"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Wednesday 31 December 2008


Hours remain of the old year. Knitting on the needles must be finished. Every corner of the house must be clear and clean as a whistle. Copper and brass must be polished and floors shining. In the past, there were not many corners or cupboards or much of anything else for that matter. But homemade wine, fruitcake, shortbread and being ready for the clock to strike at midnight filled the day with a sense of exhilaration and expectation.

Five years of war interrupted the age-old tradition. I left Scotland a couple of years after. Christmas was the mid-winter festival in England. For one reason or another New Year got short shrift in my house but projects were completed, the house was ready and shortbread fruitcake and suitable libations were on hand.

When the media took on a more prominent role in public affairs, looking back on the year's happenings and outstanding individuals featured in the news became an annual event. The media has the advantage of selecting what was meaningful and what was not.

Experience is undoubtedly a factor in my judgement but it's hard to see much positive in any review of 2008. Without doubt, the American Presidential election came out front and foremost. The entire world waited to see how events would unfold. It was history.

John McCain did not acquit himself in the campaign. One wonders, at a time that called for the best he had to offer, how did that man last as long in American politics? Did he lose his judgement overnight or was its absence obscured by the image of his "heroism"? How could a person of such limitation arrive at a time and place on the world stage with so little sense of what the task required?

Barack Obama on the other hand, was remarkably successful. So much so he seemed to be walking on water. He attained with limited background, the most powerful office in the world at a time when problems are as many and as bad as they could be. He has created great expectations. There is no room for hesitation let alone a false step.

So while the drama plays out on the world stage, at home we finish the knitting, clean every corner, polish the copper and brass to gleam in the flickering firelight. We clear out the rummage from the old year and cheerfully wish each other "All The Best in the New."

All we have to go on is hope, good cheer and being ready. Oddly enough, it seems to be enough.

Friday 19 December 2008

Code of Ethics

The Code of Conduct is in place. There appears to be a glimmer of understanding it is not the weapon hoped for. The process is straightforward but not simple. The cost is an annual retainer plus actual time spent dealing with a complaint at a rate commensurate with legal fees. We have not yet seen an agreement. No estimates are available. Suffice to say, it will not be cheap and whoever files a complaint will be responsible for the extra burden on the taxpayer.

The first requirement is for a complainant to sit down with the person complained against to discuss the complaint. The response may be an apology - or not. If not, the complainant must submit the complaint in writing, accompanied by an affidavit, to the Integrity Commissioner.

The Commissioner will decide if the matter is within his mandate. If so, the alleged offender is given ten days to respond to the written complaint.

Then complainant is required to respond in writing to the response within ten days of receiving it.

The person complaining is advised to obtain legal advice before making an allegation of a conflict of interest. I fancy it would be wise to consult with a solicitor before making any allegation of bad conduct against an elected official. Written allegations of wrongdoing could well be harmful to a person's character and reputation. It is unwise without giving serious consideration to potential consequences. Laws of Libel and Slander come to mind. Being complained about could very well become a complaint against a complainant.

Section 2 of the Code deals with Confidentiality. Breach of Confidentiality was the reason given for retaining George Rust-D’Eye to “investigate” a leak. The definition in The Code carries an interesting qualification - “If disclosed, could result in loss or damage to the Corporation.”

That phrase is a key distinction. I previously took up the question with our former Director of Corporate Affairs. More than once. What responsibility does a councillor have to keep decisions made behind closed doors secret, which do not cause “harm or loss to the Corporation”? The non- answer was, “That's a good question, Evelyn” Never fear, it is now stated in the Code. Stuff can only be kept secret if.it may cause harm or loss to the Corporation. I doubt that can be interpreted to cover the collective posteriors of elected or appointed officials.

Section 3 deals with Communications and Media relations. It states, “Members of council will accurately and adequately communicate the attitudes and decisions of council even if they disagree with the majority.” Now there's a tricky situation. My colleagues are not likely to appreciate my conjecture about why they made a particular decision .. I believe Rules of Order prohibit a councillor from interpreting another's reason. It might be uncomplimentary and that's a no-no.

Section 4 states, “Members of Council shall acknowledge and respect that staff work for the Town of Aurora as a corporate body and are responsible for making recommendations that reflect their professional expertise and corporate objectives without undue influence from any individual member.” There's more along those lines. It has a hollow ring considering events throughout this term of council.

How The Code might evolve from this point on could be very interesting.

Sunday 7 December 2008

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen..Let Nothing Ye Dismay

Jag Baduria is a name some readers may re-call. He was elected as a Liberal to Jean Chretien's government from a Markham riding. Certain embarrassing factors emerged later. Furious voters demanded he be unseated and a new election held. Instead he was expelled from the Liberal Party and isolated in Parliament.

In times past, a member so disgraced would automatically resign his seat. Our culture however continues to evolve and traditions fall by the wayside. Jag Baduria stayed put until the end of the term.

When he was expelled from the party a couple of Liberal MPs of colour accused their party of racial bias. He sought the nomination a second time. He still had supporters.

Comments to the Blog indicate dissatisfaction in Aurora with the state of things. People keep asking what can be done. The simple answer is - NOTHING - until the next opportunity to cast a vote.

No recommendation will be forthcoming from the provincial government to change a decision made by the voters in a duly certified election. We do not live in a Banana Republic.

In the face of lost confidence, a provincial or federal government is compelled to resign or, to avoid an election on top of an election, hand over to a majority coalition. This week in Ottawa, Prime Minister Harper had to ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament to avoid a confidence vote. It's only a stay of execution Either he learns to consult with her Majesty's Loyal Oppositions to ensure support for his policies or his fate will be sealed in January. Either way, he has lost face. His leadership days are numbered.

There is no forgiveness in politics. The game is played hard and for keeps. Every play is critical and chancy. It is not for neophytes , struggling intellects or namby-pamby personnas..

Joe Clark will forever be known as the shortest-serving Prime Minister, because he presented his first budget without ensuring enough government members were in their seats to support it. They had barely warmed the benches. The Liberal opposition, doing what an opposition is supposed to do, spotted the gaffe, called in their forces and the Clarke government was history. A new election was held and Liberals won again.

And so it goes.... Things used to be better at the municipal level. We elect nine people hopefully with independent judgement. We are not controlled by party discipline. Because we live among the people who elect us, communication flows.. Even easier now with Blog. If councillors have aspirations, it is wise to listen to tax-payers and be able to justify decisions. Our biggest current problem is the length of the term of office.

Our present situation dispels all logic. In the last election, we had several coalitions intent on electing candidates who would best serve their separate interests. The Coalition of Ratepayers was organised by Susan Walmer, campaign manager for mayoralty candidate Phyllis Morris. The election produced a majority block of councillors beholden to their leader. The Mayor did not win a majority at the polls but still fails to recognise the handicap.

Rampant power rests in the hands of one individual. There are no checks or balances, no rules; no separation between administrative authority and political imperative; no shame; no conscience; no sense of fairness or accountability; no perception of consequences and no relief for two more years. The price paid will be high.

Friday 5 December 2008

'Tis the Season!

In the little town of Aurora, stars on the Christmas tree lit up on Wednesday evening. Every year is more exciting than the last. The Salvation Army came with their band and we all sang carols for an hour.

Hot chocolate was served from the Sally Ann trailer. In the town hall, children made decorations for the tree. After the lights came on they climbed the stone wall and hung them on the branches.

Rosy-cheeked babies in strollers laughed and clapped hands with glee and called out to Santa. The Town Crier in his red and black medieval garb, vellum scroll and brass bell welcomed the season with loud acclaim.

Barbara Stoecklin looking every inch Mrs. Santa in her red mob cap, shiny gold rimmed glasses, sparkling eyes and beaming smile, invited the children to the Seniors’ Centre for freshly baked gingerbread and a reading of The Christmas Story.

Cars were parked as far as the eye could see on both sides of John West Way. The children were small, their parents young. Everything was exactly as it should be. The Sally Ann Kettle hung in a prominent place to gather funds for a kindly cause.

To see the Town Hall fullfill its every promises would have warmed former Mayor John West's heart. Grace Marsh, chairman of the initial T.O.A.S.T. committee would have shared his satisfaction in the super planning for the smallest among us.

The funds to purchase and strategically plant the courtyard tree, the focus of the evening's celebration, were raised by TOAST (Town of Aurora Staff Together).

The Christmas tree was their first project. For the past fifteen years they have been making their contribution to needs as they find them. They worked with P.A.C.T. (Police and Community Together) to make the Children's Safety Village at Bruce's Mill a reality and an amazing success.

This Christmas, town employee members of the committee will shop for thirty-two Aurora children who would otherwise not have a visit from Santa. They will provide a specially trained dog for a seventeen-year old girl who suffers from epilepsy. The need was urgent and TOAST took care of it.

The largest part of their fund-raising comes from an annual auction. In 2008, it was down two thousand dollars; no doubt a reflection of hard times.

TOAST is not the only caring organization in town, but it is an example of how people in an otherwise impersonal employment situation come together to create a family environment, look out for each other and anyone else who might need their help.

Like the Christmas tree lights, the seniors’ freshly baked gingerbread, the Salvation Army band and the kettle, they cast a long shadow in the lives that they touch.

Birth of the Code of Conduct (and other stuff)

I am never surprised but always intrigued to read the Mayor's responses in the media on any town issue. Last week's quotes on Code of Conduct were no exception. There was reference to lawyer George Rust-D'Eye having been retained to “investigate” after “privileged information was made public.”

The night he was retained, Mayor Morris refused to disclose precisely why. “Ah no, Councillor Buck. You will not drag me into that” she said in answer to my respectful inquiry.

The “leak” referred to above appeared three months after a decision was made behind closed doors. Mr. Rust-D' Eye never did ask if I was the source. Neither, I believe, was The Auroran queried.

Residents may recall the news story that council refused to sell land we had for sale to York Regional Police as a site for new York Regional Police Headquarters. Even now I shudder to contemplate what we lost.

The decision was made in September, following a meeting with the Chief of Police and the Regional Chairman. In November, there had still been no disclosure. Why would a leak take three months to filter out? Why, in that time frame, had the matter not been “reported out” as required by legislation governing public decisions made behind closed doors?

Fast forward twelve months; there is still no public record of the fact Council refused to sell land at the appraised value to the Region for a Central Police headquarters.

The Region and the Regional Police Department knew the facts. Why should it surprise anyone a story like that might be the talk of the town and eventually drift back to The Auroran.

From thence came an allegation of “a leak of privileged information.” The Mayor retained legal counsel to “investigate”. By -the-by we have no reason to believe the action was in accordance with Administrative Policy No. 50, the Town's Procurement Policy which governs how public funds shall be expended.

The night the decision was made not to sell the land the vote was four to three to direct the CAO to continue discussions leading to a sale. One councillor was absent. The Mayor voted against and created a tie thereby defeating the resolution.

Invariably, when an issue emerges which may reflect unfavourably on the Mayor and her loyal band, shouts of Mayor-Bashing are heard throughout the land. Lawyers are retained and the hunt is on to catch the dastardly villain who has failed to act with proper decorum and discretion. The focus of attention is redirected.

As a consequence, we now have a Code of Conduct. Staff spent time to research and write it. According to the Mayor, we spent an additional $4000 for a legal review of staff's work by Mr. Rust-D'Eye. I did not know that. We have retained an Integrity Commissioner to deal with complaints against councillors. We do not know specifics of the terms of his contract. But the Mayor already has a work schedule prepared outside of the complaint process.

In summation, A leak of privileged information was presumed. We retained legal counsel to “investigate”. Results of “the investigation” were never released. We paid a legal bill of $16,200. We did release Mr. Rust D'Eye's recommendations There were two; we could appoint an executive committee composed of all councillors except one or we could adopt a Code of Conduct with penalties for non-compliance.

Council directed staff to prepare a Code of Conduct. According to the mayor we then paid George Rust-D’Eye $4000 to review the document. Presumably, with wisdom and decorum, it was read, understood, signed by eight out of nine councillors and passed into legislation as a Town Bylaw. Even though., as it eventually transpired, it contained unenforceable requirements. So much for the $4000 worth of legal review.

Now the Mayor informs us in the media more tax dollars will be expended for the Integrity Commissioner to review the document again and “make amendments if necessary”

If the Mayor's quotes are accurate, directions have already been given to the new Integrity Commissioner without the authority of council If the Commissioner is not sufficiently aware of how a municipality functions to understand that a Mayor has no authority to act except through a resolution of council, can we realistically expect improvement over our current situation?

The saga continues to unfold.