Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Weekender

The Niska bridge dilemma – Why do we have two kingdoms in Guelph? – Don’t use the “M” word when the dwarfs are in town – Letter of the week

August 1, 2015

Hey! It’s a one-lane bridge!

There were two reports in the Mercury this past week that clashed. One was a passionate plea in a letter to the editor from a citizen to leave the one lane bridge as it is. The opinion was because it has served the community so well. The other was a news report about a three-car collision on the Niska Bridge.

That multi-collision accident must have police scratching their heads figuring out why three vehicles tried to use the single lane bridge at the same time.

Guess in the horse and buggy era the bridge worked okay.

Progress can be so complicated at times.

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Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. is the second kingdom running our city.

Going over the glossy annual report of the Guelph Municipal Holding Inc., that separate corporation reveals a dodgy element. The report states that it gave the city a “dividend” of $1.5 million in 2014 but reported a loss of $2.3 million. The report adds that in four years, it has sent $9 million in dividends to the city as sole stakeholder.

How does that work? The city is required to balance its books and cannot carry a deficit in its audited Financial Information Report filed annually with the province. Yet its wholly owned subsidiary corporation reports “a net comprehensive loss for the year,” of $2.3 million.

GMHI was formed in 2011 by then mayor Karen Farbridge and she stocked the board with her council cohorts. It was done for two reasons:

She did it to acquire the assets of Guelph Hydro that had a book value of $170 million. Secondly, to go off the city’s books to carry out plans for geothermal energy in the Hanlon Business Park and to service major buildings downtown. To do the latter, a new company was formed by GNHI to carry out this multi-million dollar project called Envida Corporation. It has its own staff.

Here are the crucial questions that GMHI should answer:

What are the sources of revenues that allow operating with deficits to pay a dividend to the city?

If this money is coming from Guelph Hydro, is this not a tax on electricity, a vital service to the public? The Ontario Municipal Act forbids municipal taxation of power and water services.

Why does Guelph need a separate corporation now stocked with more than 125 employees?

Why do the people of Guelph need a separate corporation that operates off the city balance sheet? Or indirectly, is the GMHI dividend being used to balance the city’s annual financial statement?

The report mentions that its sole shareholder is the City of Guelph. No, the city shareholders are the people of Guelph. Now you know why the city cannot build a south end recreation centre or new downtown library. The money has gone to fulfill the projects of the former mayor and her council cohorts..

The report’s so-called achievements include awards most of which the sources are unknown to the average citizen and social benefits that should be controlled by the city.

This corporation is a sham disguised as a long-term role of creating environmental and social benefits. It is the dream of a defeated mayor to operate outside the provincial municipal guidelines to promote her policies, not those of the people. And the people saw through it last October.

This is one operation that should be incorporated into the city administration.

Guelph doesn’t need two kingdoms running the show.

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Welcome to the 2017 World Dwarf Games

Guelph will play host to the Dwarf games using the University of Guelph facilities in August 2017. In order to make some 400 little people competitors and their families comfortable during their visit, here are some protocols to follow: Never call a dwarf a midget. They proudly want to be called either dwarfs or little people. Always ignore a person’s height but admire their personalities and enthusiasm.

Bigotry, mocking or disrespect will not dwarf this event. Because, that’s not who we are. We should feel proud to host these games that will be highly competitive and entertaining This is our opportunity to show the world why Guelph is the Royal City.

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 Letter of the week:

 Did Liz Sandals bungle negotiations with Ontario’s Teachers?

Guelph elementary school teacher, Doug Cook, made some waves this week asserting that Education Minister Liz Sandals has undermined collective bargaining with the teachers. Writing in the Mercury, Cook says the minister repeatedly fails to pay attention, and admitted she did not understand and was perplexed by the threat of a teacher labour strike.

Cook writes: She admitted to not being sure why elementary teachers left the bargaining table. “It just seems to be a general desire to have a strike,” she is quoted as saying.

This is how you bargain with workers? It stinks of arrogance and ignorance that does not belong in the provincial cabinet. Perhaps Premier Kathleen Wynne has detected a weakness in the management of the Ministry of Education. That’s why last week, she called a meeting of union and school board representatives to kick- start negotiations to safeguard the reopening of schools after Labour Day.

The premier admonished the parties to “not abdicate their responsibilities.” That also includes the participation of the Ministry of Education.

Trouble is the discontent coupled with distrust among teachers is deeply seated. With five weeks remaining before schools reopen, solving these complex and demanding issues has become a towering undertaking.

At this point, Liz Sandals, the government’s education leader who, in the past 17 months, has failed to resolve the differences and achieve a fair settlement with the stakeholders.

As each day passes, the threat of a province-wide teacher’s strike becomes a reality.

The premier needs to shuffle the cabinet and appoint a colleague with smarts and drive to effect a settlement, then restore the public’s confidence in the province’s education system. She doesn’t have to look further than to read Doug Cook’s letter in the Mercury.

Liz Sandals and her staff just can’t cut it.



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The high cost of organized infiltration by progressives to take over Guelph

Posted July 30, 2015

Recently during the debate to set new budget guidelines for the City of Guelph’s 2016 budget, the NDP dominated council spent almost two hours debating then it ended up with agreement to let the staff prepare the budget with no guidelines from council.

So what? Some would say.

Two of the doctrinaire progressive councillors, both former NDP candidates for the Ontario Legislature, James Gordon and Phil Allt, read prepared statements that reflected the former Farbridge administration’s method of preparing a budget.

Their job is to represent the people who elected them, not read left wing policies during an important debate. Their leftist mindset was made up before they heard any suggestions from other councillors.

Coun. Mike Salisbury joined them in denying Mayor Guthrie’s election promise to keep the 2015 property tax rate at the same level as the Consumer Price Index inflation rate of 2.2 per cent.

Well that was then and this is now. This same majority of progressives were responsible for the 3.96 per cent property tax increase for this year. The only members of council who voted against this increase were Mayor Cam Guthrie, Councillors Christine Billings, Dan Gibson and Andy Van Hellemond.

Was this a planned progressive effort to embarrass Mayor Guthrie?

That 2015 property tax increase achieved the dubious distinction of having the highest tax rate of 14 peer municipalities.

It would appear that in Guelph politics, nothing has changed when it comes to curtailing costs, becoming more efficient, and correcting the $14 million Urbacon mess. For no other reason than recognizing that the people voted for change in the October civic election.

Who was it that said: “The socialists will spend the public’s money until the money runs out?”

There is a great divide in this city that has stalled needed programs and capital projects because of ideological differences. The progressive cohorts on council are controlling the agenda, aka the old Farbridge agenda.

That’s like letting Karen Farbridge still run the city without being elected.

The progressives were stunned when their leader was so soundly defeated. But they are striking back.

It started with the vexatious, frivolous and vindictive complaint against Glen Tolhurst who was defeated in Ward 6. Susan Watson, Farbridge friend and defender applied to have Mr. Tolhurst’s official election expenses report be audited by the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC). Her application was made almost six months after the election.

In the Tolhurst report there was a donation to his campaign of $400 from citizen’s activist organization GrassRoots Guelph (GRG).

Former Mayor Karen Farbridge appointed the CAC in 2014 and it’s made up of three members. After hearing Ms. Watson’s reasons for an audit, two of the three members voted unanimously to order the audit. The whole principal of any organization having an odd number in the decision process is basic to ensure a balanced outcome. In this case, the newly appointed chair of the CAC did not participate in the Watson hearing.

Watson and her entourage of supporters claimed that GRG was a third party and ineligible to make donations to candidates in a municipal election. In fact, GRG is an incorporated organization called GrassRoots Guelph Voters Association Inc. And as a corporation under the Municipal Elections Act, GRG is permitted to donate to candidates.

It should be noted that GrassRoots Guelph was not invited or participated in this meeting to decide if it was acting illegally in donating money to Mr. Tolhurst.

Enter the city appointed auditor, William Molson of Toronto.

He has created a situation in which the city is now facing misrepresentation that could result in spending thousands of public money. It is based on the whim, called a complaint of Glen Tolhurst’s financial declaration, in the 2014 civic election, by a doctrinaire socialist.

This has all the elements of making our city government the laughing stock of municipalities across the province. It’s because the city appointed an auditor who is investigating a defeated candidate who spent less than $4,000. Then, spending public money to assuage a petty complaint by a sore loser.

An estimate of the cost of Ms. Watson’s complaint so far is more than $10,000 and counting. That’s your money.

The situation could escalate if there is a trial before a Superior Court judge, and results in damages to personal loss of reputation lawsuits and the reputation of the city for this foolhardy attempt of retribution.

This is the way the progressives wage war, with your money.

If you believe this charade should end, call your councillor and tell him or her to pull the plug on this vengeful, costly expedition. Their numbers are listed on the city website, Guelph.CA




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The Weekender

Naked in the sun – The police blotter – Liz soft soaps the crisis – Susan Watson, angry partisan?

July 24, 2015

Item: Going naked on Macdonell Street can be dangerous

Police chased a 30-year-old man starkers downtown the other day. Question is did he lose the bet? Was he stripped by friends as a prank? Maybe he was trying to catch the GO bus?

We’ll probably know in about six months before the three gumshoes from the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) deliver their report that will clear the local cops of deliberately injuring the streaker. He was taken to hospital for facial injuries.

Geez! This town is going to the dogs when women can stroll around topless but men cannot do the Adam and Eve act without the SIU getting involved.

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Item: Police drew their guns 27 times in the past three months

Let’s be fair, of the 27 draws, nobody was shot. In fact there were only 15 use-of-force incidents, the police report stated. The definition of use of force means the gun was pointed but not fired. It is presumed the other reported 12 gun draws were practising getting the gun out of the holster

Left out of the report was the one use-of-force incident that resulted in the May 20 shooting death by Guelph police of Brandon Duncan, 36, in the Guelph General Hospital emergency waiting room.

That shooting investigation was taken over by the SIU which immedately put the lid on any information. Such details as the circumstances leading up to the confrontation between Duncan and the police, or why they felt their lives were in danger due to Duncan’s behaviour?

The people of Guelph are entitled to know what happened that day.

The SIU has reported that its closure rate of cases is growing. Translated, don’t look for any report to be forthcoming before the end of the year.

Don’t rush them. The naked-guy case has to be investigated first.

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Item: Wynne steps into the teacher crisis while Liz Sandals watches

One of the cardinal rules of negotiation is don’t bring out the management big gun to face the unions. The risk being that there is no back door once that happens, the buck stops there. Negotiations will falter and the people will face settlements that will drive the Ontario deficit even higher.

But that’s what Kathleen Wynne has done. She has subverted her Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, by inviting the reps from the unions and school boards to a private meeting in her office.

With the real threat of two million students being denied education after Labour Day because of striking teachers, Wynne has abandoned her former school trustee pal, Liz Sandals. In 2013 they placated the teachers who were working to rule by shelling out more than $400,000,000. That was done under Sandals’ watch as the newly-minted Minister of Education. The people barely blinked at this outrageous payoff.

Things are different today as there is no pay-off money in the provincial till.

The unions are out for blood, demanding smaller class sizes and perks. Most are without a contract since early last year. Just what was Minister Sandals doing for 17 months to head off what is about to be the worst labour crisis in the history of education in Ontario?

Now the unions have polarized into a joint front and the final settlement will cost millions in just retroactive pay. And, the other public service unions will be emboldened for  more money and benefits based on any settlement the teachers receive.

It’s too early to scapegoat but you can be sure Wynne is not going to take the fall for this debacle.

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Item: The War of 2014 – Why is Susan Watson so angry?

Following her complaint against defeated civic candidate, Glen Tolhurst, Susan Watson has collected a group of 30 individuals to demand that Elections Canada reopen the 2011 robocall case. Remember, thousands of voters were mis-directed to the wrong polling stations by computer driven robots, allegedly operated under the authority of the Conservative Party?

For most people in the city, this new Watson complaint is a yawner. Their real interest now is the upcoming Federal election in October and is Justin not just ready for prime time? But Susan wants to bell the Conservative cat by requesting a re-opening of the case that occurred four years ago.

Her frivolous complaint against Mr. Tolhurst for accepting money for his ward six campaign is now entering a new stage with a Toronto accountant, being hired by the city to conduct the audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s official election expenses report. The cost of this audit is being borne by city taxpayers estimated to be more than $11,000.

The complaint is frivolous because Mr. Tolhurst spent less than $4,000 in a losing cause. The auditor, among other things, is asking for a list of his lawn signs put out with the names of the people who allowed the signs.

You do the math, it’s your money.



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Speedvale: Council makes a major common sense decision

Posted July 24, 2015

In the first seven months of the new Guelph council, it seemed like a redux of the one that it replaced.

The voters clearly and decisively voted for change or a new direction. They soundly defeated three-term mayor Karen Farbridge and elected Cam Guthrie to replace her.

Last Monday following a disappointing attempt to change the methodology of preparing a city budget, council heard a number of delegations commenting on changing Speedvale Avenue to accommodate bicycle lanes.

There were four basic options including a staff recommendation that eventually was adopted by a seven to five vote. Voting for the resolution were Councillors Mayor Guthrie, Billings, Bell, Wettstein, Van Hellemond, MacKinnon, and Gibson. Voting against were Councillors Salisbury, Allt, Gordon, Piper, and Downer, all former Farbridge councillors with the exception of Phil Allt.

The result is the first major decision by the new council in which the staff and majority of council delivered a common sense plan.

The stretch of Speedvale between Riverview Drive and Manhattan Court is one of the most heavily travelled in the city. Yet it is almost impossible to widen the road to accommodate bike lanes. It is because the high cost of appropriating frontages along the route and building a new bridge over the Speed River.

The staff proposal made sense and yet the five councillors who voted against it, don’t seem to understand that the people did not want their property impacted to accommodate bike lanes.

The silliest proposal came from a former city councillor, Vicki Beard, who pushed to have the street re-marked into three lanes with only one lane open in either direction. This so-called ‘road diet’ has been installed on Silver Creek, Stevenson and part of Elmira Road. The result is increased vehicle congestion and frustration.

When Speedvale was resurfaced earlier this summer from Woolwich to Westmount, east and westbound traffic on Speedvale was squeezed into a single lane as the work proceeded. The result was long line-ups at Woolwich, that stretched east past Delhi and west from Westmount to Edinburgh and beyond.

This was a precursor to the effects of the ‘road diet’, favoured by the five councillors who would have Speedvale vehicle lanes reduced to permit bike lanes.

But the vote was more meaningful than all that. It was a victory of common sense by a majority of councillors and a sound plan brought to the table by city staff.

James Gordon who represents the people living on Speedvale, voted against adopting the staff plan that did not include bike lanes. He put his politics ahead of the common interest. Maybe he should get out more and talk to his constituents.

Perhaps its time to scrap the city bicycle lane plan until some pressing other capital projects are addressed. These include, the Wilson Street Parking garage, the south end recreation centre, and downtown library. Also, has council forgotten that the Urbacon settlements must be repaid to the three reserve funds that were used to pay off various judgments and construction costs?

This is 2015 and council cannot continue the abortive spending policies of the previous administration. The city must live within its means and serve the people. That’s all the people, not just the minority that prefers ‘active transportation’ and demand expensive special lanes.

Congratulations to staff and council for restoring the people’s confidence.




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Why you don’t always get what you vote for

Posted July 22, 2015

Monday night was an example of the council bullies taking over the important case for budget reform

In almost two hours the majority of the former Farbridge supporters and some new faces on council added to their team, bludgeoned any attempt to change the way the city budgets.

Who are these people? Four stand out: Karl Wettstein, Phil Allt, Mike Salisbury and Mark MacKinnon. They dominated the discourse with all kinds of reasons why there should not be any guidelines.

Their domination followed a presentation by Kithio Mwanzia, president of the 900-member Guelph Chamber of Commerce. He urged council to adopt using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), plus the annual MPAC assessment increases on properties as a primary starting point in developing the 2016 budget.

That set the stage for a number of long-winded responses from the leftist coalition.

Coun. Wettstein, started the ball rolling by saying that adopting the Chamber approach would give the public the impression that was the end game. It took him ten minutes to explain why he wouldn’t support it.

When did Wettstein ever give a reason why he was concerned about what the public may think? In 14 years, Wettstein has failed to convince his council colleagues to build a south-end recreation centre in the ward that he represents.

If there was ever a councillor who was all hat and no horse, Karl fits the bill.

Then Bob Bell attempted to make a compromise. Coun. Phil Allt, who is the great pretender, read a prepared long speech denouncing the whole idea of pre-budget guidelines.

His bench mate Coun. James Gordon agreed as the leftist majority swung into high dudgeon.

It was a disgusting gangbang of political wills that ended up after several motions that council would do nothing. No guidelines for staff. Total control by staff of doing the number crunching and presenting it to council because, as Coun. MacKinnon put it: “Staff will give the numbers that are correct.”

Guess that guy wasn’t around for the Urbacon affair when the staff, with the compliance of the former council, blew more than $14 million of the people’s money spent on a lawsuit with the general contractor, subcontractors and two companies called in to finish the job of building the new city hall and renovating the old one into a provincial court.

Of course the Chamber President is right. So are Bob Bell, Christine Billings, Mayor Cam Guthrie, Andy Van Hellemond, Dan Gibson and the 19,000 folks who voted for change in Guelph.

But the left coalition is opposed to change and are determined to thwart any attempts to reform the way the city operates including a new deal on budgeting with guidelines.

On March 25, this group voted to increase property taxes by 3.55 per cent. It was later revised to accommodate the increase in assessment taking the real increase to 3.94 per cent. It was the largest increase since 2010.

In the same budget meeting, Coun. Wettstein moved to reduce the refunding of the three reserve funds used to pay the Urbacon settlement of $8.94 million. Ann Pappert, CAO, said the reserves would be replenished over five years in the amount of $900,000 per year. Wettstein moved that be reduced to $500,000 in 2015 and the staff would recommend a new repayment plan.

If we needed another example of the Mickey Mouse way some councillors handle your money, look no further that the mugging of council Monday night over reforming the budget methodology.

Mayor Guthrie is handcuffed with a recalcitrant majority who failed to understand their fiduciary responsibilities and don’t care what the citizens voted for last October. He strongly hinted that he might take his reform message to the people who elected him. That’s a smart move that involves the people and balances the playing field.

The degree of dysfunction on this divided council is palpable and the people should let them know things must change.

If not, the ghost of former mayor Karen Farbridge will haunt this council and city for the next three and one half years.


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The Speedvale donnybrook, pesky bike perils, the SIU dumble (sic), Paying the piper?

Your Weekender


Posted July 17, 2015

The staff recommendation is right about the Speedvale question

There will be a donnybrook Monday night as the “Active Transportation” mob turns up to support its contention that vehicle traffic lanes should be reduced. They contend that doing this will provide bike lanes on a short section of Speedvale Avenue from Woolwich to Manhattan Court.

The sturm and drang of the past three weeks has been stupifying in the abundant absurdity of the silly arguments such as putting the roads on a diet to permit more bicycle lanes.

What planet do these cyclists come from? They use every self-centred argument that includes riding a bike will reduce the amount of carbon being emitted from internal combustion engines. Their lifestyle encapsulates a healthier one. One in which fitness trumps movement of people, goods and services.

History has demonstrated that the advent of the Ford Model T more than 100 years ago, doomed the horse drawn buggy and the bicycle as the major forms of poblic transportation.

Today, the bike lobbyists, a minority of those using the roads, are demanding more access of those roads for cycling at the expense of motor vehicles.

Congestion is a growing problem in this city and it is partially caused by shrinking traffic routes to accommodate bike lanes. The city staff has done a thorough job in analyzing the various proposals and the impact on traffic movement over the next eight years.

It is to be hoped that city council will agree with the staff recommendations and reconstruct this busy road into four lanes.

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For the love of bicycles, keep pedaling!

So you decide to walk your dog on your bicycle because he likes trotting beside you but he’s a Great Dane who suddenly spots a Pekingese.

You get hired to deliver pizzas on your bicycle but the tip is terrible because your chain breaks only delivering half of the family-sized supreme.

You meet this great woman who owns a car but no bike.

It’s a great feeling to ride at 25 MPH through the intersection until you hit the black ice and end up in the emergency room.

It’s really tough to eat a banana when there is no place to put the skin.

Jeez! This saddle hurts when I ride my wife’s bicycle.

Biking on a rainy day makes you wish you owned a Honda.

It’s tough when the landlord won’t let you park your bike in the hallway.

Stashing your bike on the front of the bus is handy until the driver pulls away with your bike before you can remove it from the rack.

Your $3,000 bike is stolen and the desk sergeant tells you to come back in six months when they hold the bike auction.

While riding along Stone Road, you are texting your girlfriend and fail to see the dump truck making a right turn.

Fido barks incessantly while you are watching the Big Bang theory. The dog wants to go for a ride in your new bike trailer and stop to have a pee along the way.

The cashier in the grocery store makes googly eyes as you are checking out until she sees you take off on your bike.

Your backpack is too small to hold the freshly baked bread so you hold onto the wrapping with your teeth when the parked car pulls out.

It’s always a challenge to be riding in a bike lane when it suddenly disappears.

Bike riders do not eat blueberry pies as they make the handlebars sticky.

You know it’s going to be a bad day when you ride on the sidewalks downtown and hit a grandmother texting in a wheelchair, you ricochets off a kid in a stroller, and  truck rolls over your I-phone.

Bike riders don’t have insurance, what’s to insure?

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Is the Special Investigations Unit stonewalling the hospital police shooting?

It was revealed this week that Special Investigations Unit (SIU) performance data in closing cases has fallen off sharply in the past year. This suggests the unit is getting swamped with investigations. But that’s not the case. If anything the workload has diminished.

When a man in the Guelph General Hospital emergency room was shot and killed by police two months ago, the only thing we know is his name and where he was killed.

Like most people in Guelph, there is concern about the circumstances of the shooting. It seems incongruous that the local police department or the Special Investigations Unit investigating the incident has failed to stem public fears of the safety of just going to the hospital for treatment.

A man, an apparent patient, was shot nine times by two Guelph police officers in the waiting room of the hospital emergency department.

There is no official explanation of what happened that day two months ago. Did the man have a gun, a knife or some weapon that would cause the officers to shoot him? There is no explanation of these circumstances that led to deadly force by police.

The question people are asking is: “ Was it a righteous shooting?” Were the officers in danger of being wounded or even killed by the victim?

This is the crux of the case. If there was no immanent danger to persons in the waiting room, the staff or the police, did the officers panic, draw their weapons and open fire? Was it a case of split-second decisions on the part of the officers? Whatever the outcome of the SIU investigation, there must be a new emphasis of operational training as it pertains to use of firearms by the Guelph Police Services.

The Guelph Police Services Board (GPSB) is composed of civilians, whose main role appears to be protecting the force and not involving the public.

One does not have to look too far in the past to remember the way the Guelph police handled the dreadful death of Constable Jennifer Kovach. The police clammed up and even the victim’s mother, Coun. Gloria Kovach could not gain access to the accident report until four months after the crash that killed her daughter.

The police officers involved in the hospital shooting who were responsible were back on the job just two days after the shooting. That was a public relations blunder on the part of the police management.

Does this tell the public it was a “righteous shooting?” Why then the secrecy surrounding a fairly straight foreword occurrence?

It affects the safety of patients who must mingle with persons who may be unstable and potentially dangerous. There must be police and hospital assurance this event was isolated and unpredictable. To do this, the police and SIU must explain in detail what happened and what steps are being taken to prevent it from ever occurring again in a public building.

Here’s hoping the details of this tragedy are soon released if, for no other reason, than it’s about the public’s personal safety and the right to know.

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Is Coun. Leanne Piper out of line on this issue?

When Coun. Leanne Piper sets her mind to spend your money apparently nothing can stop her.

Next Tuesday, July 21, there will be an Ontario Municipal Board hearing as to the legality of the Piper inspired declaration of much of her ward as a Heritage Conservation District (HCD).

This was a piece of legislation that Ms. Piper hustled through council just prior to the October 27 civic election. It was discovered recently that the city hired consultants to assist in turning Piper’s dream into reality.

The cost to the city was $250,000.

In the course of this cockeyed scheme, it was revealed that in the HCD there are between five and seven actual homes that qualify as Heritage homes under the prevailing standards. Another estimated dozen are on the cusp of being declared Heritage homes. This represents 10.6 per cent out of 160 residences in the prescribed area located in Ms. Piper’s ward five. The rest are labeled in Heritage-speak as “vernacular” not even close to being Heritage residences.

Now city resident, Mike Lackowicz, has spent a lot of time and money to bring this matter before the OMB. He believes the procedure to declare the area a HCD was seriously flawed. A deputy city solicitor defended the declaration, as expected.

Then Mike, in open council, questioned if  Coun. Piper was in conflict of interest. She hotly denied the accusation and threatened to sue Mike, on what grounds is uncertain. This is the trademark reaction by the self-righteous element of council … sue the bastards! The people are still smarting from paying more than $6 million for lawyers in the Urbacon wrongful dismissal lawsuits.

That’s why the leader of the day, our former mayor, was considered the most litiganist in the history of the city. That’s okay because they were not playing with their money, just ours.

The kicker is that Piper lives in the Heritage area and told the owners about how their properties will increase in value following the Heritage declaration. A city study echoed the same thing. Only, they sent our 400 letters to residents asking for opinions and a total of 17 replied, some opposed to the HCD. If that’s public participation then she is the Queen of Sheba.

On that basis, Piper is in conflict because she will benefit from the approval of this district. The rules governing conflicts of interest, as laid out by the province, are clear. If an elected official even takes part in discussion and supports the motion about an area in which there is potential of personal gain, it is a conflict of interest.

Despite the advice of the high paid consultants, other experts believe the whole process was flawed. That will now be adjudicated by the OMB.

Since the HCD was approved last fall, has Ms. Piper’s residence increased in value because her home is now in the HCD?

Just asking.











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To the losers go the spoils or how the FOF’s are still running the show

Posted July 12, 2015

Bright and early last Monday, July 6, Andy Best started his new job at City hall as Program Manager for Open Government with a congratulatory comment from former Mayor Karen Farbridge.

Presumably Best’s job is to implement the Farbridge council’s last September 8 approval of the Open Government Action Plan (OGAP). After years of criticism by citizens about the closed-door operations of the Farbridge regime, it paid a Toronto consultant $100,000 to develop the OGAP.

Andy Best is a former president of the Guelph Civic League. During the election campaign, he was founder and editor of the Guelph Citizen, a pro-Farbridge blog purporting to be a neutral publication. It was far from being neutral. Best was not alone. There were a number of pro-Farbridge blogs and broadcasts pumping out the former mayor’s message.

In the end it was in vain as performance trumped propaganda. The lady lost.

Although she is no longer connected with city hall, her policies and supporters still are in charge. In eight years, the civic staff was stocked with FOF’s, Friends of Farbridge. Wonder how many members of the 2,100 fulltime city staff owe their job to Karen Farbridge?

The city lost a number of dedicated public servants who couldn’t work with the influx of FOF’s. Morale plummeted. In one case, a new Chief Financial Officer was hired from Waterloo, who quit after one week on the job. He was immediately rehired by Waterloo.

You can read the excruciating details on the city website if your stomach can stand it. It has to be the apex of the Farbridge years to implement this crazy quilt of incomprehensible gobbledygook (say that three times fast!) that purports to open our government to one and all forever and ever.

We’re not here to interpret but to warn that this AGAP is not in the public interest and not what it purports to be. Words such as council, citizens, and taxpayers are rarely mentioned. Here’s an out-take from the lengthy report:

“Form an Open Government Leadership Team – In addition to the dedicated human resource(s), a Leadership Team consisting of internal and external stakeholders is also recommended. The role of the Leadership Team is to ensure alignment and shared ownership with key community stakeholder groups, City departments and service areas at each phase of the Open Government Action Plan. The Leadership Team will outline systems and processes to ensure consistency across projects and departments and monitor a project plan that includes schedules, key milestones, budgets and results.”

There. Are you starting to wonder what this is really all about? For one thing, the OGAP is designed to serve the public online through a personalized MyGuelph access. No mention of speaking directly with any employee, just access to a number of databases.

On paper that sounds great but the key to an open and transparent government is personal access to staff and dialogue. Municipal politics is a touchy-feely experience. The constant use of the word “stakeholders” throughout the OGAP Action Plan helps to remove the role of the people and, possibly the council from the process.

Not every citizen can use or has access to a computer. This OGAP plan is geared for the cyber age before its time.

It’s a bureaucratic solution to control the agenda without having to bother dealing with the citizens who pay their salaries and benefits.

This was demonstrated March 25 when the 2015 budget was approved with a 3.94 per cent property tax increase.

Was Mr. Best’s position posted and advertised? What are the specifications for this position? What is his salary and benefit schedule? Is he a permanent employee or on contract? Who recruited him and who approved the hiring? Were there other applicants for the position? What are his qualifications for the position?

If these questions go unanswered, then the conclusion is this hiring has all the earmarks of favouritism and the elements of corporate corruption.

This isn’t what the majority of people meant when they voted for a more open and transparent government.





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About a failing ship, an English trip and downtown biffys


By guelphspeaks

Posted July 11, 2015

Editor’s Note: Willikers, last week’s WEEKENDER apparently was a hit with our viewers. Today we have another collection of news, oddball items and commentary collected over the past week. Mostly stuff you’ll never read in the local papers. Enjoy!

A real blast from the past in the survival saga of the MS Trillium

By Gerry Barker

Some 52 years ago, I was a daily columnist with the Toronto Star writing under the moniker: In Town and Out. In a recent edition of the paper, writer Carola Vyhnak wrote about the Toronto Harbour ferry, MS Trillium. The ship was left in a nearby lagoon fading away to become a sewer-sludge barge.

Carola led her piece with a quote: “Tell us, admiral can you really make a silk scow from a ferry’s bottom?” Wow! That was a pretty racy double entendre in 1963. Turned out it was a valid question as the Trillium was about to be converted into an ignominious scow. Seems the brain trust at Metro Works was promoting the “silk scow” project and was questioned by, blush! Star columnist Gerry Barker who was dubious of the Trillium’s intended transformation.

Here’s the back-story. This week, Peter Styrmo, my best friend and Regimental brother, called me with additional information about the Trillium. As a former employee of the Toronto Historical Board, Peter was asked to remove certain controls and benches of historical value from the ferry and install them at the Toronto Marine Museum in Exhibition Park.

The Trillium fooled everybody as ten years later, she was rebuilt at a cost of $1 million and returned to service where it ferries passengers from the Jack Layton terminal, cityside to Centre Island. This year, the only side-wheel paddle steamer in North America is still working at 105. We should all be so lucky.

*            *            *            *

Why does Guelph’s water taste and smell so strongly of chlorine?

At our house we have two sources of city water in separate taps. My wife, the water drinker in the family, does not like drinking soft water. So we installed separate taps to dispense city water, It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Because of the apparent chlorine in the city tap sets; we drink city water filtered through the refrigerator that seems to eliminate the chlorine taste and smell. The cause we believe is pumping more chlorine into the city system because of the precaution taken annually due to the spring run-off and rain. But, this is July.The risk of contaminants infiltrating the source from the aquifer is mitigated by the chlorine applications to keep our potable water safe.

But then, there is scary news coming from the Waste Resource Innovation Centre on Dunlop Road. There are areas within the complex when excess water that cannot be held in retention ponds is dumped into the storm sewer system. Tests have shown that there are high levels of toxic chemical soup on the site, plus noxious odours affecting neighbours.

The scramble is on to test the stored contaminated soils stored on the site to ensure there is no infiltration of the aquifer, the source of city water. The question is, where does that wastewater in the storm sewer system end up?

The trouble is that the management of the Waste system does not level with the public about its operations. There is no sign of this changing despite the existence of a Public Advisory group composed of citizens and professionals. Often their questions are side stepped by management by not answering the questions, giving an obtuse explanation or referring back to provincial overseers.

*            *            *            *

When it’s free, people will help themselves

It now seems that the city will start charging for parking on Wyndham Street and the other streets downtown. In 2007, the former council halted paid street parking downtown. The loss of revenue each year since was $600,000 in 2007 dollars. Now with the housing intensification downtown, you can rarely find a place to park.

It is hard to equate why the city offers free downtown street parking but charges people to park on Delhi Street across from the General Hospital and the St. Joseph’s retirement centre.

Lack of parking across the city is becoming critical as the city grows with more vehicles than ever and fewer places to park. Making matters worse is the “road diet” policies, promoted by the former administration to placate the cyclists by re-marking four lane roads into three and adding bicycle lanes.

This policy in the past five years has created vehicle congestion throughout the city. This is a classic case of the minority tail wagging the dog. The city has no idea just how many cyclists there are or who uses the bike lanes regularly. Those cyclists who use the streets pay nothing to construct or maintain the lanes, are unlicenced and probably uninsured.

*            *            *            *

When nature calls, answer the phone

Speaking of social engineering, there is a growing movement (pardon the pun) in major cities around the world to provide public toilets that are well maintained, clean and convenient wherever people congregate.

Guelph council dabbled in the issue seven years ago when on the weekends downtown public areas were used as impromptu and spontaneous relief points – i.e. that city streets and alleys.

Two councillors, Ian Findlay and Mike Salisbury, were dispatched to Edmonton to study how that city handled the problems of public urination and, you know, the other stuff. When they returned from their safari in the prairie, they convinced council to conduct a test drive by using porta potties downtown, wait for it, for men only. The idea behind it was to measure the amount of urine collected over six weeks to determine the volume of what the city was facing. Some 2,400 litres of pee was collected averaging 400 litres per week.

Around the seventh week of the experiment the enthusiasm among councillorts died, particularly the seven women on council, as the project became a standing joke among the citizens.

Do you think we are ready for permanent public toilets strategically placed downtown? You betcha, and this time spend some real money to ensure that both sexes can use the facilities in comfort and privacy. The city might be eligible for a Trillium Foundation grant for funding the project. Let’s do this.

*            *            *            *

Is Coun. Karl Wettstein the smartest guy in the room?

Recently, Coun. Wettstein told his colleagues that if they wanted to lower property taxes they had to “either cut taxes or cut services.” In many years of serving on council he has managed to do neither.

So when his ward six supporters clamour for a South End recreation centre, they can now understand that their councillor is not prepared to advance the cause because he supports spending money in other places.

You see, while Karl says he is a conservative, his has voted lockstep with the Farbridge administration for 11 years. Yet he is able to convince the voters in ward six that he is their man and he’s there for them.

When he addresses council, his points are often incomprehensible and a signal to colleagues to grab some nap time.

This is a guy living in the shade of his career, always going along to get along, complacent but not complicit, and enjoying the minor celebrity spotlight that occasionally shines upon him.

Maybe he is the smartest guy in the room.

*            *            *            *

Some travelling music please, our CAO is off to England

You have to love that Ann Pappert, our Chief Administrative Officer, who is off to England to tell them about Guelph’s open and transparent governance. Cue, the applause. Maybe she should explain that a little closer to home. It’s a myth in her head inspired by her former leader who made little attempt to run an open and transparent government. That’s what got her administration in so much trouble in the first place.

Oh! That’s not quite right. Council did spend $100,000 to hire a Toronto consultant to tell them how to conduct an open and transparent government. Guess we now know how that worked for us.

Indeed it took a Superior Court judge to investigate the way the city handled the firing of Urbacon Buildings Systems, the new city hall general contractor. So far, the costs of that experience have reached more than $14 million.

In fairness, Ms.Pappert was not CAO when that happened. But she was CAO when the truth started to unfold and some of her explanations were spectacularly untrue.

We are not making this up. Is she aware there is a trapdoor in her office?

She is our highest paid civil servant earning $217,000 per year plus benefits. To get her to live in Guelph from Waterloo, council approved a moving bonus of $20,000.

She is also responsible for stating the $8.94 million Urbacon settlement would not affect property taxes. In this case it depends on your interpretation of “settlement.” This was followed March 25 when council approved a 3.55 property tax increase that grew to 3.94 per cent when other factors were phased in. That clearly defines a substantial property tax increase. As it turned out it was the greatest increase since 2010.

Citizens would like to know if this was a business trip? An invitation that includes all paid expenses? She is looking for a job? Or, a chance to meet the Queen?

Wonder who approves her expense accounts?

See you next weekend.













Filed under Between the Lines

City staff recommends a budget formula ignoring past Farbridge financial mistakes

Posted July 10, 2015

Whoever said the more things change the more they stay the same, can apply that to the present city administration.

During a recent meeting of the Corporate Services committee, Mayor Cam Guthrie attempted to persuade the committee to adopt his Consumer Price Index (CPI) formula to keep property taxes at the CPI level each year.

Unfortunately the mayor took it on the chin and lost when only he and Coun. Christine Billings supported the motion.

The five-year average of the CPI is 2.08 per cent. The staff formula then added the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation rate of another 1.82 per cent, according to Janice Sheehy, the finance department’s general manager and treasurer.

“That’s way over four per cent just as a formula,” Coun. Billings pointed out, “that’s double the rate of inflation.”

On closer examination, the current property tax increase for 2015 is 3.94 per cent, which is almost spot on based on the staff’s recommended 2016 budget formula. It seems this is the same one used in the last two budget years, except that the brakes were put on in 2014 because it was an election year. Last year, council approved a property tax increase of 2.34 per cent.

Where or where did the staff formula go in 2014? That was a 1.6 per cent reduction from the budget formula benchmark, the same one they are recommending for 2016. There was a minor deviation in the 2016 formula in which this year, the formula based the increase on the number of taxable properties. It has been changed to using the five-year average of the Ontario consumer price index.

This could be seen as pandering to the Mayor’s determination to keep the property taxes at the CPI level.

Here are some facts: Budgeting and averaging past levels of inflation is not good business. It is because inflation affects all operations, civic, business and personal, and changes monthly.

Using a five-year average of the MPAC’s market changes is a sloppy way to budget. Former Premier, Dalton McGuinty, put a four-year hold on market assessment increases in Ontario. We are now catching up, starting in 2013 when property assessments started to rise. This is the hidden assessment cost to property owners that multiplies exponentially each year. We’re now paying tax increases on previously increased taxes.

This recommendation is exactly what the vast majority of people did not support last October. It’s called manipulation of money to meet specific objectives. For eight years, that’s what the Farbridge administration indulged itself with, self-serving projects costing the taxpayers millions without a chance to complain.

Then, along came Urbacon.

This six-year saga of bad judgment, mismanagement and callous disregard for the people’s interests, has possibly cost this city an estimated $19 million. And for what? We agreed to a new city hall and renovated old city hall to cost $42 million that has ballooned to an estimated $61 million and counting.

To this day the city staff, led by Chief Administration Officer, Ann Pappert, have not revealed the real costs of this financial disaster. So far the bill is more than $14 million but there are other unreported costs including the cost of staff detached to work on the project between 2008 and today.

The people spoke. The mayor plus incumbent councillors, some who were defeated and some who just quit and left office.

It is always amusing whenever the sage of ward six speaks. Coun. Karl Wettstein made the pithy observation: “Regardless of the (budget formula) guideline, if councillors want to keep taxes low, they will either have to cut costs or cut services.”

This is the same councillor who introduced a motion to reduce replenishment of the three reserves used to pay Urbacon from $900,000 to $500,000 this year. Further to flip the five-year repayment schedule of $900,000 per year over to the staff to come up with a new plan of replenishing the reserves.

With that logic, it’s no wonder the long-term councillor failed bring a recreation centre to his ward in his past eight years on council.

But Wettstein may have inadvertently spoken the truth. Cutting costs is the key role of management. In Guelph this is not a staff imperative. Witness the ever-rising number of staff, including police, fire and EMS personnel, pay and benefits, legal and consultant costs and the manipulation of finances. None of which is in concert with the growth of population.

The only fair way to prepare a budget is zero-based. Treat each year as a starting point. No carry over of unspent money the previous year. Every department head must be responsible. It requires accurate budget estimates of the new year’s costs including staff additions.

For example, this year the council agreed to add 21 new full time staffers to an already bloated staff. The justification for this must be airtight and proven that the individual is necessary to increase staff productivity and efficiency.

Unfortunately, the more things change in Guelph, the more things remain the sam

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Bill C377 lifts the veil of the cost of secret political action by Canada’s unions

Posted July 7, 2015

Are the unions using member’s dues for political purposes?

It has the unromantic title of Bill 377 but it carries a big stick. The bill, passed last week by the Senate and signed into law by Governor General David Johnston, will force public and private unions to disclose almost all of their financial activities.

These include salaries paid to senior union staffers making more than $100,000 a year, dues spent on political activities, lobbying, and activism such as funding environmental groups. Also, included are the unions’ alleged underwriting of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s anti-oil sands trip in 2012.

No big deal there you may say, but members of the NDP caucus are currently under scrutiny by the RCMP for alleged illegal expenses charged by members of the NDP caucus. In fairness, they aren’t the only members of the House of Commons and Senate who have accepted largess from lobbyists and outside sources.

Canadian Unions annually collect some $4.5 billion in dues. The Income Tax Act forbids unions from levying dues for any purpose not directly related to the ordinary operating expenses of the union. In fact members are allowed to deduct the cost of dues on their personal income tax returns. In effect, this makes union membership a publicly supported entity. That is, the taxpayers are funding the unions’ operations in which union management can exercise its use of those funds.

An example of how union dues are manipulated is support of the Working Families Coalition of Ontario, a labour front organization. It has been a major participant in the last two provincial elections purchasing advertising that denigrated the Progressive Conservative opposition when, also behind the scenes, supported the governing Liberals.

In Guelph, it is no secret that the Guelph and District Labour Council supported the “We are Guelph” members and sponsored the website in the 2014 civic election. This union subsidized organization supported a select list of pro-labour candidates. What we don’t know is how much of the union member’s dues, was spent supporting individual candidates for Guelph city council?

Ward three Coun. Phil Allt’s 2014 election financial statement revealed that the former NDP candidate for the Provincial Legislature, received money from out-of-town members of a union.

The irony remains because of the election campaign complaint by Karen Farbridge’s friend and supporter, Susan Watson. She challenged the right of ward six candidate Glen Tolhurst, to receive a donation of $400 from the citizen’s activist group GrassRoots Guelph. The result of this vexious complaint will cost the taxpayers possibly more than $12,000 after an outside accountant audits Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial report. It amounts to less that $4,000 and he lost his bid for election.

The auditor has indicated it will take him two months to complete the audit. The finding will be announced in September.

The truth is that the city staff is 80 per cent unionized. They are organized in every department of the city. As such, their leadership has a vested interest in supporting the administration that determines their wages and working conditions. Experience has shown in the past eight years that the leadership of those unions enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Farbridge administration.

The transit workers struck last summer, which was the only break of solidarity in the union/management relationship.

Bill C377 will provide better access to how the unions across the country spend their member’s dues. It won’t be perfect but it will cause union leaders to think twice about getting involved in the political process.

The bill will require unions to file detailed disclosures with the Canada Revenue Agency and the reports will be posted online for the public to see.

Leveling the playing field, could affect the Guelph civic elections in 2018.

But it’s probably too late to curtail the union’s collective political support of favoured NDP and Liberal causes and candidates. The dilemma Thomas Mulcair faces is will the unions come through?

Looking back at previous Federal elections, the NDP has not managed to gain power despite the support of the Left and the unions. They are good at by-elections but rarely have the horses to win the big one.

The late NDP leader Jack Layton was instrumental in electing his party in 2011 as the official opposition for the first time in the party’s history.

With the help of the unions and public disapproval of the Harper government policies, this could be their best chance to form the next government of Canada.



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