By Gerry Barker
October 29, 2018
Thursday, October 18, three members of the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) handed down a decision that approved the merger between Alectra Utilities and Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. (Guelph Hydro).
The former Liberal provincial government appointed the three OEB members’ decision that states the deal closes January 31, 2019.
The decision fails to disclose the amount Alectra paid for all issues and shares of Guelph Hydro held by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.
This former Liberal government encouraged the sale, merger or amalgamation of medium to small municipally owned power distribution systems. The purpose was to allegedly create larger, more efficient systems.
At the time, Guelph Hydro had more than 55,000 customers and 120 employees.
In a large ad published in the Guelph Tribune April 19, 2018, The OEB outlined some details of the proposed merger. One section was headlined: “Be informed and have your say.”
It went on to state that: “You have the right to information regarding the application and to be involved in the process.”
A number of Guelph citizens responded requesting an oral hearing in order to have “Their Say” in the matter before the board. Some us received a confirmation by the OEB acknowledging our request to intervene in the hearing.
On July 12, 2018 the OEB detailed the hearing process. Now the applicants had filed a written submission to the board and requested a written response.
There were a number of Guelph residents, including my wife and me, who requested an oral hearing giving reasons for doing so. The main issue was the complexity of the deal of which the public received an outline available only Online, 12 days before city council approved the agreement in principal.
It was not a transparent detailed version of the agreement but a carefully crafted PR document that had little relevance to the real agreement that was still being negotiated.
Council approved the agreement in principal by a 10 to 3 majority despite the presentation of 22 citizens who asked council to delay the vote until the public, some 55,000 of them, had the opportunity to study and digest the details. That never happened.
Further the deliberations by the Strategic Options Committee, appointed by council, was in charge of negotiating the merger that was held in closed session without public participation.
So, did we, a group of interveners, ever given the chance to present our case? Regardless of being acknowledged by the OEB, we were denied intervening.
Here’s more from the July 12 OEB action statement: “Decision of Confidentiality and Procedural Order No. 2:
The bogus invitation
“The OEB invited interested parties to advise if they thought that an oral hearing was needed.”
When we submitted our reasons for an oral hearing in April that was acknowledged in writing, it was the last we heard from the OEB.
We can only assume this deal was already baked. There is no mechanism for appealing this arbitrary decision that was announced in a city press release of one page, Friday morning, April 18, barely 12 hours after the decision was made.
This kind of governance demonstrated by the OEB regarding other provincial and municipal governments is one of the main reasons that the turn out in the recent civic election saw only some 33,000 votes cast out of more than 90,000 eligible citizens.
The voter bunch missing in action
Some 57,000 eligible voters did not bother to vote. That means that almost 60 per cent of all eligible voters in Guelph did not show up to be counted.
We are a city of 131,000 citizens. We are owners of a corporation that is valued at $600 million and we don’t bother to exercise our right to vote?
The so-called merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Inc. can only be blamed, ten years from now on a electorate that didn’t care in 2018. The result as time goes by, and most of this council today, and for the next four years, will be gone and no longer responsible.
Can’t blame them now. Only blame ourselves for failing to pay attention and stop giving away a treasured asset worth some $160 million for peanuts.
Voter apathy is a recipe for corruption
Citizen’s apathy is a disease and most people of Guelph are currently incurable.
We have to realize that in four years, our city will endure the progressive demands of the majority of council. It will be a repeat performance of the past four years with a majority of council accountable to their masters at Queen’s Park and Ottawa.
We are under the control of a National leftist party. The New Democratic Party, that the Ontario branch supplied expertise and support to the six re-elected progressive members of council.
Nothing is going to change. It will be more of the same even increasing property taxes, dodgy environmental projects, failure to remove all the city’s waste from every household and increasing the debt.
All those headlong efforts including operational costs need revenue. Some 80 per cent of it comes from property taxes.
The ugly by-product of non-participation
In the last four years, the exponential increase in property taxes was more than 18 per cent.
If we ever experience a recession, and our private sector job force is affected, then what happens?
Lloyd Longfield, Guelph’s member of the House of Commons, boasted the other day that Guelph had the lowest unemployment rate in Canada, only 3.6 per cent.
What he forgot to add was that a huge portion of the city workforce is either unionized or has secure government positions. For example there are more employees working for the University of Guelph than our major private employer, Linamar.
On a comparison basis, Guelph has more public servants per capita than its peer group of similar-sized cities in the province.
Secure, well paying jobs that are recession proof, and the numbers, are increasing every year.
The issue is clear. Why would all those protected civil servants care whether or not there was an economic down turn? Their paychecks and pension payments will keep coming.
Why would they bother to vote in a municipal election?
Because they don’t have to.
The province and the city guarantee their jobs and income benefits.
As long as the minority of voters, those who care, put up with this elitist-dominated city, chiefly populated by civil servants with guaranteed salaries and pensions, our taxes and user fees will increase exponentially and the city will gradually become too expensive a place in which to live and do business.