The Block lied. Told you so.

StenchIf you read the media release published by the Town of Collingwood this afternoon you will realized just how much you have been lied to these past two years. It’s titled, “Council to pursue Hydro Share Sale discussions with Epcor.” This is the “unnamed company” whose name The Block and the administration tried – unsuccessfully – to hide from us.

But like I warned you: The Block is privatizing our water and wastewater services, too. All without any input or consultation from the public:

In addition to submitting an offer on Collingwood’s remaining interest in Collingwood PowerStream Utility Services Corp, EPCOR has proposed a services arrangement to operate the Town’s water and waste water system under the Town’s continued ownership.

And yet the media release has the unmitigated gall to add,

The Town plans to hold a public information session once more information is available that will provide more details of the EPCOR proposal and seek public input.

Folks, you already know this is a foregone conclusion. After two years of outright deceit and deception, your input no longer matters. The deal is already done: a fait accompli, and nothing you say at this point makes any difference. You are about to lose control of both water and electrical utilities – lose control of the rates, service levels, quality and delivery – to an Edmonton-based corporation you’ve probably never heard of.

The Block doesn’t give a shit about what you think about it. Or about anything else. They hold the public in utter contempt. And it won’t be the last time The Block lies to you, either.
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Will the Block’s hypocrisy never cease?

HypocrisyLast term, when they were raising their pitchforks to storm the bureaucratic castle, the members of today’s Collingwood Council – those we disparagingly refer to as The Block – were loudly castigating the former council for having once done a sole-source deal with the company that was the only Canadian supplier of a product in the whole country. Some said we should have gone further afield, to American sources.

We were evil, they told their cadre of supporters, for not going to tender, or other process like an RFP. The Block’s leader and now Deputy Mayor, Brian Saunderson pledged his word in print to the public that, if he was elected, he would…

Change the purchasing policy to ensure there can be no sole sourcing of any contract for goods or services over $25,000, no exceptions.

He promised everyone he would do it. NO EXCEPTIONS, he said. Just elect me and watch me fix things. Two years later… and we’re still waiting for him to keep his word.

Meanwhile, the very first contract The Block approved, February 2015, was a sole-source contract for taxi services to Councillor Fryer’s brother-in-law. And ever since then, it’s been one sole-sourced contract after another, handed out by this council like party favours.

Apparently the words “no exception” mean the rules can be changed when it suits The Block’s purposes. But they don’t call these “sole sourced” any more. To avoid the public shaming that might follow, they call them “non-standard” purchases. How devious.

Almost every consultant (there’s only one exception that I know of) the Town has hired these past two years to produce the Block’s self-serving (and frequently erroneous) reports has been sole-sourced. The $700-an-hour lawyer overseeing the sale of our utility (and the inevitable privatization of our water utility) was sole-sourced. The people doing the IT assessment for the town were sole-sourced.

On the agenda for Monday, January 30 are no less than THREE more sole-sourced items. One is a truck ( $172,175.00 plus HST). One is for a new membrane for the water treatment plant ($130,576.00 plus HST). The third is for two buses ($846,075.74 plus taxes). More than $1.14 million in sole-sourced purchases in a single evening.
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Collingwood’s casino roulette

I want you to read the following motion carefully. Take your time. It was passed by the former council in March, 2013 in response to the Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corporation (OLG) coming forward with a proposal to locate a gambling (“gaming”) facility in Collingwood:

WHEREAS a properly developed Integrated Destination Resort which includes but is not limited to a world class accommodation hotel, executive meeting and convention facilities, a large seating capacity theatre, restaurants, spa and boutique casino could benefit the economic growth of the community;
AND WHEREAS Council of the Town of Collingwood may be interested in becoming a host municipality for a gaming facility conditionally upon thorough review and discussion with appropriate parties;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council of the Town of Collingwood hereby directs staff to advise the OLG that Collingwood does not support a standalone 300 slot machine gaming facility in the C7 Region;
AND FURTHER THAT Council hereby agrees to pursue negotiations with:
1) Private sector operators on acceptable Integrated Destination Resort opportunities and locations; and
2) The OLG to draft an acceptable revenue sharing agreement, that could be considered by Council and potential private sector operator(s);
AND FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to prepare a report on how best to engage the public prior to any final decision to host a gaming facility in our municipality.

The debateNow tell me: what does it say? Does it say the town will consider a serious, large-scale proposal only when and if one is presented? Yes. Does it commit the town to anything? No. Glad you understand that, because The Block sure didn’t. Maybe because to get what it says you need to actually READ it.

And that motion was passed FOUR years ago. The Block have had more than two years to do something about it. They’ve let the OLG make plans and prepare RFPs all this time without saying a word and now they act surprised. The only ones not surprised by this inaction are, of course, you, dear reader.
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The Block torpedoes the hospital, again

Stupid peopleWhen their sole-sourced consultant’s report failed to give The Block the high ground to oppose the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital’s redevelopment plan, the weasels on council and in the administration decided to undermine the hospital from a different direction. And they hired another consultant.

That’s right: wasting $30,000 of your hard-earned tax dollars on one sole-sourced consultant to “peer review” the CG&M’s already peer-reviewed report wasn’t enough. So they hired a second consultant because the first didn’t say what The Block wanted. How much that second consultant cost taxpayers has not yet been revealed.

The first consultant’s report just weakly suggested more information might possibly maybe sort-of be useful. I’m told few of The Block actually read it and even fewer understood it. But because it didn’t say what they wanted, it had to be supplanted by another scheme. Another report. Back to the conniving board: hire someone to say what they wanted to hear.

At the latest meeting (Jan. 23) of the “Secretive Initiatives Standing Committee” they had a report tabled at the end of the agenda called the “Employment Land Analysis Update.”  Its contents were cunningly not included in the online agenda package, so as to avoid revealling their hand to residents ahead of time.

And that, my dear readers, is the latest, stealthy salvo in The Block’s war on the hospital.
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Auden, Trump and poetry

W. H. AudenThere’s a poem by W. H. Auden (1907-73) going the internet rounds these days with suggestions of Auden’s prescience towards the latest American president and contemporary politics. It’s a powerful piece, but the bad news for conspiracy theorists is that Auden was a poet, not a prophet. A good poet, even a great poet, mind you, but not one to predict much of anything outside the local reaches of the human heart.

Yes, yes, I know: it’s unusual, perhaps bordering on blasphemy, to put poetry in the same headline as the notorious philistine, but worlds do collide at times, even if awkwardly. Lipstick sometimes becomes conflated with the metaphorical pig, guilty by association.

The poem in question – Sept. 1, 1939 – opens like it could have been written by a somewhat later Charles Bukowski:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Waves of anger and fear/ Circulate over the bright/ And darkened lands of the earth… sure sounds like it might have been written with the vast protests that followed Trump’s inauguration: more three times as many people came out to protest in Washington alone than showed up at his inauguration, and that doesn’t include the numbers who marched worldwide. Waves of anger and fear, indeed. But it wasn’t an augury.

September 1, 1939 would have been for Auden’s era and generation a landmark date, like Nov. 22, 1963 was for my time. Maybe January 20, 2017 will be for the current generation. One of those where-were-you-when dates frozen in the neuronic amber of memory. The place, the sounds, the grubby details of that day forever etched in our brains. Auden’s 52nd Street dive. The panzers tearing across Polish farmlands. People running through the crowded streets of Dallas after the shot. The bleak day when Trump raised his hand to be sworn in. Where you you when…?

The date must have been doubly important for Auden, because earlier that year he had left England for America, where he remained the rest of his life. When war was declared, he offered to return home to serve, but was politely rebuffed. At age 32, he wasn’t needed. He stayed in America from then on – making it somewhat difficult to identify him as a strictly English or American poet in anthologies. So the poem is, in a way, a goodbye to a life he left behind.

Auden had increasingly deep political beliefs that sometimes peer through his writing and show their complexity growing with age and wisdom. He spent a year living in Berlin in 1928, and would return to the city several times before WWII broke out. He watched the rise of fascism, anti-semitism. He loved Berlin, but hated what it became under the Nazis.
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Saunderson announces another tax hike

Sneaky BrianAt Collingwood Council, Monday night, Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson revealed The Block’s plan to foist its third tax hike this term on residents. Despite the report on the town’s financial situation by the interim CAO’s pet consultant that warned Collingwood is already overtaxed, Saunderson and his Block plan to raise your taxes AGAIN this term.

At the end of the meeting, he made a notice of motion to “keep” the next tax hike at 2%. Well that simply means he’s giving staff the permission to raise it 2%*. Had he been serious about low taxes, about sustainable budgets and wise financial management, he could have simply said no increase. Zero per cent would have been the right answer. But he made it clear he supports another tax hike – the third this term. And wither Brian goes so follows his six minions.

Now lest you think this is just more of Saunderson’s lawerly, grandstanding moments – him pretending to be concerned about residents – it’s really the sort of political flimflammery we’ve become accustomed to from The Block. Consider that he made this notice before seeing the final budget documents, but long after council was presented its initial look at the upcoming budget. That was when staff proposed a hike of almost 5%.

Saunderson had weeks and weeks in which to comment and make his motion, but only made his preference known the week before the final budget is to be presented, Jan. 30. But the public didn’t know what he was planning because he announced his notice after the in camera meeting, when all the cameras were turned off and everyone in the audience had gone home. Even the media ignored him. What did it accomplish aside from forcing staff to rework everything they have prepared for presentation next week? Just a little slap in the face to staff, don’t you think?

It’s only two percent, some might say. Anyone can afford that. Not so: it will hurt our many residents working for minimum wages, and every senior struggling on a fixed income. These folk will have to figure out what to cut from their limited income – like food or hydro – to pay for the town’s latest increase. And also pay for the impending increases in user fees, and skyrocketing water and electricity rates – about to explode thanks to The Block selling our utilities to an Alberta corporation. Without public input, of course.

Two percent means more than $1 million in the town’s coffers – which will be entirely used up paying for the extra expenses incurred by breaking the shared services agreement with Collus PowerStream, and for the huge bill for creating our own IT department. Plus we’ll still have to pay for hiring all those extra staff – and of course pay for the costs of The Block’s vendettas and witch hunts – already well over $500,000 in lawyers and consultants so far. And the $100,000-$150,000 extra it has cost us by The Block renewing the interim CAO’s contract.

For astute financial management, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for inept bumbling, you’ve come to the right council. The Block are spending your money like drunken sailors who won a lottery while on leave; they’re ratcheting up your taxes to pay for their excesses. All part of The Block’s ongoing war against low-income earners and seniors.

Collingwood deserves better.
~~~~~
* Sure, he said “up to 2%” but that’s like telling a child it can only have “up to a quart” of ice cream… and then leaving them in the kitchen with the opened gallon container… plus the additional levy approved this term will make it closer to 3%… and yes, a levy IS a tax no matter how the Blockheads try to spin it.

You’ve been duped. Again.

Duped againRemember all those blithe assurances from The Block that they were only “kicking tires” and “just exploring our options”? Well, there’s a story in the Connection that shows just how much you have been conned by your elected representatives. It’s titled,”Collingwood to continue utility sale negotiations with unnamed bidder.”

Read that headline again. Pay attention to two words: negotiations and continue. How can they be “kicking tires” or “exploring options” while continuing to negotiate with a company? A company The Most Secretive Council Ever won’t even name, but had its representatives in the room yesterday?

It’s all been a thin lie. A con game. And the result will be the loss of our public utilities at a huge expense to the taxpayer.

Council voted 7-2 — with Mayor Sandra Cooper and Coun. Kevin Lloyd opposed — to authorize solicitor Mark Rodger and chief administrative officer John Brown to “pursue further detailed discussion with one RFP proponent” that had responded to the town’s request for proposals for the town-owned share of Collus-Powerstream.

The sorry truth about the two years of backroom deals by The Most Secretive Council Ever has been revealed. This is the secret deal to privatize our electrical and water utilities I warned you about earlier. It’s been planned for the past two years and is finally coming to closure.

That unnamed bidder is most likely the Edmonton-based energy giant, EPCOR. Your public utility services are soon to be in their hands without any input or consultation with you, the owners of those services. Your rates will skyrocket, you will have no say about the service. There will be no accountability or openness. Just what The Block wants.

The only two on council who haven’t been scheming and plotting against the public’s interest are Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd. The rest have acted in bad faith and betrayed the public trust.

Collingwood deserves better. And we deserve a full investigation into this, not only the process but to see if anyone benefitted from misuse of public money.

Collingwood Council’s missed initiatives

IneptitudeThe word initiative derives from the Latin word initiare “to begin.” Since 1600, it has meant “introduce to some practice or system,” “begin, set going.” While any sort of action or engagement, positive or negative, can be classified as an initiative, generally one refers only to positive enterprises when describing political or social initiatives.

I know, I know: you immediately want to interrupt and say, “but Ian, The Block don’t do anything positive, and you cannot talk about a council’s initiatives when none have occurred.” I agree, but bear with me.

It’s true that, when measuring the positive actions begun for the benefit of anyone but themselves, Collingwood council comes up woefully short: mene, mene, tekel upharsin so to speak. There simply have been none and likely won’t be any this term. This council is better described with one or more of the 44 antonyms for initiative: lethargy, indifference, indolence, apathy, diffidence, staleness, dreariness, lassitude, insipidness… they have no interest in your or my good, just their own.*

A short while ago, I wrote Council’s report card: Year 2, part 1, a post humorously (but truthfully) describing council’s sorry list of “accomplishments” for the first half of its term (forbidding you from throwing birdseed on your driveway is their main intellectual effort). Aside from my sarcastic poke at their rampant ineptitude, as you, dear reader know, there were no real accomplishments.

In that previous post I promised to present you with a list of “the Blockheads’ failures and debacles, their endless efforts to destroy people, institutions, and relationships, their gobsmacking waste of tax dollars to pursue petty vendettas and personal agendas, their arrogant self-interests, their conniving, their secrecy, their blatant dishonesty and their egregious ineptness and all the rest.” And I started to. The list was long. So very long.

To be frank, after I began that post, I found myself unwilling continue. There were simply too many dreary, petty items, too many malicious actions, too much skullduggery and self-interest to expose again. I became depressed in the process of categorizing and explaining all the malevolence and evil. All that self-serving, nest-feathering, the witch hunts and vendettas … it could drive one to drink.
Dilbert, of course...
While I don’t mind writing another sententious “Malleus Politici” (and the Muse knows they deserve it) this became an extended, overly long and increasingly bitter rant even for someone given to near-hypergraphia. After some contemplation, I decided to take a different tack. I thought what I should do is to list some of the initiatives taken by other municipalities and compare those with what Collingwood has or has not done in that vein. See what positive approaches others have taken in dealing with the problems, issues and challenges in their municipality and measure ours against that.

Alas, we again fall woefully short. But if you have been reading this blog, you already know that. Still, the exercise is educational. The list as follows is neither complete nor in any order aside from what came to mind at the moment of writing.

Continue reading “Collingwood Council’s missed initiatives”

Council is privatizing our utilities

Water costs
Collingwood council and its administration are planning to privatize both our water and electricity utilities. All, of course, without consulting you, the public. Some members of council have even stated – with a straight face, mind you – they would ask for your input at a later date. A date long after it’s too late for public input to matter, of course.

They have already engaged in negotiations with outside companies to take over our utilities, all the while pretending they were just “kicking the tires.” They appointed their lawyer to oversee the sale. Consultants made reports painting the existing situation with faux negativity, from early 2015.

In 2012, the former council determined (after considerable public discussion and public consultation) to sell only 50% of its share in the electrical utility, not 100%, and not water, because that would mean a loss of control over services and rates, loss of accountability and openness, plus additional liabilities. This council is determined to give away those controls, reduce accountability and transparency. It will cost taxpayer millions. And they’re doing it all in secrecy.

“I will assure you, no decisions have been made, we are just exploring our options with any interested parties,” Councillor Madigan said last July – facetiously I assume, because by that time, more than 18 months of in camera discussions had been held. Surely he was awake through at least one of them.

Council has acted in bad faith and conned the public about this ever since it took office. No one expects them to be honest or open about it now. Their plan was made evident in 2015 when The Block fired the existing water utility board (a group of talented professionals with considerable experience in water) in violation of the town’s procedural bylaw, and replaced them with five members of their own group – none of whom have any experience in water or wastewater (and none of whom have any talent). That signalled their intentions.

A recent request for proposals (RFPs) for the sale of the town’s share of the electrical utility was sent to utility corps – including, people in the industry lead me to believe, EPCOR, in Alberta. These RFPs belie that pretense that this is just “kicking the tires.” It’s always been a full-blown conspiracy to privatize our utilities. You don’t send out RFPs to corporations just to see if they’re interested. You do it because you intend to sell. Once started, the process is irrevocable. And inevitably expensive.*

But electricity is only part of the plan. All along it’s been a bigger picture: to sell both electricity and water/wastewater services. And let the taxpayer pay for the fallout. As Food and Water Watch documented (in the USA):

Investor owned utilities typically charge 59 percent more for water service than local government utilities. Food & Water Watch compiled the water rates of the 500 largest community water systems in the country and found that private, for-profit companies charged households an average of $501 a year for 60,000 gallons of water — $185 more than what local governments charged for the same amount of water. Investor owned utilities typically charge 63 percent more for sewer service than local government utilities. Food & Water Watch compiled sewer rates survey data from dozens of states and found that private ownership increased sewer bills by 7 percent in West Virginia to 154 percent in Texas.

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