By Gerry Barker
December 3, 2018
The other day a number of community leaders attended a breakfast meeting in a downtown bar. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Guelph Gives organized he meeting in conjunction with the Giving Tuesday campaign of last week.
The UN goals include eliminating poverty, creating gender equality, climate action and reducing inequalities.
Guelph Gives organizer, Emma Rogers said: “We know Guelph is great in terms of financial give-back and in terms of volunteerism. What can we do to take that another step further?
She answered her own question. “Taking a bigger piece of the pie to not only help the people of Guelph but also helping people around the world.”
For the record, Canada is a major contributor to a number of agencies working under the UN umbrella. Also, there are many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) offering services and assistance in a host of countries around the world.
A Noble initiative
It is admirable for this organization to urge support of other people around the world but what about other homegrown issues facing our community? These include affordable housing, public safety, and drug addiction, health and wellness and updating infrastructure.
Then we have the active transportation crowd who demand more bicycle lanes and trails and don’t have to pay for it. Fast-forward 20 years. The greatest revolution in vehicles will be the general use of electricity cars, trucks, and buses.
There will still be congestion and lack of parking on our streets, just like today because in 20 years Guelph’s population will grow by an estimated 40,000. The former Liberal government’s Places to Grow plan estimated that Guelph’s population would be 175,000 by 2050.
So here is my personal dilemma. Do we continue to spend millions on bicycle lanes at the expense of vehicles that use our streets? Just so we can help people around the world? We currently have a transit system that is inefficient, expensive and geared to chiefly supplying transportation for the 20,000 University of Guelph students for eight months.
No matter what the administration has done in the past 12 years, the emphasis on failed energy projects costing millions; demands for climate change by cutting the use of fossil fuels; wasting money on bike lanes on major roads to support a tiny portion of the population of Guelph; projecting spending millions on the proposed $350 million Baker Street Parking lot downtown. The list of financial commitments in terms of multi-millions of capital spending increases while a city council seems devoid of common sense
Here’s an example. We just re-elected a mayor who promised that the city would finally get a new downtown library that would be part of the Baker Street development. Here’s the truth. The city staff says the project will not start until 2024. By the time the library is completed, at least ten years will have gone by before the first book is loaned out.
That’s big time hyperbole and that’s three city councils from now.
The article carried on the GuelphToday website quotes the Chief Administrative Officer, who attended the meeting, at length about the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Chills go down my spine when I hear this
Mr. Thomson outlines the city venturing into areas that a municipality traditionally has not done. Specifically he included the Guelph Community Energy Initiative’s (CEI) efforts by reducing the carbon footprint and the city’s goal of being net zero in its carbon footprint as well as being 100 per cent renewable in its energy uses.
He’s kidding right?
Let’s start with the CEI. The newly elected mayor Karen Farbridge stitched it together in 2007. The organizing meeting was attended by many enthusiastic community leaders about the goals if CEI.
For those of our readers not familiar with CEI here is a brief record of its achievements.
More than 300 change orders to make the new city hall environmentally green, resulted in the firing of the General Contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., and a subsequent lawsuit that cost the city an additional $23 million to complete the project. As a result the Mayor was defeated in the 2014 civic election.
Next was the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. scandal to make Guelph self sufficient in energy. This was another Mayor Farbridge plan linked to her CEI initiative. Trouble was it involved Guelph Hydro and a business plan that was labeled secretive, sloppy and irresponsible. Nobody outside of the administration knew what was happening until the results started to leak out. Long story short, the GMHI shareholders, the people of Guelph, according to a KPMG audit of GMHO operations stated there was a liability of $63 million.
Here’s the CEI Kayo punch to the citizens: In the fall of 2016, the council appointed a committee to investigate the sale or merger of Guelph Hydro with tangible assets of $228 million according to its 2016 financial report. Guelph Hydro was owned by GMHI. The committee, co-chaired by CAO Derrick Thomson, most times met in closed session. In October 2017, Mayor Guthrie announced the merger of Guelph Hydro with Alectra utilities Inc., a large-scale power distribution corporation. Despite the many questions regarding the sale or merger, the details of this deal have never been revealed. As of January 31, Guelph Hydro disappears and is no longer the property of the 55,000 customers. It’s thanks to the closed session meeting of the Ontario Energy Board thst approved the deal despite citizen’s protests.
Mr. Thomson was involved in these CEI debacles as CAO and co-chair of the dispersal of Guelph Hydro.
His boast that Guelph was the exception not the rule when it came to sustainability and environmental issues is misrepresenting the facts.
As the staff head of more that 2,100 employees not including police, fire and EMS, in his two and a half years on the job, there has been no relief of property taxes, user fees or industrial development. Instead the citizens, including those 57,000 who didn’t bother to vote, are stuck with an administration that refuses to deal with the basic underlying problems.
Darn it Derrick. Why don’t you concentrate on lowering operational costs starting with a meaningful staff rationalization by an independent firm; put a sock in the proponents of the Guelph Innovation District, turn up the heat of the Economic Development Department to attract more commercial and industrial development; work to attract technologists to develop Artificial Intelligence and new software.
At the same time, work to juice city revenue besides tapping the property tax owners every year. You can start by getting our MPP to persuade the Legislature to update the University’s bed-tax deal in lieu of property taxes. After all he says that he has many friends in the PC caucus who are unhappy with the government.
Running a municipality is not rocket science but setting off one or two rockets may make Guelph an even better place to live and work.