By Gerry Barker
July 15, 2019
It happened December 13, 2017, when ten members of city council voted to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities Inc. It was the greatest heist of public property in the history of our city.
There may be other corruptive details made in the almost 200 year history of the city but I’m betting there isn’t.
In all the years I have experienced growth in our cities and towns, corruption is the handmaiden to making money for persons of influence.
Was there evidence of corruption in the merger between Guelph Hydro and Alectra?
Well here is a hint.
Did the co-chairs of the council-appointed Strategic Options Committee (SOC) charged with disposing of Guelph Hydro, profit from their influence and positions?
Former Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson and Guelph Hydro chair, Jane Armstrong, were unelected officers of the city and Guelph Hydro. They received regular salary and benefit payments to perform their respective responsibilities.
In my opinion, both these individuals, with the acquiescence of city council, crossed the line in terms of their job and fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of the City of Guelph.
Mr. Thomson, according to city financial information, was paid $335,000 in 2018. This information is sourced from the 2018 Sunshine List published in March 2019.
Mayor Cam Guthrie announced May 18, 2019, that Mr. Thomson was paid a $67,000 performance bonus more than his 2017 salary. The Mayor stated it was in recognition of his leadership regarding the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra Utilities.
In that same month, Mr. Thomson left the city with no explanation.
Former Guelph Hydro chair, Jane Armstrong, was appointed by council to the Board of Directors of Alectra Board Utilities to represent the city. Her appointment was for five years at a salary of $25,000 plus travel and board meeting expenses.
These two public executives were directly involved in all the negotiations with Electra Utilities. Those SOC meetings were conducted in closed-session, far from the public’s view or understanding.
The fact that the Ontario Energy Board approved the merger without allowing interveners to testify only solidified this deal, and was a deliberate policy to deny public participation.
Taking it a step further, both were appointed by city council. Today, one would wonder that the reasons for disposing of Guelph Hydro, one of the most successful and profitable municipally-owned electric power distribution systems in Ontario. The exercise was not only demanded good faith and in the public interest but also explain the details and council’s rationale of the merger.
It was, in my opinion, the embalming of accountability and transparency.
Instead, council believed the siren song of selling out to a large private corporation that spun theories of futuristic benefits to the community. My favourite iste green fable was installing solar panels on every roof and a power storage system to hold surplus generated power to feed back into the grid.
Caveats, the homeowner must pay to install this system that is currently more than $15,000; and what happens if the sun doesn’t show up? What about the agreements with the Ontario Energy Generation Board that must be approved and signed?
In my opinion, it seems like a lot of work and money for citizens to obtain free or cheap electricity. Don’t we pay enough today in taxes and fees?
Wither $18.5 million od our money?
A final thought. As part of the merger deal, the city was to receive an $18.5 million special dividend from Guelph Hydro.
Dead silence. The unofficial information is that the city used the money to pay off the costs of the abortive District Energy nodes, installed in the Sleeman Centre and Hanlon Business Park and operated by the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI). Confirm or deny.
Also the dividends promised by Alectra will be deposited in a GMHI account. The question is, why?
Perhaps that accounting fitm KPMG’s consolidated audit of GMHI got it right when it posted a shareholder liability of $60 million. In this case the shareholder is the city council.
This may explain that the truth of the colossal financial failure of GMHI numbers may never be known or told to the citizens who paid for it.