Council’s First Year, Part Two


Facepalm timePart two of the series in Collingwood Today about our council’s first year asked “how councillors felt this council has set itself apart from previous Collingwood councils.” As with the previous piece, the article brought more face-palming moments as some of the council tried to justify their place at the public trough.

In the article, DM Fryer is quoted saying “councillors attending many more community events, such as a regular spot at the Collingwood Farmers’ Market, this time around” sets this council apart. Except, maybe not the mayor? I never saw her at the Farmers’ Market once, and I was there many times this summer. Maybe I was there too early. Or late. Or the wrong month. I did see a few members of council there, but sometimes saw none.

The article’s feature image shows a celebration of a local business, but our full-time mayor isn’t present, nor are two other councillors. Most previous mayors (at least in the more than 30 years since I’ve been in town) made a significant and conscientious effort to attend community events. Mayor Cooper, for example, is famous for that, making every effort to attend those events herself, no matter how big or small, despite being a part-time mayor.

The picture’s cutline doesn’t explain why the current mayor is absent, but do you think the reporter asked why she wasn’t there? Me either.

Having been on council for three terms, I can truthfully say that most councillors and mayors I served with in the past went out of their way to attend and participate in community events. The newspaper (back when we actually had a real newspaper) published pictures of those events every week; there were so many to attend. As a member of that local media for a dozen years before I was on council, I attended many of those previous events. So, no, it doesn’t set this council apart to attend events. It’s just what councils do.

Councillors Jeffery and Doherty both said, “the membership that makes up this council is unique in itself.” Which is, of course, self-serving piffle. Every council that has new members is unique and thus different, not better or worse. Well, this one is somewhat better by not having so many Saundersonites left. I wonder why they didn’t mention that.

Jeffrey added, “This council is upholding the high standards of engagement, fiscal responsibility, and policy development of the past two councils.” Which suggests they’re still hewing to the toxic lines Saunderson laid out for his previous cabal of subservient sycophants instead of moving forward.

Those “high standards” are the reason our water treatment plant was ignored for years by said councils. As for the “fiscal responsibility,” costs for a new one ballooned from $60 million in 2014 to more than $270 million now. And costs could easily top $300 by the time a builder gets selected. We would have had a new plant built by now, most of it paid for by our municipal partners along the pipeline, but it’s not even been started yet, thanks to those so-called high standards.

Policy development? The last councils acted less like councils than exercises in groupthink, almost pathologically obsessed with Saunderson’s petty, vindictive judicial inquiry (aka the SVJI) with its $10 million cost and mostly pointless recommendations. Hardly a “policy development” to celebrate.*

Policy development? Can anyone in town forget Saunderson and his group’s strenuous and successful efforts to block our hospital’s redevelopment? After four closed-door meetings to discuss strategy, that council ultimately set the redevelopment back five or more years. Councillors Jeffrey and Doherty were on that council.

Fiscal responsibility? Those councils continued to throw our money at the SVJI; more and more until it topped $10 million in expenses, most of it going to the sole-sourced lawyers and consultants appointed in violation of the town’s procurement policy. That money could have been used for the community’s benefit: to fix our potholed roads and crumbling sidewalks council ignored, or to build a proper homeless shelter. Instead, those councils wasted more than $10 million of our taxpayers’ money pursuing a personal vendetta.

The OPP investigation into the accused and their activities closed after a decade-long witchhunt, finding “there were no grounds for any criminal charges.” Did anyone express regret for the waste or apologize to those wrongly accused? Or was that too high a standard for them to reach?

High standards? When Councillor Tina Comi attempted to express an independent opinion, and stand up to Saunderson and his Block, she was bullied out of office. She was replaced at the table by a lobbyist who was also a friend, and financial donor to the election campaigns of many of the remaining council, including the former mayor. This was utterly and blatantly corrupt. I cannot recall another council that bullied a councillor out of office.

High standards? has she forgotten the blatant conflicts of interest that Saunderson, Hamlin, and others at the table had, but ignored last term? I hope the public hasn’t forgotten.

High standards? Both Saunderson and Hamlin discussed and voted to appoint the legal firm Borden, Ladner, Gervais (sole-sourced every time, without the requisite tendering required by the town’s procurement bylaw) although both were former employees of that firm. Neither 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. Was this a “high standard”?

Engagement? Saunderson abdicated his mayoral responsibilities early to be able to campaign for the MPP nomination (a position he couldn’t even win without anti-democratic interference from the corrupt Doug Ford). Although he didn’t live up to his oath of office, Saunderson continued to collect the mayor’s salary while he campaigned. He quit before the term was up and left an inept, unfocused council to flounder in his absence. How engaged is that?

Holding up Saunderson — easily Collingwood’s worst mayor in living memory — and his councils as role models is risibly hypocritical at the very least.

Doherty added, “This council benefits from a balance of experience and fresh new representation, different ages and backgrounds, all of which generate new perspectives, ideas and discussions…” This is true of almost every council, most of which also have had rookie members. Aside from the previous two councils with their myopic obsession with Saunderson’s vendetta, I cannot recall a single council since 1990 that didn’t have a mix of ideas, views, and experience. It’s difficult to have a “balanced” council with groupthink at the table, but easy to have a politburo.

Councillor Baines said he believes “the current council has an emphasis and adherence to ethical and appropriate conduct.” Well, again I have to point out that every council gets lectured by staff and integrity commissioner about conduct. Every council gets educated at the start of their term about the policies, bylaws, laws, and processes. And, again aside from the previous two Saundersonite councils, they’ve all behaved appropriately.

Councillor Potts said, “This council has challenged many items that, in previous years, have been overlooked.” The reporter should have questioned that, since any “item” being overlooked is likely because staff never brought it forward (was Potts making a sly criticism of staff?). And exactly what “items” does he mean by that? But if Potts and the rest are actually challenging things, it seldom gets reported in the local media. Like I said previously, he needs a better publicist.

Maybe what this council might have done to “set itself apart” from the previous two councils would have been to pass a budget with NO tax hikes for property owners and no raises for themselves. After all, the last two councils raised taxes every year, gave themselves a raise every time they did so, and spent taxpayers’ money with wild abandon. Or this council could build something for the community’s benefit. It could help homeless residents find shelter instead of just paying consultants to tell the town to ignore them. Maybe they could move away from the town’s antiquated, 1950s pro-vehicle planning mentality and develop safer streets with proper traffic calming. Or not approving a 24-story waterfront playground for millionaires that gave away a big piece of public parkland, but instead did something to preserve the terminals as our historic icon.**

Collingwood deserves better.


* Groupthink is not an appropriate policy for this council to praise, let alone emulate, as this article notes (emphasis added):

In any group situation, people want to feel accepted by other members and seek approval, consciously and unconsciously. Groupthink theory…refers to the tendency of groups to make irrational or poor-quality decisions due to social pressure, conformity and the false illusion of unanimity. This theory explains how groups can lose objectivity and make decisions based on the desire to avoid conflict and maintain harmony within the group… The danger of groupthink lies in its ability to undermine decision-making and critical consideration of risks. The complacency that comes from conformity can blind us to crucial details and lead to catastrophic consequences.

** Re the terminals: There was a recent story in the LA Times about “saving the city.” In it, the article’s author, Benjamin Schnieder, includes a cogent quote from Portal: San Francisco’s Ferry Building and the Reinvention of American Cities, a book by John King:

Every city has a landmark like this, a building through which one can read the larger history.

And for Collingwood, that landmark is the terminals. Schnieder added:

Whether in adapting to rising seas, reimagining downtowns, creating a green mass transportation network or addressing the housing shortage, visionary thinking is desperately needed in cities across the country. The story of San Francisco’s Ferry Building serves as a valuable reminder that transformative urban change is not just possible but inevitable. The only question is what form it will take, and whether we will celebrate it or live to regret it.

I believe that turning the landmark into a monstrous condo tower and playground for millionaires will be something this town deeply regrets for generations to come.

Re urban design:  the town’s obsession with making our streets into faster, wider thoroughfares to accommodate an increasing number of vehicles is making Collingwood into mini-Brampton. It’s killing our small-town feel, making it less safe, and adding more noise and pollution to our residential areas. There are plenty of better ideas about how to design a community that feels like it’s meant for the community, not just for cars and trucks. Here’s one idea, as an example:

Placemaking is based on a simple principle: if you plan cities for cars and traffic, you will get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you will get people and places. More traffic and greater road capacity are not the inevitable results of growth. They are products of very deliberate choices made to shape our communities to accommodate the private automobile. We have the ability to make different choices — starting with the decision to design our streets as comfortable and safe places for everyone — for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as drivers.

Collingwood council just needs to have the backbone to create a better streetscape, not simply rubber stamp every staff proposal for car-centric streets.

Words: 1,860

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  1. Pingback: Council’s First Year Continued Part 3 – Scripturient

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