Council’s First Year Considered


Godzilla facepalmI did a few facepalms while reading CollingwoodToday’s four-part piece on Collingwood Council’s first year in office.  CwoodToday approached each of them with questions “about their accomplishments so far, to how this council feels they’ve set themselves apart, and to surprises they’ve experienced so far as elected officials.” No similar coverage was in the increasingly irrelevant Collingwood Connection.

Given the ineffective communication techniques the town currently has to reach residents (not to mention the abysmally awkward, user-hostile website…) it is good for readers to hear from the council members themselves, although I think the reporter could have questioned them a bit more to explain their statements. But local media, eh? They’re not really into being the public watchdogs we once expected of them (although they sure can pander to the Establishment these days).

And I get it that most of our council was new to the role. That’s the main reason I left off blogging and commenting about them and the town for most of the past year: it was only fair to allow them time to learn, to meet staff, to read, and to understand the complexities of governance. And that time is up. So… let’s look at part one:

What really brought about the eye-rolling and face-palming was the nature of some of these “accomplishments.” For example, in the first piece, Mayor Hamlin starts off by claiming councillors playing well together as one:

“I am pleased that we have achieved a good working relationship among all of our council members,” said Hamlin.

Nothing about advocating for issues, solving problems, or addressing community needs: just about people being happy in meetings.

I’m pretty sure making nice wasn’t top of anyone’s campaign literature, nor was being the school-marm for the kiddies on hers. Councillors are bound by their oaths of office, Code of Conduct, Municipal Act, and bundles of town policies and bylaws that tell them to be nice, not to chew gum in class, and always say please and thank you. Or something like that.

But no matter how proud she is they aren’t throwing spitballs at one another, this isn’t her accomplishment. It’s theirs. Being respectful and civil is something each one of them chooses to be, but not so much, we hope, it doesn’t make them appear weak. Democracy, after all, isn’t meant to be like Saunderson’s former Politburo: a cabal of spineless sycophant councillors meekly doing what they’re told. I know from experience that sometimes you have to be the squeaky wheel to get anything done outside the confines of rubberstamping what staff wants.

When asked about their biggest personal accomplishment, and their biggest accomplishment as a group so far, many councillors talked about their working relationship as a team.

Of course, no one wants our council to become like the circus Parliament has devolved into, or councillors to behave like the gibbering, gaslighting, disrespectful Pierre PoiLIEvre and his toxic minions, but we do expect our councillors to stand up for what they believe in, and do it loudly when it matters. But come on: do they really consider this a political accomplishment? Is this what we elected them to do? I think not.

To me, at least, any “accomplishment” should have a measurable impact on the lives of residents. It should contribute to the greater good. It should be something they can point to and say “we did that.” Like a new arena or a covered, year-round swimming pool, a new fire station, and so on. Maybe just fixing the corroded lampposts along First Street or initiating long-overdue, desperately needed electoral reform here.

DM Tim Fryer’s accomplishment was getting the governance process partway out of the broken committee system and at least returning to the Committee of the Whole, but it still leaves the ineffectual mini-fiefdom standing committees in place to add their layers of red tape and glacial bureaucracy to the governance process. Back in 2017 when I wrote about the broken committee system, I quoted Sir Barnett Cocks, former Clerk of the UK’s House of Commons: “A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.” That’s still true of Collingwood’s standing committees. Kudos to Fryer, though, and hope he finishes the job.

Councillor Jeffrey’s “accomplishment” was being able to “maintain and apply her personal leadership skills through the role.” Pretty sure that hasn’t contributed anything to the greater good. I’ve often written about her sense of entitlement, not to mention her role in helping bully former councillor Tina Comi out of office. The Queen of the Unlimited Expense Account was a loyal Saundersonite in office who wanted to give a large chunk of our public waterfront park to a Barrie-based group. But did she help actual residents this year?

Councillor Doherty — another loyal Saundersonite — listed her election to the board of AMO (Associations of Municipalities of Ontario), an organization that advocates for municipalities and issues with Queen’s Park. I’ve got great respect for AMO and their work, but wonder how much a councillor who wanted to plant a magic healing forest in the middle of a park, or who didn’t know what a dividend is, can accomplish there.

And then there’s this:

As a group, Doherty counts the approval of the proposed repurposing of the Terminals as one of council’s biggest accomplishments so far.

Turning an iconic heritage site into a 24-story playground for millionaires when the town is crying for affordable housing, violating height restrictions and heritage building laws along the way, is not something I’d boast about. Not to mention that the plan gives 80% of our public waterfront park there to private developers. I have yet to speak to a single resident who looks favourably on the plan. It was a cringeworthy decision.

Councillor Baines said  that “as a group he is proud of the $350,000 council allotted in the 2023 budget for affordable housing.” That was almost a year ago: since then how has that money helped even a single resident afford housing? Has it affected local rents? Built anything? As I wrote in a previous post, affordable housing problems cannot be solved by simply putting money into bank accounts. The measurable has to be how that money actually helped one or more residents. Not how much was spent on consultants’ reports. It’s not an accomplishment yet.

Coun. Brandon Houston also says he doesn’t claim any personal accomplishments in his term so far.

Well, that’s at least honest: everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that they can’t think of a single thing he’s contributed to the community so far, or any issues, policy, or program he’s been the advocate for, either. Maybe he’s a slow starter. But it is their first year, so take that into consideration.

Houston also crowed about putting money into the bank for “affordable housing.” Voting for a staff recommendation entry in a budget is not any more of an accomplishment than voting for another line about new snowplows, or sidewalk mending. Can so little an amount for a large problem actually help people’s lives?

A few councillors added the opening of the Awen Waterplay, the splash pad built on a former dump site against the wishes of more than 90% of the residents who responded to a survey about where it should be located. And it was begun by the former council, hypocritically during the time that prohibited all commercial and residential construction because of their self-made water crisis. People are still asking why it wasn’t named after someone in our town’s history who helped build Collingwood.

Another suggested group “accomplishment” was “putting finishing touches on the new Official Plan.” Piffle: provincial law requires every municipality to have an Official Plan and to revisit it every five years. So every second term of council they come up. They require public input too, an anathema to the Saundersonites still at the table. But it’s not an accomplishment to do what the law requires of you.

Councillor Potts mentioned “helping to establish the Mobile Soup Kitchen.” Yes, that’s a positive thing, and kudos for his service to the community. But… as far as I can tell, it wasn’t a council initiative. This piece was supposed to be about accomplishments as a councillor. Was it something he did on his own? Not sure why the reporter didn’t ask him about that (but then: local media).

When I read about the soup kitchen in CwoodToday, it is described as a “partnership supported by Elephant Thoughts, the Environment Network and youth interns at the Collingwood Youth Centre.” Nothing about the town’s or council’s involvement or any town funding. Potts isn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. But if he actually did it as a council rep, on behalf of the town, then he needs better publicity.

Councillor Ring echoed some of Hamlin’s flaccid comments saying “the respect we have for each other” was a group accomplishment, adding being “open-minded” and “there are never any hard feelings.” Like I said earlier, that’s what’s expected, not an “accomplishment” and not something anyone can point to and claim “we built this.” Following the rules isn’t an accomplishment any more than sitting down in your assigned seats at the council table is.

So while back-patting, smiling, and nodding in agreement are seen as accomplishments by many, overall I found it hard to find anything solid, practical, or that benefitted the whole community. Perhaps that’s being a bit harsh on the rookies at the table, but they came to the table with high hopes from the community. Start living up to them.

I’ll take a look at what council said in the other pieces in the series in future posts.

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  1. Pingback: Council’s Affordable Housing Con – Scripturient

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