By Gerry Barker
December 8, 2017
The time line of learning the details of the merger is a recipe for denial of public participation.
Last Saturday a citizen gave me a hard copy of the final agreement terms between Guelph Hydro and Alectra. The members of council were presented with the report Thursday, November 30 in a closed-session meeting.
The only way a citizen can access this 245-page agreement statement is online at the city website Guelph.ca. Make sure you have lots of paper and ink! For the 35 per cent of citizens who don’t use a computer for many reasons, we are sorry because it’s every citizen’s right to have access to public information.
All aboard for losing Guelph Hydro
According to the agreement package, serious negotiations between Guelph Hydro and Alectra began October 5 in a closed session of council. Apprently the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC), appointed by council, recommended the merger. Also the Guelph Hydro board of directors unanimously approved the merger. The city staff has also gone on record as recommedding to council to approve the merger.
Why would they do anything else? Their boss, CAO Derrick Thomson, is the architect of this merger as co-chair of the SOC..
Mayor Guthrie held a media briefing on what a great deal this was and how the city and 55,000 customers of Guelph Hydro would benefit. The city would receive higher dividends than currently provided by Guelph Hydro and for the power users, lower rates.
There is still no proof of that happening in the general agreement document to merge and be approved by council December 13.
It took more than a year of research into either selling Guelph Hydro or merging with another locally owned distribution utility, (LCD).
To set the stage, early in the process the SOC presented council with a timetable that indicated the various steps in the process. There were four stages. The fourth, the recommendation to sell or merge Guelph Hydro, was to have been made in the spring of 2018.
That seemed logical given the task the SOC faced. It even mentioned that there would be a civic election in October 2018.
Keep in mind that the SOC’s investigation and negotitaions were all held in closed sessions. Periodically, they would prepare an interim public report to council that was benign and lacked fundamental details of the committee’s progress.
Enter the unintended consequences
But two events occurred that were baffling and unexplained.
First, the original SOC, then called the Stategic Options Committee, had a major personnel change with three of its members replaced including co-chair Pankaj Sardana, CEO of Guelph Hydro. The two “civilian” members were replaced with two new members
CAO Derrick Thomson, remained as co-chair of the SOC. Hydro Chairperson Jane Alexander was appointed co-chair. The name was changed to Strategies and Options Committee. Why? Did the new brooms want to mark its space?
This change was agreed to in closed session. It’s a sharp lesson in the strategy of the SOC to conduct business behind closed doors.
Then came the SOC’s 2017 February meeting. Mr. Thomson was reported as not there due to a scheduling conflict. The committee then formerly removed the mandate to sell Guelph Hydro and only to consider the merger option. It was done in closed session but one of the former members of the SOC, Richard Puccini, let the cat out of the bag. He also said that the utility should be sold not merged.
Keeping the Guelph Hydro employees in the fark
Considering this SOC decision, it is clear that the 130 Guelph Hydro employees had no idea of what was going to happen to their jobs. In fact, the final agreement says that 60 employees would be gone in the next three years or 46 per cent of the workforce.
The agreement states that the brand Guelph Hydro would be dropped within a year of the merger approval once the deal is finalized.
What does council, that has the power to accept or reject the Alectra merger terms, understand the value of the utility? The agreement says it’s $18.5 million and Guelph Hydro will pay the city in the form of a “special” dividend.
So, let me get this straight. The council can approve the merger and in doing so, agree that Guelph Hydro is only worth $18.5 million to the stakeholders? There are some councillors who believe that this is evidence that the merger is a great deal for the city.
So council values Guelph Hydro at $18.5 million
Well, it’s a terrible deal and a mockery of the public trust.. First, Guelph Hydro is wholly owned by the citizens of Guelph, so moving $18.5 million from one pocket to the other is is a charade designed to mollify the majority of citizens opposed to the merger.
The question that councillors should be asking is why should they agree to give away a $300 million publicly-owned Local Community Distribution system, and receive no tangible consideration for it? This system was built by thecustomers of Guelph Hydro
Why even consider this when the city staff has warned of a $450 million shortfall in infrastructure repairs, replacemeny and manatainance? Or the staff report that the 10-year capital spending budget is $420 million underfunded?
And reports are that our city councillors are ready to accept the promise of a dividend payout of 4.63 per cent of part of Alectra Inc’s net profits. Allow me to explain. The agreement states that 4.63 per cent share is based only on 60 per cent of Alectra profits.
It is reported that the City of Hamilton, an Alectras partner, in 2016, received an 18.50 per cent share of Alectra’s profits thst paid $ a dividend of $6 million.
Under the terms of the agreement, Guelph would receive one quarter (4.63 per cent) of the Hamilton Alectra dividend or $1.5 milion. Well, that happens to be the same figure as the city is receiving now from Guelph Hydro. So how does this merger increase the dividend to the city as has been promised?
Why did Alectra borrow $220 million from investors outside Ontario?
There is no mention in the agreement about the $220 million that Alectra has borrowed from investors located in five other provinces. No mention of the interest rate being paid or the duration of the individual loan agreements. The only comment came from the Mayor who stated that the lenders were not shareholders.
There are no actual figures of what the cash dividend may be. There is a promise to establish a Green Power Technoly Centre in Guelph that will employ between eight and 10 employees. That means a net loss of employees affected by the merger is 50. all from Guelph Hydro.
So when the Mayor says the merger will create good jobs, the evidence is not apparent.
Let’s talk about the fairness report prepared by accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP (GT).
This independent report contained a mountain of detail about how this deal was put together and the assets of Guelph Hydro.
Keep remembering that all these negotiations were conducted in secret for several weeks. The one interesting item was that GT referred to Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. as “the shareholder” of Guelph Hydro. The members of the board of directors are unknown although the Mayor was last reported to be the chairperson.
It is apparent that the city is using GMHI as the shareholder to keep hands off the merger.
The administration gave citizens just 12 days to understand a 245-page ageement
In fact a citizen needs a program to figure out who is in charge of actively negotiating this deal that is complex and difficult to understand exactly what the benefit is to the citizens? We are the real owners of Guelph Hydro Electric Services Inc. the operators of Guelph Hydro?
In my opinion, this has been a carefully planned and secretive attempt to steal Guelph Hydro by Alectra. It is like picking the pennies off a dead man’s eyes.
Throughout the long process the City of Guelph has paid some $2.36 million to outside legal consultant Aird and Berlis of Toronto and accountant Grant Thornton to legitimize the deal.
Why? Because council did not want to defend this before the 2018 election. Also the evidence of the GMHI financial disaster has been established by the KPMG audit of GMHI’s consolidated balance sheet.
I challenge city council to lay the cards on the table about GMHI and tell the stakeholders what really happened. They know but don’t want us to know. So all it has cost us so far is $2.36 million to pay all the crafters of this abomination of a deal and, as an added bonus, is grabing $18.5 million of our money as a $300 million utility disappears down the road.
This was a deliberate, creative and expensive plan to stick handle around a $63 million loss of shareholder’s equity (KPMG GMHI audit) and protect their personal interests in order to get elected next year.
Using your money to buy council support
That smell you notice is the stench of hipocracy when your money is used to cover-up a huge loss of our corporation’s shareholder value.
It’s because this plan is designed to prevent the truth that was kept under wraps until 12 days before the council meeting, to finalize this debacle. It has artfully sucker punched the very people who elected them by blocking the details of the merger until that last moment.
There is more to come on how they did it.
Join the growing number of citizen who oppose the merger
Meanwhile, if you don’t like to be conned, send me a note including name, address and ward to firstname.lastname@example.org and your name, and those of friends and family, will be added to the petition protesting the merger.