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

3 responses to “About a failing ship, an English trip and downtown biffys

  1. Randy Norris

    I had some hope when Farbridge was elected but alas I was not only disappointed but betrayed. Farbridge and her shadow Mayor, Ken Hammill, plus the brass band that followed her became obsessed with the enemies of truth and light. In the end, it became a self fulfilling prophecy. They created the opposition to their policies because of their paranoia and incompetence.

    Gerry, I couldn’t be more opposed to your position on bike lanes. You seem to have forgotten that bicycle riders also pay taxes. I’ve never understand how you and the buffoon, Rob Ford can be anti bike when Global Warming is about to overwhelm us. Do we need to drive faster on City streets? Do we need more big egos that drive bigger and bigger cars?

    • Randy Norris: I’m not opposed to bike lanes, and we have a lot of them. My argument lies in spending money reconstructing major routes to permit bike lanes at the expense of the existing and growing number of vehicles. Already there are number of four-lane roads that have been reduced to three to allow bike lanes.The result is greater congestion of traffic.

      The cyclists would be smarter to offer rules of the road training, accept licensing and registering their bikes so if stolen, can have the ownership identified. Wearing lighter clothing and better lighting on their bikes at night will also reduce accidents with vehicles.

      The question of paying taxes is not an issue. There are motorists who do not pay property taxes as well as an unknown number of cyclists. But those motorists not paying property taxes, pay at the pump and the city receives a gas tax rebate each year. I share your concern about global warming but to suggest it is about to overwhelm us, is a bit over the top.

      The vast majority of Canadians use motorized transportation.There is a gradual change in creating internal combustion engines to be more efficient and less polluting. Also fuels are changing with hybrid and electric vehicles coming on stream. This is an evolution not a revolution.

      The key is the demographic of the bike riders on city streets. When I was much younger, I rode a bike to school and to do chores. In Guelph the bike demographic is, at a guess, between 16 and 55. There are a lot of people outside that group who do not use bicycles. Those are facts and spending money to establish bike lanes on major routes by reducing traffic lanes is an invitation to disaster in terms of growing traffic volumes. The city staff has done a great job in analyzing the increase in traffic volumes to 2023.

    • Randy Norris

      One- Of course that’s true. Bike lanes don’t go everywhere. It’s a planning process. More bike lanes is the goal not bigger and bigger lanes for more and more Hummers
      Two- Absolutely right. Smarter riders because of learning and taking responsibility for their vehicle on and off the road
      Third- Depends on your definition of overwhelmed. Mine simply means that our heads are in the sand or rather water. Public policy processes are overwhelmed
      Fourth- Yep let’s wait for the evolution. We are really showing how adaptable we are as a species. Take the example of…..let’s say… Global Warming.
      Five- “Facts” …. “Disaster” Seems a bit over the top?

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