Monthly Archives: May 2013

Political theatre critic Gerry Barker now on Twitter

Posted May 26, 2013

The world of social exchange is now part of

Starting today, tweets in 140 letters or less, will appear under the Barker handle. Guelphspeaks viewers will be able to get a taste of short and sweet commentary and replies from fellow twits (?)

Material will be brief, original and broader in scope

While guelphspeaks delves into issues in a detailed way, the tweets offer another taste of what’s going on in our community.

Tweet the site and don’t hold back.

This is the beginning of a large exchange of ideas and beliefs that will make our communities better and connected.

Tell your friends and relatives about how to enjoy an ongoing saga of the theatre politic, its foibles, strangeness and often humourous

See you in the tweets.



Filed under Between the Lines

CITY VIEW – Guelph’s industrial/commercial operations only contribute 4 per of city revenues

Posted May 25, 2013

The Mayor recently admitted to the Guelph Wellington Men’s Club that the industrial commercial businesses in the city only generates 4 per cent of total revenue.

In six years, this administration has force-fed dubious capital expenditure on the unsuspecting electorate. The result is no new downtown library, no south-end recreation centre and a catastrophic downtown parking initiative that has cost taxpayers more than $600,000 a year in lost, on-street parking revenue.

Coupled with that is this insatiable desire and expense to create a vibrant downtown.

Here’s the kicker. With the temporary advent of the professional Hamilton Ti-Cats football team to play its home games in the Gryphon Stadium, plans call for pre-game fan tailgate parties downtown. Now these events can be rowdy, messy and an irritant to downtown residents. Numbers of university students will be looking for an opportunity for unfettered behaviour and celebration.

Now the city is balking and the red tape has tightly wound it around the ambitious promotional plans to publicize our city. Marty Williams, the main man downtown is apoplectic over the staff hurdles that have been suddenly thrown up to thwart the tailgate festivities.

Is it any wonder that Guelph is depicted as a tough place to build promotional activities and attract business?

Hey! We’ve been there before. The questions to be asked are who pays? There are the police and EMS special coverage, clean up and disposal of refuse and control of civic employee overtime costs. Council has declined to keep the waste management facility open to receive the accumulated tailgate garbage.

The estimate is the clean up of each event will cost $2,000. In our corporation of $400 million is this not chump change?

Well it seems that the administration is about to spend $10,000 of your money to find out why we don’t vote in municipal elections. Hmmm, It’s not hard to figure that out.

The invasion of the Ti-Cats is a good promotion for the city but details of its temporary marriage to Guelph needs clarification.

The facts are that this Farbridge-dominated council has no idea how to effectively promote the city.
The experience of the $25,000 video spent featuring All-Star NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw promoting the city and Mayor, was a disaster as no tangible results ever registered.

Go Ti-Cats and bring some friendlies to the Royal City.


Filed under Between the Lines

City View – Now Farbridge suggests waste incineration is a benefit to Guelph.

Posted May 25, 2013

It took Mayor Karen Farbridge six years to discover her environmental agenda was not working. People are alienated by council’s decisions to spend on expensive capital projects totaling some $130 million without public recourse or discussion.

Well, the money has been spent. What do we have to show for it?

We have a $36 million organic waste processing plant that requires the Region of Waterloo to supply 20,000 tonnes, of the plant’s projected 30,000 tonne capacity. Guelph only generates 10,000 tonnes of organic waste material to the plant.

So Guelph taxpayers are subsidizing the taxpayers of Waterloo. Why? Because the advertized per tonne processing charge to the Region is $141 per tonne. Problem is the Guelph waste management mavens who concocted this plan refuses to reveal the operating costs.

In 2012 the plant processed more than 17,338 tonnes producing some 3,414 tonnes of compost. That was sold to a farmer in Atwood, Ontario but the price was never revealed so cost recovery cannot be measured.

Well, that sounds like a bargain spending your $51 million to rebuild Guelph’s waste management, N’est pas?

When giving her state of the city address earlier this year Mayor Karen Farbridge floated the idea of burning garbage to create electricity and heat for commercial enterprise. This week her idea was reinforced by a ten-year deal to send orphan garbage (the stuff they can’t recycle or process) to a Waste Management landfill that is located 181 kms from Guelph. In 2012, 48,715 tonnes was shipped to the St. Thomas Landfill plus another 105 tonnes to a facility on New York State.

So the Guelph waste landfill diversion plan appears to be an abject failure processing 105,915 tonnes in 2012. It includes composting 17,338 of wet waste, recycling 40,370 tonnes, 8,163 tonnes of brush, leaves and yard waste and processing 40,377 tonnes of mixed solid waste.

The new Waste Management site uses methane gas to generate power. Isn’t that what we are doing here in Guelph at the old Eastview landfill site?

So, Madame Mayor, is waste incineration now back on the table? Is there now a realization that this was the route to follow six years ago when you and your dewy-eyed majority steamrolled your environmental waste management program through an unsuspecting public?

Instead we got an organic waste processing plant that can’t meet production targets. We get a waste management collection system costing $15 million that is taking three years to cover all households and commercial sites. The design of this system has already riled up residents with the city cancelling its collection of leaf and garden debris. Instead, residents must stuff their fallen leaves and garden debris into a small container to be picked up buy our new automated truck system.

And now the city won’t pick up used Christmas trees.

This is something out of Kafka.


Filed under Between the Lines

CITY VIEW – At last, the truth be known

Posted May 20, 2013

If there ever was a message to the Farbridge administration, their own survey told them the truth: They run a secretive operation that a large number of respondents questioned. Of 13 questions asked in a survey to gauge the wellbeing of Guelph residents, it revealed their satisfaction ranked honesty and transparency of the administration as unsatisfactory.

On a scale of seven the lack of satisfaction ranked only 3.73.

Gotta tell you, that has to be a devastating blow to the Farbridge administration.

Mind you, guelphspeaks has never been a fan of the whole “wellbeing” initiative the Farbridge administration launched last year. So eager was the city to be the first to hold a city-wide survey, they agreed to this wobbly telephone survey of 9,000 households that had a 15 percent response or 1,350. There was no reference to the demographics of the group or if qualified to vote.

No, guelphspeaks did not get a call.

As Barbara Powell, manager of community engagement and social services, opined: ”News reports that people hear about various governments in the country can colour local perceptions of city hall.”

There they go again, blaming the news media for the frosty opinion held by some residents over the city operations that openly question honesty and transparency. It is interesting to note that Manager Powell seems to believe that people only receive their news by “hearing” it. Flash! People have many sources of seeing, hearing and reading about news from a myriad of sources, including the telephone.

For starters in the new age of transparency, how much did this survey cost the taxpayers?

And if the administration is taking steps to correct these obvious faults, start by revealing the real cost of operation of the $36 million organic plant including the terms of the contract with Aim Environmental and its parent, Maple Reinders.

Alas, so many hidden issues and so little time to reveal them.


Filed under Between the Lines

CITY VIEW – Five myths generated by the Farbridge administration

Posted May 19, 2013

You do not require a PhD to figure out that the past six-and-a-half years of Mayor Karen Farbridge being in charge has been a rolling disaster. The Mayor’s spin machine is working overtime these days to convince voters that all is well in Guelph city. It’s a mawkish, self-serving prelude to the municipal elections in 2014.

Well, what follows is a pointed rejection of the misguided, often secretive actions taken by the majority Farbridge administration. Many attempts have been made to change the culture of the city with abortive social engineering strategies to forever alter the way our city functions.

The myth list is based on impact facts, not hyperbole being pumped out of city hall.

MYTH 1 – In a recent article in the Mercury, it was claimed that Guelph is creating manufacturing jobs while elsewhere in Canada the sector is shrinking. In fact the story heading referred to the anomaly as a “jackpot.”

Really! What the story left out was the impact of this “Manufactured Jackpot” on the city’s tax base. Despite the glowing remarks of the Mayor and Peter Cartwright, general manger of economic development, the amount of industrial/commercial assessment is stuck at 16 per cent of all city property assessment. It’s been stuck there since 2006 when Mayor Farbridge was elected. That means the city must rely on 84 per cent of its residential tax base for its main source of revenue.

Mr. Cartwright is quoted: “We were just looking at some statistics on development charges and noticed the industrial and commercial rates have been pretty stable over the last few years, which is pleasantly surprising given where the economy is.”

This self-serving comment strikes right at the problem residents face every year. There is zero growth in the 16/84 ratio. Despite all the efforts of the economic development department have failed to grow the industrial/commercial tax base. In almost seven years that ratio hasn’t budged. Until it does, the long-suffering residential taxpayers will be whacked with unwarranted tax increases every year.

Ideally, that ratio should be 60 per cent residential assessment and 40 per cent industrial/commercial. When you have the university, schools, public buildings and religious organization not paying property taxes it places a huge strain on the residential property owners.

While the Mayor blamed the recession for a lack of additional industrial commercial development, her development policies, since her election, have deflated many attempts by private interests to establish in Guelph. Our city administration has earned the reputation of being a tough place in which to do business.

MYTH 2 – Failure to meet provincial government mandated residential growth rates. Recently the city admitted that it has fallen short in maintaining provincial government mandated residential growth rates. Last year the target was 726 homes short of the annual growth rate of 1,666 recommended by staff. T figurehat will see the city population reach 175,000 by 2030 under the provincial long-range planning program.

When you see the combination of stagnate industrial/commercial assessment coupled with the failure to generate residential development, it isn’t hard to figure out that residential taxpayers will be the losers for years to come. This is a prime example of the Farbridge failure to promote sustainable growth to allow the city to grow in a responsible and measured way.

Unfortunately the damage has been done and there is no quick fix to the situation. A change in municipal government would be a beginning.

MYTH 3 – The Mayor often brags about Guelph having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Let’s take a closer look at that statement. The employment complement in Guelph is composed of an estimated 6,800 government and educational employees who are paid through your taxes and mine. That’s a solid secure block of employees who have the ultimate in job security and benefits, unlike the private sector.

The number is somewhat skewed by the employees at the University. This institution does not pay property taxes but a payment of $75 per student in lieu of property taxes. With some 22,000 students and an aggressive growth of facilities, the result is Guelph taxpayers are directly subsidizing the operations of this public institution.

And yet, the university enjoys unfettered commercial and office development of its lands along Stone Road. It joined with the city to object to a private developer wanting to build badly needed student housing across the street from the university. Fortunately, the Ontario Municipal Board saw it differently and approved the project.

The university needs Guelph and Guelph needs the university. There must be a leveling of the playing field when it comes to paying a fair share of property taxes.

Prediction: Even with Guelph MPP Liz Sandals as Minister of Education, this will not change as long as Kathleen Wynne remains Premier of Ontario.

MYTH 4 – In one of the most sweeping changes in diverting waste of the landfill at St. Thomas, Guelph council spent more than $50 million to process waste. They did it without adequate public hearings. The result is a $36 million organic waste processing plant that was overbuilt at taxpayer expense. After two years, it has yet to reach its predicted 30,000 tonnes a year production. And there is little evidence to expect the plant to reach its capacity in the immediate future.

With a 20-year lifespan and dependent on 20,000 tonnes of its feedstock from the Region of Waterloo, the 2012 production of processing just 17,000 tonnes is an ominous harbinger of the expensive experiment turning into a white elephant of epic proportions. Low volume tonnage drives up the cost, as the overhead fixed costs require volume to break-even.

When you toss in the $15 million for a new waste collection system that was not required by the Ministry of Environment, one gets the uncomfortable feeling that Guelph taxpayers are subsidizing the operation for the benefit of outside interests.

The Farbridge administration supports the zealous partisan adherents interested only in inflicting sketchy environmental policies that most people did not vote for or ask for.

MYTH 5 – There has been a lot of money spent to create bicycle lanes on major roads. Once again this is a long-range social engineering plan by the Farbridge majority on council. The bicycle lobby is demanding more money be spent on special lanes.

This year, council agreed to spend $750,000 for more bike lanes, but the cyclist lobby protested, demanding more money to accommodate a small group of enthusiasts. More than 97 per cent of residents using the roads use a form of motorized transportation. You cannot ride a bike safely in wet weather, winter conditions, to pick-up groceries, park and lock the bike at destinations, move large objects or take children to school safely. There is also loss of use if the bike is stolen.

For the Far bridge majority to push the use of bicycles in the city against an overwhelming number of citizens using vehicles is dangerous and egregious.

Coun. Maggie Laidlaw’s bumptious support of biking is epitomized in the now famous comment: “In 20 years there will be no cars on the streets of Guelph.” That was made five years ago, How’s that working for you, Maggie?

These myths are classic Farbridge lore. Her motto is “Don’t tell them what they want to hear, tell them what we want them to hear.”

The way the Farbridge system works: Is meet any problem with a new strategy to solve it. Like that worked when the annual collection of Christmas trees was cut by the city.


Filed under Between the Lines

The Town and Gown illusion

posted May 13, 2013

When it comes to illusion
It can become collusion
leading to confusion
And that’s not amusin’

Because of public criticism of the city and university teaming up to stop a private student housing project at the corner of Stone Road and Gordon Street, the empire placates the great unwashed with a little known Town and Gown Committee.

Who knew? Who knew (besides the city and university bureaucrats) that the T&G met four times a year with a sub-group meeting monthly? Who knew that the quarterly meetings are open to the public? On Thursday May 16, the public is invited to attend one of the quarterly meetings to be held at 2 p.m. at the university centre. If interested, you have to ask which room has been assigned.

The time is interesting, as most citizens are unable to attend an afternoon meeting except those on the public payroll.

This sudden revelation falls on the heels of a lengthy Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing that rejected the city, university and a neighbourhood association’s arguments. The 1,100-bed student housing project will go ahead. The Board gave the city staff and applicant, Abode Varsity Housing, two months to refine the design.

The rewrite of a city-produced news release in the Mercury, stated that the Town and Gown committee exists to foster a healthy relationship between the university and the city. It goes on to say the key ingredient is communication.

For starters, the T&G committee should look into possible collusion between city council and the university management that objected to the student housing project during the OMB hearing.

Do you get the feeling that dog won’t hunt?

It is yet another example of the Farbridge administration papering over the real facts by using a semi-official committee, whose membership apparently has no members of the public in its ranks.

That T&G committee was well known among administration insiders but it was the best kept secret in town. Bureaucrats, who don’t like to work evenings because the public may show up.

There is the matter of conflict of interest with three members of city council who are employees of the university. While they may, or may not, declare a conflict when matters, concerning their employer, come to council, the perception that the university has three, possibly four sure votes on council sets a dangerous precedent.

With a record number of OMB hearings on the city books, one would assume that the staff would have a good feel as to whether to object to a proposal or go with the flow.

Unfortunately, city staff must adhere to the wishes of the Farbridge-dominated council that has earned the reputation of being the most litigious on record.

This is no small matter and may result in even more legal costs before the next election.

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Why do they believe we are dolts?

Posted May 9,2013

If any clear thinking voter in Guelph needs further evidence of how the Farbridge administration treats us as dolts, think no longer. There is now ample, growing evidence that they don’t care what we think. There has been a litany lately of just dumb mistake and evidence of incompetence.

Let’s start with the bungled and expensive job involving the Farmer’s Market. When the 2013 budget was completed it included a staff-recommended $170,000 renovation of the Market building. The public was told the work would occur this summer and the market would be moved to Exhibition Park. That raised many concerns of residents.

Then along comes staff saying the costs of renovating the old building were now $500,000. Council was not involved in this decision. The staff explanation was it would fund the additional cost by drawing down money from other “life cycle” projects.

It is increasingly apparent that council, those elected to represent the people, are feckless rubber stamps in the process of governing. Our city is being run by a group of self-serving bureaucrats who have been given wide-range authority to do what they want when they want to.

It is something straight out of George Orwell’s novel 1984 when bureaucrats determined and controlled the lives of the people without interference or fear of reprisal.

Here’s another example of the staff exercising its power. A questionnaire was prepared by staff under Heather Connell, manager of integrated services in the waste management department. It was handed off to an outside consultant to edit the staff copy and telephone 409 citizens forced to use waste collection bins. The polling outcome stated, “The majority of users are satisfied with Guelph’s new waste carts.”

This is where the so-called survey went off the rails. By slanting the questions to develop data that is self-serving to the waste management team, the staff has little regard for the facts. The methodology is questionable and the results a joke.

Especially when the report claims that 97 per cent of city residents consider reducing waste diversion to the landfill as important. It agrees that the new waste carts program is a benefit to achieving that goal. Now that’s a stretch. Are they implying that 409 respondents represent the opinions of 97 per of all residents?

Coun. Cam Guthrie questioned the results and asked what weren’t in the survey questionnaire is what matters most to residents. He suggested that the cost of the waste carts programs of between $10 and $11 million should have been included in the survey.

Cam, right on. But we both know that horse is out of the barn. The city is committed to an expensive waste collection system that will eventually cost more than $15 million.

It’s an attitude problem. The old quote from the late Charlie Wilson, head of General Motors, is applicable. “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” Well, we now know how that turned out.

Paraphrasing the quote: “What the staff thinks is good for the city, is not always good for the city.”

Mayor Farbridge, you can run but you cannot hide. There is a day of reckoning coming.

Remember, in the 2014 civic election if you don’t vote, you don’t matter.


Filed under Between the Lines

City Hall civic lawsuit enters new phase

Posted May 5, 2013

This dispute involves the firing of Urbacon Buildings Group Corp, contractor who was to build the new City Hall and renovate the old City Hall into a Provincial Courthouse. The firing in September 2009 meant the city had to hire two other contractors to complete the work, the cost of which has not been revealed.

Urbacon responded to the sudden termination with a $19,000,000 lawsuit. Entering the fray were lawsuits from the architects, Aviva, the company holding the completion bond, and subcontractors.

This week Derek Schmuck, the lawyer hired by the city to defend the action, sent an email stating the city “made arrangements” to have testimony by three witnesses to be placed on the trial record this month.

Unanswered are why these additional witnesses, who apprently did not testify during the trial are being asked to do so now. Why is this being brought forward now by Mr. Schmuck? Will the plaintiff lawyers have an opportunity to cross-examine these witnesses? If they did testify during the trial, why is it necessary now to have their testimony inserted in the trial record?

It would appear that the city is fearful it will lose the lawsuit and want to introduce new evidence to support its decision to fire the contractor.

Dare it be said? Do the three witnesses include the Mayor and former CAO Hans Loewig? They were the key players in the decision to dump Urbacon.

Schmuck added that the verdict in the case should be completed by late October. A further hearing to determine damages will be held after the verdict.

Win or lose, the cost of this misadventure will be a controversial talking point in the 2014 municipal election.


Filed under Between the Lines

Joining the walkout club

Posted May 5, 2013

Colleen Bell, City of Guelph Director of Community and Social Services, is leaving to take a job in Oakville. Ms. Bell joined the city staff in December 2011, three months after her predecessor, Ann Pappert, was promoted to the top civic staff job as Chief Administration Officer.

That senior staff move has not exactly worked out. The reasons for Ms. Bell’s resignation after only 17 months on the job were not revealed. Ms. Pappert’s learning curve as CAO has, at best, been graded as a C minus. Perhaps she was not quite ready for prime time.

It’s time to go back to the drawing board and transfer Ms. Pappert back to her former job and hire a qualified CAO who is experienced, independent and can smooth the present bureaucratic and fragmented city operations.

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FUNNIES – Blame it on the banana

May 1, 2013

We take you now to the Mayor’s office at City Hall. It is lunchtime and the Mayor is on a working lunch noshing on a bowl of tofu and cranberries with a dash of honey. Her brow furrows as she reads the report of the new costs of the Farmer’s Market renovations. The one where council approved spending $170,000 but staff raised it to $500,000.

“Your Worship! Your Worship, I have exciting news,” the Lord High Executioner blurted out. “I think we have found the solution to keeping you in power forever.

The Mayor looked up with the look of someone who doesn’t want to know. “So this can’t wait until I finish my working lunch. Work, work, work, it’s all I seem to do these days. My ceramic water pitcher is not getting completed to my satisfaction.” The mayor’s words trailed off as she remembered that she forgot to turn off the kiln at home.

The Lord High Executioner could hardly contain herself. “ But Your Worship we can adapt to a simple psychological experiment using a banana and five monkeys.”

The Mayor looked up with an incredulous look on her face. “Bananas? Monkeys? Whatinhell are you talking about?

Undaunted, the LHE described how the Monkeys attempted to reach the banana at the top of a stairway in their cage. “When the first monkey goes up the stair to get the banana the other four monkeys are sprayed with cold water. When a second monkey attempts to get the banana the others jump on him, preventing him from getting the banana. You see they didn’t want to get sprayed again and figured it out that would happen if any one of them attempted to get the banana.”

“Get to the point,” the Mayor snapped. I was planning to have a banana for dessert.”

“You see Mayor, substitute yourself for the banana. You have these seven members of council who have supported you blindly for two terms in office and are lusting to replace you.

“Every time you sense someone in the group is after your job, you pour cold water on them, figuratively speaking, by taking away some of their perks. This reminds the rascals to behave and do what they are told.

“See Your Worship, you are still the top banana in the city. “

The mayor ‘s eyes glistened with the thought that she could be mayor for life. In banana circles it’s known as the Hazel McCallion syndrome. But then, she thought, she may be mercilessly ridiculed for her banana stand. Oh! She thought that would never happen.

Moral of the story: Never covet the banana as you can easily be replaced.

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