Tag Archives: Kathleen Wynne

Four stories about Parkades, Planning, Populations and Politics

By Gerry Barker

July 20, 2917

Turning a parking lot into a parkade may benefit the few at the expense of the many

It’s a project long overdue, the Wilson Street parking garage next door to city hall. The five-storey building will contain 496 spaces and will be completed in mid-2019. Of that total 70 per cent or 347 will be allocated to monthly permit holders. The city already has applications for more than 400 monthly permits.

Monthly permits holders are not downtown shoppers. The fact that there is now a line-up for monthly permits indicates that the chief users of the garage will be downtown workers mostly concentrated next door to the City Hall. As the council just announced the details of the project,, it would appear that city staffers had the inside track on applying for the monthly permits.

So the new proposal could be construed as chiefly designed for those city employees. But there are still 149 spots available for short-term parking. That’s a little more than the present Wilson Street parking lot has now. This revised plan is going to cost $20.5 million or $8.5 million more than the original estimate. Funding will be done by adding debt and using reserves.

Perhaps staff should reconsider the ratio of short-term spots and monthly permit holders if for no other reason than public perception of the plan that city staff has first dibs at the majority of spaces.

There will be provision for two parking spots for charging electric vehicles with rough-ins for 80 more. Then there is a storage room for bicycles complete with lockers.

What these facts show is that vehicles far outnumber cyclists using the facility by a ratio of 40 bikes to 496 motor vehicles. That’s 0.080 per cent. Projecting that staff recommendation forward, is it a mirror of the ratio of bicyclists using our streets and sidewalks to the numbers of vehicle use 24/7?

So, why is the city planning to spend more than $12 million on new bike lanes and paths over the next ten years? Toss in the year-round maintenance of $271,000 to service the additional 52 kilometers of trails and add another $2.71 million over the ten years to the total. Council, acting in the Committee of the Whole, approved the proposal but balked at the maintenance costs. Council will discuss the proposal soon before formally approving the project.

*            *            *            *

With the majority of this council, the art of negotiating escapes them

Mayor Cam Guthrie is a business booster for Guelph. He recently announced that a “major national corporation” was considering moving to Guelph and being part of the Baker Street parking lot development. The Mayor did not reveal who it was.

This week, council asked questions. Not about the identity of the corporation but members insisted that a new downtown library be part of the development. The staff report stated the library “may” be part of the development. This irked some councillors who insisted it must be part of the development. The Mayor and staff indicated that negotiations can be complex and that going in, the demand for the library to be included could endanger the negotiations.

Here we go again. We just lost millions on the failed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) misadventure into an electricity wonderland, and the spenders on council are in high dudgeon about spending millions on bike trails and a downtown library.

There is no free lunch as we have discovered considering losing $23 million on the New City hall project and the GMHI fiasco in which the combination of losses of some $163 million hangs heavily over the city‘s finances. And the full story of this operation and the final cost has yet to come.

One thing you can depend on is the city’s newfound transparency of its operations. It explains the well-publicized exercise to merge or sell Guelph Hydro. The Strategic Options Committee, in which not one elected official is a member, is currently shopping the utility. Of course, their activities are not public with only periodic reports to council.

Has nobody this city administration learned anything about closed session meetings denying public participation?

*            *            *            *

Eye-opener -The Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth analysis

Recently, the Neptis Foundation did a study of the population growth between 2001 and 2031 of municipalities located in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The coverage stretches from Durham Region on the East to Simcoe County on the North, City of Waterloo on the West and wraps around to Niagara on the south.

This is the heartland of Ontario and the election battleground in 2018 in which the Liberals have the greatest number of ridings, including Guelph. Let’s look at the growth percentages:

The 30-year study declared The Region of York with the highest growth rate, 20 per cent. Next is The Region of Peel, 16 per cent; Toronto, 13 per cent; The Region of Durham, 12 per cent; The Region of Halton, 11 percent. Those are the municipalities with the higher population growth numbers.

Note that with the exception of York, the high growth pattern with waterfront, wraps around Lake Ontario from Durham to Halton regions.

The most startling statistic is that Guelph’s pattern of population growth is only 2 per cent. The rate is the same as Wellington County and The Region of Niagara. The city is surrounded by more robust growth rates such as Waterloo, 7 per cent; Halton; 11 per cent; Hamilton, 4 per cent. The most interesting stat is Simcoe County bordering on Lake Simcoe, Georgian Bay and Lake Couchiching.

It must be something about the water.

So why hasn’t Guelph grown in the first 16 years of the study like the other municipalities on its border? Since 2001, a council controlled by former Mayor Karen Farbridge for 11 years has governed Guelph.

In that management time frame, the city taxes and user fees exploded. Reserve funds were depleted to pay for overspent annual budgets; severe development restrictions were imposed; there was no expansion of commercial and industrial assessment (16 per cent) compared to residential high-density development (84 per cent).

The cost of electricity, water treatment and emergency services soared. Cost overruns on city projects caused unexpected financial losses. City operational and capital spending budgets were frequently overspent. Independent consultants warned city council that Guelph was a difficult place in which to do business.

Obviously these events have led to the low growth of the city. It has not gone unnoticed.

Something to think about when it comes time to cast your ballot October 2018.

*            *            *            *

The ongoing dilemma of supporting the leaders of Ontario’s political parties

Today when you lift up the hood to check the Ontario government’s power source, there are some surprises.

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s numbers in the high teens have not budged, even after the Liberal budget promised everything from a $15 minimum wage to cutting Hydro rates by 25 per cent. And, don’t forget, the Libs claimed the provincial budget was balanced. If you believe that, I will sell you the Burlington Bridge.

Progressive Conservative Leader of the Opposition, Patrick Brown, is a man of many thoughts and diversions. But there is trouble in PC internals including alienating the PC core with a record of switching positions. In politics it’s called the pragmatic approach. One would believe there was nowhere to go for brown but up. His predecessor colleagues managed to say the wrong thing at the right time and paid the price. But at least one rose like the Phoenix and became Mayor of Toronto, the aptly named, John Tory.

The NDP’s Andrea Horwath is probably the most seasoned leader in the Legislature. But she is stuck with a national party that rejected its leader and has been groping ever since to establish its identity and a new leader.

There are two other minority parties, the Trillium Party an offshoot of the PC’s and the Green Party that has never gained traction in Ontario or, or for that matter, across the country.

Ladies and gentlemen: Start your engines.

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

Guelph’s high electricity bills can be traced back to the losses of the Community Energy Initiative

By Gerry Barker

November 22, 2016

If I was running Burger King, Premier Kathleen Wynne told 850 Liberal delegates just told a whopper! I made a mistake she told delegates to the Liberal Convention over the high cost of power to the people.

I don’t know about you, but our two-person household received a Guelph Hydro bill that was $95.83 less than the previous month. The adjustment over the month before and the month before that when our monthly bill averaged $340 including water. How about you? Did your hydro bill take a sudden drop in power costs?

Water is a small amount of the bill considering the city would not let us water for five months.

There’s something fishy here. Are the smart meters over billing?

How about all that money that Guelph Hydro sent over to Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) at the bequest of the former mayor, chair of GMHI with a majority of her supporters basking in her environmental radiance.

That all changed following the 2014 election when it was discovered that GMHI had bungled a scheme under the umbrella of the Community Energy Initiative to create alternative energy systems downtown and at the Hanlon Business Park. The plan called District Energy natural gas-fired Node pumps was to power a co-generation thermal hot and cold water system to a handful of nearby downtown buildings including the Sleeman Centre and RiverRun Theatres. GMHI, through its partners, entered contracts to supply 10 megawatts of power from each of the Nodes annually

I have written a lot about this financial debacle, one that the citizens of Guelph are going to be paying off for years to come. Suffice to say the costs are running close to $107 million and counting. There is little return to support the investment.

It’s sad that the city administration is not leveling with the people who pay the bills.

Instead, it is now scurrying to cover it up. Here’s how they are doing it.

Where does the city find $106 million? Well, Premier Wynne in her mea culpa explanation to the Liberals says they are going to seek efficiencies by streamlining the 70 small municipally owned public utilities in Ontario.

That’s Wynne-speak for amalgamate or else. Remember when former mayor Karen Farbridge tried to sell off Guelph Hydro to a consortium of Hamilton and St. Catharine utilities? The people said “no” and it was one of the few times her loyal caucus turned on her proposal.

Now we have the Premier trying to unwind ten years of Liberal mismanagement of electric power in Ontario by forcing amalgamation of Guelph Hydro with larger distribution utilities.

Sure, there is a lot of money in it for the city. The estimated book value of the city-owned power distribution system is around $170 million.

The city has already brought Guelph Hydro into city control as just another department controlled by city council. They did this by wrapping up GMHI in which the former mayor folded Guelph Hydro into GMHI with its enormous debt.

Then, the city absorbed the $69 million impaired investment from GMHI, posting it as an asset. That money came from a Guelph Hydro subsidiary.

Are you starting to get the picture?

The so-called asset now sitting on the city books cannot be supported by GMHI that has no financial ability to even pay the interest. The original loan was $65 million. In the 2015 annual financial report, it had grown to $69 million.

The problem is that asset sitting on the city books has no underlying hard assets, particularly now that the city has it sitting on its books.

What a dilemma! Along comes the provincial government to the rescue, led by a premier with a 14 per cent approval rating. Her so-called streamlining of the 70 municipally owned electric distribution centres would see Guelph Hydro disappear when pushed into a Hydro distribution consortium.

Fasten your seat belts! This selling of Guelph Hydro is going to be presented to a council that has squandered millions of poorly planned and executed projects. The loss of this $170 million facility may suit the administration in the short term but the fallout will affect the ability of life in Guelph for years to come.

The irony of this is that two members of the present council were on the GMHI board for four years and never said a word about the money flying out the door to create an environmental nirvana.

Last, but not least, the former Chief Administrative Officer of the city, Ann Pappert, was the Chief Administrative Officer of GMHI for four years. So, ask yourself, why did city council, in closed-session Dec. 10, award her with a retroactive pay increase of more than $18,624, a vacation pay-out of another $18,580, plus a 2 per cent increase that took her 2015 pay to $257,248?

Where is the oversight? Where are the checks and balances to prevent the abuse of the public trust?

4 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

GuelphSpeaks Weekender 6/18/16

The shifting sands at City Hall

You’d think that Superman played a role in the musical chairs being played at the executive level of City of Guelph administration.

Never has so much evidence of performance revelations piled up by such a few in charge. The blistering condemnation of the former Chief Administrative Officer marked the ending of a failed administration.

But has it?

Derrick Thomson was persuaded to cancel his resignation on his move to the Caledon civic administration at a substantial salary reduction. Instead, he accepted the top staff job in our city. The public now has the right to know the details of his contract including, the term, the salary, a bonus to move from his home in Caledon, and other rules of engagement.

This is not intended to be a criticism of Mr. Thomson. In view of the past five years of the stagnant and gross mismanagement of the city. It includes annual budget overspending totaling some $24 million. Most of us are hopefully expectant of a new order and an open and transparent administration.

It’s not hard to accomplish provided those seven members of council who want to maintain the same methodology of running this city, they had better smell the coffee.

Say goodbye Conrad

When the story broke this week that the Canada Revenue Agency was chasing former Canadian citizen Conrad Black for $12.3 million in back taxes, one has to wonder why is this convicted felon and non-citizen is allowed to stay in Canada? Is this part of our renowned refugee plan?

Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001 when then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien denied citizenship if he was named to the House of Lords and became a British citizen (in order to be eligible). If remembering correctly, he was knighted Lord Black of Cross Harbour.

Of course, that was before the United States Justice Department intervened and charged his Lordship with racketeering, among other things. Citizen Black of Cross Harbour spent six years in a Florida medium security facility as a result.

Following his release, he and his wife, Barbara Amiel, moved back to Canada to their Toronto Bridle Path multi-million dollar mansion with the acquiescence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Conrad recently sold the property to an unknown buyer for $14 million and leased it back for an annual rent of $155,000 for two years. The buyer had to know that Black had mortgaged the property up to $13 million. By the time the taxes and fees are paid, the deal had to be one of Conrad’s worse.

But there will be no tag days for this British couple. They still have considerable interests and investments.

But his Canada visa expires in September. The opportunity for Canada to rid itself of this former Canadian embarrassment, unless he pays the $12.3 million owed the Canada Revenue Agency, in back taxes.

Good-bye, Conrad.

Back to the classroom, Kathleen

Well, our premier announced a cabinet re-shuffles this week that was constituted by the rarified academic cognoscenti influencing her administration. The cabinet titles were changed, enlarging the cabinet to accommodate an executive body of 30 members. It enlarged the cabinet from 27 making it one of the largest in Ontario’s history,

Even the Toronto Star, that bulwark of Liberalism, questioned the change compared to moving the chairs around the deck on the Lusitania … before the torpedo struck the ship in the Irish Sea in 2017.

Da Prem has the lowest rating of any premier in recorded history, okay, maybe either Bob Rae or Mike Harris. And it is justly earned.

The manufacturing base in Ontario has shrunk to record lows. All three of the major automakers have come to the province with their begging bowls to keep the manufacturing plants humming. But hundreds of jobs have been lost as the sector downsized and shipped the jobs outside of Ontario, Alas, the suppliers of parts have not had the support of the Wynne Liberals and the number of those vital jobs keeps dropping.

Look no further than what has happened in Oshawa where the largest auto manufacturing plant in the General Motors stable, AutoPlex, has been reduced to one shift.

The mistakes of the former McGuinty government have been exacerbated by sky-high electricity fees to all Ontarians, our property taxes even the air we breath, the fuel we use, the property we own and the end of our lives.

Kathleen Wynne cannot use a cabinet shuffle to restore the public’s confidence of her stewardship of our province.

In our own backyard, we have endured our MPP, Liz Sandals, as Minister of Education, who condoned giving three teacher unions $1.5 million just to come to the table to negotiate … and not have to account how the money was spent. The Globe and Mail later discovered that more than $27 million was spent on teachers unions when former Education Minister, Kathleen Wynne, was in charge of the portfolio.

Sandals has now been assigned to President of the Treasury Board, Her authority is to rubber stamp the Ministries’ budgets. Is she qualified to perform that task in view of her record at Education?

Do as I say and don’t rock the boat. P.S. Don’t talk.

Trouble in cop-ville

It’s another Kathleen Wynne problem that needs fixing today, not in the future. The provincial administration of police operations comes complete with buggy whips and isinglass curtains in case of the rain. The Police Services Board system of management in Ontario is just not working in the public interest. Why? It works in scre6 and because it cannot dismiss officers for failing to conduct themselves or failing to carry out their sworn duty.

Here’s the problem. In our city there have been instances of police breaking the criminal code, stealing drugs from the evidence room. Shooting of a disturbed man in a crowded emergency department in the Guelph General Hospital.  The police services board has little power to control police oprations.  That rests with the Chief of Police.

Just this week the Chief of Peel police wrote a letter to the chair of the Peel Police Services Board, protesting that at a recent workshop, activists vociferally criticized the Peel Police operations. Their complaints ranged from a failure to have minorities on the force, carding and other alleged offences against minorities. The Chief blamed the chair of the PSB of failing to lose control of the meeting. She also said the police would not attend further workshop.

That is Peel, but this is Guelph.

The Guelph Police Services Board was complicit in jacking up the renovation of Police Headquarters from $13 million to $34 million. That deal was cooked in August 2014 just before the Farbridge administration was unable to approve further capital projects before the October 2014 civic election.

It was the last hurrah by outgoing chief Bryan Larkin who left as chief August 31, just a few days before the decision. He and defeated mayor Karen Farbridge, convinced council to approve the renovation.

This is another example of why the Police Services Act must be reviewed and changed to represent the people and their ability to pay for these services.

There is a long road to restore police services including costs and responsibility to the community in which they serve.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Between the Lines

The Farbridge Factor lives on through the Gang of Seven’s majority on council

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 27, 2015

Things are different this year because it’s easier to predict what won’t happen in 2016 than to select events that will. The political events across three levels of government have reflected change but particularly disappointing in the case of Guelph and the provincial government.

We are swimming in a sea of mediocrity as the stunning level of incompetence both by civil servant staff and their elected political bosses, fails the test of basic business practice and financial management.

FYI: The Farbridge Gang of Seven consists of Councillors Leanne Piper, Cathy Downer, Karl Wettstein, Mike Salisbury, June Hofland, Phil Allt and James Gordon.

So, let’s take a peek at what will happen, or won’t. You be the judge.

*   The five senior managers of the city staff, all hired by the Farbridge administration, including CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO Mark Amorosi, DCAO Derrick Thomson, City Clerk Stephen O’Brien, City Solicitor Donna Jacques, will still be on the job 12 months from now.

*   Soaring electricity costs, increased taxes and, not the least, a feminist arrogance that belies integrity and logic, will accelerate the relentless decline of the Ontario economy compounded by the failing leadership of Premier Kathleen Wynne.

*   The Canada Pension Plan will be tinkered but provide little change except to increase employer/employee contributions.

*   Kathleen Wynne’s two great flops will be the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores and establishing the new Ontario Pension Plan. At least you can drink away your fear of rank political stupidity but another tax grab is harder to swallow. The result will be a reduction of jobs shoving the ailing Ontario economy further down the sinkhole of spiraling debt and zooming taxes.

*   Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will demand 24 Sussex, the Prime Minister’s official residence, be renovated so he can move into the home in which he grew up.

The public reaction will be unnerving when the price tag is revealed.

*   Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper will lick his wounds and take out a Tim Horton’s franchise in woebegone Alberta. He won’t have much time as he joins several boards of directors of major corporations including banks, oil producers and auto manufacturers.

*   Karen Farbridge loyalist, Susan Watson, following her losing complaint about funding of a civic candidate by a voter’s activist group, (it cost taxpayers $11,400); will announce she will be a candidate for Mayor in the 2018 Guelph election. Should we make that former Farbridge loyalist?

*  Interim Conservative Leader, Rona Ambrose, will surprise parliamentary watchers by holding Justin Trudeau’s feet to the fire regarding his campaign promises.

*  Like the Ancient Mariner, Education Minister Liz Sandals will keep her job and sleepwalk through the new round of teachers’ union negotiating process that starts in January. Maybe this time she will ask for travel and entertainment receipts when paying the unions to negotiate with her government.

*   The Guelph city staff proposal of a ten-year, two per cent property tax levy for infrastructure, will fade into black as the Gang of Seven, controlling Guelph council, will vote against it all in the name of political survival.

*   Electricity rates in Ontario are more than 55 per cent higher than Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia and will increase by ten percent January 1st. The McGuinty/Wynne green energy team has proven to be expert in funding wind farms and solar arrays by paying the private operators more than triple the base per Kilowatt rate for 20 years but also their capital costs. And we, the end users, have to pay for this through our hydro bills, plus HST. Is that a great deal or not?

*   Gouging at the pump by Canadian gasoline producers will continue despite the 60 per cent drop in wellhead oil prices. Gasoline, at 95 cents a litre, is still 70 per cent higher than the same product in the U.S selling, on average, for $2 a gallon.

*  The appalling lack of understanding finances by a number of Guelph councillors will continue despite allowing operating deficits for the past three years. Provincial law forbids municipalities to carry budget deficits – read that overspending – into the next year.

*  Chances of the public being told the details of that police shooting in the Guelph General Hospital emergency waiting room will not be revealed in 2016. And the Ontario Liberals will not rewrite the Police Act that makes it impossible to fire a police officer for an offence. It appears officers have to kill someone to get fired by the police department.

*  It’s been a tough year for Mayor Cam Guthrie coping with a majority bloc of followers of his defeated predecessor. He still needs citizen support to carry out the changes that most of us voted for in 2016. Let’s renew our resolve to support the Mayor and his five members of council who are determined to create changes in management and reduce spending.

Here’s to having a Happy New Year!

5 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 8, 2015

Here’s this week’s line-up:

* Trouble in staff land  

* Herding cats to tax?

* Great quotes from chairman Sandals

* The rape of the reserves by the Farbridge administration

 

The chickens come home to roost, the crumbling Farbridge legacy

Looking back there were about 150 people who knew what the Farbridge administration was doing to our city. But a city staff sending out puff pieces on what a great job Madame Farbridge did drowned out our protests and her council inner circle sycophants helped her to do it.

A new independent review by a Hamilton consultant firm headed up by a former city manager of that city, has revealed the record of misspending, secret handling of the public’s money and disregard for responsibility.

These senior staffers cow-towed to their mayor’s determined effort to turn Guelph into some sort of socialist jewel among Canadian municipalities.

They treated your money like playing craps in a Las Vegas casino.

And along comes former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole who reveals how the city failed to abide by its own building bylaws.

On July 10, 2014, Poole sent an email to then Executive Director of planning, engineering and the environment, Janet Laird. He told the director there were 50 municipal projects with ongoing issues and construction was being carried out without the required building permits.

He told Laird several times that it’s easy to enforce the rules but however, “ how do we issue a charge against the city?”

One wonders if the Wyndham Street bridge bollix was one of those city projects in which the building bylaws were blithely ignored?

Laird hs gone to her new home in Whistler, B.C. Derek McCaughan, former Executive Director of Operations and Transit is also gone. Bruce Poole was fired last August after 30 years on the job, 20 years as the city’s Chief Building Inspector, .

That leaves Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, Deputy CAO Mark Amorosi whose responsibilities include all corporate matters, including the city finances. Newcomer Derrick Thomson is the remaining DCAO responsible for planning, engineering, operations, and waste management.

Ms. Pappert’s email response is guarded and denies any problem. Of course her own future as head of staff is at stake. The Poole allegations reveal the irresponsible and dark side of the way our city was being managed under the former mayor.

The CAO refuses to say why Poole was fired but it will come out as it usually does once the Freedom of Information application is filed. Kudos to the Mercury and reporter Joanne Shuttleworth for accessing this information and publishing it.

More to come.

*            *            *            *

This won’t pass the Meow test

The geniuses at City Hall are flying this kite to tax not only cats, but also the number of pets you may own. Okay Waldo, that pet Leghorn may produce eggs but you are still going to pay. But does that include gold fish, pet turtles, hamsters, rabbits and canaries?

Seriously, would it not make more sense to tax and license cyclists who use city streets night and day? Perhaps the way to do this is to offer free flashing lights for bikes and instructions on safe operation. Encouraging those cyclists who travel at night on busy roads, particularly as this time of year, to wear light-coloured clothing with fluorescent stripes, will go a long way to bring safety for both motorists and cyclists.

It would be a lot more productive and easier than trying to tax cats and other pets..

*            *            *            *

What we have here, is a comedian running our education system

When Education Minister Liz Sandals speaks, the press corps starts to giggle.

The lady is a latent comic with such lines as “this is nothing about anything.” At first, the people were perplexed, but as the word spread, Liz was exposed as not a comic straight person but a full-blown comedian.

And to her credit, she has managed to totally break up her entire Ministry and the Liberal government, leaving them laughing. Liz imposed a two-tiered negotiating system that has now taken more than a year to settle contracts with the teacher and support unions.

Union negotiator? Nope. Comedian? Yep.

It’s the Sandals’ legacy that she shares with her pal Premier Kathleen Wynne; you can buy some the teachers off with millions but not all of them, not at the time. Her routine is to keep throwing money at the problem expecting it to eventually go away. Isn’t that close to Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity? You remember: Keep making the same mistakes over and over again with the expectation everything will get better.

Sheez Liz, now you’ve got the auditor general investigating the millions you promised to the unions for negotiating. And Liz, you forgot to ask for receipts. It’s okay though, your boss before leaving for her $1.8 million trip to China ordered the unions to supply proof of their negotiation out-of-pocket spending with RECEIPTS!

Imagine! What a concept. Giving public money away without requiring proof of spending.

Now that’s hilarious.

*            *            *            *

How the city reserve funds were used like an ATM machine

This week an independent report by BMA consultants raised concerns over the city’s drained reserve funds calling the situation “a cautionary red flag.”

The word “cautionary” may be a case of professional understatement.

The report says that only one reserve fund meets the city’s required financial standard. It’s the water/waste water reserve funded through user fees, not taxes. Over the past eight years those fees have risen by 70 per cent with a 4 per cent increase in 2015. Yet the consumption of water has declined, despite the increase in serviced homes and businesses.

The consultant used 2010 as the base for addressing the city’s reserves and it’s not a pretty picture. As in just five years, the city has failed to address “the ever-widening infrastructure gap.” Translation: The money was spent elsewhere.

This has been common practice employed by the previous administration as money was shuffled around using reserve funds unrelated to the purpose for which it was meant.

The most glaring example of this is the three reserve funds that were raided just weeks before the October 2014 civic election, to settle the wrongful dismissal suit, won by Urbacon Buildings Group Corp, totaling $8.9 million.

This was done because the city did not forecast or budget for a loss in its lawsuit that resulted from the fired Urbacon general contract of the new city hall in 2008.

Guelphspeaks recently wrote about how the city administration moved money around to meet unplanned and unbudgeted expenses. It says a lot about the financial mismanagement that existed under former Mayor Karen Farbridge.

The reserve fund to cover future employee benefit liabilities is supposed to be $30.3 million. Today that reserve stands at $11.4 million and has declined by 30 per cent since 2010. The liabilities will grow exponentially as staff numbers and salaries increase. More than 100 additional full-time equivalent employees have been hired in the past four years.

And it’s not because the city was’nt aware of the problem. Council and staff were advised years ago of the growing benefits liabilities of its employees.

The consultant recommends that the reserve funds should not be used for operating expenses but for “extraordinary events.” You can guess that’s what CAO Ann Pappert decided when she agreed to take the money from the three unrelated reserve funds to pay off Urbacon and said it would not affect property taxes.

Well Ann, here’s the skinny. In the 2015 budget property taxes went up by 3.96 per cent, the highest since 2010. That’s less than a year later after the settlement. Then your plan to spend $900,000 for five years to replenish the three reserves, fell off the table when Coun. Karl Wettstein moved to reduce it to $500,000 in the 2015 budget. The staff was instructed to find another way to repay what council owes.

There is only one way to right the Good Ship Guelph that is listing to the left. Contain costs immediately and hire an experienced Chief Financial Officer (CFO) with the power to clean up the mess left behind.

It’s confusing that the office of Chief Building Inspector is a provincially mandated position but why isn’t the position of CFO? Or is it?

The evidence of malfeasance, mismanagement and growing financial liabilities is gradually becoming known. The word is staff morale is low and productivity is affected.

High taxes, high electricity rates and high property prices are rapidly sending Guelph down a path of becoming the most expensive small city in the country in which to live.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

Sandals admits the Liberals have been bribing teacher unions since 2003

By Gerry Barker

Posted October 23, 2015

The second day of the teacher union payoffs has escalated to $2.5 million paid to three teacher unions to settle contracts. Wednesday this week, a 42-page secret document detailing the payout to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), was obtained by the Globe and Mail.

The Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, MPP Guelph, admitted during Question Period in the Ontario Legislature on Wednesday that this year, three teacher unions were paid bonuses, bribes or adjustment because the period of negotiations was lengthy and costly to the unions.

The Minister admitted yesterday that the unions did not submit any receipts or records of the money they spent in the lengthy negotiation time to justify the $1 million payouts to cover their costs.

It brings back memories of the Calgary consultants hired to the E-Health project who charged $25 for afternoon tea while in Toronto plus frequent first class flights between Calgary and Toronto.

The Minister said the union payments were made because the government changed the bargaining system and the process of adapting to the new system was costly to the unions.

Now it appears the taxpayers are paying the money thanks to the decision by the Minister of Education who had to sign off the payments.

But one teacher’s union, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), is still trying to settle a new contract after more than a year of negotiating and have not been offered any payment for extended negotiation costs.

Furthermore, they will refuse any offer to reimburse the union for “negotiation costs,” according to ETFO president Sam Hammond.

This leaves the spectre of the entire unionized public sector workers possibly expecting the same million dollar cheque book treatment in the future when they negotiate new contracts.

Ms. Sandals, while admitting the practice of bogus payments for signing has been going since the Liberals took power in 2003, refused to say how much public money has been spent to settle contract negotiations.

The Minister denied that the payments were a bribe to settle the teacher negotiations. Often perception of a situation is more truthful than the line the Ontario Liberals are spinning, Once again they attempt to extricate themselves from acute embarrassment.

Liz Sandals is way out of her depth as Minister of Education. Since her appointment in 2013 by her pal Kathleen Wynne, there has been ongoing turmoil among members of the various teacher and allied unions. Strikes, semi-strikes, working to rule have been the rule.

Ms. Sandals would have us believe that everything is under control except it was the government that radically changed the Teacher and School Board bargaining system that caused the marathon negotiating periods.

Why did they subsidize the unions using public money? The unions all have thousands of members who pay dues for the very purpose of negotiating new contracts.

This secret, barefaced bribe was leaked obviously by someone inside the Ministry who was as disgusted by the payouts as the general public, once the details were discovered.

Don’t expect Sandals to be replaced as Minister because Premier Kathleen Wynne lacks a conscience and besides, she needs Sandals to take the hits over the bumbling education system that is in constant disarray.

And the premior should know more about this than she is letting on.

She was Minister of Education before Liz Sandals took the job.

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

A ship of fools runs Ontario’s school system

By Gerry Barker

From the GuelphSpeaks provincial files

Posted October 6, 2015

Thousands of Ontario parents, students and education workers are caught up in a maelstrom of pity, selfishness and pettiness. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Canadian Public Workers Union (CUPE) union enforced job action tactics that remain unresolved and unrepentant.

Both unions have been without contracts for a year.

The Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, describes the latest job action of allowing unlocked doors in Halton schools as “worrisome.” She went on to say that she was surprised that “this was a way (the union) has chosen as direction for disruption.”

Minister, this is what happens when there is a major breakdown in the collective bargaining process. Your staff has bungled any attempt to settle these job actions that only hurt the parents, and students in terms of their pre-high school preparation and the graduated learning process.

If, by some miracle, settlement is reached before October 19, federal election day, the theory that the unions are trying to embarrass the Ontario Liberal government, will be a mere footnote in history.

For the unions, this is a continuation of jacking up demands for more pay, better working conditions and contract benefits that go beyond the province’s ability to afford their demands.

The blame goes back a few years when the Liberals were running the government. Sandals and Premier Kathleen Wynne, who preceded her as Minister of Education, both arrived in the Legislature as former school trustees.

Paying off the teachers is the solution

You would think they would know a little bit about their chosen vocation, learned in the front lines of education. What they both have practised as overseers of the Ontario education system is to pay off the unions to keep the school doors open.

In 2013, Sandals rolled back the McGuinty clamp down of education worker’s contracts and paid some $463 million to mollify the unions and stop job action by the high school teachers.

This time, they settled with every teacher’s unions, giving a 2.5 per cent increase and more benefits. But the elementary teachers refused to accept the terms and have refused to perform basic work assignments including communication with the parents of their pupils.

Sandals declared that the increase in pay is “net zero.” In other words, the allocated budget would not increase because funds would be taken from other budget sources. Sandals did not identify those sources. All this was done despite the demand of the Premier that there wasn’t money to cover teacher’s demands for more money, smaller classes and benefits.

This was the financial chicanery reminiscent of the old baseball triple play, “ Tinker to Evers to Chance.” Keep the money moving around so nobody notices.

Here is what one Sachin Maharaj, Toronto teacher and PhD student at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE), described as the elementary teacher’s job:

“Outside the classroom, elementary teachers also have a range of other activities. This includes regularly communicating with parents, meeting with colleagues and administration, organizing school assemblies and events, planning field trips, maintaining up-to-date student records, as well as running student clubs and extracurricular activities.”

Oh, and the teachers also have to teach specific courses based on the ages of their students.

Getting 12 months pay for ten months work

But isn’t that what the job is all about? The elementary teachers have the responsibility to mould their young students’ attitudes, advance their learning abilities, and develop strong social skills. This is the prelude to being a responsible and successful member of society.

It all starts in kindergarten. Along the eight-year pathway to adulthood, the association of teachers and parents must be maintained and cooperative.

When the teacher’s unions strike, either part-time or out the door that trust disappears due to the teachers’ lack of responsibility that they stress on their students.

That’s what has happened in Ontario where the provincial education ministry charged with funding, maintaining and creating solutions, has abandoned the trust that the stakeholders believed they had.

The responsibility for this mess is shared both by government and union leadership.

The solution is growing among Ontarians that teachers are an essential service and should not be allowed to strike or conduct job action. The collective bargaining system does not work as the unions have timed their strikes to deeply affect the students as crucial times of the school year. Last spring was an example of work stoppages that affected students particularly those completing high school.

Threatening and using circumstances to force their demands on the backs of students and their parents is the lowest denominator ever reached by public service labour. The combination of a gutless provincial government and aggressive unions leaves only the innocent stakeholders at risk.

Indeed, a “ship of fools” has destroyed our trust.

2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines