Corruption, Collingwood & the Collus Board

See no evil...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.

This Administration cried crocodile tears over not getting access to personal and confidential information so they could share it among themselves and watch it inevitably get leaked – information that is protected under the Ontario Business Corporations Act. Now it is riding on that high horse to justify breaking town procedure and our bylaws, but it won’t tell us who’s behind these choices. Ain’t hypocrisy grand?

You can watch the whole discussion on Rogers TV here starting at 1:36:43.

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Corruption and conflict of interest

Culture of corruptionEver 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.*

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Opportunities Collingwood has lost

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.

Once lost, we can never recover it. Lost opportunities will be this council’s lasting legacy.
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Patronage: Canada’s Shame

Political patronagePatronage 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?

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