On the agenda for the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee (SIC) for Jan. 10, 2022 is a single line under other business that underscores just how petty, puerile, and vindictive our mayor is:
Order of Collingwood Revocation and OMWA Membership, Mayor Saunderson
As you might expect from a secretive, deceptive mayor, there was no documentation or commentary attached to the agenda package as you would expect in an open, transparent council meeting. It cunningly doesn’t even mention he will present notices of motion.
Clearly, he didn’t want to give away too many details of his latest move against his perceived enemies, but the giveaway was in the second part: getting the town to drop its OMWA membership.
The Ontario Municipal Water Association (OMWA) is a non-profit organization whose mission is, “To act as the voice of Ontario’s public water authorities through actions which sustain and protect the life cycle of water.” It’s been active in provincial water issues and events since 1966. It hosts workshops, lobbies for municipal issues with provincial ministries, educates, and informs. Collingwood has been a member for many decades.
Well, you can see why our mayor would want to hide his face from a municipal water association. Especially since one of the OMWA’s key objectives is “To co-operate and collaborate with related organizations and agencies on technical or other matters of mutual interest.” Cooperation and collaboration have never been in our mayor’s autocratic vocabulary.
This council under Saunderson’s inept, fumbling “leadership” screwed up the town’s water pretty badly this term. First, despite numerous staff reports warning them, council neglected the pipeline contract with New Tecumseth until a year after it had expired. Then in a Chicken-Little-sky-is-falling panic, council passed a job-growth-and-revenue-killing bylaw to halt all new construction (an egregious over-reaction taken without even the pretense of consulting with anyone, much less the building and construction people most affected). The manufactured “water crisis” proved a stunning debacle for the town and everyone involved.
Easy to see why our mayor wants to scurry into the darkness away from an organization that shines the light on water issues. His lack of leadership in that area is hugely embarrassing for Collingwood.
But more to the point is the who, not the what: Ed Houghton — the former CEO of Collus-PowerStream and Collingwood’s former (unpaid) interim CAO — was hired as CEO of the OMWA after he retired from Collus-PowerStream. In 2012, Ed was the interim CAO for the town when that council decided against Saunderson’s unpalatable Central Park committee demand that the town give the YMCA a $35 million handout. Connect the dots yet?
In 1998, Ed received the Order of Collingwood for his activities to benefit the community. Nothing to do with Saunderson, or the YMCA, or the Sprung facilities Saunderson obsessively despises. And the award was given to Ed 14 years prior to the YMCA-related events that drove Saunderson into a froth of vindictiveness and 24 years prior to Saunderson’s latest motions. Despite that time gap and the irrelevancy, our mayor clutches at the chance to punish Houghton. Is it moral? Is it ethical? Is it the behaviour of a mature politician? No, but consider the source.*
Stripping the Order of Collingwood from one person sets a precedent to strip it from anyone who annoys, vexes or doesn’t tug the forelock sufficiently at the mayor. It means personal grievances set the agenda, not municipal business. Will all other previous recipients be examined now? At least one has been criminally charged since the award was given, and two or three have been publicly disgraced for their behaviour since. Why do they still have theirs when Ed, who has not done anything illegal, is being defrocked of his?
Who sets the standards by which a recipient is later measured? Our hypocritical mayor with all his many overlooked apparent conflicts and vacuity of leadership? Giving the order is decided by a committee, based on many criteria, but the mayor wants to arbitrarily and autocratically rescind it without regard to anything but his own hurt feelings.
The whole point of the $10-million-plus Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (the SVJI) has been to punish everyone involved in hurting Saunderson’s fragile ego by not acquiescing to his committee’s proposal (and, it’s rumoured costing at least one committee member a promised job if they could make the deal happen). Houghton has had a target on his back since then. (You can read the whole, sordid history of that proposal and Saunderson’s reaction in this excerpt from my submission to the SVJI judge).
Yet to date, despite a thorough OPP investigation ongoing since 2013, NO ONE has been charged with any crime or found guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. That’s because not one of Saunderson’s perceived enemies broke any laws. But that hasn’t made our mayor stray from his vendetta.
And when Saunderson took his SVJI to Simcoe County, no doubt expecting a hearty endorsement, all he got was a barely lukewarm reception and watered-down, conditional support for a mere 17 of its 306 recommendations. Why, it was almost as if County Council didn’t care to endorse our mayor’s grandstanding. But he keeps flogging this long-dead horse in Collingwood.
You can watch the recent SIC meeting video on the town’s website. Saunderson’s cancel-culture comments begin at 01:10:55 when he announces he will make two notices of motion.
Be prepared: he rambles and meanders, trying to get his SVJI back in the public eye before he leaves to campaign for a better-paying job at Queen’s Park before his term here ends. He gets to his first nasty little dig at 01:12:58 in the video about “undisclosed conflicts” and “lack of transparency” in 2012.
This is from the man who at least FOUR times these past two terms voted to sole-source his former employers to do legal work for the town, yet never disclosed his relationship with them to the public, who voted for a contract with his friend’s insurance company without disclosing that relationship. Oh, the hypocrisy just drips from our mayor.
A decade after the events that thwarted his ambitions, our petty, obsessed mayor is still determined to get his revenge. Would that he had put even a tenth of that energy and effort into doing something — anything — for the community he allegedly serves.
At 01:14:18 he says the building of the Sprung facilities had a “profound, devastating, and lasting effect on our community.” Well, that’s just piffle. What HAS had such an effect has been his pursuit of a personal vendetta at the taxpayer’s expense: well above $10 million that should have gone into community services and improvements. Instead, we got a digital report he often crows about, but the potholes remain in our streets.**
At 01:14:38 Saunderson lowers the bar again with a motion to terminate the town’s membership in the OMWA. He did not say the director of the town’s water department, or anyone else involved in our water business wanted to end this relationship. This is entirely from spite.
Be prepared to roll your eyes again: Saunderson just has to repeat pretty much everything he bloviated on in the first notice of motion to get in his cheap shots.
And then he sets the ethical bar to its lowest level yet: at 01:16:38 he asks that a “letter be sent to the OMWA board and copied to all members of OMWA attaching this motion and the link to Justice Marocco’s report.” Just when you thought he could not be any pettier, he proves us all wrong. If it affects Ed’s livelihood, I imagine that this action will spawn a lawsuit against Saunderson and the town. Funny that a lawyer wouldn’t consider the liability. (Saunderson is already being sued for another matter, but local media will never tell you that).
It’s curious that the mayor decided to do this himself rather than having one of his disposable minions do his dirty work for him, as he usually does. His motions come up for a vote in the Jan. 24 council meeting. It will be interesting to see which councillors lower themselves into the mayor’s political mud sty to vote for it. That will certainly be remembered when they campaign for re-election.
This is Saunderson’s second stab at revenge. Let’s not forget his earlier attempt to implement cancel culture last April when he wanted to remove bronze plaques from town facilities that mentioned members of council who had opposed his personal ambitions in 2012 ( that, by the way, includes yours truly). And he wanted to revoke the Order then, too, but council voted against it. Never one to accept a council decision and move on, he brought it back again.
Although I would be surprised to learn that Our Great Leader had actually read a history book (or any book), I do not know how else he has learned so much from the lessons of Stalin about how to erase his perceived enemies from the historical records. And he wants to let as many people as possible (OMWA board and members) know about it. Stalinist to the core.
These are not the acts of a leader, or a mayor, or a credible community representative. They are not about town business or the greater good: they are deeply personal and outstandingly petty. These are the acts of a small-minded, obsessed man who has not matured beyond a schoolyard bully.
Collingwood deserves better.
* The Central Park committee failed in its mandate to develop a partnership with the YMCA when they learned the YMCA was not going to contribute a penny towards the development of a new rec facility. It should have disbanded itself then because there was no chance at partnership after that point. Yet the committee deceptively failed to inform council about it for seven months, burying the truth in their final report, presented to council in March 2012. That final, thin report had no plans for outside funding or partnership in it but expected a commitment to build for the Y. Council balked at giving a $35 million handout from taxpayers’ money to a corporation without their participation (or any evidence that the non-member public would benefit). Council instead found better solutions, at no extra cost to the taxpayer, to the community’s need for additional facilities. And Saunderson has been obsessed over getting back at everyone involved ever since.
** The inquiry report is not without its detractors and some, like myself, consider both the report and the process that produced it deeply flawed. I have written several posts here about its flaws. See here for some of them. You can also read my own submission to the inquiry here. While the inquiry accepted it, they did not make it public, which leads me to suspect that what I documented ran counter to a pre-determined narrative of guilt that some of them based their findings on. In my view, the inquiry was little better than a show trial.