The Wasaga Beach G&M Hospital


How the committee must have felt
You’d think supporting your local hospital’s redevelopment was a no-brainer for municipal politicians. And since ‘no-brainer’ has been the exemplary style of Collingwood Council this term, they should go hand-in-glove. But apparently for The Block, ‘no-brainer’ means merely thoughtless focus on personal agendas, not the community’s well-being or future. That’s not news, of course; just signs that another disaster is brewing.

The Wasaga Beach General and Marine Hospital. Like that name? Get used to it. That is likely what this council’s actions are going to result in. And Wasaga Beach council is as firmly behind making it happen as our own appears to be.

Hospitals are really outside municipal jurisdiction, and local politicians have little to no say in them aside from the generic issues of zoning, parking and planning. A redeveloped hospital that stays in our municipality is good news, given that the competition wants to move it outside our borders. And look: it’s been offered free land. Sure looks like a good news story.

To everyone, that is, but The Block.

A story in this week’s Connection, Collingwood council supports hospital redevelopment, raises concerns about proposed site, tells us that council chose a mean-spirited, delaying approach to erect road blocks, instead of wholehearted support.*

Oddly, the online headline (above) contradicts the print version, which reads (more accurately), “Council challenges preferred hospital site.” Not entirely accurately, since it really should read “The Block challenges preferred site.”

In fact, it’s been suggested to me that some of The Block are actually actively working behind the scenes against the move. They, along with members of the town’s administration, want to keep the hospital tied to its current location and will do everything in their power to keep it there. I suppose they’d prefer to see it move out of town before it moves within the town.

And, of course, they’re doing most of it in secret, away from public scrutiny. On August 8, council discussed the hospital redevelopment in camera. Unless I misread the Municipal Act, that’s illegal. It certainly is immoral and unethical to determine policy about a public institution (and one we don’t own) behind closed doors so the public can’t hear what their elected representatives say. But ethical considerations have never disturbed the machinations of The Block.

Ah, did you really expect openness and transparency from The Most Secretive Council Ever? Me either.

I seem to be getting carried away. Let me back up. First, you should look at the video of the presentation at the last Council meeting. It’s on Rogers online or reruns on cable TV. The hospital presentation begins at 0:31:20 and the whole thing is more than an hour long.

The G&M Hospital has a facility committee of professionals and consultants who spent almost two years and $1.2 million studying the hospital’s future, held public meetings, assessed locations and growth potential for the next 10-20-50 years. After extensive analysis and discussion, the committee recommended a site on Poplar Sideroad as the best location.

The hospital board has received, but not voted on, the report; I’m told most of them support that decision (apparently not our own council rep, “Senator” Kathy Jeffrey, the mover of the contentious motion – see below – who, I’m told, is adamantly opposed to moving it away from its current site).

The committee must submit its application to the province by the end of the month (Sept. 30: see 37:40 in video) to get it into the next budget cycle. All they wanted to complete it was a motion of support from our council. After all, our three neighbouring municipalities did it without qualms. Just  say thank you, vote in favour and wish them well.

But that ain’t gonna happen with The Block in charge.

The motion should simply have read, “This council supports redevelopment of the Collingwood G&M Hospital within our municipality.” Period. Ask for the reports and read them, then request a peer review, later, if you don’t understand what you read (which is probable). But just support the redevelopment without the sort of negativity the actual motion introduced. But for The Block, nothing moves forward without negativity.

The story in the Connection notes:

Council passed a motion to support the hospital re-development in principle but asked for copies of all studies related to the hospital redevelopment and that the town “conduct a peer review of this material,” prior to commenting on the Poplar Side Road location.

That motion blindsided the facilities committee and several of council. I’ve been told the motion was changed after Deputy Mayor Saunderson, Councillor Jeffrey and the interim CAO met with reps from the hospital’s facilities committee, Monday morning. They had collectively agreed on the motion’s wording. Or so the committee thought they had.

My sources suggest that sometime between that morning meeting and the 5 p.m. council meeting, the motion was slyly changed, with that caveat about sending it to the Ministry and “relevant parties” added.

The motion was not shown to council or the committee before it was read. No, that would be too open and transparent. It was simply read aloud, giving the impression that it was what everyone had agreed on.

Sneaky, eh? But not out of character for The Block.

Consider how long a peer review will take. It certainly can’t be done in the few weeks remaining. So the committee has to submit their application to stay in Collingwood without fulsome support from our own council. At best, it can only be described as “lukewarm.”

Council was told community alignment was a “key component” in the application, but The Block made sure its disapproval goes to the Ministry of Health and “any relevant parties,” just to put a spiteful spanner in the works.

Imagine the fallout from that.

A letter sent to the local media and all of council from committee member and local developer, Thomas Vincent appears in the print edition of the Connection. He called the motion “very political.” What an understatement. He asks,

“Am I to understand that council wants to spend taxpayers’ funds on a peer review of the submission of the Stage One application for our new hospital?”

(It’s called Stage One because it is the first of a long, five-step process)

Well, yes, Tom, that’s exactly what they’re proposing. This council loves to spend, spend, spend because, of course, tax dollars grow on trees and any time they need more, they can raise our taxes (as they have done twice in the last two years) to pay for whatever their little hearts desire. But the real issues are both why it is necessary, and who will do the peer review council demands?

The first part is easy: it isn’t necessary. It suggests council doesn’t trust the hospital’s hardworking committee or its consultants. Or their judgment. Three out four local municipalities have supported them, just not Collingwood.

Okay, sure, we know that this council loves to turn its thinking caps over to outsiders and staff so they can avoid making a decision, and when pressured for one like to scurry behind closed doors to avoid public scrutiny. And given the set of skills, the knowledge base and the general aptitude towards learning exhibited by The Block, there is not one among them experienced enough to read, assess and comment on a peer review with any competence. Even if it were written in crayon.

But the hospital is not within council’s jurisdiction. The Ministry of Health will have, as Vincent notes, “30 staff analyzing the information in the submission.” Why add another time-slowing, expensive layer of bureaucracy and red tape to the process?

And why not get the documents and read them first, before asking for a peer review? Maybe all of your questions would be answered by simply reading them yourself. Oh, I forgot. That requires effort and thought. Council isn’t paid to think.

Well, perhaps the real reason lies in the second part. There might be a hidden motive at work. Who will do the review?

As noted above, this council is passionate about hiring little one- and two-person, out-of-town consultants to tell them what they expect to hear, and for hiring lawyers with apparent (and significant) conflicts of interest to advise them. Buddies who, rumour suggests, may even be connected by personal, business or even family ties. And at 1:35:05, Deputy Mayor Saunderson speaks of talking to “our” (i.e. The Block’s) consultants, even before the vote has been taken to ask for a peer review. This was probably already decided in secret long ago.

So the real reason may simply be to give their friends more money. Taxpayers’ money, of course, as Vincent rightly points out. Anyone else feel there are personal agendas at work here?

Some councillors and staff secretly cobbled together a list of concerns (presented at the probably illegal Aug. 8 in camera meeting) about the site proposal. How did they come up with their questions without council or public input? These were sent to the committee, demanding answers. I’m told the committee supplied written answers to the town, but apparently council never received them until after Monday’s meeting. When did staff receive them and why weren’t they forwarded?

In the paper, it appears council didn’t know the answers had arrived. As Councillor Doherty commented (at 1:18:30 in the video):

“I’m a little disappointed that we as council have expressed any number of concerns from a planning, social, economic and provincial policy statement standpoint about a personal preference for redevelopment on the current site,” said Coun. Deb Doherty. “I don’t believe you have answered those questions. This is something, I for one, would like to see a thorough analysis and the reasons why this proposal is being put forward.”

She said that after the 50-minute-long presentation during which the committee outlined the reasons for their choice in gret detail. Maybe she was distracted during it and didn’t pay attention. But are “personal preferences” (in the video she says “our” personal preference) relevant to a decision that affects the whole community?

She adds (at 1:19:15) “Right now, it’s not falling with our concerns (sic).” Our? Not the community’s – she’s obviously referring to The Block and their little cabal of supporters. Certainly she doesn’t mean the local doctors of whom, it is noted in the presentation, 84% support the Poplar Sideroad location (1:22:20).

DilbertAnd is Doherty – or any other Council member – qualified in any way to assess a “thorough analysis” of something this complex? Keep in mind that this council cancelled its subscription to Municipal World magazine in its first month to avoid getting any sort of advice or analysis they didn’t order in advance, and have refused to examine the complete budget twice before voting on it… Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot that The Block already knows everything and they don’t need no education (just another brick in the wall…)

Yes, personal preferences matter to The Block. For them it’s all about themselves. They are the consummate municipal elitists looking out for number one. Their personal preferences drive policy and votes. In fact they override any consideration about the greater good. And, of course, they want to please the “citizens’ group” that appears to consist solely of several staunch Block supporters. Solidarity, keep the faith, and all that. After all, there aren’t a lot of other locals left who support them these days. Gotta dance with the folks that brung ya.

The group gets to weigh in after the hospital (at 1:25:35). Bruce Clark claims to represent a “community committee of concerned citizens” – but it was the first time I or others I’ve spoken to since had heard about them (although they appeared in a delegation on May 31).

Their website claims “Collingwood Town Council wants the hospital to remain where it is.” True to a point: council passed a motion supporting redevelopment on the current site June 9, 2016, without any public consultation or input.

However, I can find no record of a prior public discussion by council about the redevelopment, or any notice of motion, so how was this collective opinion reached? That motion came the next meeting after The Block’s friends and supporters (aka the “citizens’ group”) made its presentation to council damning the hospital board for thinking of moving, and demanding council support the group’s ideas. And, too, that earlier motion came before the facilities committee made its final recommendations or presented its arguments for the Poplar Sideroad site.**

In fact, the pseudo-citizens’ group’s website immediately crowed about the result:

On Monday evening, Aug. 29, Collingwood Town Council turned down a request from the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital to support the hospital’s plan for redevelopment. Council seems strongly in favour of redeveloping the existing site – in fact it passed a motion to that effect on June 9 – rather than moving the hospital to Poplar Sideroad… The Collingwood Town Council has taken a good strong position on this issue and we are pleased with where the issue now stands.

Ah well, what are mouthpieces for if not to sing your praises? So get used to the idea that our hospital may end up in Wasaga Beach in the future. With the sort of friends The Block has, and needs to appease, the hospital surely doesn’t need enemies.

At 1:26:55, Clark says,

For all public institutions, transparency is vitally important. Having all matters aired in a public forum is the best way to ensure that we arrive at the best possible result for this vital public institution. This cannot be accomplished by having a group of well-meaning individuals making the decisions in private and sharing only what information they deem important to share.

Boy, that must have had The Most Secretive Council Ever squirming in their seats. That is EXACTLY how The Block has handled all of its discussions, decisions and information sharing about our airport, our water service, our electrical utility, Collus-PowerStream’s shared services, and even our hospital. He could as easily be chastising THEM! The irony just drips off those words.

Back to the video. After the lengthy and comprehensive deputation, councillors ask questions (stating at 1:14:00) starting with Councillor “Sponge Bob” Madigan commenting that he “understands the regional aspect” of the hospital and “I appreciate it.”

Well, too bad you didn’t understand the regional aspect of our airport or Collus-PowerStream, two of the The Block’s previous victims this term. The G&M appears to be the third.

After a little self-aggrandizing, at 1:14:50 he asks whether the costs at all potential sites is the same (~$400 million).

David Finbow, board member and chair of the facilities committee explains that all sites are approximately the same, with the current site at the highest end of the range, but admits they are “comparable.”

Madigan – playing to the audience – then demands to see the studies because as “the stewards of Collingwood, we need to have answers for the people who ask us.” Which is amusing in that Block members have collectively, steadfastly refused to be educated about pretty much everything else this term. They replaced the experienced professionals on our own utility boards with inexperienced politicians and staff to avoid having such answers in those sectors. So why is this is different? Oh yes, there’s an audience…

Tom Vincent concluded his letter by saying,

It is time for council to fully support the hospital board with its application, regardless of the location.

The decision will rest in the ministry’s hands, but imagine how they will react: of the three potential sites, two are the source of community dissension and conflict from their own host town. But the third – Wasaga Beach – seems untroubled by such contention. It will sure look like a good, non-political choice to ministry bureaucrats.

Collingwood burns while our council Neroes fiddle. What a disaster this term has been. Collingwood and our hospital deserve better.
Ah, the irony

* The Enterprise-Bulletin didn’t put its coverage online; however, it is in the print version. Judging by the number of papers I see still lying in ditches and driveways, that doesn’t get read very much. Perhaps because it is written in the sort of tortured, diffuse, rambling prose we’ve come to expect from the EB. But I note that neither paper asked the telling question, “What happens if council screws this up?”

** The group’s website notes:

Do we really need a gigantic hospital like those in Barrie or Owen Sound? NO! The Ministry of Health has a mandate to “Continue to expand home and community care to ensure that people receive care as close to home as possible,” but it has funded many large new hospitals on the edge of communities.

Spending a lot of money on bricks and mortar means less money for nurses, orderlies, doctors, cleaners and other staff. The current funding formula of the province has been stressful for Collingwood and other smaller hospitals. A new formula is needed that puts more money into staffing and less into large new buildings.

Which is pretty amusing, given that similar arguments were voiced last term – do we really need a gigantic recreation facility… spending a lot of money on bricks and mortar means less money for staff… and yet Saunderson and his minions argued precisely the opposite: we NEEDED a grandiose facility with acres of parking and lots of bricks and mortar (at taxpayer expense, of course). And here they are fighting against that very thing: more bricks and mortar are evil. Ah, the joys of hypocrisy. But of course this is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do group.

But let me correct a misunderstanding: the building costs are not related to the operating costs. The Ministry of Health provides the annual operating budget. Redevelopment will be funded separately, by the MoH and potentially other ministries (if any of it fits their criteria, e.g. infrastructure). And as the presentation noted, there will be expanded services that mean increased staff.

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  1. I forgot to emphasize that the motion was read and voted upon, although it was not on the agenda. Nor was it presented as a notice of motion at a previous meeting.

    As I understand it, this is illegal: council would first have to have voted to waive notice before voting on it. Which wasn’t done.

    But heck, it’s only the law. The Block doesn’t give a damn about laws, any more than they care about ethics or the greater good. They do what they want and laws be damned.

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