By Gerry Barker
July 13, 2017
In politics and life, timing is everything and some prevarification goes a long way
The other day I received a large four-page brochure from our Liberal member of the Legislature, Liz Sandals, who represents Guelph. It was labeled “ Community Update- Spring 2017.” While this is July, I presume events were occurring so fast that the spring edition was merged into the summer version.
The only conclusion I could reach after browsing through the content was it reinforced Liz’s intention to run again in Guelph next June. Or, maybe even before if the Premier calls a snap election.
Problem is based on what? Premier Wynne’s personal poll numbers are below 20 per cent. That means more than 80 per cent of those polled would not support her, or the Liberals, in June 2018, the mandatory Election Day in Ontario.
But that’s a long way away. The Sandals brochure speaks of the Liberal promises and accomplishments while ignoring the sad record of the government.
Ms. Sandals ignores the loss of her job as Minister of Education over a revelation that she approved spending millions to some of the teacher’s unions just to attend the bargaining sessions in 2014/15. The most damaging event was Sandals’ argument that the payments were made due to extended bargaining time to cover union rep’s extra food and lodging costs in Toronto.
Then she admitted that the Liberals, while in office, had distributed millions over the years to the teacher unions as “bargaining bonuses” if that description fits.
At that point, Premier Wynne stepped in and said that the union members had to supply receipts to show the funds were spent covering the period of extended bargaining. The horse, unfortunately, was already out of the barn.
In a cabinet reshuffle, Ms. Sandals was removed as Minister of Education and assigned as president of the Provincial Treasury Board. It was a face saving move by her good friend Kathleen Wynne.
So, let’s look at Treasury President Sandals latest missile to the Guelph voters.
On page one, the lead story focuses on the 2017 provincial budget with a screaming headline that the budget is balanced!
The first one that caught my eye was the claim that Guelph had the second lowest unemployment rate in Ontario.
Ms. Sandals must know that the city she represents has one of the highest concentrations of employees paid with public money. More important, consider since Ms. Sandals’ tenure as Guelph MPP, the ratio of 84 per cent residential assessment and 16 per cent commercial/industrial assessment has been unchanged for ten years.
While it could be argued that the situation is a municipal responsibility, there have been provincial resources available to increase commercial and industrial assessment to lift the burden of taxation from homeowners.
We are still waiting.
The recent 10-year history of the city shows that property taxes and user fees have increased by more than 3.5 per cent compounded annually. It has resulted in one of the highest municipal tax rates in the province.
But there is one aggravating caveat. The University of Guelph only pays $75 per student in lieu of property taxes. In 1987, the rate was created by the Peterson Liberal government and has never changed. Today, the U of G property tax bill is some $1.7 million.
No change in the rate but increased due to the growing number of students attending the university since 1987. Translation: There has been no provision to increase the rate in the past three decades, even to match the rate of inflation.
While Guelph’s property taxes and user fees have more than tripled in the last 30 years, the university property taxes are locked in at 1987 levels. In real income, the student rate is worth about $10 today.
The university has an unusual advantage over other post-secondary institutions in the province. As a former agricultural college, it owned hundreds of acres used for crop testing and training. That was 50 years ago. Today much of those lands are leased back by the university to a variety of commercial and residential enterprises. This provides a steady cash flow unmatched by any educational institution in Ontario.
The growth of the city has encompassed much of those lands. I have never seen a financial statement of the university that is a public supported organization. The income from land rental should be revealed. For no other reason than to see if U of G property taxes reflect this additional income.
Where was the Guelph MPP to tackle this perverted 30-year property tax freeze that thrust paying part of the U of G overhead costs upon taxpayers? While most citizens are proud of their university, the cost of supporting it through growing emergency services, road and infrastructure costs, public transit, and recreational facilities are borne by the citizens. This amounts to an increase in the city overhead that has grown disproportionally with the growth of population.
Bottom line: Do the citizens of Guelph gain any benefit from this arrangement?
How the Sandal Liberals blocked a citizen’s petition to audit city finances
When citizens complained in September 2012, through a documented petition to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, she dismissed the claims. She added that the petition issues made by GrassRoots Guekph and the City of Guelph, had to jointly resolve the issue. Liz Sandals was given a copy of the petition in advance of presentation to Minister Linda Jeffery on the condition it be embargoed until the official release. The reason was to give the MPP a heads up of the content of the petition.
Somehow the embargoed petition was delivered to then Mayor Karen Farbridge.
When an elected official keeps their word that’s class. In this case, Liz Sandals had only one of three copies of the final version of the petition. I had one and a colleague had the other. But it goes further, when our organization known as GrassRoots Guelph arranged a press conference in Queen’s Park, we received no assistance from the Sandals office. Actually our group of seven was escorted from the building by three security guards. We were told we could hold our press conference on the front lawn of the Legislature. Back in Guelph, an hour later, the Farbridge team reported the incident.
In my opinion, Ms. Sandals’has complicity in this but she will never admit it. That day, she failed not only her supporters but also the entire population of the city. She was complicit in not informing the people, her constituents, who had the right to know and to petition under a provision of the Ontario Municipal Act.
More on the truth according to Ms. Sandals
Another interesting feature of her brochure was a table that preposterously claimed that Ontario’s economic growth outpaced all G7 group of countries. This is like comparing elephantine economic powers to a beetle crawling up a stalk of corn with the intent of munching on a cob or two. Talk about gilding the lily.
Gazing on the Wynne Liberal management record over the past three years, here are some of the lowlights and potential highlights:
* Stop selling part of Hydro One to private enterprise while claiming to retain control.
* Urging municipalities owning hydro distribution systems to either merge or be sold.
* Claiming to cut Ontario’s bloated high cost electricity system rates by 25 per cent for the next four years then increasing rates to pay for it.
* Failing to reform the Police Act, the Ontario Municipal Act particularly pertaining to closed-door sessions, Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan, Correctional services, hydro power generation and transmission and costs.
*Failing to stem the exponential growth of salary and benefits paid to Police and Fire employees.
* Replace the arbitration system of resolving Police and Fire union contracts.
* Why does Guelph have the hughest number of deputy fire chiefs in thr Province?
* Getting out of the booze business lowering the cost of alcoholic beverages and allowing wider and competitive sales by private enterprise.
* Failing to end the Beer Store’s foreign ownership monopoly.
* Stop creating the highest cost electricity system in the country.
* Failing to resolve the infrastructure problems facing municipalities in Ontario.
* Increasing costs of public servants with generous benefits that exceed those of private enterprises.
* Refusing to support that transportation needs of the larger cities.
* Failing to increase disability payments while raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
* Merge the two public education systems to create efficiencies of operation and lower costs. Allow the secular schools to conduct their curriculum.
* Restore the provincial bank system to allow clients to deal electronically to conduct their businesses and invest in infrastructure.
* Allow the Provincial Bank to support small businesses and non-profit organizations.
* Reconsider plans to convert fossil-fueled vehicles to electric with regard to the economic outcomes of switching too fast.