While local media focuses on our revenge-obsessed council’s myopic intent to punish people who committed no crimes, merely thwarted their Great Leader’s personal ambitions in 2012, they blithely overlook the bigger issue at the council table: conflicts of interest. Avoiding even the appearance of conflict is at the core of the recommendations in the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI), yet these recommendations are routinely ignored at the council table.
I have written about and documented them here in detail, but local media also ignores them. Not a word on these conflicts gets published. That’s troubling.
We know that some local media are close friends with local politicians, so we have to assume they won’t expose or write about these conflicts to avoid embarrassing their friends. But in not doing so, they are also enabling and condoning them. It is the media’s JOB to expose corruption, malfeasance, and wrongdoing in politics, to question the integrity, ethics, and morality of politicians. Media are not supposed to be propagandists or apologists for politicians.
There are four major areas of conflict or “apparent” (potential) conflict (as per the inquiry’s description and recommendations in its final report; see below) that should be made public and investigated. Since media ignore them, and neither town staff and council will address them (perhaps also condoning them), these should be brought to the attention of the town’s integrity commissioner or the province’s ombudsman:
- The mayor’s potential conflicts and potential accusations of influence-peddling over his MPP-nomination and future MPP-job-hunting campaign that could arise when Saunderson or his team solicit support and funds for that campaign from companies and individuals who do business with the town or the county. To learn more, see these articles:
- Discussing and voting the interim control bylaw (ICBL) that affects local real estate stock, sales and prices, and discussing and voting its exemptions to developers and builders, by a real estate lawyer (the mayor) and a real estate agent (the deputy mayor) when these decisions directly affect their livelihood and businesses, past or present, as well as affecting their former (and present in the case of the deputy-mayor) employers, as well as their friends in those businesses. To learn more, see these articles:
- Discussing and voting on appointing the legal firm Borden, Ladner, Gervais (BLG; sole-sourced every time, without the requisite tendering required by the town’s procurement bylaw) by two former employees of that firm (Mayor Saunderson and Councillor Hamlin). Saunderson also voted to sole-source BLG twice last term when he was deputy-mayor. 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. To learn more, see these articles:
- Voting to do town business with a company (Fire Marque) whose representative is a close personal friend to and financial contributor to the election campaigns of several members of council (this term and previous council) without disclosing the personal relationship. And it was another sole-sourced contract. To learn more, see these articles:
It is utter, blatant hypocrisy for council to pretend the inquiry recommendations apply to others but not to themselves. It is equally hypocritical for council to continue to lavish taxpayers’ money on the SVJI, and even sue former councillors and staff, while clearly accepting and even condoning the same sort of behaviour from their mayor, deputy mayor, and fellow councillor.
This is corruption, plain and simple. And our local media are ignoring it.
Collingwood deserves better.
* The entire point of the final report of the $10-million-plus Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI) was that elected officials should avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest, as the following SVJI recommendations (emphasis added) noted:
9 Section 223.2(4) of the Municipal Act … should be amended to require that municipal codes of conduct for Council members include provisions on real, apparent, and potential conflicts of interest.
12 The Province of Ontario should amend the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act to broaden its scope beyond deemed pecuniary interest to encompass any real, apparent, and potential conflict of interest.
27 The Code of Conduct should contain specific provisions addressed to apparent and potential conflicts of interest as well as real conflicts of interest.
28 The Code of Conduct should state that Council members must understand and adhere to their obligations concerning real, apparent, and potential conflicts of interest under the Municipal Act, the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, the Code of Conduct for Council members in Collingwood, and other relevant Town policies and legislation.
31 The Code of Conduct for Council members in Collingwood should include provisions on disqualifying and nondisqualifying interests. The Code should prohibit Council members from participating in “decision-making processes” related to “their office when they have a disqualifying interest in the matter.”
A disqualifying interest is “an interest in a matter, that by virtue of the relationship between the Member of Council and other persons and bodies associated with the matter, is of such a nature that reasonable persons fully informed of the facts would believe that the Member of Council could not participate impartially in the decision-making processes related to the matter.”
Page 7 of the full SVJI report states (emphasis added):
Councillors and staff should avoid providing or appearing to provide preferential treatment to close friends and family. They should not conduct municipal business or encourage the municipality to contract with individuals with whom they have a close relationship.
Recommendation 42 states (emphasis added):
The Code of Conduct should state that Council members cannot use their position to “influence the decision of another person to the private advantage” of the Council member, his or her family and/or “immediate relatives” as defined in these recommendations, friends, business associates, or staff at the Town of Collingwood.
On doing business with friends such as the Fire Marque representative, recommendation 194 of the SVJI says (emphasis added):
“Suppliers must declare and fully disclose any” apparent, real, or potential conflicts of interest or unfair advantage concerning “the preparation of their bid” or “in the performance of” their contract. Examples of such conflicts include:
a engaging family members, friends, or “business associates of any public office holder” at the Town “which may have, or appear to have, any influence on the procurement process, or subsequent performance of the contract”;