Plutarch on listening, and The Block

Not listening[W]e observe that… the great majority of persons …practise speaking before they have acquired the habit of listening.” Plutarch wrote that in his essay De Auditu, or On Listening. Reading those words immediately made me think of that group we have on Collingwood Council who never listen to anyone but themselves and frequently speak without any apparent thought behind their comments: The Block.

And, no, I don’t expect any of them to heed his words of wisdom or advice on this or any other subject. First, that would require reading, and reading is antithetical to all of them because it might lead to learning and that could lead to facts, and facts are something they will have none of this term.

Still, I thought I’d share some of Plutarch’s other words of wisdom with you, dear reader, so you can judge for yourself if, as it strikes me, it seems he was writing about them.*

Plutarch lived almost 2,000 years ago (c.50-c.120 CE), and was a prolific writer (you probably know him best for his historical “Lives”; biographies of famous Greeks and Romans). I came across this essay in a Penguin book I’ve been reading of late. They’re from his master work, Moralia, an eclectic collection of 78 essays.

…if anybody draws them to one side and tries to impart something useful, or to advise them of some duty, or to admonish them when in the wrong, or to mollify them when incensed, they have no patience with him; but, eager to get the better of him if they can, they fight against what he says, or else they beat a hasty retreat in search of other foolish talk, filling their ears like worthless and rotten vessels with anything rather than the things they need.

One only need consider the efforts by PowerStream to have their side of the story presented to council and help debunk the conspiracy theory being floated about the previous sale or the shared services agreement. None of The Block would hear them or our own staff, nor allow them to come to council and make public statements. 

Consider, too, The Block’s refusal to listen to anything the hospital representatives and their planner said about the redevelopment plan. Or to our municipal partners on the airport board who argued in favour of developing the site. There are so many examples of The Block refusing to listen to anyone who contradicted their rigid ideology or debunked their conspiracy theories that I can’t pretend to list them all here.

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Airports and opportunities vs. The Block

Strategic Vision:
To become a premier regional commercial airport that stimulates the socioeconomic development of Simcoe County and the City of Barrie by improving connectivity, enhancing the competitiveness of the region and improving the quality of life for its residents.
Mission Statement:
To drive the region’s economic prosperity, enhance business opportunities, increase the region’s competitive position and support the travel needs of the community through increased connectivity.

So opens a report on the opportunities and challenges facing the Simcoe Regional Airport, presented to the county’s Committee of the Whole session, May 22. You can see it here, starting at page 23. The other quotes on this page are all from that report, unless otherwise identified.

Ship of fools
Ship of fools: our council

Quite a different approach from the one that most of Collingwood Council took towards our airport, isn’t it?

For a start this was done in public, not in secret as the Block – our very own Ship of Fools, rudderless on the ocean of governance – loves to conduct its business (especially when public assets are concerned). Second, it was positive, forward-thinking, and backed by facts, not the sort of negative, paranoid conspiracy theory The Block wallows in.

Airports in a modern global economy provide the critical connectivity to markets and knowledge-based resources that in turn represent key drivers of the economy. Airports themselves are not the destination but a conduit that provides critical connectivity.
“Airports play a considerable role in economic development and the most important cargo they move is people” – Richard Florida, Professor, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

I imagine this presentation made our Deputy Mayor, Brian Saunderson, squirm in great discomfort during the meeting. After all, here’s a consultant not only saying airports are good, but should be kept AND invested in! And that they bring economic growth and opportunities! Backed by actual facts, too! Quite a slap in the face to Brian’s Block, whose wacky conspiracy theory states airports are bad, costly, and should be disposed of without considering their value or economic potential.

By 2043 air travel demand in Southern Ontario will increase to 110 million passengers and a million tonnes of cargo – compared to the 47 million passengers and 400,000 tonnes of cargo in 2017.

So there’s growth predicted and a future in airports and an opportunity for a forward-thinking government to capture some of that business. But instead of wanting to embrace that growth and prepare for a better, more economically vibrant future, the ostrich-like Block are running away from it as fast as they can. They decided (in secret, behind closed doors, and without any public consultation or engagement, as they always do) to sell our publicly-owned airport instead of even investigating the opportunities.

But you already know they’re virulently anti-business, so that’s no surprise.
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Jeffrey’s snout back in the trough

PiggiesLast Monday The Block snuck a motion into the meeting without putting it on the agenda: to allow Councillor Jeffrey to pursue her personal political goals at taxpayer expense, and chase another seat on the FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) board – even though she failed to win re-election to the board in May, 2017. At the upcoming FCM meeting in Halifax she can wine and dine on your dollar.

Of course The Block didn’t want it publicized beforehand because they knew it would arouse community ire. After all, The Block have raised your taxes THREE times in three years, given themselves a pay hike every time, while handing Jeffrey a free ticket to fly all over the country without even requiring her to report back to the public.

And what did we get after paying all this money? A comedy-duo skit presentation.

Taxpayers are once again paying for her to stick her nose in the trough but when she was on the board, we didn’t received as much as a nod and a wink from FCM. You have to wonder what our councillor was doing on our behalf… aside from wining and dining that is.

At 2:52:12 in the council video, Deputy Mayor Saunderson made a big deal about the town getting grant money from FCM as if she had anything to do with it. That grant came in Dec. 2017 – seven months after she was lost her election bid to stay on the board. And the money wasn’t from FCM – it came from the feds but was distributed by FCM. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, eh, Brian?

But Jeffrey claimed she advocated for it. When and where and why didn’t she speak about it in all that time after she got turfed from the FCM board? Maybe we got the money because she WASN’T on the board! Jeffrey didn’t even know how much the town got! Some advocate.

I’ve written about the Stench of Entitlement around Jeffrey in the past. She’s our own Senator Ruth: deeply concerned about her own entitlements, and whinging about cold camembert. She doesn’t give a damn about the taxpayers who have to pay for her jaunts.

Continue reading “Jeffrey’s snout back in the trough”

Show me the documents!

Troll sprayThe trolls and troglodytes on social media are whinging again about allegedly missing documents that relate to the 2012 sale of 50% of Collus. They want you to think there was a conspiracy by the utility staff not to release crucial documents.

There wasn’t. Period.

No matter how many times this gets debunked, no matter how often it gets corrected, it rises again and again amongst the ignorati. This time it was the Block’s bullshit judicial inquiry (aka their campaign platform) that revived this particular zombie – in part because The Block’s few remaining followers (the trolls) want to keep alive their hoax about corruption in town hall last term.

The trolls are passing around emails from town staff demanding the documents, without sharing the responses that indicate when the documents were provided and by whom. Very sneaky, but we’ve come to expect underhanded tactics by The Block’s minions.

Let’s try one more time for the hard-of-thinking who keep this balderdash afloat: everything (I repeat: EVERYTHING) the town asked for from Collus-PowerStream was provided, sometimes two or three times because the town kept demanding the same documents they already had more than once.

EXCEPT: personal/personnel information deemed confidential by the Ontario Corporations Act. Nor should they be revealed because they are CONFIDENTIAL and protected from outside scrutiny. That’s the friggin’ provincial law, and Collus-PowerStream had to pay lawyers to tell this to the town several times. That extra expense was one of the reasons the utility could not pay a dividend to the town last year (which befuddled Councillor Doherty).

However, salary and benefits aggregates were provided that covered the entire staff. PLUS anyone who can read (I know, I know: that lets out The Block and most of their followers) can thumb through the audited financial statements to get this information.

Continue reading “Show me the documents!”

Block bullies are at it again

Abusive bulliesMay 14’s council agenda (p. 40-49) contained yet more evidence of The Block’s bully-boy tactics and pettiness: a complaint made to the integrity commissioner against our mayor. They damn her no matter what she does.

This complaint was filed by someone who might charitably be called the Block’s pet barnacle for his concreted attachment to them, dragged along by their momentum without any of his own. He’s also nicknamed the “frequent filer” for his habit of filing FOI requests against people he doesn’t like, apparently looking – unsuccessfully – for something evil in their emails he can then share with the Block. And as you might guess, he’s a candidate for council using a tawdry ploy to get his name in the local media before the upcoming municipal election.

At the same time, it is yet one more underhanded smear of a good and honourable woman by The Block bullies again. One wonders who wrote the complaint. Someone lawerly, perhaps? Someone actually literate? Certainly unlikely that the named complainant had the skills to do it himself.

The report notes at the beginning (sec. 2):

The essence of the complaint is that Mayor Sandra Cooper, given her brother’s position as Senior Vice-President of Operations and Business Development with the Clearview Aviation Business Park, had a conflict of interest in that she contravened s.7 “Improper Use of Influence” of the Collingwood Code of Conduct when she voted on the report.

Yet Sections 3 and 4 explain that the mayor “attempted to avoid contravening s. 7, “Improper Use of Influence” by checking with the Director of Public Works and with her brother to ascertain whether CABP had made inquiries about the Airport property…” So no matter what she does, no matter how hard she tries, no matter her efforts to show respect for the will of Council, The Block are out to get her and drag her name into the mud. But rather than attack her themselves – that would have taken a spine – they used a wannabe council candidate who eagerly jumps at the chance to get media attention.

First let’s consider whether the mayor had a conflict of interest – direct or indirect – in the Collingwood Airport Business Park or the airport itself. That requires you to read through the updated Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. And you’ll quickly see she didn’t. She has no pecuniary interest in the development, but because her brother does, she has stepped away from the table during discussions and votes where CABP was involved.

But is her brother really an issue? or just a canard? Section 3 of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act says he isn’t:

Interest of certain persons deemed that of member
3 For the purposes of this Act, the pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, of a parent or the spouse or any child of the member shall, if known to the member, be deemed to be also the pecuniary interest of the member. R.S.O. 1990, c. M.50, s. 3; 1999, c. 6, s. 41 (2); 2005, c. 5, s. 45 (3).

Parent, spouse of child only: siblings are NOT considered for conflict of interest.

Continue reading “Block bullies are at it again”

The greening of shaving


But my brother Esau is an hairy man, but I am a smooth man. I recall those lines from a Beyond the Fringe sketch first released in 1964 (see below).* And so it was in my family: my brother was the hirsute Esau to my near-hairless Jacob. I didn’t need to shave until my late teens and even then it was iffy. That was in the late 1960s when sideburns and moustaches were the rage. By the time I could grow enough, everyone had gone back to being clean shaven.

Eternally unfashionable, I was, even back then. In another era, I suppose I would have been a clean-shaven Roman when Emperor Hadrian made the beard fashionable.

My grandfather – born in the 1880s – used a straight razor. Aka a “cut throat” razor. I remember seeing it in his bathroom, along with the small ceramic bowl for shaving soap and a badger-hair brush for lathering it on. A well-worn leather strop hung from a wall hook. Dangerous, Jack-the-Ripper sort of thing, that razor; understandably the weapon of choice in many slasher films. Its deceptively sharp blade swung out easily.

It had a bone handle, yellowed, marked with the signs of age and use. It was old, old enough that the handle may even have been ivory. Maybe even older than he was, passed down from his own father, although he never said as much. It had a severe beauty about it, sort of like a moray eel has. I was never tempted to try it – too dangerous, too easy to slip and slice, I thought.

I was surprised to find that, despite its venerable history (the oldest ones date back 3,500 years or so but the steel-bladed version more common today dates from 1680 CE), straight razors are still being manufactured – and used – today.

Safety razorMy father – born in 1914 – used a safety razor – the sort of all-metal device that had a double-edged blade where you unscrewed a knob on the bottom of the razor to open the top where the blade sat. It was first introduced in 1904 with King Camp Gillette’s patent, and hasn’t changed a lot since.

My father’s razor had heft and solidity; the knurled handle felt secure. He’d fill the sink with water and swirl the razor in the soapy water to clean it as he shaved in confident strokes.

I can’t exactly remember when, but I seem to recall him having one with a butterfly head that opened like wings to replace the blade. I remember turning the knob to open and close those wings. It had a satisfying sensation of engineering know-how; the very model of the industrial revolution’s ingenuity.

I did try that type of safety razor, way back when I first started shaving, albeit briefly. Not being terribly coordinated then, I cut myself easily, so I switched to something less likely to draw my blood in spurts.

I – a boomer child of the 1950s – went higher tech when it was my turn: I started with a convenient cartridge (injector) razor, one of those single-edged blades that you pushed from a small metal container into the razor every month or so to easily replace the dulled one. Introduced as the cutting edge – forgive the pun – of shaving tech in the 1920s by Schick, it evolved little by the time I took it up. Plastic handle, little grace in the design, but much utility. Easily purchased in any grocery or drug store, and not expensive. And not quite as likely to slit my throat as other types. (While no longer popular, versions of the injector are still being made by smaller companies)

Years later, I still prefer single blade razors, by the way, although they are rarely seen on drugstore shelves outside of disposable versions. And that disposable notion bothers me, enough to want to change a lifetime of shaving habits. So read on…

Continue reading “The greening of shaving”

Deception, The Block, and EPCOR

Spy stuffThe Ontario Energy Board (OEB) is currently conducting hearings about the proposed sale of our publicly-owned electrical utility, Collus, to the for-profit, out-of-province corporation, EPCOR. Several documents have already been entered into the record and you can read them here.

Most of them are fairly technical and steeped in opaque legalese, but download and read this one: EPCOR_IRR_SEC_EPCOR Collingwood MAADs_20180503.pdf. There’s some interesting content here and I think it’s stuff that The Block, the town and maybe even EPCOR don’t want you – the public – to know about. After all, The Block and town administration conducted this whole process in secret for three years – why would they want to be open about it now?

To start, turn to page 3. You’ll find a report on the profitability of Collus-PowerStream and its return on equity (ROE). Remember when we were assured by the Blockheads that it was a bad deal, it wasn’t successful, that the “status quo couldn’t continue”? Well look at the REAL numbers:

Please provide the achieved ROE (Return on Equity), calculated on a regulatory basis, for each year from 2013-2017, and file any forecasts of the Applicants that include ROE forecasts for 2018 and beyond.

Year/ Deemed Profitability/ROE:
2012: 8.01% /0.10%
2013: 8.98% /8.40%
2014: 8.98% /11.21%
2015: 8.98% /10.86%
2016: 8.98% /10.03%

Every year they operated as Collus-PowerStream, the utility had an ROE GREATER than 8% and almost 9% for most of those years. The ROE (which was understandably low the first year because it was partial) grew to more than 11% per year! That’s almost as high as the OEB will legally allow a utility’s profits to grow.

Here is what the actual OEB Scorecard for Collus PowerStream says:

Profitability: Regulatory Return on Equity – Deemed (included in rates)
Return on equity (ROE) measures the rate of return on shareholder equity. ROE demonstrates an organization’s profitability or how well a company uses its investments to generate earnings growth. Collus PowerStream’s current distribution rates were approved by the OEB and include an expected (deemed) regulatory return on equity of 8.98%. The OEB allows a distributor to earn within +/- 3% of the expected return on equity. If a distributor performs outside of this range, it may trigger a regulatory review of the distributor’s financial structure by the OEB.
Profitability: Regulatory Return on Equity – Achieved
Collus PowerStream achieved a ROE of 10.03% in 2016, which is within the 8.98% +/-3% range allowed by the OEB (see above paragraph). This is indicative of a healthy financial organization. This trend is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. The 0.10% result for 2012 was an anomaly year with a low net income, which was the result of the additional expenses incurred during the sale of 50% of the company’s shares to PowerStream.

Not profitable? Not successful? Even the sale application document says otherwise:

The 2017 deemed ROE is 8.98% and the 2017 achieved ROE, as filed with the Board in Collus PowerStream Corp.’s April 30, 2018 RRR filing, is 11.65% and remains subject to the Board’s review. The ROE forecast for 2018 and beyond approximates the OEB’s most recently approved ROE.

Would that my sad little RRSP returned half that percentage annually! The financial performance was raised again and again by The Block as a reason for the sale yet here it shows the utility was flourishing. Someone lied to the public about the financial situation. The judicial inquiry has to look into who it was.
Continue reading “Deception, The Block, and EPCOR”

John Brown’s letter got the attention it deserved

WhingingIt went almost unnoticed, but on the agenda for the April 30 Collingwood Council agenda was a letter from the former interim CAO, John Brown, with eight questions (and some comments) about the CAO’s report on the costs of the upcoming judicial inquiry (item eight in the Consent Agenda portion). The letter itself is unsigned (see it here) but the agenda notes the author’s name. Not even the local media picked up on it.

It’s curious that not one of The Block bothered to have it pulled for discussion or request that staff answer the questions from their former mentor and – some say Machiavellian – advisor. One would have expected the slavish Blockheads to fight one another to rush to the defence of their éminence grise, and have his letter front and centre on the administration’s to-do list. Instead it was merely accepted “for information” and thus consigned to the dustbin. *

Consent agenda discussion starts at 3:10:47 in the meeting (video here). Only letters from Blue Mountain Watershed Trust got pulled for discussion. I suspect Brown must have been steaming when he watched that. Were these former sycophants throwing him under the bus? Why weren’t they tugging their forelocks and bowing as they had in the past? Could they be – gasp! – rejecting his influence at long last?

Let’s look at that letter and see what we can comment on. All quotations are taken directly from the agenda item with no attempt to change the nonstandard punctuation, spelling, capitalization, wording or spacing (despite my urge to correct same… I have written about his language skills in the past)

1 Why is this report submitted for council approval when not all members of council are able to attend?
-During my tenure as CAO the Clerk kept a record of all upcoming council member vacation plans and items of political sensitivity, such as the report this report , were always arranged for meeting when all members of council would be in attendance. Why not this one ?

Curiouser and curiouser. Only Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson was absent from that meeting. My sources tell me he didn’t bother to inform the clerk, the CAO or the mayor of his absence; no one in town hall knew beforehand he wouldn’t attend. The agenda was released several days before the meeting and Brown’s letter was in it. How is it that Brown knew Saunderson wouldn’t be there so far in advance?

And why didn’t he similarly complain when the original motion was cunningly timed for Feb. 26, when the movers knew both Councillors Lloyd and Edwards would be absent for it? Surely that was even more important a vote, more politically sensitive an issue than this one? But he doesn’t seem to have noticed. Or cared.

(And you’ll note in the minutes that Councillor Fryer is marked absent for the controversial Feb. 26 vote – he was at the table, but conveniently got up and left the room when the vote was called, thus avoiding having to make a public commitment or a decision – a spineless action by someone who wants to be our next deputy mayor!).

Continue reading “John Brown’s letter got the attention it deserved”

Pollan’s Food fallacies

Food Rules, by Michael Pollan“Don’t overlook the oily little fishes,” is rule 32 in Michael Pollan’s small book, “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” (Penguin Books, 2009). I recently acquired a copy. I’ve read Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and have his In Defence of Food on my shelves for summer reading and have two other titles by him on my wish list. I’ve enjoyed his work so far. Maybe not so much this time around.

I am skeptical about any attempt to reduce any subject to a set of basic rules because life is way too complicated for that sort of ideology. I have a particular disdain for self-help books and life-coach videos as being intellectual pablum. Pollan’s book is self-described on the back cover as “a definitive compendium of food wisdom.” Hyperbole like this always makes me cautious and raised my skeptic’s hackles.

As the New York Times points out in its review of the book, is a professor of science journalism in the USA, not a biochemist or nutritionist or even a renowned chef. But Pollan is a good writer with credentials, so I decided to give it a chance.

As someone interested in eating and food – from many aspects: historical, social, botanical, zoological, industrial, cooking and ethical among them – I am always keen to learn more and read what others say about eating. In Food Rules, Pollan offers sixty four rules with a brief explanation of each (you can read the whole list here). It’s described on the book jacket as as “indispensable handbook” full of “straightforward, memorable rules for eating wisely.”

Well, I beg to differ. Yes, it has some wisdom – especially for the junk-food-sugar-pop-and-energy-drink-pizza-and-doughnut crowd. But some of it is the same sort of ideological, anti-science claptrap you get from the Food Babe or the anti-GMO crowd. Diaphanous piffle, some of it. And way too arbitrary – at least when you read just the rule without bothering to delve into his (sometimes too brief) explanations that follow it.
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