COLLINGWOOD, ONT. – Making decisions with a closed door. Unexplained conflicts of interest. Dodgy shopping habits. Deceptive and inaccurate public reporting.
These and other factors have “polluted” a billion-dollar transaction started ten years ago by civil society officials in one of Canada’s fastest-growing communities, “leading to fair and worrying public outcry,” Frank Marrocco, Ontario Chief Justice of Ontario, wrote in a recent report. for a two-year community.
“An undisclosed conflict of interest has affected many of the decisions made in these two transactions, as it does with a series of unfair and risky procurement practices,” Marrocco wrote in a summary of a 914-page report.
The city council has called for an investigation after an Ontario police investigation into the sale of more of Collwood’s electricity utility and allegations of misappropriation of funds for recreational activities. No charges have been filed and the file is still open, the OPP said this week.
Both deals were partially provided by former Collwood Mayor Sandra Cooper’s brother, Paul Bonwick, his closest adviser and former city councilor and Liberal MP as coordinator. He received more than $ 1 million in funding for negotiations, although this was not disclosed to the council or the public at the time. The investigation also examined the conduct of the former Deputy Mayor and Chief Executive Officer of the city. They have been criticized for failing to understand their obligations to avoid conflicts of interest.
The investigation, which began in 2018, includes 61 days of evidence presented by 57 witnesses, including Cooper and Bonwick. Marrocco found no criminal or civil charges, and he should not have done so. It did not find that transparency and impartiality – particularly important when governments buy taxpayers’ dollars – were in short supply during the “flawed” process and called on the province to strengthen municipal governance to ensure that the mistakes it made were not repeated.
While Bonwick maintains that he did nothing wrong, he admits that he could do better.
“Of course looking in the rearview mirror but, again, again, almost every transaction or transaction I have been involved in, in retrospect – which could have been done better, this could have been done better,” he told Isolezwe on Thursday.
Bonwick said he was not surprised by the findings, “based on lawyers who were in the room and the tone in advance, this … was viewed negatively.”
He added that as a deeply rooted person, he was trying to do what was best for Collingwood, and that the city received a “significant amount” from both programs – although no one was called to testify.
Attorney George Marron, who represented Cooper in the investigation, said he and his client were satisfied that the judge was “listening to the issues raised.”
“Her results were obtained. We have been given ample opportunity, and we are making representations and submissions on behalf of Sandra Cooper and are certainly satisfied that they have been properly considered by Judge Marrocco. ”
Many of Marrocco’s recommendations were directed to Collwood, a town of 22,000 on the south coast of Georgian Bay two hours northwest of Toronto. But the judge also said he hoped they would be useful to the entire province “in any other municipality facing similar problems.” (He also pointed out that Collwood has made “significant changes” in operations, policies and procedures since 2012 to address the issues raised in this report.)
Marrocco has admitted that he is not the first to urge the province to close the rules in by-laws governing cities and elected officials and staff.
“Many of the issues raised in my recommendations are legal, addressed in previous questions and recommendations, or have been discussed for a long time in education and professional writing and are part of ongoing efforts to improve municipal governance. Despite these efforts, similar problems arise. ”
One of his 306 recommendations calls on the province to extend the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act to increase the definition of personal or family interests that could put a politician in a conflict of interest. Apart from its name, “this Act does not provide for a complete breach of the interest code for municipal actors,” and instead lists “the least defined group of family members associated with a Council member,” Marrocco said.
While testifying in the investigation, Bonwick said he did not see any rules or regulations that required him to disclose his work to all council or city employees. He testified that he was aware that the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act did not include siblings in the list of family members who may present conflicts of interest to councilors.
However, Bonwick said in hindsight that “it was not enough just to follow a set of rules and regulations. I should have made further efforts beyond those ideas in a sincere effort to ensure confidence in the process in the public eye.
The expansion of the definition of family was the same recommendation made in the 2011 public question about municipal operations in Mississauga.
That question of interest to Mississauga then-mayor Hazel McCallion found that she had broken the law when she angrily demanded that a hotel meeting center be set up by her son’s company.
“It is clear that Mississauga, and in all Ontario municipalities, need better ethical infrastructure,” concluded Justice Douglas Cunningham, who led the investigation.
Improving accountability laws does not seem to be a growing problem for government.
In an email, Municipal Affairs and Housing spokesman Conrad Spezowka said, “We understand that the City of Collwood has initiated this investigation to address a local issue” and thanked the judge for his recommendations.
“The Conflict of Interests Act sets out rules of conduct for councilors and members of local boards and has been effective in ensuring transparency and accountability in all 444 Ontario municipalities. Government will review any recommendations made that may be in line with provincial legislation for future consideration. ”
Brian Rosborough, executive director of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), said it would take time to get past Marrocco’s 306 recommendations. “The number is related to the Ontario By-Law or the Conflict of Interest By-law. The provisions of these By-Laws must be clear, accessible and applicable to all 444 Ontario municipal governments. We welcome ideas that serve those goals, ”Rosborough said in an email.
His email noted the fact that a one-percent increase in local property tax increases $ 50,000 by almost half of Ontario’s municipal government, and that that portion has less than ten full-time employees.
Released by the media in 2015, the AMO said its board believes the provincial by-laws “are working well and no major adjustments are needed.”
Toronto’s integrity commissioner Jonathan Batty welcomed the report on Collwoodwood’s extensive investigation, “serious” and “critical”.
Among other things, it recommends that municipalities develop their Code of Conduct for Council members. It also commended the ongoing and ongoing disclosure of the financial interests of Council members to their integrity commissioner. Many recommended policies and procedures already exist in the city of Toronto, and those that do not, should be considered. ”
Toronto’s accountability makes the city a model for other municipalities based on the work of retired judge Denise Bellamy, the commissioner of two legal questions involving the city of Toronto, the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry and the Toronto External Contracts Inquiry.
In 2005, he published a four-part report covering all inquiries, which contained 244 recommendations on ethics, management, recruitment and procurement. He called for the extension of the code of conduct for municipal councilors, the hiring of a full-time or ethical staff who must report to the council and lobbyist registration center to improve transparency, the city’s response.
Bellamy appeared in the Collwood investigation last year and who’s an expert on municipal administration. Marrocco has focused heavily on his report fifteen years ago.
This week he praised Morocco for “providing a road map for the future of Collwood and other municipalities on how to prevent something like this from happening again,” he wrote in an email to Solezwe.
Not everyone is gung-ho in this report, called “Transparency and the Public Trust. Collingwood Judicial Inquiry Report. ”
Preliminary estimates put the investigation value to $ 1.6 million. That has since reached an estimated $ 7 million.
Attorney Greg Levine, a law enforcement official in Ontario, has a response. He is the integrity commissioner for several Ontario municipalities that testified to the investigation.
“It’s very easy for us to always know everything so why pay,” he wrote in an email: “Questions … provide insight into what actually happened rather than contradict what people might think or guess what happened.”