What will I do personally, to change that perception?
The main thing I can do, is lead by example. I will be as open as the public wants. I will share everything that I am allowed to share, when it comes to town business. I will work to make sure that every question is answered, by myself or the appropriate staff member. If there are untrue rumours about town business, I will put them to rest rather than have them linger.
Most importantly, any residents who are are cynical, need to tell myself and others, what they need to see to regain their trust.
Have you been interviewed by the OPP in connection with this investigation?
I was first interviewed by the OPP around April 2nd, 2013. I have regularly communicated with them since that time.
Today there seems to be an unprecedented amount of cynicism about politics and politicians, not just in Collingwood, but at every level of government – municipal, provincial and federal. I think that voters have done it to themselves – voter participation is declining, voters seem to take less interest in the candidates and the issues than they might have done a couple of decades ago. Moreover, our communities seem no longer to expect, let alone demand, accountability from our politicians – politically, ethically or morally. As a recent article in Maclean’s observed, the average voter today is too beleaguered with family, job, and domestic economics even to take an interest in their neighbours, let alone the larger issues that face our towns and our country. (Maclean’s; The End of Neighbours; August 18, 2014). Certainly this apathy was obvious at the sparsely attended local all candidates meeting for the recent provincial election.
Added to this is the sad reality, in my view anyway, that our political culture in this particular town is one of intolerance of dissent. Citizens, either individually or in advocacy groups, who take issue with Council on action or policy run the risk of being publically bullied by Council and/or by the media. It is small wonder that many Collingwood residents believe that they are powerless to influence change.
While the problem extends way beyond Collingwood, change has to start at the grass roots level, one politician at a time. We need to restore trust in our elected officials, and I believe that I can contribute to that in four ways:
1. Holding my own performance to the highest level of effort and the highest ethical and moral standards.
2. I must be seen as applying the same rules and standards equally across the community – residents, businesses and developers – no exceptions, no blatant favouritism, no back room deals.
3. I will promote more open lines of informal communication between residents and Council. I am advocating for regular “Evenings with Council” – separate from traditional Council Meetings, where the public can participate in a casual question and answer session with Council. Presently Council has a similar forum – the “Coffee with Council” events, but I would promote a forum with the same objective but more frequent and more convenient than 9am on a Saturday morning.
4. I embrace the new Governance model in principal as a more streamlined and efficient form of governance but I will be advocating for sufficient numbers of resident/stakeholders occupying meaningful roles on each committee.
All that said, the residents of this community also have a responsibility to learn about the issues, and the candidates, and then exercise their rights to vote. So far, I am not aware of any scheduled All Candidates Meetings, and I sincerely hope that thoughtful residents and stakeholders like the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Probus and/or Better Together Collingwood, will organize one or more of these events before the ballots are mailed during the first week of October. Change takes effort, and nothing changes if nothing changes.
Your second question – was I interviewed by the OPP as part of their investigation of Council? With respect, I will decline to answer this question until the investigation is finished and the results are released.
Yes I would agree that although the saying is something like “any national or provincial news coverage at all is good advertising” that particular CBC coverage should only be looked at as having a negative impact for Collingwood. Unfortunately it appears that cynicism amongst voters can be considered somewhat of a natural reaction resulting from numerous unfortunate happenings in recent months. Not just locally on the political front but both nationally and provincially due to events such as: the senate scandal, the Premier of Alberta’s resignation, the Rob Ford saga, the Mayor of Montreal’s arrest, the Mayor of London’s verdict etc. In my discussions with other townspeople, while I was making the decision about entering the election race, I too heard concern amongst many that nothing will change after the election. It appears that the trigger point to much of this attitude goes back to the form of leadership that was exhibited and the process that was used in making the major decision and implementing it in regards to the new recreation facilities. Hopefully one of the mechanisms in the new council’s term that will help change the perception, will come from me following through on my intention to always be transparent and accountable and follow proper process when fulfilling the duties and responsibilities I will have as a Town Councilor. I believe strongly that this will be a major step towards easing some of the concern that the public has. A sort of mantra of my campaign is that “together we can make a difference” so my planned approach will be that it is imperative that all of Town Council and the public work well together. Certainly Town Council must show strong and thoughtful Leadership moving forward and find other ways to eliminate the cynicism and positively engage the public as there are many opportunities for them to help us reach our goals and vision.
Regarding the second part of your question I would say that in the event of it happening I would always readily cooperate with any request by the police authority. Likewise if there ever was a situation that I thought possibly involved questionable action I would immediately make the authorities aware of the situation. I would also respect any request for confidentiality that would result from an instance. Additionally even if something occurred that I was unsure about but it brought about enough of a concern for me I can emphatically say that I would make sure to bring my concern forward to the proper person in the hierarchy of the public authority that it was applicable to. In my role as Town Councilor I will follow these same principles and hopefully that will help ensure that there is never any need for any of this type of intervention.
In summary on this subject and to address most specifically the feeling you refer to as being expressed amongst some, “that nothing will change in spite of who they vote for”, I would strongly urge everyone to please participate in the democratic process. I believe it is of utmost importance that everyone exercises their voting rights whenever the opportunity occurs. I also believe in the statement that while elections do determine who is in power, they do not determine how the power is used. Stay fully engaged! Successful municipalities are community operated so we must work together to maximize our effectiveness and ensure our long-term vibrancy.
I personally have no knowledge of the nature of the OPP investigation other than what has appeared in the media from time to time. Since it is an ongoing investigation it is not appropriate to comment or speculate at this time subject. However, to avoid any similar doubt cast on how Council business is conducted, if elected I would want to ensure that the way Council proceedings are as transparent as possible with a minimum of in camera sessions that are conducted within the guidelines set out in the Municipal Act. It is also very important that there a fair transparent tendering process for all major purchases and contracts. I would be very careful about ensuring that conflict of interest guidelines are followed to the letter of the law. I would want to hear from the public through surveys or public hearings regarding major decisions that have implications for all residents of Collingwood or particular sectors before Council votes on a particular issues. I would carefully research and consider the recommendations of the Municipal staff before deciding how to cast my vote. We have very well qualified staff and I believe Council should be able to rely more upon their expertise. Most importantly my vote will be my vote based on the research, consideration on public input and the recommendations and information provided by our well qualified staff. Lastly, I do not believe that municipal government should have anything to hide and I will do my best to ensure that transparency and integrity are key to how Council conducts itself. It is how I conduct myself personally and it is how I expect any organization I am associated with to be run.
Brian Saunderson Candidate for Deputy Mayor
There is no doubt that the fact of the investigation is a black eye for our community. I have not been interviewed by the OPP and am not familiar with the issues under investigation.
Municipal government more than any other level of government is about dialogue between the elected representatives and the constituents. Trust is fundamental to this dialogue and the fact of the OPP investigation has critically damaged the trust and the dialogue. That said, a number of key decisions by the current Council had damaged the dialogue between Council and the residents as well as the level of public trust in Council before the investigation became public.
How Council conducts itself and makes decisions is as important as the decisions it makes. Residents judge Council by the transparency of its decision making processes and the soundness of the decisions it makes – these two aspects are an inseparable part of Council’s performance.
The next Council needs to make transparency a priority. It needs to ensure its processes are open and accessible to the public and that Council holds itself accountable to the public for its actions. This includes engaging the public in the strategic planning process to chart the future of our community, adopting a robust Code of Conduct which includes sanctions for contravention, investigate a lobbyist registry to track municipal business dealings, adopt a more comprehensive and robust procurement policy to prohibit sole sourcing of all large contracts, and make public input processes more accessible (ie. remove any pre-screeng of deputation to Council). The fact of the matter is that process is important and to open the doors to our local government we must ensure we have the processes in place to do that.
It is my intention to work with the next Council to put these processes in place.
Joe Gardhouse Candidate for Mayor
Did not respond to this question.