Utter contempt at council

Utter contempt for residents and taxpayersUtter contempt. That’s what The Block showed for process at council, on Monday night. And for ethics. And for you, the residents. Utter contempt.

But when they want to give benefits to their friends or themselves, boy do they rise to the occasion. Which of course they did, Monday. Anything for a buddy, no matter what negative effect it has on residents. No matter how it will exacerbate ill will in the community, or create bad feelings towards town hall. No matter what it will do to your insurance rates. As long as their friend gets his, who cares?

As I predicted last post, had proper policy and procedure been followed, what should have been a dead issue was returned to the council table by Councillor Jeffrey – she of the unlimited expense account and adipose sense of entitlement. If she or any of the Block had even the slightest regard for procedure and the standing committee system, the Fire Marque report would have died there. Should have died there. But The Block have so far failed to show any respect for anything that gets in their way, so of course she wouldn’t do as as a more ethical councillor would. Democracy be damned.

I told you so.

Besides, the salesman for Fire Marque is the former mayor: a close buddy to all of The Block. Doesn’t matter to The Block if the contract is bad for the 20,000-plus homeowners and renters here. Screw you is The Block’s attitude towards residents. If it’s good for their friends or their in-laws, it gets passed.

Doesn’t matter to The Block if the very idea of charging people for emergency response to accidents was rejected unanimously last term as an unethical practice. Doesn’t matter to The Block if you already pay for fire services through your taxes and the contract is unethical double dipping. Doesn’t even matter it if violates the province’s Fire Protection and Prevention Act. It benefits their buddy, so it gets passed.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s a sole source contract and their leader, Brian Saunderson, promised there would be no sole source contracts this term. “No exceptions,” he said. By my calculations, The Block have handed out more sole-sourced contracts than all of the previous councils for the past 25 years COMBINED. The word hypocrisy doesn’t even begin to cover it.

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The test of integrity

Got insurance?I’ve been complaining all this term that Collingwood’s standing committee system is broken. It is redundant, ineffective and expensive. It continues in use only because it was the brainchild of the interim CAO who The Block worship.

But it is about to come under a test: one that will determine the integrity and ethics of both the system and The Block.

On July 10, the Corporate and Community Services Standing Committee received a report on the services of Fire Marque, an insurance collection agency. The report was requested by Councillor Jeffrey, close friends (as are all of The Block) with one of the company’s salesmen: the former mayor.

What Fire Marque does is to bill insurance companies for the cost of fire department responses to emergencies – costs already paid for by your taxes. As explained on Elliott Insurance:

Fire Marque is basically a collection agency. They’ve enticed the municipalities to sign up with them to collect fire department coverages from the insurance companies’ policies. So after an individual has a fire, the fire department will send off information to Fire Marque about the situation and what it cost the fire department. Fire Marque will then contact the person who had the fire and ask who their insurance company is. Then they basically bill the insurance company for the fire department charges, up to the limit that is allowed under the [homeowners insurance] policy.

Fire Marque keeps 30%, and the rest goes to the municipality, essentially double-dipping. The homeowner or accident victim then faces a potential increase in his or her insurance policies as a result. So the homeowners get hit twice: through taxes and again through higher insurance rates. No, the municipality won’t lower your taxes because they double-dip. You’re still on the hook. Again from Elliott Insurance:

On the negative side, as insurance companies, our premiums are driven by our claims costs. So, if we are now paying for fire department charges that we were not paying for before, our claims are going to go up, and we will have to raise premiums to cover the extra costs. When you look at it from a community wide basis, financially it would be much better for the municipalities to just add a few dollars to our taxes because the same people who pay property taxes pay insurance.

Knowing it could raise insurance rates, homeowners may be reluctant to report a fire until too late.  They may try to put it out themselves rather than risk the rate hike. The very same effect happens with car accidents and home problems already. The new contract could end up putting more people’s lives and homes at risk because they hesitate to call for a service they know they will have to pay for.

Setting aside the ethics of this practice (read the full piece on the linked site and decide for yourself), the double-dipping, the harm to the taxpayer and whether the town should encourage ambulance-chasing tactics, let’s look at the standing committee system again.
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What will the secret EPCOR negotiations cost us?

Shady dealsI was reading about the failed attempt by EPCOR – an Edmonton-based, for-profit corporation – to purchase half of Innisfil’s Power utility (InnPower) last year. Back in Sept., 2015, there was a story in the
Barrie Examiner that noted:

INNISFIL — Town council has approved the sale of 50% of InnPower (formerly Innisfil Hydro) to Edmonton-based EPCOR to create a new ‘strategic partnership’.

At a public meeting to discuss the sale (remember public meetings and public engagement? Those are processes you got last term… this term it’s all about secrecy), PowerStream’s CEO, Brian Bentz commented on

…the “exclusivity clause” in the EPCOR offer, which precludes consideration of other deals for a period of six months…

EPCOR, you may recall, is currently trying to buy the town’s half of Collus-PowerStream. The administration has been negotiating behind closed doors with EPCOR for the better part of a year. Earlier this year, the administration signed a deal to start the buying process. Is there a similar clause in the agreement with Collingwood?

In Innisfil, the public was given a chance to openly comment on the proposal (an event unlikely to happen here in Secretive Collingwood under The Block). Former Innisfil mayor Barb Baguley spoke out about the process (Barrie Examiner):

During the open forum portion of Tuesday night’s meeting, former Innisfil mayor Barb Baguley took exception to the town even considering such a partnership for water and wastewater services and questioned why residents weren’t better informed about the potential partnership discussions.
“The issue of selling any part of it is something I’m really concerned about,” she said. “My question is, if you are going to sell the safety of water and the protection of Lake Simcoe with wastewater treatment, shouldn’t we be talking about that? Shouldn’t we be having a conversation with the public?
“I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. There’s not enough information for people to make a somewhat educated opinion,” she added. “It had not come out that clearly…”
“I don’t think we have to know every paragraph in a contract. We need to know the intention and why we need to do this,” she said. “I’m not saying I’m for or against (a water and wastewater services partnership). I’m saying I don’t understand.

At least the residents in Innisfil were given the opportunity to ask questions and make comments. Nothing like that has happened in Collingwood, although the discussions here have been going on behind closed doors since January 2015.

And look the whole public engagement Wasaga Beach has gone through over the sale of its utility this term: open, active and transparent. The complete opposite of what Collingwood has done.

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Assholes part two: Trump and his local mimics

Asshole: A Theory of Donald TrumpBack in 2014 I reviewed a book by philosophy professor Aaron James called Assholes. A Theory. I discussed how his study related to politics and politicians, particularly those who call themselves “A-type” personalities (including one or two on the local council).

Well James wrote another book, really an addendum to this one, titled Assholes. A Theory of Donald Trump. It was smaller than your average paperback, and a mere 130 pages, perhaps 20,000 words long. And since it came out just before the 2016 presidential election, it really doesn’t deal with the startling number of asshole things – the many, many asshole things – Trump has done since then. Perhaps that might come in a sequel. A much larger, longer sequel. A multi-volume work it would have to be, to really do him justice.

I picked the book up this weekend during my visit to Toronto, and read it cover to cover. Sure, it’s a bit dated but it still has meaning in today’s politics. And it relates to our own local council even more than the first book. (Check out the author’s website, too.)

James didn’t merely pen a screed against Trump. That’s been done, is still being done by savvy media and political commentators worldwide. Trump is an easy target for so many reasons, not least of all because he lies often and aggressively and is both ignorant and a clown. Nothing you don’t already know about him. Nothing the whole world doesn’t know about him.

No, this is much deeper than a single asshole, even one that big and that pompous. It – like his earlier book – is reflective of a whole culture of the ignorati that has risen worldwide. Trump is merely the most visible icon of darkness as the intellectual lights go out.

James examines a trend in politics that has seen the rise to dominance of similar assholes in numerous nations. And along with the asshole in charge comes a parallel government and bureaucracy that sees the ignorati, the illiterati, and the anti-intellectuals elevated to power. As we see in the USA, bigoted, theocratic, right-wing dictatorships and oligarchies are emerging in what were once democratic nations. More and more of them are looking and acting more and more like North Korea or Iran these days.
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Brian the comedian

ClownFollowing the success of Collingwood’s Comedy Duo, whose act has taken them on tour across the nation on the taxpayers’ dollar, our Deputy Mayor has entered the ring as our jester-du-jour. And since the Duo’s main act was sidelined recently by not being allowed to keep a snout into the FCM trough, it looks like Brian’s act may be the foremost comedy skit in the council burlesque. Who would have thought a lawyer could also be a clown?

At a recent Council meeting (June 12, 2017) he had the audience in stitches with his new routines. And not just his always-risible English gaffes when he starts his speeches with “moved by me…”! You can watch it on Rogers TV starting at 1:22:23 when he presents a request for a staff report (cunningly not included with the meeting’s agenda so as to keep the element of comic surprise alive when it was presented!).

Watch and listen. Brian uses words like “accountability” and “transparency” like they are something he suddenly discovered and we need to get to them now. Like frickin’ right now. And staff better give us a report about them because these are hot stuff!

Too bad the camera didn’t pan out to catch the baffled looks on the faces of his minion Block members. Heads were shaking and rattling sounds could be heard from them. Blockheads had never heard him use those words before, at least not since the election campaign and certainly not directed at them. The Block stands for secrecy, for scurrying behind closed doors to discuss policy, to making decisions via email not in the public. For conniving and conning, for ignoring the public and blaming everyone else.

Yet after two-and-a-half years in office, here is Der Leader suddenly telling them he wants to see more “accountability,” more “transparency.” They must have piddled themselves in terror. What, they wondered, do those words mean?
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Small comfort from FCM

Fat catsCollingwoodites can take small comfort from the wisdom of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I’ve been told that last week at its annual convention in Ottawa, FCM delegates failed to return our own Councillor Jeffery to their board of directors, possibly saving local taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars this term. Taxpayers will no longer have to pay the costs of her personal political ambitions with their hard-earned salaries. One less mouth sucking at the government tit.

Or maybe not. Word is that the councillor is still pursuing her ambitions by trying to get appointed to a committee within FCM, thus justifying still flying all over the country, wining and dining at taxpayer expense. Excuse me, did someone fart or is that just the stench of entitlement?

FCM has a board with a president, past president, three vice presidents and 68 council members. That’s right: SIXTY EIGHT. They are councillors from across Canada, plus the presidents of every provincial municipal organization. And the Ontario Caucus has 16 members itself!

As you can see by last year’s board list, the vast majority of them come from cities: municipalities that can afford the expense. Not many are from small towns like Collingwood, probably because they know they can’t afford the luxury. And even when they can, they send their mayor, not a junior councillor.

One of those other board members, by the way, is from Simcoe County council, so he already represents the region and its municipalities. And his expenses are covered from county revenue.

FCM boards, caucuses and committees meet all over the country, from Newfoundland to the Northwest Territories to British Columbia and everywhere in between. Taxpayers have to pony up for flights, meals, hotels and whatever entertainment the delegates’ expense accounts allow. Did I mention yet that The Block put NO RESTRICTIONS on Councillor Jeffery’s spending? No accountability, no oversight, no limits… and no cold camembert and broken crackers for her. Must be nice to have friends in high places.
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How to piss off The Block

Calvin & HobbesThere’s an easy three-step process anyone can follow to piss off the seven-member Block on council (as well as the town’s administration):

  1. Do something good for a change;
  2. Accomplish something for the community’s benefit;
  3. Don’t involve The Block in the process.

And that was just what was done last Thursday when our MPP Jim Wilson made a motion on the floor of the Legislature to have the province fund the redevelopment process for the General & Marine and Alliston hospitals. This isn’t the cost to build, but rather the costs involved in going through the lengthy and expensive process: legal and planning costs, studies, consultants, reports and, of course, the inevitable challenges to the plan at the Ontario Municipal Board (yes, The Block will likely order the town to file an OMB challenge…)

Kudos to Jim for his support and his efforts on behalf of the community. His motion passed. The costs for the process won’t be coming from hospital operating costs or foundation donations meant for equipment and services. That’s no small amount given that the estimate for the bureaucratic process is around $9 million.*

Compare Wilson’s efforts to The Block’s and the administrations roadblocks and resistance. Positive versus negative. Pro-community versus self-interest.

Now given this was a big announcement and very important to the community, Wilson arranged for a local presence to show its support on the day of his motion. All local politicians, hospital board and staff were invited to attend. Arrangements were made for transportation, for a tour of the Legislature, and for lunch there. And guess how many of The Block and town staff attended?

None. Not the interim CAO. No one from the planning department. Not even Councillor Jeffrey – the council rep on the hospital board – bothered to attend. That pretty much sums up the arrogance and the disdain The Block feel for our hospital and for our community. NONE of them went down to Queen’s Park even to fake their support.
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Madigan to chair do-nothing committee

MadiganA story in last week’s Connection has the headline, “Madigan named chair of Collingwood development, operations committee.” Councillor Madigan has the dubious honour of chairing a standing committee that does nothing of value, has no decision-making authority and – like the rest of the standing committees – is redundant, ineffective and inefficient.

Which is an absolutely perfect fit for a loyal Block member. It makes them look busy without allowing them to meddle in anything important, and lets them boast about their engagement without actually doing anything or engaging anyone. The emperor’s new clothes at its finest.

Congratulations are in order. He gets to direct a committee whose sole task is to forward every issue, every report and every delegation to the full council where everything must be repeated and re-read to get anything done or a decision made. The eye-rolling and snickering are just staff’s way of saying how much they appreciate having to go over the same material twice for an audience in which few understand it no matter how many times you tell them.

And just look at the terrific media coverage standing committee meetings get… All right, that’s another joke. They get almost none because their main task is to procrastinate, defer and delay. Hardly makes for good copy, does it? Even the sycophantic local media strain yet fail to make it less snooze-worthy (the above-referenced article being a prime example).

The standing committee system has been broken ever since it was implemented. It adds a thick layer of red tape to everything. But since it is the brainchild of their beloved interim CAO, The Block treat it like a divine commandment handed down from above. They cannot even imagine the barest possibility of contemplating the notion of going against their interim CAO even when he leads them into the bureaucratic quagmire or into such bureaucratic dead ends as the standing committee system.

Just think of all the successes they’ve had under his guidance. Collus-PowerStream, IT, the water utility, the airport development, the hospital redevelopment, the utility boards, staff morale, the town’s reputation, the water pipeline… oh wait. Those are all failures. Abject, dismal, soul-crushing failures. But I’m sure The Block doesn’t see them the same way the rest of the community does. In their eyes, these are successes and damn those who say otherwise.

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We were lied to. Again.

DeceitOn Monday, the Block chose a new representative for the town’s half of the Collus-PowerStream board. They advertised the position in the local media and accepted applications from several qualified local residents. They made it look like they were actually going to follow the proper and legal process for the first time. They went in camera to discuss the applications. And who did they appoint when they came out?

Councillor Deb “What’s a dividend?” Doherty. Yes, the same councillor who complained about not getting a dividend from the utility after she and her colleagues gutted the utility and killed its revenue stream. The same councillor who complained that in the 50% board partnership in which each side has the same number of votes, the other side “holds all the cards,” sets the rules and controlled the purse strings. The same councillor who has NEVER once this term gone to the utility to speak to its staff or find out their side of the story the administration has been spinning.

That’s right: The Block chose one of their own, and arguably the least qualified person among them to hold that position.

What a slap in the face to all those applicants who put their names forward, thinking The Block would act in good faith. Wouldn’t that have been a pleasant change? But of course they didn’t.

They blatantly ignored the public applications. They intended to do so all along. The whole public application thing was a lie. A despicable act of deception.

This is so unethical, so outright underhanded and sneaky it beggars further description.

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Sadly, it’s business as usual

Missed targets
I suppose you expect I am disappointed that not a single one of The Block had the spine, the moral compass, the ethical guts to resign after killing the hospital redevelopment. After all, I called on them all – plus the interim CAO – to resign immediately. Not doing so, I said, would prove everything I ever said about them. They didn’t budge.

Well, my compensation is that I get to say “I told you so.” Again. I suspect I will repeat those words several more times this term.

People only disappoint you when they don’t live up to your expectations. My expectations for this group are low. Abysmal, really, based on the reality of their performance to date. They constantly strive to reach mediocrity, but consistently fail to achieve it. If you expected from them secrecy, conniving, backroom deals, conflict of interest, inflexible ideology and rigid self-interest, then I suppose your expectations have been met.

I didn’t really expect any of them to actually resign. To resign would take courage, commitment and a deeply held caring for the community. Attributes that are most notable in their absence among this group. They would have to take responsibility for their own acts instead of blaming others. I hardly expected them to start doing something so antithetical to their natures now. Hyenas can’t change their spots, can they?

It’s not as if they and they alone killed my faith in humanity. After all, they are not the first politicians to be unethical, and more concerned about feathering their own nests than about the community. Nor will they be the last. There have been other politicians before them who lied to their constituents, who put personal agendas over the greater good, who used their office to conduct vendettas and who handed out sole-source government contracts to friends and family. There have been politicians before them with closed minds who refused to consider other viewpoints or to learn anything. This group won’t be the last of them, either.

Failing to resign, it will be business as usual for them, continuing to lurch and fumble and stumble their way along, tearing down as much of our town as they can along the way.
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The Block killed the hospital. They MUST all resign. Now.

The actions of The Block and the town’s administration have resulted in the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital losing its chance for redevelopment. The province didn’t include funding for the local proposal in its budget. The next opportunity for such funding will be at least a decade away, if one ever comes along.

If any of these people have even a shred of decency, of honour, they will all resign immediately. If any of these people felt even a twinge of shame for misleading the community while they pursued their own personal – and very destructive – agendas, they would resign.

There is a flaccid story about this appalling situation in the Collingwood Connection. In it, the hospital CEO blames the failure on a “lack of alignment” between the town and the hospital board. That’s his polite way of saying – as was made abundantly clear at two public meetings – the Block and the administration continued to put up roadblocks and red tape to prevent the hospital from moving to its preferred site.

Why wasn’t the mayor asked to comment in the newspaper article? She speaks for the town, not the interim CAO. Just more yellow journalism.

And as expected our interim CAO didn’t take responsibility, but expressed “surprise” that the hospital’s CEO would suggest the two were not aligned. No one who watched or attended either of those council meetings where the hospital board was confronted, grilled like felons, shown great disrespect would be “surprised” at this claim of non-alignment. Their only surprise might be at the cautious, reserved language the CEO used in describing this debacle.

They, and they alone, killed the dream.

And right after he received the news, the hospital CEO quit his job. Coincidence? After The Block killed his dream project? I don’t think so either.
Continue reading “The Block killed the hospital. They MUST all resign. Now.”

‘Senator’ Jeffrey gets more money again

Greedy piggyThe Block once again rewarded one of their own by granting Councillor ‘Senator’ Jeffrey an unlimited expense account to wine, dine and party across Canada on the taxpayer’s dollar.

The Connection story is headlined, “Collingwood councillor seeks Federation of Canadian Municipalities seat. That – like so many other Connection headlines – is incorrect. She has held the seat for the last two-and-a-half years, paid for by you, the taxpayer. This is just to extend her entitlement, a blank cheque without the messiness of accountability.

The Block think that your tax dollars should be shovelled into that maw, with no restrictions, no reporting and no accountability to go along with an unlimited expense account. These people just hate the whole concept of accountability that much.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) holds its conferences and meetings all over the country. Jeffrey gets to fly to them, to stay in posh hotels, to eat and drink as she pleases, without once having to show that this in any way benefits Collingwood. Yet there is Councillor Doherty quoted in the paper defending her friend’s excesses:

Coun. Deb Doherty said the town gets great value and Jeffery’s position keeps Collingwood connected at the federal level.

Such great value that when Councillor Lloyd asked to defer the motion while staff prepare a cost-benefit analysis to show what value it had, The Block shut him down. They trembled at the very thought of exposing their friend. They don’t want the truth to come out – that taxpayers are funding Jeffrey’s personal political ambitions with absolutely no benefit to anyone else here.

Such great value that Doherty couldn’t name a single one in public, even though she has attended FCM conferences to support her buddy’s schmoozing for votes. The result of which was a stand-up-comedy-routine report to council, but no concrete evidence of benefit to the town.
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The DM’s height of hypocrisy

There’s a story in this week’s Connection with the misleading headline, “Town asks hospital for public meeting”. The online version has it as “Collingwood asks hospital for public meeting.” Neither is correct. The “town” wants nothing of the sort. The mayor – who speaks for the town – has never expressed that on behalf of council. Actually, she voted against the request. But the real headline is buried in the opening: “Collingwood’s deputy mayor wants council and the hospital to put out a united front on the redevelopment plan.”

Well, it’s clear to see why the Connection is being called “Saunderson’s campaign headquarters” these days, don’t we? Saunderson does not speak for the town or for council and the paper should know that.

This is the same deputy mayor who was disrespectful, adversarial and confrontational towards the hospital on March 2 at a public meeting. Now he wants to be buddies. Not going to happen.

And at the next public meeting a few weeks later, the interim CAO was even more adversarial and confrontational. But it seems Brian has conveniently forgotten those meetings or the public’s reaction.

This is the height of hypocrisy: pretending that they want to make kissy face with the very people they showed such open dislike and disdain for. The only “united front” he wants is for the hospital board to bend to his will, and stay where it is.
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Collingwood deserves answers

The Most Secretive Council Ever
The Most Secretive Council Ever has never told the public why it has been so intent on damaging this community. We have never had an explanation why they are so inflexible, so hostile to other ideas, so adversarial to opinions other than their own. We have never been told why they are so focused on their own entitlement and give no thought for or support to the residents and taxpayers in Collingwood.

We have been kept in the dark about their motives and goals while The Block continues its destructive rampage against community institutions through these past two and a half years.

So much hatred, so much anger, so much selfishness, so much secrecy and deviousness in one council. This lowering of standards is unprecedented. But the electorate deserves to know why they were betrayed by the people they voted for, deserves to know why so many campaign promises were broken, why personal agendas and vendettas take precedence over the greater good.

We should and be told in public, not have The Block scurry behind closed doors as it always does when anything important or controversial is raised. And you know the local media will NEVER ask them why, or ask the tough questions about their motives.

So here is my list of things we want to know. I’m sure it’s not complete and you, dear reader, could add more to it.

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This man should resign

Interim CAOCan a municipality operate effectively with a toxic relationship between the mayor and the CAO? Can staff avoid being involved in the confrontation? Can the public expect the best service and support from its leaders if the two top people are at odds?

Clearly not. A story in The Connection reinforced just how bad things have become in town hall between the mayor and the interim CAO.

Once you read it, I believe you will agree with me: the interim CAO must go. Now. Right now. He is an embarrassment to everyone. This behaviour is intolerable. It doesn’t matter that he is The Block’s darling. He should resign or be placed on administrative leave without delay.

I asked why he was still allowed to work for the town back in 2016. I asked it again earlier this April. I will ask it again: why is this man still working for Collingwood?

This story reflects badly on the town. This term, Collingwood has already suffered considerable embarrassment, a tattered reputation, hostility and disdain from our municipal partners and neighbours, and we have an adversarial position against our airport, utilities, and hospital. The buck has to stop somewhere. 

Is he behaving like this because our mayor is a woman? Or is he this aggressive to everyone? Did he behave like this in the other municipalities where he worked? The mayor should contact them and find out. But it’s Collingwood where he is now and it’s Collingwood that has to deal with him. He should go. 

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