The death of community newspapers

The Bulletin officesIn 1857 – a year before Collingwood was incorporated as a townJohn Hogg launched the Enterprise. The first local newspaper started its presses. In 1870, David Robson launched its first competitor: the Bulletin. In 1881, the Bulletin was sold to William Williams and J.G. Hand. William’s 17-year-old son, David (later a town mayor), joined the paper in 1886.

After the Great Depression, citing financial reasons, the two papers merged: The Enterprise-Bulletin was born. It printed its own paper, as well as being a printer for community events, flyers, brochures and even personal publications. In the 1960s, owner Jack McMurchy sold the paper to the Thomson newspaper chain. The newspaper continued to grow, soon requiring new space. In spring, 1989, the paper moved from the Bulletin’s original location on Simcoe Street to a new building at 77 St. Marie St., half a block east. It thrived there for the next six years, until the chaos began.

Bear with me if the history below seems a bit scattered: following the trail of media sales and bankruptcies is not easy and I may have forgotten or confused some of my dates in the interim.

Back then, the EB published on Wednesdays and Fridays. Each edition ran about 40 pages, split in two or three sections, with the annual local industry and business review edition running 60 or more pages. In 1991, a regional Sunday (Huronia Sunday) edition was launched in cooperation with papers from Barrie, Orillia and Midland. There was talk in the newsroom of going to thrice weekly and even daily publication.

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EPCOR and The Block’s Big Lie

The Big LieFor all their evils and their wrongs, the Soviets did some things very well: propaganda and disinformation. As one writer commented in the Spectator, “Communist ideology dismissed the idea of truth as a bourgeois construct. What mattered was power; and you baptised as truth those doctrines which provided it.” Stalin defined truth as what he said it was.

The Soviets were such masters at it from an early stage that George Orwell declared that history stopped in 1936; after that there was only propaganda. So good were they at it that their methods and techniques were copied by other states and are still in play in the West, today. And they’re not just in what comes from the Trump administration: both are in play right here in Collingwood, alive and active this very week.

Yes, Collingwood has been subject to the sort of propaganda and deception that has its historic roots in Soviet propaganda.

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Guillermo, monsters and me

Tucked away at the bottom of a tall display case in the ‘At Home With Monsters’ exhibit at the AGO is a small collection of seven old, well-thumbed books, all by the 19th century French naturalist and entomologist, Jean-Henri Fabre. At the very bottom of the pile, its title almost hidden in the shadows, is The Life of the Spider, first translated into English in 1913, but not translated again until 1971.

The books subtly reflect the importance director and artist Guillermo del Toro places on insects in his works. He calls them “living metaphors” and adds, “They are so alien and so remote and so perfect, but they also are emotionless. They don’t have any human or mammalian instincts.”

I felt a certain thrill at seeing Fabre’s works, especially The Life of the Spider. That very same edition was the first adult book I ever read. I was nine or ten years old, maybe younger, stuck at home with some now-forgotten childhood illness, unable to go to school or out to play. I’m not sure where I got the book. Likely I had taken it out from the local library – probably for some science project or homework – and it was all I had to read that week in bed.

I read it cover to cover, absorbed in the minute details of the behaviour of Fabre’s spiders. It created in me a lifelong appreciation of these arthropods. I must have returned the book after that, because I never saw it again. But it was not forgotten. I was the only one in the gallery bent down, kneeling on the floor to read the book titles. 

I had not expected to see this book in the exhibition – which features the monsters and the fantastic visions of writers, artists and filmmakers that appeal to Guillermo del Toro (including several from his own works) – but the sight gave me an immediate sense of familiarity, and of connection with del Toro. No one else I have known has ever read that book, or even knows of its existence. But del Toro does.
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Remembering those who served

Lest we forgetIt’s at this time of the year, as we approach Remembrance Day, that I think most about my family, especially those who have died. I wish I had known when I was younger what I know today, so I could have asked them more about their lives, and about their service in the military, about their wars.

I have read a lot about those wars, about the military and political history of the last century; it’s a topic I never tire of reading about. I wish I could have learned more from my own family about what it was like, then. No amount of reading – and I do a lot – can really give me more than a glimpse of how it must have been for them.

I am of the generation whose grandparents served in the First World War, and whose parents served in the Second. Both grandfathers were veterans, both parents were veterans. None of them talked much about it, at least not to me. It wasn’t something they wanted to relive and I was too young to know about it. Over the years I pieced together a fragmentary view of them in those years, but it’s only a gloss. A century of shadows. Some faded photographs, brief conversations towards the ends of their lives.

I am the oldest son, so my thoughts go most to my father and grandfathers because like them I would have served in similar roles, had I been alive then. And that makes me wonder more, about being in their shoes. How would I have reacted in similar situations? Would I have volunteered? Waited to be called up? Would I have survived in the trenches, in the air raids, in the desert? Under fire? I’ll never know. I am thankful that they served to protect my peace, my prosperity and my democracy so I never had to find out. 

But I wonder, too, about my grandmothers, both young , married women in 1914. How did they react when war was declared, knowing their husbands of only a few years would be going to war, possibly never to return? How did they feel knowing their plans for life and family were abruptly interrupted? My father was born in January, 1914. How did my English mother feel, knowing she’d struggle to raise a young child alone, while his father went to fight in foreign lands? How did they carry on during those dark years?

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Alectra says no: The Block screwed us again

ShameThe headline on the media release reads, “Alectra selling its shares in Collus PowerStream to Collingwood.” What it should add is that Collingwood residents and taxpayers were betrayed by members of their own council and administration. After a three-year campaign to screw us, The Block have won a major victory in abhorrent behaviour. They are privatizing our electrical utility and next year will do the same to our water/wastewater utility, to the same corporation.

Our publicly-owned utility will be sold to EPCOR, an out-of-province, for-profit corporation that pays a dividend to the city of Edmonton only, and that will raise our electricity rates as soon as they are allowed. Our utility will be privatized within a year, with no local control, no local representation, no local input. And it’s all been done to us behind closed doors.

What will Collingwood get from the sale? Basically nothing, once all the legal fees, consultant fees, taxes and kickbacks are paid. We will have lost everything just to satisfy some personal vendettas.

In fact, with the changes made to staff, to departments and the termination of the shared services agreement, and the skyrocketing legal and consulting costs approved by The Block and this administration, operating costs are already escalating. Your taxes will be raised significantly to pay for their vile acts.

It is a devastating blow to the hardworking staff in Collus-PowerStream. It will be devastating and extremely costly to residents once the deal is finalized. This is the lowest moment in our town’s history. It goes way beyond merely being unethical and immoral: it has the stench of corruption about it.

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Open vs secret at Collingwood Council part 2

ScamIn the previous part of this story, I provided dates of meetings and events in the terms of the previous council (on which I sat) and the current council. I documented how last term, the sale of one half the share of our electrical utility (Collus) was sold to the municipally-owned PowerStream (now Alectra) through a very well-documented, open and transparent process. I compared it to the secretive, deceptive process used by The Block on Collingwood Council, and the administration.

Last term, residents and stakeholders were engaged and informed. This term we have been ignored, avoided and lied to. Last term, there was a single in-camera meeting during the 18 month-long process, and that was to open sealed bids.

This term there have been at least 37 closed door meetings about the utility in three years to date, and perhaps more than 40. Last term, everything about the process and the public discussions was covered in the local media (even the number of proposals received was reported last term). This term, only the barest coverage exists, in part because the process has been so secretive that there has been little to report (this term even the number of bids received from the RFP has been kept secret).

Keep in mind, too that in July 11, 2016: Council voted 7-2 (The Block vs Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd) to “explore” selling its share in Collus-PowerStream, even though by then they had already, secretly appointed a sole-sourced lawyer to oversee the share sale. At that meeting, Councillor Madigan disingenuously said, “I will assure you, no decisions have been made, we are just exploring our options with any interested parties.” He also said, “You can never be in control if you own 50% of anything,” then voted to sell 100% of the utility! Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson said, “By bringing it out in the public, we’re just letting all parties know that we’re kicking the tires and seeing what’s available.” The hypocrisy and deception was – and remains – rampant among The Block.

In this post I will cover the final year for the process in both terms: 2012 compared to 2017. Since this is still ongoing, and likely will continue until the end of this term (Nov. 2018), I will report on the subsequent events in later posts. But even a to-date comparison shows clearly how much the public has been misled and deceived this term.

There were also public discussions about how to spend the money from the sale last term, and a meeting where public suggestions were invited and received. The council discussion about the sale money continued until mid-2013, when the final decision was made. I have listed those dates, below.

Alectra has recently rejected a demand from the town to buy the town’s share for $12.5 million. The Block’s plan to privatize all of it to a for-profit corporation (and next year to follow through by selling that same corporation our water and wastewater services) is in motion. Under their plan, all of the utility will be owned by an out-of-province company with no local representation, no local say, no transparency or accountability, no local control over services and rates. And all done with no public discussion or consultation.

This process has gone far beyond merely unethical. It has the stench of corruption about it. Secrecy always does. Sole-sourced lawyers and consultants were brought in at great expense to taxpayers to push a one-sided agenda. Public consultation was ignored. Requests from our own utility board and from our municipal partner to make public presentations were refused. Secret deals to pay money from taxpayer funds even if the sale doesn’t go through have been signed. The former interim CAO was retained as a “consultant” at taxpayer expense after he allegedly resigned – done at another closed-door meeting. At the very least, a judicial inquiry into the process should be held, but perhaps the OPP Rackets Squad should be called, too, to determine if public money has been legally and ethically used.

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Why the panic over Julie Payette?

Governor General Julie Payette made comments in a speech to the Canadian Science Policy Conference on Nov. 1 in which she encouraged her audience at a science convention to ignore misinformation, fantasy and conspiracy theory, to support facts and science, and to engage in “learned debate.” That has the right furious, and as is their wont, making both fallacious claims about her words while launching ad hominem attacks against her.

It’s particularly galling to the right that not only is Payette a woman, she’s smart and accomplished: a former astronaut and an engineer. That means the right gets wildly incensed when she says anything vaguely interesting, let alone true. And so they’re trying to make this into a wedge issue about religion. The undertext being that Payette, being a Liberal appointee, is touting Liberal anti-religion screed.

Andrew Scheer, the pasty-white leader of the Conservatives who recently hired as his party’s campaign chair a former media director of the vile Rebel media organization, said,

It is extremely disappointing that the Prime Minister will not support Indigenous peoples, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Christians and other faith groups who believe there is truth in their religion.

Which is bullshit. Scheer, of course, completely ignores the actual truth and substance in Payette’s comments. How dare the GG make any statements that are not the most innocuous, content-removed, pastel puffery? Yet nowhere in her speech did Payette mention any religion or indigenous people, so where does he get this allegation? Probably from his misogynist, racist Rebel media buddies. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to see Scheer’s attack as an anti-feminist one: that’s been Scheer’s way since he took charge.

What colossal arrogance for Scheer to think he can speak for millions – even billions, because he doesn’t specify there are just Canadians he’s speaking for – of people with whom he has no contact, let alone consulted about their reaction to Payette’s comments. And why does he think that any Canadian, not just our Prime Minister, has to have blanket, unquestioning support for every bit of religious myth, pseudo-health or pseudoscience claptrap? That’s simply nuts. And cowardly. We elect people to have opinions, to take stands, to advocate for issues, and to stand up for truth, not simply agree with everyone and everything. A toy bobblehead doll does that. That’s not what Canadians expect from their leaders. Unless, it seems, they are Conservatives.
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In camera, closed door meetings in Collingwood, 2015-17

SecrecyUsing the agendas posted on the town’s website, I tallied up the number of Council’s in-camera meetings for three specific topics this term: Collus-PowerStream (including the share sale, shared services agreement, advice from Mark Rodger and board appointments); the hospital redevelopment, and the airport (including the request for a letter of intent and possible sale of the airport).

There are several other items listed for in camera discussion that may be related to one or more of these, but since I could not pair them with motions or later news items, and the listed descriptions were inadequate, I did not include them. I did include three closed-door meetings that I have good reason to believe were related to Collus-PowerStream (CPS) issues. These are council meetings only, and does not include any the standing committee meetings.

Of course, I cannot list any of the numerous one-on-one or small group meetings about these issues held in the interim CAO’s office, nor meetings between the town administration and CPS staff. Note that some of these were special council meetings called specifically to discuss the subject behind closed doors:

Airport: 14 meetings:
2015: Jan 5, Feb 2, Feb 17, Apr 7, May 4, Oct 19, Nov 16;
2016: Jan 4, Mar 21, July 11;
2017: July 17, Aug 21, Sep 11, Sep 25.

Hospital redevelopment: 4 meetings
2016: Apr. 11, Aug 8;
2017: Mar 4, Mar 27.

Collus-PowerStream: 37 meetings, plus three potential
2015: 9 definite, 2 possible (of a total 28 council meetings)
Mar 16? property disposition (agenda description is inadequate);
Mar 28? legal advice (agenda description is inadequate);
Apr 7 shared services;
May 19 shared services;
May 27 shared services;
June 15 shared services;
June 22 shared services;
Aug 4 shareholder’s interest, Collus PowerStream board applications;
Aug 24, board applications;
Sep 8, board applications;
Oct 5 Hydro shareholder update review and services.

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