On the one-year anniversary of the final report of the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry, the town’s top staff announced more than two-thirds of the changes recommended by the commissioner are complete.
Collingwood’s Judicial Inquiry came to a close with a final report from the commissioner published Nov. 2, 2020.
Today, the town has completed 215 of the 306 recommendations in the report, according to CAO Sonya Skinner.
One of those recommendations was achieved as Skinner delivered a public update one year after the inquiry concluded – a public update one year after the inquiry’s findings were released was the 306th recommendation.
“We have made a commitment to achieving absolutely 100 per cent of the full value we can from the investment that our municipality has made in this judicial inquiry including the implementation of as many recommendations as possible,” said Skinner at a strategic initiatives committee meeting Nov. 10, 2021.
She noted the commissioner of the inquiry, now-retired Justice Frank Marrocco, stated in his final recommendations that public trust had eroded and the way back would require a commitment to change.
“I think that we on staff, and I would venture to say on the council side, in the past year have done an exceptional amount of work to make that commitment to change and I do believe that we’ve moved many steps in the right direction,” said Skinner.
Included in the 215 items now marked as complete are at least 19 recommendations focused on provincial legislation. Skinner said they were checked off because Collingwood staff and the mayor and/or deputy mayor had meetings with provincial staff and legislators to raise the recommendations.
By the end of the year, staff plan to address 11 more of the recommendations through a procurement bylaw update coming to council this November.
Some of the main changes made as a result of the inquiry report include:
- Implementing a whistleblower policy for staff
- A new code of conduct for Collingwood council members as well as members of committees and local boards. There were multiple recommendations from the inquiry on what should be included in the code of conduct
- Hiring the services of an integrity commissioner who is also responsible for the role of lobbyist registrar. The inquiry recommended a registry to track all lobbying activity and a public listing of lobbyists. The town already had a lobbyist registry in place before the final recommendations were made, but has since made tweaks to the process based on the commissioner’s report. The town did pay for integrity commissioner services prior to the inquiry report being released.
- Hiring a fairness monitor to oversee the town’s purchases.
- You can read the full list of recommendations and their completion status in Skinner’s one-year report posted here.
There are two recommendations from the commissioner’s report staff suggest should not be implemented in Collingwood. Firstly, a limit on the CAO’s term to a maximum of six years, and secondly, that former council members have to wait at least a year before accepting employment related to matters they worked on while they were members of council.
Later this month, staff is bringing forward legal advice about one other recommendation, suggesting council members should disclose all private financial interests.
Another 22 recommendations are set to be complete next year, including a staff code of conduct, updates for the gift registry, and further updates to the town’s lobbyist registry.
Skinner reported in November 2020, just days after the inquiry final report was released, that more than half the recommendations were already complete or substantially complete.
She classified 141 of the 306 recommendations as complete and 63 as substantially complete.
The inquiry was called in 2018 to investigate the 50 per cent share sale of Collus electrical utility to PowerStream in 2012, and the subsequent spending of share sale proceeds on two fabric membrane structures in Collingwood.
As well, the inquiry was tasked with investigating who received money as a result of the share sale and building the recreational facilities.
Morocco said he found undisclosed conflicts, unfair procurements, and a lack of transparency.
The report addresses the “generational” personal relationships between then-mayor Sandra Cooper; her brother Paul Bonwick who acted as a consultant for both PowerStream and the construction company contracted to build the recreational facilities; Ed Houghton, who held many roles in town and Collus leadership positions, and then-deputy mayor Rick Lloyd. Marrocco noted Lloyd gave Bonwick confidential, non-public town information, that Bonwick was an advisor to Cooper, and that Houghton “enjoyed unusual influence and freedom in his roles with the town and Collus corporations.”
The commissioner said the Collus Power share sale could be traced to unofficial conversations and private meetings.
He further states PowerStream was given several unfair advantages through the actions of Houghton and Bonwick.
Bonwick also received consulting fees in the sale process for both the Collus share sale and the purchase of the recreation facilities, the inquiry revealed.
Morocco concluded the way the Collus share sale was conducted was not in the town’s best interest.
Throughout the inquiry, Marrocco reminded participants and the public he was not conducting a civil or criminal trial.
Skinner revisited the point at the Wednesday meeting confirming a judicial inquiry is not meant to find misdoings or wrongdoings of individuals.
“The inquiry is meant to look at procedures and processes and how to move forward in public life and with public governance,” she said.
Following Skinner’s one-year update presentation, Mayor Brian Saunderson restated his conviction that the inquiry was necessary.
“People should understand that the events that gave rise to the inquiry were very traumatic and impactful on our community and it warranted calling out,” said Saunderson. “It is important for our residents to understand that had that not happened, that activity could have continued and we will do everything in our power to make sure that does not happen in our community.”
Councillor Mariane McLeod asked Skinner whether she thought the rules the town has now because of the inquiry recommendations would have been enough to prevent what happened during the share sale and purchase of the recreational buildings.
“I think this is a really difficult question and one that of course we struggle with every day,” said Skinner. “It very much bothers me that I went through 28 of my 32 years of public service saying that these people who are breaking the rules are a fantasy of people’s imagination and that, no, we’re just your neighbours trying to do a good job. And then I found out that wasn’t the case.” “Having the rules in place is very important, and advocating with the province to have those rules in place is also very important,” added Skinner.
The Town of Collingwood has reported the cost of the inquiry at more than $8.2 million.