Monthly Archives: November 2014

Après the election, why don’t the losers just go away quietly?

November 27, 2014

My goodness, to read the public prints these days; one would believe there wasn’t an election. It was all a huge mistake that Mayor Karen Farbridge was removed by an overwhelming majority of citizens.

The “regressive’s” ink-stained regurgitation of all the alleged great things their beloved leader accomplished in her eight years, is an astounding revelation of their values that the majority of voters soundly rejected.

Why did this happen? Why was this perceived brilliant individual, hammered by the great silent majority? Was it an accident? Possibly a misunderstanding? Or was it because they caught on to the mismanagement of their city by an individual who believed she was omnipotent?

Ms. Farbridge had to run on her record. Her adamant refusal to accept responsibility for the Urbacon mess, estimated to cost more than $21 million, did not go unnoticed by the citizens. The actual cost has yet to be revealed.

But Urbacon was just the tip of the Farbridge iceberg. There are scores of projects promoted by the former mayor that had cost overruns, lacked business plans and endured mindless inattention to spending.

In fact, the financial condition of the city in the wake of the election demands an independent audit to clear up the confusing labyrinth of the Farbridge-controlled city finances.

It includes investigating the use of reserve funds that were misused in many cases as being underfunded or used for financing other projects not connected to the purpose of the reserve. Remember that the Urbacon costs were not going to cause an increase in property taxes? Wait and see.

The new council deserves to have an audited benchmark that states the actual position of the city finances at the end of fiscal year 2014.

And while that’s going on, call in the city appointed auditors, Deloitte and Touche, and review the existing contract and reset the parameters of the auditor’s responsibilities to council and the people.

Depending how the rump of Farbridge councillors on the new council react, two things are likely to occur: They will vote to deny the independent audit or some may defect and vote for the audit. Either way, it will mark the beginning of yet another potential dysfunctional council.

The mayor’s remarks on election night revealed her true feelings when she reminded her audience that the “regressives” will still have a majority on council. What a lousy start for Mayor-elect Cam Guthrie. She also failed to congratulate Guthrie on his victory.

Now, even before the new council warms the seats, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, announced the departure of executive directors Janet Laird and Derek McCaughan and major changes at the top. A new executive structure is put in place with three deputy CAO’s.

Chief among them is the rise of Mark Amorosi who takes over finance and CFO Al Horsman’s responsibilities that will be integrated into the new Corporate Services Department. The city will name or hire a new treasurer.

Does this mean the survivors Amorosi, Horsman and Derrick Thomson all receive hefty pay increases along with their new responsibilities?

More to the point, why were these changes made following the October 27 election and did the outgoing council approve them? Is it the precursor to continuing the failed management of the city that the electors rejected?

Ask yourself:

Does CAO Pappert require three deputies to do her job?

Will Mark Amorosi finally move to Guelph from Hamilton in view of his new, extended responsibilities? Does he have the qualifications to manage the finances of a $400 million corporation in addition to his other responsibilities?

Why was Horsman essentially removed from the CFO post to assume infrastruction, development and enterprise (whatever that means). Did he know too much?

Horsman also takes over the woeful waste management portfolio vacated by Janet Lard. Does this mean that major changes are coming to Guelph’s dismal waste management system and record? Does Horsman know anything about waste management?

These are legitimate questions that the new council must face. On the surface, it appears despite the drubbing the Farbridge forces had in the October election, the senior staff sees it as business as usual.

Shuffling the chairs on the deck of the Titanic just won’t cut it.

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City council should say Whoa! to police headquarters $34 million renovation

Posted November 22, 2014

It was revealed recently that work has already begun renovating the Guelph Police headquarters including payment of $171,000 to the architect firm in charge plus other unnamed accounts.

Last August, city council approved spending $34 million renovating the downtown police headquarters. The approval was based on a study initiated by the Guelph Police Services Board (GPSB), performed by management and accounting company, KPMG.

The GPSB now says that schematic floor plans have been revised, major design requirement was reviewed and a revised project cost estimate is expected “within days.” Already this appears to set the stage for additional costs more than the $34 million approved by the previous council.

Tendering for construction is scheduled for next May at the earliest, with construction to begin possibly in July.

As this was a decision made by the previous administration late in its term, the new council should review the project and suspend all work until there clarification of these new details. Former police Chief Bryan Larkin and the Farbridge administration promoted this huge capital expenditure.

In appreciation, the chief endorsed Mayor Farbridge in her re-election bid despite the fact that he was leaving his position as Chief of Police in Guelph. Larkin clearly broke the law governing the police in Ontario that forbids involvement in elections.

Now he’s gone and so is the former mayor along with supporters who were either defeated at the polls or retired. The October 27 election sent a clear message that there was need for change in the administration of the city.

A good first step would be for council to order a review of the Police HQ that would include all planning and spending already made. Such a review should be independent and made in conjunction with the GPSB staff in charge of the project.

This project was one of the issues that voters questioned because of the secrecy and lack of public input that dominated the process.

Of course, the first step for the new council is to order an independent audit of the city’s finances. Issues such as operational costs, revenues, reserves, staffing, future liability facing the city, and the previous Financial Information Reports sent annually to the province, as required by law.

The terms and conditions of the contract between the city and its auditor, Deloitte-Touche, should be reviewed and updated to provide a financial summary that the average citizen can access and understand.

The downtown secondary plan, approved by the Farbridge administration should be reviewed, including the Wyndham Street restructuring and the Baker Street project.

These are initial steps to revise the capital spending proposals in order to ensure that residents, in all parts of the city, receive the services and facilities to which they are entitled instead of concentrating on the downtown area.

An important step is to open Guelph for business development through an aggressive and effective promotion campaign. This would entail working with city staff to streamline the application processes, Guelph Chamber of Commerce, community groups and the real estate industry. The objective in the next four years is to increase the residential, commercial-industrial assessment ratio in Guelph from 16 per cent to 25 per cent. The effect of this is will reduce the tax burden on residential property owners and create jobs.

A good first step is to say Whoa! to the police headquarters project.

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Liz Sandals plays dodge ball with accountability

November 20, 2014

A recent Mercury editorial clearly states the fuzzy accounting by Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa was leading Ontario into a path of financial disaster. Its revenue estimates are $500 million short of planned expenses. Corporate and income taxes are also under expectations. With a current $12.5 billion deficit, any hope for reduction in this year’s budget deficit will not happen.

The editorial described Sousa’s prediction of a balanced budget by 2017-18 as “epic fantasy.”

Then along comes Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, with the revelation that the Wynne government last year bought labour peace with the teacher’s unions with a concession package of $468 million. In return, the unions promised to create a “new negotiating framework” for future contracts.

This tawdry episode started when former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s administration negotiated a tough two-year contract with the teachers unions. It represented a major rollback of all contracts. The action started waves of teacher protests that impacted the 2012 school year.

The Wynne government’s complete capitulation rolled back contract gains by the McGuinty government in public school teacher contracts to help reduce soaring education costs. These cutbacks included a two-year pay freeze, partly reducing sick pay and eliminated sick pay banking.

The Wynne settlement resulted in the teachers stopping their job action in the schools and reducing public unrest.

Education Minister Liz Sandals, MPP Guelph, refused to answer questions about the cost of the teacher concessions in a scrum with reporters then bolted without further comment.

It seems odd that while the Liberal Finance Minister is lamenting the lack of “tools” to reduce the deficit, that Ms. Sandals would refuse to comment on the $468 million cost of the major concessions to the teachers. That’s close to the same amount that the current budget is short, according the Finance Minister.

Did Ms. Sandals ever explain that cost when running for re-election last June? Was it so essential to gain the support of the teachers unions by buying them off to gain a majority at a cost of $468 million?

Now the teachers are heading back to the well as negotiations proceed for the next two or three years. Will it be more concessions by a gutless administration masquerading as a provincial government?

The Wynne-Sandals dynamic duo has already drained the swamp of any credibility with the teachers because they caved in so easily last year.

It would appear so, as Ontario’s finances slithers slowly toward a financial snake pit, a place where it’s easy to buy votes with the people’s money.

Doesn’t all this rank right up there with the recent defeat of the Farbridge administration in Guelph that mismanaged the people’s business?

The only solution in Guelph is to hire an Auditor General to audit the books and report the city’s real financial status to the new council.

Unfortunately, it will take four years for Premier Kathleen Wynne, to stop the spending and start listening to the experts who have already offered solid steps to restore the province’s fiscal order and responsibility.

But when you blow $1 billion to dismantle two gas-powered generating plants in Mississauga and Oakville to elect four area Liberal candidates including Mr. Sousa, you’re pretty used to buying votes with the people’s money.

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Obama dithers while public confidence withers

Posted November 18, 2014

The recent U.S. mid-term elections saw the Republican Party take control of both houses of Congress. The House of Representatives acted swiftly and passed a bill supporting TransCanada Pipeline’s Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed pipeline would transport Canadian oil from the Oil Sands in Alberta to Gulf coast refineries in Texas. It is widely expected that the U.S. Senate will obtain the required super majority of 60 votes and also pass a bill supporting the Keystone XL project.

In the event the bill from Congress reaches the President’s desk, he has indicated he will probably veto it.

For six years, President Barak Obama has delayed approving this project that crosses the border separating our two countries.

He now says: “Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it down to the Gulf where it will be sold everywhere else.”

To clear the air about this long-running delay of a legitimate and safe method of moving heavy oil in greater quantity, be reminded that more than 500,000 barrels of Canadian oil is already being shipped to the U.S. daily. One of the main conduits is through the original Keystone pipeline that was approved by former president, George W. Bush.

This has little to do with the proposed pipeline but is an attempt by well-financed U.S. environmental groups to prevent a sovereign country to develop and sell its resources in a responsible manner. They do this because they make false claims about the danger to the environment of the Canadian Oil Sands’ alleged damage to the atmosphere.

Yet, the United States allows coal-fired power generation plants to spew carbon night and day into the atmosphere. You rarely hear a peep from the environmentalists about this situation that also affects major Canadian population centres close to the border.

The irony of this specious attempt to interfere with the right of Canada to develop and export its resources is the huge investment of U.S. corporations in the Oil Sands development.

The Obama administration speaks out of both sides of its mouth at the same time. It allows the importation of heavy oil from Venezuela to the Texas and Louisiana refineries. It also still imports oil from Saudi Arabia, despite the increase of domestic oil and gas production achieved through fracking.

Before mounting the concerted multi-million dollar anti-Keystone XL pipeline attacks, America should look inwardly at one of its own environmental disasters. Key among these is the drilling for water in the market garden valley of California that produces one third of fresh food sold in the country. A 60 Minutes report revealed those wells are being drilled down by more than 1,200 feet to access ground water to produce this food. There are parts in the valley that are actually sinking because of this intense removal of groundwater from aquifers that cannot be replaced by rainfall.

And which country in the world has one-third of the world’s supply of fresh water? It’s Canada. With the longterm extreme drought in parts of the south and southwest of the U.S., the time may come when the U.S. will look north to tap into Canada’s water.

Now there’s a real dilemma. Does it portend the break-up of relations between the two countries? If history has any credence, the U.S. has a record of taking what it wants. The occupation of Iraq comes to mind. When a state with almost unlimited military resources attacks a country to protect its oil interests in the Middle East, why does its leadership reject an almost unlimited oil supply from a secure and stable neighbour?

Why does President Obama have such a shortsighted view of siding with the pipeline opponents when the demand for resources is escalating in his own country? No amount of fracking will meet the future demands of fossil fuels in America. That is currently self evident with the importation of oil into the U.S.

It’s not a legacy issue, it’s a dumb thing to do. It’s about trust, energy security, and infinite job opportunities on both sides of the border.

If the President vetoes the Keystone XL pipeline, Canadians will not soon forget it.

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Now comes the hard work, patching up the good ship Guelph

November 12, 2014

On October 27, the people of Guelph voted for change and they got it with a new mayor and members of council.

But among the progressive elite, there is no acceptance of the facts. The election is over and the people have spoken.

In recent letters to the editors in both papers, the woeful whines of the Farbridge progressives, post election results, brings despair and loss of identity to them as Canadians. Why? One progressive started out by saying, over the past ten years, his identity had been negatively altered on the world stage. Really? That sounds very heavy and dramatic.

The writer says that his residence in Guelph offered a bastion of light amidst the surround darkness. Holy Hannah! Who knew Canada was surrounded by eternal darkness? If you listen to NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair enough you might agree with him.

Now, the writer launches into the familiar progressive laundry list of achievements including such green initiatives as adding kilometers of bike lanes, presorting and recycling garbage, Market Square, traffic calming, water and hydro conservation, enhancing the downtown, splash pool at city hall, protecting our rivers and natural spaces.

Sorry pal, but the counter arguments to those so-called, self-serving achievements, was settled at the ballot box. The election is over and a new council is charged with restoring public trust in its city government.

What the writer describes as forward thinking is a synonym for exercising power behind closed doors and refusing to be accountable. Is that progressive?

The writer neglects to explain why his description of green initiative includes imposing a $15 million waste collection system on the city that fails to pick up garbage at more than 13 per cent of the city households and businesses.

Throw in the $35 million spent of an organic-waste processing facility in which the capacity is three times the needs of the City of Guelph for the next 20 years.

Or the failure of basic management by the progressive-dominated council led by defeated Mayor Karen Farbridge, that fired the general contractor from the new City Hall construction site before the contract was completed.

Result is an estimated $21 million in damages that is dead money. Wasted because of the incompetence of a progressive regime. Yet, even in defeat, the Farbridge majority refuses to reveal the hidden costs of this misadventure.

Then, to the consternation of the electorate, the Mayor says the Urbacon settlement costs, will not cause an increase in property taxes. Instead the money would come from three reserve funds not related to the unanticipated legal costs. To add insult to people’s intelligence, the reserves would be replenished in five years (with property tax revenues).

And you progressives wonder why the people reacted the way they did?

If anyone is operating in the dark, it is this die-hard group of financially challenged progressives who apparently can’t add, can’t subtract and can’t forecast a budget. And the Farbridge dominated council proved that time and again during its eight years of mismanagement.

Let the enlightenment shine among all citizens of Guelph and let the new council do its important work, without threats of vote splitting, even before the new gang takes office.

The people didn’t vote for obstructionism, they voted for responsible change and performance.

Now that’s not hard, is it?

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Lest we Forget – Remembering the fallen and a personal family memoir

Posted November 10, 2014

My family’s war started before I was born.

My father, Francis Cecil Barker, served in the Canadian Army in France and Siberia in World War I.

Of my Father’s four brothers and sisters, John Sydney Barker and Thomas Mitchell Barker were killed in action in World War I. Their sister, Gladys Elinor Barker, served as a nursing sister in France.

I was named after my late uncles, John and Thomas. I never knew their father, and my grandfather, Francis Fletcher Barker, who died a year before I was born. I have fond memories of my paternal grandmother, Letitia Drought Barker, who bought me my first wagon during the dark days of the depression.

When World War II started in 1939, my father was working for Chrysler as a zone manager. Canada became the arsenal for supplying British forces. Commercial vehicle production in Canada ceased and was quickly converted to producing trucks, weapons and aircraft. My father was reassigned as a purchasing agent of parts for the 25-pounder field gun being assembled in Sorel, Quebec. He passed away in the fall of 1941 just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Meanwhile, my two male cousins Langford Barker, son of John Barker, and Harold Pickering, son of my aunt Mildred Barker Holt enlisted. Langford was wounded in action in France. Harold was an aircraft mechanic working in the advance fighter bases in France following the D-Day invasion.

My brother Peter switched from his mechanical engineering course at the University of Toronto and joined the navy posted aboard the HMCS Hespeler, a minesweeper assigned to the Pacific theatre.

Both my mother, Dorothy and her mother, Bertha Louise Stavert, worked for the YWCA War Services assigned to 14 Service Flying Training School (RCAF), part of the Commonwealth Air Training Program, in Aylmer, Ontario. Later they were transferred to Ottawa to work with the Women’s Naval Services known as the WRENS who were engaged in coded convoy communications oin the Atlantic.

The two of them were surrogate mothers to young men and women from all parts of the Commonwealth and the U.S.

In 1942, my aunt Gladys invited me to spend the summer on her farm in Byron, outside of London. My aunt and her husband Jasper, were childless and that summer she took me out in her car and taught me how to drive. I was 12-years old. She also taught me how to ride their horse, a single–minded beast, which would get 400 metres away from the barn and then trot back. It was one of the best summers I can remember.

In 1944, I contracted a massive infection that nearly cost me my life. I was in a coma for two weeks in the Hospital for Sick Children on College Street in Toronto in the quarantine ward. My life was saved by Penicillin administered intravenously into my lower legs.

I remember my mother talking to me from a fire escape outside my window, as she could not come in the quarantine area. I was in hospital for almost two months.

In 1947, at 17, I enlisted in the Queen’s York Rangers, 1st Americans, an armoured regiment as a trooper. Although I was still in high school, I enjoyed the role of a soldier in the Rangers, the York County Regiment. We trained on Sherman tanks and other vehicles that were located in the Aurora Armoury and conducted firing practices at the Meaford Tank Range.

In 1949, I was invited to obtain my commission and in the fall of 1950 was posted to train at the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School in Base Borden. I was awarded my commission as lieutenant in 1951. Following service with the regular forces I was returned to my unit.

My cousin Diana Corner who is 83, my brother Peter who is 91, cousin Harold who is 93 and me, who has reached 84, are the last of our generation.

It is fitting that we always remember all those who have fallen in combat, those who have served their country including many fallen comrades I have known in my own military service.

They were a band of brothers and sisters who will never be forgotten. At this 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, let us not forget their deeds and dedication.

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The weakness of the proposed recount procedure in Ward Three

Posted November 7, 2014

City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien, has indicated that nine vote counting machines will be used to conduct the Ward Three recount regarding the five-vote difference between incumbent Coun. June Hofland and challenger, Craig Chamberlain.

This is all well and good as the machines re-run the paper and Internet ballots once again. What does this prove? That the machines were calibrated correctly in the first place?

Two apparent election anomalies occurred the night of the election.

First, there was a late rush to vote at the Dublin Street Ward Three poll the night of the election. There were line-ups to beat the 8 p.m. deadline. Why did this occur? With three opportunities to cast a vote via the Internet, advance poll and during a ten-hour window on election day, why the sudden last minute surge at that particular poll?

Then there is the malfunction of a machine in one of the Ward Three polls in which it would not accept the ballots. Instead they were gathered and taken to City Hall to be tabulated in another machine. This is a serious breach of procedure.

The uncounted ballots should have been placed in a sealed envelope, signed by the poll officials and turned over to the chief elections officer. The poll worker who set the ballots aside should be present when the envelope is open to ensure the poll count of the number of ballots is the same at City Hall.

Most important, is that both Ms. Hofland and Mr. Chamberlain and their representatives, should have the right to examine all ballots pertaining the Ward Three cast on election day and in the advance poll.

Otherwise, the recount will only result in a re-run of the official count the day after the election. Even then, Ms. Hofland’s margin of victory went from two votes Monday night to five votes the next day.

There appears to be errors in the calibration of the machines. The key to a true recount is examination of the actual ballots before they are processed through the machines. This should be monitored by each candidate’s representatives those appointed as scrutineers.

This can be a two edged sword as there could be enough evidence of spoiled ballots that could affect the outcome in either Ms. Hofland’s favour or that of Mr. Chamberlain.

But it is the only way to determine a true outcome of the Ward Three council election.

The Ward Three electors deserve to know that the recount was conducted in a thorough and fair manner including the candidates being able to examine the ballots before processing.

There is a reason for reluctance on the part of the city election managers to allow examinination of the ballots. The city’s omnibus ballot contains the names of candidates running in each ward, plus the mayoralty and school board candidates.

Examining each ballot raises the potential of changing the final outcome in races not involved in the Ward Three council contest.

It is important for chief electoral officer, City Clerk Stephen O’Brien, to ensure that the Ward Three council count is true and accurate. To his credit, he is recommending that council approve the recount. He does have the power to allow examination of the ballots.

That ballot examination is a vital component of this recount.

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