Monthly Archives: January 2012

Media Watch – January 14, 2011

Sugar and Spice and dolls make Guelph Santa nice

Tribune columnist Alan Pickersgill brings readers up to date on Mayor Karen Farbridge’s latest triumph. The Mayor usually gets blamed for everything that goes wrong.

She can point to her city coming first among 378 North American cities as the new home of Santa Claus if forced to leave the North Pole due to global warming. The study was completed by Toronto university students who apparently don’t have enough to do.

The criteria is the number of cookie factories; milk producers; doll and game manufacturing facilities; postal workers and couriers; and department stores in each city.

Let’s hear it for Mayor Karen!

We’re Number One! We’re Number One! We’re Number One!

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Student housing dilemma: Not in my neighbourhood, please!

According to a letter by Patrick Kubicki in The Mercury, not even University of Guelph President Alastair Summerlee wants his students living in or near the university.

The student housing situation continues to fester as residents put up with the actions of young people whooping it up when away from home.

There is little support for stricter regulation of off-campus student housing. Councillors turn the other cheek and the university leadership shrugs seeing it as not their problem. Well, it is their problem and city council.

Operating student housing in residential neighbourhoods only benefits the few landlords at the expense of the citizens who own homes there. It’s time for a fix by the city to clamp down on these student houses by inspecting regularly to prevent abuse of the bylaws.

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Nobody likes the Guelph Transit route changes

How long does it take to reroute transit buses? In Guelph’s case it has been an ongoing project for more than eight months. When launch day arrived at the beginning of the year, everyone, drivers, passengers and commuters all protested the changes.

Andrew Cleary, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1189, writes in The Mercury that a lack of training has left drivers “struggling to learn new routes in an unsafe and unhealthy environment.”

Question: Were operator’s conditions safe and healthy before the route changes?  Just asking.

This self-serving piety about how tough the job is resonates as pure political positioning by the union preparing for the next round of negotiations.

The outcome has not gone as smoothly as it should. If transit management failed to instruct the drivers on the new routes then they are as culpable as the union. As usual the passengers and taxpayers are left standing in the cold waiting for the next bus to come.

Late News Flash

Check out Ken Spira’s comment in Guelphspeaks re the Microbe Motel scandal. Ken’s leadership and contribution in exposing the boondoggle that the Farbridge administration has foisted on the public, is an example of great citizen involvement and stewardship

Ken is founder and president of the Guelph Waste Management Committee and a member of the Public Advisory Committee (PAC)  PAC has been commissioned by the city to examine the operations of the $33 million waste management plant, known popularly as the Microbe Motel.

Reading his comments sends a shiver down the back on how money is wasted.

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I can see my house from here!


Wide-eyed rookie councillor, Todd Dennis, accompanied by a Mercury reporter, toured the Loretto convent transformed into a new Civic Museum recently to discover the impressive views of downtown Guelph.

The project started out as a reclamation project by the 2007 council to preserve the pre-confederation building, located on Catholic Hill and owned by the Hamilton Diocese.

At the time, the proposal by new city councillor, Leanne Piper, former head of the Guelph Heritage Society, was to cost $12.7 million as determined by city staff.

Remember back then? There were other pressing capital projects including a new downtown library on Baker Street, rebuilding the wet waste plant and completion of the $35 million new City Hall and Provincial Courts conversion of the old City Hall.

Whew! You’d think that would require some deep thinking about how to pay for all these projects. The fallout was to come later.

Well, the Convent conversion project became the centrepiece for the Farbridge Administration in 2007.

In the ensuing time the new City Hall project ballooned in cost and completion delays causing the contractor to be fired. The company then sued for $19 million for breach of contract. That lawsuit has yet to be settled.

Chief librarian Norman McCloud retired fuming that council sidetracked the proposed new downtown library.

Meanwhile council embarked on the creation of a wet waste management project that would ultimately cost taxpayers $50 million.

Then came the $74 million stimulus program in partnership with the Provincial and Federal governments in which the city had to pay one-third of the costs.

To shore up sagging city finances, Mayor Farbridge, along with the Guelph Hydro directors, promoted the sale of Guelph Hydro. This was rejected by council with some of the Mayor’s own supporters failing to approve it. Undeterred, The Mayor persuaded council to call the $30 million note it held against Guelph Hydro. Those proceeds are long gone today.

The decision to go ahead with the Loretto Convent restoration was five years ago.

After a long-term lease was arranged with the owners. Two attempts were made to design a building that would retain the heritage aspects of the original, yet install modern facilities to bring the derelict structure up to code.

Then as the years rolled by, it was discovered that the foundation needed reinforcement and all facilities including windows, floors and staircases had to be replaced and utilities rebuilt.

The official opening will occur in February but the landscaping will not be completed until summer. Also access to the museum will be restricted as Cork Street is being rebuilt.

It is difficult to accept that the original estimate for this project is accurate today. The very fact that it has been under construction for more than four years would indicate the unexpected construction problems plus inflation that costs would increase. What contractor in his right mind would agree to a fixed price and guarantee it for four years?

At one point, that city revealed that the costs had increased to $15.2 million. Despite the generous donations of Hugh Guthrie and others, and the potential sale of the previous Dublin Street site of the museum, the cost of this project has far exceeded the original estimate.

Why then does the city insist the original estimate is accurate? Coun. Dennis was impressed that the price was $12.7 million. Perhaps he ought to check out the real costs of this project

If for no other reason than to satisfy the public of the true costs and provide a historical record for future councils. It is appropriate for an independent audit of the projects particularly in view of the management turmoil in the finance and treasury department

I have no quarrel with the project that it will be a good addition to the city’s culture when finally completed. But four years later, at what cost?


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Guelphspeaks’ recipe to return competency to municipal government


Most people in the city are aware of the pickled soup that represents our municipal governance.

As a public service here is a recipe for getting the soup out of the pickle we are in.


Take a handful of reality

Add dollop or two for truthfulness – for taste

Stir in a big chunk of transparency

A cup of alum to suck up the mistakes, false statements and misjudgment of public understanding

Pump in 99 gallons of fresh air to open the secret and closed-door council meetings

Add a Thesaurus to parse the words used to obfuscate the truth

Provide a set of jumper cables to ignite citizens to realize how our city has been hijacked by the Left masquerading as progressives

Shake, not stir a new Chief Financial Officer who will not knuckle under  Mayor Farbridge and her controlling gang of eight on council

Fill every council meeting with citizens eating pizza and ice cream  displaying protest signs – “We won’t take it any longer”

Set paying taxes aside if the rate of increase is greater than the rate of  inflation

Beat downtown bar and club owners to control drinking and violent behaviour

Whisk a quart of curry to persuade the university to open its licensed  establishments on weekends, or municipal permits will not be approved


Stir vigorously and expect major change in the way our city is being managed

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Guelph’s $33 million Microbe Motel set to reopen


Down on Watson Road the world’s largest chemistry set is about to start accepting limited amounts of wet garbage to feed its hungry hoard of miniscule microbes. Known as the Wet Waste Management Plant, the chemical reaction of trillions of the little beasties is eagerly awaiting their munchies of sloppy wet garbage.

The theory is that these miracle micros turn the wet yucky stuff from our homes and businesses into lovely dry compost filled with natural nutrients. How to handle all that compost, that is created 365 days a year, has yet to be decided.

Well a funny thing happened as the microbe motel was fired up last September. Odours permeating the nearby residential neighbourhoods, as a result of this giant experiment in grand new digs, became a redux of an old problem.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. The city, through its environmental services and engineering department under the leadership of garbage maven Janet Laird, had assured residents for the past three years that this would not happen.

We know now it did.

The plant stopped taking the wet waste on November 25 to permit an investigation of what went wrong.

About two weeks later in a press release, Executive Director Janet Laird promised the plant would be in full production by the end of December.

So much for that. Then it was announced that the Public Advisory Committee (PAC) would investigate the problems associated with the plant’s design and construction to determine responsibility and solutions.

That process has started and the PAC is meeting January 16 to examine data and study an action plan to fix the problems.

Already there have been leaks of information that point the finger at the design and construction of the plant by Maple Reinders.

The city’s responsibility in all this has been adroitly avoided by putting the onus of fixing the problem on the laps of the PAC. The mayor and her sidekick Laird have blended into the woodwork on this issue, leaving the hard decisions to a non-elected group of citizens and staff.

While it might be good politics, it is really an abdication of responsibility. At a time when real leadership is required, the Farbridge administration put the wagons in a circle to avoid public criticism.

The irony is that the Ministry of Environment (MOE) director for this area has stated that the plant’s certificate of approval did not include a “commissioning period.”

It has now been revealed that it will take from four to five months for the microbe motel to reach full production.

The bottom line: What is the payback?  How will the city pay the capital costs of launching a $50 million waste management system? What are the real operating costs?

Look at it this way: We have a $33 million microbe motel that doesn’t work; a $2.5 million skating rink in front of city hall and a new $16 million civic museum built on someone else’s property. Add in the $10 million it will cost the city for the new WellingtonDufferinGuelph public health headquarters and the public coffers are empty.

Now that’s what I call voodoo fiscal management.

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Media Watch January 9, 2012


Stuff happens

Having been an editor on the news desk of the biggest paper in Canada, I cringe when I spot an error in the copy. In this case the Mercury’s Scott Tracey reported on a report about ambulance deployment to be delivered to a city committee .

It was interesting to read about how the EMS ambulance service is having a tough time covering the city and Wellington County. The story introduces EMS chief Stephen Dewar, and Erin Mayor, Lou Maieron. But then someone named Armstrong pops up in the story without attribution.

That’s an OOPs! And you think editing a newspaper is easy. I commiserate with the writer.

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At what point does an activist become a terrorist?

Recently, the Mercury ran a lengthy piece about a convicted G20 urban terrorist Amanda Hiscocks. To describe this unrepentant woman as a “Guelph activist” is an insult to everyone in the city. She bragged in the interview that these criminal convictions are not her first and they won’t be her last. I don’t know what your definition of a terrorist is, but anyone who counsels people to riot and wreck stores and create mayhem in the name of condemning capitalism is a terrorist. In fact, she is no different than the Al Qaeda leadership that planned and executed the destruction of the World Trade Centre.

The Mercury piece went on to say that while she pleaded guilty to counseling persons to commit property damage and obstructing police, it was never proven. So why did she plead guilty? Justice moves in mysterious ways. Hiscocks’ guilty plea was tied to charges being dropped involving her friend, Monica , and 10 other defendants.

Are Mercury readers that interested in an interview with a pair of urban terrorists who happen to live in Guelph? We have a history of arson of homes under construction and the Cuttin Club pro shop; major streets being blocked and ruthless harassment of civic officials attending the official opening of the Hanlon Business Park. One would believe that running a pity piece about the alleged perpetrators is unwarranted.

This was a case of bad editorial judgment. Here’s hoping Amanda Hiscocks and her friends find a new home in which to practise their violent political action.

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Is our heritage preservation out of control?

Susan Ratcliffe, who comes by her socialism honestly, chastises Mercury reporter Scott Tracey for his “thoughtless words” in his December 22 column. Scott writes a weekly column as well as covering City Hall and matters municipal. In my former newspaper days, reporters were never allowed to write columns. It was viewed as a conflict of interest. Reporters cover and write about events and reaction. Columnists write opinion pieces based on news stories. Regardless, I find his weekly columns more interesting than his reporting pieces.

What got Susan’s dander up was the destruction of alleged heritage buildings, usually abandoned, by both city and private owners. She demonizes Mike Lackowicz because he dared to say “this city has gone heritage crazy.”

Well the biggy heritage project this city has undertaken is in its fifth year of restoration. I refer to the $16 million restoration of the Loretto Convent to become a civic museum.  That was launched in 2007 and since then, there have been cases of heritage preservation by City Council. Of course, at the taxpayers’ expense.

The column describes the heritage policies of this council as avoiding the Mississaugafication of Guelph. Whatever that means.

Those who came before us chose to create an urban community and developed a modern society in Guelph. Heritage preservation was part of our growth as a city, but not at the expense of other important projects.












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Trying to cover up when something goes wrong is the best way to make it worse


There probably are people on city staff and council who realize they are experiencing a major public relations disaster. The city’s public response to the serious problems at the new $33 million compost plant on Watson Road has been obscure, indirect and failing to reveal the truth.

In fact, the vague responses or lack of truth is making the problem worse. One only has to think back when the Tylenol crisis occurred after some containers were found to be poisonous. The manufacturer reassured the public their product was safe and recalled millions of bottles. The company took full responsibility. It’s a lesson the city could learn and emulate.

There is no effective communications plan in place to keep the public informed, despite the fallout of failure

The Mayor has virtually disappeared choosing not to get her hands dirty as the plant failed to meet planned performance. Janet Laird, Executive Director of Environmental Services and Engineering, has issued meaningless press releases instead of telling the public the truth why the plant doesn’t work. If Janet Laird has no idea what happened, then things will get worse. This was her baby and she must carry full responsibility for it.

Now the flow of wet waste will start again despite the lack of information about the design and construction of the plant that caused the problems in the first place.

Instead, the problem was tossed to the Public Liaison Committee (PLC) to investigate.

Well surprise! Some members of that committee are doing their homework. Technical questions are being asked of the city officials in charge of this project such as:

What was the measurement of odour units at the outlet of the biofilter during the source testing?

What was the date that the source testing protocol was accepted by the MOE (Ministry of Environment) and when was the sources testing completed?

At what CFM  (cubic feet per minute) was the biofilter designed to achieve the best optimization? As part of the action plan, “ the airflow to the odour management system was increased in order to dilute the ammonia loading.” Is this a permanent solution and if so, how has it impacted the backpressure in inches of water column?

If the backpressure is increased and the utility costs increase accordingly, will this cause a higher price of the source separated organics in the operating contract?

Are there chillers built into the collection system train to maintain the temperature?

Has the full analysis been completed on the biofilter media and if so, will the results be given to the PLC by January 10th

Realizing that these questions are far too technical for the average citizen to comprehend, the city has an obligation to communicate progress of this situation in layman’s terms.

While it’s early to fix any blame one thing is clear. There is blame to be attached, as this is a major mistake with apparent misuse of taxpayer’s money. At the least, the last thing is for members of the administration and Council to assess blame and account for it. Appointing a knowledgeable and independent individual to examine the facts, and report to the public, is the only transparent way to assess what happened.

We hope the problems are fixed soon because this huge investment has already been made. The cost of repairs and re-design will be daunting regardless of the final outcome.

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