Monthly Archives: May 2015

Liz Sandals took a powder as 70,000 High Schoolers were without teachers

Posted  Mat 31, 2015

In June of 2014, jubilant Liberals re-elected Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Guelph MPP, Liz Sandals was re-elected with a 10,000 majority.

That was then and this is now.

In the 2014 Liberal campaign the education portfolio was treated as peace with the teachers and a bright future of primary and secondary education in Ontario. Left out of that amorous attachment to Ms. Sandals and Premier Wynne, was the $480 million settlement made in 2013 with Ontario’s teachers. It was a back door attempt to rollback the former Liberal administration’s attempts to curtail the exponential growth of teacher costs in the province.

Former Premier, Dalton McGuinty, had tried to stem the explosive growth of the cost of education in Ontario.

Looking back, you will recall the teacher’s work to rule campaign in the fall of 2012. They refused to conduct extra-curricular activities. These included athletic coaching, drama and music events and a number of student activities that were a normal part of the pupil’s high school experience.

It didn’t matter to the teacher’s unions. They did not want the party to be over.

And quite a party it has been for the past several years. Teacher salaries and benefits increased dramatically as they played one school board against another to boost personal incomes through a slanted collective bargaining system. It’s called whipsawing.

With 170 school boards in Ontario, it’s not difficult to understand how this negotiating tactic worked. For example, board A would settle with its teachers for a 4 per cent increase over two years. Board B would use that settlement to demand the same or more during its negotiation.

The 2013 $480 million payoff to create teacher peace was ignored in the 2014 campaign. As it turned out neither were a number of other problems sandbagged by the Liberals during the 2014 campaign, including solving a $12 billion deficit and spending $1.2 billion to tear down two partially finished natural gas generating plants in Mississauga and Oakville. This issue remains a subject of an OPP criminal investigation.

This year, Education Minister Liz Sandals sat back and witnessed 70,000 high school students fail to be educated because teachers went on strike April 20. Five weeks later, the Ontario Labour Relations Board as being illegal has finally determined the high school teacher’s strike of three major school boards.

Of the 70,000 stranded students, an estimated 17,000 were in their final year of high school. They are the most vulnerable as losing up to five weeks of instruction could result in having to repeat grade 12.

As a member of Cabinet, did Sandals fail to stress that her responsibility was to ensure that the education of all students was the key responsibility of her portfolio?

Instead she waffled, used bureaucratic jargon and sidestepped the issue to give reasons why she couldn’t do her job: It is to ensure the children of Ontario are being educated. Not sometime, to accommodate labour relations, but all the time.

Sandals became a polarized, political ostrich with her head buried in the sand.

The Guelph Mercury recently published a gushy editorial praising Sandals about her stand on the proposed sex-education curriculum. As a deputy minister in the Ministry of Education, the man who was in charge of writing that new curriculum was just sentenced to four years in jail for making and transmitting images of child pornography.

How could Sandals not be aware of this when she announced the changes in the sex education curriculum that set off a firestorm of public criticism?

The newspaper editorial ignored the fact that 70,000 Ontario high school students were without teachers. It ignored Sandals fumbling attempts to handle the on-going dysfunctional Toronto and District School Board and its spending crises.

Monday’s belated vote to force the teachers back to work, consent in the legislature was not unanimous as the NDP voted against the bill. The next day, the Ontario Labour Relations Board, said the three teacher strikes were illegal and ordered the classrooms to be open Wednesday.

If this is the high-water mark of Liz Sandal’s career, will she be known as the Minister who couldn’t keep the teachers on the job?

This is only the beginning of teacher union distrust of the Liberal administration. Already the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation is threatening to hold a province-wide strike in September. She had better fasten her seatbelt, as there is more turmoil to come when the elementary teachers start their quest for a new contract.

The underlying problem is the Liberal government’s misguided attempt to change the way teacher’s labour contracts are negotiated. Relying on a committee of alleged independent folks, called the Education Relations Commission, who deliberated for ten days before stating the students’ school year was in jeopardy, was not a good move.

The other horse in the race was the Ontario Labour Relations Board that decided Tuesday that the teacher’s strikes at three jurisdictions was illegal.

The root of this cock-up was the Wynne government’s strategy to allow the local boards to only negotiate local issues but not curriculum, wages and benefits. Those areas are negotiated by the provincial government (the Ministry of Education led by Sandals). Between the Ministry, Education Relations Commission and the Labour Ministry, you can understand why 70,000 students were stranded in a power battle with three different government agencies and their teachers.

And this dispute is a long, long way from being settled by the tandem team of Wynne and Sandals.

This time there is no $500,000 available to pay the teachers to go away.

The teachers to lower the number of students in each high school class must share the blame for these strikes with their stringent demand. Can you believe they stranded all those kids over this issue?

The real victims are the students who have no say, no political power, and are the largest group of stakeholders not even at the table.




Filed under Between the Lines

The escalating cost of Susan Watson’s election complaint, creates growing doubt about its validity

Posted May 25, 2015

The cracks are appearing in the Susan Watson complaint that former candidate Glen Tolhurst broke the campaign finance rules by accepting a donation from the citizen’s activist group, GrassRoots Guelph.

City Clerk Stephen O’Brien is reported to be dismayed over the turn of events, particularly the Compliance Audit Committee’s (CAC) order to conduct an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial return.

On May 6, two members of CAC, Glen Greer and George Gorringe, both appointed by the Farbridge administration in July 2014, voted to order the audit after only ten minutes of deliberation. The third member of the committee, Lyndsay Monk who was elected chairman, April 23, did not appear.

On May 20, the CAC met to approve hiring the auditor. The city procurement department presented four bids and recommended accepting the lowest bid from William Molson, a Toronto Chartered Accountant. His bid of $7,500 plus $500 for each meeting was less than half of each of the three remaining bids.

CAC member Glen Greer objected to accepting the Molson bid on the grounds that he had acted on only one case involving an election complaint in the Town of Pickering in 2011. He said the third highest bid of $16,000 plus $1,000 per meeting would be more suitable as the company has represented municipalities on six different occasions. His argued that this bidder had more experience in handling election financial complaint cases. Mr. Greer apparently had done his homework.

When the vote was held to accept the Molson bid, Mr. Greer voted no.

During the same meeting, fellow member George Gorringe stated: “An electorate may apply for a compliance audit where they believe (and he emphasized believe) a candidate has contravened the provisions of the act relating to election campaign finances, in my mind had the onus been slightly greater, I’m not sure I would have supported the application.” Well, he did, regardless.

Back tracking, the CAC chair was not at the May 6 meeting when Gorringe and Greer voted to conduct an audit. That, in itself, is questionable procedure, Then it was revealed that chairman Monk at the May 20th meeting had advised her fellow CAC members at the May 6 meeting, to order the audit despite being absent.

While this is confusing, it appears that the two CAC members who ordered the audit may now have second thoughts, but are committed to the audit.

Plainly Watson supporter, Dennis Golon’s published statements are not aimed at Mr. Tolhurst but challenge the status of GrassRoots Guelph and its right to donate money to Mr. Tolhurst.

So, it is now crystal clear that Susan Watson and her NDP supporters are using taxpayer money to back door their determination to destroy GRG and its rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedom, guarantees the right of people to assemble and object to political actions.

The problem they have is that GRG did not run for office. Their charges, well documented by Galon, are in the wrong arena. To expect an unelected compliance committee to judge the merits of their arguments and pass it on to an auditor for confirmation is an egregious attempt to manipulate the Ontario Municipal Elections Act and the City of Guelph elections bylaw.

The construct of GRG was carefully crafted to allow people to express their beliefs through information and facts. It was formed under the Ontario Corporations Act and its letters patent laid out the purpose of the corporation. It was no secret of the purpose of GRG despite the attacks by the Watson NDP supporters that it operated in anonymity.

For Watson spokesman, Dennis Galon, to state GRG is not a business is silly. It is legally incorporated as a non-profit, non-partisan organization. During the election campaign, It had an address, volunteer staff, entered contracts with suppliers, a website with public access, and offered citizens a venue to support its stated values. If that’s not a business then I’m Warren Buffet.

Despite what the auditor’s report may state, it had better be detailed to the extent that it will hold up in a court of law. Because that will be the next step if the auditor rules GRG is not in compliance.

Citizens of Guelph should not have to be exposed to this attempt to make a legitimate citizens’ voice of the people be held accountable for something GRG acted upon, legally, in the 2014 municipal election.

The people’s assets should not be used for the redemption of a Mayor, who failed to financially manage the people’s treasure for eight years. She lost, get over it and move on.








1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

If the OFL can’t get its finances together, why should labour drain the public trough?

Posted May 24, 2015

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) is red-faced over a $4.5 million financial shortfall.

The union umbrella organization admitted that it has serious financial problems including a maxed out line of credit. The federation supports common causes for the union movement.

Two former presidents, Gord Wilson and Wayne Samuelson, have sharply criticized Sid Ryan, OFL’s current president since 2009, for the alleged mismanagement of union funds.

There have been three defections from the OFL by large unions including the Ontario Public Service Union (OPSEU), Ontario Nurses Association and Service employees International Union. The result is an $896,000 loss of dues to the OFL.

This has prompted the Canadian Labour Council to intervene to halt future defections and appointed a financial administrator to oversee the OFL operations. Sid Ryan says he inherited the financial problems when elected in 2009.

Part of the unfunded liabilities include banked vacation payouts of $406,277, a $200,000 budget shortfall for the first six months of the fiscal year and an unknown amount for unfunded pension liabilities.

It stands to reason if the public service unions are unable to manage their finances, why do they keep coming back to the city demanding enhancements to their wages, salaries and benefits? By law, the city must balance its accounts annually and cannot have a deficit. The result is increasing revenue to meet union demands. Translation: hike taxes and user fees.

With a staff that is 80 per cent unionized, plus a management association, labour and its elected supporters, has effectively taken over the city government.

The difference is the ratepayers pay for the increasing public unions’s contracts. The attitude prevails that the union’s leadership feels its members are entitled to demand increased wages, salaries and benefits when new contracts are bargained.

The ratepayer has no choice because our elected representatives, collectively, fail to control the escalating labour costs. In Guelph it has reached epidemic proportions with soaring increases in staff numbers and the exponential increases in wages and benefits.

The 2015 Guelph budget approved hiring 21 additional staff. This included some earning high managerial salaries and benefit. Every year it’s the same. Staff officials recommend hiring additional staff and council agrees.

Comparing Guelph’s 2015 property tax increase to 13 other municipalities,

Guelph has the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of all in the 14-city sample.

First, the research on this report employed a common benchmark of dollars per $100,000 of assessment. This allowed equalized comparisons with two-tier municipalities such as Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge that are part of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo. The report was researched from official public sources.

Here is the list in descending order:

City                        2015 tax increase                   Ranking                         Difference

Guelph Budget                        3.55%                                     39

Guelph revised – Note A      3.96%                                    44

Hamilton                                    2.70%                                   35                     Minus 1.26 %

London                                       2.50%                                    30                    Minus 1.46 %

Brampton                                  2.54%                                    24                     Minus 1.42 %

Brantford                                   1.88%                                    22                     Minus 2.08 %

Port Colborne                          1.10%                                    18                      Minus 2.86 %

Burlington                                 2.06%                                    18                     Minus 1.90 %

Oakville                                       1.70%                                    15                      Minus 2.26 %

Mississauga                               2.20%                                   12                     Minus 1.76 %

Cambridge                                 2.72%                                   10                      Minus 1.25 %

Toronto – Note B                    3.20%                                  10                      Minus .76 %

Waterloo                                    1.53%                                     7                      Minus 2.43 %

Kitchener                                   1.9%                                      7                       Minus   2.06 %

Windsor                                         0%                                      0                      Minus 3.96 %

Consumer Price Index         2.2%

Note A – Guelph council in 2013 and 2014 shifted some of the tax burden from multi-residential and industrial to residential. The revised increase does not include the mandated increase in assessment or the 4.1 per cent increase in water services.

Note B – Toronto’s increase includes a .50 per cent surcharge to fund a subway extension to Scarborough.

Comparing the Guelph revised rate of 3.96 per cent to the next highest on the list, Hamilton, at 2.70 per cent, the difference is an astounding 31.8 per cent!

Why is it that all these municipalities have much lower 2015 tax increases than the City of Guelph? Collectively, what do they know that the Guelph administration doesn’t?

Reading this report, management of the City of Guelph, when compared to 13 other cities, proves there is a very serious problem in terms of performance including accountability. It is a hangover from the previous administration, that manipulated the city’s treasury to suit its own projects and plans and changed the way our city, in a manner that citizens rejected last October.

And now we continue paying for the mistakes and mismanagement.

In eight years, we have a bloated staff of more than 2,100 employees, more than $132 million of debt, a 40 per cent compounded increase in property taxes, a 77 per cent increase in water rates, despite a reduction in usage. Plus a waste management system that has cost taxpayers more than an estimated $70 million and fails to serve 6,400 households.

But there is no new downtown lebrary, no south end recreation centre, no additional downtown parking facilities and a lagging infrastructure with streets that are among the worst in Ontario.

The 2015 budget was nothing more than a power move by the Farbridge supporters still on council, aided and abetted by senior staffers.

Remember, this is the budget where previously, CAO Ann Pappert said the Urbacon $8.96 million settlement would not impact property taxes. She claimed it was because the funds would come from three unrelated reserves and will be paid back in five years, repaying the reserves at a rate of $900,000 a year. It is unexplained how repayment of $4.5 million in five years satisfies payment of $8.96 million. Well, the truth escaped her in this pre- election statement.

Council, by a nine to four margin, voted to lower that figure this year to $500,000 and have the staff come up with a new repayment plan, Most of these are the same people, elected and some of those on staff, who were responsible for the Urbacon mess in the first place.

Which only proves they know how to spend the people’s money but fail to administer it in a responsible and productive way.

Those of us living in Guelph will suffer because the soaring costs inflicted by this and previous administrations, has already made our city one of the most expensive in the country in which to live.

If the major union umbrella group in Ontario cannot manage its own finances, why should we allow labour to engorge its contracts on our dime?

1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

Dr. Galon, fool some of the people some of the time but not all the time

Posted May 20, 2015

The Mercury published a long refutation of the truth about the Susan Watson complaint that Glen Tolhurst accepted an illegal contribution to his 2014 civic election campaign.

Dennis Galon, the author of the piece, describes Watson’s attempt to clarify the position of non-profit corporations to be allowed to contribute to election advertising campaigns. He alleges she contacted the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing regarding the so-called “third party” support of issues and candidates in a municipal election.

He stated that the Ministry, “didn’t know and Watson was referred to Guelph’s city clerk”. But he does not identify this Ministry official or whether she received a decision in writing or, as Galon puts it, she “was told effectively” by a nameless person in the MMAH.

Following this anonymous advice, Watson contacted city Clerk Stephen O’Brien and was told he had no authority to investigate or prosecute offenses under the Ontario Municipal Elections Act. He suggested she should pursue her concerns with a formal complaint to the city’s Compliance Audit Committee (CAC).

The trouble with this argument is that the CAC has no authority to, as Galon puts it, to adjudicate her “noble tradition of ‘test case’ public interest litigation”.

Dr. Galon does have a way with words.

There is nothing noble about this sham of spending the public’s money to chase a specious theory that GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) did not have the authority to invite readers to consider candidates. It collectively believed that its participation would bring about change in Guelph.

This noblesse oblige on the part of Watson is a bare-faced attempt to assuage the pain of seeing her friend, Karen Farbridge, lose her bid for a fourth term as mayor.

Watson’s pious comment that she had no quarrel with Mr. Tolhurst but she merely sought to clarify the role of third parties in municipal elections.

So, do two official turndowns or passing the buck qualify as a noble test case? Further, what is the price of this noble cause? It’s you and me who pay the bills plus thousands of Guelph citizens.

Given their experience in legal cases, does the CAC three-member panel have the power to adjudicate this allegation hiding behind the mask of noble tradition, as Galon describes it? This is the first case the CAC has tried since its formation in July 2014.

Galon argues that GrassRoots Guelph is not a corporation that carries on business. Well, that’s a red herring. GrassRoots Guelph is an incorporated Ontario non-profit, non-partisan organization. Its purpose was to encourage greater voter participation (mission accomplished), organize and inform citizens of the operations of their city. Now that was a citizen-driven noble exercise.

Does he really believe that GrassRoots Guelph is different from the hundreds of non-profit incorporated organizations that exist across the province?

The Farbridge supporters were stunned and angry over the election outcome. That’s the real explanation why this campaign to discredit a legitimate citizen’s activist business that played a major role in the election upset.

Let’s switch gears and look at the how other organizations were involved in the 2014 election. In the most recent campaign an organizations called “We are Guelph” actively recommended candidates in every ward as well as former mayor Farbridge. Those chosen candidates were promoted through the “We Are Guelph” website which is, by definition, a form of publishing.

It was sponsored by the Guelph and District Labour Council who paid for the fancy website and supported its slate of candidates who were all labour members or supporters of the former administration.

Some labour sponsored candidates received donations from a number of unions, located outside the City of Guelph. These included Phil Allt, Laurie Garbutt and others.

So, Galon, we presume, you believe that third party union-sponsored involvement with elections in Guelph legal. Also, it meets your version of what is the true intent of the Ontario Municipal Elections Act.

Hold on Buster.

Did the union-sponsored “We Are Guelph” crowd name all the donors to their cause, as you are demanding GrassRoots Guelph should do? Who paid for their website? Who paid for their contributions to support their candidates?

To suggest that Mr. Tolhurst financially benefitted from advertising placed in the Tribune doesn’t quite square away with the Farbridge ad trying to link convicted robo-call operative Michael Sona with Candidate Cam Guthrie. How do you estimate the cost of that debacle? Was the cost attributed to the Farbridge financial election statement? Did the Mayor benefit? What an interesting parallel.

Galon, you repeatedly refer to GrassRoots Guelph as right wing or conservative. You have no evidence this is the case and have no access to the members of the organization. The steering committee represented a cross section of partisan supporters of all parties.

If only the Guelph and District Labour Council would submit its list of members and donations. The problem the labour council faced is that a number of their members voted to defeat the mayor and others because they lived in Guelph and could see first hand the Farbridge bollix she made of city governance and finances.

Her legacy of millions wasted on her decision to fire Urbacon and the legal fall-out; plus the neglect of infrastructure in which vehicle congestion has dramatically increased on some major roads. It was because lanes were reduced to accommodate bike lanes. Galon, do you ever drive around town to experience the long line-ups of cars on the major arterial roads in the morning and afternoons?

Sorry, maybe you are an “active transportation” enthusiast and ride your bicycle around town.

We now have a waste management system that doesn’t serve 13 per cent of households in the city and is costing millions to operate, not including the capital costs spent to create it.

Galon, did you ever stop to think about what you and Susan Watson are trying to do? Do you believe that Glen Tolhurst turned the tide against Farbridge? Do you believe that Madame Farbridge was a great mayor but was misunderstood last October when the people voted her out?

Why should citizens believe you now when the wreckage of the Farbridge administration is still smoldering?

The city is being managed without a Chief Financial Officer. It has a Chief Administrative Officer who misled the people by stating that the Urbacon settlement will not impact property taxes. And it has a deputy CAO who blithely proceeds to hire more staff, settle generous staff contracts and believes it’s business as usual.

Sorry Dr. Galon, supporting the Watson crusade to prevent citizens from forming independent political action groups is something right out of authoritarian control of elections and people.

Anyone got some countries in mind where this works?




Filed under Between the Lines

Is Farbridge friend, Susan Watson, a bully or just a sore loser?

Posted May 19, 2015

The cost to the public treasure of the Susan Watson charade that attacked an innocent candidate because he accepted money from GrassRoots Guelph is mounting daily.

Ms. Watson denies her target is defeated candidate Glen Tolhurst but is to achieve “clarity” of the role of third parties in civic elections. So she chooses to use public money to assert that belief, using Glen Tolhurst as the conduit. Her complaint was supported by the following players:

* A council appointed Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) consisting of three citizens, two of whom are not lawyers or accountants. The newly elected chair, Lyndsay Monk, is a Chartered Accountant but did not participate in the May 6 meeting when her colleagues voted to order an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial report.

* On April 23, City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien retained Toronto lawyer Jody Johnson to inform the CAC of its responsibilities. She is described as a “subject matter expert”. Indeed, she may be having delivered a presentation in November 2014 to the fall meeting of the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario. Was Mr. O’Brien at that meeting?

Her subject was “Dealing with frivolous and vexatious complaints.”

The next question is, what did she advise the CAC on April 23? There is no record in the minutes of that meeting to reveal what this expert said or advised. It is important to note that Watson supporter, Dennis Galon, was at that meeting and was described by O’Brien as a member of the public. So he heard what Ms. Johnson told the CAC.

* Galon was the only “member of the public” at this meeting ostensibly held to elect a chairman of CAC. Lyndsay Monk was elected but didn’t turn up for the May 6 meeting when the audit was ordered. Did the other two members of the CAC know April 23, that the chairman would not attend the May 6 meeting?

Already Watson’s complaint is resonating with citizens who are wondering about her real motives. Meanwhile the bill for this complaint is being run up and the citizens are paying for it.

On May 6, the CAC heard presentations from Watson’s lawyer, Ian Flett, Dennis Galon and a former candidate supporter of defeated mayor Karen Farbridge. Why did one registered delegate, a defeated council candidate, receive a donation from the ETFO union and failed to appear? Representing Mr. Tolhurst was Guelph lawyer, David Starr.

Glen Greer, George Gorringe of the CAC presided over the meeting and it took them just ten minutes  after the arguments to order an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s financial elections report. It was significantly unusual to have one CAC member move a motion to order an audit and the other seconding the motion.

All in favour? Carried.

It was initially reported that the audit could cost between $25,000 and $30,000. That changed May 18 when the city retained William Molson, a chartered accountant from Toronto, to conduct the audit. This is to be ratified at the May 20 meeting of the CAC.

Why Mr. Molson, you may ask. His was the lowest bid of four for the audit that ranged in price from Molson’s bid of $7,500 plus $500 per meeting, to Deloitte LLP bidding $19,750 plus $2,000 a meeting. What were the specifications of that tender? Did mr. O’Brien know Mr. Molson before the the tendering process?

It appears that with lightning speed the city followed the tendering process in less than two weeks. It has to be a world record considering the history of opaque tendering for city work by the previous administration.

Mr. Molson, according to research, has conducted one election campaign audit. It involved the Town of Pickering and was conducted in 2011.

Here we have a rush to judgment, orchestrated by the city clerk. It is based on much hearsay evidence, administered and considered by non-elected officials and experts.

It is a travesty that according to the rules any citizen can complain about election finances to satisfy a personal vendetta toward any group of activist citizens who are opposed to what the target stands for.

Watson’s actions will have the effect, win or lose, of deterring citizens to participate in elections and, more important, discouraging good people to run for office. The fear of reprisal for the most specious of reasons can turn this great city into a municipal conspiratorial quagmire. That is, if it hasn’t already.

This case will be turned over to an accountant who is not empowered to solve Watson’s Don Quixote quest to “clarify” the so-called third party issue as it pertains to the Ontario Municipal Elections Act.

By the time the audit result is announced, this is going to be a very expensive personal vanity exercise and the costs should be borne by the complainant. Only council can order Watson to pay the costs if it is found there is no merit to her complaint. It will be interesting to see how her council friends will vote if that decision must be made.

Perhaps Mr. Tolhurst should consider legal action for intentional infliction of suffering by Watson. There is no doubt he is the victim here. He acted with honesty and regardless, he was defeated.

So the Watson solution is to use public money, estimated to eventually cost more than $10,000, to pay for an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election finances of less than $4,000.


Filed under Between the Lines

A recipe to return competency to Guelph’s municipal government

Posted May 19, 2015

Many people in the city are aware of the pickled financial soup that sours our municipal governance. Change is what the greater majority of voters voted for last October. As a public service here is a recipe for getting theta pickle out of the soup.


Take a handful of reality.

Add a dollop or two for truthfulness – for taste and confirmation.

Stir in a big chunk of transparency.

Add a cup of alum to suck up the mistakes, false statements and mismanagement during the past eight years.

Pump in 99 gallons of fresh air to open the secret and closed-door council meetings.

Add a Roget’s Thesaurus to parse the words used to obfuscate the truth.

Provide a set of jumper cables to ignite citizens to how our city has been hijacked by the former mayor’s social engineers.

Shake, not stir a new Chief Financial Officer not to knuckle under the former mayor and her controlling gang of seven on council.

Fill every council meeting with citizens protesting – “We’re mad as hell and we won’t take it any longer”.

Dredge paying taxes if the proposed tax increases are greater than the Consumer Price Index.

Put the lid on the civic staff to control the costs of running the city.

Drizzle downtown bar and club owners to help control drinking and violent behaviour.

Whisk a quart of curry to persuade the university to open its licensed establishments on weekends.


Stir vigorously and get the pickle out of the financial soup in which we are wallowing.

1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

The real victim in this election complaint by Susan Watson is the truth

Posted May 12, 2015

The stench of municipal corruption wafts over the Compliance Audit Committee’s (CAC) decision to order a publicly funded audit of a candidate’s election expenses.

Estimated cost? Between $25,000 and $30,000 plus expenses, all of which could be born by the ratepayers.

Last January, members of the Fair Vote Guelph (FVG), a third party organization, started filtering donations of the 2014 candidates for Guelph Council. Their interest lay in those who were supported by GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). They spotted the donation to Glen Tolhurst’s election financial report he submitted.

Mr. Tolhurst, a retired professional engineer with an MBA, ran in ward six and lost. Regardless of the outcome, he dutifully submitted his expense report to City Clerk Stephen O’Brien, claiming the GRG donation.

Who are the members of the Fair Vote Guelph political action group?

Two months passed and Susan Watson, a founding member of FVG, filed a complaint in early April to the CAC about the GRG donation to Mr. Tolhurst. This is a sophisticated organization with deep pockets and a website backing up Ms. Watson. A picture on the website includes a photograph of Susan Watson and Jason Blokhuis, a former candidate for mayor who received more than 3,000 votes last October.

Is it possible that Mr. Blokhuis was a plant by the Farbridge forces to take votes away from Mr. Guthrie? If true, it failed even if blending the number of votes cast for Farbridge and Blokhuis, Guthrie still would have won. Politics makes such strange bedfellows.

The three members of the CAC are George Gorringe, Glen Greer and Lyndsay Monk. They were appointed by the former Farbridge administration in July 2014. It was the month before Mr. O’Brien joined the city as clerk. At this point it should be explained that the Compliance Audit Committee was formed in 2007 by the Farbridge administration.

On April 23, in the council chambers, there was a meeting conducted by Mr. O’Brien as chief electoral officer. Attending were messers Gorringe, Greer and Monk. It was the first meeting for the CAC trio. The purpose was to elect a chairperson and Lyndsay Monk was named. The next motion of the trio was to elect George Gorringe as vice- chair.

Guelph resident David Birtwistle, had written Mr. O’Brien asking questions based on a Guelph Mercury report of the May 6 meeting of the CAC. He pointed out that only two members of the committee voted to order an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial report. The chair, Lyndsay Monk, was absent.

Enter a Toronto lawyer hired as a “subject matter expert”

The April 23 CAC meeting had another participant who Mr. O’Brien, responding to Mr. Birtwistle’s question, described as a “subject matter expert.”

Well, the minutes of the meeting identified the expert person as Toronto lawyer Jody Johnson of Aird & Berlis. The minutes state that she reviewed the Municipal Elections Act 1966 relating to campaign expenses, financial filing requirements, and compliance audits. She outlined the role and duties of a compliance audit committee, decision points, appointment of an auditor, consultation of an auditor’s report and prosecution and related issues.

As this committee had yet to conduct a hearing after their appointment last year, the experience level of the three members was nil in ascertaining the issue facing them.

Ms. Johnson’s presence at that meeting strongly suggests that her opinion, if offered, could border on coaching a judge before court even opens, a rare occurance. The May 6 meeting could have been easily influenced by any references about the complaint by anyone attending the April 23 meeting.

What did Ms. Johnson advise the CAC regarding this specific case?

Why did the clerk not identify to Mr. Birtwistle the role of expert Jody Johnson?

The Mayor takes a pass claiming solution of the complaint was out of his hands

The mayor commented recently that the city could not interfere with this process because it was a judicial matter. This is very wooly territory.

Why doesn’t the mayor, using his good office, broker a settlement of this issue before costs escalate? That’s what mayors do.

The CAC is a city appointed “civilian” quasi-judicial body of three laypersons. They are not lawyers, so as creatures of the Guthrie administration, how can the Mayor declare his inability to deal with it? Is it an expensive exercise to allegedly obtain clarity of the role of third parties in municipal elections as stated by Ms. Watson?

Why are Ms. Watson and her Fair Vote Guelph members, wasting taxpayer’s money chasing “clarification”? The CAC has admitted it can do nothing to accomplish her stated goal. The auditor cannot possibly make such judgment on professional grounds. Nor can council adjudicate it.

More questions.

Why was it necessary to hire a Toronto lawyer when the city legal department has three lawyers in house who are expert in matters municipal? Who hired Jody Johnson and why? Was the city legal department too busy to brief the CAC April 23?

How much did Ms. Johnson receive as a fee and expenses that are paid from the public purse?

Only one member of the public appeared at the CAC April 23 meeting

Also attending the crucial April 23 meeting was Dennis Galon, a member of the FVG third party group. Mr. O’Brien told Mr. Birtwistle that Galon was “a member of the public.” He added that the meeting was open to the public and advertised on the city website. Surprise! Only Mr. Galon turned up.

We now know that Galon was part of the Watson/FVG complaint team. He presented a dissertation supporting the contention that GRG was not legally allowed to make donations to candidates in municipal elections.

Why does Galon believe that GRG cannot donate to candidates but it is alright for the Guelph and District Labour Council support of We Are Guelph (WAG) to donate and support some 13 candidates last October?

So did Galon say anything at the April 23 meeting? Did he hand out any material supporting the complaint to members of the CAC?

Why wasn’t Susan Watson or her lawyer Ian Flett at the CAC April 23 meeting? Possibly it was because her ally, Dennis Galon, was there to protect her and FVG interests?

Wither the news media?

Finally, if this was a public meeting April 23 as Mr. O’Brien contends, where was the news media to cover what has evolved into a major news story?

The clerk stickhandled around that one by telling Mr. Birtwistle that no special invitations were sent out regarding the April 23 meeting.

No surprise there.

This complaint by Ms. Watson bears all the earmarks of a carefully orchestrated plan to force a lay committee of council to order an audit on Mr.Tolhurst. If there is a victim here it’s the truth. It remains an awkward attempt to discredit GrassRoots Guelph at the ratepayer’s expense.


Filed under Between the Lines

City Clerk explains how auditing a defeated candidate’s $4,000 election costs is $30,000

Posted May 9, 2015

The following response to questions raised by David Birtwistle, about the Compliance Election Committee’s decision to order an audit of former council candidate, Glen Tolhurst. City Clerk Stephen O’Brien replied to Mr. Birtwistle’s questions.

In the pubic interest, Guelph Speaks editor, Gerry Barker, responds to Mr. O’Brien’s explanations.

O’Brien: Thank you (Mr. Birtwistle) for your email. To answer your questions, I offer the following responses:

  1. The Municipal Elections Act (MEA) requires (s. 81[5]) that the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) make a decision within 30 days of receipt of an application. Given the timelines for when the application received and in respect of our public notice and publication timelines, this was the only date that was available where a quorum of the committee could be present. Any delay of the meeting time further would have put us in contravention of the MEA.

Response: The definition of a quorum needs more explanation. Does the city’s procedural bylaw permit a quorum of two of three members of a committee to conduct hearings? If this was the only date available, why wasn’t the chairperson present on May 6? Is it possible a quorum of only one member could conduct the committee’s business? It defies logic how this two-person committee could make a decision that can cost the ratepayers more than $30,000 plus costs. They could have deferred a decision by holding a public meeting with all three members available, to determine if an audit is required. Further, why was this complaint made almost two months after Mr. Tolhurst submitted his financial report?

  1. Yes, the City’s Procedural by-law along with specific Rules of Procedure for the CAC apply. Both documents are available on our website.

Response: I realize that the rules must be followed. But this procedure to allow publishing notices of information and public meetings on the Internet, in this case, is a travesty of the public’s right to know. Popular use of the Internet is not widely viewed by many residents. The assumption that Internet is adequate notice is not true and is perceived as self-serving.

  1. You are incorrect in certain regards to this question. There was a meeting held on April 23rd, 2015 to orient members of the CAC to the process. Ms. Watson’s lawyer was not present but Dr. Galon was as a member of the public. No delegations were permitted at this meeting as the CAC only received a presentation from myself and a subject matter expert. No one was provided with a formal invite to the meeting. If individuals were interested in attending, the meeting notice was published to our website and individuals were free to attend given that this was an open and public meeting.

Response: It is odd that only one member of the public, Dennis Galon, a supporter of Ms. Watson, attended the April 23 meeting. Did he address the committee? Were there minutes of this meeting? Were all three members of the CAC in attendance? It indicates that the principals or the public did not receive adequate notification. As the senior official in charge of this matter, I believe it is incumbent on you to ensure that the test of fair play, in a highly contentious issue is met. Even as you state the meeting was published on the city website, it fails fair notification of the public and the principal, Mr. Tolhurst. Also, who is the “subject matter expert” and their role in this matter?

The question arises that the city website notification of a public meeting does not serve all of the public. Many folks including the senior population do not have access to a computer or the skill to operate it. While this form of notification may be permissible under the Act, the public perception is that it is not sufficient notice. The city using this method of communication expects that all citizens are on the city website every day. I seriously doubt that standard exists.

  1. No closed meeting was held in determining any action of the committee. The committee’s work was done in an open public meeting on May 6, 2015.

Response: I agree May 6 was a public meeting. What led up to it is open to question for reasons stated above.

  1. As per section 81.1(5) of the MEA, the City is required to pay all costs in relation to the CAC’s operation and activities. That being said, section 81(15) of the MEA allows for the Council to recover the auditor’s costs from the applicant should the auditor’s report indicate that there was no apparent contravention and the CAC finds that there were no reasonable grounds for the application.

Response: It is understandable that the 30-day deadline to a CAC respose to a complaint is designed to stop frivolous and time-wasting complaints. After waiting more than two months to file a complaint, the law was used to influence the outcome. That’s why that April 23 meeting to brief the committee was vital to holding a balanced hearing. Dr. Galon’s presence negated that committee responsibility. Mr. O’Brien, you would have been better off dragging a couple of citizen’s off the street to maintain a measure of a balanced public interest.


Before an audit begins the public has the right to know the audit parameters and the entire operation must be open and transparent. Under no circumstances should the auditor consider examining the personal finances of the principals.

This procedure is nothing but a political exercise to embarrass Mr. Tolhurst and GrassRoots Guelph. The travesty is that the citizens will end up paying for this willfulness initiated by a small cadre of Karen Farbridge supporters.

Be reminded of the $10,000 paid to the integrity commission to investigate former councillor Cam Guthrie. That turned out to be a waste of the public’s money.

This vindictive effort by Ms. Watson will trump that when all the costs are in. And will the city council, with its Farbridge majority, force the costs onto Ms. Watson if the audit fails to prove her case?

Finally, the committee voted, based on mostly hearsay evidence, to spend an estimated $25,000 to 30,000 to audit a defeated candidate’s expenses that were less than $4,000 in election spending.

This is a public outrage.


Leave a comment

Filed under Between the Lines

The night democracy died in Guelph

Posted May 7, 2015

The election compliance committee of council appointees heard evidence Wednesday night, May 6, surrounding a complaint by resident Susan Watson. She, her Toronto lawyer, and two supporting spokespersons complained about defeated ward six candidate, Glen Tolhurst’s financial report. She contended that the $400 donated by citizen’s organization, GrassRoots Guelph was illegal.

The three-person committee was reduced to two when the chairperson did not show up. The committee, after hearing the statements, said it could not consider interpreting the Ontario Municipal Elections Act. This Act does not preclude third party involvement in municipal elections.

However, this two-person quasi-legal committee threw Roberts Rules of running meetings out the door. The two had one moving the motion to order an audit and the other seconding the motion. They then called a vote on the motion and both raised their hands.

In some circles, this could described as a kangaroo court when everything is decided in advance regardless of the testimony. It was revealed there was a meeting April 23 to explain the procedures of the compliance committee. Neither Mr. Tolhurst nor his lawyer, David Starr, was invited. This goose was cooked well in advance.

Following a ten-minute deliberation, the committee agreed to hire an outside auditor within three weeks to audit the Tolhurst election financial report. It was revealed the committee chairperson, who was not in attendance, had told her colleagues before the meeting to vote for an audit.

This is where things go from bad to worse. Recapping: Two appointees of the compliance committee decide to order an audit, the cost of which is estimated between $25,000 and $30,000.

Seems like the committee is willing to swat a mosquio with a sledgehammer. This is about auditing a defeated candidate’s election spending of under $4,000.

Then there is the possibility that in the event the auditor does not find Mr. Tohurst broke the rules, the complainant, besides paying for the audit, could also face damages levied by council.

Watson admitted after the meeting that there was no finding of wrongdoing by Mr. Tolhurst but her objective was “to pursue the matter to provide clarity around third party spending.”

So taxpayers are faced with an embarrassing situation where an individual, a personal friend and supporter of Karen Farbridge, seems to think that the rules of third party involvement in municipal elections are not clear.

Really! She chose to use public funds of the City of Guelph to make a point that needed to be resolved at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. That being the case, why did she use the mechanism established by the city to “clarify” the issue of third party participation in Guelph’s election?

This is nothing but abuse of the Guelph system of electing representatives.

What will future citizens who are interested in contributing to their community, think when they are faced with this kind of silly, expensive obstruction of the public’s right to participate in municipal elections?

It should be noted that this so-called election compliance committee was formed in 2007 by the Farbridge administration.

It was like a dagger to the heart of our democratic right to serve our community without fear of retribution after the fact.

Expecting a professional auditor to determine if this Watson complaint has any validity is like smoking the wrong stuff.

It’s a shameful, futile exercise that should be stopped by council.

If for no other reason than to agree that a committee of two, moving and seconding a motion and voting unanimously to hire a $25,000 auditor, defies any democratic principle.

Shame on them.


1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

Dr. Galon and the political spin to destroy GrassRoots Guelph

Posted May 6, 2015

If only Dennis Galon would tell the truth about Susan Watson’s complaint about the right of citizens to participate in elections.

In a letter in the Mercury, Galon cites elements of the Ontario Corporations Act, dictionary definitions, the letters patent of GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). And he argues that because third party action is not permitted in provincial or federal elections, it should not be allowed in municipal elections.

But in Ontario it is.

The complaint about the legitimacy of GrassRoots Guelph to support specific candidates is rooted in anger by the upper echelons of Farbridge supporters who are still enraged that their leader was defeated. The role of GRG, a voluntary citizen’s activist group, was the result of collective action by citizens who were outraged by the handling of the Urbacon lawsuit.

Galon neglects to mention that to this day, the full costs of the Urbacon affair revelation of multi-million dollar mistakes and mismanagement are still not known.

Ergo, GRG is the target in this compliance committee hearing, but not invited to participate. It is a barefaced attempt to destroy GRG by convincing a body of an un-elected panel to carry out their wishes.

The outcome will be interesting because this panel has no authority or mandate to change the rules embodied in the Ontario Municipal Elections Act.

More important is the threat to individual’s rights to assemble, participate and support municipal candidates under the Charter of Rights.

Galon keeps harping about GRG was partisan and therefore maintained a point view that reflected the standards of Conservative party adherents. Nothing could be further from the truth. The GRG membership was open to anyone and included supporters of all four major political parties in its ranks. It points to the basic difference between provincial and federal elections and muncipal election.

Traditionally, there are no political parties in municipal elections. In recent years, that has changed in Guelph. Supporters of the New Democratic Party have emerged and control the city government through union support and a majority of council members. It evolved in the past eight years under the leadership of Karen Farbridge and members of the NDP dominated Guelph Civic League.

We can see the trend of NDP organizing on the municipal level across Canada. Two examples are the NDP wins was in Quebeec in the last federal election and last night’s sweep by the party in Alberta ending 43 years of Conservative domination.

If you’ll pardon the expression, the underlying reason is organizing the grassroots on the muncipal level to attain victory. The forerunner of this strategy was the Farbridge sweep to power in 2006 attained with the help of professional NDP organizers.

Isn’t that pure partisan participation in a municipal election?

This attack by the Farbridge forces on GRG started last year before the election when someone in the inner circle concocted this lame attempt to discredit GRG by identifying them with the conservative right wing of the political spectrum.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why citizen’s revolted at the polls and defeated the mayor and other supporters who either quit or were defeated.

While the Urbacon lawsuit tops the list, there were other issues that motivated rejection of the mayor and her cohorts:

* Waste management comes close to being a disaster with the costs of operation never revealed; the director resigning; failing to service an estimated 6,400 homes; depending on other jurisdictions to supply feedstock to the waste centre; installing a cart system costing $15 million that breaks down and fails to service condo development and businesses.

* The $34 million renovation of police headquarters without public input.

* Hiring of additional staff has only exacerbated their high costs. Staff costs are not just salary or wages but include pensions, health and life insurance, accumulated unused sick and vacation days. These future obligations total more than $11 million, increasing each year, and are guaranteed by the citizens of Guelph.

* The exponential increases in basic operations such as water and sewer charges, user fees and property tax rates topping off at 3.96 per cent this year, highest in five years.

* Using $30 million from the Brownfield remedial reserve to hi-rise condo developers in the form of grants and tax deferment. No mention of repayment to the depleted reserve.

* The city owned Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc has received so-called “dividends” exceeding $4 million from Guelph Hydro. This comes from power rates charged to the same citizens who must pay property taxes and user fees. And Hydro rates are going up again this year and next. This just causes anxiety among most Guelph citizens.

* Finally, engineering a Wyndham Street rail underpass with a low clearance preventing large commercial vehicles using it.

Mr. Galon, you and your friends should look inwardly before complaining about the legitimacy of GRG and its role the October 2014 election.

And why now? It’s six months after the fact.

Why not inform the citizens of the costs of this exercise? To satisfy your hurt feelings about the outcome, are you expecting the costs to come from the public trough? Further, who is paying for Ms. Watson’s Toronto lawyer?

It’s all about using someone else’s money to retain power.


Leave a comment

Filed under Between the Lines