Tag Archives: Toronto Star

Political dogma has erased reason in Guelph

Posted October 9, 2012

A recent op-ed column by Allan Gregg, one of Canada’s most respected pollsters and student of the human condition, outlines how political dogma has eclipsed reason in many jurisdictions. They range from the federal and provincial governments to cities and towns.

What is political dogma?

As Gregg pointed out: Governments are ceasing to use evidence, facts and science as a basis to guide policy. Instead, are retreating to dogma, fear and partisan advantage to control their chosen agenda.

He further stated: “The handmaidens of evidence-absent dogma are almost always secrecy, obfuscation and misdirection.”

The message is tarted up in “newspeak” that has become the controlled language of legislators.

It isn’t what you need to hear, but what they want you to know.

The strange part is that the substance of government action is disguised in a veil of managed “newspeak”. Why is this necessary? Would telling the truth be effectual?  By obfuscating the true purpose of legislation there is tacit admission that the intention probably lacks public support and respect.

As Gregg opines, this explains why government’s obsession with secrecy and control of the message lies through misdirection.

Closer to home, we see these exact examples of the political dogma practised by the Mayor Farbridge council majority, dominating city government for the past six years.

You can start be seeing the absence of reason in many decisions. The Guelph public is locked out of the details of many of these decisions despite the claim of the Mayor that council actions are transparent. They are not.

They believe their version of ‘Newspeak” fulfills their obligation to the citizens.

Here are a few of the examples of how council has failed to reveal the facts of major spending.

*   The decision to move the civic museum to the derelict Loretto Convent was the result of council’s agreement with the Guelph Historical Group to save the convent.  The exercise has been a financial disaster and was taken without public input. The real cost of the museum has been smothered by the administration. They were embarrassed to admit the cost of renovation that took almost five years to complete.

*   The Farbridge pledge in the 2006 election campaign to build a new downtown library has never materialized. Instead $5 million has been spent to tear down two Wyndham Street properties with the promise to take down two more. The cost of this will be more than $10 million. Why are they doing this? Because they want the new library to front on Wyndham Street.

Add in the cost of the $63 million library that is not budgeted but promised to open in 2017, and it’s another case where secrecy and misdirected messages follow the Farbridge dogma.

*   Next came the secret agreements with Maple Reinders to design and build a new $34 million dollar organic composting facility on the site of the old one. The start-up of this facility has been delayed for more than a year. Then it’s revealed that the Regional Municipality of Waterloo has agreed to ship 20,000 tonnes of wet waste to the plant at an unknown price per tonne. The operating cost of running the plant has also never been revealed. So far, no wet waste from the City of Guelph has been processed in the plant.

Again, the public was not informed of the decision to proceed with this and secrecy still surrounds the project.

*   The city staff has increased by 556 full time equivalent employees between 2007 and 2011. The population of the city increased by only 3,500 during that period. Today the staff costs comprise 89 per cent of the annual city budget. In contrast, the City of Waterloo’s employee costs are 56.6 per cent of its annual budget.

These are only a few of the covered-up missteps by the Farbridge administration.

It is an exact case study of what Allan Gregg was addressing.

In Guelph political dogma has trumped reason at City Hall.

History has shown that dictators face a truncated shelf life provided the citizens enter the public forum armed with facts, reasoned arguments and ideas.

If we don’t act, the silence will be taken as consent to continue the policies that have brought us to this stage.

It’s time to act. Not more of the same,

 

 

 

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Has Ontario turned its doctors into bounty hunters?

Posted September 27, 2012

It was reported in the Toronto Star that Ontario doctors are paid $36.25 by the Ministry of Transportation for each driver they report as being unfit to drive.

These are the same doctors who are currently locked into a dispute with the province regarding their pay packages.

A study conducted by Dr. Donald Redelmeier, of the Institute for Clinical Evaluation Sciences, proclaimed, “the reduction in risk was immediate, substantial and sustained.”

There is no question about getting unfit drivers off the roads. There is a question of how it is done. Paying doctors to blow the whistle is not one of them.

Let’s look at a typical scenario. An elderly lady comes into the doctor’s office for treatment of an unrelated matter. The doctor is faced with a dilemma because he feels she should not be driving. So he reports her and receives a cheque for $36.25. The trouble is, he has no knowledge of her driving ability including reaction time, safety habits or record.

Under this system she loses her licence.

The Ministry of Transportation (MOT) is responsible for the licensing of Ontario’s drivers. Its own counselors inform those taking the elderly driver (EDL) classes and tests, that the program has markedly reduced accidents involving seniors. So much so that the age group causing the greatest number of accidents involving death and injury, are the under-25 licence holders.

Where the MOT falls down is failing to test the individual driver’s ability to drive a vehicle. This means that reaction time should be measured along with the physical abilities. The MOT already has a system for testing the eyesight of EDL drivers backed up by optometrists and ophthalmologists.

Any driver involved in an accident or charged with a serious offense under the Highway Traffic Act should be tested by the MOT.

Using driver training devices that test an operator’s ability to function using actual road travel on a screen, allows the MOT counselor to get a complete analysis of the candidate’s ability to drive.

Despite The Star’s editorial stating, “You don’t have to be old or ailing to be a bad driver.” It continues to go on to give several examples of horrific accidents involving old people, only one of which occurred in Ontario.

There’s something sleazy and Orwellian about this process of elimination. It rocks the doctor/patient relationship and excuses the MOT from its primary licensing responsibility.

Of course bad drivers should be taken off the road, regardless of their age.

But place that decision where it belongs: The Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

 

 

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Lullaby journalism is alive and well in Guelph

Posted July 1, 2012

On Canada Day morning, I checked out the local daily newspaper that included an insert, a glossy full-colour magazine titled “My Guelph.”

It represents the soft side of the city and is a stepchild of the newspaper with some of its staffers and contributors supplying the marshmallow content.

It is a thinly disguised advertising vehicle masquerading as a city magazine to extract more dollars from the marketplace. Toronto Life it isn’t.

It is yet another example of how critical thinking and investigation of city affairs has disappeared from the print and electronic media.

Another element of lullaby journalism is the Rogers community channel that features soft and flabby coverage of only so-called good news including a misnamed program called “Inside  Guelph.” It is really an extension of the Farbridge Administration’ s tightly wound control of communications.

In our view, the medium is not the real message.

The other troubling aspect is the how Guelph’s print sources of news is controlled by Torstar, corporate umbrella of the Toronto Star, and its suburban publishing operation called Metroland.

Metroland operates the daily Guelph Mercury, the twice weekly Guelph Tribune and now My Guelph magazine.

In the past six years, it is a rare occurrence for the two newspapers to be critical of the city administration including council. For that length of time, Mayor Karen Farbridge and her majority of councillors rarely deviate from the message that’s controlling this city.

Because of this situation, taxpayers do not receive balanced coverage from the corporate controlled print or the television media.

Indeed, questions involving the real costs of major multi-million projects are withheld. As a result, management of city finances has been so manipulated with the apparent concurrence of the outside accounting firm charged with auditing the books.

Running a $174 million operation requires transparent and responsible reporting

For example, what is the true cost of the new Civic Museum? Such questions as how much was spent on the original $12.7 million estimated budget over five years from general funds? There have been vague hints that the cost ballooned to $15.5 million due to unexpected foundation problems. But this was never confirmed.

The real cost of the new $33 million compost plant has been masked with dodging and obfuscation by the staff leadership charged with executing the plan and contract.

Taxpayers have never been informed of the details of the contract signed by the city and general contractor Maple Reinders. This lush contract included two wholly owned subsidiaries of Maple Reinder that won the right to run the plant and procure addition wet waste (feedstock}. This is why the City of Waterloo entered an agreement to supply 20,000 tonnes of wet waste per year.  This side contract was negotiated by AIM Environmental, wholly controlled by Maple Reinders.

Underlying this, is the plant was over-built to meet the needs of Guelph.  It is estimated that our city will never use the capacity of that plant … when it eventually becomes fully operational … for the presumed 20-year lifespan.

Summing up: Guelph taxpayers must guarantee the amount of wet waste to keep the plant in operation daily.  But Aim Environmental has exclusive right to operate the plant and negotiate contracts to bring in additional feedstock.

The city must finance the construction cost. It also must raise an additional $15 million to provide large bins or carts to property owners along with special trucks to remove the contents of the bins. This was because the Ministry of the Environment told the city the plant could not receive the waste in plastic bags. What a surprise!

Was this ever discussed or considered during the contact talks?

Finally, what happens to the tonnes of compost projected to be the end product of the plant?  What is the cost of the heavy trucks coming from other municipalities damaging Guelph streets over time? What is the true operating cost of the plant?

Why haven’t these and a host of other questions been answered by the city administration?

Is lulling you this warm summer into dreaming about cooking the best steak, or advising you how to budget, or advising singles to get into the social whirl, making important matters that affect you, go away? Think again.

The real news is submerged under a barrage of soft pap, served up by self-serving corporate entities that control the message.

So many questions, so few answers.

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Look for MediaWatch exclusively in guelphspeaks.ca

MediaWatch is a new feature on our website that examines the coverage and editorial position of the public print and broadcast media.

Local print media is owned by Metroland publishing, a division of the Toronto Star and corporate parent, Torstar Inc. That includes the daily Mercury and the twice-weekly Tribune. Both papers’ editorial management report to the editor-in-chief Lynn Haddrell based in Kitchener at the Record.

There is no local ownership of these publications. The community editorial board is composed mainly of supporters of Mayor Farbridge. People such as Ben Bennett, the man who stalled the Walmart store from coming to Guelph; or Susan Ratcliffe, a decent but idealistic lefty; or Brian Holstein, actor and unabashed fan of Farbridge. That board does not reflect the views of the majority of taxpayers in the city.

MediaWatch will comment on coverage of these papers and the broadcast media. MW will view content that is self-serving or slanted to serve the needs of the publisher and or the administration. Many papers have what is charitably called a point of view.

Having worked at the Toronto Star for many years, I am familiar with that paper’s liberal point of view. In the old days, it often influenced the news pages. The paper is now more careful and columnists are free to expound the Star’s point of view.

I have no problem with that.

But what has happened in Guelph is that the print media, in the past year has slowly adopted an unequivocal policy of supporting the Farbridge administration. In the case of the Tribune, it is like the mouse that roared. A good little tabloid that many readers like but it is still under the Metroland thumb which supports the Farbridge group.

Why is that?

Here’s the skinny. The Tribune rakes in more than $500,000 from city-paid advertising. This is an account that most publishers would drool over. The question that should be asked is why is that influencing the news coverage of city hall?

As a former senior manager at The Star, the advertising department was never allowed in the newsroom. It was a metaphor that milk and water don’t mix.

It’s different with Metroland. It’s all about financial performance. The company started in the ‘60’s as a community newspaper group operating outside the Metro Toronto area. It bought papers and then a few years ago The Star bought the Hamilton Spectator, The Guelph Mercury, The Guelph Tribune and the Kitchener Record plus the Cambridge paper that was shut down. This put Metroland in the big leagues. Unfortunately, it maintained its principles that the bottom line comes first.

It is mindful of the late newspaper magnate Lord Thomson who said: “We will print all the news that fits around the ads.”

And that folks is where we are today with a print media controlled from outside the community.

Metroland presents itself as community minded, but eschews controversy that impacts its protective shield of protecting the ad base.

Never fear friends, MediaWatch will expose the cover-ups and obvious slanted news published.

Look for MediaWatch in guelphspeaks.ca.

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