By Gerry Barker
July 23, 2018
Some 15 years ago, my wife, Barbara, and I moved to Guelph.
It marked a turning point in our lives as both being retired we wanted to be closer to our children and grandchildren. Since 1990, we had wintered in Sarasota, Florida chiefly to be with my mother and stepfather. We no longer enjoy that respite from the winter months.
My step0father, Boyd Fitzpatrick, was the publisher of the Olean Times in upstate New York. My mother was a former editor of the Aurora Banner and a national newspaper award winner.
Holy Hannah! I was in a family of newspaper people. You can bet the family discussions were interesting, stimulating and lively for a pair of younger Canadians.
When we set up shop in Guelph, (my wife was born here), I was approached by a neighbour, Ray Ferarro, a city councillor. Ray wanted me to meet the new Mayor Kate Quarrie. At that point I became very interested in civic politics. I had covered city councils during my 23-year career at the Toronto Star and 11 years as the publisher of the Bradford Witness and Topic Weekly.
The experience taught me that municipal politics is the infantry of political power in Ontario. It is closer to the people and affects them more than the provincial or federal layers of government.
Living in Guelph, I quickly learned of the power centres and interests in all corners of the city. Public political activism was in the ascendancy and the city was rapidly changing.
I was saddened when Kate Quarrie and most of her council was defeated in 2006. I felt she represented the political qualities of centrism. She was a good mayor and the right person to lead the community at that time.
The result was the beginning of a left wing socialist group led by Mayor Karen Farbridge that controlled the public’s business for eight years.
In the fall of 2006, I wrote a letter to the Mercury supporting Ms. Quarrie for re-election. The letter was turned down as being too political but the managing editor said the paper would publish a commentary on the editorial page once a month. Now retired, I received $25 for each column called “Between the Lines.”
Following service in the army, I grew up in the businesses as a reporter working for the Toronto Star, covering fires, accidents and council meetings in various communities in the former York County. The 24/7 job demanded that I carry a camera, and know how to use it. I learned fast and was primarily self-taught.
As a reporter-photographer I pulled off some great beats against our archrival, the Toronto Telegram. It was an exciting and stimulating experience that kept me on the job. Every day there were new challenges as the Star was the best paper in the country in terms of news coverage.
It was a newspaper that was well respected but also hated. My grandmother, Byrtha Louise Stavert lived with my mother, Dorothy, in Aurora. My association with the hated Liberal Toronto Star, grated on both of them who were die-hard Conservatives.
My Grandmother was the campaign manger for the Conservative leader R.B. Bennett representing the riding of Calgary Centre. His party won making him Prime Minister but he was never in his own riding during the campaign.
I was immersed in the newspaper game and loved every minute of it.
My columns in the Mercury eventually were published every three weeks and between late 2006 and 2011 I became a thorn in the side of the Farbridge administration. I was let go and formed a blog titled guelphspeaks.ca. Today, the blog is followed by hundreds of followers who read my posts, usually published twice a week.
Did I mention the blog was ad-free and could be accessed by anyone?
In 2012, with some like-minded people we founded GrassRoots Guelph Inc. By now, I had written many posts, highly critical of the Farbridge administration. With the help of a couple of financial professionals, we assembled facts taken from the city’s published financial data that pointed to mismanagement of the people’s treasure.
These facts were presented to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The Minister aid the claims w should be handled locally by the two parties. Shortly after, she resigned and announced she was running for Mayor of Brampton.
In March 2014, along came Urbacon Buildings Group. The fired general contractor of the new city hall complex was thrown off the job in September 2008. The company sued the city for $19.2 million for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract and the city counter-sued the company. There were other lawsuits made.
The judgment stated the city fired Urbacon illegally. In June 2014, Justice Donald MacKenzie released a detailed judgment ordering that costs were to be assigned by October, the month of the civic election.
When the dust settled, the new city hall complex cost $23 million more than the $42 million contracted in 2006.
Coun. Cam Guthrie defeated Mayor Farbridge.
The Farbridge supporters were furious and blamed GrassRoots Guelph and guelphspeaks.ca for the outcome. We graciously accepted responsibility.
Yes, these have been exciting times and I have enjoyed being a part of it.
Then, because I was critical of the method that four senior managers were given a total of $98,202 in raises divided among them, I was sued. The decision by city council in closed-session, December 10, 2015, was never revealed to the public until the provincial Sunshine list came out March 2016. Guelphspeaks compared the 2014 Sunshine list of public employees who earned more than $100,000 and discovered the amount of the senior staff increases approved by council in 2015.
A former employee sued me for defamation in November 2016. The case has yet to be adjudicated so I cannot comment at this time.
Recently, several residents urged me to run for mayor.
I discussed this with professional advisors and my wife. I concluded that at my age it would not be fair to the people of Guelph if I were unable to devote the time and energy to be head of the community for the next four years.
Accordingly, I will not be a candidate for office in the October civic election.
I will continue to produce posts in support of true reforms as outlined in the Guelph Tomorrow “No Frills” statement of changes needed in the administration of our city. I feel these changes are necessary to serve the public better and manage our city operations more efficiently with transparency and accountability.
The public trust has been severely damaged by the Guthrie administration and must be restored.
I sincerely thank all those folks who indicated support for my candidacy.
Don’t worry, I’m not going away but will continue writing and commenting about our civic administration.
After all, Barbara and I are taxpayers with skin in the game.