Guthrie’s Great Wall blocks public participation using closed-sessions meetings

By Gerry Barker

March 22, 2018

Donald Trump is still trying to get his $18 billion wall proposal to be built between Mexico and the U.S. Cam Guthrie has succeeded in erecting a wall to protect his council and city staff from public participation in city business.

He does it by calling closed-sessions of council to discuss contentious subjects and make decisions that almost all of the people know any of the outcome.

Just ask the 22 delegates who opposed the merger during the open council meeting to approve the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities last December 10.

Each delegate outlined why this was not in the best interests of the community and many requested a deferment until all the facts were known, including the final documents pertaining to the agreement.

Council, by a 10-3 majority ignored those citizen delegates. Instead they agreed with the points raised by seven especially selected Alectra delegates who offered slanted reasons to merge or approve it as it appeared unconditionally.

The structure of Guthrie’s Wall of denial

We looked up how the wall was erected initially by the former administration, starting in 2008 when council appointed Amberlea Gravel, located in London, to investigate citizen’s complaints about closed-session meetings of council. The appointment was made when former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government ordered all municipalities to appoint a closed-session investigator.

Since 2008, Amberlea Gravel, our Local Authority Services (LAS), has processed just three complaints, while being paid a retainer for nine years. The city has not revealed the cost of the retainer. Regardless, it has to be the best deal Amberlea Gravel made to bolster the privacy of council doing the public business.

Each complaint was denied or rejected.

A few years ago, the Ontario Ombudsman was given authority to act for municipalities in terms of special closed-session investigations. Today, more than half of Ontario’s 445 municipalotoes, have switched to the Ombudsman’s office to investigate closed-session council and local board meetings.

But not Guelph.

I was one of only three complainants requesting a closed-session investigation in early January 2016. I had plenty of reasons for obtaining the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed council meeting that awarded $98,202 salary increases to the four senior managers of the city.

By now most people in the city know the decision was not revealed until publication of the 2015 Sunshine list which publoshed the salaries and taxable benefits of every city employee earning $100,000 or more.

Guelph Speaks published several posts that decried this blackout decision by city council. For my trouble, I was at first threatened by one of the recipients of our largess and subsequently sued for defamation. That case is before the courts and I cannot comment further.

Four months following my request for the December 10, 2015 minutes, the special closed-session investigator ruled in favour of the city to deny the minutes of that meeting.

That is just one brick in the Guthrie Great Wall to control the public’s business and rightful interest to suit the staff and council. It’s known as shaping the message to satisfy the administration’s interests.

The council code of conduct is the second barrier to open government

Here is an excerpt published on the city website under the title: “Council Code of Conduct/Integrity Commissioner:

The Code of Conduct was adopted by Council to:

  • Establish a common basis for the ethical behaviour of Members of Council and Local Boards.
  • Increase public confidence by making a commitment to operate with integrity, justice and courtesy.
  • Note the words transparency, accountability and operating an open government are not inclded in the C of C.

I can’t make this stuff up.

In 2011, Council appointed an Integrity Commissioner to address the application of the Code of Conduct for Members of Council and Local Boards. The Integrity Commissioner has the power to deal with requests to investigate suspected contraventions of the Code of Conduct. The record shows that all requests referred to the Integrity Commissioner origubated with members of council. Council recommended the following penalties:

  • A reprimand; or
  • Suspension of the remuneration of the Council or Local Board member for a period of up to 90 days.
  • In addition to conducting formal Code of Conduct investigations, the Integrity Commissioner also serves as an advisor on appropriate conduct to individual Members of Council or Council as a whole.

It’s the ultimate muzzle on the very people we trust to serve the public’s interests. It’s yet another brick in the Guthrie Wall of denying public participation in the business of stakeholders in the community.

So, now in his sixth year as Integrity Commissioner, Robert Swazey of Caledon, is judge, jury and prosecutor in cases involving elected officials who may be accused of breaking the Code of Conduct.

It is an implied threat to any councillor who reveals the contents of a closed-session meeting. It threatens their reputation for protecting the public interests.

In just a few words, this policy was approved by council in, we believe, another closed- session. The commissioner, since 2011 has investigated three cases. His annual retainer is $5,000 and he is paid an hourly fee conducting his investigation and preparing his report.

The one case involved then Coun. Cam Guthrie, who received none of the punishment listed above. It cost the citizens $10,000. The irony of this event is suffocating in tracking the performance of the Mayor and his council.

Part two of this post follows March 24: Mayor Guthrie;s Great Wall that is locking us up.








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We have an administration more interested in protecting the staff than the interests of the citizens

By Gerry Barker

March 19, 2018

Thanks to a Municipal Freedom of Information document obtained by Tony Saxon of Guelph Today, in the past five years the city spent $4.6 million to fire or dismiss some 44 employees for a variety of reasons.

As Mr. Saxon asked: “Is it part of doing business?” General Manager of Human Resources, David Godwaldt, replied: “Yes.”

But is this only the tip of the payoff picture?

For example, it does not reflect the costs of bonuses paid to managerial staff some of whom resigned or retired. This information is still locked up in the Human Resources vault. The city takes the position that it is protecting the privacy of those former employees who left or were pushed out of their jobs.

Here is one employee, former CAO Ann Pappert, who resigned May 26, 2016. The 2016

Provincial Sunshine list reported that she received more than $263,000 plus a $6,300 taxable benefit. This was slightly more than she received in 2015 but she only worked five months in 2016.

The 2016 Sunshine List revealed her package 10 months after the fact in March 2017.

Eight months later after her May resignation, the case for wrongful dismissal of former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, was settled between the city and Mr. Poole. He originally sued the city for $1 million in damages and the settlement remains confidential. Chief Administrative Officer, Ms. Pappert originally approved firing him.

What was Poole’s terrible error after 20 years as Chief Building Inspector? Only doing his job informing the CAO that some 50 city building projects had no building permits.

It would appear that some people take their severance and disappear but only if they are earning less than $100K a year. They are able to escape any revelation of their discharge or voluntary leaving.

A cloak of secrecy

So, behind this cloak of secrecy, do the city authorities mask the reasons for the payout or the identity of who received it?

The trouble is these people receiving termination funds and benefits are public employees paid by the people and businesses. Should the public have the right to know about these payouts?

Not all terminated employees receive compensation packages.

Godwaldt said when an employee is terminated with cause, “where an employee has engaged in serious wrongdoing” such as fraud, they would not receive a severance package.

Compensation packages are accounted for financially as a contingency in the annual city budget, Godwaldt said.

He did not have any information that would compare Guelph’s totals to those of similar-sized municipalities.

Let’s examine the 2017 payout of $1,123,332 paid to nine employees. Dividing the payout by nine results in an average payout of $124,814. That seems like a large amount paid to non-identified employees.

But why those figures don’t mean spit

They all didn’t receive the $124,814. Because of the secrecy and privacy rules adapted by the administration, only those fired employees earning more than $100,000 will make the 2017 Sunshine List to be published this month.

Those citizens paying their share of taxes and user fees have only the Sunshine lists for information. Will they discover who and how much the terminated employees received for 2017? For those terminated employees who do not make the $100K public employee listing, no one will be able to access the information.

The two levels of employment complicate the process. Some 80 per cent of all city employees (excluding Police, Fire and EMS) are unionized and collectively bargain with management to determine their contracts and benefits.

The management belongs to a managerial association. This group manages terms of the compensation packages for new management employees when hired, during their employment and upon exiting the staff.

The only oversight of these compensation packages lies with the Mayor and members of council.

It has not been in the public interest to conceal and deny public participation in determining the compensation of managers.

If it weren’t for the annual Sunshine list, we would never know what our managers are earning, including salaries, promotions, and bonuses based on performance and employment benefits enhancements.

Even then we have to perform some financial Ju Jitsu by comparingn the differences of remuneration of the Sunshine employees between say, 2016 and 2917 to discover the increase.

And I have yet to see a Sunshine salary comparison decrease instead of increasing..

Looking to the civic election in October

Let’s hope the next council will include liberating information that, for too long, has been concealed from the public.

Dropping the Integrity Commissioner and the Special Investigator of closed-session meeting of council would be a good first step.

Replace them with an Auditor General who would report to the DCAO of Finance and City Council. The A-G would investigate all city operations with the aim to create efficiencies, clarity and improved performance in all city departments.

Most important, rationalize operations with a view to reduce operational overhead and rebuild the capital funding budget.




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Ontario PC’s elect Doug Ford their new leader, or did they?

By Gerry Barker

March 12, 2018

The six-week campaign by the provincial Tories to replace Patrick brown as leader turned out to be a marathon of several hours to process the result. It was Ford by a hair.

The party head honchos who created this system that included using proportional voting in which delegates had to grade each of the leadership candidates on their electronic ballot.

They allocated a points system to determine the order in which candidate received the most first choices and so on down the line. Apparently while Christine Elliott received more votes the crazy quilt system gave Doug Ford a small margin and the party executing accepted the result.

After monitoring the TV news outlets much of the afternoon, I switched to watch the hockey game and missed the final-final of this exercise in proportional voting. Why on earth did the party adopted this to select a leaders is mind-boggling.

The New Democratic Party has promoted proportional voting for some three years. Under the banner “Fair Vote,” Guelph’s NDP activist, Susan Watson, was very much involved to persuade the provincial government to adopt it in future elections.

About a year ago the Trudeau federal government that had promised election reform following its huge 2015 victory, walked away from that promise that included proportional voting.

It’s a good thing they did because we’d still be waiting for the results of the 2015 Federal Election if the proportional voting system had been in place.

So the Ontario Conservatives decided to adopt it for the Leadership Campaign.

So now we are faced with another Ford experience in the political wars. He certainly wasn’t my choice but the Tories are now stuck with him to carry the PC banner to the June 7 provincial election.

While Premier Kathleen Wynne’s poll ratings are below 20 per cent, they had to be sipping Champagne in Liberal headquarters Saturday night following the Ford victory.

Despite the absence of Patrick Brown, the PC’s are ten points ahead of the Liberals. Depending on Mr. Ford’s election agenda, plus the fact that there are many candidate vacancies in the ridings, including Guelph, there are only 11 weeks remaining to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Well, the PC’s campaign under Brown to “ Take back our Party” got their wish Saturday night.

Just think, no policies, promises, denials or positions that will effectively drop kick the Wynne Liberals out of government.

The Ford-led Tories have opportunity but the party is no Phoenix rising out of the ashes of party discord. And there is a lot of it floating among the faithful. Doubt about the outcome remains as Ms. Elliott’s team ponders a court decision as to the legitimacy of the Saturday night result.

That means that party unity may be a myth, as the divisions remain deep and disturbing.

The issue of unity was vamped by the TV folk’s ad nauseum during the long delay in announcing the outcome. You had to feel sorry for those TV news people who groped for angles while on the air waiting, waiting, waiting.

The remaining campaign with an 11 week time line will disappear fast as the three Ontario parties drive to the June 7 election day.

Pending a huge scandal, and the Grits are good at that, my prediction is a minority Liberal government that may cling to power for a year and then, away we go again to elect a new government.

Mr. Ford has to gain the approval of the PC caucus of which only two supported his candidacy. Christine Elliott on the other hand had the support of 20 members of the caucus.

Also Mr. Ford’s political experience is as a member of Toronto city council and a former candidate for Mayor. He has a steep learning curve to be effective in the Legislature and understand the rules and regulations surrounding the government of Ontario.

But this you can bet on, it will be a short-lived hot time in the Legislature between now and the dropping of the election writ in May.

Fasten your seat belts!






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Mayor Guthrie will campaign for re-election on giving away our $300 million Guelph Hydro for peanuts

By Gerry Barker

March 5, 2018

Mayor Cam Guthrie has announced he is running for mayor next October. This one time, true-blue conservative, has taken a leaf out of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s power playbook and thinks he has dumped Guelph Hydro for a few pieces of eight.

More on the “peanuts” later.

The owners of Guelph Hydro, some 55,000 customers are told the brand name “Guelph Hydro” will vanish by the end of the year.

The takeover by Alectra Utilities will present the so-called merger agreement to the Ontario Energy Board for approval later this year.

But wait! The ink isn’t dry on the two documents that ten councillors approved last December 13. True to form we still don’t know the details of the completed agreements because The Guthrie administration doesn’t like to do our business in public.

The joke is on us people. That proposal to have Guelph Hydro pay a special dividend to the city of $18.5 million is public money. It’s not Cam Guthrie’s money or his partners CAO Derrick Thomson and Hydro chair Jane Armstrong. It’s our money.

The story is that the Guthrie administration offered Alectra the money but it declined. Why endanger the deal of the century with a mere sweetener of $18.5 million when you have the whole enchilada?

Why did the Strategic Options Committee remove selling Guelph Hydro six months before the Mayor gushed that a deal was made to link up with Alectra.

At Alectra’s head office, they must have broken out the Champagne the day after the ten members of city council approved the incomplete deal. Only three members of city council were brave enough to vote against the motion. Who among this group of 13 elected comuncillors, actually listened to the 22 citizens. Most of who articulated several reasons that the deal as manufactured by city staff communications General Manager, Tara Spriggs, was not in the best interests of the citizens.

Some pleaded to delay the vote so that the public who were directly affected by the decision could more carefully consider the details.

It was clear that meeting was a set-up to guarantee council would approve it despite what the people said or expressed their opinions.

It was a well-planned ram job that I charge decided the outcome before the public meeting ever began.

The strange part is that two of the naysayer councillors, James Gordon and Phil Allt, were not favourites of mine but when the chips were on the line they and Coun. Bob Bell had the guts to say no.

The corporation taking over Guelph Hydro has a track record of buying the municipally owned hydro distribution systems including the Brampton Hydro One system, Orillia, Aurora to name a few.

So, why didn’t Alectra buy Guelph Hydro?

Because they didn’t have to. We gave it to them in return for those peanuts mentioned earlier.

Alectra promised to pay a dividend representing 60 per cent of it corporate profits with Guelph receiving a 4.36 share.

Well, it is reported that the city of Hamilton, an18 per cent shareholder in Alectra, received a dividend last year of $1.5 million. Logic will tell you that Guelph’s 4.36 per cent share of Alectra won’t pay for the postage to deliver the cheque.

Yet our city council went ahead despite the dividends of some $3.5 million sent to the city by Guelph Hydro.

Mayor Guthrie worked hard to sell this deal that was essentially smoke and mirrors. Alectra has made premises including curbing power rate increases over which it has no control. It has admitted that some 30 to 50 Hydro Staff will be severed or reassigned to another city in the Alectra system. Oh, and they promise to set up a Green Power Technology unit in Guelph that would employ 10 people.

The sad and unforgiving effect of this has yet to occur as the lawyers prepare their arguments before the Ontario Energy Board to approve the deal.

This consolidation of small to medium sized municipally-owned power distribution systems is another blunder by the Wynne Government’s attempts to increase power costs at the expense of the people who pay the bills.

Experts who agree to this terrible deal that is lop-sided, inconsiderate and just plain stupid have suckered Guelph’s council.

The worst part is that in five years, the councillorts making this decision won’t be around to witness the total loss of control of our hydro distribution system and the resulting higher operational costs.

The only creative part of this deal was the way they did it and conned a compliant council to agree to it.

The 55,000 power customers deserved better but the majority of their council didn’t care.

The fallout of this decision will instill voters with determination to vote those supporting the Alectra deal out of office, if they decide to run on this issue and their misguided support.



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Time to stop spending on the Innovation Guelph’s lust for the Reformatory Lands

By Gerry Barker

February 26, 20118

Oh, while we absorb the Mayor’s statement that our property taxes are the lowest since he became mayor, lets review the outstanding major capital projects the city council must consider.

First, after 19 years the central library project currently estimated to cost $53 million is still a figment of council’s imagination.

Next comes the South End Recreation Centre, estimated cost $63 million in which some $3.5 million has already been spent to prepare the architectural design and site preparation.

Then along came the Guelph Innovation district.

This was a dream of the former Farbridge administration that the current Guthrie administration keeps on the front burner.

This, despite the fortune of public money that has been spent already on planning, consultants, land use, function and probability.

If you wonder why the city’s operating overhead is 50 per cent higher than either Cambridge or Kitchener, this is a perfect example of irrational spending.

Tonight, council will again review the project. Once that is over it has has no title or control of the lands, no planning control or any decision regarding land usage.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Why is the city staff spending time to plan a satellite community on lands in which it has no title, no authority but a degree of chutzpah that stretches the imagination?


Because it doesn’t own the land but in the past seven years has spent public fund designing and laying out a town plan that includes zoning and types of buildings.. The Province of Ontario does own the property that includes the former reformatory complex that was closed years ago and now wants to liquidate it to recover its investment.

For some reason, that defies explanation, the city mandarins believe they will get the extensive property for nothing.

The best estimate is that the property contains more than 250 acres and is probably worth, to the province, some S25 million.

So let’s get down and dirty about this.

June 7, the provincial election will be held. Recent polls show the Liberals under Kathleen Wynne are 19 points behind the Progressive Conservatives. The NDP and Liberals are tied at 23 per cent.

The most interesting statistic is that more than 50 per cent of eligible Ontario voters would not support Ms. Wynne.

The Tories are in disarray over the former leader Patrick Brown’s alleged sexual misconduct. They are also split due to the foolish “Take back our Party” campaign that has divided core conservatives.

The Tories Hari Kari act may provide them with a margin of victory. We’ll know later in March who is elected PC leader, and the policies of the party.

Is it possible that NDP leader Andrea Howarth could pull off a “Bob Rae” and win the most support leading to a minority government?

The Ontario electorate faces a disturbing choice June 7.

Right now we don’t know whom the PC leader will be following the snap leadership convention to replace Mr. Brown who is running for his old job. In fact, at this point, I don’t know whether we have PC, NDP and Liberal candidates in Guelph. Been away for a while.

The one factor that most Ontarians know is that Kathleen Wynne is viral in terms of performance governing the province.

In this scenario, do you really believe that the Ontario government is about to give a $25 million property to the City of Guelph for nothing?

Our Mayor seems to believe this according to recent statements. He believes that giving away the infrastructure of Guelph Hydro to a corporation that offered a small minority of its shares (60 per cent), might be a case of dreaming or hallucinating.

Until the June election is decided, the government may not be ready to give away the reformatory lands, AKA the Innovation Guelph District.

Has the city made any proposals to take over the lands? Perhaps an offer? Or a share of the development profits? Or set up a 3P arrangement? That’s a Public Private Participation Project.

Don’t hold your breath on that one.

The city for eight years has tried to set up a 3P deal for the Baker Street parking lot. It’s still a parking lot.

So then council approves spending $20 million on the Wilson Street five-story Parkade. It’s not hard to figure out where that $18.5 million special dividend from Guelph Hydro is going.

When Derrick Thomson said a year ago there was a $170 million shortfall in the newly minted ten-year capital spending program, you have to ask: Where is the money for all these projects?

For the last ten years there has been a parade of financial mangers whom have been unable to stop the spending on unproductive and special interest projects that constantly drain the city’s ability to conduct its business in an orderly and common sense manner.

Mr. Guthrie is no different than the former mayor in this sense.

Two issues stick out:

His support in a closed-session meeting to approve high percentage increases to three senior managers. The other is his support of the giveaway of Guelph Hydro to Alectra. It remains the worst deal ever made by a council in the history of this city.

And that friends, is what he is going to run on.





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Spending 30 days in Muscat, Oman our adventure in the Middle East

By Gerry Barker

February 12, 2018

Muscat, Oman – Here we are 8,000 miles from Guelph in the sultanate of Oman, located at the south end of the Arabian peninsula about 150 miles south of Dubai.

We arrived here on two overnight flights and an eight-hour layover in London between flights.

We were invited to spend 30 days with our cousins who winter here in a lovely home on the edge of a cliff overlooking an Arabian sea estuary. Our cousins are Canadian expats who spend their summers in Orillia overlooking Lake Couchiching..

It has been an illuminating experience. Muscat is a modern, clean city with great highways and access. The streets are lined with trimmed shrubs and gardens of flowers, Bougainvillia everywhere in huge clumps, orange, pink and red. The buildings are cement block, smoothed with white stucco. Most are decorated with lacy ornate roofs and windows.

What I noted was there were no homeless people in the city. We toured the coastline and there are people living by the sea who do not have the modern amenities of Muscat. There is an absence of bicycles as the Omani, under the Sultan, have created a new city by world standards.

The Omani’s have few scooters and love their cars. While there are speed bumps and roundabouts, traffic moves swiftly. There are no miles-per-hour signs. The bumps control the speeds.

Our cousin, Ian Mackay, is our guide and his lengthy experience in Oman has been filled with wonderment and he took us into areas that painted a picture of this young nation.

While Muscat is a beautiful city with outstanding architecture, it is Muslim country with traditional dress prevalent with most women outside their home, wearing the black overdress called the abbeya. The men are typically dressed in an ankle length white gown. Think I know now why bicycles are not around.

We are reminded that we are guests in Oman and must dress appropriately. This past week we attended a Ballet performance by a Russian Prima Ballerina, accompanied by her husband playing the violin.

To Barbara and I, the real star was the magnificent Opera House. Walls and ceilings are carved, crystal lights everywhere, even the courtyard is white marble. The 75-year-old Sultan, is an admirer of classical music and lover of the sophisticated cultures in other parts of the world.

The Sultan owns two very large yachts, in which he has been known to have the national orchestra entertain his party during the voyage. Why two yachts? Maybe one was for the orchestra.

The Sultan came to power in 1971 when he deposed his father who was a despot, not supporting the Omani population. It was the beginning of progressive governing that has resulted in the 4.2 million Omanis‘ to enable a soaring of standard of living and lifestyle improvements in just 47 years.

It occurred with a little help producing oil.

Okay, this country is tightly controlled by the Sultan. He is revered and admire by the population for his transforming policies. He is a generous benevolent dictator who has created the modern model of an independent Arabian state.

Oman has an army, navy and air force. There is no evidence that the Jihadists are active in the country.

One small irritant, unless you are a resident for a least a year, in order to purchase alcoholic beverages, you apply for a permit. The first item is getting a sponsor. Then getting the police to verify. The liquors are in hidden locations and you are only allowed per month the allocation given to you.No, you cannot accumulate the monthly allowance.

Drink it or lose it.

Awkward, yes? Muslims don’t drink. Therefore public drunkenness is eliminated. This results in fewer alcohol-related accidents and family battles. Breaches of this and the use of drugs are harshly dealt with.

The odious comparison

Our 200 year-old city is suffering from neglect of the infrastructure that makes the city run. The city staff has indicated the cost of catching up and correcting what has been neglected will cost $500 million over the next 20 years.

Unfortunately, in the past ten years, millions has been wasted, due to appalling mismanagement by an administration that conducts most of its business in closed-sessions.

But all is not lost. Next October, the people have the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction and elect members of council who will reform the way our city is being managed and return power to the people.

Our adventure here will end March1 when we travel back to our home. We will be a little bit more appreciative of our permanent home in Guelph and our friends and neighbours.

Next task is filing our income tax and preparing for the October election. will re-engaged the first week in March.

Finally Barbara and I want to express our appreciation for the generosity and kindness of Carol and Ian Mackay for putting up with a pair of relatives.



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The slow death of newspapers and magazines results in a loss of editorial integrity burnished by technology.

By Gerry Barker

January 29, 2018

It was two years ago when the TorStar subsidiary, Metroland publishing, shut down the Guelph Mercury daily newspaper following more than 100 years of publishing. The newspaper staff was dismissed and within days the memory of the once fine small city newspaper faded to black.

Gone and forgotten

Remaining behind is the twice-weekly Guelph Tribune, a free circulation tabloid with an allocated news space ratio of about 20 per cent compared to advertising. That does not include a booming insert of advertising flyers.

At the time, the newspaper had an editorial staff of three including the editor. Doug Hallett was the chief reporter who covered the municipal political beat. He resigned last year and the Trib staff now consists of four editorial staff to cover the city of 131,000.

In an extensive review of the “Crisis in Canadian Journalism,” TorStar chairman and editorial veteran of the Toronto Star lamented how the newspaper industry was losing many reporters and editors. It was due in part to declining revenues and fierce competition from television and the social media.

I spent 23 years at the Star as a reporter, photographer, editor and assistant managing editor. It was the greatest experience of my life, working in the newsroom of the greatest newspaper that this country read daily.

The backbone of the Star editorial staff was the highly skilled and motivated reporters and editors. The saying in the business was that the Star was an editor’s paper while the Globe and Mail was a writer’s paper.

The inference is the demand by the Star’s publishers to first get the story, then make sure it’s accurate. The days I spent there were exciting and fulfilling.

The Toronto Star was the reliable crucible of Canada print journalism.

That was then and this is now

I am saddened to see the Star today dealing with diminishing advertising yet publishing great beats and investigative stories that are maintaining the high standards of editorial excellence and responsibility.

The greatest danger to the large urban newspapers in Canada is the growing presence of amateur reporters not knowing the importance of getting both sides of the story. The Internet is flooded with blogs and websites, few of which, the authors have any journalistic experience.

Journalism is frequently described as a craft. It is much more than that. It requires training, experience and dedication to participate in the production of a new product, meeting deadlines every day, six days a week.

Delivering in-depth news daily is the goal, something that is missing in today’s news gathering environment.

People want their news instantly. That’s why the cable news channels with their 24-7 political coverage are so popular. While newspapers are being forced to lay off reporters and editors, the vacuum is being filled with sloppy rubbish reporting in many cases.

TV news is now decided by stopwatch without the emphasis on filling the time slot rather than telling the full story.

That is very apparent in Guelph where the details of complex and important stories are ignored by the media.

I am a blogger

I must confess that I write a blog as many of you know and my motivation is simple. I pay taxes in Guelph. I know a story when I see it. Yet there is not one social media outlet, TV or newspaper in this city that makes any attempt to investigate the operations of the administration and its reasons for judgment and action.

The recent merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities is an example of a failure to investigate what was behind this proposal. This is a story that has yet to end.

It’s because most media haven’t a clue, don’t spend the time checking out city PR handouts or spending any money to improve editorial coverage.

Leading the group is the Guelph Mercury Tribune. Ironically part of the TorStar-owned publications, that masquerades as “City News” pages in every edition. The content is produced by the city communications department and paid by the taxpayers.

This is one of the most deceitful abuses of news space to portray advertising as news and not identify the content as paid advertising.

Since we moved to Guelph 15 years ago, the City of Guelph has paid millions to Metroland Publishing for these faux news pages. Based on line rates of three years ago, the annual cost is estimated to be $500.000.

In my opinion, this is the main reason that the paper never investigates any city decision, criticizes council or the staff or questions operations.

Insuring content control

For the city, it’s like buying an insurance policy to protect its interests, at the public’s expense.

So the people are denied legitimate news coverage by the only newspaper left making Guelph a desert in the field of responsible journalism.

Guelph Speaks has consistently written reports that dig under this artificial news barrier that denies the people of the city the truth of many decisions by city council that has cost many millions of public dollars.

But you’ll rarely read about it in the Tribune. They paper only prints what they want you to read and believe.

So this is an enigma. The great Toronto Star struggles, maintaining its journalistic standards and integrity while the Tribune takes cash from the city to publish advertising under the guise of news.

When it comes to integrity, the Tribune’s interest lies only on the bottom line.

The irony is that the profits made by the Tribune go indirectly to help keep the Star afloat.

It remains too high a price to pay.





Filed under Between the Lines