The case of the falling Star and some pesky questions for the City administration


qBy Gerry Barker

June 30, 2020


First, a medical report: It is now six months since I was laid low with a serious respiritory infection. Recovery is slow but advancing. These include an assessment at the University of Waterloo’s low vision clinic. Covid 19 has thrown a wrench into a small number of medical referals that have been postponed until the Province opens up, as infections diminish. To be clear, my illness preceded Covid 19 and did not affect me/.

A sad day as the Toronto Star is sold

I have been able to follow some issues but this Guelph city of 135,000 citizens suffers from a paucity of real news coverage. It must have been a bonanza for council and senior staff to gain control of the message and avoid criticism and exposure to citizen’s questions or services.

TorStar, owners of The TorontoStar, owners of Metroland Publishing Digital publishing website across the country, and the Guelph Mercury Tribune was sold to Nord Star Capital for a pittance, $62 million.

What’s a pittance?

About 1956, new owners bought the paper from the province, which was bequethed from the estate of Joseph Atkinson, the founder of The Star. There were scores of employees who joined the Star’s new pension offering when the group of senior employees purchased the company.

Three years ago the TSX price of TorStar stock was trading in the $23 range. Today, TorStar stock is trading at .48 cents a share. It has been bought by a TSX corporation, NordStar, with a current stock value of 37 cents.

The deal tells us that the TorStar board of directors are paid first from the $52 million.

Is this rewarding them for their tenure?

If this responsibly failed to see the sky was falling, neither did the shareholder or employees who supported them.

What are the obligations to past and present employees? Where do they fit in to this takeover?

The new owners all have resources and deep pockets. But do they know the news business?

The company stripped away assets, including the Vaughan printing and production facility, former home of the Guelph Mercury, Harlequin Romance Publishing, some small city dailies and the real estate on MacDonnell Street, former home of the Guelph Mercury.

Those ad-fat sections in the Saturday Star such as Wheels, Real Estate, Travel, withered and lost their punch. The great sports’ pages, entertainment and Life pages were squeezed or merged with other sections.

I realized my newspaper was dying about two years ago, as familiar names disappeared and the staff across all departments were reduced and replaced with coverage by the Wall Street Journal, Business, the New York Times, and Travel. The alumni list of former employees was growing exponentially.

I wish Mr. Bitove and Mr. Reeves the best and sincerely hope to bring my Star back from the brink.

Moving on

Let’s look at the effect on Guelph. As a citizen and taxpayer, here is a handy list of issues that citizens have the right to question.

* What are the statistics of the Covid 19 pandemic details that are applicable to Guelph?

* Year to date, what is the cost of Covid 19, encountered by the City?

* Has anyone in City Hall estimated the cost to taxpayers of three Farbridge administration’s drive to put Guelph back on track? That was a favourite bromide used by Karen Farbridge in her 2007 successful campaign as Mayor.

* Where is the City’s plan when setting the 2021 budget this fall?

* Why did the $34 million renovations to the Police Headquarters go over budget, requiring another five months to finance and complete? Last year, the City reported the project was on budget and would re-open in December. Is this another Urbacon situation that cost the city an additional $23 million? (Hint: Start adding up the costs of the failed projects, $300 million is an inflection point.)

*  What is the number and record of City hiring consultants, lawyers and paid adverising since 2015?

*  How much did the Guelph Innovation District cost YTD, on part of the Guelph Reformatory lands, owned by the province?

*  What will be the effect of the Covid 19 virus on the City’s 2020 budgets?

*  Will the City administration adopt its own policies of accountability, transparency and open government and conduct the public’s business in public?

  •  When will the city tell us the details of the Alectra takeover of Guelph Hydro, including the annual dividend promised, and the amount?

*  What are the financial summaries of the past 4½ years of the Guthrie administration, including the $250 million Baker Street Plan involving a private partner.

*  Report the total amount of development fees paid and owed during the Guthrie administrations.

* Name the individuals and corporations that paid those fees.

*  Where was the development money spent?

*  Report the expenses of all employees and councillors in each of the past five years, starting in 2015.

*  Request the city to report the capital budgets and approved projects undertaken since 2014 (include the Guelph Police HQ renovation, already over it’s budget.)

This is not a laundry list, folks. It’s reality.

The City’s frequent use of closed-session meetings, silence, under-cover of politically dangerous issues affecting the administration, including its loyal followers. Those are the ones wanting to be close to the seats of power.

We are the silent majority. Let’s back it up with action to reform the City administration through the ballot box in October, 2022.

While I’m still recovering from a serious illness, I will speak my mind to help return the city to honor our heritage. This means practising democracy as our forfathers did, to provide us with our Royal City..

Stay well my friends and this too will pass.

It’s a task not to be taken lightly.’