Monthly Archives: May 2012

A tale of two solitudes

Posted May 28, 2012

When the local media reports city council action it gives the impression of unanimous agreement. The truth is the five-member opposition rarely votes with the majority on most issues.

Only five you say?

For almost six years city council has been dominated by a majority of Farbridge supporters whose agenda blindly stumbles on, regardless of the cost or unintended consequences.

The result is a virtual dictatorship by a majority of councillors who doggedly vote as a bloc supporting the Farbridge agenda. This unbalanced council has caused a huge disservice to taxpayers.

There is no way this Farbridge led-juggernaut can be stopped with its wooly ideas on how to make this city into their image and legacy.

But perhaps in October 2014, election day.

Hard as they might, the five councillors who do not share the spendthrift ways of this council cannot stop the majority from doing almost whatever it pleases.

Until the Guelph electorate has decided it has had enough of the Farbridge focus on the downtown, heritage, the environment, legal litigation, waste management, growing the debt and committing future council to unfunded projects, it will not change in October 2014.

Municipal politics is the bottom feeders of politics. Voter turnout is abysmally low. In the 2010 Guelph election only 38 per cent of those eligible to vote turned up to vote.

The city rumour mill is speculating that Mayor Farbridge is stepping down. Also Coun. Maggie Laidlaw is reported to be calling it a day. Two supporters of the Farbridge dynasty, Todd Dennis and Karl Wettstein, are vulnerable in ward six, Ian Findlay the Farbridge downtown supporter will be a target in ward two.

Further the rumour mill has Coun. Leanne Piper running for mayor.

If true, the invincible Farbridge majority could crumble as fresh faces would create a new, more responsible administration.

Lurking in the background is a movement among the Farbridge majority to amend council representation in the 2014 election. In the works is a proposal to cut the ward-elected councillors to one, elect two at large councillors and a Mayor. This would result Guelph having nine full-time elected representatives. In contrast, only the Mayor is fulltime while the ward representatives are treated as part-timers.

This would increase the workload on all councillors but members would be compensated being paid as fulltime representatives.

The benefits include the secrecy policies of the Farbridge administration would evaporate bringing city business into the sunshine.

The cost of such an administration would increase but the payback would mean Guelph would have an elected body of fulltime employees. This will undoubtedly translate into attracting quality candidates who would not normally consider serving the city under the present organization.

Until that happens, citizens must endure the current oppressive administration.



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It’s Kindergarten time at 1 Carden Street

Posted May 30, 2012

Oh my, the children were restless the other night when the new Integrity Commissioner reported on the leak by an anonymous city councillor.

The Commish, a lawyer, hired at $235 an hour, was to determine if a report from the Ministry of Environment (MOE) concerning the air quality of the new $33 compost plant, broke the Code of Conduct rules. Oops, it is now known as the Waste Resource Innovation Centre (WRIC).

I like to call the WRIC the Microbe Motel that so far has failed to meet production goals because of construction errors or omissions. There have been periodic complaints about the smell of the decomposing wet waste during this eight-month trial and error testing period.

That’s when the MOE stepped in and prepared a report for the Public Liaison Committee.

Coun. Cam Guthrie requested a copy of the report but was denied by Chief Administration Officer Ann Pappert. Janet Laird, chief of things waste, piped up that it was a draft report. Huh! the MOE sends out draft reports? I don’t think so.

The next thing the Mercury reported that Guthrie and four other opposition councillors are kicking in $5 to obtain a copy of the report under the Freedom of Information Act.

Well, the bad stuff hits the fan and the Mayor calls in her newly-minted integrity commissioner, Robert Swayze, to report on whether the five bad boys and lady breached the Code of Conduct of council by leaking a confidential report to the press.

The witch-hunt is on to find out who leaked it. Exciting stuff eh? It only cost the taxpayers $235 an hour.

His report is Pabulum, plain and simple, suggesting that workshops be held to improve relationships between senior staff and council. That means another teacher coming to class to do the usual couch number to teach Kumbayaa. Those facilitators don’t come cheap.

The Commish talks about team building on Council and staff.

He’s kidding right?

Where has he been for the past five and one half years? Is he not aware of the dominance of the Farbridge majority in Council that has created the animosity existing today?

Our city has been governed by a dominant  ideological group that has made decisions placing the municipality in a serious financial position.

Mr. Swayze only interviewed the Mayor and Chief Administration Officer and e-mailed the protesting councillors. This has to tell you what side he’s swinging towards.

Question: Why does council need a code of conduct? Members are duly elected and expected to respect the rules of good order and function. The real story is this sappy and unnecessary code only diminishes a Councillors right to express oneself and put the lid on anything controversial. Are we still in Kindergarten?

Why do we need an Integrity Commissioner?

Why is the team of eight Farbridge team players so determined to keep a lid on stuff that may reflect badly on them?

If a city of Guelph councillor cannot speak his or her mind about civic matters, over which they was elected to oversee, on behalf of his electors, suggests that’s censorship.

Okay kids! Everybody out of the sandbox. It’s naptime.

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Rants: Things and stuff that really tick us off

Posted May 18, 2012

Here is a collection of rants that affect us all. It is a grass roots look at things that collectively look at our ability to live comfortably without the interference of government or other forms of authority.

*  Why is the Toronto Star being hypercritical of the police controlling the G20 riots in Toronto? Its cluster of mini-Stars including the Guelph Mercury, Kitchener Record and Hamilton Spectator dutifully apes the mother ship’s point of view. Old proverb: When momma is unhappy, everyone is unhappy.  So much for the loss of an independent press in those communities.

*  Why is Maclean’s magazine’s six-page genuflection to Conrad Black coming “home” after being kicked out of the U.S. upon completing his sentence, an affront to all of us? He’s not a Canadian, he’s a convicted felon, and a member of the House of Lords…over there. On top of that, he is a member of the Order of Canada. Some citizen, some political cuckold.

*  The perils of calling Rogers cable and spending valuable time while trying to solve your problem.  Anyone who has dealt with this company has experienced the frustration of waiting on line, being given mixed messages and coming away with a feeling of: “Why am I dealing with this bunch?”

*  A pox on those Quebec students who for three months have done the collective whine of the entitled generation and thrown a few smoke bombs to halt the Montreal subway system. The government gave them a pretty good deal but they still feel empowered. Wanna solve the problem, Montreal? Call in the Toronto cops.

*  Why have Canadian retailers waved the white flag saying they cannot compete with lower U.S. prices on similar merchandise? Solution: Shop in Buffalo, Detroit or International Falls, Minnesota. Save up to 30 per cent and Canada Customs lets you bring back $200 after 48 hours. I’d take jerry cans to fill-up with gas before crossing the border. Oh yeah, pick up some Glenmorangie scotch at $40 US, the full litre size, at the duty free.  If you are scotch noser, the 750-milliliter bottle of the same stuff at the LCBO is more than $60.

*  Why should we pay an extra 13 per cent HST tax for power, furnace oil, vehicles, weddings and funerals? Come to think of it, our tax system allows the governments to spend more and, raise more taxes.

*  The whole green energy business that is foisted on us by Dalton McGuinty, who has never met an NDPer he didn’t like, is confusing and expensive. In the hinterland the folks are complaining about the giant propeller driven wind farms. Complaints range from how the cow’s production and other human afflictions are affected. In Guelph there is a solar panel manufacturer that may be unable to compete when similar solar companies have gone bankrupt due, in part, to low cost Chinese competitors. Don’t hold your breath.

*  Why are gasoline prices still high despite the price of crude dropping by $12 a barrel? By my reckoning, the price of a litre of the regular 87 proof should now be $1.04 a litre.  Five years from now with more and more electric and hybrid cars on the roads, the petro-gougers will be begging for our business.

*  Why can’t we have a North American wide TV channel selection? We allow U.S. culture to penetrate our sensitive angst in so many ways, why not unlimited TV? The answer my friend is blowing through the wind of the bureaucracy of the Canadian Radio and Television Commission. Big brother trying to control what we want to hear and see. Did I mention the communications conglomerates that are in the business of controlling our rights to see and hear? And charging an arm and a leg for the privilege

*  Why do we allow food-marketing boards to determine the price of milk, chicken, beef, pork and eggs? It’s the ultimate of protectionism that prevents fair competition and drives up prices to support the producers. These are the people who have enjoyed this monopoly for many years.  It’s time to open the markets to North American competition. Why should Canadians pay premium prices for basic goods?  When eggs cost $5 a dozen and butter $5.67 a pound, it’s no wonder we resort to Kraft dinner.

And folks, you thought I was only interested in matters of Guelph. We’re all in this together.


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Myths about dandelions and dandelion supporter Matt Soltys

Posted May 19, 2012

Since 2009, the provincial government including a collection of Guelph super-environmentalists has banned the use of cosmetic herbicides. Translation: the era of dandelion weeds and other noxious weeds has taken over our parks, playgrounds and civic common areas.

The curious point is golf courses were exempted.

A study done by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency in 2008 that found the popular weed killers containing 2-4-D meets Canada’s strict health and safety standards. And is okay to be sold and used in the country.

The pro-dandelion crowd argues that herbicide 2-4-D is a danger to the health of children. The truth is there is no evidence that the use of approved herbicides does not harm the health of anyone.

It is further evidence that the power environmentalists can bring false and flawed evidence of danger to elected bodies, thus provoking unwarranted bans of useful and approved products to control noxious weeds

The McGuinty government ignored that study when it banned use of the herbicide in most parts of the province.

In the papers this weekend there was a letter written by Guelph area farmer Peter Hannan unequivocally stating that dandelions are a curse. Recently a columnist and environmental advocate Matt Soltys, ruminated in the public prints that “those iconic yellow flowers are giving way to the fluffy orb of seeds that will scatter in the wind.”

Well, those fluffy orbs scattered and are already affecting many area croplands.

Compounding the problem the huge increase of dandelions due to last year’s wet spring and dry summer, farmers are experiencing a shortage of the herbicide to protect their croplands and pastures.

Dandelions know no borders as the seeds scatter onto farmlands outside the city limits.

Hannan spelled out the damage that dandelions do such as decimating pasture fields, fouling hay crops, and attacking croplands. He states that dandelion leaves spread out killing beneficial seeds. Hannan disputes the Soltys claim that dandelions improve the soil. He says legumes do a better job such as white clover and bird-foot trefoil that will give your lawn a trimmed, healthy appearance and does not require frequent mowing.

Guelph’s parks and common areas are awash with dandelions that have taken over once green and lush areas of which the city was justly proud. Today there is no funding for over-seeding the parks, aerating and fertilizing, to build the grasses from the invasion of noxious weeds.

Besides the dandelion, these include thistle, black medic, some clovers, plantain, spurge, knotweed, and crabgrass.

And puleez, don’t tell me again how dandelions are edible and make great wine.

I don’t see citizens out on my park digging up blooming dandelion plants for salads and, what ever.

Enough already! Let’s press the provincial government to reverse this decision banning herbicides that is affecting the beauty of our city and vital rural food producing lands on which all Ontarians are dependent.


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How the University has taken advantage of Guelph taxpayers

Posted May 18, 2012

It started in 1983 when the Ontario Universities and Colleges were granted a special deal by the Provincial government. In lieu of municipal property taxes, those institutions were granted a $75 per student charge. It’s called the bed tax.

It hasn’t changed in 29 years. No adjustment for inflation.  It was the gift the provincial governments of all stripes gave to municipalities, that keeps giving.

Well, it didn’t work out that way.

As taxpayers are aware, a lot has changed in our society in the past 29 years.

In Guelph, the University has grown from a small educational institution with perhaps 5,000 students in 1983 to whopping 22,000 students today and counting.

So, what’s the big deal?

Well, the expansion of this University has created pressure on the city to accommodate an influx of part-time students every year.

This accommodation includes increased cost for transit services. Students pay for bus passes at a discount that residents do not receive. The city must operate a service that accommodates a six-month influx of 22,000 students that has driven the taxpayer subsidy of public transit through the roof.

In addition, there has been dramatic development of the University that has affected such city services as water and sewer facilities, power, roads, fire, medical and police services, and additional city staff to process the growth.

Is $75 per student in 1983 still worth $75 today? One estimate is $121.50 compounded over 29 years.

Let’s examine the difference between what the city will receive in 2012 from the University in lieu of property taxes and what the city should receive when inflation is factored in.

In 2012, the city, (based on $75 X 22,000 students.) will receive $1,650,000.

Based on the inflated value of the dollar, ($121.50), the total is $2,673,000.

The shortfall is $1,023,000.

Local single-family neighbourhoods have been turned into student ghettos. The municipality has given the right to unscrupulous landlords to convert those homes into multi-occupational residences.

The past month has witnessed the debacle as students decamp at the end of the second semester. Garbage, and unwanted furniture dumped on the streets has plagued residents living near the University.

It’s the dross of a generation that doesn’t give a damn about the consequences that affect its temporary home, our city.

Yet the University does nothing except oppose a proposal to build a private student hi-rise residence at the corner of Gordon and Stone road.

City council does nothing stating if they enforce legal zoning restrictions, the Ontario Civil Rights organizations will fight the matter in the courts on the grounds of discrimination against students.

Then we have the Guelph Chamber of Commerce gloating about the University’s economic value to the city.

I guess if you operate one of the 33 bars downtown you would agree. Especially when the University closes down its pubs to remove ant competition. During student season – September to April – downtown on weekend is soaked (pun) with students seeking to unload their problems with booze.

The laughable attempted by Coun. Ian Findlay and former Coun. Mike Salisbury to set up temporary pissoirs (male only) to stop indiscriminate public urination after the bars closed, was an abject failure.

This failed experiment played into the Farbridge administration ‘s determination to turn Guelph’s downtown in a vibrant and exciting place. After spending millions to accommodate this dream, the strategy recently changed and council approved high-rise condos of up to 18 stories to be built.

The strategy is to bring residential development downtown to fulfill the Mayor’s dream. Good luck with that.

But this ill-fated dream has turned to mush as problems with the University student behaviour has either been ignored or hidden from public view. You choose.

As an observation, some Farbridge supporters on council have ties to the University. This would preclude any firm action on the part of council to correct serious and ongoing student problems that taxpayers face.

Most taxpayers would say: “I don’t understand the problem.”

That’s just the way this council wants you to believe.

It’s another example of gutless administration and mushroom politics.

Interpretation: Keep the natives in the dark.


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When Kitchen table budgeting doesn’t work

Posted May 15, 2012

Some Guelph departments budget like my aunt Sue.  She would take her old age pension cheque and buy a new pair of shoes instead straying from her budget.

It’s called the windfall budgeting.

Let’s take Guelph Transit as an example of windfall budgeting.

Last year, the Transit system was being redesigned to interface with the new central transit terminal plus to make routes more cost effective. The plans were the result of more than a year of study that included costing the effort.

Now, one would assume that there was careful consideration before casting the revised plan in stone.

Wrong. With a budget exceeding some $12 million, Guelph Transit is now projecting a $450,000 deficit over budget projections for 2012.

The city’s March operating variance report states the cause of the transit budget over-run was higher fuel costs. Certainly there has been an increase in vehicle fuel costs since last summer. But, one would think that this basic operational cost would have been carefully vetted to provide a hedge.

Obviously such provision was not included in the Transit budget for 2012.

But all is not lost. The variance report states there is a $734,000 surplus in the city’s overall operating budget. That is aided and abetted by a $1 million dividend from the Guelph Municipal Holdings Corporation. Hence the windfall budgeting.

Another department headed by Mark Amorosi, Executive Director of Corporate and Human Resources, racked up a $500,000 deficit in the first three months of the year. Reason given is the cost of Municipal Board hearings and legal cases.

This is a key area that has been shrouded in secrecy. There are no details provided why this budget went over projections in this department. By yearend, the excess spending could be more than $2 million.

As viewers will recall, this is a chief criticism of the Farbridge Administration that it either hides or obfuscates details of spending errors and lack of control of finances.

It’s really simple. Make every department budget accurate and realistic. If an overage occurs, unless it can be proved it is caused by uncontrolled circumstances, the department is stuck with the original budget. Any surplus budget funds remaining at yearend are rolled back to the general administration fund.

This way, staff will have to budget accurately and be accountable. It’s called management folks and the taxpaying public will have a greater understanding how their interests are being served.

And Aunt Sue will forgo the shoes and pay her bills.


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Media Watch: Why the sudden interest in Ian Findlay?

Posted April 28, 2012

Whatever prompted the Guelph Mercury to publish a Page One puff piece on city Coun.  Ian Findlay?  Then more accolades on the editorial page saluting Mr. Findlay’s business survival in the diminishing world of store front DVD rentals.

Mr. Findlay’s municipal interests lie downtown in Ward One. He represents Ward Two where support of issues in that ward seem to be surmounted by those of the Farbridge administration. His unfailing support of the Farbridge downtown agenda diminishes his effectiveness in Ward Two.

In view of the Merciry’s recent critical coverage of the Farbridge administration, it is surprising to take a what could be an interesting business story and make it the Saturday Page One lead story.

As Pogo would say: ” It’s confusing but amusing.”

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How council gives citizens the mushroom treatment

Posted May 10, 2012

It all started in July 2006 when the Kate Quarrie administration approved a $42 million contract subsequently won by Urbacon as general contractor. The contract called for a new city hall to be built at a cost of $32,498,000 and to convert the old city hall into a provincial courthouse costing $9,502,000.

In the fall of 2006, the Quarrie council was swept out of office and replaced by former Mayor Karen Farbridge and 10 supporters.  Her majority was omnipotent with a huge majority of councillors dedicated to changing the city into their own image.

The contract for the two buildings was to be “substantially completed” by February 28, 2008. Subsequent negotiations extended the completion date to September 8, 2008, due in part to more than 350 change orders apparently demanded by the city staff.

The city fired Urbacon on that date because it claimed the contract had not been substantially completed. Chief executioner was Chief Administration Officer, Hans Loewig ,who is no longer working for the city.

It was revealed that members of council had no oversight of this major project. Change decisions were made by the city staff.

On October 9, 2008, Urbacon sued the city for breach of contract claiming  $20 million in damages. The city counter-sued Urbacon for $5 million.

Urbacon claimed the city delayed completion of the project because of hundreds of change orders.

For its part, the city was concerned about expiring leases in buildings, housing public workers, that made the move-in date uncertain. It was revealed that council had ”lost faith in Urbacon’s ability to deliver.”

Here’s where it get sticky.

When all this was going on, the public was left in the dark. All it knew was the builder had been fired by Loewig with little or no explanation.

In the past three and a half years, many subcontractors were not paid by Urbacon resulting in 19 liens against our brand new city hall.

Under the Construction Loan Act, the city withheld $3.2 million and was ordered to pay it to the court. The city and Urbacon agreed to pay $2,370,963 to those subcontractors who filed liens against the city hall project.

In addition, the city also paid another $3,385,205 directly to some subcontractors to complete their work and finish the building.

The city has stated that it is suing the consultant hired to manage the project and the insurer providing the performance bond. That suit is on hold until the city’s trial with Urbacon is settled.

In the fall there will be a non-binding mediation between the city and Urbacon in an attempt to settle their differences. If this fails, a trial is set for January 21, 2013.

Added to this complex array of misadventures was the city hiring Collaborative Structures of Cambridge to convert the old city hall into a provincial courthouse. Details of that contract have never been revealed including the cost.

The fumbling of creating a new city hall and provincial court has created a stunning series of administration errors and with little culpability directed at the decision makers. It will probably take a forensic audit to determine the end cost of the new city hall.

The cost to the city of hiring lawyers still working their way through this swamp of litigation has yet to be revealed.

Instead the public, those paying the bills, is given the mushroom treatment to function in the dark without knowing how their city is being managed, or mismanaged as seems to be the unfolding case

This mess is classic Farbridge.  The citizens are left in the dark because too much of the public’s business is conducted behind closed doors or off-site.

It is noted that even mushrooms eventually see the light of day.


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Why Me?

Posted May 8, 2012

Every once in a while I wonder why I really care about Guelph.

I write my blog without any compensation except the satisfaction that I am exposing the weaknesses of a tired administration.

I’m a lone wolf who pays taxes, supports institutions and worries about the future of our great city.

That’s my motivation to interpret and comment on how the city is being managed. As a professional journalist who has spent a lifetime covering stories from the arrival of the Beatles in America in 1964 to life at the top of the world at Alert, 200 miles from the north pole.

I have worked as a senior editor at the Toronto Star (ironic, eh?) and at one stage in my life was owner and publisher of the Bradford (Ontario) Paper Group.  I have served in the military, on condo and service club boards.  Currently I serve as Finance Chairman of the Regimental Council of the Queen’s York Rangers, 1st American Regiment based in Toronto and Aurora.

Guelph has been run by a council with an egoistical determination to make its mark despite citizen objections, since 2007. For the past five and one half years this council has controlled the public’s business with little or no opposition.

I have been writing about this group that has dictated policy, regardless of what people think or want or know how to pay the bills.

Now the supporters of this group including the Guelph Civic League, are attacking my articles and postings on

I see this as a good sign that my points are striking home. Since starting the blog about 11 months ago, the number of viewers has grown steadily.  I accept no ads and my copy is carefully checked and vetted for accuracy.

I do not have any out-of-towners telling me what to write or influence me in any way.

My goal is to alert the voting public to question the administration and follow the commentary so that a rightful decision is made on election day, October 2014.


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Is it any wonder why citizens are puzzled and angry?

Posted May 8, 2012

It was another proposal that came out of the woodwork.

The city leadership has decided this city needs another downtown park.

So, staff has been busy moving a new project along. It will result in about 40 businesses forced to move elsewhere because the southeast corner of Wellington and Gordon Street will become a new downtown park.

Uh, that’s in 2022.

At first blush, staff announced the cost of buying up two strip malls and a separate small animal clinic would be $9 million. This would eliminate the commercial corner and create a pristine park nestled along the shores of the Speed River.

Then the price was revised to cost between $12 and $16 million by 2022.

Let’s see, those on council voting for this foolish scheme will be the same ones who voted for the $16 million civic museum (less Coun. Todd Dennis). But then went off the rails to spend more than $50 million on a wet waste composting plant that has not met targeted production since start-up last September.

So, approving this parks plan, council is saying it will save enough money to pay for the project over the next ten years. I don’t know, but how much money has council saved in the past five and one half years?

How does this work into the announcement that a new $63 million downtown library will be open by 2017? Or how about the south-end recreation centre? Ask Farbridge team player Mr. Dennis about that.

Both these projects will bind the hands of future councils. Those councils may have other plans than to build monuments to the perceived genius of the Farbridge gang of eight.

Let’s drop the vision thing and the obsession with downtown Guelph. Let’s work on putting our financial house in order.

Let’s have good roads, responsible development, more commercial and industrial development to create jobs, more social housing, more recreational facilities with washroom walls that don’t collapse, fewer closed meetings, and more transparency.

It’s not complicated, All that’s required is critical thinking.

Come’on Madame Mayor, open the doors and windows and let the sunshine in.


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