Carrier calls for lobbyist registrar, Gardhouse for ‘sibling’ change to ethics code
OPP investigation, casino, debt, recreational facilities top of mind at Collingwood meeting
By Kate Harries AWARE News Network
The yet-to-be completed Ontario Provincial Police investigation into allegations of corruption at town hall has, in the words of one of the mayoral candidates, left “a stain on Collingwood’s reputation.”
A stain that prompted the two mayoral challengers at an October 1 all-candidates’ meeting to call for changes in process. Incumbent Sandra Cooper, meanwhile, maintained that she remains in the dark regarding the nature of the allegations and suggested her opponents had more information than she does.
Former mayor Chris Carrier (he left the municipal scene to run for the federal Conservative nomination but was foiled by Kellie Leitch, who had the backing of Prime Minister Stephen Harper) called for the creation of a lobbyist registrar “so that you know which development groups and which people are speaking to whom.”
This is a position AWARE Simcoe has been promoting for all municipalities, and a question on the issue is part of the survey the group has distributed to candidates across the coiunty.
Councillor Joe Gardhouse said that if elected mayor, he would amend the town’s code of ethics to add siblings as family members whose interests would be considered on matters of conflict. Presently elected officials only have to declare a conflict when considering matters involving a spouse, parent or child.
The role of the mayor’s brother, former Liberal MP and high-profile lobbyist Paul Bonwick, was cited as a concern when the OPP probe first came to light in March, 2013.
Other issues of high interest included the casino, the town’s debt load and its recreational facilities.
Here’s some of what was said (Video of meeting posted at Big ScreenFX)
Gardhouse – It’s been said that politicians come and go and that’s okay because they leave behind a secure town administration carrying out day-to-day duties. In Collingwood’s case we’ve earned the reputation of keeping our polticins and the job of the CAO is considered a part-time position. Since 2000, we’ve burned through seven CAOs and council will continue to provide this instability within the corporation until the head of council accepts the fact that these professional administrators are an asset to the municipality, to be challenged and utlilized, not to be regarded as a annoyance to our personal agendas. You deserve better.
The number 1 issue in this election is governance, and if you need proof of that, the number 2 issue is the OPP investigation, and it’s brought the number 1 issue to the forefront. No matter what the outcome of this investigation, your new mayor and council will need to recognize there are lessons to be learned from the stain on Collingwood’s reputation. I introduced the first remedy to council in hiring a municipal integrity commissioner to provide guidance to council and the public regarding questions of process and conflict of interest. I will further introduce an amendment to council’s code of ethics to include siblings as persons with conflict. You deserve better
The OPP investigation
Cooper – I am very pleased that I have an opportunity to lend clarity to this situation once again. When I learned the OPP investigation 18 months ago was happening I immediately contacted them and I assured the officers that they would have my total cooperation as well as of staff for the Town of Collingwood. I sent an email to staff as well directing them to support in any way the OPP. As of today I have not been contacted by the OPP, I have not been informed of the allegations that were levelled nor am I aware who made these allegations. The question about background related to this investigation perhaps may be better directed to my fellow candidates. Last week, both Chris and Joe had referenced they had knowledge of the OPP investigation right from the beginning. That said, both stated that they had participated in lengthy interviews when the investigation began 18 months ago. I’m not sure if this sounds familiar but a very similar situation occurred about nine years ago when my opponent requested a full OPP investigation into the conduct of the mayor and council of that day. It is interesting to note that the OPP, after a lengthy investigation, determined that the allegations were – and I quote – frivolous and without substance. My pledge and my commitment is simple – I will continue to act in an honest and straightforward manner and I would never mislead my fellow councillors and staff and most importantly you…
Gardhouse – When I first became aware about the OPP investigation I took the pro-active approach, and as far as I’m concerned, it was the leadership approach, I contacted the OPP and offered my assistance if they wanted to interview me and talk to me regarding anything that would help their investigation – after all this was my council. I did have an interview with the OPP and the rest is history.
Carrier – Just to clear the record, nine years ago, I did not contact the OPP, what I did do is bring a motion to the table asking for a judicial inquiry so we could learn from the process that had led us to those mistakes at the time. I was not part of any group or anything that went to the OPP asking for that investigation and Sandra, you can retract that at some point in the future. I would ask that council bring forward a policy to create a lobbyist registrar so that you know which development groups and which people are speaking to whom.
Carrier – The town has approximately $41 million in debenture and debt yet to be debentures, and it has another $10 million of internal borrowing. For example the 10th line properties that were spoken about earlier were purchased in 2012 for $2.3 million and the monies to buy that property were borrowed from the wastewater reserve so if we want to do wastewater projects it’s $2.3 million short right now because we borrowed it to do something else. At some point we’re going to have to either replace it or forgive it – but somebody’s going to get stuck with it – I think I’m looking at them right now.
Cooper – I think one of the issues I’m most proud of in terms of this council’s accomplishment. I have emails and I think everyone’s seen them as well as a report from our independent auditor providing a clear unbiased update of the status of our finances… Council has reduced our debt by approximately $9. million over the past four years, the numbers speak for themselves. When we took office we were $46.1 and now we have paid down the debt close to $9 million.
Gardhouse – I think I’m the only politician in Collingwood since 2010 who has never thrown out that debt number and the reason why is because that debt number no matter where you peg it or how you spin it has absolutely nothing to do by itself out of context… The real live number to the taxpayer is this. Your total debt represents a certain percentage of your taxes to service that debt. Right now it’s about 11 per cent. The province caps it at 25 per cent, panic mode is probably 15 per cent. It is high and yes that debt number has come down but to throw these numbers around out of context is completely irresponsible.
Recreation and sport
Saunderson – We had a plan in Central Park and this council chose to spin it as a $35 million or nothing proposition, which wasn’t the case. They never looked at any kind of funding model, funding opportunities, phasing in the program or any type of partnership. It is critical though what recreational facilities we do have moving forward, we have to make full use of the facilities we have and we need to partner and work with our user groups to do that effectively. And with the legacy fund from the Ontario Winter Games in 2012 we’re setting up a sport policy group to look at opportunities to create a sport council and bring user groups together. User groups, whether they be arts and culture, sports and recreation, they’re stronger together. We have in Collingwood a silo’d effect wihere groups operate in isolation and they work very hard to keep and maintain what they’ve put together over the years. That’s not a workable model… As a two-time Olympian, I’m a huge supporter of sport and recreation. It builds characater, it teaches life lessons and we need to make sure that our community health is an active and vibrant concern for all ages as we start to attract an aging demographic. These are people who have come here to enjoy our four-seasons play and recreation and all our physical assets in the area and we need to work together with the community to maximize that.
Lloyd – The Central Park proposal – well, ladies and gentlemen, we couldn’t afford what was being proposed. We did the best we could, we built a new arena, we did the pool, and now we’re refurbishing the Eddie Bush arena. Interestingly enough, I believe that we have to have more ball diamonds in the community. As such, we removed one ball diamond, the least utilized one that was at Central Park, to build a new arena. The original proposal was to remove all of them, we only removed one.
Saunderson – Rick, you’ve made much of your financial wisdom in moving forward with the Sprung structures and you introduced the concept on July 16 of 2012 asking staff to report back on August 27th. You asked for them to look at a membrane structure to cover the outdoor rink and the outdoor pool. They came back on August 27 with two facilities, one covering the outdoor pool and one building a new single-pad arena. I’d like you to tell this crowd what due diligence you went through in the six-week period of time from proposing staff look at this to putting it forward to a vote for $11.2 million on a sole-source deal.
Lloyd – If you’ve visited the facilities – I don’t know if anybody’s been in the arena or the pool, they’re awesome and they’re being well-attended. Yes, I did bring it to staff as an idea because I knew that the Central Park proposal was going to be a failure. There was no way we could spend $25 (million), $35 (million), whatever the amont of money was going to build this facility. It was an alternative. So of course I brought it to staff to look at and bring back to council. That was my due diligence. It was left to staff, as it should be, to look into it and report back and the report they brought back to council was very positive. Council as a whole voted on it and for the arena there was an eight for it and one vote against it – the democratic process was done very well – and for the pool there was seven for it and two against it… they’re just world class facilities and doing very well and it’s something we could afford…. The kids are enjoying them and so are the seniors.
Saunderson – And while you’re at these facilities, ask yourself why it is that the pool was 30 per cent over budget on a fixed price turnkey contract. From $3.2 to $4.2 million to get the pool you have today. Ask yourself how it is that we now have costs approaching $15 million on those rinks and pool, why it is that we’ve now committed to spending $500,000 to the Eddie Bush and an additional 4 million to bring it up to code over the next five to 10 years. Ask yourself why we’ve just invested $1 million on the curling club. The reality is that when you add those numbers together we’re at $20 million. It’s too bad we couldn’t afford $25 (million).
Lloyd – This council basically said no to a slot barn. We didn’t want a facility that wasn’t going to be something that we could be proud of in our community. We would be interested in having a casino located in Collingwood with a theatre, something for the arts groups to function, there are a lot of positives.… One of the concerns we had with the OLG, they would be locating in their words a casino either in Wasaga Beach or the Town of Collingwood so we could be getting something on our border in Wasaga Beach and not getting the revenue or we could have it in our border and we would be getting the revenue… Collingwood is in the running, the same as Wasaga Beach but we’re a long ways, it’s not a done deal yet.
Saunderson – Well this to me is an issue that reflects improper process. This was an issue that was voted on and turned down initially. It came back on the agenda without ever addressing the initial decision, or revoking that. There were presentations that were made under the guise of staff reports where there was an MGM lobbyist addressing council. I think that’s completely inappropriate. I think the process was flawed and the town has been left in a bit of disarray on this issue. Personally, I am not pro a casino. I think the social ills outweigh the benefits. That said, if somebody comes to the table with a business plan and it goes out to the community, and there is support, and these are sustainable, workable jobs that are going to help us in the future, then it’s an issue that needs to be decided by council.
Gardhouse – I have a question for the mayor… when the first casino presentation was made by OLG you and the deputy mayor left that meeting and announced to the world that you would fully support a casino at Wasaga Beach. And you did that without consultation of the public of the Town of Collingwood or the councillors of the Town of Collingwood, and so you made a deal with Cal that it would go to the Beach at that time. Would you please explain what you were doing?
Cooper – There was an invitation by Mayor Patterson to the four municipalities that were a part of the provincial designation of having a slot casino in their municipality. So it was four mayors, four deputy mayors invited by the mayor of Wasaga Beach, I didn’t tell him who to invite or not to invite, certainly at oor council table it was voted on,it was a 5-4 vote against slot casinos in Collingwood… It was a discussion, looking at a slot barn that likely it would be best suited in Wasaga Beach and not in Collingwood…
Gardhouse – You made a backroom deal with Cal Patterson to have the casino go to Wasaga Beach right from the very start without consultation of council and the public. And for that reason if I am mayor in this next term we are resetting the whole casino question, we’re doing it for four main reasons – number 1 the whole parameters of the setup from OLG has changed, number 2 you’re going to have a new council, number 3 as reported by the CBC it is part of the OPP investigation, and that like any other issue will be completely reset in this new council.
Carrier – Just two points of clarification, the motion that was defeated was that Collingwood inform OLG of its interest on housing a gaming site within the municipality… It doesn’t say slot barn, it doesn’t say grand resort, it says a gaming site. Secondly, I do agree that our relationship with Wasaga Beach has been harmed because their politicians are telling me that, and some of their candidates are saying that if the casino comes to Wasaga Beach, the revenue sharing deal proposed for the Town of Collingwood is dead because of what occurred, what they feel is a backroom stab in the back from the current council.
Gardhouse – My question is for Chris – it’s been covered in the press and you’ve alluded to it in your speeches – your difficulty in chairing council meetings in a timely fashion, sometimes taking five or six hours, as a matter of fact your council actually had to pass a motion to put a time limit on your meetings of 11 o’clock.. what steps will you be taking to improve this important duty
Carrier – The procedural bylaw is the one that has the time limits for the council meetings. It wasn’t us. It’s there. What will I do to improve it? It really is going to depend on who is sitting around the table and what they would like to speak to. If they follow the rules of the procedural bylaw, they’re allowed to debate and I much prefer the debate occurs in the council meeting on television in front of the public than in coffee shops and barbecues and who knows where else. I’ve looked at agendas that I had anticipated lasting three hours by council and the meetings haven’t lasted 22 minutes. It is shocking to me that some of the decisions that are before us, that are costing millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars, that really affects our daily lives, are not being debated in front of us. So I’m quite pleased that the debates did occur in front of the public, that’s not something I’m going to apologize for or look to correct. Do I wish there were nights that I went home earlier? You bet, I love my wife, I wish I’d been home earlier, but it’s a situation where you follow the rules, you follow the process and if your colleagues are following it, then the time is what the time is.