Posted April 21, 2013
It pains me to say this but the two newspapers published in Guelph have become lapdogs for the city administration. Having toiled in the trenches of newspapering for many years, I have respect for those editors and reporters who must crank out the product daily or twice a week.
TorStar, a huge publishing concern that publishes newspapers around Southern Ontario, owns both papers. Also they have ownership of Harlequin, the biggest romance publishing company in North America.
In Guelph’s case, the editorial policy and direction comes from Lynn Haddrall, editor in chief of the Kitchener Waterloo Record. Her job description also includes being editor in chief of the Guelph Mercury and Guelph Tribune.
Both papers have become satellites of the Kitchener Waterloo Record. The publisher and editor in chief do not live in the city and have little close connection. It is apparent that Guelph newspapers’ editorial policy and direction flows through the Record’s executive suite.
What follows are some examples of patently biased stories carried in local newspapers. Reporters on both papers rely heavily on press releases prepared by the City’s communications department, known in the trade as “hand-out” journalism.
Take One – Four-year forecasting of tax increases a dumb idea
The Mercury printed an editorial praising the city finance department for promoting an annual 3.87 per cent property tax increase in each of the next four years. They think it’s a brilliant proposal to get away from, what they described as, the “chicken little” approach toward budgeting in the past six years. Being a family blog, guelphspeaks will stay away from the obvious comparison … but you get the drift.
So in that time, where were the editorials that complained about “chicken little” budgeting? During the six years tax increases have increased by more than 23 per cent compounded. The new proposal is to increase property taxes by an additional 16.4 per cent in the next four years. In the same period, the cost of living inflation rate has average slightly less than 1.75 per cent
This is a finance department that cannot track capital projects to determine if they meet allocated budgets. To obtain the information, the excuse was it would be “labour intensive.”
Given the administration’s muddled record of managing finances, does the newspaper management still think this four-year fixed property tax increase is a good idea? And don’t expect it will turn out as predicted.
Take Two – For $20,000 you get commitment?
As the news outlet that broke Chief Administration Officer Ann Pappert’s $20,000 relocation bonus story, it pains to read about the Mercury column defending the payment. The columnist decried the public criticism by exclaiming that it demonstrated the lady’s commitment to Guelph and is augmented by her $200,000 salary.
Too bad he failed to drill down and reveal the real story of how Ms. Pappert suddenly decided to move to Guelph. Simply, it was move or it or lose it, baby.
Hey, a team of unnamed councillors chose the lady. Her 18-month record on the job has been, dare I say it? Spotty.
As they say, the jury is still out.
Take three – Ya gotta love it!
The Tribune announces that the 2013 city budget is available online, according to a news release from the finance department. The term news release is a misnomer.
The real description is “don’t ask, don’t tell” release.
The Mayor and CFO Al Horsman waxed eloquently in the release what a great job they were doing managing the city and its finances.
The website is guelph.ca/budget.
Put lots of paper in the printer if you plan on downloading it. If you have questions, lots of luck or pay an accountant to interpret it.
Take 4 – Gerbil financing of downtown parking
Back in 2007, one of the first moves the new Farbridge-dominated council decided was to allow free 2-hour metered parking in the downtown area. It was part of the misguided downtown master plan to make the area, as the Mayor put it, “vibrant and exciting for all citizens”.
Up to that point, all municipal parking was a self-financing project in which the meter parking brought in some $600,000 a year. Any surplus after costs was transferred to the capital reserve fund.
You’d have to be a Gerbil not to understand that removing $3,600,000 of metered parking revenues in six years would lead to putting pressure on general revenues when it comes to increasing the number of downtown parking spaces.
You cannot suck and blow at the same time.
The Tribune reports that the city hired a consultant who was being paid $100,000, to study its dilemma of needing more parking. The paper reports the consultant is leaning toward recommending the city’s return to the previous system of having parking pay for itself. He further predicted that by adopting the former system, parking revenues would pay for future expansion of parking facilities.
Instead of reactivating the meters, the city adopted a new 10-year capital forecast. It excluded major capital projects such as the new downtown library, South end recreation centre and, Tah Dah! A parking garage on Wilson Street.
Talk about the law of unintended consequences.
One stupid mistake six years ago has skewered the city’s plans for needed public facilities.
Take five – The Mercury’s strange fascination with urban terrorists and fellow travelers
Two stories were printed in the Mercury about activists (their word, not mine) who are connected to the Ontario Public Interest Research Group or OPIRG. This is the same organization that convicted urban terrorist Amanda Hiscocks was a director. Kelly Rose Pflug-Back also convicted of trashing businesses during public demonstrations at the 2010 Toronto G20 meeting, was also connected.
Both women were convicted and jailed for their participation in the G20 fracas. Pflug-Back was also a major participant in the Hanlon Business Park occupation in 2009. That event stopped construction and resulted in costing the city $1 million over planned construction costs due to the actions of the anarchist occupiers.
Hiscocks was charged with blocking the Hanlon Expressway with burning tires and brush.
Now the Guelph Civic League’s front organization, 10 Carden Street, is promoting an organization to shut down the Oil Sands and prevent converting a gas pipeline to carry western crude to refineries in Montreal. The Guelph Anti-Pipeline Action Group is simply against the use of oil in our society. It is also connected with OPRIG. Yawn.
Why doesn’t the Mercury dig into how these activists’ groups are linked when their determination to inflict real damage has already been demonstrated on the community.
Poetry and mindless protest don’t deserve coverage in the family newspaper.