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 surprise.as 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.

Guelphspeaks.ca 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.

 

 

 

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Shoot first, ask questions later: Was PC Leader Patrick Brown a victim of the #MeToo revolution?

By Gerry Barker

January 26, 2018

The stunning resignation of PC Leader Patrick Brown within hours of being accused by two anonymous women of sexual misconduct on CTV is a case of irresponsibility of editorial control that is shameful and unfair.

This production alleging sexual assault by the two women, one incident six years ago, the other a high schooler relating her assault 10 years ago, lacked any evidence of complaints to police, confirmation by family, friends or colleagues and absolutely no basis of fact.

Where were the editorial checks and balances by the senior CTV management to ensure the report was clear and fair and supported with evidence that the allegations were true? Did the network obtain a legal opinion about running the story before broadcasting it across the country?

Before broadcasting, did CTV make any attempt to contact Mr. Brown for his response to the accusations? That aspect was missing from the broadcast.

In my opinion, Mr. Brown was ruined by a major Canadian TV Network’s broadcast of his character, morality and reputation without any evidence that these dated charges by the two women are true. They went with it based only on their word.

Nothing has been proven in court, just their word against his, in which after the broadcast, he categorically denied the accusations.

The most stunning aspect of these allegations is that Brown’s PC caucus strongly advised, the next morning, that he should resign, and he did. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also said Brown should resign the following morning. Liberal Leader Premier Kathleen Wynne, was circumspect and avoided commenting on whether Brown was guilty, or not.

Why now?

Why did these two women tell CTV about their alleged assaults by Brown four months before a provincial election? In our opinion, it appears the timing is no accident but suspiciously well timed to discredit not only Mr. Brown but also the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

The PC’s, according to the polls, have a commanding 18 per cent lead in the upcoming provincial election June 7.

This provides and allows the obvious incentive to discredit the poll-leading party in any way possible. What better way than to accuse the leader of “sexual misconduct” without any evidence that it ever happened. This is nothing but a throw back to the 50’s when a U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, investigating the influence of Communism in U.S. institutions, ruined the lives and reputations of hundreds of citizens through innuendo and false testimony.

Did the women engage a lawyer to represent them before making their accusations?

Did the women report the assaults to the police? Did either attend a physician for treatment as a result of the alleged assaults? Did they tell their parents or friends about the alleged assaults following the incidents? Is there any co-arbitration of these alleged events?

How does this square with an accuser’s right to a trial and face his accusers as provided by law? If the two women are not prepared to charge Mr. Brown with sexual assault, then their claims are unjustified. Their televised story now borders on a deliberate attempt to disgrace him publicly without the opportunity for him to defend himself in open court.

In my opinion, they may face possible defamation charges if brought by Mr. Brown. Dated allegations are difficult to prosecute due to failed memory of witnesses and tainted testimony.

Even though Mr. Brown has resigned, the Premier should order an immediate police investigation into these allegations if, for no other reason, than to uphold the basic tenant: Innocent until proven guilty.

Possible political backlash?

There is a danger of political backlash here if Premier Wynne fails to order an immediate investigation. With her party’s approval rating currently even with the NDP at 23 per cent and Mr. Brown and the conservatives at 42 per cent, is it possible desperate times call for desperate measures?

It is now evident that CTV has a lot to answer for because of its decision to run the story without accurate confirmation the alleged incidents are true.

The PC leader was not without his problems including detractors in his party and caucus.

Four executive members of his campaign quit immediately. But while that appears ominous, this is the same bunch that has insisted for many months that the Party executive, including the leader, controlled who and where candidates would be running. Many PC riding associations complained they had the final say electing its chosen candidate to represent the riding in the June 7 election.

The executive was challenged by a number of PC riding associations and their activism triggered a cease and desist lawsuit brought by the PC Party executives. A Superior Court Judge, Paul Perell dismissed the suit. “At its heart or essence … is designed to discourage the respondents (Take Back Our PC Party) from expressing themselves on matters of public interest,” adding that the applications uses litigation as a means of limiting expression on matters of public interest.

The Toronto Star’s Queen’s Park bureau Chief, Robert Benzie, reported that the four managers were highly regarded in a sidebar story about Mr. Brown’s allegations Thursday morning.

Guelph is one of those PC ridings that have been told by PC headquarters that it was going to name the candidate. At the time of writing, the PC’s, Liberals nor NDP have named a candidate to represent Guelph with an election just four months away. Only the Green Party has a candidate.

There is no law or order that allows the party leader the divine right to choose which candidates he or she wants to run. The whole riding association system is to allow citizens the right to choose their candidate. It’s an established practice across party lines.

If anyone learned that, it was Premier Wynne following the Sudbury election in 2014 when her staff parachuted a candidate approved by the Liberal hierarchy in Toronto. It shoved aside the man running for the Liberals to bring in a former NDP MP to represent the Liberals and he won. The fallout of this maneuver lasted for three years as the Liberal officials in charge were charged with conspiracy. One was Patricia Sobara, the former chief of staff to the Premier, recently resigned from the party.

It’s clear at this point, that this story misses an important responsibility in journalism: Always get both sides of the story before reporting it.

Editor’s Note: I am not a member of any political party. But I do believe in the rule of law and fair comment and the right to participate in the public’s business. GB

 

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City Council tax grab creates a CATastrophy!

By Gerry Barker

January 22, 2018

We take you now to the weekly meeting of the city Bylaw Enforcement officers. The Chief BLEO tells the assembled officer that council has passed a cat licence bylaw in which owners are required to pay an annual fee of $25 per cat

“Dogs are licensed,” the Chief, said, “why not cats?”

A voice in the back row said: “What’s next? We tax Goldfish, Gerbils, Hamsters and pet Anacondas and their lunch, Pigs? But what about taxing Lizards, Roosters and Monkeys?

“Smithers, we’ll have none of that talk. For that smart comment, you will join the new pussy patrol.”

A giggle developed in the room as the officers tried not to laugh out loud.

An officer asked if any members of council owned a cat. “Good Heavens,” bellowed the Chief BLEO. “Our job is to enforce the laws of the city even if it means knocking on every door to detect a household mouser.”

A collective sigh ensued as one officer said: ‘There goes the neighbourhood.”

The Chief went on to explain that a secret CAT-Fink would be set up to develop tips on who and where there are household felines. CAT-tipsters would be rewarded with a free b of cat litter. “You know, that stuff is useful in winter when you’re stuck and the tires are just spinning,” the Chief BLEO said.

“You have to spot the tell-tale cat track in the snow to hunt these unlicensed cats down and nail the owners, “ the Chief added.

“So men, get out there and find those cats and tell the owners they must license them.”

With that the Chief started for the door when an officer spoke up: “Ah, Chief, don’t you think we should start first by licensing bicyclists using city streets? They don’t pay to use the roads and bike lanes. Besides they are easier to catch.”

A second officer spoke up: “My grandpa owns a cat she just had six kittens. Does this mean he is entitled to a cat discount or does he have to pay for seven cats?”

“If the owner has more than one cat, they have to pay the $25 each year for every cat that’s alive,” the Chief BLEO reploed..

“I guess we should also check the obituaries for any cat departures and the vets in town for tipping us off on the owners of the cats, right, chief?”

The other side of the story

I witnessed a secret enclave of Guelph liberated cats (allowed to go outside to meet friends and relieve themselves).

Our neighbourhood cat, Tuxedo, spoke of the need to hide when the bylaw officer is in the neighbourhood. This would also include hiding any evidence of a cat in the house plus cat food, litter boxes and catnip balls.

“This is now man against cats, said the Tuxster. Remember we can run faster, hide in better places and laugh at this dumb bylaw,” said Tuxedo to the cat convention located in an undisclosed location.

Of course, Tuxedo belongs to the neighbourhood so proving which resident is responsible will be the trial of the Century. Besides in our neighbourhood we rarely see any city employees. We pay for waste removal, snow plowing, infrastructure maintenance, even flushing out the fire hydrants and maintaining the water and sewage pipes plus the lane and road repairs.

After many years, we have become independent of the city but must pay for all the services we don’t receive. We pay $235 a month condo fee for all self-financed services include grass cutting and trimming. Our taxes cost about $685 a month.

And now council is taxing us for owning a cat?

Is this what Mayor Guthrie was referring to when he promised, during his 2014 election campaign, a Better Guelph?

City Council decided, let’s tax the cats and watch the fur fly. Sounds like a plan.

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Guthrie’s running again when the ink isn’t dry on his beloved Guelph Hydro sell-out

By Gerry Barker

January 15, 2018

Three years ago my wife and I voted for Cam Guthrie. We were not alone as he trounced the mayor without breaking a sweat. He did it by promising property tax increases linked to the Consumer’s Price Index (CPI).

He was engaging and rarely spoke of his predecessor’s record and the Urbacon debacle. His handler’s presented him as a man with a mission to reform the city by creating a “Better Guelph”, what ever that meant.

So, here we are three years later and the promises made by our Mayor were rarely kept. As a matter of fact, the opposite occurred. He ran the table handling the senior staff power grabs and failures. Of the four top managers who received those huge salary increases in December 2015, only one remains. Those increases were concocted in a closed-session meeting convened by our Mayor.

There was no indication, by the administration, of what happened that December night. Four months later, it was exposed when the provincial Sunshine List published the details of the increases.

Here’s the back-story

The first senior staffer to leave, even before the December 10 secret meeting, was former CFO Al Horsman who left in August to take a new job in Sault Ste. Marie. His final pay for seven months work was an estimated $183,000, adjusted of course, for the new level of senior management increase awarded four months later.

The second manager to defect was Derrick Thomson, Deputy Chief Administrative officer, (DCAO) of Operations for some two months. He resigned shortly after receiving a 19 per cent salary increase to take a job in the Town of Caledon, where he lives.

The third departing senior staffer was the Chief Administrative Officer, (CAO) Ann Pappert, who resigned just after the Sunshine List was published March 31, 2016. She left May 26 and received her salary of $263,000 for the full year, despite only working for five months.

The fourth beneficiary of that Dec. 10 closed-session council meeting, was DCAO Mark Amorosi who left the city February 10, 2017.

Little of this information was released by the Guthrie administration. The stonewalling has reached epic proportions as the administration, to this day, has never publicly acknowledged the meeting ever happened.

It begs the question, why did these three senior staffers resign? In the case of two of them, Pappert and Thomson, who quit after receiving huge increases commencing in 2015?

In Mr. Horsman’s case, it is safe to assume he saw the writing on the wall dealing with the new city council and chose to leave, even, perhaps, not knowing about the senior staff increases that were being planned.

The shifting sands of power

Ms. Pappert’s departure left a huge gap at the top of the staff where the CAO was in charge of more than 2.100 employees.

In June 2016, the city announced that Derrick Thomson was re-hired as CAO. Talk about the Phoenix rising from the ashes! Mr. Thomson promised to reveal his salary and eventually we were informed it was $230,000 a year for three years. It turned out that he was also paid a $9,000 taxable benefit as a personal car allowance.

Mr. Thomson has overseen two city budgets, 2017 and 2018. The property taxes in those two budgets, including the special infrastructure levy, exceeds 6 per cent.

The council appointed Mr. Thomson as co-chair of the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC), charged with disposing Guelph Hydro. No elected councillor was appointed to this committee in the 18 months of its operations..

The effect of this is that the merger proposed by the SOC between Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities was not only conducted solely in closed-session, but the people’s representatives, city councillors, were not participants.

As a result, the ultimate checks and balances of decisions made by an outside committee were not involved during the 18-month negotiation period by the SOC.

Horse pucky is more effective than the facts

Instead, councillors were fed a line of unadulterated horse pucky from its own staff that led to a 10-3 council approval of the proposal. In my opinion, Council abandoned its responsibilities believing their own senior city  and Hydro staff and the mayor who led the cheerleading of the proposal starting October 5.

The public promised a dose of more good-paying jobs, a green power technology centre in the Guelph Hydro Headquarters. Guelph would become the hub for Alectra’s expansion plans for Southwestern Ontario expansion, and the Guelph Hydro staff would be retained with reductions coming from attrition and relocation.

This is what Mayor Guthrie was selling along with CAO Thomson and Hydro Chair Jane Armstrong.

To add insult to injury, the public was informed that council spent $2.36 million of public money on the SOC plan to dump Guelph Hydro. Then came the announcement that Guelph Hydro, following closure of the deal would send a “special dividend” of $18.5 million to the city.

Didn’t we just lose $63 million for the Green Powered GMHI experiment?

Gee! That friends, is $20.86 million of our money spent to give away our hydro distribution system worth $300 million.

Why is it so difficult to understand? Ten councillors including the mayor voted for the unfinished merger negotiations, but voted for it anyway. Why?

To this day, I challenge any member of council to explain the final two agreements, terms and conditions of the merger. Because the night they approved it, the negotiations had not been completed. Did they not know that? Or, maybe they did.

Would someone explain to me how a council can approve a merger of a $300 million publicly-owned utility serving 55,000 customers, without knowing or understanding the final terms and conditions of this proposal?

There are words that describe what has happened. I’ll leave it to your imagination.

Our only hope is that we are told, in plain language, the details of this merger when negotiations are completed and council holds another vote to approve or walk away.

If they don’t follow this necessary step then two things will happen.

Those councillors who still support the merger will have to answer for their decision next October’s civic election. That is, those who choose re-election.

The second issue is that the Ontario Energy Board must approve the merger based on the details and evidence provided, so that the majority of Guelph citizens are either in favour, or not.

It’s an old axiom, for every action there is a reaction.

It’s our property, let’s protect it

 

 

 

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How Guthrie’s Great Wall prevents the public from knowing the people’s business

By Gerry Barker

January 8, 2018

Note – The following is the opinion of the author based on known facts and history of the administrative management of the City of Guelph.

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

Just ask the 22 delegates who opposed at to 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 Alectra delegates who offered reasons to merge.

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.

A few years ago, the Ontario Ombudsman was given authority to act for municipalities. Today more than half have switched to the Ombudsman’s office for investigating 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’s just one brick in the Guthrie Great Wall of denial 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, and
  • increase public confidence by making a commitment to operate with integrity, justice and courtesy.

I’m sorry; but 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 originated with members of council. Council recommend 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.

The ultimate muzzle on the very people we trust to serve the public’s interests

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, during since 2011 has investigated three cases. His annual retainer is $5,000 and he is paid an hourly fee conduction 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.

That was then and this is now

In the past three years of his mayoralty, Cam Guthrie has consistently demonstrated adherence to the Code of Conduct set up by the previous administration. In fact, there has been more closed-session meetings of council and it’s appointed Strategies and Option Committee (SOC) than Noah organizing the Ark.

This is an affront to every citizen of Guelph. It’s a manipulated system to dumb down the electorate and coverup mistakes from public exposure. What they don’t know won’t hurt them.

There is no shortage of information underlying doubt about this Hydro/Alectra merger,

The present council, again in closed-session, approved spending $2.36 million to sell this deal to its own citizens.

The plan was to produce the illusion that most people were in favour of the merge employing leading questions to agree with a phony outcome; sparsely attended town hall meetings and producing a phony 245-page “final agreement” document just 12 days before the meeting. And it was only available online. I charge that fewer than 250 hard copies were distributed to the public.

The communications plan did not put its case forward through Guelph Hydro’s network of 55,000 customers except at the last days prior to the meeting when a tiny resume of the deal’s advantages was inserted in the Hydro/Water bills.

So as city Communications General Manager, Tara Sprigs, described the process of informing all those Hydro customers who were being threatened with everything to lose in return for a boatload of promises.

I would like to think that at least four councillors, those with knowledge and intelligence, would change their vote under the circumstances.

Not one of them is the Mayor.

How council manipulates the Municipal Act closed-session guidelines

It’s simple really; they made up their own closed-session guidelines.

Now topping Guthrie’s Great Wall of denial are the Municipal Act policies. The following are the legal reasons under the Municipal Act to hold a closed-session council or local boards meetings:

Section 270 of the Municipal Act provides that municipalities must develop and maintain various policies regarding the accountability and transparency of municipal government and its operations.

The key words are Accountability and Transparency

The following have been adopted by Council and are regularly reviewed to ensure compliance:

  • Sale and Disposition of Land
  • Number 1: Only covers the sale and disposition of land not the acquisition of the provincially owned Jail lands
  • Hiring of Employees
  • Number 2 – Yes, hiring employees should be confidential but does not include approving salary increases to staff and then not revealong it to the public.
  • Procurement of Goods and Services
  • Number 3 – This covers a lot of areas and there is evidence it has been used to          blackball certain contractors from bidding on city jobs.
  • Public Notice
  • Number 4 – This is an oxymoron; hold a meeting in closed-session to discuss a public notice? It’s a convenient method of calling a closed-session meeting to discuss almost anything in private.
  • Accountability and Transparency
  • Number 5 – Again, why is it necessary to call a closed -ession meeting to discuss accountability and transparency? The previous administration has already paid more than $500,000 to a Toronto consultant to come up with an A&T plan.
  • Delegation of Authority
  • Number 6 – This dovetails with the administrations’ allowance such as giving $98,303 raises to four senior managers in 2015?

The key story here is that council adopted this collection of reasons to legally hold a closed-session meeting. Seems it’s self-serving giving council and the boards absolute power and control of the public’s business. It’s like turning off a tap, shutting off any information they choose for whatever reason. These reasons would include political liability and criticism, personal benefit, adherence to a political philosophy,

The two Councillors who served for four years of the GMHI board of directors, the operator of Guelph Hydro, were paid over and above their regular salaries. Councillors June Hofland and Karl Wettstein still voted in favour of the merger. They not only benefited serving on the GMHI board but in my opinion, were in a conflict of interest.

The Great Wall is intact and a barrier to the public interests

These “blocks” of the public’s business have been refined over the past 11 years to giving the administration-unfettered control of the message. It denies the public’s access to its right to know and understand the corporation’s operations on their behalf.

In future posts, GS will provide specific reforms covering a widespread grouping of issues that the electorate should consider before entering the voting booth.

The most vital reform is to make the council and administration operate openly and accountable.

This year, October 22 to be precise, we the citizens have the opportunity to return power to the people by electing councillors who understand their responsibility to the people who elected them. That means persuading civic-minded, experienced individuals possessing a universal mature backgrounds to turn this city into the jewel of Southern Ontario.

It means a sharp turn to the centre of the political spectrum, away from the left wing domination of our political management where there have been too many mistakes in judgment, losses of public money due to misguided projects that have set the city back in the past 11 years.

The time has come to elect councillors ready to reform and employ critical thinking managing the people’s business.

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Why did Council approve Guelph Hydro merging with Alectra Utilities not knowing the final terms and conditions of the deal?

By Gerry Barker

January 2, 2018

Following a marathon meeting December 10, council approved by a 10 to 3 majority, to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities.

It was the culmination of a $2.36 million city-financed campaign that was conducted chiefly in closed-sessions by the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC) and city council. Our council approved formation of the SOC 14 months ago. It did so without the active participation of any elected members of council.

Council’s decision remains the greatest con job of a proposal in the history of Guelph. The details to this day are secret and kept far from the eyes of the 55,000 Guelph Hydro customers and owners of the utility.

How did this happen?

The night of approving the merger, there were 22 delegates appearing before council. By a three to one majority, they opposed the merger or at least request deferring the decision to allow more time for the citizens to absorb the details. Also, there was a petition containing 76 names that flatly opposed the merger.

The majority of council robotically ignored these citizens.

Seven delegates representing Alectra’s interests sang the praises of a Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra. Only one of the seven, Mark Goldberg, a member of the SOC actually lives in Guelph. The seven came from Toronto, Mississauga Brampton and Barrie to praise Alectra and reassure council that this was a good marriage.

Or is it?

From at least two sources, why didn’t council not have the final agreement details, and not declare that important information before approving the merger after midnight Dec. 10?

We attended that meeting and the lawyer representing Aird and Berlis, the Toronto-based legal firm, carefully outlined the status of the negotiations between the city and Alectra, stating they were yet to be finalized.

Add the voice of Pankaj Sardana, Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Hydro, who admitted just a few days before the meeting that negotiations were not completed and would not be shared. That is, until Guelph Hydro, Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) and Alectra approves the merger and documents are released to the media and the 55,000 Guelph Hydro owners, the customers.

Here’s why not to hold your breath on that happening

The question is: Why did council pass a motion to approve the merger when the final legal documents had not been negotiated, signed and sealed?

Did those ten councillors understand the final merger details when they voted to approve it? But then, why would they, negotiations were still being conducted in closed- sessions between the parties.

Why is that a surprise?

This administration conducts too much of the public’s interest behind closed doors. Since Cam Guthrie was elected mayor, there has been little attempt to open council’s business. Indeed, there has been little attempt to fix the secret workings of the public business, a hangover of the previous administration.

Once those doors are closed, the public is shut out of the proceedings. To protect itself from public disclosure, council has a hired closed session investigator at their beck and call to diffuse any right of the public to know and understand what’s going on behind those closed doors.

We know from personal experience how the closed-session investigator from London known as Amberlea Gravel functions.

I requested the minutes of the Dec. 10, 2015 closed-session council meeting, in which three months later we discovered $98,292 in base salary increases were awarded to the top four senior managers. I received my answer four months later when my request was denied.

Not allowing need-to-know our business is an inconvenience

This is nothing but a repeat of the policies of the Guthrie administration. It’s just too inconvenient to let the public know how and why council conducts our business.

In itself, it is an affront and disregard of our Canadian Democratic rights to participate in public civic affairs without the threat of retaliation.

Personally, I have experienced how our council condones retaliation against a writer, a resident and critic who legally participates and comments on public affairs for the past ten years.

Back to the business at hand, betrayal of the public trust

It really didn’t matter because councillors were well aware of the secret meetings. Council confirmed it by appointing an outside lawyer who said the merger terms and condition were still to be negotiated. Mr. Sardana knew the deal was not finalized and that’s why he said the negotiation information would not be shared.

We were informed that Aird Berlis had acted for Alectra previously in an unrelated matter.

Did council base its decision on the 245-page of manufactured dreck purported to be the final details of the agreement? This document was released to the public but was only available online December 1. Just 12 days before the Dec. 10 meeting.

This was a carefully orchestrated operation to deny the public its rights to access the details that council passed with only three members opposed, James Gordon, Bob Bell and Phil Allt. I do not often share the views of Mr. Gordon or Mr. Allt but in this case, they had the guts to do the right thing and opposed the deal.

On November 24, GS sent each councillor 46 questions regarding the merger. We only received one reply from the Mayor five days before the Dec. 10 meeting. To his credit, the Mayor gave me a previous heads-up that he needed more time to consult and research his answers.

But five days before D-Day?

The questionnaire was in response to the “energizingtomorrow.ca” website that stated, “Ask Us Anything.”

All the GS questions were based on the merger and the details as far as we were aware. As Mayor, Mr. Guthrie I would assume was speaking for all members of his council. Three of them did not vote for the merger

The most interesting answer to one of the questions asked wawhy council was giving away Guelph Hydro. He replied: “We are not giving away anything.”

Our differences lie in one simple fact: If Guelph Hydro is valued at $300 million how does that justify a $1.5 million “dividend” from Alectra a year? Further the city share is based on only receiving 60 per cent of Alectra Inc. profits. So to get control of Guelph Hydro, Alectra threw in some sweeteners.

You are the judge, how sweet are they?

They promised to establish a Green Power Technology Centre in the Guelph Hydro headquarters building that will employee ten people. Alectra also promised to make Guelph the “Hub” of its expansion into South Western Ontario. And don’t forget the $18.5 million special dividend from Guelph Hydro to the city. That’s persuading council using our money.

The downside is that an estimated 60 Guelph Hydro employees are to lose their jobs through termination, relocating or retiring. It didn’t seem to matter to the ten councillors who approved the merger.

Adding up the Guelph Hydro’s annual estimated profit after expenses, in 2016, the surplus was $7, million: in 2017 it is estimated the surplus will be $7 million; in 2018, prior to closing there will be additional net earnings of Guelph Hydro. That will possibly total $21 million over the three years.

On closing of the merger, that notorious $18.5 million special gift from Hydro to the city kicks in leaving a balance of $2.5 million remaining in the kitty.

Hold the phone! Guelph Hydro already had a cash reserve of $22 million on its 2016 books. It’s all so deliciously transparent. First, the $2.36 million the city has spent on driving this crazy deal to fruition is neatly covered by the annual $3 million dividend Guelph Hydro delivers to the city three-year surplus of $21 million.

So it would appear that city council is not going to receive a $3 million divudend when it mergers with Alectra but just $1.5 million.

Is this a great deal or what?

Still with me?

Lying in the entrails of the great give away by city council is the $22 million stash of cash Hydro had before any these merger talks ever began.

What happens to that money if this deal ever closes?

Another unanswered question. Is it remotely possible that not only Alectra will wind up with the city’s only viable, profitable subsidiary worth an estimated $300 million but a bonus of $22 million in cash? As 131,000 citizens are kept outside the decision process, the council approves the deal. We are left without clothes shivering in the dark.

Bad metaphor? Unfortunately true

In view of the facts, how can Coun. Mike Salisbury who moved the approval motion, and seconded by Coun. June Hofland, have access to the final terms and conditions that were yet to be completed? That goes for the other eight councillors who voted to approve something that they had little knowledge of, the final merger deal and documents.

And why were Councillors June Hofland and Karl Wettstein even involved in this decision? They were on the failed GMHI board of directors for four years, drawing a fee for serving and never revealing what was happening as the operation lost $63 million in shareholder value.

That was our divestment that was swallowed up by incompetence.

When does council deliver the details of this merger?

Accordingly, as one of the 55,000 Hydro owners, as a shareholder, I would be interested in knowing the final details of the merger agreements version if and when completed.

In my opinion, the council motion Dec 10 was illegal because the final details of the terms and conditions of the merger were not known at the time. Therefore, council cannot give away our $300 million Guelph Hydro without fully disclosing the final details to the public. For a change, hold an open debate on the merits and benefits as agreed to by both parties.

The Ontario Energy Board must still approve the merger. It is incumbent on the two parties that proof of public acceptance of the merge must accompany the application. This is not expected before the fall of 2018.

Will that be ham and cheese or smoked meat on rye?

There was little council enthusiasm listening to the delegates opposing the motion. This turkey was already baked in the oven. The only reason to hold a one-hour closed- session meeting before the public meeting was to eat supper and decide who would move the motion and who would support it or not.

Wilson Street Parking garage financing

Oh! In case you are wondering what the city will do with $18.5 million “special dividend,” here is the latest info: The Wilson Street $20 million five-storey parking garage across the street from city hall. Guess who benefits from that?

If that’s the case, the $18.5 million is our money only held by Guelph Hydro. So at least it may be used to create a badly needed downtown parking garage. The only problem is those having monthly parking passes will occupy the majority of available spaces.

And there are so many capital projects begging for funding.

Yep! It makes sense to give away Guelph Hydro to solve that problem.

Some Short takes

Notice the Mayor was a part owner of the Guelph Royals baseball team to save it from folding. He had to vacate his position due to a conflict of interest. Guess he got a look at the books. What? Council has a baseball team?

The changes are a’comin

There will be a number of changes coming in this year’s civic election. The provincial government has passed rules governing corporate and union donations. There remains a proposal to have a new nomination period of three months starting in May. The 445 civic councils in Ontario have Until March 31 to pass new bylaws to change the nomination dates. The last thing Premier Wynne needs is to rile up the municipalities. It’s the best we can hope for.

Mayor announces he is running in 2018

Stating: “I really enjoy being Mayor and I love being Mayor.” He then produced a list of accomplishments that were not specific including the financial details.

We do not agree with the mayor that 2018 will be the “silly season.” There will be many surprises and issues demanding the truth.

Accordingly, watch for a special “Truth Squad” report posting by GS based on the Mayor’s list of accomplishments … One Pinocchio, Two Pinocchio, Three Pinocchio!

Guelph Speaks wishes all a Happy New Year, one that is prosperous, healthy and fulfilling.

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