James Madison, one of the US’s Founding Fathers said that a government “…without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a tragedy or a farce, or perhaps both.” Sure reads like someone describing our own council and their refusal to listen to the public during their discussion on the recent interim control bylaw (ICBL) that killed growth, development, and jobs in Collingwood: both a farce and a tragedy.*
Thomas Vincent, developer of the Balmoral Estates adult lifestyle community in Collingwood, wrote a letter to council just before this debacle, criticizing among other things, the poor communications from the mayor and town (developers were given a mere four-days warning) before the draconian bylaw was presented and passed.
This ICBL will mean the delay of a $100 million expansion at Balmoral Place. Think of the lost revenue to the town in development charges, building permits, and similar fees, And not just from Vincent but from all the stalled development here. Millions upon millions of dollars in revenue lost over the next few years. Who will make up the shortfall? Right: the taxpayers.
Vincent also complained that the mayor had not even bothered to engage with the community’s many developers to discuss possible solutions and mitigation before the ICBL was even announced (and with that sort of arrogance Saunderson wants to be the riding’s next MPP?). VIncent gave me permission to publish his letter, so here is a selection of his comments (you can read the entire letter here):
I don’t believe the Town has seriously considered the consequences or ramifications should you implement this ICBL… we are told last Wednesday that there is an impending crisis with the Water Treatment Plant and the immediate reaction is to shut down development in the Town of Collingwood. And the Town plans a meeting after four days notice to consider passing this ICBL… I have never heard of a Municipality thinking of putting such a draconian by-law in place that basically halts all development in the Town and area for one year or longer…
How can you treat the largest economic driver in this area with such disrespect in regard to transparency and consider passing an ICBL with only a few days notice for input? … If you decide to pass this ICBL, the Town will lose thousands of jobs due to the lack of development.
The Town has assembled a Task Force to examine Attainable Housing. The GTDI [ed. note: Georgian Triangle Development Institute] has submitted a paper with recommendations for the Town to consider in regard to Attainable Housing. This ICBL would put a stop to the advancement of Attainable Housing and developers would lose interest in working with the Town to provide this essential housing for our existing and future employees… Mayor Saunderson, this ICBL is a bad idea from many directions.
Vincent also noted that the previous CAO had held breakfast meetings “with leaders of the Community to review the progress of the Town on various fronts, and receive input from the Development and business Community.” The current mayor doesn’t bother to engage the community like that, and I have no indication the current CAO has reached out to the town’s development and business leaders in a similar fashion (perhaps she’s too busy reading through almost 400 boxes and 100 binders of paperwork to hunt for things the OPP and the judicial inquiry couldn’t find in them).
Another comment I received noted that one of the reasons for the ICBL may be to deliberately prevent the hospital from building on a new site, and force it to rebuild on the current site. As deputy-mayor, Saunderson played a major role in blocking the proposed redevelopment last term:
This will no doubt throw a monkey wrench into the new Hospital., as they too will not be able to get a building permit. Unless they use the loophole that they can redevelop on the existing site which has always been Saunderson and Brown’s goal since day one.
And another comment noted that for a town concerned over water, it sure isn’t paying much attention to water main leaks:
If there is a water supply issue why is there is a water leak on Sproule Avenue that has been there and very visible for at least 3+ weeks and all the Town did was place safety cones around it. Sending treated water in the storm sewer! This should have been fixed ASAP. In the past u/g locates would have been called and it most likely would have been fixed within 24 to 48 hrs.
Others have wondered how the town was able to so quickly have a media release online when usually it takes several days to get anything out into the public after a council meeting. People are suspicious that the outcome had already been decided before council even heard from the public or voted on the ICBL (no doubt decided behind closed doors as is this council’s wont).
And, of course, there are suspicions over the passing of the indemnification bylaw (which protects councillors from the cost of lawsuits by having taxpayers shoulder them instead) right before the ICBL was passed. You’d almost think they knew the town and council would be sued by developers, real estate companies, homeowners, and other municipalities after passing the ICBL. A cunning lot, aren’t they?**
And let’s not forget that a reduction in water volume may raise the insurance rates of homeowners and municipalities at the other end of the pipeline because it negatively affects the ability of local fire services to deliver the necessary water pressure and volume during emergencies. That won’t make the residents south of us very happy with our mayor, especially if someone’s house burns down because of the lack of water.
Last term, council and the town administration disbanded the Collingwood Public Service Utility Board (CPSUB) which had faithfully and successfully served the community for about 120 years. In doing so, former CAO Brown promised the town would save $750,000 a year by taking over the water service and its employees. Those “savings” mysteriously and quickly disappeared: water became another expense to the taxpayers. In 2017, Councillor Lloyd wasn’t allowed to raise the issue of the missing $750,000 during that year’s budget discussions. None of The Block ever brought it up, embarrassed no doubt at being conned.
One of the first things the previous council cut when the town took over the water service was the annual ISO 14001 water plant audit. Council didn’t see value in that audit and eliminated it as a cost-saving measure. Such an audit would have identified such issues as diminishing capacity limits or chlorine problems to council long before this, and warned the town of any impending problems. Without that report, we face a crisis so critical that our anti-growth/anti-development council has to bring all new construction to a halt while they flail and fumble trying to deal with a problem of their own making.
Had the town continued to let the public utility board (CPSUB) manage the water services, we would have had a pipeline contract signed back in 2015 and a new water treatment plant built by now. So the responsibility for this fiasco rests on council — especially on the shoulders of the five who served last term and were re-elected this term. At the top of that list is our mayor, Brian Saunderson. The buck stops at his desk.
We expect a mayor to build bridges with our neighbours, not blow them up. No community exists as an island, but our mayor and council seem determined to isolate and alienate Collingwood through arbitrary and unilateral tactics, through a refusal to communicate and engage with the other municipalities, and an apparent belief Collingwood can bully the others into compliance. They’re obsessed with fiddling with the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry while our metaphorical Rome burns.
Collingwood deserves better.
* Quoted in Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free (p.16), by Charles Pierce, Doubleday, 2009.
** This indemnification bylaw is intended, as the presentation to council shows, to…
Protect employees and members of Council and Boards from payment of damages or costs arising out of acts or omissions in their capacity with the Town… Acts or omissions arising out of the scope of the Individual’s authority or duty or within the course of an Individual’s employment or office if the individual: was acting within its scope of authority or duty… Acts or omissions relating to the conduct which falls outside of the Individual’s duty or authority, provided that the individual: was acting in good faith and held an honest and reasonable belief that the conduct was within his or her duty or authority and was in the best interest of the Town; had reasonable grounds for believing that his or her conduct was lawful.
The irony here is that the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry was predicated on the notion that former councillors and staff who acted in good faith and in the best interests of the public were actually conning the public, even though no laws were broken. Because the council of 2010-14 refused to give the YMCA a $35 million handout and instead built state-of-the-art public rec facilities they were castigated, demeaned, and subjected to interrogation. But this council wants their anti-business, anti-development actions that will harm the community protected from lawsuits by taxpayer money. One might think that passing this self-protective bylaw suggests that council is well aware of the harm the ICBL will do, and is NOT acting in the best interests of the community.
And why didn’t council have a public meeting about the indemnification bylaw so we could ask how this affects our taxes?