Monthly Archives: February 2018

Time to stop spending on the Innovation Guelph’s lust for the Reformatory Lands

By Gerry Barker

February 26, 20118

Oh, while we absorb the Mayor’s statement that our property taxes are the lowest since he became mayor, lets review the outstanding major capital projects the city council must consider.

First, after 19 years the central library project currently estimated to cost $53 million is still a figment of council’s imagination.

Next comes the South End Recreation Centre, estimated cost $63 million in which some $3.5 million has already been spent to prepare the architectural design and site preparation.

Then along came the Guelph Innovation district.

This was a dream of the former Farbridge administration that the current Guthrie administration keeps on the front burner.

This, despite the fortune of public money that has been spent already on planning, consultants, land use, function and probability.

If you wonder why the city’s operating overhead is 50 per cent higher than either Cambridge or Kitchener, this is a perfect example of irrational spending.

Tonight, council will again review the project. Once that is over it has has no title or control of the lands, no planning control or any decision regarding land usage.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Why is the city staff spending time to plan a satellite community on lands in which it has no title, no authority but a degree of chutzpah that stretches the imagination?

Why?

Because it doesn’t own the land but in the past seven years has spent public fund designing and laying out a town plan that includes zoning and types of buildings.. The Province of Ontario does own the property that includes the former reformatory complex that was closed years ago and now wants to liquidate it to recover its investment.

For some reason, that defies explanation, the city mandarins believe they will get the extensive property for nothing.

The best estimate is that the property contains more than 250 acres and is probably worth, to the province, some S25 million.

So let’s get down and dirty about this.

June 7, the provincial election will be held. Recent polls show the Liberals under Kathleen Wynne are 19 points behind the Progressive Conservatives. The NDP and Liberals are tied at 23 per cent.

The most interesting statistic is that more than 50 per cent of eligible Ontario voters would not support Ms. Wynne.

The Tories are in disarray over the former leader Patrick Brown’s alleged sexual misconduct. They are also split due to the foolish “Take back our Party” campaign that has divided core conservatives.

The Tories Hari Kari act may provide them with a margin of victory. We’ll know later in March who is elected PC leader, and the policies of the party.

Is it possible that NDP leader Andrea Howarth could pull off a “Bob Rae” and win the most support leading to a minority government?

The Ontario electorate faces a disturbing choice June 7.

Right now we don’t know whom the PC leader will be following the snap leadership convention to replace Mr. Brown who is running for his old job. In fact, at this point, I don’t know whether we have PC, NDP and Liberal candidates in Guelph. Been away for a while.

The one factor that most Ontarians know is that Kathleen Wynne is viral in terms of performance governing the province.

In this scenario, do you really believe that the Ontario government is about to give a $25 million property to the City of Guelph for nothing?

Our Mayor seems to believe this according to recent statements. He believes that giving away the infrastructure of Guelph Hydro to a corporation that offered a small minority of its shares (60 per cent), might be a case of dreaming or hallucinating.

Until the June election is decided, the government may not be ready to give away the reformatory lands, AKA the Innovation Guelph District.

Has the city made any proposals to take over the lands? Perhaps an offer? Or a share of the development profits? Or set up a 3P arrangement? That’s a Public Private Participation Project.

Don’t hold your breath on that one.

The city for eight years has tried to set up a 3P deal for the Baker Street parking lot. It’s still a parking lot.

So then council approves spending $20 million on the Wilson Street five-story Parkade. It’s not hard to figure out where that $18.5 million special dividend from Guelph Hydro is going.

When Derrick Thomson said a year ago there was a $170 million shortfall in the newly minted ten-year capital spending program, you have to ask: Where is the money for all these projects?

For the last ten years there has been a parade of financial mangers whom have been unable to stop the spending on unproductive and special interest projects that constantly drain the city’s ability to conduct its business in an orderly and common sense manner.

Mr. Guthrie is no different than the former mayor in this sense.

Two issues stick out:

His support in a closed-session meeting to approve high percentage increases to three senior managers. The other is his support of the giveaway of Guelph Hydro to Alectra. It remains the worst deal ever made by a council in the history of this city.

And that friends, is what he is going to run on.

 

 

 

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Spending 30 days in Muscat, Oman our adventure in the Middle East

By Gerry Barker

February 12, 2018

Muscat, Oman – Here we are 8,000 miles from Guelph in the sultanate of Oman, located at the south end of the Arabian peninsula about 150 miles south of Dubai.

We arrived here on two overnight flights and an eight-hour layover in London between flights.

We were invited to spend 30 days with our cousins who winter here in a lovely home on the edge of a cliff overlooking an Arabian sea estuary. Our cousins are Canadian expats who spend their summers in Orillia overlooking Lake Couchiching..

It has been an illuminating experience. Muscat is a modern, clean city with great highways and access. The streets are lined with trimmed shrubs and gardens of flowers, Bougainvillia everywhere in huge clumps, orange, pink and red. The buildings are cement block, smoothed with white stucco. Most are decorated with lacy ornate roofs and windows.

What I noted was there were no homeless people in the city. We toured the coastline and there are people living by the sea who do not have the modern amenities of Muscat. There is an absence of bicycles as the Omani, under the Sultan, have created a new city by world standards.

The Omani’s have few scooters and love their cars. While there are speed bumps and roundabouts, traffic moves swiftly. There are no miles-per-hour signs. The bumps control the speeds.

Our cousin, Ian Mackay, is our guide and his lengthy experience in Oman has been filled with wonderment and surprise.as he took us into areas that painted a picture of this young nation.

While Muscat is a beautiful city with outstanding architecture, it is Muslim country with traditional dress prevalent with most women outside their home, wearing the black overdress called the abbeya. The men are typically dressed in an ankle length white gown. Think I know now why bicycles are not around.

We are reminded that we are guests in Oman and must dress appropriately. This past week we attended a Ballet performance by a Russian Prima Ballerina, accompanied by her husband playing the violin.

To Barbara and I, the real star was the magnificent Opera House. Walls and ceilings are carved, crystal lights everywhere, even the courtyard is white marble. The 75-year-old Sultan, is an admirer of classical music and lover of the sophisticated cultures in other parts of the world.

The Sultan owns two very large yachts, in which he has been known to have the national orchestra entertain his party during the voyage. Why two yachts? Maybe one was for the orchestra.

The Sultan came to power in 1971 when he deposed his father who was a despot, not supporting the Omani population. It was the beginning of progressive governing that has resulted in the 4.2 million Omanis‘ to enable a soaring of standard of living and lifestyle improvements in just 47 years.

It occurred with a little help producing oil.

Okay, this country is tightly controlled by the Sultan. He is revered and admire by the population for his transforming policies. He is a generous benevolent dictator who has created the modern model of an independent Arabian state.

Oman has an army, navy and air force. There is no evidence that the Jihadists are active in the country.

One small irritant, unless you are a resident for a least a year, in order to purchase alcoholic beverages, you apply for a permit. The first item is getting a sponsor. Then getting the police to verify. The liquors are in hidden locations and you are only allowed per month the allocation given to you.No, you cannot accumulate the monthly allowance.

Drink it or lose it.

Awkward, yes? Muslims don’t drink. Therefore public drunkenness is eliminated. This results in fewer alcohol-related accidents and family battles. Breaches of this and the use of drugs are harshly dealt with.

The odious comparison

Our 200 year-old city is suffering from neglect of the infrastructure that makes the city run. The city staff has indicated the cost of catching up and correcting what has been neglected will cost $500 million over the next 20 years.

Unfortunately, in the past ten years, millions has been wasted, due to appalling mismanagement by an administration that conducts most of its business in closed-sessions.

But all is not lost. Next October, the people have the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction and elect members of council who will reform the way our city is being managed and return power to the people.

Our adventure here will end March1 when we travel back to our home. We will be a little bit more appreciative of our permanent home in Guelph and our friends and neighbours.

Next task is filing our income tax and preparing for the October election.

Guelphspeaks.ca will re-engaged the first week in March.

Finally Barbara and I want to express our appreciation for the generosity and kindness of Carol and Ian Mackay for putting up with a pair of relatives.

 

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