The Marionette and the Mediocrity

Councillors Mariane McLeod and Yvonne Hamlin have both filed their papers to run for the mayor of Collingwood after a mere single term serving in the least effective, most inept council ever, serving as loyal sycophants to the worst and most disliked mayor in the town’s history. What hubris!

Aside from their abilities to vote the way Saunderson expected, to express oleaginous praise for him in public absque verecundia (without shame), and to ignore the needs of the community for the past three and a half years, what can they offer residents? More lingering taint of Saunderson? More wasted public funds pursuing our former mayor’s vendetta? More flailing, bungling and ignoring important issues? More raises for a council that has already voted themselves at least six pay hikes?

Let’s look at their record in office this term. Spoiler alert: it won’t be flattering. But let’s look at them individually first, then their history together.

The Marionette

McLeodUnless you are an avid council watcher you may not appreciate why McLeod is nicknamed Saunderson’s Puppet (or, less flatteringly, Saunderson’s Harridan and Saunderson’s Bulldog  — as opposed to Saunderson’s Lapdog; a nickname reserved for Councillor Madigan). She is renowned for her unswerving fealty to Saunderson’s myopic agenda and to the man himself.

She is equally well known for her let-them-eat-cake hauteur, a heightened sense of entitlement, and how much she enjoys exhibiting disdain for the public, highlighted by snarling and barking at anyone who speaks up critically.

As for her actions on council, McLeod will be best remembered as the councillor who initiated the spurious complaint to the town’s Integrity Commissioner against former councillor, Tina Comi. Comi was, of course, the only independent voice on council, the only one not in thrall to Mayor Saunderson. That could not be tolerated, and it seems Saunderson’s Puppet eagerly took on the task of getting rid of her.

In July, 2021, Comi’s 11-year-old son interrupted an in-camera Zoom council training session — at which no confidential material was presented or discussed — to inform his mother that his sister had not yet arrived home, well past her expected time. Comi responded like a mother should, and left the session to learn where her daughter was. She returned to the meeting a few minutes later.

McLeod, sensing she could exploit a vulnerability in a peer, let her claws come out. After the meeting, McLeod typed a complaint to the town’s Integrity Commissioner. She didn’t discuss her complaint with Comi first, or ask the mayor to resolve anything (not that he would have; that would have required responsibility). McLeod then went to every other member of council and got five of the rest (Berman, Doherty, Madigan, Jeffrey, and, of course, The Big Weasel Mayor Saunderson) to sign identical copies of her complaint and file them to the IC as well.

Comi resigned in frustration and anger, but the Gang of Bullies was still eager to punish her. They had their complaint read aloud in public so they could make righteous, self-aggrandizing statements about it while humiliating Comi when she couldn’t respond to their comments or defend herself. Not at all like one of Stalin’s show trials, was it?

The bullied Comi was barely out of office when council replaced her with former mayor and personal friend, Chris Carrier (who didn’t even run for office this term). McLeod, of course, voted for Carrier as replacement councillor, without disclosing he had donated $500 to her election campaign or that he lobbied her on behalf of a local developer twice (02/27/2021 and 03/05/2021) and he also lobbied council to get a sole-sourced contract for his employer to bill victims of fires for being rescued (for which McLeod also voted).

The hypocrisy and malice run deep in her.

McLeod has loudly berated residents who dare to publicly speak up, who asked difficult questions, or (gasp!) criticized council. When John Megarry and Mark Stewart made delegations that she didn’t like, she shrieked that council’s reputation was being “besmirched” at Megarry and interrupted Stewart to sneer that he was “impugn[ing] the credibility of council.” After reprimanding him for having an opinion, she snarked at Stewart that it was “unfortunate you had to be reminded of your manners.”

Council’s most vocal harpy evidently wants townsfolk to be more deferential, to tug their forelocks and tip their caps when in her presence.

When new homeowners on Fourth St. mistakenly painted their house without a heritage permit, they found themselves trapped by incoherent, inconsistent, and confusing heritage district rules. They came to council asking for an exemption from the demand they unpaint it. McLeod sneered at them for not following the byzantine bylaws.

In November, 2021, McLeod took local media outlet, CollingwoodToday, to task for printing residents’ letters and comments which annoyed her for not praising council sufficiently. She wrote from atop her high horse, “I urge your publication to take your responsibility seriously and refrain from printing comments, praise, or attacks on council decisions…”

When council failed our community and its responsibility to their office by ignoring staff reports on the aging water plant’s problems and the expiring pipeline contract with New Tecumseth (ignored by council until a year after it had lapsed), council panicked and passed a job-revenue-and-growth-killing interim control bylaw (ICBL) that abruptly, and without warning or consultation, stopped all new construction in town for the next several years. New Tec wasn’t even consulted, even though their growth, jobs, and revenue were at risk. Giving little thought to those it hurt, McLeod voted for it.

Some of these developers managed to obtain exemptions, but they required time to rebuild work crews, order supplies, plan their restart. McLeod was clearly well out of her depth, and did not understand either how the industry works to the disastrous effect council’s ICBL had on construction work when she commented negatively on the delays:

“It seems as though there were so many people who were so upset about the interim control bylaw, I thought they would be pulling permits the minute they got their exemptions.”

Facepalm right there. Even after all this time on council, she still doesn’t have a clue how the construction and development cycle works, let alone how the ICBL affected it. But she never lets an opportunity to sound condescending pass her by.

McLeod was one of the cabal that voted to rescind the Order of Collingwood given to former CEO of Collus, Ed Houghton, for community service in 1998, and to write a nasty letter to both his employers and other municipalities whining about how Houghton had offended the mayor’s feelings a decade ago. That sort of pettiness should be beneath any elected representatives, but ours clearly revelled in it.

When voting themselves a massive increase to council expense accounts (at a time when all events were held virtually), McLeod disingenuously argued the extra funds were to cover child care, although former Coun. Comi, who McLeod led the bullying against, had been the only one at the table with children young enough to justify child care expenses.

When asked what regrets she had by CollingwoodToday (in November, 2021), McLeod commented she had finally learned after three years in office that she actually has to read everything before making a decision:

I learned … that not only should a councillor closely read the provided reports and think about them, then listen to any argument with an open mind, but, before any vote, be sure we’re getting all the information, and correct information, to be clear and confident we are doing the right thing for the community.

So McLeod got into politics believing that reading and thinking weren’t required? I suppose she thought all she needed to do was to obey The Great Leader, vote as he did, and no one would question her. I expect she answered the resident’s question on why she voted by stating “I voted as Brian told me to.”

The Mediocrity

mediocrityNot wanting to be accused of being unfair, I must first write about two positive things Hamlin has in her favour. They stand out in an otherwise unremarkable career of doing nothing in particular for the good of the community, and generally being a staunch supporter of the former mayor’s personal vendetta against people who hurt his feelings a decade ago.

First, she was the only serving councillor who refused to sign McLeod’s nasty, petty complaint to the Integrity Commissioner against former Councillor Tina Comi. Unexpectedly, she stood up against the vindictiveness of McLeod and Saunderson. She was the only one at the table to vote against receiving the IC’s report when it was made public.

The second thing she did was to request Mayor Saunderson to actually act like a mayor and deal with the puerile misbehaviour Councillor Madigan had shown towards her and Coun. Comi during public meetings. Saunderson, of course, refused to discipline his favourite Lapdog. Hamlin was again the subject of Madigan’s puerile misbehaviour at a later public meeting in which she complained again about Madigan’s boorish and misogynistic behaviour during council meetings. The mayor reacted as expected by showing favouritism to Madigan: he demanded Hamlin apologize, rather than his Lapdog.

But those don’t excuse her failure to disclose that she voted to spend taxpayers’ money on sole-source contracts for her former employers of 22 years. This violates the several admonitions in the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Hamlin’s and Saunderson’s former employers, the legal firm Borden, Ladner, Gervais (BLG) were given sole-sourced contracts at least six times, without the requisite tendering required by the town’s procurement bylaw. Neither former employee disclosed their working relationship or history with BLG during these discussions and votes, nor declared a conflict of interest about spending taxpayer’s money on their former employers. The SVJI has cost taxpayers more than $10 million and there is no sign council has stopped wasting money on it.

Allegedly, Hamlin was the reason the town cut down more than 50 mature trees along Hurontario Street to build a sidewalk so she didn’t have to cross the street to the existing sidewalk there when she wanted to walk into town. The town planted a few immature trees afterwards, but given the town’s penchant for letting newly-planted trees die without watering or care, I have little faith these will survive.

Hamlin took to task the hardworking downtown Collingwood business association (BIA) because the BIA wanted to erect a gateway sign she didn’t like. She dismissively said of the volunteer board, “I feel what’s happened here is they’ve driven out of their lane… the role of the BIA is to support businesses and oversee the beautification of the town-owned infrastructure. Oversee means supervise. It doesn’t mean go off and come up with plans and build them. I think we’ve strayed from what the traditional role of the BIA is.”

Like McLeod, Hamlin voted to replace former Councillor Comi with the undemocratic choice of lobbyist and personal friend to most of council, Chris Carrier. The ethical and democratic choice would have been Tim Fryer, the runner-up in the council election, and who expressed an interest in filling the seat.

Hamlin was also one of the cabal that voted to rescind the Order of Collingwood given to former CEO of Collus, Ed Houghton, for community service in 1998, and to write a nasty letter to both his employers and other municipalities whining about how Houghton had offended the mayor’s feelings a decade ago. In that meeting, she — a lawyer! — agreed with the poster-boy for mediocrity, Coun. Berman, who commented with remarkable ignorance that he didn’t believe “right or wrong can only be decided by a court of law.” That comment spoke volumes about a council that feels itself above the law, god-like, able to pass judgment on others regardless of due process, legality, or justice. In true autocratic fashion, Houghton was not given the opportunity to defend himself from the arbitrary punishment meted out by the Politburo.

In an interview in CollingwoodToday, in November, 2021, Hamlin boasted that council had created “a significant water-play project at Harbourview Park for kids of all ages” despite the fact the project is STILL not built, eight months later, and that the splash pad was overwhelmingly requested by residents to be built at Sunset Point, not on the old dump site. It remains planned but years from completion. not to mention the project is already massively over-budget even though it hasn’t been started.

When discussing (as opposed to actually doing something about) the hundreds of illegal short-term rental properties in town, council opted for more inaction: they would pretend to engage the public through faux-consultation (the town’s passive “engage” website”). But Hamlin was opposed to even that paltry level of pseudo-engagement, saying, “Honestly, I don’t want to hear from the owners of these units, and I don’t want to hear from the users.”

Hamlin’s main contribution to the community was her insertion of an exclusive Christian religious act into supposedly inclusive municipal politics. In December, 2020, she called on Collingwood residents to “ring bells on Christmas Eve as part of a worldwide effort to inspire Christmas spirit.” The story in CollingwoodToday does not indicate that she also called on Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and atheist residents to engage similarly on their holy or special days. No separation of church and state here.

Hamlin’s blandness has only been exceeded by that of Coun. Berman, whose sole contribution to the community this term was a motion to censor public comments when they didn’t agree with the official narrative.

Togetherness

Among the many things these two single-term women have done together to the detriment of the town include (but of course this list doesn’t cover everything and the list of things they have done for the greater good is small enough to be counted on a finger or two). Their collective history of bungling and inept management is what they offer us for another four years should one become mayor:

Cancelling the town’s successful Elvis festival (in 2019), rather than find ways to make it more appealing or better, and without even a hint of a possibility of a slight consideration for a replacement or alternative;

Voted for their own raises every year, as well as an extra bonus to cover the province removing a tax-free portion from their income, and adding a massive increase to their expense accounts ($1,500 more a year on top of the existing $4,000) while NOT ONCE lowering property taxes;

Not providing any financial help for workers or businesses hurt by the lockdowns and pandemic (but giving themselves pay raises);

Pretending to engage the public on issues where council doesn’t want to make a decision, by referring people to the town’s passive “engage” website, and announcing it via the town’s limited social media accounts (requiring an account with that media) and the town’s ads in the seldom-read, flyer wrapper (aka the Connection), rather than actually engaging residents through an active, community-wide communication process;*

At a time when gas prices are rising rapidly, when inflation is making basic food and necessities even more expensive, council voted to make our public transit system MORE expensive and less accessible, hurting the people who need it most;

Done nothing about the scruffy condition of the town’s parks and public facilities, or the damaged and missing bronze heritage plaques people paid for;

Done nothing significant to repair or maintain the town’s iconic grain terminals;

Allowed town streets and sidewalks to decay into greater disrepair instead of providing a comprehensive, long-term program to maintain and repair them (yes, the town has replaced a few sidewalk pieces, seemingly at random, this year, no doubt only because it is an election year. But in the west of town they ignored some of the worst areas and replaced seemingly good sections.);

Ignoring staff reports about water treatment and the pipeline contract caused the town to lose an agreement for Bradford to pay for the water treatment plant expansion in 2015; this ended up with the cost of the proposed new water treatment plant doubling to more than $121 million which Collingwood taxpayers now have to shoulder;

Hiring more and more staff, and creating new positions at town hall without improving service or benefits for residents;

Doing nothing about increased traffic problems, speeding, and the need for traffic calming, stop signs and signals on our increasingly busy and dangerous streets;

Creating a disruption to residents by closing several blocks of Maple Street to vehicles, without warning, and without consulting the residents who live on that street, and then not policing the closure or putting up proper signage to instruct cyclists;

Both councillors voted to approve Berman’s motion to censor public comments on social media and in documents when such comments did not align with the Politburon’s official narrative; the town has since deleted from social media comments that included uncomfortable facts about council’s behaviour or voting record or otherwise critical comments;

Enabling the much-disliked mayor and his expensive but futile vendetta against staff and council members who hurt his feelings a decade ago, and allowing him to waste more than $10 million of public money pursuing petty vengeance.

Collingwood deserves better.

~~~~~

* The town’s flaccid “engagement” with its citizens is a passive process aimed at making council feel like it’s engaging citizens when it’s really focused on a small and select group of people online who have accounts with specific social media and who make the effort to read the town’s social media accounts regularly. Even then,  users have to go to the town’s user-hostile “engage” portal and register in order to provide comments (which can later be censored by town staff, according to Berman’s anti-free-speech motion, noted above)

Council accepts this exclusivity instead of providing an effective, inclusive, community-wide communications system that reaches all citizens, even those who can’t or don’t use social media, or without access to computers, who don’t use the town’s pseudo-engagement portal, or who don’t read the poorly-formatted and grammatically stilted town ads in the weekly, often not-delivered, flyer wrapper.

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