Mayor Brian Saunderson has announced he is running for nomination to the provincial Progressive Conservative party in our riding to be able to stand as the candidate for MPP. According to a story in Collingwood Today, he is not stepping down from his role as mayor, and will not do so even if he wins the nomination:
Should Saunderson receive the nomination, he said he would not be stepping back from his duties as mayor of Collingwood unless he were to be successful and elected in 2022.
I believe that this poses a threat of both real and perceived conflicts of interest and that an honourable, ethical politician should step down immediately after announcing his or her candidacy to another office. Here’s why:
Being mayor is a full-time role even though it is paid as a part-time job. The mayor cannot decide at any time not to be mayor and act as an individual or claim his acts were personal, not official. The Municipal Act does not allow that. The same holds true as a county council member: he is always a representative of the county, even when away from the county council.
A specific date for the local nomination meeting has not yet been set, however Saunderson said the riding association is planning to have it done by the beginning of April.
Saunderson will be in campaign mode from now until the provincial election in June, 2022. Stepping down as mayor shortly before the next municipal election does not absolve him of public scrutiny over his potential conflicts before then. No one can be effective and diligent serving as mayor, county councillor, and outside political candidate and still fulfill the expectations of all three.
And shouldn’t every member of a municipal council be non-partisan? Municipal mayors and councillors do not run for election on party lines. Declaring openly your allegiance to a party, and then serving (should he win) as the party’s nominee is certainly very partisan and in opposition to what I have always believed is the spirit of fair, non-partisan municipal politics.
Saunderson will be campaigning for support and funding for both his nomination and, if he wins it, for his provincial election campaign. During the next 18 months, he or his team will approach individuals and businesses for donations and support. Some of these will be companies that bid for or provide services for the Town of Collingwood or Simcoe County. These may include local engineering and contracting firms, waste management, construction, automobile vendors, and so on. No one will not see him as aw-shucks-plain-old-Brian-the wannabe-MPP: they will see him as the influential mayor of the municipality who also sits on the county council.
Saunderson’s team during both his campaigns should also be considered as his business associates when considering conflicts of interest. Politics is not a recreation: a campaign is a business venture with large financial rewards for winners at the upper tiers. And some of those team members will be paid for their participation, not simply be volunteers. This adds yet another layer of potential conflict to his position.
In essence, following his announcement, Saunderson became a lobbyist for himself and his party. One has to wonder if he has listed himself as such on the town’s lobbyist registry. Methinks not. And did Saunderson discuss the potential conflicts with the town’s Integrity Commissioner as would be appropriate according to the judicial inquiry’s recommendations? The reporter does not say (nor is it clear if she even asked him).