An Odium of Politicians


The floggings will continue until morale improvesThe proper collective noun for a group of politicians is “an odium,” at least according to James Lipton in his delightful book, An Exaltation of Larks (Ultimate Edition, Penguin Books, 1993). I was thinking of how appropriate that term is, this week, when I read the odious comments from our mayor in the Connection.

Odium, the Collins Dictionary tells us, means “dislike, disapproval, or hatred that people feel for a particular person, usually because of something that the person has done.” Another apt term that could be best applied to our disgraceful previous council —arguably the worst and most corrupt in the town’s history — would be an opprobrium of politicians; opprobrium meaning “something that brings disgrace” and “public disgrace or ill fame that follows from conduct considered grossly wrong or vicious.” In a future post I’ll return to Lipton and the game of venery, but for now, let’s stick to local issues.

Mayor Hamlin — an odious politician already — was responding to the OPP’s announcement that, after ten years and millions of taxpayers’ dollars wasted, it had closed its investigation into some local residents, including some (not all) former councillors and staff. The OPP found no evidence of illegal activity. Hamlin didn’t quote the OPP, or say they found no reason to charge anyone, but instead deflected in her most Saundersonite manner,

The report of the judicial inquiry clearly pointed out wrongdoing and I think our community hoped someone would be punished for those wrongdoings or pay in some fashion.

Now, keep in mind that this is coming from a lawyer: someone should be punished for not breaking the law. And this claptrap is repeated on the town’s own website, too (you have to wonder why the OPP informed the town about the closure, and not the media or anyone being investigated… was it because a town employee the source of the complaint? An FOI will soon tell us…).

The judicial inquiry (aka the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry, or SVJI) was about process, not about crime or illegal activity. I’ve always maintained it was a personal vendetta requested by our former mayor Saunderson (when he was deputy mayor) and a handful of his subservient lackeys. They are solely responsible for the costs incurred because they were warned by the former CAO that those costs would balloon out of control. They called for an inquiry five years after the OPP had launched its investigation, well aware the police had not found anyone guilty of any crimes by then. The inquiry was just another attempt to punish people who thwarted the personal ambitions of a narcissist.

But Hamlin wants to make people pay for… what? Obeying the law? For not being found guilty? For doing what they believed was the best for the community? For saving taxpayers millions of dollars by not giving the YMCA a $35 million handout? Sure sounds like she’s channelling Comrade Stalin. Or Saunderson. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart.

Ten days after the OPP closed the investigation, the Connection published its story (the online version came out seven days after the announcement). That’s not news, it’s history. I wonder if they read my earlier blog post and realized, “We just missed the biggest story of the year. Better play catch-up!” But kudos at least for interviewing some of the people involved in the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry, something CwoodToday didn’t bother to do. Too much work to do the job properly?*

But there’s a BIG mistake in the online headline that continues to cast aspersions: “With OPP case against former Collingwood council closed, mayor feels ‘it’s time to move forward’…” No! A case is when an investigation closes and evidence is brought forward to charge someone and take them to court. The prosecution has a case, not the police.

The OPP never had a “case” – it had an investigation, one that failed to provide any evidence of illegal activity after a decade of searching. If the Connection had a competent editor, they should have known this. But the story doesn’t even quote the OPP; it doesn’t say the people being investigated were INNOCENT, merely that “no charges would be laid.” Again, this seems more deliberate than merely lazy reporting. Why couldn’t the reporter simply call the police and ask questions?

The print version has another of those oleaginous aspersions in its front page subhead, where it says, “Mayor disappointed with outcome of OPP investigation into former council.” Well, a competent editor would know the investigation was NOT into any former council, but into a few residents some of whom were on council. To blacken the entire council with such blatant misinformation is truly reprehensible.

And yet our current mayor odiously suggested “someone” should pay, even though she was well aware no one broke any law. Why didn’t the paper call her out and question her on this statement? (I won’t bore you with one of those “When I was in the media…” comments, but how can this be acceptable to any editor worthy of the title?**) Hamlin failed to hold accountable the members of council and staff who actually cost the town $10 million to pursue this witchhunt.

And let me reiterate: the SVJI was about process, not criminal behaviour; despite all the huffing and puffing of its True Believers cultists, the inquiry also resulted in no charges. Even if that process might be later improved, how can someone be forced to pay for following a legal process? Why didn’t the Connection ask Hamlin that?

Or ask her what the sole-sourced legal firm told the previous council when council twice hired the lawyers to look for ways to punish people the inquiry named. Was the previous council advised to stop wasting taxpayers’ money because nothing was done illegally and it would be impossible to win a court case? Did I mention that this legal firm was Hamlin’s former employer of 22 years, for whom she voted and went in camera to discuss, without declaring a conflict of interest? So much for the town’s vaunted Code of Conduct. It’s still “do as I say, not as I do” in town hall.

(Why didn’t the reporter ask the mayor about why she voted to sole-source her former employers in a post-inquiry investigation to punish people, last term? Why didn’t she declare a conflict of interest instead of voting for her former employers, as would have been the ethical thing to do? Why didn’t the paper ask her about it last term when she was doing it?)

After I complained last week how Hamlin failed to talk about “moving forward” in the CwoodToday article, Hamlin belatedly muttered the wishy-washy “I feel strongly, it’s time to move forward.” (why the Connection put the misplaced comma in there is beyond my editorial explanation; maybe they don’t have an editor after all…). But it seems “moving forward” includes continuing to berate people and cast aspersions but not stopping flogging the dead horse of the inquiry; it just means town hall changed riders…
Flogging a dead horse

The floggings will continue until morale improves… another page torn from the Saunderson playbook.

A bit later on, she tries to justify the costs (more than $10 million including sole-sourced lawyers and consultants hired to prep council to vote for the inquiry). Hamlin says, “No one in their wildest dreams thought it would be $8 million.” That’s utter balderdash (and in fact, the real costs are 25% higher, topping $10 million).

In April 2018, I wrote a piece about how the costs would spiral well beyond the understated $1.5 million (read it here). The costs had already started to mount up in the first few months after the inquiry was called for (some accruing in a comic manner or simply spiralling out of control). But even before that, when they were contemplating an inquiry council was shown a letter from a Mississauga municipal lawyer warning that inquiry costs can and would escalate beyond any estimates. And the former CAO warned that council the costs would escalate.

Apparently, Hamlin didn’t read any of the articles in local media at the time (or my numerous blog posts) about the rapidly rising costs. She seems blithely unaware that the council of the day (which included now-councillors Jeffrey and Doherty) was fully informed that the costs would skyrocket but chose to go ahead regardless of the impact on local taxpayers. I would hope someone in the mayor’s role would be more fully informed before making a statement but it seems not. That doesn’t speak well for how she will handle other issues. Facts no longer matter in our town hall, just opinions.

The article notes, “more than 300 recommendations for better transparency, many of which have been implemented by the town.” Codswallop: a large portion of those recommendations had to do with provincial policies and legislation, and nothing to do with Collingwood, let alone transparency (maybe the writer should have read them before making that specious claim). And the town has implemented roughly 20% of them (many of which were already in use before the inquiry began); rather a small minority than the vague “many.”

Let’s not forget that those recommendations were made by a panel of so-called experts, all from out of town, none of whom had served on any municipal council nor in another form of publicly-elected office. All were what would be politely called “armchair quarterbacks” commenting on events they never participated in (and they themselves did not interview any of the witnesses), in a community they were not part of. And none of the witnesses were allowed to comment on or respond to the findings or recommendations before they were published. Using that same logic, I should be allowed to make recommendations on healthcare in a hospital in another country because I saw a YouTube video about doctors and I’ve visited a hospital. My comments could not be challenged because I declare myself an expert.***

Pontificating and criticizing others is easy from a distance: sitting in the chair and actually making decisions as an elected official is much harder. But we can’t criticize “experts,” can we? As Michel de Montaigne wrote in his essay, On Cato the Younger (Essay XXXVII, Book I, Screech translation, Penguin Classics, 2003),

…the majority of ingenious men in my time are clever at besmirching the glory of the fair and great-souled actions of ancient times, foisting some base interpretation on them and devising frivolous causes and occasions for them.

Hamlin whinging about the behaviour of others is both ironic and hypocritical. Her own record at the table hasn’t been a shining beacon of ethical behaviour (remember when she broke the town’s sign bylaws during her election campaign?). But she’s sure ready to cast the first stone…

The story also notes “Paul Bonwick, the brother of Cooper, one of the key figures in the inquiry, was involved in both transactions and was paid about $1 million for his services.” But once again, critical information is withheld: despite the vague idiom, Bonwick was NOT employed by the town, did not lobby council, nor was he paid a penny by the town from taxpayer funds. He was employed and paid by private corporations. He was not involved in either “transaction” and he did not make presentations or speak to the utility board or council on behalf of his clients. And, as the police investigation showed, everything he did on their behalf was legal.

No, being the mayor’s brother is NOT illegal, and both the Municipal Act and Municipal Conflict of Interest Act exclude siblings from their list of relatives whose activity or financial matters could result in such a conflict.

Hamlin also commented that “the town now has a lobbyist registry in place, a public list for anyone wishing to lobby council.” Well, that registry has been in place for several years before she was elected, but it didn’t stop her from voting to put a lobbyist and campaign donor into a vacated council seat last term. And a list isn’t “for anyone wishing to lobby council.” That’s what the registry is for. A list simply is a display of everyone who has registered to lobby council (there’s that missing editor again).

There’s still so much disinformation and innuendo going around in this sad chapter of Collingwood’s political life. But don’t hold your breath waiting for local media to tell you the actual facts. They won’t follow up and are unlikely to embarrass their friends with inconvenient truths.

Let me close with a quote from Michel de Montaigne, essay 27 (That it is madness to judge the true and false from our own capacities, trans. by M. A. Screech, Penguin Books, 2003) that seems suitable when talking about the stubborn belief in town hall about the righteousness of the SVJI:

It is not, perhaps, without good reason, that we attribute to simple-mindedness and to ignorance the readiness to be convinced: for I was once taught that a belief is like an impression stamped on our soul: the softer and less resisting the soul, the easier it is to print anything on it.

Collingwood deserves better.


* You may recall how the Connection didn’t write about one of the biggest stories of 2022 until after I broke it on my blog last year. Even then, their piece came a tardy four months after the events themselves. CwoodToday didn’t even bother to do a belated piece on it. The lax standards of local media towards keeping the public informed are well below those I would have tolerated when I worked in it. Little wonder people don’t come out to vote here.

** In the third edition of their book, The Elements of Journalism, authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel identify ten essential principles and practices of good journalism. These are:

  1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth
  2. Its first loyalty is to citizens
  3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.
  4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
  6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
  7. It must strive to keep the significant interesting and relevant.
  8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
  9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
  10. Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news.

Neither author suggests that these rules don’t apply to local media, or that reporters can practice a few but not all of them. I cannot know if any local reporter or editor has bothered to read this book but I have my doubts. The first thing journalists are taught are the “five Ws” – who, what, where, when and why— which should be explained in EVERY story. And then they’re taught to add “how.” Or as Wikipedia tells us the questions are:

Who was involved?
What happened?
Where did it take place?
When did it take place?
Why did that happen?
Some authors add a sixth question, “how”, to the list.

Without these being asked and fully answered, the reader only gets an incomplete and sometimes biased part of the story.As an exercise in credibility, read the news in local media over the next few weeks and ask yourself if each question was answered to your satisfaction. If they have, then you have respectable journalism. If you still have questions after reading,  then there is still some way to go to earn your trust as a reader.

*** From the inquiry’s final report, page 113: “Part Three of the Inquiry consisted of expert witnesses who testified in panels. The panellists first made a presentation on their topic, and Commission counsel then asked the panellists questions. Counsel for the Town of Collingwood – the only participant granted status in Part Three – could also ask questions at this time.” No elected representatives or staff members, past or present, no lawyers for the witnesses, or witnesses themselves were allowed to question the “wisdom” let alone the qualifications or conclusions of these “experts.” Only the town’s legal team — the same, sole-sourced lawyers who advised council behind closed doors to call a judicial inquiry then got appointed as the town’s representatives without the proper RFP process required by the town’s procurement bylaw — could question them? Does anyone else think that’s not what one should expect from a fair and objective inquiry?

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Ian Chadwick
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  1. Pingback: More Venery – Scripturient

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