The following is pertinent information from an article in this weeks Enterprise Bulletin. It supports our position that we need safeguard policies in place and more open and transparent governance in Collingwood.
................But as we are finding out in communities such as Toronto, Mississauga, Sudbury, and Collingwood, following the letter of the law is no longer good enough for citizens who want to see more transparency from their municipal governments.

In his conclusion of the inquiry into conflict of interest allegations against Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, Justice Douglas Cunningham recommended changes to that city’s code of conduct, the Conflict of Interest Act and the Municipal Act, as well as an enhanced role for an integrity commissioner.
“It is clear that Mississauga, and indeed all Ontario municipalities, requires a better ethical infrastructure,” Cunningham stated in his report. Economic transparency will serve to “protect the public interest by removing possibilities for members of council to discharge their public offices in their pursuits of private interests.”

In her report on the computer leasing scandal in Toronto, Justice Denise Bellamy wrote, “A conflict exists when an individual’s independent judgment is swayed or might be swayed from making decisions in the organization’s best interests. An apparent conflict exists when an outside observer could reasonably conclude that an individual’s judgment is or might be swayed from making decisions in the organization’s best interests.”

Justice Bellamy also pointed out that many conflicts can arise without wrongdoing, and should be considered in their broadest, possible sense. Conflicts of interest, she wrote, “extend to any interest, loyalty, concern, emotion, or other feature of a situation tending to make the individual’s judgment less reliable than it would normally be.”

So, what does this mean for Collingwood Town Council?

While we expect the OPP investigation to play itself out — if it is indeed a matter for the OPP — should there be no finding of wrongdoing, council members need to do more than sit back, wipe their collective brows, and think, “phew, dodged a bullet there.”

At the same time, we expect more of residents who are presently sitting in grim condemnation of our municipal politicians, holding up signs calling for council members to ‘resign’. The rule of law in this country is the presumption of innocence, yet some have decided to play judge, jury and executioner before the OPP has even had a chance to conduct interviews and determine whether an investigation is warranted.

One of the biggest complaints of this council is its failure to engage residents: on the future of recreation facilities, on the disbursement of the Collus funds, the sale of the grain terminals, and the reintroduction of the debate on a gambling facility.

As a community, we shouldn’t be only focused on the problems, but figuring out solutions, how to make things better, whether that be strengthening the municipality’s code of conduct, or tightening policies on procurement.

This is not a moment for council to circle the wagons, as tempting as that reaction may be. This is a time to engage the residents, honestly, openly, on how the municipal government can conduct itself in the future. Justices Bellamy and Cunningham have both provided excellent roadmaps, and this is an opportunity to learn from the pitfalls other municipalities have run into, and create a made-in-Collingwood solution that fits the needs of the community.

This is also not a time to accuse, to lay blame, to spew vitriol. Ultimately, we have to remember we all live in this community, and no one person has the right answer. But if neither side is willing to take those first steps, and continue along a course of either recrimination and/or denial, then we condemn the community to continuing this cycle of acrimony.
The question each of us now has to ask ourselves: will we stand together, and help find a solution?

Councillors are trustees of the community, and there are some in the community who feel they have breached that trust; councillors should not underestimate the level of, if not anger, then disappointment that some local residents feel. Councillors must take action to re-establish that trust relationship with the voters.

As a first step, we encourage the town to publish its code of conduct online. Only by understanding what is already in place can we begin to have discussions about where we could go.

Secondly, we recommend the Town of Collingwood approach the Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner for Ontario. That office should be able to provide the municipality with the appropriate resources.

Neighbouring municipalities — such as Barrie — maintain an Office of the Integrity Commissioner; there is no reason to reinvent the wheel.

Leave a Reply.