Mayor Saunderson continues his job-hunting campaign to get out of his mayoral responsibilities and become our riding’s next MPP. Yet this week he also set himself up for more accusations of conflicts of interest, both real and apparent — the sort castigated in his beloved Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI) with its 306 mostly irrelevant or redundant recommendations (but ignored by him and his council).*
That’s because the town’s new interim control bylaw (ICBL) that kills construction and jobs, has provisions for proponents to beg for exceptions. Developers are going to be lining up to do so because they have millions of dollars at stake.
Building and construction are all entwined with the real estate market. And our mayor is a real estate lawyer. Anyone else see a potential conflict here? No, he didn’t declare a conflict when the bylaw was passed and he voted for it. Why should he? Rules are for others, not our mayor. L’etat c’est moi!**
Pernicious conflicts could arise when a developer comes to plead his or her case before the mayor who is campaigning to be an MPP. Developers often contribute to the election campaigns of politically aligned candidates. Could developers see a campaign donation as a requirement to get approval? After all, a campaign donation is a lot less money than the millions of dollars at stake in a stalled development.
And every donation received, every declaration of support, even before the ICBL was passed, will now be scrutinized for those conflicts.
Aside from potential conflicts, could there be accusations of influence peddling if a donor gets an exception? Complaints to the OPP about it? Possibly. Suspicions in the community about the mayor’s behaviour? Certainly.
The only way Saunderson can escape these suspicions is to do the right and honourable thing and resign as mayor. Since he clearly doesn’t want the job he swore an oath to do, and is trying to get a better-paying job in Toronto barely halfway through his term, there’s no ethical reason for him to continue to take the taxpayers’ paycheque.
Collingwood deserves better.
* Despite our mayor’s blustering attempts to get Simcoe County Council to support his SVJI and all its 306 recommendations, the county’s legal team came back with risibly lukewarm support for a mere 17 of the total, or about 5 percent. And even that had a hard time passing: the vote was 16-14 at the county. A single no vote could have derailed Saunderson’s efforts entirely. And as for his flaccid attempt to engage local residents in his SVJI: it was an utterly embarrassing failure.
** Nor did the deputy mayor declare a conflict when the ICBL was discussed and passed, although he is a real estate agent directly affected by the results of this bylaw. Perhaps someone should complain to the town’s Integrity Commissioner. There seem to be rather dubious attitudes among some council members when it comes to declaring a conflict of interest.