Tag Archives: Ombudsman Ontario

Following the 12-year trail of secrecy and denial of the public interest

By Gerry Barker

February 19, 2019

I am encouraged that there is unrest among elements of the Populist left, as finally there is a realization of why council holds so many closed- sessions.

The latest critique of too many closed-sessions conducted by council came from Adam A. Donaldson, a blogger and columnist in the online news source, Guelph Today.

Adam’s political philosophy is wrapped around the causes of the left dominated city council members and a general left of centre political bent on matters of the public interest.

His Market Squared column this week asked the question why council shuts its doors to public participation? In 2015 and 2016, council held 84 closed-session meetings.

The focus is the sudden departure of Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson, described in a city press release as a “parting of the ways.” Adam joins a lot of people in the city wondering what happened.

Guelphspeaks posed a series of speculative questions about the sudden departure of the CAO in the middle of preparing the City’s 2019 budgets. The GS post has experienced one of the greatest numbers of readers in recent memory.

The 49-minute closed-session council meeting decided to appoint the three Deputy Chief Administrative Officers, Scott Stewart, Colleen Clack and Trevor Lee as the troika of gate keepers of the public’s pursuit of its right to know.

I speak from experience when it comes to requesting the minutes of the Dec 10, 2015 closed-session meeting that awarded $98,202 in salary increases to three top senior city managers.

Six weeks following the launching of a lawsuit against me, November 16, 2016, I requested a copy of the minutes of that meeting. I knew the outcome but not the details including who recommended it to council and who supported it?

In April, four months later, Amberlea Gravel denied my request. They are the city-appointed special investigators of closed-session meetings.

That event occurred in April three months after the plaintiff in this lawsuit had been dismissed. The CAO, Derrick Thomson, ironically was the person who fired his once close colleague with the comment that the firing did not involve the city’s support of lawsuit. He also praised his colleague for his great contribution to the city.

Because this case is now before the courts, I cannot comment further.

But as of a week ago Friday, the three recipients of that $98.202, 2015 retroactive salary increase, are all gone.

Going back to the CAO committee of three DCAO’s, did it ever occur to members of council that its decision to foist Thomson’s job now onto three capable senior managers? Council awarded compensation for the extra duties until the end of July or until a candidate is selected.

Which of the three will attend city council meetings, both open and closed?

How are the CAO responsibilities subdivided? How is there continuity in managing? Where are the checks and balances of managing continuing operations?

This not only unfair to those senior managers but could have been avoided by appointing one of the three as acting CAO until a candidate has been chosen.

To demonstrate how these birdbrain decisions are made, consider the following report by Mr. Donaldson:

“I also looked at the City of Guelph’s own materials about the regulation of closed meetings. On the subject of reports, it says: “Whenever possible, written Closed Meeting reports are preferred over verbal reports as the former provides for a more detailed account of the confidential record.

Why?

This city council is bereft of its responsibilities to act on behalf of the public and their right to know about the city’s business.

Instead, they snuggle and hide behind a contrived closed-session protocol developed and fine-tuned over eight years by the former administration.

A case in point is the draconian Code of Conduct in which councillors, engaged in closed-sessions, cannot comment or reveal the details of those meetings. To do so will result in an investigation by the city-appointed Integrity Commissioner who is prosecutor, judge and jury of any alleged break of the Code of Conduct.

And to think we spent some $500,000 in 2013 to a Toronto consultant to develop a governance program employing Transparency, Open Government and Accountability.

On top of that, the new Guthrie council employed a supporter of the former mayor to a $93,000 per year contract to manage the new Transparency, Open Government, and Accountability program.

Wonder whatever happened to him and TOG&A?

 

 

 

 

 

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How the Brews Brothers out-sudsed the Kathleen Wynne Liberals

By Gerry Barker

Posted September 29, 2015

The Kathleen Wynne government has announcement that beer will be available in a selected group of Ontario supermarkets by Christmas. The details of this revolutionary decision shows that the beer distribution monopoly still exists in bluestocking Ontario.

Well, Zippidy Doo Dah.

Unless you’ve been vacationing on Mars, the sale of beer in Ontario is monopolized by the Brews Brothers, three foreign beer makers who own the Beer Stores in Ontario. And those stores showcase the owner’s products, Who are the Brews Brothers? They are Sapporo of Japan, AmBrew of Belgium and Molson Coors of the United States.

Here we have the province with the largest population in the country and it cannot afford to have free trade in the sale of beer. It’s ironic that the province already has a distribution system selling spirits and small packs of beer. It also has the legislative muscle to end the beer monopoly and open the market for price competition.

They chose not to.

So the Ontario consumer has to live with supply management including dairy products, pork, beef, poultry, electricity, liquor, water and now beer. All of these are controlled because the supplier, and not the market, fix prices.

In Ontario, the people are being taxed to death. Oops, the provincial government forces taxes on the dead including, probate taxes, tangible asset taxes, funeral expenses. Estate representative have just 90 days to report the value of the decease’s stuff or face fines. That’s another Wynne govermnet amendment to increase revenue. Then the Canada Review agency gets a bite if the estate has any capital gains of investments owned by the deceased.

With all that tax money flowing into the provincial treasury why is it that the provincial government, headed by Premier Wynne, cannot balance its books? With a $10 billion deficit in 2014 that has been around from McGuinty forward, was the beer monopoly so important to be maintained in perpetuity?

In a new ten-year agreement with the Brews Brothers, the Kathleen Wynne Liberals have virtually guaranteed price fixing of the popular product. The only concession the Brews Brothers allowed was the sale of beer to the supermarkets. But the supermarkets can only sell six packs, same as the LCBO. The supply is rationed and the price fixed. If supermarket A exceeds its allotment, it will face fines.

Left out of this 18th century-like deal, is the public who drink beer. The price gouging that exists in the sale of beer in Ontario is an affront to consumers. There is no competition to maintain a level playing field for beer consumers. That’s the fixed price, either pay it or cross the border to Quebec, New York or Michigan when beer is sold everywhere and the price is much lower than in Ontario.

This was a monumental con job by the Brews Brothers who own more than 400 Beer Stores in Ontario. Those stores supply beer to the entire province because they can sell any amount of beer, whether it is in bottles, cans or kegs. They also are appointed as distributors to all hospitality venues in the province including restaurants, bars, hotels, and clubs. Any place where beer is sold for on site personal consumption.

If that isn’t the perfect monopoly, then I’m Donald Trump

This was a capitulation by the Wynne Liberals who disregarded consumers by allowing the price of beer to be controlled by foreign entities.

But why be surprised? The Wynne government is unable to control the price of electricity, settle labour contracts with its staff and is at war with the teachers.

The 444 Ontario municipalities are hamstrung by dated regulations and policies that strangle the opportunities available to grow. Municipalities must balance their books annually.

Why can’t the province do the same?

The municipalities chief revenue come from property taxes and they are not allowed to introduce any tax plans to enhance their community.

The Wynne Liberals keep moving the deficit ball forward. The latest is Finance Minister Sousa says the provincial budget will be balanced by September 2018, coincidently just prior to the next provincial election. His previous claim was the books would be balanced in 2017.

Who knows? By that time, a case of beer will probably cost more than $60.

Retired newspaper executive, Gerry Barker is the editor of guelphspeaks.ca, a blog commenting on community, provincial and national affairs. He may be reached at: gerrybarker76@gmail.com

 

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Guelph needs a city Auditor General to end the Farbridge multi-million dollar mistakes

Posted June 29, 2014

Ontario’s Ombudsman, Andre Marin, recently addressed a gathering of municipal finance officials in London, Ontario.

He pointed out that 92 per cent of the 444 Ontario municipalities have no oversight of their finances and operations. In fact, only Ottawa, Toronto, Oshawa and Sudbury have Auditor Generals (A/G) overseeing their operations. Sudbury and Oshawa are on the verge of dumping their A/G’s because they delivered negative reports to the councils.

Yep, if you don’t like the message, just shoot the messenger.

The city will reply that Deloitte and Touche, a major independent audit and accounting firm, review city finances annually. Note the word “review”. Deloitte does not do an in-depth audit but employs parameters set by contract with the city.

An Auditor General, they’re not.

In Guelph, the council hired an internal auditor to dig into operations and she came up with a doozie reporting in 2013 city staff overtime costs were $5,067,000. It was twice that in 2012. Her investigations are only the tip of the iceberg that can sink the good ship SS Guelph.

Fortunately for citizens she’s still around. But her job is limited and controlled by senior staff. What is really needed is an Auditor General who has authority to oversee all city finances and operations without political interference.

The Auditor Generals, in the aforementioned cities, are appointed for five years. In the case of Sudbury the A/G appears to be surviving day-to-day. Oshawa renewed its A/G for only two years. This is against the provincial legislation that set up the municipal A/G system, requiring a five-year term of office.

Now along comes the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.  That organization, composed of elected officials from Ontario’s municipalities, is dead against the addition of Auditor Generals poking into their municipal operations.

Why is that? Both the federal government and most provinces have Auditor Generals overseeing their operations and finances. You don’t have to go very far to discover the need of such an independent officer in the City of Guelph.

In fact, last October, the citizen activist group, GrassRoots Guelph, delivered a four-page petition to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing that detailed several instances of questionable financial mismanagement and operations.

The petition was signed by 162 taxpayers when the Revised Statutes of Ontario Act only required 50 signatures. Ministry officials later confirmed that the petition figures were accurate. Yet the Minister at the time, Linda Jeffery, rejected an audit of the city’s finances and operations with no explanation.

Shortly after, she left office to run for mayor of Brampton.

The Chief Administrative Officer of Guelph’s public servants called the citizen’s petition “a waste of time.” Minister Jeffery’s letter contained no such reference. So no matter what we complain about in Guelph, the majority of elected officials doesn’t care what citizens think or know about their governance of our city. On top of that, the senior executive directors of the Guelph staff share the same views as their political masters. It is apparaent that much of the staff has been politicized through threat of job loss and other intimidation.

What’s that old expression: “Go along to get along?”

It appears the deck is stacked against the citizens living in Ontario’s municipalities. This AMO entitlement attitude is endemic of the disdain for those who once elected them.

So far in this nomination period every member of council who supported Mayor Farbridge, has declared their candidacy, plus two former Farbridge councillors. As a public service, here are their names: Karen Farbridge; W2 – Ian Findlay; W3 – Maggie Laidlaw and June Hoffland; W4 – Mike Salisbury; W5 – Leanne Piper, Lise Burcher, Cathy Downer; W6 – Todd Dennis and Karl Wettstein.

There is only one-way citizens can protect themselves against these uncaring and arrogant politicians and that’s to defeat them October 27.

GRG is dedicated to informing voters of how their city and treasure have been abused by these councillors. Also, to encourage candidates for council who are motivated to return our city to fiscal responsibility, common sense and restoration of the public trust.

The 2014 election will either result in more of the same from the Farbridge administration or an election of a majority of council who will bring fresh ideas, energy and business to the city. Mostly, they will restore the public trust that has been sneered at by those in the administration. Overseers who feel they are entitled to treat the citizens as pawns in their grandiose schemes to change our city.

Step one is to hire an Auditor General for Guelph to level the playing field.

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