Monthly Archives: November 2012

Short takes – the bold, the amusing and the odorous

Posted November 15, 2012

* Go figure. Guelph Coun. Ian Findlay floats the idea of full-time councillors. Two days later, a staff report recommends that council and committee meetings be suspended in January, July and August starting next year.

* If former general of the U.S. Army David Petraeus was a closet satyr, would the devil agree?

* If all it takes is eye makeup, a good body accompanied by a pretty good brain, to seduce the brightest U.S. military star of the decade, where does lust and duty square off?

* Why does Prime Minister Stephen Harper need two armoured Cadillacs on his Asia tour when an Oshawa-built Chevy Malibu would have done the job?

* When Immigration Minister, Jason Kenny, opens his pie hole, immigrants to Canada must cringe.

* Why do teachers insist on using “job action” that impacts the students while their pay cheques and benefits still keep coming?

* Have you ever experienced a labour negotiation between NHL billionaire owners and millionaire players in which they are unable to resolve a basic contract to keep the money flowing? It’s emperors versus knights.

* Why does Guelph’s Manager of Realty Services refuse to reveal the sale price of the taxpayer-owned former civic museum property? The Ontario Municipal Act requires the property should be sold to the highest bidder.

* Professor Barry Kay says that Obama could have been beaten in the recent U.S. election.  Well, that’s why you are a professor and Obama is President.

* What in hell has been going on at U.S. Madill Air force base in Tampa, Florida? It appears to be a steamy cesspool of questionable social intercourse between socialites and generals on the U.S. taxpayer’s nickel.

* So the manager of the city’s heritage department deems the derelict Wilson Farmhouse a heritage property to be preserved. How do you judge if a neglected, city-owned property is worth restoring? That’s like dealing with a pimple on a pumpkin.

* The Mercury front-pages the return of a convicted urban terrorist, Amanda Hiscocks, to Guelph. Really? Is this part of urban renewal? Or, just getting together with that old gang of mine?

* Then we learn that Hiscocks’  base organization, Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPRIRG) has dissension in the ranks. Finances are in disarray and the group is embedded in the University of Guelph. Perhaps a rethink is needed here.

* While “Town and Gown” is an admirable concept, taxpayers are continuously being asked to provide more money to support the expansive growth of the University of Guelph. With half of the Farbridge controlling coalition on council either employed or connected to the University, is it any wonder?

* Why isn’t our full-time mayor spending her energy promoting the opportunities the city offers rather than being a chairman of the board?

* Just wondering, why the mayor votes on every motion when she has a clear majority locked up? Is she a player or gatekeeper?

* Is newly nominated Guelph Progressive Conservative candidate Anthony MacDonald a one trick pony? A professional horseman who is determined to overturn the Liberal government decision to close the slots operations at Ontario’s race tracks.

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Holy side-show Batman, the 2003 Cuff report is reincarnated

Posted November 15, 2012

Everything old is new again.

Well, your faithful council governance committee has proposed hiring an outside consultant to rationalize the 300 city operations. That’s code for an efficiency study.

The senior staff recommended spending $750,000 to complete the study by an unnamed consultant. Question: Will that be put out for tender? The committee decided to recommend spending $100,000 in 2013. In other words, they punted the issue down the road.

The recently hired internal auditor, Loretta Alonzo, said this kind of work is always done by outside consultants.

As an historic aside, I seem to remember that the pilloried Cuff report cost $100,000 in 2003. Mr. Cuff, a former mayor of Calgary, was a respected consultant employed by municipalities across the country.

You’d have thought in those days that the cat had missed the cat box.

Rookie Mayor Kate Quarrie faced a withering storm of protest from the left, including some present members of council. At one point the noisy left suggested it was corruption.

The net result was the retirement of Chief Administration Officer David Creech. The staff was evaluated and a number resigned or retired.

History is always a great teacher and since Karen Farbridge has been elected to run this city, the evidence is apparent that her administration is in tatters with low staff morale, a sense of hopelessness, as the city is basically run by five people, (make that six). This group has foisted ill-conceived projects costing millions that reflect their personal biases and philosophy.

Now after six years of squandering real opportunity to make our city grow responsibly, citizens are paying for a bloated bureaucracy that consumes 89 per cent of the total annual city budget.

Debt has soared with the grandiose schemes by the “radz” (my personal and ongoing description of the Farbridge supporters) to turn this city into some kind of environmental super nova.

Except it hasn’t tuned out at way. Debt and fiscal management has been so manipulated that now even provincial and federal government bureaucrats shake their heads in disbelief.

Guelph’s administration has no respect in the upper reaches of government.

Why? Because of poor management, stupidity and arrogance. You cannot send ultimatums to cabinet ministers and expect a satisfactory response.

A case in point is sending a letter to the Minister of Health giving her a deadline to change the way public health services were to be administered in Guelph.

If you were unable to seek the support of the provincial government and its many tentacles into the city governance, why would you be surprised when they balk?

No amount of review and reorganization of the city staff is going to change as long as they are the basic decision makers of our city. It will be another taxpayer-funded exercise to get the Farbridge administration out of the ditch in which they have dug themselves. And it won’t work.

Our bloated bureaucracy is draining our ability to pay and advance the city in a responsible manner.

This party is only getting started.

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A bridge too far … for Albertans

Posted November 12, 2012

In a recent op-ed page article in the Mercury, the CEO of a Calgary-based outfit called Enquirica Research said that Albertans are not interested in paying for a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit.

This echoes that downer comment from Alberta during the National Energy Plan debate in the early 80’s: “Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark.”

Gracious, and all this time I believed we were part of a grand confederation of provinces and territories.  Sounds like the real separatist movement is alive and well in… Alberta.

Funny how good fortune experienced by one of our partners creates a streak of greed and meanness. Research discovers this outfit is primarily an investment house that specializes in commodity investments.

Why would they embark on a survey conducted by staff members of Lethbridge University to discredit a project that is vital to easier trade between two countries? And Albertans benefit from such a project as more than 25 per cent of the trade between the U.S. and Canada flows between Windsor and Detroit.

The privately owned 84-year old Ambassador Bridge cannot handle the growing traffic as goods and people flow freely between the two countries.  A big chunk of Canada/U.S. trade flows between Windsor and Detroit.  Why should a cranky billionaire maintain a chokehold on our two country’s national interests?

So exactly how has Alberta benefited from its association with the Federal government?

Let’s start with goods not manufactured in Alberta. They arrive on railroads and aircraft and trucks on tracks, airports and roads funded by the federal government.

The federal offices throughout the province provide services to Albertans. The RCMP, a federal police force, acts as the province’s police force.

The federal government runs the various military bases in the province.

How about the airports in the province? Federal money built these.

Then there is the Federal gas tax rebate given to Alberta’s municipalities.

Alberta is the only province and territory in Canada that has no provincial income or sales tax because of exploitation of oil and natural gas resources and substantial royalty payments, a flood of money that has poured into provincial coffers

The irony of this is Alberta would never have happened without confederation and the support of Ontario and Quebec.

So why is this argument coming across as uppity and confrontational? It’s about arrogance and attitude, folks.

That bridge is going to be built despite the feelings of some Albertans, and Ambassador bridge owner Marty Maroun, and they will pay their fair share, just like the rest of us.

In time, Albertans will benefit from easier access to major mid-west U.S. markets. So will the confederated Canada.

As for Enquirica Research, pick up your bat and ball and play in another sandlot.

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How Big Bird stole the U.S. election

Posted November 8, 2012

The fallout from the Republican ranks is hilarious. Caution, they do not take defeat lightly. Here’s a compendium of the Legion of Losers or how greed, money, and arrogance failed to elect Mitt Romney and his Tea Party running mate, Paul Ryan.

My favourite dumbkiss is Senator Mitch McConnell, minority leader in the U.S. Senate, who pledged in 2009 that his primary job was to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012. Mitch, how’s that working for you?

Take real-estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump, please. Romney reluctantly accepted his support on the stage of a Las Vegas Casino. He looked like he had just swallowed hemlock that, in retrospect, may have been an election night alternative. Who is the Donald’s brain surgeon? Time for a transplant.

Former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, business czar and author, accused the Department of Labor’s employment statistics for September, claiming they were rigged in the president’s favour. And 5 million Alabamans believed him.

You have to feel sorry for all those billionaires and millionaires who ponyed up more than a billion dollars to elect Romney. The winners? TV and radio stations across the swing states. Never has so much been given to so few in the name of self-righteousness.

Take the billionaire Koch brothers who put their money where Mitt and his Republican fellow travelers were. These willful characters tried to buy an election that was not for sale. Thank-you notes to follow.

Bill Reilly, the Fox News commentator’s post election mildly racist comment about the white folks in America being in the minority. Bill, the stats show there were more “white folks” who voted for Obama than Romney. Memo to the GOP: Go back to the drawing board.

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart commenting about Republican political guru Dick Morris who predicted a Romney sweep. Post election interview with Morris said he was covered with mud because of his failure to predict the outcome. Stewart: “That’s not mud.”

Remember Karl Rove? He was a commentator on Fox News. Rove was famous for engineering the election of George W. Bush. Well, mastermind Karl struck out Tuesday night insisting that Romney had won Ohio, even after the President had been declared the overall winner.  Guess the magic dust didn’t work this time.

What happened to CNN? It used to be a middle of the road news operation. Now it’s populated by latter day Republicans (I can’t help myself) whose conservative bias filtered through the noise. Don’t bother, you know who they are.

The Libertarian Tea Party remains a force but its strength is waning as the Republicans form the circular firing squad to establish blame.

Grover Norquist is the author of the no-tax increase pledge that was signed by most Republican members of the House of Representatives. The Tea Party members of the House will be under the gun in the next seven weeks as the end of the Bush tax cuts and several cuts to entitlement programs, kicks in January 1, 2013.  Will that be Orange Pekoe or cyanide?

Marty Maroun owns the 84 year-old Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit. He spent $34 million to foist a proposition on the Michigan voters that would require them to vote statewide, to approve any new bridge linking the two countries. His proposition failed by a wide margin. Even when you are a billionaire, aged 85, there is never enough.

And then there is Florida. Two days after the election, the result is still not determined. This time, the rest of the country does not have to wait for Florida to count the ballots. This is what happens when you elect a multi-millionaire executive to be governor. In defeating multi-millionaire Romney, did the country dodge a bullet? Wake me when it’s over.

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Come-on baby, light my fire

Posted November 8, 2012

In a post “State of the City” interview, the Mayor spoke of burning garbage to generate electricity and heat building from the thermal energy produced from … an incinerator.

Five years ago such a suggestion was ignored when the Farbridge dominated council approved a five-year “Community Energy Initiative”. This decision is responsible for the millions spent today to process wet garbage into useable compost, and recyclables sorted and sold to refining facilities.

Back then the technology for controlling emissions from an incinerator was readily available. Several examples were given of successful waste to power and heat operating in the northern part of Europe.

But the environmentalists on council stubbornly shunned the proposal.

The mayor indicated that only that garbage that is not processed in the city’s current waste plants would be used in the Incinerator.

Is the mayor doing a Mitt Romney here?

First in 2007, she refuses to consider the incineration option. Now she muses it might be workable.

Did this administration blow an opportunity to use our garbage to power our homes and businesses?

Some $50 million spent processing garbage later, there’s some political smoke being blown here.

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Welcome to FarbridgeWorld, where the sun never sets and apple pies grow on apple trees

Posted November 7, 2012

Mayor Karen Farbridge recently delivered her “ State of the City” address to the Guelph Chamber of Commerce.

In the interest of those of us who wouldn’t pay the 15 bucks to hear the lady speak, guelphspeaks offers a condensed observation and comment.

Ms. Farbridge is no shrinking violet when it comes to patting herself and council on the back. This speech was an echo of previous versions, some six years of them.

Her recent address was a rambling, jargon-filled description of how the council and administration has done a superb job managing your city.

She even admitted, “the average person finds it difficult to know what local government does and how to engage with it.” That’s right out of the elitist handbook. So the uninformed are relegated to the back of the bus, so to speak, while the Mayor and her crowd of toadies, crank up the esoteric rhetoric and social engineering policies.

The creation of the Farbridge communication team is supposed to clarify and inform the citizens of what the administration is doing. What happened? Does the failure to communicate the message rest with the media or the mission?

When the Mayor speaks, the buzzwords flow like water.  How about “innovation” and its cousin, “innovative.” Her address is peppered with words such as “bold”, “robust”, “strategy” and its second banana, “strategic”, and “vibrant”.

It reminds me of the old saying: “All hat and no horse.”

When she speaks about the strong financial position of the city, it is because of council’s strategy to squirrel money away in a wide variety of reserves. This gives them the flexibility to draw from one reserve to pay for a need in another. The administration counts on using these mini banks to suit its purposes.

This gives management a lot of flexibility.

More to the point in 2011, the legal department encountered a 100 per cent increase in outside legal fees due mainly because other departments hired outside counsel without the legal department’s knowledge. The charges exceed $800,000.

Perhaps the new internal auditor will detect more of these missteps as she works her way through the labyrinth administering your city. One of the problems lies with the 450 pages of the official city financial statement. It is complex and needs clarity so the average taxpayer is able to understand.

This is a hallmark of the Farbridge administration. She quotes the old expression about dealing with voters: “Tell them what they want to hear.” The outcome is they become docile and “don’t connect the dots”.

Well Mayor, despite the lack of information to which the public is entitled, the people are starting to connect the dots with your stewardship of their stake in the City of Guelph.

In her address, the Mayor keeps talking about challenges of the future. She says the city is just not a “vending machine” that takes in money and supplies services.

She seems to be bent on creating FarbridgeWorld, a new super community that spreads beyond its mandate, to meet the challenges that are not in her purview of responsibility.

An example is the Guelph Wellbeing Initiative. Did the Mayor and her council supporters take a step too far? She admitted during her address, that citizens asked why the city was engaging in areas that were not within its jurisdiction?

Her response is classic social engineering. “Community-based accountability is at the heart of Guelph Wellbeing Initiative.”

To sell this, the Mayor invited a select group of 10,000 to call her office. There was no report how that went. It was a dumb idea and no wonder the Farbridge communication team is silent.

But here’s the bottom line issue that the Mayor nor her council supporters don’t talk about.

Since 2006, Guelph has added some 600 employees as of 2011 for a total 2,030.

Almost all of these employees belong to the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement Service (OMERS). Here’s the rub. There are 268,000 municipal employees in the province who are members of OMERS. This pension fund is underfunded by an estimated $9 billion by the end of this year.

Mark Amorosi, Guelph’s Executive Director of Human Resources and Legal Services, describes this as an “actuarial deficiency” that will be overcome within ten years.

The way OMERS defined pension works is the employee and municipal employer contribute a 50-50 contribution each payday. That locks in the employee with a guaranteed pension for life.

Now keep in mind that the taxpayers of Guelph are obligated to guarantee the OMERS-entitled pensions of its retired employees. OMERS requires the municipality to maintain the retiree’s pensions.  Regardless of economic conditions, war or pestilence, taxpayers must guarantee the employee’s pension.

Let’s take an example of how this affects Guelph’s taxpayers.

Recently the Chief of Police retired. His pension of $135,000 a year, indexed at 2 per cent is guaranteed for his lifetime.  That’s an estimated 20 years. Now enter the new police chief.

The taxpayer obligation has now doubled. We are now responsible for guaranteeing two people for one job. The new chief’s salary and benefits for as long as he holds the job, presumably until he reaches 65 years is the city’s responsibility.

It gets better.

The average age of OMERS retirement is 58 years.

So now the second police chief retires at 65 and a new chief steps in.  Taxpayers are now guaranteeing the pensions for two retirees but pay the third individual to do the job.

In the space of potentially ten years, Guelph taxpayers are potentially on the hook for three individuals working the same job.

If OMERS remains underfunded and is unable to pay those pensions, then the municipalities are on the hook, big time.

So when the mayor hires more and more people to carry out her agenda, what is the long term impact on property taxes and, if you will pardon the expression, our wellbeing?

The exponential growth of city staff, not only in numbers but increasing higher salaries, wages and benefits, is creating daily future liability for Guelph taxpayers

So when the Mayor speaks of the wonderful job she and her council supporters are doing to meet the challenges of the future, be wary, very wary.

This administration is reaching out beyond its mandate, has incurred long-term liabilities that will affect this city for many years.

It has to change. When the 2013 budget talks begin at the end of this month, the staff is to produce cuts that will bring the property tax increase to 3 per cent.

With staff costs taking 89 per cent of the city budget, the place to look for meaningful cost reductions lie in that area.

Just asking.

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A letter from Ken Spira, President of the Guelph Waste Coalition

Posted November 2, 2012

Edited and Reprinted with permission

Importing waste from the United States into Guelph is just wrong in so many ways.

The Material Recovery Facility (MRF) was built like the new Organic Waste Processing Facility (OWPF), is far too large for our needs, now and in the future.

The original multi-million dollar MRF was injected with additional millions of our tax dollars in the recent past to increase its efficiency.  This resulted in processing more material (recyclables) using fewer people and layoffs resulted. It is suspected that laid-off staff was likely given jobs at City Hall where they are handing them out like candy on Halloween.

To keep the MRF running for a full shift with the people who could not fit into City Hall, we have been importing waste from municipalities throughout Ontario. According to a Ministry of Environment (MOE) odour survey, the increased volume that the residences south of the facility thought were coming from the adjacent organics facility.

It is hard to distinguish exactly where the odour of burning taxpayer’s cash is coming from at the Dunlop Drive facility. However the MOE has spent plenty of time with the best equipment to track it down. According to its latest report, odours are coming from the MRF building as well as the transfer station. Both the MOE and neighbours are not happy about it.

The recommendation by the MOE is that we taxpayers install odour abatement systems in both the MRF and Transfer building. This is similar to the multi-million dollar bio-filter and stack in the new Organics facility that apparently is to control odours in the building.

A new private facility just opened in Cambridge and has taken a good chunk of Ontario’s recyclable waste that was going to our facility to contribute to our odour issue.

Even though we were likely charging less than our costs, we are no longer competitive with the private sector despite the millions sunk into the MRF facility. Being that city staff thinks we can’t be outdone by the private sector, we the taxpayers must dig a little deeper to install odour abatement systems and lower our price to attract waste feedstock away from the Cambridge facility. After all, we have to make it worth the trip for the Americans to drive past the Cambridge facility and bring us their smelly waste.

I don’t know about you but I think something else stinks at the Guelph Waste Innovation Centre other than the imported garbage. It may be the burning of our tax dollars!

Ken Spira

Guelph

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