael Pace and David Goldsmith were named to the board, replacing Collingwood CAO John Brown and treasurer Marjory Leonard. Clerk Sara Almas remains on the board, serving as co-chairperson.
Know who these men are? Of course not. Only The Block knows. These men don’t live here. They didn’t even have to fill in an application to sit on a local board like the rest of us do. They were handed the appointments. Isn’t that usually called “patronage”? *
Who recommended them? The public has the right to know who is pulling the strings in those back rooms. It is an offense to public trust not to tell us.**
So now all three members of the utility board supposed to represent our local interests live out of town. According to the Connection story, one is a lawyer with “experience in mergers and acquisitions” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink…) but no experience in the electricity sector. The other is a consultant from Ottawa (we have already employed so many consultants this term, I’m surprised we just didn’t use one of them) and engineer, whose background (based on his website) seems mostly in steelmaking, with some experience in industrial-electrical relations.
How either can represent the interests of some 17,000 local residential customers, plus all the small businesses and commercial operations in our area was not explained. Nor will it be.
Nor were we told why the municipalities Collus PowerStream serves outside Collingwood have never yet been informed, much less consulted, about these changes in board membership that affects their residents and businesses, too.
But guess what else? You will have to pay to bring these two to any board meeting – paying the costs of their transportation, time and accommodations. One lives in Ottawa, one in Toronto. Imagine paying those expenses, those per diem costs for their trips here. Right: you got screwed by The Block. Again.
Councillor Lloyd questioned the process:
Coun. Kevin Lloyd questioned the process used to find the board members. Lloyd felt they should live in Collingwood, but Almas said Collus PowerStream is governed by the Ontario Business Corporations Act.
Ever get that uneasy sense of deja vu? That some ugly, undemocratic event you’re watching at council, some autocratic, conniving, secret and self-serving act is something you’ve experienced in the past? That those nasty breaches of ethics, those conflicts of interest, those ignored bylaws and broken trust are things you’ve already seen at the table? That you’re going through another round of corruption and conflict in Collingwood? By this very council?
Well, my dear readers, you aren’t alone. On November 14, Collingwood Council once again went in camera and came out with this resolution:
BE RESOLVED THAT Council hereby agrees to nominate the individuals whose names have been put forward to serve as directors on the Boards of Collingwood PowerStream Utility Services Corp., Collus PowerStream Corp., Collus PowerStream Solutions Corp., and Collus PowerStream Energy Corp. for the remainder of the current terms;
FURTHER THAT provided those individuals accept their nomination, Council hereby elects those individuals to those respective Boards and hereby grants the Mayor and Clerk the authority to sign all necessary documents to give effect to that election;
AND FURTHER THAT the CAO shall report back to Council at the next Council meeting to advise if the aforesaid individuals accepted their nomination and were elected to the aforementioned Boards of Directors.
Get that? Council passed a motion to nominate an unspecified number of mystery people to one of the most important boards in this town. The public doesn’t get to know who they are. Our 50% municipal partner in the utility – PowerStream – is equally kept in the dark.
How’s that for openness and transparency? The public has the right to know who is appointed to a public board. Well, not in Collingwood, it seems.
Keep in mind that this motion was prepared in advance so council and staff knew exactly what was going on, knew exactly who was being appointed, knew exactly what laws they were breaking. But The Most Secretive Council Ever wouldn’t discuss it in public.*
I spent two days in the trade show at the AMO conference this week, looking at the booth across the aisle from me. It constantly reminded me of the opportunities for Collingwood this council has thrown away, of what great opportunities we have lost this term.
The booth across from me was announcing the upcoming merger of four of the province’s top utility companies – Horizon, Enersource, Hydro One Brampton and PowerStream. This will make it the largest LDC (local distribution corporation) in Ontario. The four most innovative, customer-oriented, conservation-minded, efficient and forward-thinking utilities are merging.
You remember PowerStream? They are our municipal partners in Collus. So why haven’t you heard about this venture? Because The Block doesn’t want you to know about it.
This will be the start of a powerhouse operation that changes the face of the utility sector in Ontario. It will streamline operations and combine resources – all for the betterment of their customers.
Collingwood could have been part of this exciting new development. Should have been part of it – had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed the once-great relationship between the town and our utility partner, PowerStream. Had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed the relationship between our utility, and its excellent, hard-working staff, and the town. Had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed our town’s reputation and standing in the province.
But, of course, they did, as you, dear reader, know from reading the tragic news here. Deliberately, they pursued personal agendas and private vendettas. And we watch slip away the opportunity to be part of something new, dynamic and exciting. The opportunity to be in the forefront vanishes while we shuffle to the rear.
No one wants Collingwood at the table these days. That was driven home to me during the conference through several conversations with people in the energy sector and other municipalities. No one could understand why our council wants to alienate one of the most progressive LDCs in the province and align with the least efficient, least respected power company – the one with the highest electricity rates and lowest customer satisfaction.
No one could understand why our council insisted on shooting itself in the foot. Again, and again, and again.
To outsiders it seems like madness. Only to the small, myopic circle of Blockheads at the table does it make sense to destroy what everyone else in the energy sector heralded as a brilliantly conceived, mutually beneficial, morale-boosting partnership.
Patronage is the dirty secret behind most nations and governments. It’s a shameful, embarrassing, corrupt and very undemocratic practice in which friends, supporters and benefactors get plum contracts, jobs, appointments, cash, perks and bonuses.
These are usually parcelled out not on the basis of achievement, ability, or talent, but rather simply because of political cronyism.
Canada is no better, and probably somewhat worse than most Western nations in how its governments practice this loathsome act of onanistic rewards. But unlike many more democratic nations, Canada maintains an official, government-sponsored body for patronage: the Senate. Our patronage Senate is something you’d expect from some developing Middle Eastern nation where friends of princes get fat rewards for their support, not a so-called Western democracy.
Well, because of our unelected Senate, we’re really an oligarchy. Given the salaries, unrestrained perks and benefits and expense accounts of our MPs, we might as easily be described as a plutocracy. Just look at the sense of grandiose entitlement of some of the foremost snouts in the trough – like Minister Bev Oda and tell me it’s not a government of plutocrats. (Oda is ostensibly the Minister of International Cooperation, but that appears to be a pseudonym for the Minister of the Most Entitlements).
The unelected and unaccountable Senate has authority to change or even reject legislation that elected officials craft. This, of course, means Canada is not a democracy, but rather an oligarchy where the ‘good old boys and girls’ in the Senate who have benefited from the patronage scheme can run the country without having to face the rigours of democracy or have their worth challenged in an election. When governments change, it gets stacked with party faithful whose sole qualification seems to be obsequious affection for the current prime minister.
It is the least credible, least transparent government agency, but it runs the country. The Senate stinks like an overripe corpse, but so does every patronage appointment.
A recent story in the National Post asked if patronage was “the oil that keeps our democracy turning.” Nice metaphor: patronage is as slick and slimy as oil. The article opens:
OTTAWA — Pork-barrel politics. Nepotism. Feeding at the public trough. Cronyism.
Call it what you will: Every government participates in patronage.
Jean Chretien appointed his controversial public works minister, Alfonso Gagliano, as ambassador to Denmark just as the sponsorship scandal was unfolding.
Brian Mulroney appointed his deputy chief of staff, Marjory LeBreton, to the Senate.
Stephen Harper appointed his former foreign affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon, ambassador to France.
And a recent Postmedia news analysis showed about 25% of failed Tory candidates from the 2011 election landed government appointments or jobs of some type.
But while Mulroney may have scandalized purists when he famously said, as opposition leader: “There’s no whore like an old whore” in reference to patronage plums, not everyone believes patronage perverts democracy.
Sadly, the self-described reformers of this toxic practice have succumbed to its lure. Stephen Harper promised to clean it up and create an elected Senate. Instead he has perpetuated the abuses by keeping it as a trough in which Conservative snouts can feed. His credibility as Prime Minister is tied to Senate reforms, which he has refused to institute.
The lack of transparency has fuelled a belief that it’s not what you know that lands you a patronage post, but who you know in the government.
But where is the will in Ottawa to end this system of buddy rewards and Senate appointments? Certainly not this government. As this story pointed out last December, Harper’s patronage appointments have become a holiday tradition in which the party faithful get their rich plums from the PM:
As reported by the Canadian Press Wednesday, Harper slipped through a rash of Conservative patronage appointments just after the pre-Christmas exodus from Parliament Hill. The recipients included failed candidates, ex-caucus members, members of Conservative riding executives and long-time party faithful.
Looking back, it seems that Harper’s Christmas appointments have become somewhat of an annual tradition.
On December 20, 2010, Harper appointed two new Senators – Larry Smith and Don Meredith.
On December 22, 2008, Harper made a record number 18 senate appointments…
What’s ironic is Harper’s history of denouncing the slimy practice of which he has become the undisputed king:
In opposition, Harper denounced the practice.
“(Canadians) are ashamed the Prime Minister continues the disgraceful, undemocratic appointment of undemocratic Liberals to the undemocratic Senate to pass all too often undemocratic legislation,” he said in the House of Commons in 1996.
Then, in 2006, after opposition MPs rejected his choice of a patronage watchdog, he vowed to one day stop the appointments of friends and insiders…
Harper now has his majority, yet the patronage appointments continue.
Funny how that evangelical zeal to reform a bad system has been lost since he has been in power. When will Canada get a government or a leader bold enough to break free of the patronage system and finally make Canada a democracy?