Ignoring the Potential Conflicts of Interest


A story in CollingwoodToday notes that council will hold a meeting on May 31 to consider exceptions to their job-and-revenue-killing interim control bylaw (ICBL). That bylaw abruptly ended all growth, building, and development because our inept council had failed to pay attention ever since they were elected to the water issue and the pipeline contract, despite staff reports about both.

I wrote about this last month, pointing out how in 2015 the previous council killed the negotiations that began in 2014 under an earlier council. Had the negotiations been allowed to continue, we would have had a new contract PLUS a new water treatment plant in place several years ago. But the 2014-18 council was intent on privatizing the water utility by giving it to EPCOR (without any public consultation), so they didn’t want to proceed with a solution. And so this council let it become a “crisis.”

The story tells us,

Collingwood council is being asked to make some exemptions to the building permit freeze it implemented last month. 

Keep in mind that the ICBL has an effect on housing prices in town (with no new stock being added, the value of existing homes, already through the roof, will skyrocket as competition for saleable stock escalates). This has a direct financial impact on the income of real estate agents (like our deputy mayor) and real estate lawyers (like our mayor). Neither of whom declared a conflict of interest when passing the ICBL.

Do you think they will declare one when the developers come forward begging for exemptions? Me either, although that would be the ethical thing to do.

The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act clearly states (emphasis added),

Where a member, either on his or her own behalf or while acting for, by, with or through another, has any pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, in any matter and is present at a meeting of the council or local board at which the matter is the subject of consideration, the member,
(a) shall, prior to any consideration of the matter at the meeting, disclose the interest and the general nature thereof;
(b) shall not take part in the discussion of, or vote on any question in respect of the matter; and
(c) shall not attempt in any way whether before, during or after the meeting to influence the voting on any such question. 

And yet our mayor and deputy mayor made no such declarations. They remained at the table, in the discussion, and voted on something that had direct impact on their own incomes. My, how the hypocrisy drips from this council.*

Equally important, our mayor is on a job-hunting campaign to get shorn of his mayoral responsibilities and become the riding’s next MPP and is looking for supporters and donors. Developers have always been major contributors to political campaigns and the potential for conflicts and accusations of influence peddling is very high. Of course, the honourable thing for the mayor to do would be to resign from the office while he campaigns for a better-paying job. That way he couldn’t be accused of such behaviour. But do you think he will do the right thing? Me either.

I will be paying close attention to the names and companies of donors to his campaign (now and if he gets the nomination to his election campaign) to see if any of those got exemptions. That would have the ripe stench of corruption, methinks.

The story notes:

Based on calculations from public works, there is enough water capacity still for 1,091 more single dwelling unit equivalencies (SDU).

This raises some more questions. If there is such capacity in the plant, why was the ICBL rushed through without prior consultation with other municipalities or developers? Why the panic? Why not involve the community and those most affected by the ICBL? Why not involve New Tecumseth? Or Bradford? Alliston? Tottenham? The Blue Mountains? Clearview?

Where does the buck stop for this debacle? Why it stops at the mayor’s desk.

Why didn’t the mayor contact Zenon and other water treatment professionals and ask if they could install a portable (temporary) plant to alleviate the problem while a new plant was being built? Why didn’t the mayor convene a meeting of the other mayors in municipalities connected to our water to discuss options before the ICBL was passed? Why didn’t the mayor convene a meeting with local developers who have subdivisions and large projects underway to discuss options and ask their advice?

Where was the leadership? Why didn’t the mayor do anything? Too busy with his job-hunting campaign to deal with petty local matters? Or is he simply not competent to do the job he was elected for?

You might ask, too, why none of our councillors raised the pipeline contract issue until almost a year after the contract had expired. After all, they had received staff reports about water and the pipeline from when they were first elected. Four members who served on the previous council have known about these water, contract, and pipeline issues since 2015. But they’ve all been so obsessively focused on promoting and lavishing taxpayers’ money on the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI) that they have ignored almost everything of importance to the town this term. 

You might ask, too, why staff didn’t make this a priority and raise it before it became a crisis. Surely senior staff knew long ago that the capacity limits were nearing and that the contract was coming due for renewal. I suspect clean drinking water was apparently not nearly as important to the town as, say, rummaging through more than 400 boxes and binders of paper to hunt for heffalumps (likely personal and confidential salary information to be used in some nefarious effort to help justify the SVJI’s egregious costs).

Collingwood deserves better.

* The entire point of the final report of the $10-million-plus Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry 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.

Unless they’re simply being blatantly hypocritical (which is, of course, a possibility), it would seem Saunderson and Hull don’t think these recommendations apply to them. I guess they’re the ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do’ kind of politician who can blithely dismiss recommendations about potential conflicts when they affect their own interests. Will anyone in our local media will ask our mayor and deputy mayor why they’re ignoring these recommendations and the potential for accusations of conflicts of interest and influence peddling? No, I doubt it as well.

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  1. https://www.simcoe.com/news-story/10391336–we-should-receive-more-new-tecumseth-council-discusses-collingwood-water-issue-behind-closed-doors/

    In his report to council, CAO Blaine Parkin said talks to finalize the new contract were progressing well until November of last year. While Parkin said “confidence in Collingwood has been shaken” over this matter, the town will continue to negotiate with Collingwood to find a solution. Tottenham Coun. Alan Lacey said everything in the new contract had seemingly been settled except for the price. While Collingwood controls the water, Lacey seems to think the town has the upper hand.

  2. Pingback: Why Are Council’s Conflicts of Interest Being Ignored? – Scripturient

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