Councillors bury their heads in the sand

The June 6th Regional Council meeting was a disappointment.

In spite of clear evidence that waste volumes were declining, councillors chose to attack the messengers rather than deal with the problem.

On the agenda was a motion for a debenture, the bulk of which would go to paying for the incinerator. Staff were painting this as urgent but delegations from Linda Gasser and Louis Bertrand pointed out that interest rates have been stable for a long period and were likely to stay low for a long period, hence, no urgency.

The prevailing opinion among councillors ever since Chair Anderson signed the contract with Covanta was that breaking the contract would be hpelessly expensive and they regularly asked for more definitive costs. They were always stonewalled.

However, as it turns out, the costs are all spelled out in the contract in easy to read English. Below is Article 25 of the contract which clearly states that Region can cancel at any time for any reason.

Article 27 then goes on to spell out the terms.

The costs would be basically the amount of money already spent. As the payment schedule is front end loaded, those costs would likely be less than what has already been paid which is currently $50 million - a bargain compared with spending $280 million finishing a facility that could only operate by burning potentially recyclable waste.

There are no penalty clauses. Nevertheless, councillors wanted to believe that the contract contained poison pills and over-the-top penalties ... and voted accordingly.

Councillors showed an inability to look at a legal document for what it actually said, even when shown them on a 10 ft high screen and provided in advance by email. Instead they preferred to believe the self-serving position of staff.

Another promotion perhaps

And Matt Gaskell helped that decision. Gaskell was asked by Chair Anderson to expound on the costs to cancel the contract. Well, after verbally adding everything up in his mind, he concluded that, geez, it might cost more to cancel the contract than to finish it - $300 million, maybe more.

That, of course, was what many councillors, tired of those pesky citizens who constantly reminded them about the physical and financial health of their constituents, wanted to hear.

Gaskell had been involved in writing the contract and he even intimated that certain clauses had been inserted into the contract at the Region's insistance that would make it difficult for the Region to break it. Talk about doing the devil's dirty work - assuming this was true.

And so despite 3 delegations to the contrary, Council voted NOT to seek more information and to go into hock to pay for the incinerator.

This was the second time in as many years that Gaskell's sense of hyperbole has been called into service to advance the cause of the incinerator.

In January, 2011, after Clarington Council passed a resolution asking the Region to reopen parts of the Host Community Agreement (HCA), Gaskell, who was a member of the Region's legal department at the time, fired off a letter to Clarington Council threatening the wrath of a jilted senior level of government upon the lowly citizens of Clarington. (Gaskell was acting without authorization from Regional Council which would have been the only body with the authority to launch a Regional action against Clarington.) As he did at the June 6 Council meeting, Gaskell's letter added up all the money that had been spent (and threw in the kitchen sink for good measure) and came up with a bill of $45 million - and Clarington caved.

And the postscript to that episode: Gaskell was promoted to Commissioner of Corporate Services.