By Gerry Barker
April 24, 2017
How the worm turns.
Tonight is our last chance to support online voting next year
Before the 2014 civic election, council voted to allow online voting. This was a forward-looking approach to allow more voters to cast their ballot just like they did in Toronto and Ottawa. In fact, some 13,000 did use the system. There was no voter fraud, very few hitches; it exceeded all expectation by being available, fair and without problems.
Oh, there were naysayers. Today the majority of naysayers are all sitting on council with the majority voting to ban it. For some it is a classic flip-flop.
In a recent city council Committee of the Whole meeting, a non-binding vote was held to approve allowing online voting in the 2018 civic election. To the surprise of most people the following councillors voted to disallow online voting for the 2018 civic election.
Councillors opposed included Phil Allt, James Gordon, and Mike Salisbury, who were not members of the 2014 council that voted for online voting. So what’s their beef?
Then the following councillors who did vote for online voting in 2014, June Hofland, Leanne Piper, Karl Wettstein are now voting against online voting. Why? Other than adhering to a misguided ideological rationale, why the flip-flop? It seems silly in that all three benefited from online voting in their 2014 re-election.
How Coun. Bob Bell voted no to online voting this time is both baffling and not known how he voted when the former council approved online voting. He also benefited from it, winning re-election in 2014.
Coun. Cathy Downer was the only member of the progressive majority who voted to allow online voting next year. Coun. Mark MacKinnon also voted to allow the online voting system.
The future of online voting is now
Tonight, April 24, council will vote to allow online voting, or not. This is necessary because the original vote was conducted when the council was in the committee of the whole. I know, procedural bylaws can be confusing but tonight is the night for the final decision.
It will take two defections from the “no” side to let it proceed. Of course the risk the “no” faction faces is diminished chances of re-election next year.
So what influenced new councillors Gordon, Allt and Salisbury to vote against it?
Was it the influence of that ardent socialist Susan Watson who urged council to reject online voting? You remember Ms. Watson who, between she and her husband, donated thousands to elect former Mayor Farbridge and loyal supporters.
She will also be remembered as the social activist who persuaded the city to order an independent audit of former candidate Glen Tolhurst’s election financial report. It showed a donation of $400 from GrassRoots Guelph, an incorporated citizen’s activist group.
The auditor, William Molson of Toronto, said the donation was legal, however the $11,000 cost of this “frivolous and vexatious” exercise was not paid by Watson but by the citizens.
But you have to hand it to Watson. I so hope she decides to run for council. She is chairperson of the Fair Vote movement in Guelph. This is a New Democratic Party national organization to encourage voting reforms. They include proportional voting to replace the system of the first candidate past the post, winning the election. It’s system that has been in place since 1867.
The Trudeau Liberal government ran on reforming the Canadian voting system, recently walked away from it, much to the rage of the New Democrats.
So, now Ms. Watson is trying to convince council to suppress voting by not allowing online voting.
Words escape me to describe this two-faced attempt to force restrictive policies on the electorate by forcing reform of the voting system and at the same time, disallowing online voting.
The Farbridge legacy lives on
What it really illustrates is the collusion and conviction of the majority group of city council to carry on the leftists’ policies of the defunct Farbridge administration. It was one of failure not only at the polls, but resulted in millions being spent on the Mayor’s personal agenda to impose unwanted social and environmental projects.
In her eight years in office, the former mayor inveigled her supporters to tap into reserves to balance the city accounts due to excessive overspending of budgets. The assets of Guelph Hydro and wasting public funds on giveaways to developers to encourage high-density development were part of the Farbridge agenda to turn the city into a vibrant place for all citizens. How did that work for you?
It was the Farbridge plan to turn the city into an exciting urban downtown without the input6 from asking the residents. Earlier this year the Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson, announced the city was pursuing the Reformatory lands, owned by the province, to build a modern high-density complete community. The plans were to develop a community without cars, walking distance to shopping and jobs. Trouble is the city has spent millions planning an urban design for those lands but doesn’t have the money to buy the property.
You know, I keep thinking of Kevin Coster in the movie “A Field of Dreams” who believed converting a cornfield into a baseball stadium: “If you build it, they will come.” Trouble is, we don’t have a Shoeless Joe Jackson to seal the deal.
The real issue is where did the money go when the former mayor ran Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. GMHI for four years?
How does this affect online voting or visa-versa?
In 2010, shortly following the civic election, the Mayor informed council she was setting up GMHI to manage city assets. This was to be an independent, incorporated body operating separately from the city, although owned by the city. Here’s the organizational set up for GMHI as reported in a news release:
“GMHI is a holding company set up by Guelph City Council to manage select City of Guelph assets, which currently includes Guelph Hydro Incorporated and its subsidiaries, for the purpose of maximizing revenue potential and strengthening community prosperity. GMHI is governed by an eight-member Board of Directors including the Mayor as Chairperson, four City Councillors, the Guelph Hydro Incorporated Chair and two independent community members.”
The Board appointed Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert, as Chief Executive Officer of GMHI. Operations started in 2011. From the start, GMHI was the corporate vehicle to continue the mayor’s Community Energy Initiatives. In July 2013, GMHI filed an annual report as follows:
“Guelph, ON, July 10, 2013 – Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) held its second Annual General Meeting today to update shareholders on its 2012 accomplishments and 2013 future directions.
“A top priority for 2013 is addressing a recent Ontario Distribution Sector Review Panel recommendation that a number of local energy distributors, including Guelph Hydro, be consolidated into larger regional distributors. Given the possibility that this situation could be provincially mandated or driven by the regulator, the Ontario Energy Board, GMHI has endorsed a Guelph Hydro staff investigation of solutions that may include sharing services and resources, or more formal mergers and acquisitions. “Consolidation is a distinct possibility regardless of how it is achieved. We will continue to be well prepared to respond to all opportunities for lower energy costs for customers, improved efficiencies, better access to technology and sustainable solutions.” (Signed) Karen Farbridge, Chair of GMHI.
“An additional priority for GMHI this year is to pursue a new energy project designed to create a thermal (heating and cooling) distribution network – often referred to as District Energy – that will allow for flexible, efficient, competitive and secure local supply and delivery of thermal energy to Guelph in the future. About half of Guelph’s total energy demand is for thermal energy. The District Energy project represents a significant opportunity to ensure a reliable local supply a midst economic uncertainty and increasing climate change concerns.”
Part of those unfulfilled grandiose plans by GMHIL was to build two large natural gas generating plants, one in the Hanlon Business Park and the other on city owned land. These units were to make Guelph self-sufficient producing its own electricity.
The fallout of these schemes was loses of $26.6 million and being stuck with an impaired investment of some $69 million, borrowed from Guelph Hydro, as of 2015 in which GMHI has no revenues to even pay the interest. It’s held on the city books as an asset but that will be written down over time. The reason is that GMHI has no income to even pay the interest on the loan.
Are you beginning to see the corporate anxiety to sell Guelph Hydro?
As a shareholder in the City of Guelph Corporation, I now understand why the GMHI annual report failed to contain the following important details that were in the public interest and ignored.
There is no operational financial information provided in the former mayor’s 2014 annual statement of GMHI including an audited balance sheet, a listing of expenses and revenue; The status of the annual $1.5 million dividend paid to the city by GMHI; a statement of the “accomplishments” reported by Chair Farbridge; no overall statement of operations and future plans of GMHI; No indication of taxes collected and paid; no identification of the auditor as appointed by the Board or evidence of an audit. These details are required under the provincial Corporations Act and are public documents.
The most interesting part of the Chair’s 2013 report was the long dissertation about how Guelph Hydro may be merged or sold if the province mandates it. Four years later, the correct council, through its Strategic Options Committee, is shopping Guelph Hydro. I know, they don’t like that description but that’s what the majority on council authorized it to do.
In almost seven years, the fallout from the GMHI operation has cost the city some $96 million. May 16, 2016, Pankaj Sardana, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer of GMHI revealed much of the disastrous cost of this misadventure conducted at the taxpayer’s expense. He told council much of the details of an ill-planned project that was shrouded in secrecy and described as a project that should never have been started in the first place.
In July 2016, a staff report revealed additional information that was equally devastating. Ten days after the Sardana GMHI report, co-signer CAO Ann Pappert, left the city. The only remaining city councillors who were paid to serve on the GMHI board for four years, are Coun. June Hofland and Coun. Karl Wettstein. They both remain on council and are silent on their involvement.
It’s ironic that Ms. Hofland was chair of the council finance committee for those four years and failed to express concern about the downward financial spiral of GMHI and its management.
So why do these events worry the anti-online council majority? Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the GMHI debacle will be a major issue in the 2018 election. The memory lingers on the effect of online voting in the 2014 civic election in which mayor Farbridge and seven councillors were defeated or retired. The exception was Mayor Guthrie who moved from council representing W4 to the Mayor’s chair. Mike Salisbury took his seat.
The five-vote victory of June Holand in W3 gave the progressives the majority on council. So that’s why the left do not want online voting because of the fear it may lead to their defeat.
And that folks, would be a good thing
Let your councillors know before tonight’s meeting that you favour online voting.