Tag Archives: Toronto Star

How our personal anxiety grows from the assault on our political conscience

By Gerry Barker

October 16, 2017

Recent political events in the U.S. and our provincial and federal governments have markedly raised our collective anxiety. It affects our beloved existence that is under siege by incompetence, Anarchistic and self-serving power blocs exercised by political leaders around the world.

In Guelph, power is concentrated among a minority of progressives who have controlled our city for the past ten years. This week, a group announced they were supporting the return of former mayor Karen Farbridge. She was defeated in 2014 for being responsible for the wrongful dismissal of Urbacon Buildings Group, general contractor of the new city hall. They were kicked off the project in September 2008. That act alone cost taxpayers an additional $23 million over the original contract of $42 million.

We’ll discuss this matter later as we commence the examination of how our anxiety levels increase and appears to be mounting over our uncertain future and that of our children and their children.

Next June 7, Ontario will go to the polls to elect a new government.

In last Saturday’s edition of the Toronto Star, a team of writers produced a lengthy Q. and A. about successive Liberal government’s handling of power and energy. It states the requirement to produce it, since 2003 across the province. The question asked: “Is electricity more expensive in Ontario than in neighbouring provinces and the United States?”

According to a survey conducted in April 2016 by Quebec Hydro, we have compared prices of per kilowatt-hour usage for residential customers in 22 North American cities. Taxes were not included and all figures are in Canadian dollars.

Montreal – 7.23 cents

Winnipeg – 8.43

Edmonton – 10.37

Calgary – 10.4

Vancouver – 10.7

Houston – 11.25

Miami – 11.67

St John’s NL – 11.96

Moncton – 12.50

Seattle -13.62

Portland OR – 13.94

Nashville TN – 14.28

Regina – 14.65

Chicago – 15.19

Halifax – 15.88

Charlottetown – 16.02

Ottawa – 16.15

Toronto – 17.81

Detroit – 20.24

Boston – 27.69

New York – 29.52

San Francisco – 31.05

Now let’s look at the details. Toronto, of all major Canadian cities has the highest per kilowatt-hour (KWH) rate for electric power. Living in Toronto costs 10.58 cents more for every KWH than what it costs in Montreal.

Ontario is the only province that uses nuclear-generated power. The reactors are located in Bruce, Darlington and Pickering and produce 61 per cent of 36,120 installed Megawatts generated by all sources in the province. This means that Ontario is generating more power than is needed, even at peak periods. The province’s power generating total is broken down with Hydro, or water generated power, 24 per cent of the total; 9 per cent is generated by natural gas plants; 6 per cent by wind turbines and less than 1 per cent solar panels.

If generating more power than we can use in the next ten years, what happens to the unused power? You cannot store power unless your home is equipped with racks of lithium batteries. Examining these data, do you agree that the management of Ontario energy, specifically electricity, is a costly, abject failure by the Liberal administrations?

So they give it away in low demand periods to utilities along the board in the U.S, or it has been reported that it is sold at below costs to other jurisdictions. Ontario’s daily power demand peaks at around 27,600 MW in mid-summer and in winter, which leaves almost another 10,000 MW to sell or give away.

Ontario is Number One when it comes to cost of power

It requires enormous management control over supply and demand. You can’t stop the fast-flowing Niagara River or shut down a nuclear plant or notify the operators of thousands of wind turbine scattered throughout the province to reduce supply. The result of this overbuilding of generation assets has thrust Ontario’s electricity costs to the highest in Canada.

In the past ten years there has been a drive to cut deals with private corporations to build wind-generating turbine farms and solar panel arrays to replace any fossil fuel fired generating plants.

This created a crisis in the cost of delivering so-called green power because the government signed rich contracts with private enterprises that were 20-year guaranteed prices of 20 cents per KWH. Their costs averaged less than eight cents. A lot of entrepreneurs got rich quickly as did many farmers who allowed the turbines on their land.

The sad fallout of this is the attempt by the previous administration in Guelph to copycat the Ontario Liberal programs to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired generating plants (now closed). The energy plans included promoting greater use of electric cars, recharging kiosks, encouraging use of power by retrofitting homes to reduce power. The crunch came when the nuclear plants supplying 61 per cent of all power consumed in the province required multi-billions in retrofitting the reactors.

The unforeseen consequences were the regulatory impediments that the nuclear-generating plants faced to make the necessary maintenance and operating changes. In the case of the Bruce reactor, now more than 30 years old, the retrofitting has taken more than seven years.

In Guelph, we know what was attempted to emulate the failed Liberal power strategy. The former mayor convinced a council whose knowledge of power generation consisted of flipping a light switch. The city-owned Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. (GMHI) headed by the mayor and selected councillors, controlled the objective of creating power self-sufficiency and offered thermal heating and cooling in selected areas downtown and at the Hanlon Business Park.

Failure started at the top

What we have learned in the past 17 months from reports by staff is that millions were lost, according to an audit of GMHI by the accounting firm KPMG. The former Mayor acted as chair of the GMHI Board of Directors.

It represented a double-edged abuse of power as all embedded checks and balances failed to stop the disastrous decisions being made by the GMHI Board that operated in closed-sessions. The public was only informed after the defeat of the former mayor in Oct 2014 as the new council opened investigations of the GMHI and Guelph Hydro combined operations.

What is the cost to taxpayers? GS estimated that taking the figures from the audited GMHI consolidated balance sheet, the shareholders equity of $63 million is actually worthless. Then, consider the $93 million loaned by a subsidiary of Guelph Hydro in two long-term debentures. We understand that any collateral or assets secured neither loan. GMHI certainly was in no position to pay the interest or guarantee the loans.

Those are the main costs contributing to the losses of GMHI. There is an item of unpaid interest on the debentures of an estimated $10 million. Regardless, right up until 2015, GMHI sent a $1.5 million “dividend” to the city’s general revenues.

Will someone please explain to me how you can pay dividends (more than $9 million in five years) and never make a profit in order to pay those dividends?

In 2016, there was a flurry of closed session activity by council to solve the debenture issue. The strategy that emerged was to transfer the debentures back to Guelph Hydro. The Hydro’s 2016 financial statement shows long-term debt of $94.3 million. Surprise!

So what’s Guelph Hydro’s long-term? The one debenture has a shelf life to 2030. The second debenture expires in 2045. To avoid a financial disaster, the two loans were transferred to the Guelph Hydro balance sheet. No foul, no penalty as the magic of accounting returns the debt back to the provider, Guelph Hydro.

But the question of the interest owed by GMHI to Guelph Hydro remains unanswered.

Poof! It’s gone, with the exception of the more than $10 million in interest never paid to the owner of the debentures (Guelph Hydro).

Because The City of Guelph owns GMHI, Guelph Hydro and its subsidiaries it’s a bookkeeping exercise like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic to get a better view of the iceberg.

The dust has barely settled and this happens

The author of all this Community Energy Initiatives is now considering running for the mayor’s position in the 2018 civic election.

Currently the Strategic Options Committee (SOC) is charged with negotiating the merger or sale of Guelph Hydro. This committee is composed of five individuals, none of whom are elected to council.

The way it works is that council provides the checks and balances of policy on behalf of the people who elected them. Unfortunately, in the past three years the majority of council defers that responsibility to the senior staff. This can be dangerous to the public interests, particularly if the staff makes recommendations that are questionable and thecouncil acquiesces.

This is part of the reason that in the past 11 years there has been little control of the people’s business and interests because bureaucrats are running the city. You will recall that of the four senior managers who received those large salary increases awarded by council, only one remains on staff, CAO Derrick Thomson.

Ironically, Mr. Thomson, on that December 10, 2015 night meeting, closed to the public, received the highest increase by percentage, 19 per cent.

Still open for explanation includes: Who planned the increases that totaled $98,202 paid to the four top managers? Which councillors voted in closed-session to approve those increases? Why, shortly after, did council, in closed session, approve bylaw 19995 to indemnify any employee or elected official if they are involved in a legal procedure initiated by a citizen or corporation? The bylaw states the city will reimburse the legal costs of any staffer or elected official in such an action.

Why was this bylaw needed? Were there other legal threats to the city that required this bylaw? I can only think of one and that ended abruptly when the city inadvertently leaked thousands of personal staff emails to the lawyer representing the claimant, Bruce Poole. The lawsuit was quickly settled in Mr. Poole’s favour.

Interesting times here in River City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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