Posted April 7, 2015
It is now clear that 80 per cent of city employees who belong to unions have ownership of the public agenda that has been politicized by the seven member majority of the new council.. Make no mistake, this column is not questioning the individual union employee’s right to participate in municipal politics but does question the leadership of those unions.
The union supported members of council approved this budget including: James Gordon and Phil Allt, two former New Democratic Party candidates, Leanne Piper, June Hofland, Mike Salisbury, Cathy Downer and Karl Wettstein were joined by Bob Bell and Mark McKinnon. Only Mayor Guthrie, Christine Billings, Dan Gibson and Andy Van Hellemond opposed approval of the budget.
Meanwhile, former Farbridge councillor, Ian Findlay, opened the door questioning the right of the citizen’s activist group, GrassRoots Guelph, (GRG) to support and donate to candidates. In his juvenile blog he rants that GRG was not non-partisan but some kind right wing conspirators. Funny, he doesn’t mention the funding received by councillors from non-profit, non-partisan civic unions that supported the Farbridge administration with thousands of dollars in the past 10 years.
This was proved March 25, a day of infamy, when the union supported majority of council voted to increase the 2015 property taxes by 3.55 per cent. It was the largest annual increase since 2010.
It was a staged defiance of what the vast majority of people voted for last October. You do not have to understand how it happened but why it happened.
It was a continuation of the policies of the previous Farbridge-led administration. The 2015 budget is arrogant and self-serving. It ignored the choice of the people to change the policies and programs of the past. It explains why such a huge tax increase was necessary, to pay for its extravagant plans and policies including adding more people to an aleady bloated staff..
Labour unions have a right to support municipally based political parties, causes and chosen candidates. But they must do it in an open and transparent manner. This has not been the case in Guelph. The public has no idea who the unions supported with cash and organization assistence in the last election or the three previous ones. They’ll never tell.
Here’s the back-story:
When the Urbacon judgment declared the city wrongfully fired its new City hall contractor a year ago, there was momentary panic in the tightly controlled Farbridge team. As the details rolled out, the fallout effect mushroomed and a strategy was put in place to discredit mayoralty candidate Cam Guthrie, guelphspeaks, and GrassRoots Guelph.
The emphasis turned to ensuring control of council by naming two NDP members to fill gaps in wards two and three. The strange one was Phil Allt entering a slate that included two Farbridge incumbents, Maggie Laidlaw and June Hofland. Someone in the Farbridge campaign team apparently decided Maggie had to go. The election result was tipped in favour of the leftist progressives when June Hofland won by five votes, not exactly a stirring endorsement.
By the end of last September, real panic set in when an independent poll had Cam Guthrie 15 points ahead of the incumbent Farbridge. Shortly afterwards the infamous ad linking Guthrie with Michael Solna, convicted of a breach of the Canada Election Act, was published in the Guelph Tribune. The fallout severely damaged a Farbridge campaign that was already foundering.
Those left progressives making decisions on the changed tactics focused their support on electing candidates who shared the Farbridge policies and points of view. In ward four there was a vacuum with the retirement of Gloria Kovach and soon to be mayor Cam Guthrie. Former city councillor, Mike Salisbury, stepped up to fill the gap. He was rejected by voters in 2010 but won last October. Christine Billings also won handily but is no fan of Farbridge.
Immediately after the election, CAO Ann Pappert announced a major senior staff reorganization that cut the number of executive directors from five to three and re-titled them as Deputy Chief Administrative Officers. Each received an increase in salary.
This was the harbinger of retaining control of the Farbridge agenda and policies.
That control was razor thin and seven leftist progressives were elected to six for the opposition including Mayor Guthrie. However, councillors Bob Bell and Mark McKinnon who were believed to be middle of the road, pragmatic members, supported this shameful budgetary exercise.
Despite the three-month budget process examining the issues and public hearings, the stage was set to pass this 2015 excuse for a responsible budget.
Time will tell whether certain members of council seek redemption for their March 25 approval of the 2015 capital and operating budgets.
It can start by demanding the hiring of a qualified and independent Chief Financial Officer. It must be a no-nonsense individual who arrests the exploding growth of staff salaries and benefits, debt and taxation.
How much longer do the citizens have to be subjected to mismanagement, major mistakes and soaring operating costs?