Tag Archives: Premier Kathleen Wynne

When it comes to Mergers and Acquisitions, Guelph Hydro is a plum to be plucked

By Gerry Barker

October 23, 2017

So, 51 days from today, on December 13, city council will vote to merge Guelph Hydro with a company called Alectra Utilities Inc., or not.

Put me in the “not” side of this.

And Mr. Mayor, please stop using the term “merge” when this is a sale or perhaps a sell-out?

There have been few details of the deal to take over Guelph Hydro. In the corporate world when two corporations merge – Merger and Acquisitions – the acquirer agrees to pay for the assets of the acquired, in this case Guelph Hydro.

Turtle Alert!

But city council, like a turtle sensing danger, goes into closed-session to discuss the details far from the madding crowd.

Guelph Hydro has $228.4 million of installed assets including wire, poles, transformers, sub stations, vehicles, buildings and a trained staff to keep the power on. In addition, in 2016, Guelph Hydro earned, after expenses, more than $7 million. Hydro pays an annual dividend of $1.5 million to the City general revenues. Essentially, this is a cash business. Customers need power and must pay for it monthly along with their city water bill.

As a going concern, Guelph Hydro is a plum to be plucked. Well run, profitable, respected with a ton of goodwill, we should not let our treasure disappear into the corporate confines of an organization of which we know little about.

So, if it ain’t broke, why the rush to get rid of it? And what are the terms contained in this memorandum of agreement? How binding is it? Or is this turkey already baked in the oven?

There’s a new boy on the block

Alectra was incorporated nine months ago, January 31, 2017. It now claims it has 1 million customers both residential and businesses. Alectra’s founder was Powerstream, the Mississauga electricity distribution system. Alectra’s head office is in Mississauga.

Most important, what’s in it for the citizens of Guelph who own Guelph Hydro?

These details are essential and must be made public ASAP so that the owners of Guelph Hydro know and understand what’s at stake pending council’s final decision December 13. City council represents the owners and has a moral and fiduciary responsibility to inform their constituents of the details of this proposal.

It’s the second attempt to sell Guelph Hydro following the failed attempt by the former mayor in 2008. She tried to convince her council to merge with Hamilton and St. Catharines power distribution systems called Horizon. She refused to tell the public the details of the deal and her own supporters refused to allow it.

It was an example of people power influencing their councillors to vote against it.

Not again!

Here we go again. But this time it is a very sophisticated plan to remove local authority over distribution of our power and give it to a company that we know little about. Please note the absence of the words “sell or sale” in presentations and news releases. It’s an attempt to not revive the 2008 public backlash when the former mayor attempted to sell Guelph Hydro.

The citizens own and operate our power distribution system that covers some 55,000 customers in the city and Rockwood.

Apparently the city heard from 14 potential partners interested in merging with Guelph Hydro. The Strategic Operations Committee, (SOC) appointed by the city, involved a five-member committee charged with seeking potential partners to operate Guelph Hydro. During its investigations, the committee team lost three members who resigned or were replaced, a development that challenges the SOC’s credibility.

Did the committee, co-chaired by Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong, and Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson, examine all those potential partners to determine the best deal?

Jargon Alert!

We’ll never know because they won’t tell us, claiming it was “subject to advice that was subject to solicitor-client privilege.” It was another legal reason to hold a closed session meeting.

If you can’t run, just hide

Despite the Mayor and the CAO’s promise to conduct an “open and transparent negotiation process, the shareholders remain in the dark. It should be noted that early last summer, the SOC laid out its plan to merge/sell Guelph Hydro. This fall the SOC plan was to present a consolidation of the information to Council. In early spring, it was to announce its findings and allow council to vote on the committee’s recommendation.

Once again, the public is being misled. We still have little financial and operational data on why the SOC’s selection of Alectra. We still don’t know anything about Alectra or details of the deal.

Artful Dodger Alert!

What we do know is that merging Guelph Hydro with Alectra’s family of municipally owned Local Distribution Corporations (LDC) will bring millions in cash flow to Alectra because we will start paying our service charges to them when Guelph Hydro is merged. Also Alectra’s president has already admitted that there will be staff reductions of Guelph Hydro to maximize administrative efficiencies.

Attempting to read the 2016 Powerstream financial statement on its website proved fruitless. The structure of Alectra is unknown at this time. Is it an umbrella organization? Is it publicly traded? Are there shareholders? Who are the executive officers?

Why won’t the city elected representatives tell the truth about this deal? Are citizens being reimbursed for the Guelph Hydro assets? What happens to the $93 million in debt currently carried on Guelph Hydro’s books?

Confirm or deny:

Will Mayor Guthrie be named to the board of Alectra if this deal goes through? Apparently those municipal mayors who Alectra claims have joined the organization are on the Alectra Board of Directors.

If true, does this not place the mayor in a conflict of interest? How can an elected official who signs a memorandum of agreement, then votes to approve the Alectra deal while knowing that he will benefit while serving on the board of directors?

So Mr. Alectra, what’s your bid?

The news release carefully avoided what Alectra was going to pay for the system. Instead, we learn that this is not just about electric distribution it’s about generating power through Alectra’s planned Green Energy developments. Mayor Guthrie was enthused about Alectra’s intention to build a Green Energy and Technology Centre in Guelph. The mayor says it will create jobs.

Spoiler Alert!

Didn’t we just experience a disastrous green energy experience with the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.’s financial failure? Didn’t the Community Energy Initiative’s failed GMHI project cost $63 million in shareholder equity losses developing green power self-sufficiency in the city?

More questions about governmnet manipulation of the numbers

Doesn’t the Wynne government recommend the merger of consolidating smaller municipal power distribution corporations? But what has that to do with researching green energy issues involving personal storage of power, electric vehicles, charging kiosks etc? This smells like the stench of the failed electricity programs of the Liberal provincial government that has been so mismanaged using phoney accounting practices.

Ontario’s independent Auditor General, Bonnie Lysk, confirmed this. She charged that the accounting of energy including electricity operations in Ontario, failed established accounting practices used by public agencies throughout Canada.

The Liberal government’s promise to reduce electricity bills by 25 percent was basically built on the premise, reduce rates now and increase them in five years to pay for it.

How does that grab you?

In view of this, be aware that the Mayor is quoted that the Alectra rates will be lower than at present, and the dividend received from Guelph Hydro will increase so that more can be invested in the community.

Mayor: You mean spending this alleged newfound cash on the downtown library that is now pegged at just under $59 million. No? Then how about the South End Recreation Centre coming in at about $66.5 million.

Wait! There’s more. Don’t forget the staff revised estimate of $400 million of neglected infrastructure maintenance and upgrades required over the next 13 years. Or paying off the $34 million police headquarters renovation.

And Mr. Mayor are you predicting that selling off our power distribution system will bring great benefits to the city?

Time to show all the cards or fold them

When you carefully explain what the immediate and future benefits are to Guelph’s hydro customers, then you might be able to convince them this is a great opportunity. I’m not holding my breath.

A good starting point would be to explain the deal in detail and not parsing it behind closed doors. The first question that needs answering is how much cash is Alectra prepared to pay for Guelph Hydro?

Further, we not only lose control of our power system but also the future of the 130 Hydro employees is uncertain.

For 2018, the city staff is proposing a $90 million capital budget of which 79 per cent or $71.1 million will be spent on infrastructure. The remaining 21 per cent will be divided with $18.9 million for unspecified growth projects and $3.6 million for city building, again not specified. Council will vote October 26 to approve the staff recommendations, or not.

Tell us where does the two per cent special property tax levy go in 2018?

With less than a month and a half before council votes on selling Guelph Hydro, it leaves little time to clarify these questions and concerns. It should be pointed out that Dec 13 is the day of council’s final approval of the 2018 budget. Coincidence? It seems like great timing to simultaneously approve the Guelph Hydro sale and its potential affect on the 2018 budget.

Here’s my take on the situation. Council wants to get this off the table before the election campaign starts. The risk lies in a public backlash against those councillors who voted to accept the Alectra deal, whatever that is. It could seriously impair their ambition to run again next year.

As for my wife and I, we are opposed to any deal involving divesture of public ownership of assets in which the details have been cloaked in secrecy. Vague promises just won’t cut it.

We say: NO SALE.

 

Important Notice

If you are interested in following more details of the Guelph Hydro proposed sale, login to guelphspeaks.ca. Your comments are welcome. Join other citizens who are currently opposed to the sale, based on the lack of “openness and transparency” as promised by the Mayor and CAO. If you don’t want to post a comment on the GS website, send your comments by email to gerrybarker76@gmail.com.

Comments can also be made on Facebook and Twitter where GS posts are located as well.

If requested to remain anonymous, we accept a pseudonym with the proviso we know the name of the source and that your information will be protected.

Be reminded that Guelph Speaks does not permit profanity or personal attacks from those commenting. We do encourage debate and expression of views in the comment section.

I believe in free public participation that includes criticism of the municipal administration including elected officials and public servants

Thanks for joining the GS family. Best, Gerry

 

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Guelph Speaks achieves a record 30,579 viewers

By Gerry Barker

June 19, 2017

Last week Guelph Speaks experienced the largest number of viewers in its seven-year history. From Sunday June 11 to Saturday June 17, there were 30,579 views of the blog. Most were from the following post made September 3, 2015. We were frankly stunned at this huge response to a Guelph Speaks posting especially concerning a column that was posted 22 months ago.

The analysis of what occurred was that a number of the Internet search engines found the piece in the GS Archives containing 880 postings, resulting in the unprecedented response. The views came from all over the province with some beyond our borders. It tells us that the Liberal government and its leader Kathleen Wynne are facing widespread disapproval of the Premier and her administration. In fact, her current approval rating has shrunk to just 12 per cent across the province according to the latest poll.

In my opinion, even though the provincial election is a year away, moving a government to attain a 40 per cent vote majority of the result or even managing winning enough ridings for a minority government, is highly unlikely. The ABW (Anyone But Wynne) syndrome is now fully engaged. No amount of throwing the people’s money at fake promises will save the day.

Two events may affect the result next June. The Premier may resign but it’s highly unlikely as calling a leadership convention to replace her takes time and resources. The other is Ms. Wynne calls a snap election but her record leading the province is so tarnished it would backfire.

The fate of the Liberal government will affect the outcome of the vote in several Liberal ridings including Guelph. Currently held by Liz Sandals, President of the Treasury Board, in the Liberal dominated legislature and close friend of the Premier, the Guelph seat will be difficult to retain under present circumstances.

There is the old expression that old governments along with old soldiers never die, they just fade away.

On a personal note: This expression was an adaption of the widely quoted comment by General Douglas MacArthur, in 1951 to the U.S. Congress following his firing as Commander in Chief of the United Nations forces fighting in Korea. I was a young Lieutenant completing my training as a Royal Canadian Amoured Corps officer listening to the General on a rickety radio. I am now just another old soldier but not quite ready to fade away. GB

 

Ontario Liberals now tax you after you die

By Gerry Barker

Originally Posted September 3, 2015

Here’s a new, not so nice tax called the Estate Administration Tax (EAT) that the Wynne Liberals slipped through, effective Jan. 1, 2015 and no one (in 2015) is talking about it!   The EAT was originally introduced by the Mike Harris government but the Wynne Liberals have drastically modified it to make it more difficult and onerous for the survivors of any deceased Ontarian.

Basically, your survivors and executors have to report the value of all your stuff, valuables, cars and trucks, second homes, boats, RV’s, right down to the exercise bicycle in the basement.

It is yet another roadblock to discourage real growth in Ontario joining the other job killers and evaporating prosperity. Here are some examples of how the Ontario Liberals have mismanaged the Ontario economy: We have the most expensive electricity rates in North America; a new jobs- killing Ontario pension plan; the most expensive alcoholic beverages in North America; sky-high gasoline taxes; supply management agriculture boards that have driven basic food prices to excessive levels; an integrated sales tax of 13 per cent on all goods and services with minor exceptions.

Yes the province even charges the HST on the cost of your funeral.

The province charges the HST on the electricity you use.

The HST is charged on a number of consumables including vehicles, non-prescription drugs, clothing, and items that most people would describe as food or a derivative.

When does the Premier stop her relentless quest to bail out a province she and her predecessor created that is now carrying an $8 billion deficit? Her finance minister claims the Ontario budget will be balanced by 2017.

That runs counter to what her federal Liberal leader is saying. He wants to remove the Harper government’s balanced budget legislation and go to deficit financing to fix the country’s infrastructure.

These two leaders are currently working together to elect federal Liberals in Ontario, but don’t seem to be playing from the same page. Update: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won the 2015 Federal Election winning 183 seats in Parliament.

For all the details of this new tax grab, go to the link below where the government explains it or you can read the comments from funeral directors printed out below in layman’s terms, or both. But be forewarned, it’s scary stuff.

Our Wynne Liberal Government presumably has to find a way to repay the billion dollars they gave the construction companies not to build the gas-fired hydro plants and subsidizing wind/solar power projects, the Orange air ambulance fiasco, the E-health record keeping program that cost millions, and other boondoggles they created.  The aptly named EAT even has local Funeral Directors seeing red.

Here’s the skinny of Kathleen Wynne’s latest play to extract more money from taxpayers, even after they’re dead.

The current EAT tax rates

  • $5 for each $1,000, or part thereof, of the first $50,000 of the value of the estate, and
  • $15 for each $1,000, or part thereof, of the value of the estate exceeding $50,000.

Note: There is no estate administration tax payable if the value of the estate is $1,000 or less.

The estate administration tax is calculated on the total value of the estate. For example, for an estate valued at $240,000 the tax would be calculated as follows:

  1. $5 per thousand for the first $50,000 of the estate = $250
  2. Plus $15 per thousand for the remaining $190,000 of the estate
    • $240,000 – $50,000 = $190,000
    • $190,000 X $15 = $2,850
  3. For a total of $3,100 ($250 + $2,850) payable to the Minister of Finance. The EAT act demands that the executors or appointed representatives must complete the EAT return within 90 days.

This does not include estate probate fees on the $240,000 estate value, used in this example or any taxes due on capital gains on investments owned by the deceased

In order to comply with this new death tax, the estate appointed representatives are forced to consult with the following professionals: Financial advisor, registered appraiser, lawyer, funeral director, insurance broker, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, the estate banker. Most of whom charge a fee for service in preparing the Estate Administration Tax returns. Those fees alone, depending on the size of the estate, could run into the thousands.

Yes, and the return, when filed, must be accompanied with payment in full.

Licensed Funeral Directors Tim Baragar and Jeff Neuman are sounding the alarm bells over a tax program that they say will make life difficult for estate representatives in Ontario.  Baragar makes it clear that his service does not end at the cemetery.

He and Jeff Neuman do their best to help families obtain pertinent documents and ensure that a loved one’s affairs are in order.

Sounding the Alarm

And that’s why Baragar and Neuman are sounding the alarm bells over the newly changed tax that took effect on Jan. 1, 2015. Its timelines and penalties are something these Funeral Directors think everyone needs to be aware of.

The newly changed tax program that Baragar finds frightening requires an executor to assess, appraise and value any and all property owned at the time of death on a tight timeline. This EAT appraisal includes anything that is not passed directly to a spouse or passed through joint ownership. Assets that are being gifted to charities also need to be included in the valuation. The tax is then calculated and needs to be paid immediately to the Province of Ontario as a deposit.

Baragar explains it this way – when a loved one dies and you are named as the executor of the estate, you apply for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee and then you have only 90 days to file your Estate Information Return. As soon as you file you have to pay the tax as a deposit. And if you don’t file, there are serious consequences.

According to the Ministry of Finance, “estate representatives who fail to file an Estate Information Return as required, or who make false or misleading statements on the return, may be found guilty of an offense and, on conviction, are liable to a fine of at least $1,000 and up to twice the tax payable by the estate or, imprisonment of not more than two years or both.”

Has Ontario become a police state?

This is aconcern to Mr. Baragar.  “It is completely unreasonable for the Ministry of Finance to expect this reporting within 90 days of the trustee beginning their role,” Baragar says. “Just getting print outs and information from banks and investment companies takes a lot of time. My biggest concern is that quite typically the trustees are often family members or close friends of the person who has died. So this simply isn’t a matter of completing a task that the Ministry of Finance merely views as a new source of income, it is a very emotionally demanding and time-consuming job. Couple that with the added stress of dealing with the loss as a family member or close friend, and it can make this role very upsetting and emotionally draining.”

And to be clear – the valuation can’t be a guess. The Province requires that you be able to back-up what you’re filing so if you’re not sure what the current market value is of taxable posessions, for example, it’s up to the executor to hire someone to do an appraisal.  There is even a link on the Ministry’s website to the Appraisal Institute of Canada.

And once you appraise, value and file you still have to be sure that nothing changes. If you made a mistake or if you missed something you have to immediately contact the Ministry (within 30 calendar days) and make all the necessary corrections.

“For our Government to threaten these individuals with charges and penalties is absurd,” Baragar says. “We pay tax when we earn our living. We pay tax when it generates income within an investment. We pay tax when we pull it from that investment, so this same money certainly shouldn’t be taxed again within the boundaries of someone’s estate.”

Enough is enough.

 

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Clarity alert! Ontario’s Energy Minister says electricity fixes cost $35 billion but the Premier says $50 billion

By Gerry Barker

April 3, 2017

Breaking News

The Strategic Options Committee has lost two members, Pankaj Sardana, CEO of Guelph Hydro and Richard Puccini a retired engineer. Mr. Sardana is replaced by Guelph Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong, who said she felt that Guelph Hydro Electric Services needed a str0nger presence on the committee. She admitted she  and the Hydro board favoured the recommendation of the SOC selling Guelph Hydro if the opportunity arises. The city has yet to announce a replacement for Mr. Puccini.

This is a combination feel good and feel bad story.

It’s based on a first-rate analysis of Ontario’s high cost electricity generation and distribution system reported by retired bank executive, Parker Gallant, published recently in the Financial Post. Gallant looked at his power bill and didn’t like what he saw. We thank FP for providing this important analysis that affects every person in the province.

The good part of this story illustrates the incompetence of the Wynne government in managing the province’s electric power systems coming out of the darkness. The details are a stunning indictment of a ship of fools that we elected to run our provincial government. Their decisions over12 years, affects the entire population, industry and future of our province. It reveals why Ontario has the highest electricity costs in Canada.

How incompetent are they? Well, according to Mr. Gallant, the Minister of Energy, Glenn Thibault, says the province spent $35 billion fixing the broken electricity system since attaining power in 2003. His boss, Premier Wynne, says it cost $50 billion.

If they can’t get their act together, what can the citizens who pay for it, conclude?

Mr. Gallant states: “Thibeault’s $35 billion would represent spending $8,000 per residential ratepayer; Wynne’s $50 billion, $11,000 per ratepayer. Bear that in mind as you travel through my computations. Some of these are estimates from reasonable and reliable sources. The spending, initiated via more than 100 directives issued by a succession of Liberal energy ministers over the past 12 years, often had no connection to fixing anything, or generating electricity.”

Before breaking down where the money went, in Guelph we have a Strategic Options Committee (SOC) composeed of non-elected citizens, working to sell off or merge our Guelph Hydro with another power distributor with the highest bid. Presumably, either option will result in losing any semblance of municipal control of vital electricity distribution. More on this later.

Here is Mr. Gallant’s breakdown of where the billions went.

Total spending on frills, fluff and baubles: $7.4 billion

“First, there are the “frills and shiny baubles” spending category, essentially money spent that neither created new generation nor improved transmission nor reduced blackouts or brownouts.

  • Spending on “smart meters,” which Ontario’s Auditor General in her December, 2014 report, concluded funds were basically wasted since “many of the anticipated benefits of Smart Metering have not been achieved and its implementation has been much more costly than projected:” Cost, $2 billion.
  • The smart grid was supposed to work in conjunction with smart meters. Consumers are billed for the costs of developing the smart grid but the benefits accrue to a few select individuals and companies: Cost, $1.2 billion
  • Closing the coalfired generating plants required Ontario Power Generation to write off the remaining value of the plants when the last one closed in 2014:
  • Cost, $600 million.
  • Costs of conservation programs, in which some consumers are paid to not consume, while the costs between $300 million and $400 million annually are passed on to all Ontario ratepayers: Cost, $2.5 billion.
  • Gas plant moves, from Mississauga and Oakville to Lambton and Bath, Ontario: Cost, $1.1 billio

Total spending on “unreliable and intermittenr” power providers: $21.4 million

Second, considering our “intermittent and unreliable” category, in which the province added wind and solar capacity that is unable to deliver generation when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun’s not shining.

  • Ontario’s independent system operator shows the province will have installed wind and solar capacity of more than 7,000 MegaWatts (MW) as of March 31, 2017, including 4,650 MW of wind at a capital cost of $2.2 million per MW. Cost, $10.2 billion.
  • Solar generation as of March 31, 2017 will total approximately 2,400 MW at a capital cost of $2.6 million per MW: Cost, $6.2 billion
  • Transmission spending by Hydro One to connect wind and solar to the grid and for embedded connection expenditures. Cost, $5 billion.

Those photo-op costs are $2.6 million

Our third category is “photo-op generation,” money spent on large hydro infrastructure projects producing little power but presenting politicians with great photo-ops.

  • Big Becky hydro power expansion. The original Adam Beck Niagara hydro generation plant,, which went $600 million over budget to squeeze an additional 150 MWs of capacity from Niagara Falls. Cost, $1.5 billion.
  • Mattagami Hydro Power project, originally estimated at $1.6 billion to increase the rated capacity by 438 MW, went over budget by $1 billion. Before these two hydro projects were completed, Ontario Power Generations produced 30.6 TWh (terawatt hours) of hydro generation. Despite the addition of 588 MW of capacity, hydro generation in 2016 fell to 29.5 TWh. Generation data from March 21 indicates Mattagami generated power at about eight per cent of rated capacity, while all other hydro was operating at an average of about 50 per cent of rated capacity: Cost, $2.6 billion.

Nuclear power’s value for money

The fourth category is “value for money.” Some of the claimed investments in generation actually provided some value.

  • The Bruce Nuclear refurbishment of two reactors came at a cost of $4.8 billion but, according to Ben Chin, former VP of the Ontario Power Authority, the cost to ratepayers was limited since shareholders were forced to accept a portion of the over-budget costs. Cost, $3.4 billion.

Grand total to the end of 2016: $36.3 billion

This estimate comes reasonably close to the $35 billion claimed by Energy Minister. Glenn Thibault. But more spending is in the pipeline over the next 18 months, including another 500 MW of wind capacity with an estimated capital cost of $1.1 billion, 100 MW of solar for $300 million and 1,300 MW of gas at a rough cost of $900 million.

Total for what’s still to come: $2.3 billion

Even if one includes the money still to be spent, the total investments (most of them wasted) are over $11 billion shy of the $50 billion that Wynne claims has been spent.

We need to see Thibeault’s accounting, and Wynne’s too, to allow Ontario’s taxpayers and ratepayers to determine whether the spending has provided the claimed value for tax dollars.

So what does this mean for Guelph power consumers?

Predictably, Ontario’s power strategies have been a dismal failure that will cost citizens well into the future.

An immediate problem is the operation of the Strategic Options Committee that had pledged to report later this year on their investigations and bargaining with potential purchasers of Guelph Hydro as to whether to sell it or merge with another distribution operator.

This is the second time in nine years that the administration of the city has attempted to recover its equity in the city-owned utility that is profitable. In 2008, former Mayor Karen Farbridge, a member of the Guelph Hydro board of directors, attempted to convince her council to sell the utility to a consortium of Hamilton and St. Catharines power distributors.

The reasons then are the same as the reasons today.

The former mayor desperately needed the money to participate in a $66 million infrastructure plan funded on a one-third contribution by the city, provincial and federal governments. Guelph’s share was $22 million. The attempt failed when the people protested and the majority of council, many of them Farbridge supporters, voted no to the sale.

The mayor still got her money by calling a note of $30 million owed to the city by Guelph Hydro. The result was the city added a few frills such as a new time clock in the Sleeman Centre and bicycle lanes on Stone Road among others.

One of the arguments put forth at the time was that the province wanted the “smaller” electricity distribution systems to sell or merge with larger units. It was not mandated by the province but recommended for lowering costs and increasing efficiency.

Today, that same reason has been given to city council. SOC Co-Chair Pankaj Sardana, Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Hydro, has cautioned members of council that not all mergers are successful partly due to the clash of cultures between the two organizations coupled with a loss of jobs.

The reason for selling is obvious. The city has drained most of its reserves to pay for the mistakes, failed ventures and refusal to reduce its overhead. High debt levels and betting on increased revenues through reassessment of properties, user fees and subsidies from province and Ottawa, is pie in the sky.

All those financial mismanagement episodes for the past 14 years have hobbled the city’s ability to carry out its short and long-term strategies. The quick solution: Sell Guelph Hydro and recover an estimate $125 milllion.

The city is on the brink of failing to have the financial resources to continue its short and long-term strategies. Selling Guelph Hydro is not the solution.

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Wynne Government degrades space for homeowners with its high-density housing policies

By Gerry Barker

December 26, 2016

Former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion reported to Premier Kathleen Wynne that the Province’s rules of urban development were imposing anti “sprawl” restrictions on builders and citizens. The government is engaged in forcing urban municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area to build high-density housing (HDH) – strip-linked homes, low rise condos and town houses.

These policies are frustrating the human desire for space where they live. I call it government degradation of personal space.

There is a basic human desire to have a home where there is freedom of movement and a place for families to grow. The latest demands of the pointy-headed planners in downtown Toronto, is to increase the number of households and jobs per hectare from 50 to 80. In already urbanized areas, the increase rises from 40 residences per hectare to 60.

There are two terrible long-term caveats to consider in this provincial decision. One is affordability of single-family homes. The cost of these homes will rise exponentially as builders of those homes either flee to other distant jurisdictions or switch to build HDH homes. As the number of single-family homes decreases, the cost of housing in Metropolitan areas in the province will explode. It is already happening in Toronto.

Those municipal leaders who are in favour of high-density homes dismiss this argument. Mostly because it’s about revenue. Those HDH developments deliver millions in added revenue because the increased number of residences deliver more revenue per hectare than single-family development. The HDH residences are taxed not only for operating and capital spending by the city but provide increased assessment, contributing to the municipality’s bottom line.

The Province’s experts say this is greater use of land and less strain on civic services. But every time your assessment increases, your taxes go up.

The story of HDH in Guelph

You do not have to travel far in Guelph to see the high-density developments that were planned and approved by the Farbridge administration in her eight years as mayor. She saw the value in boosting revenue from these developments south of Arkel to Clair Road east of Victoria and Gordon Street.

Another more recent HDH development is on Eastview Road adjacent to the former Guelph landfill site.

In eight years, the Farbridge administration did not approve any single-family home development in the city. It is a city with hundreds of acres of undeveloped land, much of it owned by the University of Guelph.

This is what I call cramming people into a residence that has no street parking, waste removal, with many forced to use private contractors because the city collection vehicles cannot maneuver. Yet, many residents in these HDH developments still pay for waste collection through their taxes.

The former mayor and her council supporters, were well ahead of the curve ten years ago when they launched the HDH development program while explaining it was part of the Provincial government’s “Places to Grow,” policy.

Farbridge campaigned in 2006 that the city had to stop urban sprawl (read that single family homes). I remember a column written by Tony Leighton in the Mercury at the time, complaining that the single-family homes built in Guelph were all the same with little design or panache (my word). I recall the term “cookie-cutter development” used.

That was the beginning of planning a city without including single-family home development. The basic planning principle of mixed-use development was thrust aside by the Farbridge Administration for all the wrong reasons. The most glaring was the abandonment of develeoping affordable housing in Guelph by the administration for eight years.

City angles for getting something for nothing

Today, ten years later, we have a city council determined to (a) gain control of the 549 acres of the Reformatory lands without paying the Province, and (b) sending the mayor to consult with Premier Kathleen Wynne, MPP Liz Sandals and MP Lloyd Longfield. The inclusion of Longfield escapes me as the lands are totally out of his jurisdiction.

The administration is proposing a “collaborative accommodation” with the Province. This would justify the estimated thousands of dollars already spent by city employees to plan a bucolic “Vision,” a Euro-style, ground efficient complex, that is self-contained with shopping, work sites and bicycles. Perhaps a few electric motorized scooters.

Now the Provincial Liberals are anxious to overcome their revenue deficits by next year, according to Finance Minister Charles Sousa. Do you believe that the city administration, is sending our mayor to persuade lending us the rights to plan the lands without paying for it? The Wynne government can be blamed for a lot of mistakes but I don’t believe this will be one of them.

Think about it. If the Province allowed this modern version of lend lease, can you imagine the rest of Ontario’s 445 municipalities will demand a similar deal to gain ownership of provincial lands?

It then brings up the question: If the working agreement between the city and Province regarding the reformatory lands expired in 2014, why is the staff bringing it up now? Who is pushing this? Is it the staff or the majority of Council who support another failed Farbridge initiative?

The staff admits there is no money to purchase the property. This is self-evident, as the administration cannot afford to build the Wilson Street Parkade, South End recreation centre or a new downtown library.

These are all long term, capital projects that former and present administrations have failed to fulfill.

Where did the money go?

Taxes and user fees have increased steadily.

The answer is that our money has been spent with irresponsible abandon on building monuments to self aggrandizement such as the Waste Resources Innovation Centre on Dunlop Road; and increasing city staff to a point that is unsustainable when compared to similar sized cities; the multi-million dollar losses Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc endured that was personally chaired by the former mayor and Chief Executive officer, Ann Pappert; The $23 million loss building the new City Hall complex.

These are some of the reasons why there is a capital funding deficit of $170 million, according to Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson.

If the city cannot afford to purchase the lands, how does the administration sell the idea of putting a large-scale development on lands they do not own? Doesn’t the owner of the lands have to approve the plan of subdivision and go through the long approval process? How is the public, the Ontario Municipal Board that would have to adjudicate any objections to the plan and, interested parties become involved in the process?

On a slightly different topic, a release by a Guelph radio station last week declared the salary for CAO Thomson was $230,000 fixed for three years. What was new information is that his contract includes six weeks vacation plus an extra week in lieu of overtime. It is difficult to comprehend why the CAO should be rewarded for working overtime. This means that the CAO will be off the job 13.4 per cent of his time in office each year of the contract.

Then there is the car allowance of $800 a week or $9,600 per year. That is a taxable benefit. When he was Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, his car allowance was $6,300 a year.

It appears Mr. Thomson’s annual remuneration totals $239,600 or $4,607 a week.

What the release didn’t mention was the effect of the cost of Mr. Thomson’s pension or the other perks of his office.

Mayor Guthrie felt it was a fair arrangement and praised Mr. Thomsom for revealing some of the details of his executive pay.

Now, if only the mayor would reveal the details of the $98,202 increases that went to former CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO’s Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson for 2015. It would reinforce his dedication to open government and his fiduciary responsibility to the people.

 

 

 

 

 

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A – The Liberal’s double standard handling municipal residents’ complaints

By Gerry Barker

September 6, 2016

Editor’s note: Today, guelphspeaks.ca is posting its first Two-For, two, back to back, separate postings of public interest are contained in a single edition of guelphspeaks.ca. Post A is the first and Post B is the second. Each is different in terms of subject matter. Meanwhile, tell your friends and colleagues to drop into guelphspeaks.ca and discover the truth about those issues that affect all of us.

 

In September 2012, a Guelph civic action group, Grassroots Guelph (GRG), made an official complaint to Linda Jeffrey, Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), requesting a provincial audit of the City of Guelph’s finances.

The request was backed up by financial data obtained from the city’s Financial Information Reports over the previous four years. These are the audited statements that the city must file annually with the provincial government.

Financial and legal professionals prepared the supporting GRG documents.

A week prior to the presentation to Minister Jeffrey, I and another member of GRG met with Liz Sandals MPP Guelph, to present a copy of the complaint as a courtesy to be embargoed until the Minister received the complaint. She agreed.

We requested the use of the Legislature press gallery to reveal the complaint data. We were informed five days prior to the Minister receiving the documents, that we had to have permission from the Speaker to use the Legislature media room. Three calls were made to Liz Sandals office prior to release date asking her to request using the media room on the day of the announcement.

GRG received no assistance from Sandals after three requests to fulfill this need. Instead, as our delegation was standing in the press gallery office, three security agents ordered us off the premises and said we had to hold our press conference on the front lawn of the Legislature. Good thing it was a warm fall day.

Then we learned that an hour after that, Mayor Farbridge was reporting we were ordered out of the Legislature. It was apparent we had a member of our delegation who informed the Mayor of what happened. We know who the betrayer was.

The CAO claims the GRG complaint was “a waste of time”

Ann Pappert, the Mayor’s Chief Administrative Officer, said the GRG report was “a waste of time.” It was obvious that our embargoed report was sent to Mayor Farbridge before the GRG delegation went to Queen’s Park.

Four months later, Minister Jeffrey sent a delegation of three Ministerial employees from London to my home to discuss the complaint. Included in the delegation was a financial analyst. He was asked if our numbers in the complaint were inaccurate or incorrect and he replied they were correct.

In a couple of months, Minister Jeffrey sent a letter thanking GRG for its efforts and said the “two parties should sort it out.”

Within a month, Jeffrey resigned as Minister of MMAH and member of the Provincial Parliament representing Brampton. This occurred about a year before Ms. Wynne won the 2014 provincial election.

Now comes the delicious irony. In effect, what is bad for the goose is great for the gander.

First, some background of the linkage between Guelph and Brampton and how Linda Jeffrey is now involved as Brampton’s mayor.

Ms. Jeffrey defeated Susan Fennell, the former Mayor of Brampton in the October 2014 civic election. In Guelph, after eight years, Karen Mayor Farbridge lost to Cam Guthrie.

Both the new mayors inherited financial and legal messes.

In Mayor Jeffrey’s case, there was evidence that former mayor Fennell had consulted with two major Ontario developers to build a $500 million downtown centre including a refurbished city hall. Brampton has a specific bylaw that prohibits elected officials to discuss developments prior to the final outcome of the application. It is an important check and balance of the public’s money to avoid unwarranted favouritism.

Oh! Do we ever need one of those in Guelph?

According to a report in the Toronto Star: “The allegations of bias on the part of senior staff and the former mayor have left city hall, in the words of current Mayor Jeffrey, “paralyzed.”

Is this starting to have a familiar ring about it? The Brampton Mayor’s word aptly applies to the problems Guelph is facing with its council dominated by supporters of the defeated former mayor, “paralyzed.”

But here comes the kicker. Last year, Mayor Jeffrey called for a provincial inquiry into the project to find out if procurement rules, designed to protect taxpayers, were violated in one of the largest deals in Brampton’s history. It’s not clear whether Jeffrey’s Liberal colleague, the Minister of MMA, concurred with her request or is letting the courts decide the outcome of the resulting lawsuits.

Instead, in Guelph, council is imprisoned with procedural bylaws that protect the staff and elected officials from public scrutiny through the use of closed-session meetings of the public’s business.

One of these bylaws gives the power of hiring all staff to the Chief Administrative Officer without council’s approval. Councillors are forbidden to discuss the details of a closed-session or they face an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner.

That’s how, on December 9, 2015, in closed session, council approved the salary increases of four top city managers ranging between 14 and 19 per cent. The people did not discover this until the provincial Sunshine List came out in March 2016. It revealed that the CAO was given a $37,500 increase for all of 2015. Large increases were awarded for the three DCAOs including Derrick Thomson, Al Horsman and Mark Amorosi, boosting all their salaries to a level of $207,000.

Guelph doesn’t follow the Brampton experience but hides public business behind closed doors so the people don’t know what’s going on.

Do we really want this movie to continue?

*            *            *            *

B –Why our electricity costs are soaring due to failed Liberal energy policies

By Gerry Barker

September 6, 2016

So you wonder why your Hydro bills are soaring. What follows is based on a commentary in the National Post written by Jon Kieran, a Toronto-based renewable energy consultant.

Ten years ago, Ontario’s demand for power peaked at 27,000 megawatts (MW) during the summer months. This past summer, one that had continuing days of temperatures exceeding 30C degree, the peak demand exceeded 23,000 MW for just one day.

Today, Ontario has an installed capacity of 40,000 MW despite a steady reduction in demand of power consumption in the past 10 years that has dropped by 13 per cent. With an annual reduction in power consumption this year, the province will consume less power than it did in 1997.

This reflects the losses endured in the manufacturing base in Ontario since the Liberals introduced their new green energy policy to close down the coal-fired electricity generating plants. It was replaced by the Large Renewable Procurement (LRP) plan.

The Liberal government used the LRP to procure large wind and solar installations. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, in ten years mismanagement of the program including intrusive policy and implementation are mostly responsible for the energy market debacle Hydro consumers face today.

Ontario has a huge glut of power generation regardless; the Liberal government is adding another 1,300 MW in large wind and solar generation under the LRP plan.

The Independent Electrical System Operators (IESO) reinforces the unnecessary need for this addition to the provincial energy plan stating: “Ontario will have sufficient supply for the next several years.”

While, the government offers sweet contracts to renewable energy developers during a period of demand stagnation, it has contributed to pushing consumer Hydro bills higher. In the past four years Guelph Hydro charges to consumers have risen by 42.5 per cent.

Ontario’s electricity rates have increased faster than any other jurisdiction in North America.

We are generating too much electricity

Part of the problem is that electricity, once generated, it cannot be stored. Ontario’s surplus power is given to U.S. border states and Hydro pays to take the excess power. It’s called “negative pricing”. Combine this with “curtailment,” paying the wind developers for energy production even though the grid cannot use the power, and it exacerbates the waste of public money.

Worse, these two problems have cost Ontario’s electricity consumers billion-dollar burdens.

Add to this the cost of continuing to build out wind and solar generating systems, and you can now understand why your hydro bills are climbing every year.

This is a critical situation for the province that already is preparing to introduce a carbon tax to be added to your hydro bill, starting in January.

Using the LRP to continue building out more renewable generating capacity must be stopped. The Wynne government’s handling of the energy file has been a disaster, starting with the destruction of the two gas-fired generating plants in Mississauga and Oakville. The price tag on that one was $1 billion, according to the Auditor General.

The former mayor to partner with her plan called the Municipal Energy Initiative (MEI) used the city-owned Guelph Hydro. Part of the plan was to create, through Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI), a $37.1 million District Energy system that combined electricity and co-generation to supply hot and cold water to nearby buildings.

The cost of this failed, massive project was not made public until May 16 this year, following four years of operation and development, and conducted in closed session meetings of GMHI and city council.

The complicity of Guelph Hydro in this convoluted secret project is apparent and contributed to the soaring costs of electricity to its more than 55,000 customers.

Because the city owns Guelph Hydro, it had no choice in the former mayor’s decision to amalgamate it with GMHI, of which she was chairperson until just before her defeat in 2014.

What this council must do is dissolve GMHI, suspend the MEI and District Energy system and have an independent committee composed of citizens, examine the operations and make recommendations.

With the failure of city councillors who were appointed to the GMHI board to inform the people as GMHI planned and executed MEI, councillors, with the exception of Mayor Guthrie, should not participate in the committee deliberations. The committee would be given power to subpoena witnesses and consultants.

We are now 20 months away from a provincial election and 26 months from a civic election. It’s time to organize and stop the waste and spending.

 

 

 

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That media corporate giant sucking sound has changed Guelph forever

By Gerry Barker

Posted February 2, 2016

When the Guelph Mercury closed its doors forever last week, as a result of a TorStar corporate decision by subsidiary MetroLand Publishing, the impact has changed the sources of news of a city of more than 122,000, to rely on a remaining handful of professional journalists.

With a single twice a week newspaper remaining with a full-time editorial staff of three, it takes no imagination to discover the huge vacuum of real news that has been created.

On the periphery of news coverage, there is the Rogers Community TV whose chief source of “news” is televising the Guelph council meetings. For those of us in the city that do not subscribe to Rogers services, that’s about as useful as a news source as horns on an ant.

Then we have the Kitchener CTV TV station. Its news coverage consists of 60-second video spots, using an on-camera reporter who does a toss-back to the anchor. This is real news? This outfit is now bereft because one of it’s chief sources was the Guelph Mercury that employed a staff of 10 editors and reporters who spent those long hours digesting and reporting civic affairs, community events, crime and interesting profiles of people.

That essential material coverage is now gone.

I must confess that I will truly miss the Mercury. I am, generally speaking, a one-man band. I do not have the personnel, time or energy to replace the Mercury and its former team of editors and reporters.

What I am most concerned about is that this news vacuum will further give the city administration, unfettered control of the corporation news, and the slant that it has been practising since 2007.

But what I do possess, for the past nine years, is a huge library of material that is mostly critical of the city’s administration.

Since the Mercury’s closing, the number of daily visitors to my blog, guelphspeaks.ca, has tripled. The reason was that I recognized the actions of the five members of council who literally defected from their responsibilities, Monday, January 25, when they walked out.

Then, when challenged to explain their action, I’d call it a strike, because they refused to answer. Instead, Coun. Phil Allt, one of the strikers, said it was “to defend the integrity of the corporation and staff.”

This all occurred during the week of the Mercury’s death throes.

Well, what’s new about this development?

There is a plethora of rumours and calls for the five councillors to resign.

This is a serious problem with the Ontario Municipal Act. The only way a councillor can be dismissed is for overt criminal activity, stealing public money and misrepresenting their credentials.

Even if there were charges relating to any of these fault lines, the councillor charged would still be in office by the next election, because of the time the courts could allocate court time to adjudicate the case. Usually it’s two years.

The provincial government must review and change these ironbound securities that municipal elected representatives are protected. What is needed is a mechanism to recall elected officials for malfeasance, failure to meet their fiduciary responsibilities and not turning up for official public meetings.

This outrageous political coitis interruptous must be met with public reaction and action. The greatest weapon the electors have is installing fear into their elected representatives. They do it by sending messages in many forms to the offending councillors, expressing their rejection of the way the defecting councillor has misbehaved in the people’s interest.

Make no mistake, a steady response complaining to these offending councillors who have stopped the city’s business, will have a telling effect in 2018, if they decide to run again.

If you need any evidence of this kind of political action, look no further than to see what happened in 2014 to council incumbents Karen Farbridge, Maggie Laidlaw, Ian Findlay, Todd Dennis, and Lise Burcher.

They were defeated or quit because of public pressure. It had little to do with the Guelph Mercury or Guelph Tribune; it was a quiet revolution by the people who protested the action of the previous administration.

It is time now to act against this group who have accomplished the continuation of the Farbridge administration that has seen large tax and user fee increases in just one year in office.

It’s now up to we the people to act.

Reminder: The Letter Box is now open for letters to the editor. Send you letter to gerrybarker76@gmail.com for publication.

 

 

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Is the teacher union payoffs Kathleen Wynne’s “Walkerton” moment?

By Gerry Barker

Posted October 27, 2015

It is interesting to note that right here in Ontario, there are two trials going on.

One, is the drawn out trial of Senator Mike Duffy charged with 31 counts of conspiracy and bribery over his expenses as a senator. The 46-day trial was postponed until after the federal election and resumes this week.

The bribery charge against Duffy is accepting a $93,000 cheque from Nigel Wright, former chief of staff to then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It was paid to shut down the growing scandal that threatened the Conservative government.

The prosecution is composed of lawyers employed by the Ontario government because the alleged offenses occurred in Ottawa.

In his new role of Prime Minister designate, Justin Trudeau would be wise to ask Premier Wynne to call off her legal hounds and wrap up the Duffy trial. Turn it back to the Senate for adjudication where it belonged in the first place.

The second trial is an avalanche of facts posted by the media totaling $7.1 million given to three teachers unions, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals who support the education system and the school boards.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has termed the practice “normal.” Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, MPP, Guelph, and her feckless response paying union negotiation costs was “actually has nothing to do with anything.” That sounds like a line from Seinfeld, “It’s a show about nothing.”

Those Looney Tune responses besmirch the offices of both women displaying a high degree of arrogance.

So, tell me, what’s the difference between Duffy charged with getting $93,000 to pay his travel expenses, and the government paying $7.1 million to settle demands of the teachers and support unions?

It’s like 50 Shades of Grey. In this case it’s the taxpayers and democratic principles that are getting royally screwed.

When all else fails, bribe them

The Wynne government has continually bribed the unions with special payments to settle contracts. It’s a practice that started three provincial elections ago.

It was only just revealed by the Globe and Mail last week when it obtained a secret, 42-page document detailing the bribes. Bribes totaling $2.5 million, given to the Ontario Secondary Teachers Federation, ($1 million) the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), ($1 million) and the French teacher union des enseignantes et des enseignantes franco-ontario (AEFO), ($500,000)

New evidence reveals that these same unions, receiving millions since 2007, have paid some $6.1 million supporting the Ontario Liberals in the last three elections.

The byzantine system of paying only the Liberal party and its candidates but it also included the teacher’s union-sponsored organization, Working Families of Ontario. It produced anti-Progressive Conservative TV ads aimed particularly at P.C. leader Tim Hudak in the 2014 provincial election.

In fact, the OSSTF largesse included giving money to three candidates in the 2013 Liberal Leadership race with $10,000 each to Kathleen Wynne and Eric Hoskins and $5,000 to Gerard Kennedy.

The teacher unions have steadfastly supported the Liberals and not the New Democrats who traditionally are supported by the labour movement.

In all these revelations, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has not received any negotiation funding from the government and refuses to accept it.

As a bloc, the members of the teachers unions have actively participated in political elections, supporting the Liberals but not only with money but on-the ground organizational help. With more than 100,000 members in three teacher’s unions, it presents a formidable political powerhouse.

Activist targets Guelph

For our Guelph readers, the recent claim by political activist Susan Watson about GrassRoots Guelph being a third party in last year’s civic election, pales in comparison in what the Liberal Party of Ontario has paid to education unions over the years to settle contracts.

Watson’s costly and fruitless exercise cost Guelph taxpayers $11,400. Tell us Susan, how much did your union friends contribute to the Farbridge campaign and her council supporters? Didn’t you argue that third party support in provincial and federal elections is not allowed?

The similarities still add up to bribes.

It has cost the Ontario government thousands of dollars to prosecute Mike Duffy for criminal charges.

As in the Duffy case, when do the police charge the Premier, the Minister of Education and the union leaders for conspiracy to bribe and thwart long established principles of avoiding such a serious conflict of interest?

In our opinion, there are two things that need to happen.

The first is to appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the circumstances of these millions of taxpayer dollars that have been spent both by the government and the unions for self interest. There is no separation of the source of these funds; it all came from the taxpayers.

Second, Minister Sandals should resign before she embarrasses herself any more than she already has. For her part, the Premier should apologize to the people of Ontario for being a party to these obvious illegal occurrences. That apology includes asking the legislature to approve forming a Royal Commission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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