Why Change is the real issue in the June 7 Provincial election

By Gerry Barker

May 21, 2018

In just 17 days, the voters in Ontario will go to the polls to elect a new government in Ontario.

In Guelph a riding encompassing only the City of Guelph, the indication is that voters just want Change meaning ABW – Anybody but Wynne. That leaves just three candidates for the Guelph riding including Ray Ferarro, representing the Progressive Conservatives; Mike Schreiner of the Green Party; and fot the NDP – Agnieszka Mlynarz.

The fourth candidate is the Liberal candidate Sly Castaldi who has the dubious task of defending the policies of the Wynne Government whose party is mired in third place in the polls. Chief Liberal problem is the low approval of the leader Kathleen Wynne, who has not budged from a 20 per cent approval rating in more than a year.

The desire for change in Ontario exists right here in Guelph. Right now, the PC’s are leading over all the other parties to form a new government. It is their’s to lose aided and abetted by the Toronto Star’s daily concentrated negative news and commentary carried throughout the news pages. The Star’s target is PC Leader Doug Ford who despite a few missteps, seems to maintain his party’s lead in the polls.

In my opinion, this election is about Change triggered by 15 years of Liberal governments that reflect abuse of the public trust (gas plants destruction). Overbuilding power green generation facilities with expensive long-term contracts (wind and solar) making Ontario with the highest power costs of most jurisdictions in North America.

Even the Ontario Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, said the government borrowed $4 billion off its books. This was to finance the five year “fair hydro” 25 per cent reduction of power charged to end users.

What happens then when that money must be paid back? Our power rates will soar in 2022 when the deal expires.

Another reason Ontario will vote for Change.

Assuming the Liberal candidate has no chance of retaining the seat, lets compare the remaining three candidates and what issues are Guelph voters most concerned about? What influence can they have to accommodate their constituents’s concerns and desire for Change?

Health accessibility and long-term care – Ray Ferarro: “If elected, I will work as your member to undo the Wynne government’s cuts to hospital and long term care expansion. I pledge to fight for an end to hallway medicine where patients, for lack of space, are ware-housed in the hallways of Ontario’s medical service institutions.”

The NDP candidate, Agnieszka Mlynarz, is responsible for the Party Leader’s platform that while critical of the Liberals, represents costly social programs that are warmed over policies of the Wynne government. The platform came under fire recently from financial experts who claimed the numbers did not add up. Regardless, NDP leader Andrea Horwath, a veteran of 12 years in the Legislature, has been running an intensive campaign that has her moving the party into second place according to the latest polling.

Can Agnieszka Mlynarz win? In my opinion too many memory of the Bob Ray NDP government still lingers in the minds of many voters. Besides her platform does not represent change but a version of the Liberal’s social engineering policies.

The green tinge of the environmentalists in the NDP does not help in Guelph where citizens were hammered by a secret abortive green-power scheme. It was to create power self-sufficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions that are affecting climate change. The cost was more than $60 million of citizen’s public money.

The Green Party candidate, Mike Schreiner, has mounted a well-funded campaign including the best signs on the roads and streets. Voters know that the Green Party under leader Mike Schreiner, has never elected a Green Party candidate in Ontario.

But where does the Green Party money come from?

Well, the Greens held a rally in Guelph that was allegedly attended by 350 people with the guest speaker David Suzuki, the British Columbia multi-millionaire exploiter of fear of the earth atmosphere destroying the planet. This guy has made a handsome living promoting fear and loathing of the use of fossil fuels that he, among others, is destroying our atmosphere.

Some facts. That erupting volcano on the Hawaiian Big Island spews more carbon dioxide, the dreaded CO2, into the atmosphere in five minuses than all the fossil-fueled facilities in Canada in a month.

Canada contributes two per cent of all global CO2 emissions in a year.

This is the party that elected three members in the B.C. legislature and yjeu are propping up the NDP government opposed to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline. It will take Alberta crude to the Pacific and open new markets for our resources.

The Canadian Government approves the pipeline as it has passed all regulations including an environmental assessment. But the three Green Party members of the B.C. legislature are dead against it. Based on the hypothetical argument it will carry fossil fuel feed stock and the threat of a tanker oil spill on its coastline is too great a risk.

More facts: The polls in B.C. show the majority of people are in favour of the pipeline. The three Green Party objectors have been members of the Legislature for little more than a year. Yet they are effectively stopping construction, so far, this pipeline that is legal and necessary to open up new markets for Canadian resources at better prices now only available from the U.S.

Ask yourself, why is Mike Schreiner running in Guelph?

In my opinion, even if he is elected to the Ontario Legislature, he will be the loneliest member in the House with no power, no influence and no support.

Nice guy but running in the wrong place.

In summary, I like Ray Ferarro for my member in the Ontario Legislature. He is the only candidate born, raised and worked in Guelph and as a former city councillor who knows what the people are concerned about.

That’s why he will work to improve our ailing healthcare system. Battle to stop the Guelph Hydro/Alectra merger now before the Ontario Energy Board for approval.

He will speak up on the issues affecting Guelph not only in the P.C. caucus but also in the legislature.

If elected, we can depend on Ray being part of Change at Queen’s Park.

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It’s time to stop financing the myth that bicycles are a major mode of transportation

By Gerry Barker

May 15, 2018

If you drive around town enough you can see how the two-wheeled cycle has pushed its way into our environment. Bike lanes are the stepchild of the consortium of the environmentalists many of whom are embedded in all levels of government.

Bicycles are seen by the environmentalists as its public face and proponent of eliminating fossil fuels as an energy source to be replaced by pedal power.

Say hello to thunder thighs and the new city of Guelphenhagan.

Guelph has been a leader in shrinking vehicle lanes to install or widen bike lanes. Every repaving of a major city street, is re-marked to accommodate bike lanes

I am reminded about eight years ago when then councillor Maggie Laidlaw, an ardent cyclist, predicted that in 20 years there would be no cars on the streets of Guelph.

Well, it hasn’t work out that way.

Instead, we have more fossil-fueled cars and commercial vehicles on our street than ever before.

The former Farbridge administration pushed hard to provide more and wider bike lanes wherever a major road was resurfaced. In many cases, vehicular traffic was confined to just one lane each way.

Such was the former mayor’s legacy to create today’s traffic congestion on our major streets and routes.

An example if this planning was the resurfacing of Downey Road. Before the road was resurfaced, a decision was made to widen the bike lanes to allegedly three meters. Now here is urban planning gone berserk. There are not two painted lines on the road for bike lanes but three.

My information is the planners want to make drivers aware that the actual bike lane had been widened and to give them warning.

Holy Mackinaw! How long does this minority group hold Guelph hostage to serve its use of public streets and roads? The biker minority expands its world at the expense of the vast majority of the population.

So let’s look at the numbers.

The City of Guelph has a ten-year bike lane-funding program of $300,000 a year. Over the years this has paid for lane restrictions, fancy coloured bike boxes at intersections and establishing bike lanes that are not complete. They start and then end, leaving the cyclist to fend with vehicles without the benefit of the completed bike lane. Driving around the city it is apparent that we have a part-time system of bike lanes.

Without question, successive Guelph administrations have spent millions on bike lanes to placate a strident bike lobby represents a tiny portion of the 131,000 people who live here.

Despite the traffic studies that show time and time again that motor vehicles vastly out-number the cyclists, the bike lobby remains funded with taxpayer money. In designing the Downey Road bike lane layout, an independent consultant measured vehicle flow two periods a day when traffic was heaviest. The result was that some 4,000 vehicles used the road during the two test periods while just 113 cyclists were spotted sharing the same road.

We now know that the bike lanes on the right side of Downy have this weird three-line configuration while the original bike lane on the other side of the road was not modified. Again, the vehicle lanes were shrunk to accommodate this new layout.

Who or what department is responsible for these whacko decisions?

Here’s what needs to be done.

Freeze all proposals to create additional bike lanes.

The staff should review and assign resources to complete ‘start and stop’ existing bike lanes on major roads or streets as a priority.

Set up a free bike licensing and safety incentive plan. This would encourage cyclists to protect their property with serial numbers embedded in the metal frame for ID in the event the bike is stolen. Offer front and rear blinking lights, a warning device and fluorescent vests. A copy of the Highway Traffic Act should be given each cyclist. This opportunity would have a time limit to encourage cyclists to sign up.

Unlicensed cyclists would face fines and possible suspension.

If we are to allow cyclists to use the bike lanes, observe the HTA rules covering the use of public streets, then the marriage of pedal power and the internal combustion engine powered vehicle should be much improved.

The Wild West that now exists is the outcome of neglect by the administration.

Vehicles using the public roads are required to pay taxes including ownership taxes, insurance taxes, property taxes, environmental taxes, sales taxes for fuel and repairs.

Cyclists using those same roads only pay, perhaps property taxes if they own property.

Until we tackle these issues the public money spent on bike lanes will continue unabated without the rule of law governing the safe sharing of the public thoroughfares.

 

 

 

 

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Some of the cheesy council decisions now leading up to the civic election.

By Gerry Barker

My 9, 2018

Editor’s Note – Guelphspeaks faced some computer glitches last Sunday as we attempted to launch a new post. We’re back in business now. GB

If you like cheese, as I do, council was unable to turn Limburger into New York cheesecake when the opportunity arose. You will see how a majority of council voted to eliminate online voting in 2018, the Committee of the Whole (COW), the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra utilities aka “the Great Guelph Giveaway.”

The heady scent of Gorgonzola lingers over the council chambers today as Mayor Guthrie gushes about a linkage with the County of Wellington to win $100,000 in some vague lottery of spending other people’s public money. Go figure.

The relationship between County and City is strained, has been for some time.

Over the years the city agreed to share the cost of public health services with the county. Mayor Farbridge, who was on the public health board at the time, objected to the cost of building a new public health headquarters on Stone Road costing some $17 million.

She sued to get out of the arrangement and lost so without consultation, the project went ahead and cost Guelph some $10 million.

Ah, the sweet whiff of cheddar melting on a hot apple pie.

Another handout by the City to the County was to handle the affordable housing file.

The result that in ten years there was no construction of affordable housing in the City but the towns and hamlets in the County received affordable housing units.

If I didn’t know any better, was this decision made by Guelph Council to prevent lower income people from deflowering the Royal City? Just asking. Was it an elitist Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) decision?

These are a few examples why Guelph should assert its mission as a city of 131,000. The city’s needs and interests are different from that of the County of Wellington. The city is now a Provincial and Federal riding within its city limits.

It means we need to elect councillors who have experience, are responsible, understand financial data and are politically positioned in the centre.

The problem we face is old town rules that state a councillor only works part-time so should be paid on that basis. We will never solve this problem until we increase the salaries of the 12 councillors. And make them full-time. What is the cost to double their salaries? It’s just $840,000.

We only get what we pay for. Raising the salaries and benefits for councillors will attract well qualified candidates with a subset of truly representing the people

My argument is basic. These 12 alleged part-timers are responsible for overseeing a $500 million corporation. Yet 80 per cent of the $380 million annual budget is going to the paid staff who work for the council, our representatives..

Consider the $ 130,000 salary paid to the Mayor. He is the head of the community. Yet the four top senior managers earn more than $200,000 a year and the numbers trickle down among the ranks of the remaining 90 managers.

The way it is now, anybody with some $3,000, which is what it would cost to run in a ward for that $35,000 part-time job.

This is how the former administration kept control. Many of those successful councillors accepted campaign funding from unions as well as some deep-pocketed NDP supporters.

We cannot do much about it now as the current system remains in place until the new council is elected next October.

By electing councillors in the majority who are not ideologically bent, are beholden to no one and love their city enough to run for council, only then can we return the city to one of the most attractive and affordable in the country.

Unfettered public participation in the affairs of our city is a high calling.

Please pass the Camembert and crackers.

NOTE – If you are thinking about running for council, and have questions, feel free to contact me at gerrybarker76@gmail.com so that we may connect for an interview. Your information will be confidential and respected.

 

 

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Part Two: How to change our city by reducing operating costs, property taxes and user fees

By Gerry Barker

May 3, 2018

Here is a list of changes that a new council will face to effect change. For every action there is a reaction including job security, money, public services and that old standby, entitlement.

Some will say these proposed reforms are draconian and the staff service to the public will be seriously affected. Let’s look at some examples:

Bike lane expansion;

Waste management costs;

The wellbeing program;

Grants to non-governmental organizations;

Materials and service procurement checks and balances;

Subsidies to Guelph Transit and other organizations;

Cost of water and electricity;

Legal and consultant costs;

Staff reduction through rationalization;

Planning and development costs;

Debt management and costs;

Staff and council expenses;

Advertising costs;

Budget variances;

Reserves rationalization and replenishment;

Review all staff contracts.

You be the judge.

Let’s start with an action plan.

* Stop the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra even if it means hiring an energy experienced lawyer to make our case before the Ontario Energy Board.

*   Make no specific promises about lowering property taxes until council receives a full, independent analysis of proposed budgets in 2019 and 2020.

* Review all bylaws to establish effectiveness, relavence and currency.

* Close down the recyclables’ operation of Dunlop Road and negotiate a deal with Waste Management to take our recyclable materials to its plant in Cambridge.

* Hire an Auditor General to oversee all spending and systems who reports directly to council every three months.

* Review the council Code of Conduct and dismiss the Integrity Commissioner. Also dismiss the Amberlea-Gravel special closed-session investigators. Replace A-G with the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office closed-session investigative team.

* All closed-session agenda require approval of the Mayor, and two designated councillors. The public must be informed in advance of any such meeting, the reason and outcome. The Mayor must file a separate report to briefly explain the reason, outcome without using names. Residents have the right to request the minutes based on impact and cost of a closed-session meeting. If challenged by any resident, authority to allow a closed-session council meeting will be made by an outside appointed adjudicator.

* Adopt the recommendations of the Pat Fung report that outlined how the city can reduce its overhead to save $20 million a year.

* Confine the committee of the whole system to only vote on a motion, because most of the issues have already been discussed in closed-sessions. The committee of the whole meetings are still too long and time wasting.

* Review all rules concerning public participation including notifying all citizens of council meetings. Reliance on such notices excludes many citizens who do not have access to computers.

* Restore Online voting for the 2022 civic election.

* Order the internal auditor to investigate the following.

*  Rules and regulation of procurement of supplies and services including systems’ controls, verification of work performed. Any order exceeding $1,500 must be  made by a Request For Proposal (RFP) and publicized Online and in the local      newspaper.

*  Commence a formal review of Guelph Transit operations including an audit of the last three departmental budgets.

*   Appoint a public advisory committee to work with Transit management to plan a more efficient system.

*  Freeze the bike lane budget until a thorough study is completed to ascertain future viability and usage.

* Develop a plan within 90 days to reduce full-time staff, part-time staff and contract employees by ten per cent by December 2019. The Police, Fire and EMS will be exempted.

* Cancel the ”City News” advertising pages in the Guelph Tribune. Replace with weekly online reports and supply a print copy to residents without a computer.

* Examine and redefine the role of the communications department.

* Cancel the two per cent property tax surcharge and the storm water charges added to the hydro bills.

* The finance department will send a quarterly copy of the financial status of the city as it pertains to the city budget (variances) and non-budgeted charges.

* In all new staff contracts the accumulation of unused sick leave and vacation time will be eliminated. Use it in a calendar year or lose it. An arbitration board composed of two councillors and three civilians will oversee any derivations or exceptions.

* Appoint a new accountability committee composed of three councillors and three civilians to examine and recommend reducing the amount of funding the city provides many organizations and services.

* With council and staff, prioritize budget items by October 15 each year.

* Drop all planning department work on the Reformatory lands.

* Halt the intensification emphasis on future developments and freeze all plans. Commence planning subdivisions of single-family homes in a range of price points.

* Cancel free downtown parking for all employees.

* Review all payments made to non-governmental organizations.

The city is not a bank or a lender. All such requests must be considered by the staff and approved by council. Such requests will be frozen until the state of the city finances is positively corrected and overhead is substantially reduced to lower property taxes.

The terms and results of the annual city financial audit, as required by the province, must be made public Online and in print to those requesting it.

Similarly, a summary of the Financial Information Report to the province must be available by Jan 31 the year following.

The direction of these issues has a two-fold affect. The first is to returtn the power to the people through its elected representative. Second, the staff influence will be more focused on executing the reforms and thereby restoring open government, and meeting the will of the people.

All citizens should be on guard to prevent the financial disasters of the previous and current administrations.

Next October the people have their say on how they want their city to function and seize opportunities to develop smartly and gradually lower our taxes and user fees.

 

 

 

 

 

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Part One: This time let’s make change happen to reflect our values

By Gerry Barker

April 30, 2018

The following is a recipe for real change affecting all citizens and not just the ruling class that has dominated civic politics for the past 11 years.

Change One

One serious problem citizen’s face is the lack of in depth coverage of city business and public participation. We are a city of 131,000 that is served by a twice-weekly newspaper with a corporate owner that is a mouthpiece for the administration who are served by a radio station with no reporting staff dependent on police and city press releases. There is an online newspaper that occasionally reports the real news and not just the city handouts and police blotter.

The Kitchener TV station occasionally reports on Guelph news.

The most telling news source is the Rogers Community TV group that covers city council meetings. It does not report or interview citizens or staff as its mandate is controlled by the administration.

Then there are the bloggers (guilty) who chiefly support the administration but rarely are critical or opinionated about administration operations.

Because of this mixture of traditional news sources, in my opinion, Guelph is horribly under-served when it comes to covering the news that matters most to citizens. That’s why more people are dependent on TV news and the Internet.

Fixing the situation will only occur if people stop using those local outlets as a source of news and the managements upgrade their news coverage.

Change Two

Because of our method of electing members of council, in the past 11 years an idealistic group of councillors has controlled council. They are a mixed bag of folks, some good some well meaning and some married to principles that have cost millions without measurable accomplishments.

Now I’m not mentioning names right now because that’s another story for the upcoming campaign that begins tomorrow with the opening of nominations.

The political philosophy is that governments that have controlled our destiny for more than 11 years are ripe for defeat. Every four years, the people can throw long-term governments out and elect a new set of players to create a fresh government.

On the surface it would appear that Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals are the old tired administration that has galvanized the Ontario Progressive Conservatives to become the government.

We’ll know how that turns out the night of June 7.

The voters in Guelph face the same situation. Do we elect a new responsible group of councillors? In order to accomplish this we need to reform the membership of city council.

Change Three

The Town of Milton reformed its 13-member council reducing the membership to nine including the mayor.

In Guelph we have two part-time councillors in each of the six wards. This system has strengths and weaknesses. It is politically weak because council can be dominated if seven members band together to form a voting bloc. That’s what has occurred in the past three councils.

To describe the ward councillors as part-time is ludicrous. They earn some $35,000 that is out-of-date in terms of workload including paper work, service to constituents and life style. While the responsibilities grow, in my opinion, they are grossly underpaid.

The net result is that the city cannot attract elected representatives with a very limited scale of remuneration, compared to many on staff making four and five times that of the “part-time” councillors.

The next step would be to elect two councillors at large plus the Mayor. This system will prevent the bloc voting that has dominated Guelph politics for 11 years. By now, we know the price of failed projects that have turned the city into one of the highest taxed municipalities in Ontario if not Canada. Millions has been wasted and is one of the chief reasons that Guelph’s operating budget is 50 per cent higher than that of Kitchener and Cambridge.

Bottom line: Reduce the ward councillor to one; pay them at least $90,000 with an independent professional performance review following each election.

Unfortunately, the election process cannot be changed for this year. The new council can vote to reduce its size when it enacts reforms.

Summing up: Years ago decisions were made without considering the growth of the city, its needs and effective planning. That was then and this is today.

Bad decisions made long ago and even in the past 11 years, has increased infrastructure costs to close to one half a billion dollars. Throw in the impact of inflation and the dropping value of the Canadian dollar annually and a tipping point has been reached.

You cannot keep raising property taxes and user fees; you cannot spend millions on failed environmental projects such as the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc, financial and structural disaster. These are just some of the serious operational problems facing the electorate next October.

At a point in time Guelph was a small, agriculture-oriented economy town, with an Agriculture College as its main industry.

The city remains an economic island with few exits to the outside world. When the opportunity came to form a Regional government with Kitchener and Cambridge, Guelph council said no.

Since then the city has been isolated from industrial and commercial development that would bring assessment dollars to build the city. In the past 11 years the ratio of Residential assessment to Industrial-Commercial assessment is 74 per cent compared to 16 per cent and has not changed.

Only increasing that Industrial-Commercial assessment will make a dent in the annual property tax rate averaging 3.5 per cent. That does not include the property tax surcharge to repair and maintain the infrastructure.

Change Four

Study and learn about your city. Knowledge leads to action to create change.

Part Two will be published May 2 and outlines specifics to reduce bloated operational costs.

 

 

 

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Only four days left to intervene in the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities by the Ontario Energy Board

Breaking News: As the April 30 deadline approaches regarding the Guelph Hydro merger, we have been accepted as an intervener in the OEB process. We are publishing our letter and arguments against the merger for citizens to view. Please use whatever parts and send a reques to the OEB to be named as an intervener. It is our last chance to stop this application or at the least, delay it until a new provincial government reviews the application. GB

John T.F. (Gerry) & Barbara M. Barker

271 Riverview Place

Guelph, ON N1E 7G9

Ontario Energy Board

300 Yonge St.

27th floor
P.O. Box 2319
Toronto, ON M4P 1E4

April 16, 2018

Re File: EB-2018—0014

Request for intervener status re the file EB-2018—0014

We are 15-year residents of the City of Guelph and customers of Guelph Hydro and are property taxpayers.

We urge the Ontario Energy Board to order an oral hearing of this application based on the “No Harm” test. Evidence of this came last Friday when ther OEB released a summary of the proposed merger of Alectra Utilities and Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.

  • The purchase by Alectra Inc. of all the issued and outstanding shares of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc., held by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.

By way of explanation, Guelph Hydo is a financially sound profitable division of Guelph Muncipal Holdings Inc. The Corporation has a sterling record of service and performance. GMHI is a wholly owned subsidiary of the City of Guelph Corporation.

In order to make our arguments clear, we have attached a recent report on why and how this happened.

Our principal objection lies in the conduct of a city appointed committee known as The Strategies and Options Committee, that conducted almost all of its business in closed-sessions. The public finally was informed 12 days before the council meeting to approve or disapprove the Alectra proposal to merger. This document was 245 pages long and only available online with the exception of a few hard copies that were downloaded. We were fortunate to receive a hard copy.

To us this represents the height of suppression of the public’s interest. On December 13 there were 22 delegates speaking just five minutes each, expressing their reasons for opposing the merger. In addition the City Clerk reported a protest petition of 76 residents.

There were seven representatives of Alectra that addressed the meeting. Council approved the merger in principal six hours later by a 10 to three vote.

Thank you,

John and Barbara Barker

*            *            *            *

Attachment – Edited from the post on guelphspeaks.ca, April 14, 2018

Updated HED -We have just five days left to intervene in the Guelph Hydro-Alectra merger deal now at the Ontario Energy Board

By Gerry Barker

April 16, 2018

Since last November, guelphspeaks.ca has questioned the merger between Alectra Inc. and Guelph Hydro. The proposal by the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC) was railroaded through council despite opposition from 22 delegates to council opposed to the proposal plus 76-email protests sent to the city clerk.

None of it mattered, as council approved in principal the merger agreement by a 10 to 3 vote in the early hours of the morning. That was December 13, 2017.

I have been informed that Alectra and Guelph Hydro submitted a written agreement to the Ontario Energy Board, (OEB) for final approval. A statement followed this that the details would be produced in the local Tribune twice-weekly paper. This week there was no such statement in the paper.

Also, the publicly paid “City News” carried in the Tribune had zero information, not even a news story explaining the merger application details.

Do you really believe the people affected have “Your Say” in this?

After all these months the truth is out. Before going into the details, it is important to remember, this merger was concluded in many secret, closed-session meetings that ignored the real feelings of the 55,000 Guelph Hydro customers. The December Hydro bills contained a small biased insert just days before the council vote.

They were never told the truth about how it would affect them.

The OEB has received a request from Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities to submit a written application to approve the merger. The OEB has acknowledged receipt of the request.

So, here’s the current situation. We have just 14 days remaining to intervene and request an oral hearing with the OEB in which citizens, registered as interveners, can state their views,

If not, the OEB will accept the written submission of Alectra and Guelph Hydro and make a decision between the next six and 12 months.

After April 30, if we do not intervene, as is our right, the merger could be approved by the OEB.

This Mergers and Acquisitions program (MAADS) was initiated by the Kathleen Wynne government’s ‘recommending’ absorption of small to medium sized community owned hydro distribution systems to create efficiencies.

This opened the floodgate for large power distribution corporations to fatten their portfolios at little capital cost or debt.

By June 7, that policy may be history with a change in government.

The rush here by Alectra-Guelph Hydro is to ensure its proposal is “grandfathered” regardless of the outcome of the election.

The OEB has invited interested parties to “Have Their Say” stating that is their right. The Board has stated that there are two types of applications:

A written application has already been submitted and an oral application in which members of the public can present their objections to the application by Alectra Utilities and Guelph Hydro.

But here’s the catch: “You can become an active participant (called an intervener). Apply by April, 30, 2018 or the submitted written hearing will go ahead.”

That seems clear enough but why did it take more than a month to reveal the written merger agreement that was received by the OEB on March 7, 2018?

Why did the City Solicitor, Christopher Cooper, side step my request in early March when requested, for a status report on the final agreement?

So the people directly affected by this merger agreement have just 14 days to apply for an intervener status at an OEB oral hearing.

Finally, here is the evidence that our Guelph Hydro Electric System is being given away with no cash consideration in exchange for a tiny 4.63 per cent of only 60 per cent of Alectra Utilities’ profit. This corporation is a division of Alectra Inc.

It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that our citizen-owned power distribution system, serving 55,000 customers, worth an estimated $300 million, is being exchanged for a tiny slice of Alectra Utilities’ profits. Is this what the Wynne Liberals were counting on?

As activist, taxpayers and communicators, we want an open administration, accountability, and transparency in our city government. It was promised in 2014 but never delivered. We can charge city council for allowing this deal to reach this absolute level, the last line of defence, public participation.

Here is a capsule of the terms of the agreement as published by the OEB:

“Alectra Utilities Corporation and Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. have asked the Ontario Energy Board to approve:

  • The purchase by Alectra Inc. of all the issued and outstanding shares of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc., held by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.
  • Transfer of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.’s distribution system to Alectra Utilities Corporation • Transfer of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.’s generation licence and rate orders to Alectra Utilities Corporation
  • Amendments to Alectra Utilities Corporation’s electricity distribution licence to include Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.’s service area

The applicants say that the proposed amalgamation is expected to deliver savings to the customers of both utilities and that the rates of Alectra Utilities Corporation and Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. will remain separate until 2029. The applicants also say that the costs of the proposed amalgamation will not be funded by ratepayers.”

Let’s dissect the terms as acknowledged by the OEB.

Whopper #1

Comment: First, it states this is a ‘purchase’ of all the issues and outstanding shares of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc., held by Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. (GMHI).

It does not reveal the truth of the value of GMHI including shares that blew through more than $60 million of shareholder funds (the people of Guelph) and its shares are essentially worthless without Guelph Hydro.

So, what is Alectra paying for these worthless GMHI shares? More importantly, who winds up owning the title of the Guelph Hydro Electric Corporation? It appears so far, it won’t be the owners.

This GMHI information is confirmed by the independent audit by the accounting firm KPMG in which the GMHI audited consolidated statement showed the shareholder equity was worthless. But GMHI did control the financially healthy Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.

This take-over of Guelph Hydro made by the former GMHI board of directors, chaired by the former mayor, posed a serious financial problem for council.

There are two assets helpd by GMHI: The Guelph Junction Railroad and Guelph Hydro.

Guelph Hydro represented a solution and became the bargaining chip to get out of that GMHI multi-million dollar debt.

This is how the merger cover-up began. The deal was not about Guelph Hydro, it was about the city administration divesting itself of an asset to get that $60 million GMHI deficit off the city books.

That’s why in February 2017, the Strategies and Options Committee removed the option of selling Guelph Hydro. This opened the door for this terrible deal to give Guelph Hydro away for a pittance and in one stroke clean up of the GMHI balance sheet for which the city was responsible.

The key word in this description of the take-over is Alectra assuming all the “issues” surrounding not only Guelph Hydro but also its ‘controller’ GMHI.

Here’s Whopper #2

The submitted agreement states that Guelph Hydro’s distribution system is “transferred” to Alectra Utilities with no apparent cash consideration. Guelph Mayor Guthrie keeps saying that nothing is being given away. Well sir, you’d better check the agreement you and Alectra have already submitted to the OEB for approval. This isn’t about semantics it’s about real money

Nowhere in this agreement summary released by the OEB does it mention the $18.5 million special dividend that upon approval will be paid to the city. This dividend is already the property of the citizens of Guelph. It is part of the $22 million cash reserves stated in the 2016 Guelph Hydro audited financial statements.

There is nothing more insulting than to be told the city is receiving the dividend that is nothing more than a subterfuge to disguise what is really happening. Our greatest asset, Guelph Hydro, is being sacrificed to cover-up the mistakes of the previous administration and current Guthrie administration

Now we know why this terrible deal, masquerading as something best for the 55,000 Guelph Hydro customers was conducted behind-closed doors to suppress public participation. The use of phony surveys, misinformation and town halls attended only by a handful of supporters to bolster the case, witnessed spending $2.36 million to sell the proposal to the public.

Oh, the agreement states that the ratepayers will not fund the costs of the proposed amalgamation.

Was the OEB board informed before publishing this agreement summary that the citizens of Guelph have already spent $2.36 million to fund this deal and sell it to the ratepayers?

Here is more about the agreement now registered with the OEB.

“The applicants say that the proposed amalgamation is expected to deliver savings to the customers of both utilities and that the rates of Alectra Utilities Corporation and Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. will remain separate until 2029. The applicants also say that the costs of the proposed amalgamation will not be funded by ratepayers.

That’s Whopper #3

Your application to intervene should include the following as it applies to your feelings about the merger agreement:

“In assessing the application, the OEB will apply what is called a “No Harm Test”. This means that the OEB will be considering whether customers would be harmed from the perspective of rates, reliability and quality of service in a merger. To pass the No Harm Test, evidence must be provided that rates and service levels would be equal to or better than what they would have been without a merger.”

Well, we now know as revealed by the OEB release, that great harm has been done to the owners of the Guelph Hydro power distribution system such as losing ownership and control.

* The assets are being turned over to another operator with no encumbrances, who have made promises to provide equal or better rates and services, jobs and a green technology centre to be set up in the Guelph Hydro headquarters facility.

* We will lose 30 to 50 jobs if the agreement is approved and the green tech operation will have a staff of ten.

How can the OEB approve an agreement in which a financially sound and dividend paying corporation is being given away? It’s a win-win for Alectra Utilities because the former Guelph Hydro will still supply those dividends that Alectra will be required to pay GMHI. It’s just under another name.

We respectfully urge the OEB to order an oral hearing to give the stakeholder’s an opportunity for the board members to understand how our excellent Guelph Hydro that has served us so well over the years is being given away.

Perhaps, the truth of how and why this merger agreement was created and executed can be questioned and find it is not in the best interests of the owners of the utility.

Please, Do No Harm.

 

 

 

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Guelph Hydro/Alectra Utilities’ merger is legalized theft by shutting down public participation

By Gerry Barker

April 23, 2018

Breaking News: I have just spoken with an official at the Ontario Energy Board acknowledging receipt of  our intervener letter. He explained that if the board decides not to hold an oral hearing, then only those citizens, who have written to intervene by the end of the month, would still be permitted to question a written application before the OEB. The board has announced that any hearing on this merger application may be held within 6 to 12 months. Please send your intervention letter today (either snail or email) to be part of our last opportunity to be participants in the process.

Breaking News: Congratulations to Ray Ferraro, acclaimed as candidate to represent Guelph for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party in the June 7 provincial election.

Most of my viewers know by now why I am opposed to the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra Utilities.

I also believe that there was a well-planned assault on the citizens to dump our Hydro to pay off Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.’s (GMHI) millions of debt.

Think I’m kidding?

This deceptive legacy started in the fall of 2016 with the appointment of the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC) by city council. It was a propitious time as the accounting firm KPMG had completed the audit of GMHI’s finances. The results were not revealed until early January last year.

And it wasn’t a pretty picture as some $60 million in shareholders GMHI equity was worthless. There were other liabilities that created a huge hole in the city’s books. Who were these shareholders? The city council represented the citizen’s of Guelph, owners of Guelph Hydro.

Starting to get the picture?

The SOC had five members none of who were elected to council. The committee performed its duties in closed-sessions with the odd neutral public report to council.

The SOC mandate was to explore and investigate two basic options: The sale of Guelph Hydro and/or merging with a larger power distribution organization.

Now this is important to remember. It is the policy of the Ontario Liberal Government to “recommend” the merger and amalgamation of small to medium sized Local Community Distribution systems to larger privately owned municipal distribution systems. The reason? It was to encourage “efficiencies.”

The reality is the larger power corporations had a field day gobbling up the small community power distributions system often ten cent on the dollar.

Who were these acquirers? This includes Hydro One the semi-privatized Ontario power distribution corporation with only 47 per cent still owned by Ontarians.

Also Alectra Inc. that now controls power distribution systems in Brampton, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Aurora, Markham, Hamilton, Barrie, St. Catharines, Collingwood, Simcoe county and Mississauga. Add TransCanada Pipelines to the list as the big boys take over the small and medium sized power distribution systems.

In each take over, the OEB had to approve the merger, sale or amalgamation. The deals were all over the map in terms of benefits to the little guys that varied with each proposal and the OEB approved most of the applications.

In fact, a whole new industry developed benefiting the printing industry, legal firms, financial advisors, engineering companies specializing in power generation and distribution, financial institutions, publishers and graphic designers.

The turning point

In February 2017 the SOC, in closed-session, removed the option of selling Guelph Hydro and not to be considered.

It was a sudden decision. Why would the SOC dump the sale option without explanation? In fact it was only revealed after a leak of the SOC decision made behind closed doors.

Ask yourself, why would an acclaimed community power distribution system, with an exemplary record of service, management and profitability fail to be worth at least the $228 million in book value of its assets? Such assets include wires, poles, substations, equipment, real estate, a fully equipped headquarters building plus some $22 million in cash reserves.

This decision followed a shake-up of the personnel of the SOC with Guelph Hydro CEO Pankaj Sardana being replaced by Hydro chair Jane Armstrong, as co-chair of the SOC with Guelph CAO Derrick Thomson.

What we don’t know is why the decision not to sell Guelph Hydro? That information is sealed in the closed session meeting that decided not to consider the sale of Guelph Hydro.

Alectra is no stranger acquiring municipal power systems and paying for ownership. Brampton Hydro One is an example. So, why not Guelph? You want it? Then paying for it seems logical.

The reason is simple. City council wanted the GMHI debt off its books. The only tangible asset of GMHI is Guelph Hydro.

Now you know the rest of the story

Here is a revealing fact as contained in a two-page spread in the Globe and Mail last Saturday. The lengthy investigative piece describes how the Wynne Liberals kept billions of borrowed money off its balance sheet. It is another example of the Liberal’s energy file being bungled in 2017 due to the Fair Hydro Plan to lower power rates.

You probably recall that the Liberals said they would lower Hydro rates by 25 per cent, and hold increases to the rate of inflation for four years. The Ontario Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, pointed out that the province had to borrow billions to pay for most of it.

Ms. Lysyk charged that the government used ‘bogus’ accounting to keep the debt off its books.

The similarities are startling comparing the Ontario Liberals juggling the numbers and the merger agreement between Guelph Hydro and Alectra giving Alectra control and title to Guelph Hydro for no cash consideration.

That agreement is now before the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) for approval.

Our last chance to express opposition to this estimated $300 million give away to Alectra, is to write a letter to intervene at an oral hearing of the application before the OEB, later this year.

After today, there are six working days remaining to have your say. The deadline for public participation notification must be postmarked no later than next Monday, April 30. If we don’t respond, the OEB states the hearing will proceed without public participation.

The opportunity to resist, for many legitimate reasons, will be gone without any recourse

There are a number of reasons why we must object to the written application by Guelph Hydro and Alectra.

Let there be no harm done

First, there is the OEB ‘s ruling that there must be “No Harm Done” in the application. Second the degree of secrecy that was used to shut down public participation by city council and the SOC. Third, the timing of the council meeting held December 13. Fourth, the written application to the OEB delivered two months later with no public announcement not made until the first week in April.

If we citizens can force an open hearing of the application, there will be legal support available to advise our opposition.

Finally, this is our last chance to stop the giveaway. For your convenience here is the OEB address and file number.

Ontario Energy Board

300 Yonge St.

27th floor
P.O. Box 2319
Toronto, ON M4P 1E4

April 23, 2018

Re File: EB-2018 –0014

 

 

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