Monthly Archives: April 2017

Here are the poster councillors who bugged out on online voting in 2018

By Gerry Barker

April 27, 2017

Last Monday night, by a slim one-vote majority. Council voted to not use online voting for the 2018 civic election. The seven rejecting online voting include: James Gordon, Phil Allt, June Hofland, Mike Salisbury, Karl Wettstein and Leanne Piper and, surprise Bob Bell.

I’ve always has respect for the W1 councillor but this decision is doubly baffling.

His comment that: “The only valid argument for online voting that I have heard is the issue of accessibility for those that need it,” Coun. Bob Bell said. “For me, what’s important is that we protect the integrity of the process.”

Bob, did you have your hearing aids in? Did you not vote for online voting as a member of the Farbridge administration? Were you not re-elected in 2014? Were you not the beneficiary of online voting in that election? Or, maybe you didn’t know but check the 2014 advance poll results to see how many voted for you online.

Did you think at that time that online voting was an insecure method of casting a ballot?

In the straw vote conducted in the Committee of the Whole you voted to disallow online voting two weeks ago. This was before you heard the compelling arguments from Aleksander Essex, a professor from the University of Western Ontario. Does he live in Guelph? Is he familiar with the more than 97 Ontario municipalities who use online voting, including the City of Toronto and Ottawa?

The professor said: “We are in unchartered territory here. He continued: “There are insufficient advances in the technology to implement it (online voting) at this time.”

Gee, where was the professor three years ago to speculate on the lack of technology that was used by the city in 2014?

Did the Farbridge administration request an opinion from the professor in 2013 when online voting was being considered?

Were the two experts paid to make their presentations to council? If so, who paid for their attendance?

Former city councilor Maggie Laidlaw said council was “naive” when it gave the go-ahead to advanced online voting for the 2014 municipal election. Well that did not help her to be re-elected.

Naivety has nothing to do with it, fair and square the outcome was validated and Maggie, the Mayor and Todd Dennis were defeated. Two others did not run.

This is all about poitical risk management by denying people to register their opinions in a 21st century manner.

So here is what has to happen in 2018.

The citizens have to collectively register their opinions to reform our civic economy, already destroyed by secret spending of millions of public money.

The progressive candidates, no. read that regressive, need to be defeated. Let’s finish the job in 2018.

If I were Coun. Bob Bell, I would retire or he faces going to be hit with putting alleged online voting security ahead of those who are disabled and unable to vote.

That sounds like a losing platform.

This decision reeks of defensive political action to prevent election defeats that occurred in 2014 when the former mayor lost by more than 5,000 votes. It is facetious to blame online voting for the defeat. Just do the math. The total votes cast on Election Day was 45,000, more than half, 54 per cent went to Cam Guthrie. The overall breakdown result is self-evident. Guthrie won both the advanced poll and the Election Day vote, hands down.

Since 2014, the regressives tried to block the volunteer citizen’s group, GrassRoots Guelph, with a Susan Watson complaint that GRG could not donate money to a candidate. The Independent audit proved otherwise and her frivolous complaint cost the city $11,000 to process.

Then as chorus of the Fair Vote Canada Guelph chapter, MS Watson ‘s group expected to have the city reform the entire civic voting system by agreeing to allow proportional voting. That was turned down.

Now Ms. Watson and her dellow regressives have successfully stopped online voting in the city for 2018.

The grip that the regressives have on this council must end. We need responsible citizens to step forward and organize a reform movement to clean up the financial mess remaining three years after the former mayor has gone.

All you have to do is take a hard look at your property tax bills for the past three years and the user fees charged to use city facilities, to decide to help change the administration once and for all.

There is not a better time to start than now.

If you agree, send me your name and email to join our growing protest of this attempt to stifle our right to vote and participate in our civic affairs.




Filed under Between the Lines

Just when you believed the influence of Karen Farbridge was over, read this

By Gerry Barker

April 24, 2017

How the worm turns.

Tonight is our last chance to support online voting next year

Before the 2014 civic election, council voted to allow online voting. This was a forward-looking approach to allow more voters to cast their ballot just like they did in Toronto and Ottawa. In fact, some 13,000 did use the system. There was no voter fraud, very few hitches; it exceeded all expectation by being available, fair and without problems.

Oh, there were naysayers. Today the majority of naysayers are all sitting on council with the majority voting to ban it. For some it is a classic flip-flop.

In a recent city council Committee of the Whole meeting, a non-binding vote was held to approve allowing online voting in the 2018 civic election. To the surprise of most people the following councillors voted to disallow online voting for the 2018 civic election.

Councillors opposed included Phil Allt, James Gordon, and Mike Salisbury, who were not members of the 2014 council that voted for online voting. So what’s their beef?

Then the following councillors who did vote for online voting in 2014, June Hofland, Leanne Piper, Karl Wettstein are now voting against online voting. Why? Other than adhering to a misguided ideological rationale, why the flip-flop? It seems silly in that all three benefited from online voting in their 2014 re-election.

How Coun. Bob Bell voted no to online voting this time is both baffling and not known how he voted when the former council approved online voting. He also benefited from it, winning re-election in 2014.

Coun. Cathy Downer was the only member of the progressive majority who voted to allow online voting next year. Coun. Mark MacKinnon also voted to allow the online voting system.

The future of online voting is now

Tonight, April 24, council will vote to allow online voting, or not. This is necessary because the original vote was conducted when the council was in the committee of the whole. I know, procedural bylaws can be confusing but tonight is the night for the final decision.

It will take two defections from the “no” side to let it proceed. Of course the risk the “no” faction faces is diminished chances of re-election next year.

So what influenced new councillors Gordon, Allt and Salisbury to vote against it?

Was it the influence of that ardent socialist Susan Watson who urged council to reject online voting? You remember Ms. Watson who, between she and her husband, donated thousands to elect former Mayor Farbridge and loyal supporters.

She will also be remembered as the social activist who persuaded the city to order an independent audit of former candidate Glen Tolhurst’s election financial report. It showed a donation of $400 from GrassRoots Guelph, an incorporated citizen’s activist group.

The auditor, William Molson of Toronto, said the donation was legal, however the $11,000 cost of this “frivolous and vexatious” exercise was not paid by Watson but by the citizens.

But you have to hand it to Watson. I so hope she decides to run for council. She is chairperson of the Fair Vote movement in Guelph. This is a New Democratic Party national organization to encourage voting reforms. They include proportional voting to replace the system of the first candidate past the post, winning the election. It’s system that has been in place since 1867.

The Trudeau Liberal government ran on reforming the Canadian voting system, recently walked away from it, much to the rage of the New Democrats.

So, now Ms. Watson is trying to convince council to suppress voting by not allowing online voting.

Words escape me to describe this two-faced attempt to force restrictive policies on the electorate by forcing reform of the voting system and at the same time, disallowing online voting.

The Farbridge legacy lives on

What it really illustrates is the collusion and conviction of the majority group of city council to carry on the leftists’ policies of the defunct Farbridge administration. It was one of failure not only at the polls, but resulted in millions being spent on the Mayor’s personal agenda to impose unwanted social and environmental projects.

In her eight years in office, the former mayor inveigled her supporters to tap into reserves to balance the city accounts due to excessive overspending of budgets. The assets of Guelph Hydro and wasting public funds on giveaways to developers to encourage high-density development were part of the Farbridge agenda to turn the city into a vibrant place for all citizens. How did that work for you?

It was the Farbridge plan to turn the city into an exciting urban downtown without the input6 from asking the residents. Earlier this year the Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson, announced the city was pursuing the Reformatory lands, owned by the province, to build a modern high-density complete community. The plans were to develop a community without cars, walking distance to shopping and jobs. Trouble is the city has spent millions planning an urban design for those lands but doesn’t have the money to buy the property.

You know, I keep thinking of Kevin Coster in the movie “A Field of Dreams” who believed converting a cornfield into a baseball stadium: “If you build it, they will come.” Trouble is, we don’t have a Shoeless Joe Jackson to seal the deal.

The real issue is where did the money go when the former mayor ran Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. GMHI for four years?

How does this affect online voting or visa-versa?

In 2010, shortly following the civic election, the Mayor informed council she was setting up GMHI to manage city assets. This was to be an independent, incorporated body operating separately from the city, although owned by the city. Here’s the organizational set up for GMHI as reported in a news release:

“GMHI is a holding company set up by Guelph City Council to manage select City of Guelph assets, which currently includes Guelph Hydro Incorporated and its subsidiaries, for the purpose of maximizing revenue potential and strengthening community prosperity. GMHI is governed by an eight-member Board of Directors including the Mayor as Chairperson, four City Councillors, the Guelph Hydro Incorporated Chair and two independent community members.”

The Board appointed Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert, as Chief Executive Officer of GMHI. Operations started in 2011. From the start, GMHI was the corporate vehicle to continue the mayor’s Community Energy Initiatives. In July 2013, GMHI filed an annual report as follows:

“Guelph, ON, July 10, 2013 – Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) held its second Annual General Meeting today to update shareholders on its 2012 accomplishments and 2013 future directions.

“A top priority for 2013 is addressing a recent Ontario Distribution Sector Review Panel recommendation that a number of local energy distributors, including Guelph Hydro, be consolidated into larger regional distributors. Given the possibility that this situation could be provincially mandated or driven by the regulator, the Ontario Energy Board, GMHI has endorsed a Guelph Hydro staff investigation of solutions that may include sharing services and resources, or more formal mergers and acquisitions. “Consolidation is a distinct possibility regardless of how it is achieved. We will continue to be well prepared to respond to all opportunities for lower energy costs for customers, improved efficiencies, better access to technology and sustainable solutions.” (Signed) Karen Farbridge, Chair of GMHI.

“An additional priority for GMHI this year is to pursue a new energy project designed to create a thermal (heating and cooling) distribution network – often referred to as District Energy – that will allow for flexible, efficient, competitive and secure local supply and delivery of thermal energy to Guelph in the future. About half of Guelph’s total energy demand is for thermal energy. The District Energy project represents a significant opportunity to ensure a reliable local supply a midst economic uncertainty and increasing climate change concerns.”

Part of those unfulfilled grandiose plans by GMHIL was to build two large natural gas generating plants, one in the Hanlon Business Park and the other on city owned land. These units were to make Guelph self-sufficient producing its own electricity.

The fallout of these schemes was loses of $26.6 million and being stuck with an impaired investment of some $69 million, borrowed from Guelph Hydro, as of 2015 in which GMHI has no revenues to even pay the interest. It’s held on the city books as an asset but that will be written down over time. The  reason is that GMHI has no income to even pay the interest on the loan.

Are you beginning to see the corporate anxiety to sell Guelph Hydro?

As a shareholder in the City of Guelph Corporation, I now understand why the GMHI annual report failed to contain the following important details that were in the public interest and ignored.

There is no operational financial information provided in the former mayor’s 2014 annual statement of GMHI including an audited balance sheet, a listing of expenses and revenue; The status of the annual $1.5 million dividend paid to the city by GMHI; a statement of the “accomplishments” reported by Chair Farbridge; no overall statement of operations and future plans of GMHI; No indication of taxes collected and paid; no identification of the auditor as appointed by the Board or evidence of an audit. These details are required under the provincial Corporations Act and are public documents.

The most interesting part of the Chair’s 2013 report was the long dissertation about how Guelph Hydro may be merged or sold if the province mandates it. Four years later, the correct council, through its Strategic Options Committee, is shopping Guelph Hydro. I know, they don’t like that description but that’s what the majority on council authorized it to do.

In almost seven years, the fallout from the GMHI operation has cost the city some $96 million. May 16, 2016, Pankaj Sardana, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer of GMHI revealed much of the disastrous cost of this misadventure conducted at the taxpayer’s expense. He told council much of the details of an ill-planned project that was shrouded in secrecy and described as a project that should never have been started in the first place.

In July 2016, a staff report revealed additional information that was equally devastating. Ten days after the Sardana GMHI report, co-signer CAO Ann Pappert, left the city. The only remaining city councillors who were paid to serve on the GMHI board for four years, are Coun. June Hofland and Coun. Karl Wettstein. They both remain on council and are silent on their involvement.

It’s ironic that Ms. Hofland was chair of the council finance committee for those four years and failed to express concern about the downward financial spiral of GMHI and its management.

So why do these events worry the anti-online council majority? Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the GMHI debacle will be a major issue in the 2018 election. The memory lingers on the effect of online voting in the 2014 civic election in which mayor Farbridge and seven councillors were defeated or retired. The exception was Mayor Guthrie who moved from council representing W4 to the Mayor’s chair. Mike Salisbury took his seat.

The five-vote victory of June Holand in W3 gave the progressives the majority on council. So that’s why the left do not want online voting because of the fear it may lead to their defeat.

And that folks, would be a good thing

Let your councillors know before tonight’s meeting that you favour online voting.




Filed under Between the Lines

What did those 53,000 city emails contain mistakenly leaked to a Kitchener lawyer?

By Gerry Barker

April 19, 2017

The extreme fallout of the biggest leak of alleged confidential information in the city’s history still hangs in the closet far from public exposure. It remains a further example of protectionism, privacy and misuse of privilege.

In early February, the lawyer representing Bruce Poole, the former Chief Building Inspector, requested the city to send him the pertinent emails concerning Mr. Poole’s 2015 dismissal without cause.

This was a normal request during the pre-trial examination known as discovery of the facts. In this case, Mr. Poole was suing the city for wrongful dismissal after 30 years of service, 20 of those years as Chief Building Inspector. He was seeking $1 million in his statement of claim.

The circumstances of his firing were founded on his concern that the city was conducting building and construction projects without taking out a building permit as required by law. He approached senior management and said he would have to fine the city for its failure to obtain building permits on some 50 ongoing projects.

It is unclear at this time who was involved in the decision to fire Poole but this much is known: It had to be approved by Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, the senior public employee in charge of the administration. Of course, Ms. Pappert is no longer employed by the city leaving May 26, 2016, almost a year after firing Mr. Poole

To the astonishment of Poole’s lawyer, the disk drive included hundreds of files containing information that had nothing to do with Mr. Poole’s case. But some of the file information was juicy, containing extremely personal email exchanges involving performance reviews, staff ratings and allegedly, content that did not belong on city servers or files.

The great favour that Bruce Poole gave to his fellow citizens

While it is not clear of the time frames of the collection, there was immediate reaction by the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson, demanding the return of the drive. Tony Saxon of Guelph Today broke the story of the mega leak.

Mr. Poole’s lawyer was hesitant to return the drive for good reason. He has the drive; the city wanted it back and voila! He had leverage. In less than two weeks there was a settlement announcement between the city and Mr. Poole. No details have been released as a confidentially agreement was reached.

This event was a confluence of events. Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mark Amorosi, as the man overseeing the Information Technology department, was summarily dismissed. City Solicitor Donna Jaques resigned the day before the dismissal, to take another job.

Why was the senior city staff so determined to get that drive back? Why was Mr. Amorosi dismissed and not the General Manager of Information Technology, Blair Labelle? His department was responsible for sending the information to Mr. Poole’s lawyer.

Or, is that what happened? Was the material sent from some other area of the administration? This brings up the question, who else had access to the city servers?

If so, what was the motivation, aside from carelessness and stupidity or was it deliberate?

What possible information was on those files that caused the city to demand an immediate return?

The executive scramble to get the 53,000 files back

CAO Derrick Thomson said the people named in the files were informed and assured their privacy would be protected. Did that include Mr. Amorosi who, the next day after firing him, Mr. Thomson praised him of his great contribution to the city during his nine years of employment?

What was the CAO talking about? Fire his senior deputy then describe the man’s great contributions to the city?

More important from the citizen’s point of view facing unanswered questions, what are the details regarding Mr. Amorosi’s sudden dismissal? He was a key senior manager of the administration. As head of Corporate Services, he was responsible for five departments including Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology, Special projects, and Court Services.

Mr. Saxon’s story gave a few examples of the content of those leaked emails. But the scope and implications affecting employees and citizens, was stuffed ASAP back in the bowels of the city IT servers, far beyond public scrutiny.

One interesting tidbit revealed was that former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman, used his city computer to conduct personal banking. As a senior manager, was this practice of using a city computer for personal business widespread across the more than 2,100 staff? Again how many city computers have access to the servers?

What was the status of firewalls to prevent access to certain files in the server deemed by executives as confidential? Mr. Horsman left the city in August 2015.

Is it possible that that leak was deliberate? Are there copies of those 53,000 files floating around?

Who in hell is Ashley Madison?

Here’s an event to ponder. You will recall a few years ago there was a story published in the public prints about a certain website called Ashley Madison. It was known as a market place for hookups for men and women, married or otherwise, seeking a relationship.

The story broke that the Ashley Madison website was a meet market for anyone who was interested in illicit sexual relations and it had a huge following around the globe.

The reports stated that Ashley Madison statistics revealed a high volume of traffic on this site in the Guelph area. Indeed, the story reported a certain postal code in Guelph contained the highest number of Ashley Madison hits or views. Guelph city hall was in that postal code.

Let’s be clear, at this time there is no evidence linking the Ashley Madison website to city personnel, present or former.

The original Ashley Madison was aimed at those individuals interested in infidelity relationships with no questions asked. The site cloaked their identities from any public exposure. The original Ashley Madison operation went off the radar to be replaced by new owners who now claim they have 52 million members across the globe.

Here’s copy from the “new” Ashley Madison website

“Ashley Madison today is about so much more than infidelity, it’s about all kinds of adult dating. In fact, a large number of our millions of members around the globe are singles drawn to the site because they want the kind of discretion Ashley Madison has been synonymous with for over a decade. Many members are in fulfilling relationships and need a safe place to explore polyamory together. Others still are looking for same-sex relationships but want to keep it separate from their personal and professional networks. Of course, there are still men and women seeking an affair on Ashley Madison, but we don’t let that define us and neither should you. Ashley Madison is the best place to find real, discreet relationships with open-minded adults. “

Under the previous Ashley Madison management, it appears the emphasis was on accommodating infidelity relationships that appears to have an attraction in that Guelph postal code. So, did that disk sent to Mr. Poole’s lawyer contain some of those email exchanges of city employees seeking a break from sexual boredom? We’ll probably never know but the impact of the content of those leaked files, created enough initial panic by senior staff to get those files back to mitigate further public exposure.

In my opinion, this data leak is a classic example of the city’s administrative culture that has consistently failed to meet its fiduciary responsibilities. This is a ten-year culture promulgated by senior management and elected officials who condone the policies of secrecy, social experimentation that has cost citizens millions and acute manipulation of the public trust.

As citizens we must seriously take charge of our corporation and change this sickening culture that benefits the few and afflicts the many.

When the core of the apple is rotten, you toss it into the garbage.

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Blast from the past: Chaos on Carden Street, a case study

By Gerry Barker

April 6, 2014

Editor’s note: In the past two weeks, I have been involved in a special project that is consuming a lot of my time. Nevertheless, I will be monitoring the Guelph political scene and developments. I will report in a timely manner events that affect us all, my best, GB

This column appeared in April 2014 just after Justice Donald MacKenzie announced the city wrongfully dismissed Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., the General Contractor of the new city hall. It marked the beginning of the end of the Farbridge administration as the city paid an extra $23 million over the original cost of $42 milliom. It’s an echo from the pas not to be forgotten too soon.


The big event

Last week, a judge found the city of Guelph guilty of wrongful dismissal of the primary contractor who was hired to build the new city hall as well as the Provincial Offences Court renovation of the old city hall. In a civil lawsuit, Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., sued for $19.2 million. A city countersuit of $5 million joined the fray, a $3 million suit involving the architects and the bond company’s non-performance bond.

In this mixture of lawsuits, claims and counter claims and a failed mediation session, Mr. Justice Donald MacKenzie has yet to state his final judgment and has encouraged the two main parties to meet and negotiate the costs.

The key element here is the judge came down on the side of Urbacon. What will eventually follow are the actual judgment and the allocation of costs. Resolution of this important aspect may end up in a second trial next October if the parties cannot agree.

A management in crisis

In the fall of 2006, Guelph voters elected former Mayor Karen Farbridge and ten councillors who were her followers.

This began an odyssey of hirings and firings as the new administration quickly shaped management into its ideological mold. The action included a mixture of policies that emphasized the environment, heritage, labour compensation, and anti-development issues.

Within months, the Chief Administration Officer (CAO), Larry Kotseff, and Chief Financial Officer (CFO), David Kennedy, were dismissed without cause. Two years later, the cost of these dismissals were more than $500,000.

Since that decision, the city has had two CAO’s and four CFO’s. This brings into question, who was deciding to dismiss long-term city managerial employees if the people charged with evaluating staff performance were let go or resigned?

The purge of staff has been a hallmark of the Farbridge administration. The fallout is staff uncertainty, fear of losing one’s job, primary and secondary mismanagement, clumsy internal organization, nepotism, loss of productivity, absenteeism, favouritism, all multiplying and leading to overall staff dysfunction.

Murphy’s rule, times two

Looking back, the Farbridge administration has had a dodgy history managing conflict. Case in point was the legal costs incurred trying to get out of a provincially mandated Public Health partnership between the City and County’s Dufferin and Wellington. The legal costs of an outside lawyer assigned to make the city’s failed case, has never been revealed. Further, the city had to cough up $10 million as its share of the new Public Health Centre on Stone Road.

In fact, the cost of consultants and lawyers has mostly been a state secret in the past eight years. As one observer noted: “This mayor has been one of the most litiganist in living memory.”

Then we connect with the Guelph Police Services request to spend $34 million on a new police headquarters. The Mayor has been a paid member of the Police Services Board since her election in 2006. Is it unfair to think that she failed to tell the board that the city couldn’t afford that expense? Instead, she informs council that the GPSB can appeal to the province to force the city to pay. Where was the Mayor’s renowned steely resolve when that topic was raised? She was missing in action (MIA).

Secrecy of operational costs continues to confound citizens. The costs of operating the multi-million dollar Waste Resource Innovation Centre (WRIC) the fancy name for the city dump remain a state secret.

Even being truthful about the annual real property tax increases escapes the administration’s responsibility to the taxpayers. Despite public protest about the annual increases exceeding the Consumer Price Index, in 2014, the property tax increase will be 4.36 per cent. When council struck the rate of 2.36 per cent last December, they conveniently left out the increase in assessment. That also boosted the cost to property owners.

The first casualty in war is the truth

Often, the details and costs of operations are conveniently left out. The task of informing the public falls on the shoulders of the 13-person city communications department. Why does Guelph need 13 staffers to communicate with the citizens when compared to General Motors, one of the largest corporations in America, which only employs 35 to do the job? Is it economy of scale?

And boy! Right now those GM communicators are earning their money.

It is an example of our administration trying to control the message. There has been little opposition in the past eight years as the two newspapers and the community television channel have frequently expressed confidence in the Farbridge administration’ handling of city business. News, good or bad, should tell both sides of the story.

But this isn’t about the news media, it’s about a sick and irresponsible administration that has spent money on their aspirations, ambition and minority beliefs at the expense of the citizens.

What it all boils down to is a lack of competence that ricochets through all levels of our municipal government.

Restoring confidence in our city governance and instilling the principles of competence will be a daunting task for the next council.

What’s needed in our city is a large dose of sunshine to open the closed closets of civic power.

Reminder: Tickets for the GrassRoots Guelph Blast Off breakfast are going fast. This kick-off event is on April 16, 2014 starting at 8 a.m. at the Guelph Country Club located on Woodlawn Avenue East. Guest speaker is Candice Malcoln, Ontario Executive Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Call Rena Akerman at 519 837 4010 for tickets. Cost is $18 advance sale or $25 at the door. Price includes breakfast buffet.

P.S. It was sold out.


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Magazine claims Guelph leads the country if you’re looking for a home

By Gerry Barker

April 13, 2017

Money Sense magazine announced this week that the City of Guelph is the most attractive place to buy real estate in Canada. The editors claimed that Guelph was chosen because it has one of the healthiest real estate markets in Canada.

Supporting this is the estimated average cost of a home in Guelph is $441,000, which is four times the average household income. This contrasts with the city’s average home price of $333,877. The criteria for stating these figures are not revealed. But the disparity between the two is $107,123.

That’s a big number that influences the Money Sense claim that Guelph is the top city in the country in which to buy a home.

The report extols Guelph’s short distance from Toronto and the low unemployment rate of 4.7 per cent. It continues to praise the high paying jobs in the public sector and the diversity of private corporations in industry.

What it doesn’t tell its readers is that it skews the unemployment figure, the source of which is unknown and has not budged for six years. The highly-paid public workers, represented in all three levels of government have the finest job security benefits in the country.

The report does not touch the cost of living in Guelph, another dubious distinction for the city with one of the highest tax rates and user fees in the country. It fails to note the millions spent by the administration on failed environmentally -ocused projects that have cost more than $100 million in the past ten years.

Nor is there any mention of the administration’s aggressive policies to install bicycle lanes on major roads shrinking the lanes used by vehicles. They operate a waste management system that fails to service some 6,000 households but they are still taxed for the service. Several millions have been spent on the Organic Waste Facility, part of the Waste Resource Innovation Centre. The organic plant takes wet materials from other Ontario communities but does not sell the compost to citizens.

Inconsequential issues you may say?

Let’s talk about the planning policies of the administration. In eight years, the former administration halted single-family home construction in the city. Instead new, approved projects were high-density developments with low-rise condo buildings mixed in with homes that were connected in strips.

This policy exists today and the city has these islands of high-density developments. These projects benefit the developer who builds more households on smaller sites, and the municipality achieves greater revenues from the high number of assessed homes.

It was done using the Ontario government’s directive “Places to grow” to increase density to stop sprawl of single-family homes.

Council is about to approve a high-density project sitting on some three hectares on the busy Highway Six in an undeveloped site at the south end of the city. This project will contain 491 residences plus underground parking for 700 cars.

The project is isolated from shopping and services. Approval requires council to change the height bylaw to accommodate the developer.

This project should be rejected if for no other reason that it is in the wrong place. Residents will create traffic problems and the infrastructure to service the development will be costly. The strain on the city’s ability to provide water services, storm runoff and expanded road to accommodate the increased traffic is daunting.

Guelph does not need this development. What it does need is a balanced development policy that provides choices for citizens, including allowing single-family home development.

It’s no secret that in Guelph, established builders of homes have been driven out of the city to more friendly communities who welcome balanced development.

There is plenty of undeveloped land in the city, much of it owned by the University.

The high-density development policies of the former administration should be changed to create balanced lower density developments.

It can start with denying this development on Highway Six south of the heart of the city.

It is reasonable to shelve it until the city hires an accredited Chief Financial Officer, a City Solicitor and a Deputy Chief Administrative Officer to take over the Corporate Services department.




Filed under Between the Lines

How personal exploitation leads to mismanagement and higher taxes

By Gerry Barker

April 10, 2017

If you read the story about our taxes going up again this year in the local weekly, you wouldn’t know up from down. That’s when a rewrite of a city press release and an attempt to turn it into English happens.

Bottom line, homeowner’s property taxes under the Guthrie administration have risen 10.56 per cent since his election.

It’s an astounding figure when considering that the senior staff has been in total disarray since Mayor Guthrie took over, but not necessarily because of him. The residue of millions in losses land mismanagement left by his predecessor hangs over him like a cloud burst waiting to happen.

He has tried to work with council but the majority of Councillors, James Gordon, June Hofland, Phil Allt, Mike Salisbury, Leanne Piper, Karl Wettstein and Cathy Downer, have obstructed, denied and pushed the agenda of the previous administration.

It’s as if there never was an election

Then we have Ward four Coun. Mike Salisbury, pontificating that the Mayor has failed to be a leader because he has not been collegial with council. Goodness knows, Mayor Guthrie has tried only to be thwarted when the suggestion of change or reform surfaces. Well, you have to understand the source of the Salisbury whining spectacle.

So, now the new property tax increase is 3.61 due to the impact of assessment by the Municipal Provincial Assessment Corporation (MPAC), an independent body set up by the provincial government to conduct informed and fair assessments of properties across Ontario.

But in most cases, MPAC does what I call, a drive-by calculation based on their own formula and process. In recent years, it has been complicated by a four-year freeze on assessments by the former McGuinty government in the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis.

Starting in 2014, MPAC resumed raising the assessment on a pre-set formula basis with modest increases for four years.

I fail to understand why this 2017 assessment by MPAC was not included during the budget preparation last fall and approved in December with only three councillors voting against the budget. What did they know that the other councillors and staff did not? We received our annual MPAC notice that showed the assessment increase on our property for four years including 2017.

It is important to understand the impact of assessment increase. First of all, they are mandatory. The city takes the revised assessment information, and using the mill rate determines the added cost to property taxpayers. This process occurs during the annual budget deliberations.

What happened to the two-per cent special property tax levy?

The local weekly made reference to the one per cent special levy on property taxes although council approved a two per cent levy on property taxes in the 2017 budget. Also, how did the city determine the average price of a home in Guelph is $333,877? The story claimed that taxes on that average value would go up by $86.04 or 2.61 per cent. That included the one per cent property tax levy for infrastructure maintenance bringing the increase to 3.61 per cent.

And you’re confused?

Didn’t council approve a two per cent property tax levy for 2017? Remember that Coun. Mark MacKinnon moved to add another one per cent tax levy for “City Buildings” that was approved by council and would provide $2.23 million per year for the next five years?

Must have been a typo.

The approved property tax levies, each aimed at specific areas requiring capital spending, just added a $4.46 million extra burden on homeowners. The irony is Coun. MacKinnon has stated that people should be willing to pay taxes for the services they receive. He theorizes that because the value of their home increases, they could refinance through a new or second mortgage or reverse mortgage in order to pay their taxes.

Is the council majority too subjective, ignorant or willful?

This is the kind of beliefs that MacKinnon epitomizes about the majority of his colleagues on council. They don’t care about the impact of their authoritative policies on the very people who elected them. They have the power to access the public ATM machine at will without recourse. This fall the 2018 budget will be prepared.

It is now necessary to hire a Chief Fiancial Officer with the proper financial accreditation and experience. If any department in the city needs capable manage,ent, it’s Finance.

Here are some other examples of decisions made by the majority of council in the past seven years:

Start with the $23 million increased cost of the new City Hall project; the $26.6 million loss by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. operation; the inflated cost of the downtown police headquarters of $34 million; employment costs that have been growing exponentially; the retirement settlement amounts paid to former senior managers who have left the city, either forcefully or resigning; the high costs of living in Guelph with electricity, water, taxes, user fees, among the highest in the province; the high cost of managing our waste reported to be the highest among peer group of cities; the costs of overhead that the administration refuses to address and ignores.

These are examples deserving of an indictment of sheer malfeasance mixed with self-serving stupidity.

Stopping Online voting, a precursor of losing an election

One final example: The seven members of council voted recently to cancel electronic voting in the 2018 civic election after listening to delegates and not accepting the staff recommendation to extend the service.

The decision was made during a council committee meeting and will be confirmed or rejected April 24 by council.

Go figure! Every one voting to reject electronoc voting, benefited from this type of voting when they ran successfully in 2014 when some 13,000 citizens used the system.

In my view, this bloc of councillors, are motivated by fear, fear of losing after what happened in 2014.

If this majority continues to oppose Online voting, they will lose in 2018.

If they support the sale/merger of Guelph Hydro, they will lose.

If they continue to raise taxes at rates similar to the past three years, they’ll lose.

If they continue to insult the Mayor, they’ll lose.




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The curious switcharoo by city council to prevent Internet voting in 2018

By Gerry Barker

April 6, 2017

In 2013, city council agreed to allow Internet voting for the 2014 civic election. Former Mayor Karen Farbridge extolled the virtues of electronic voting claiming it would allow more people to vote.

Well, as it turned out, more people did vote in one of the highest voter participation in recent years. City Clerk Stephen O’Brien, the city’s chief electoral officer, reported that 33 per cent of all ballots cast were completed electronically. He reported that 45 per cent of the total eligible electors cast their ballots.

So why are the six leftists, members of council, now voting against Internet voting? Only progressive Councillors Cathy Downer and left -leaning Mark MacKinnon voted for the voting system along with Mayor Guthrie, Councillors Christine Billings, Dan Gibson and Andy Van Hellemond.

Coun. Bob Bell voted against allowing Internet voting and that provided the winning outcome for the progressive’s rejection of the system most voted for in 2013. Three of those councillors, James Gordon, Phil Allt and Mike Salisbury were not on the council that approved Internet voting in the 2014 election. But all three obviously benefited as they were elected.

A councillor replies

Citizen Rena Akerman asked Coun. Phil Allt why he voted against it.

His unctuous reply included reference to a U.S. anti-Internet website known as the Daily Dot. It is larded with anti-Internet blather that has absolutely no application to the 2014 civic election outcome that boosted public participation by more than 12,000 votes filed on the Internet and no evidence of voter fraud, hacking or misrepresentation.

The big question is why are the six progressive plus Bob Bell, voting to dump the system? Did Mr. Bell vote aginst Iternet voting in 2013?

I get sweaty palms when that doyen of the left, Susan Watson, addresses council. You remember her. She was the author of a vexious and frivolous accusation against a defeated candidate in Ward Six for accepting a donation of $400 from the civic action group, GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). She was successful in causing an audit of the candidate’s election financial report.

The independent auditor, William Molson of Toronto, found that GRG was legally entitled to donate the money. The upshot was that the City Clerk said she did not have to pay for the two-month investigation in 2015: Taxpayers $11,500, Watson 0. To rub salt in the wound was the Candidate, Glen Tolhurst, had to pay his own legal expenses.

But the lady has been busy chairing the Guelph Chapter of Fair Tax Canada. It advocates voting reform to include proportional ballots in which each voter has to grade each candidate on a 1 to 10 basis. Just figuring out the winner is a daunting task as the preferences are added up. So if your name is Wettstein (for example) and you instruct your supporters to only vote for you, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s called “plumping” or vote concentration.

Say hello to a Pizza Parliament

It’s a system used in Israel where there are some 21 political parties vying for votes to be elected to the Knesset, The Israeli Parliament. The result? With no party able to attain a majority to form a government, the leader with most elelcted members is forced to make deals with other parties. In certain circles the system produces a “Pizza Parliament.”

The New Democrats have been pushing adoption of this system. They came close when The Liberals won the election with one of their promises being reforming Canada’s election system. Prime Minister Trudeau canned the promise recently and that must have caused Susan Watson apoplexy. Not surprisingly, the NDP has yet to elect a leader to replace Thomas Mulcair.

Even her friends on council voted to not adopt the system for 2018.

So why are the leftist councillors now opposing Internet voting after agreeing to adopt it in 2014?

Here are a couple of theories:

The first is having yet to figure out the defeat of their Leader and four councillors who either did not run or were defeated. The result was a slim win with Coun. June Hofland winning by just five votes. Since then the progressives, through their activist surrogate, 10 Carden Street, have planted operatives in every ward to assist community groups to deal with city hall. This is a smart political move that will pay dividends in the 2018 election.

As a safeguard, those among the lefty hierarchy have decided to oppose Internet voting because of what happened in 2014. They just don’t get it. They lost their leader and the others because of a $23 million excessive cost of the new city hall project.

Their quest may not be as easy as killing Internet voting. The financial hangover of Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. (GMHI) The Community Energy Initiatives and the proposed sale of Guelph Hydro, will not go away as soon as they would loke..

The Strategic Options Committee, (SOC) appointed by council to seek bids for selling or merging Guelph Hydro has suffered two defections of members of the five-person committee. Gone is member Richard Puccini who has yet to be replaced. Guelph Hydro Board chairperson, Jane Armstrong, is replacing Hydro’s Chief Executive Officer Pankaj Sardana, co-chair of the SOC. Ms. Armstrong has had long-term service on the Guelph Hydro Board.

She has already stated that she will support the recommendations of the SOC. Robert Bell, a member of the Guelph Hydro Electric Services board. A former member of the GMHI board of directors, Mark Goldberg, remains on the SOC board.

Perhaps Mr. Goldberg will reveal why CMHI became a financial disaster losing some $26.6 million. The two council members of the GMHI board for four years have never admitted any responsibility. But then, they were paod to serve.

Why do I get the feeling that this SOC membership is stacked to dump Guelph Hydro?

And I hope that council will read the overwhelming citizen’s rejection of the Internet vote. It is to be ratified by council April 24.

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Clarity alert! Ontario’s Energy Minister says electricity fixes cost $35 billion but the Premier says $50 billion

By Gerry Barker

April 3, 2017

Breaking News

The Strategic Options Committee has lost two members, Pankaj Sardana, CEO of Guelph Hydro and Richard Puccini a retired engineer. Mr. Sardana is replaced by Guelph Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong, who said she felt that Guelph Hydro Electric Services needed a str0nger presence on the committee. She admitted she  and the Hydro board favoured the recommendation of the SOC selling Guelph Hydro if the opportunity arises. The city has yet to announce a replacement for Mr. Puccini.

This is a combination feel good and feel bad story.

It’s based on a first-rate analysis of Ontario’s high cost electricity generation and distribution system reported by retired bank executive, Parker Gallant, published recently in the Financial Post. Gallant looked at his power bill and didn’t like what he saw. We thank FP for providing this important analysis that affects every person in the province.

The good part of this story illustrates the incompetence of the Wynne government in managing the province’s electric power systems coming out of the darkness. The details are a stunning indictment of a ship of fools that we elected to run our provincial government. Their decisions over12 years, affects the entire population, industry and future of our province. It reveals why Ontario has the highest electricity costs in Canada.

How incompetent are they? Well, according to Mr. Gallant, the Minister of Energy, Glenn Thibault, says the province spent $35 billion fixing the broken electricity system since attaining power in 2003. His boss, Premier Wynne, says it cost $50 billion.

If they can’t get their act together, what can the citizens who pay for it, conclude?

Mr. Gallant states: “Thibeault’s $35 billion would represent spending $8,000 per residential ratepayer; Wynne’s $50 billion, $11,000 per ratepayer. Bear that in mind as you travel through my computations. Some of these are estimates from reasonable and reliable sources. The spending, initiated via more than 100 directives issued by a succession of Liberal energy ministers over the past 12 years, often had no connection to fixing anything, or generating electricity.”

Before breaking down where the money went, in Guelph we have a Strategic Options Committee (SOC) composeed of non-elected citizens, working to sell off or merge our Guelph Hydro with another power distributor with the highest bid. Presumably, either option will result in losing any semblance of municipal control of vital electricity distribution. More on this later.

Here is Mr. Gallant’s breakdown of where the billions went.

Total spending on frills, fluff and baubles: $7.4 billion

“First, there are the “frills and shiny baubles” spending category, essentially money spent that neither created new generation nor improved transmission nor reduced blackouts or brownouts.

  • Spending on “smart meters,” which Ontario’s Auditor General in her December, 2014 report, concluded funds were basically wasted since “many of the anticipated benefits of Smart Metering have not been achieved and its implementation has been much more costly than projected:” Cost, $2 billion.
  • The smart grid was supposed to work in conjunction with smart meters. Consumers are billed for the costs of developing the smart grid but the benefits accrue to a few select individuals and companies: Cost, $1.2 billion
  • Closing the coalfired generating plants required Ontario Power Generation to write off the remaining value of the plants when the last one closed in 2014:
  • Cost, $600 million.
  • Costs of conservation programs, in which some consumers are paid to not consume, while the costs between $300 million and $400 million annually are passed on to all Ontario ratepayers: Cost, $2.5 billion.
  • Gas plant moves, from Mississauga and Oakville to Lambton and Bath, Ontario: Cost, $1.1 billio

Total spending on “unreliable and intermittenr” power providers: $21.4 million

Second, considering our “intermittent and unreliable” category, in which the province added wind and solar capacity that is unable to deliver generation when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun’s not shining.

  • Ontario’s independent system operator shows the province will have installed wind and solar capacity of more than 7,000 MegaWatts (MW) as of March 31, 2017, including 4,650 MW of wind at a capital cost of $2.2 million per MW. Cost, $10.2 billion.
  • Solar generation as of March 31, 2017 will total approximately 2,400 MW at a capital cost of $2.6 million per MW: Cost, $6.2 billion
  • Transmission spending by Hydro One to connect wind and solar to the grid and for embedded connection expenditures. Cost, $5 billion.

Those photo-op costs are $2.6 million

Our third category is “photo-op generation,” money spent on large hydro infrastructure projects producing little power but presenting politicians with great photo-ops.

  • Big Becky hydro power expansion. The original Adam Beck Niagara hydro generation plant,, which went $600 million over budget to squeeze an additional 150 MWs of capacity from Niagara Falls. Cost, $1.5 billion.
  • Mattagami Hydro Power project, originally estimated at $1.6 billion to increase the rated capacity by 438 MW, went over budget by $1 billion. Before these two hydro projects were completed, Ontario Power Generations produced 30.6 TWh (terawatt hours) of hydro generation. Despite the addition of 588 MW of capacity, hydro generation in 2016 fell to 29.5 TWh. Generation data from March 21 indicates Mattagami generated power at about eight per cent of rated capacity, while all other hydro was operating at an average of about 50 per cent of rated capacity: Cost, $2.6 billion.

Nuclear power’s value for money

The fourth category is “value for money.” Some of the claimed investments in generation actually provided some value.

  • The Bruce Nuclear refurbishment of two reactors came at a cost of $4.8 billion but, according to Ben Chin, former VP of the Ontario Power Authority, the cost to ratepayers was limited since shareholders were forced to accept a portion of the over-budget costs. Cost, $3.4 billion.

Grand total to the end of 2016: $36.3 billion

This estimate comes reasonably close to the $35 billion claimed by Energy Minister. Glenn Thibault. But more spending is in the pipeline over the next 18 months, including another 500 MW of wind capacity with an estimated capital cost of $1.1 billion, 100 MW of solar for $300 million and 1,300 MW of gas at a rough cost of $900 million.

Total for what’s still to come: $2.3 billion

Even if one includes the money still to be spent, the total investments (most of them wasted) are over $11 billion shy of the $50 billion that Wynne claims has been spent.

We need to see Thibeault’s accounting, and Wynne’s too, to allow Ontario’s taxpayers and ratepayers to determine whether the spending has provided the claimed value for tax dollars.

So what does this mean for Guelph power consumers?

Predictably, Ontario’s power strategies have been a dismal failure that will cost citizens well into the future.

An immediate problem is the operation of the Strategic Options Committee that had pledged to report later this year on their investigations and bargaining with potential purchasers of Guelph Hydro as to whether to sell it or merge with another distribution operator.

This is the second time in nine years that the administration of the city has attempted to recover its equity in the city-owned utility that is profitable. In 2008, former Mayor Karen Farbridge, a member of the Guelph Hydro board of directors, attempted to convince her council to sell the utility to a consortium of Hamilton and St. Catharines power distributors.

The reasons then are the same as the reasons today.

The former mayor desperately needed the money to participate in a $66 million infrastructure plan funded on a one-third contribution by the city, provincial and federal governments. Guelph’s share was $22 million. The attempt failed when the people protested and the majority of council, many of them Farbridge supporters, voted no to the sale.

The mayor still got her money by calling a note of $30 million owed to the city by Guelph Hydro. The result was the city added a few frills such as a new time clock in the Sleeman Centre and bicycle lanes on Stone Road among others.

One of the arguments put forth at the time was that the province wanted the “smaller” electricity distribution systems to sell or merge with larger units. It was not mandated by the province but recommended for lowering costs and increasing efficiency.

Today, that same reason has been given to city council. SOC Co-Chair Pankaj Sardana, Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Hydro, has cautioned members of council that not all mergers are successful partly due to the clash of cultures between the two organizations coupled with a loss of jobs.

The reason for selling is obvious. The city has drained most of its reserves to pay for the mistakes, failed ventures and refusal to reduce its overhead. High debt levels and betting on increased revenues through reassessment of properties, user fees and subsidies from province and Ottawa, is pie in the sky.

All those financial mismanagement episodes for the past 14 years have hobbled the city’s ability to carry out its short and long-term strategies. The quick solution: Sell Guelph Hydro and recover an estimate $125 milllion.

The city is on the brink of failing to have the financial resources to continue its short and long-term strategies. Selling Guelph Hydro is not the solution.


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