Monthly Archives: January 2020
By Gerry Barker
January 20, 2020
In 2006, the McGuinty Liberal government, to placate the municipalities’ lobby machine to extend the three-year term of council elections to four years.
In 2006, Guelph elected its first council for four years led by former Mayor, Karen Farbridge. Only two councillors survived the onslaught of the leftist-based Farbridge council supported by the national NDP organization.
What followed was a total domination of the city, its responsibility to the citizens and soaring property tax increases exceeding 3 per cent every year for eight years plus increasing user fees, including water.
So, where did the city collect and spend the money starting in 2007?
The city functions by using an operating budget and a capital spending budget for major projects.
The first was approving spending $12,7000 to convert the abandoned convent building owned by the Diocese of Hamilton. The church wanted to demolish the convent to create more parking for parishioners.
Instead, the city persuaded the church to lease the building to save it as an historic pre-Confederation building. Newly elected councillor Leanne Piper, former chair of the Guelph Heritage group proposed the project to turn it into a Civic Museum.
A noble project in which a minority of the public participated
Four years later the city announced the project cost was $16.5 million.
That does not include the operating costs such as staff, utilities, maintenance, insurance and depreciation.
That was only the beginning of a council that failed to uphold their sworn duty to protect the public trust.
Through all this, the central library replacement, announced by the former mayor in her first three-year term in office was a new downtown library was a priority for council.
Twenty years later we are still waiting.
Here’s a list of some of the projects that were passed by council, without public discussion or involving the citizen stakeholders and their right to accountability and transparency.
* In 2013, council hired a consultant to prepare and plan incorporating accountability, transparency and open government. The bill for that project was $500,000.
* The Organic Waste Processing Facility, that was over built costing $34 million and the builder is still operating the plant. The operation has been a costly, mismanaged project of which the citizens were kept in the dark.
* Spending $15 million for a automated waste collection system using special trucks, each costing $150,000 to do the job, followed that. The troubled\ was the maintenance of the vehicles soured. In addition, several of the new residential developments could not accommodate the vehicles. They were forced to hire contractors to pick up the trash.
* Next came the legal battle to reduce its contribution to the Guelph, Wellington, and Duffrin Public health organization voting to build a new headquarters in Guelph cost $17 million The Mayor sued because Guelph had contributed $10 milliohn to the project, approved by the board of directors.
She lost the lawsuit. The legal bill was reported to cost the city $10,000.
Let’s pause for a minute
In 2006 the city staff number of employees was 1.400. Today, we employ 2,300 full-time and part-time employees. For the record, the cost of city staff consumes 80 per cent of all property taxes. So this is an example of an employee merry-go-round.
The two effects of this unprecedented expansion of staff is one of the exponential growth annual increase in the number of staff and two, the increase in remuneration to the entire staff. Do you believe that a city staffer employed in 2006 witnessed his salary and benefits declining? That’s an unrealistic assumption.
Of course not because of inflation that boosts costs annually.
How about your salary and benefits, pension and elderly benefits increases?
My friends, this is the biggest problem of incompetence by the staff and the elected officials.
They have become one and the same. The trade unions that dominate the city staff work hand in glove with the elected city convoy. Councillors become dependent on the staff in the decision making process.
Should I remind that the majority of city council have acquiesced to the staff for the past 14 years
Let’s move on to expose more of council mismanagement
In n2014, Superior Court Justice Donald Mackenzie, found the city guilty of wrongful dismissal of Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., the general contactors of the old and new City Hall project on Carden Street.
That was settled by the city and cost an additionaL $23 million over the otiginal $42 million contract. That was a 53 per cent increase over six years
Imagine this. You and your spouse are sitting around the kitchen table and sign a contract to remodel the kitchen for $XX. Then you change your mind and add other feature additions. The contractor say wait a minute that’s not what we agreed to.
Regardless, that’s what your city did to you.
Now it gets interesting.
With the defeat of Mayor Farbridge in 2014, and a number of her council, there was something else going on. Newly elected Mayor Guthrie discovered a financial disaster involving Guelph Municipal Holding Inc.
This was a special project the former mayor put together
While mayor, she made herself chair of GMHI board of directors, and then transferred the city-owned Guelph Hydro to GMHI. She also selected city CAO, Ann Pappert, as the CEO of GMHI.
None of this was reported in the midia includingn the only weekly newspaper in the ity. In fact, almost all of the meetings by the GMHI board were conducted in closed-session.
As part of my defence against the city financed defamation lawsuit, I revealed the increases or the three top managers authorized by a closed-session council meeting, Dec. 10, 2015
These details were only revealed four months later when the provincial Sunshine List was published March 31, 2016.
Now, under the Guthrie administration, there are more closed-sessions by council.
In the fall of 2017, council appoints a special committee to investigate the options of selling, merging or keeping it. The result was, the selling option was off the table. And a merger with Alectra Utilities was recommended by the committee apointed by city council..
Late that year, the accounting firm KPMG announced results of a GMHI consolidated audit that showed the shareholders liability of $66 million. What followed was a highly contrived public relations campaign costing citizens $2.5 million resulting in council approving the merger.
To this day, it remain the greatest blunder of financial management in the city’s history. Council gave Guelph Hydro away for peanuts and promises.
What can citizens do to protect their civic assets and the rights to object?
Against this closed-session juggernaut of municipal power there is almost no opportunity to participate, seek accountability or reject the action of the elected officials and staff.
Today, our only option comes every four years during the civic election. The next one is in 2022.
Here how the deck is stacked against you
The city uses closed-sessions to conduct its business.
They use a hired integrity commissioner to keep council members in line and not reveal discussions of closed-session meetings. They are on retainer plus time involving an investigation of a breach of the council Code of Conduct.
An outfit called Amberlee Gravel, who is the special investigators of closed-session council or board meetings when a citizen complains, polices citizen complaints. They are also on an annual retainer plus time investigating.
Since being appointed in 2008, there have been four complaints or requests. All were denied. My request for the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed-session meeting took four months to decide whether to release the information. Denied.
Remember the power of running the city rests only with city council.
The Ontario Ombudsman’s office refuses to intervene to assist citizens if their city employs an outside special investigator.
In my opinion, there is a conflict of interest that prevents a citizen’s requests apparently by the city’s special closed-session investigatort and the Ombudsman’s office
It’s a municipal Catch 22
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, in my experience, is to put it mildly, highly politically partnered with its legislative bosses and ineffective.
Citizens in Guelph have no recourse to have honest, unfettered, non-political hearings of grievances.
How serious is this?
Your city administration is using your money to support a private lawsuit initiated in 2016, against me by a former employee who was fired, according to four major media outlets. His sworn testimony before the court was that he “agreed” to leave.
Was he a team player? Planned on retiring anyway?
I can tell you that he did not receive any additional compensatio after February 20, 2017.
This is a prime example of abuse of power against a citizen who was critical of the secrecy involved in large increases to three top staff managers.
This lawsuit now in its fourth year is not just about Gerry Barker, it’s about all citizens who dare to be critical of public administration that are considered by the city to be improper or incorrect.
I believe citizens must appeal to the provincial government to allow a mechanism to recall any councillor or employee who is complicit in not performing their duties or operate outside their oath of office and its responsibilities.
By Gerry Barker
January 13, 2020
This is a story of a Vancouver-based company that has experienced a bottom and bust past developing a third source of power that is emission-free. It is capable of powering locomotives, container ships, heavy trucks, buses, forklifts and large recreation vehicles.
This break-through technology saw Ballard Power Corporation shares, in the last decade soar to $200 a share only to crumble to penny stock levels.
Ballard Power went from darling to peasant in a few years. Collapse of auto companies and a global recession did the company in but not dead.
Today the company shares have made a modest recovery by forming alliances with a major Chinese engine manufacture, Weichjai, to partner converting fossil-fueled heavy vehicles to use the Ballard hydrogen fuel cell technology.
How does it work?
Hydrogen fuel cells combine elemental hydrogen with oxygen in the air, capturing the energy for conversion to electric, according to Ballard Power.
In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the company worked with a number of major vehicle manufacturers including Honda, Daimler-Chrysler, Ford, Mazda, Nissan and Volkswagen.
Right now, around the world, Ballard and its partners are concentrating on heavy vehicle power that is emission free. The only discharge is water.
There are now thousands of such vehicles using the Ballard Power hydrogen fuel cell technology.
This has the potential of moving heavy vehicles safely and contributing to the reduction of carbon by fossil-fueled commercial vehicles.
What has this to do with Guelph?
There are two reasons that affect citizens.
The presence of Linamar Corporation and its place as a leading manufacturer of auto parts is essential to our community’s economy. They face new challenges to adapt to the growing use of electricity to power car, light trucks, SUV’s and vans.
Did I mention the slow death of sedans with the growth of SUV’s of all shapes and sizes?
Remember the old expression, the trend is your friend?
The new opportunity is supplying large vehicle companies with parts such as engines needed for hydrogen fuel cell heavy vehicles.
This is rapidly taking place. The Chinese engine manufacture Weichai has already partnered with Ballard. As well the U.S. engine builder, Cummins, has signed an order with Ballard Power.
The limitation of electric-powered personal vehicles is the range based on the capacity of the batteries and the limited power available in light vehicles.
Tesla Motors produced some 200,000 EV’s last year and finally made a profit. Tesla produces luxury EV’s that have costs above fossil-fueled vehicles despite government subsidies to purchasers.
One may question why the government is subsidizing EV purchases when private enterprise seems to be pricing emission-free vehicles in greater numbers now.
The second concern for Guelph is about the heavy city and transport trucks using our streets daily. They are going away and cannot convert to electric power sourced from the grid. Also, the cost of switching can be daunting.
In my opinion, Guelph Transit should be the starting point by gradually replacing its fossil-fueled buses, fleet with hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles.
The same applies to the heavy equipment used by the city.
And hydrogen fuel cell power was developed in Canada, eh?
By Gerry Barker
January 6, 2020
Let’s start with the first anniversary of the giveaway of Guelph Hydro that became effective just about a year ago. But questions remain.
What ever happened to that $18.5 million that we were told was part of the cash of Guelph Hydro and was to be distributed to the city’s general revenues?
Why are the hydro poles on Speedvale Avenue being relocated?
What is the cost of this work being performed by Alectra Utilities, the successor to Guelph Hydro?
Why was there a spike in hydro rates last August?
How many Guelph Hydro employees left their jobs as a result of the take-over by Alectra?
Why have there been a number of power outages since the takeover?
What benefits did the city receive as a result of the takeover?
It cost the administration some $2.6 million to sell the proposal to the citizens using fake town halls and slanted communiqués that lacked any pertinent details of the transaction.
Why did city council hold closed-session meeting regarding the impending giveaway?
Why has there been no documentation of the details of this so-called “merger” of a city-owned distribution system valued at $226 million in 2016 by Guelph Hydro?
Why was the CAO Derrick Thomson financially rewarded using public fund?
Co-Chair of the Strategic Options Committee Mr. Thomson received a $67,000 performance bonus in 2018 and resigned in February 2019.
Jane Armstrong, chair of the Guelph Hydro board of directors, was also co-chair with Thomson on the SOC that recommended the merger with Alectra with no details.
Her reward was being appointed to the Alectra Utilities board of directors for five years as city council’s choice to represent Guelph. Her salary was $25,000 per year plus expenses. After a tear there has been no information about the promised dividend from Alectra that was included in the deal. In fact, there has been no communication about this to the citizens.
This giveaway was an example of how public information is dispensed. It is a policy of this administration to conceal, misrepresent and control the details of business to which is in the public interest.
Other examples of ignoring the public trust
The Guelph Innovative Development project has been simmering beneath the surface of the public interest. In 2012 the city staff was assigned to create a new green inspired community on the reformatory property owned by the province.
Last year, the province hired a real estate company to sell the 1.072-acre property in a modified auction. Last spring the real estate company announced the property was on the market and the results of the auction were to be announced in July.
“Silenco!” As they say in the Sistine Chapel.
All that money spent on planning a new “green” development by the city staff appears to be history. The piece of property the city coveted bordered on York and Victoria,
That was one of a number of mistakes made by the Farbridge administration. Just don’t ask why the city started the overbuilt Organic Waste Facility; Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc; bike lanes that start and stop on major roads; Lane reductions on major streets; increasing traffic congestion; City hall construction that was over-spent; the assessment ratio between residential and commercial/industrial remained at 84 per cent versus 16 per cent. That has been unchanged for 13 years.
That last one has the greatest impact on residential properties. Regardless of the increased population and the increases in revenue to the city, much needed new industrial development has been bungled.
And the citizens who pay user fees, special property tax levies, increased assessments and taxes annually pay the bills every year.
We are surrounded by municipalities that have successfully increased the commercial/industrail ratio. These include Milton, Kitchener, and Cambridge.
Did I mention the city staff refusing to pick up used needles on city property? Or
The $25 million parking garage next to city hall that chiefly benefits city staff?
What’s the story spun by the mayor during his re-election campaign about the $350 million Baker Street redevelopment with a private partner and a new central library?
How has the Mayor’s task force dealing with the homeless and drug addicts, unemployed youth and those street people suffering from metal illness? This is not just a Guelph problem but also one that exists in most urban communities across the country.
It begs the question, why can’t all levels of government collectively deal with this growing problem?
There will always be an underclass but there are many today smitten with illness, loss of job, disabilities that should be offered a leg up with counseling and a guarantee of an annual income. Those qualifying should receive support.
There are pilot programs of this kind of support in the U.S. While I commend Mayor Guthrie’s task force initiative, this is a national problem that needs to be addressed.
Growing up during the Great Depression, I recall the hardships encountered by my parents. My dad lost his GM dealership and passed away in 1941. My mother worked in a factory during World War 2. We always had food on the table but no car or permanent home until after the war.
But that’s another story about my widowed mother who never gave up.
I realize that the problem can never fully be resolved but in our country blessed with resources, human, on top and under our vast lands, there can be a better way to enhance the lives of all our fellow citizens.
When you think about it, we all benefit from helping those less fortunate frequently through no fault of their own.