Council Just Waves Its Hands

Hand-wavingCouncil waving its hands. Making ineffective flapping gestures. It sounds like it should be some sort of metaphorical phrase. Something from the Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra episode of Star Trek. But hand-waving is actually a metaphorical term that means failure to deliver the goods. And also trying to deflect attention from your failure. Wikipedia describes it as,

… a pejorative label for attempting to be seen as effective — in word, reasoning, or deed — while actually doing nothing effective or substantial.

Oh, boy, does that ever describe to a “T” our council with its collective, increasingly desperate, yet wildly inept hand-waving efforts to promote the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI). The Oxford English Dictionary gives us this definition:

The use of gestures and insubstantial language meant to impress or convince.

Insubstantial. That surely describes their efforts to make the SVJI seem relevant and worth the millions wasted on it.

I came across the term while reading Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, by Clive Thompson (Penguin Press, 2013). While I’m not in complete agreement with Thompson’s arguments about the benefits of technology, his description of “hand-waving” as a term for presenting codswallop and claptrap instead of substance immediately made me think of our local politicians. Hand-waving, all of them.

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Should Children be Recruited in Party Politics?

I found these lines in Brian Saunderson’s latest job-hunting email somewhat tone deaf:

It is also interesting that a 14-year-old can purchase a membership and vote in the Nomination process. If you have any family members who live in Simcoe Grey Riding who are interested, it is an opportunity for our youth to get involved in the democratic process.

I think it’s a questionable tactic to appeal to underage kids as if politics were a video game with no consequences. It also suggests a certain desperation: perhaps he’s not getting as many adults to back him as he wants, and needs to recruit their teenagers to his cause. I can only hope these kids can’t be dragged away from their smartphones or X-Boxes long enough to vote.

That any party allows children as young as 14 to vote in nominations is gobsmacking. I’m not suggesting teenagers are stupid or oblivious to issues, but at 14 they have had little if any formal education in politics and democracy, let alone the machinations of party politics and nominations. Younger kids will be barely out of puberty, and for the rest, I expect their interests will be more focused on what their hormones direct them towards. I doubt politics is high on that list. I’d be delighted to see more engaged teens like Autumn Peltier and Greta Thunberg in our world, but the sad truth is that they are the exceptions, not the rule.

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Seven years in politics? But where?

We have questionsIn his latest email letter asking for support for his job-hunting effort, Mayor Brian Saunderson says,

“Having served on Collingwood and Simcoe County Councils for 7 years…”

Saunderson was first elected in late 2014, but did not take office in Collingwood until December 1, 2014. The inaugural meeting for the county was also that month: December 9, 2014. That’s six years and two months, not seven years in office.

I’m curious where he served the other 10 months in office to make up that seven he’s claiming, because it clearly wasn’t in Collingwood or Simcoe County. He wouldn’t be padding his political resume, of course, because that would be unethical and dishonest.

So where did he serve those missing months? And why hasn’t the local media been asking him about his claim?

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Enough B.S. (Brian Saunderson)

no more BSYet another week has gone by and our mayor, Brian Saunderson, stubbornly refuses to do the right thing for the people of the town of Collingwood, and resign. He continues to pursue his personal political ambitions at the expense of both our taxpayers and the credibility of the office. Not to mention tarnishing the reputation of those on council and staff who refuse to stand up to him or call on him to resign.

Resigning would be the honourable and ethical thing to do, but I do not believe residents can expect that from Saunderson. You might want to take a moment and read what I’ve previously written about him and his campaign to be our next MPP here:

  1. An Honourable Mayor?
  2. Saunderson’s Role in Blocking the Hospital Redevelopment
  3. Why Saunderson Should Resign Now
  4. Saunderson’s Still Here

In announcing his run for the nomination, Saunderson essentially told voters he doesn’t care about the job of mayor he was elected to do. But he wants to stay in office sucking at the public tit and collecting his mayoral salary until he can walk away from it as MPP, in June, 2022. If that happens, I imagine he’ll shout “So long, suckers!” as he drives to Toronto.

If he doesn’t get nominated as the party’s candidate in April, 2021, he will be politically washed up in an office he didn’t want to be in, likely bitter and vindictive towards the people who failed to fulfill his ambition. That will be us, by the way: local taxpayers.

His refusal to resign shows how little he really cares about his $9 million judicial inquiry and its 300-plus recommendations about real and apparent conflicts of interest. It can now be seen as merely a tawdry ploy to get him votes in the last municipal election. He’s a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do opportunist.

If this is how he mistreats Collingwood’s electorate after barely two years in office, imagine how many more opportunities he will have to mistreat Simcoe-Grey’s residents if elected MPP.

Do it once and do it right, Brian: resign now.

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Why Saunderson Should Resign Now

Imagine an issue so important, so utterly non-partisan that both the National Post and the Toronto Star — two newspapers of widely divergent politics, perspectives, and ideology — agreed. That issue is that municipal politicians running for higher office should resign from their municipal roles on council.

But our own Mayor Brian Saunderson, running for the Progressive Conservatives, has decided he’s above all that, and will stay in office. I’ve already written that I see his resignation as the only honourable and ethical acrion.

Imagine, too, you’re an employer. A worker comes to you, says his job sucks, and boasts he has sent his resume to another company. But, he says, he will stay on and collect his paycheque from you while they look it over. And before you can say anything — your employee is not a person to tolerate public input on anything — he adds that since they won’t be hiring him for another year or more, he will stay at his lousy job with you, collecting his salary, until they take him. How would you feel?

That’s exactly what Saunderson has told local residents and taxpayers. Even though he’s told us, in essence, he hates his current job, we are still on the hook for his salary while he campaigns for another one. Yet, provincially-elected politicians (MPPs) who run for federal office MUST resign from their position in the Legislature. It strikes me as very hypocritical for a municipal politician running for provincial office not to follow the province’s mandate. *

It is too much to ask of our mayor that he consider the potential accusations of conflict of interest and influence peddling that could arise as he campaigns for support and donations? Is it too much to consider the taint his campaigning could put on the other members of council and town staff, and every one of their decisions? Or how it might polarize his fellow county councillors? Is it irrelevant for him to consider what his fellow councillors must think being told that, assuming he wins both (nomination and provincial election), four months before the next municipal election, he will leave? Collingwood will be without a mayor and council left to squabble over the leadership and filling the vacancy he left behind. Is that mayoral behaviour?

And what happens if Saunderson doesn’t get nominated? He gets to stay in office as mayor, likely a disappointed, and bitter wannabe, with no interest in pursuing his municipal role. We’ve already seen from the $9-million-judicial inquiry how vindictive he can be. And it will be worse if he gets the nomination but doesn’t win the provincial election.

Why are local media silent on this and the potential conflicts of interest Saunderson’s announcement raises? Or how it trashes the recommendations about such conflicts in his beloved, vindictive, judicial inquiry? Where are the howls of outrage and contempt?

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An Honourable Mayor?

DilbertMayor 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).

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Time and conflicts in mayoral politics

No time?Being a mayor today, even in a small town like Collingwood, takes time. A lot of time. Time that working people are hard pressed to find in their busy days. I know from the experience of three terms that even councillors who work cannot attend every meeting, every event, every activity they are invited to.

Mayors have to be on call, doing town business and dealing with residents’ calls during every day, and many, many evenings. Even on weekends they have little to no free time outside their mayoral duties.

They have to attend meetings with staff, with residents, local associations, with developers and businesses, and be at the county and on county committees often several times a week. There are also the extras – meetings with school boards or provincial representatives and politicians, even ministers and their staff. Plus there are the additional boards and committees a committed mayor will join – such as the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative that our current mayor chairs.

And then there are the frequent social demands: visits to seniors’ homes, cutting ribbons at business openings, giving congratulations in person for fiftieth wedding anniversaries and 100th birthdays, the mayor’s levee, Legion events and so on. There are the regular media interviews, radio shows and TV broadcasts, too.

All in all, it adds up to more than a full-time job, even though it’s only paid as a part-time effort. It’s very demanding to be the mayor today. A part-time person cannot effectively fulfill that role nor fully represent the town or the council.

We need someone who can do the job without having to beg off from municipal duties to attend to work or to leave town hall to go skiing during budget meetings (yes, that did happen this term!). We need someone who can’t beg off their mayoral responsibilities because they’re “too busy” elsewhere. Someone who doesn’t have to choose between personal work (or play) and representing and attending to the community. Someone who can be called up at all hours and every day to perform those tasks.

We need someone who has the time to live up to the requirement in the Code of Conduct to educate himself by attending workshops and seminars. We need someone who can take off afternoons or sometimes several days to attend conferences like AMO (where municipal representative get to speak with ministers and their staff) without being pressured by employers not to attend, or to cut it short to get back to work.

One of the reasons retirees and seniors tend to get involved in municipal politics is because they have the time to dedicate to an increasingly-demanding job. But it’s also because we want to put a lifetime’s experience to use. We want to apply what we’ve learned in both careers and personal life. And we have the time to do so.

Even deputy mayors have demands on their time that are above and beyond any daily working role. When mayors cannot attend events or meetings, it is usually the deputy-mayor who gets called on to fill in.

Doesn’t Collingwood deserve a mayor and a deputy-mayor who are accessible, available and who can participate fully in the town’s business?
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Block bullies are at it again

Abusive bulliesMay 14’s council agenda (p. 40-49) contained yet more evidence of The Block’s bully-boy tactics and pettiness: a complaint made to the integrity commissioner against our mayor. They damn her no matter what she does.

This complaint was filed by someone who might charitably be called the Block’s pet barnacle for his concreted attachment to them, dragged along by their momentum without any of his own. He’s also nicknamed the “frequent filer” for his habit of filing FOI requests against people he doesn’t like, apparently looking – unsuccessfully – for something evil in their emails he can then share with the Block. And as you might guess, he’s a candidate for council using a tawdry ploy to get his name in the local media before the upcoming municipal election.

At the same time, it is yet one more underhanded smear of a good and honourable woman by The Block bullies again. One wonders who wrote the complaint. Someone lawerly, perhaps? Someone actually literate? Certainly unlikely that the named complainant had the skills to do it himself.

The report notes at the beginning (sec. 2):

The essence of the complaint is that Mayor Sandra Cooper, given her brother’s position as Senior Vice-President of Operations and Business Development with the Clearview Aviation Business Park, had a conflict of interest in that she contravened s.7 “Improper Use of Influence” of the Collingwood Code of Conduct when she voted on the report.

Yet Sections 3 and 4 explain that the mayor “attempted to avoid contravening s. 7, “Improper Use of Influence” by checking with the Director of Public Works and with her brother to ascertain whether CABP had made inquiries about the Airport property…” So no matter what she does, no matter how hard she tries, no matter her efforts to show respect for the will of Council, The Block are out to get her and drag her name into the mud. But rather than attack her themselves – that would have taken a spine – they used a wannabe council candidate who eagerly jumps at the chance to get media attention.

First let’s consider whether the mayor had a conflict of interest – direct or indirect – in the Collingwood Airport Business Park or the airport itself. That requires you to read through the updated Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. And you’ll quickly see she didn’t. She has no pecuniary interest in the development, but because her brother does, she has stepped away from the table during discussions and votes where CABP was involved.

But is her brother really an issue? or just a canard? Section 3 of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act says he isn’t:

Interest of certain persons deemed that of member
3 For the purposes of this Act, the pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, of a parent or the spouse or any child of the member shall, if known to the member, be deemed to be also the pecuniary interest of the member. R.S.O. 1990, c. M.50, s. 3; 1999, c. 6, s. 41 (2); 2005, c. 5, s. 45 (3).

Parent, spouse of child only: siblings are NOT considered for conflict of interest.

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