A brief update on Collus-PowerStream

Just a brief note to give my readers the opportunity to examine two documents related to Collus-PowerStream and our council’s secretive efforts to sabotage our utility. Both are in PDF format, linked below.

First is the presentation given by the Electricity Distribution Association (EDA) to AMO delegates earlier this month. I referred to this in a recent post about the opportunities this council has thrown away in their headlong rush to fulfill their petty little vendettas.

Collus-PowerStream was mentioned during the presentation (page 14) as one of the leading innovators in LDCs in Ontario. Bet you’ve never heard The Block say anything like that at the table.

Never a good word for all the hard work our utility staff have done comes from The Block. They can’t stand hearing good news about our utility they want to destroy and they never, ever pass any positive news along to you – the actual owners of our utility.

We could have been in the forefront of a remarkable exciting new development, been a player in new organization – had The Block not interfered with their petty, personal agendas. But you’ll never hear them admit it.

Second is the EDA’s weekly newsletter for August 16, 2016 which also provides a summary of the presentation. On page 2, you’ll read how our own utility was profiled for its efficiency:

Collus PowerStream’s SmartMAP which has improved outage restoration and operational efficiency.

Once again, we are being recognized by the provincial association, esteemed in the eyes of LDCs and municipalities across the province. But do you think you’ll ever hear The Block mention this at the council table? Of course not! Nor will you read in in the local media, which, sadly, does little more than regurgitate The Block’s slimy propaganda.

The weekly newsletter is also interesting because it highlights news, issues, events, policy changes and events in the energy sector. Which, of course, The Block never reads because they don’t receive it. That would require them to actually taken an interest in the energy sector and learn something. Both of which are anathema to all Blockheads. Besides, they already know everything. Actually learning something would just confuse them.

The newsletter would normally go to LDC board members, but given who The Block placed on the utility board – their administrative pitbulls – they are unlikely to pass it along to the public, either. It’s kept secret, like everything else done around, with and to our utility. But here, at least this one time, you have a chance to read what The Block doesn’t want you to know.

You’re welcome.

Collingwood deserves better. You deserve better.

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Opportunities Collingwood has lost

I spent two days in the trade show at the AMO conference this week, looking at the booth across the aisle from me. It constantly reminded me of the opportunities for Collingwood this council has thrown away, of what great opportunities we have lost this term.

The booth across from me was announcing the upcoming merger of four of the province’s top utility companies – Horizon, Enersource, Hydro One Brampton and PowerStream. This will make it the largest LDC (local distribution corporation) in Ontario. The four most innovative, customer-oriented, conservation-minded, efficient and forward-thinking utilities are merging.

You remember PowerStream? They are our municipal partners in Collus. So why haven’t you heard about this venture? Because The Block doesn’t want you to know about it.

This will be the start of a powerhouse operation that changes the face of the utility sector in Ontario. It will streamline operations and combine resources – all for the betterment of their customers.

Collingwood could have been part of this exciting new development. Should have been part of it – had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed the once-great relationship between the town and our utility partner, PowerStream. Had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed the relationship between our utility, and its excellent, hard-working staff, and the town. Had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed our town’s reputation and standing in the province.

But, of course, they did, as you, dear reader, know from reading the tragic news here. Deliberately, they pursued personal agendas and private vendettas. And we watch slip away the opportunity to be part of something new, dynamic and exciting. The opportunity to be in the forefront vanishes while we shuffle to the rear.

No one wants Collingwood at the table these days. That was driven home to me during the conference through several conversations with people in the energy sector and other municipalities. No one could understand why our council wants to alienate one of the most progressive LDCs in the province and align with the least efficient, least respected power company – the one with the highest electricity rates and lowest customer satisfaction.

No one could understand why our council insisted on shooting itself in the foot. Again, and again, and again.

To outsiders it seems like madness. Only to the small, myopic circle of Blockheads at the table does it make sense to destroy what everyone else in the energy sector heralded as a brilliantly conceived, mutually beneficial, morale-boosting partnership.

Once lost, we can never recover it. Lost opportunities will be this council’s lasting legacy.
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The destruction of Collus

Council wrecking our townThere’s a story in the online Connection that highlights how much this council has spent on lawyers and consultants to further its vendetta against Collus-Powerstream: more than $400,000 so far. Half of it was spent in 2015 (I have seen a document that shows more than $249,000 spent in 2015) and the cash register is still ringing. By the end of this year it may well top $750,000-$1 million.

That’s $400,000 of your tax dollars already spent for nothing. Not in town, not on local companies or services. We got absolutely no benefit from that expense. It wasn’t spent on anything for the greater good, but to pursue a very personal vendetta.

Remember that promised savings of $500,000-$750,000 the CAO bragged about back in March? It seems it’s all going to lawyers and consultants. And they’ll be getting more, too. The bills just keep rolling in.

This week, we got the news that Collus Powerstream is one of the top-performing utilities in the province. The Ontario Energy Board released its 2015 Benchmarking Report. in it, Collus Powerstream moved from the third tier (of five) up to second. It’s quite an accomplishment – and owed entirely to the efforts of our great, hardworking utility staff (including the former CEO, Ed Houghton).

It’s ironic that Hydro One remains in tier five – the lowest-performing category. Yet this is who The Block has been secretly trying to sell our utility to: the least efficient utility in the province. Powerstream is, by the way, the second largest municipal utility in this province, with more customers than Toronto Hydro. Powerstream has even more urban customers than Hydro One.

Why do I say costs could top $1 million? Because the Block’s aggressive drive to destroy Collus-Powerstream is about to come to an explosive head. I expect that before the end of summer, Powerstream will be so fed up with the harassment from town hall they will make an offer to buy our share of the utility. And then it will be gone.

We will have lost control over our own hydro rates and services. It will relocate out of town, maybe even out of the region. We will also lose the more than $200,000 a year we get for rent from the building. And any future cash dividends. But we will have the inevitable bills from lawyers to close the deal. Ka-ching!

Now while that purchase is likely the best thing for the staff at Collus – it will get them away from the toxic relationship created by this council and administration – and it will probably benefit the consumer too* – it means we lose a valuable public asset: our electrical utility.

And you, the public haven’t been able to even hear the discussions, let alone provide your input. It’s all been done behind closed doors. Screwed again by The Most Secretive Council Ever.

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Whatever became of that angry mob?

Defending our honourLast term, council was presented with an angry, 14-page screed from the “Friends of Central Park” (aka “Build the YMCA a Taj Mahal at Taxpayers’ Expense,” later called Better Together Collingwood…yes, you know who was behind them both!).

The mouthpiece attacked the honesty, the credibility, competence and the behaviour of the former council – all because we chose to build new recreational facilities that were not the expensive option a group of well-off residents demanded we build. And because we didn’t raise taxes or incur significant debt in our choice.

I realize it’s not often one gets lambasted by taxpayers for not raising taxes, but we were severely criticized for choosing the path of fiscal responsibility. Can’t win them all, I suppose. But I think it’s time to see if this current council – elected by that group and their minions – has followed through on the demands made of us last term.

I have deleted some of the specific rec facility-related content in the letter because it isn’t relevant any more. But I think you’ll find what remains (shown in italics) very informative and relevant. My responses follow. I’m sure you’ll chuckle over the evident hypocrisy.

That Council ask staff to report back on the following best practices in municipal good governance.
Answer: Not seen in these first 21 months in office this term. Likelihood of ever being seen: same as winning the lottery twice in a row. Municipal good governance would get in the way of personal agendas and entitlement.

I. clarify the values and respective actions that they interpret to embrace good governance and share these with the public;
Answer: Ditto. Okay, first you have to know what good governance is. The Most Secretive Council Ever has no idea because that would require coming out from behind closed doors. And learning. Toss this one in the bin.

ii. direct staff to revise the Procurement Policy to reflect more stringent guidelines and procedures reflective of other municipal, provincial and federal procedures; specifically articles on sole sourcing amongst a more robust review;
Answer: One of the very first things this council ever did was to approve a sole-source bid for a taxi contract, to the company owned by Councillor Fryer’s brother-in-law. So it’s do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do with this lot.

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322 reasons why we’re better off with PowerStream

$322. More. Every year.

$322. That’s how much MORE the average consumer household using 750 kW/month pays a year when connected to Hydro One, compared to the same household connected to Collus PowerStream. That means YOU will pay that much more, thanks to Collingwood Council. The Block, in particular.

And it could be higher, if you have, say, electrical heat, air conditioning, electrical stove or dryer, or a family. A lot higher.*

This council has been in secret negotiations to sell our utility to Hydro One, knowing that your bills will skyrocket. Not only will it mean higher utility bills, but you have no input into the fate of the utility YOU own. Input is not being allowed by the Most Secretive Council Ever.

In fact, they have only ever discussed our utility and selling it behind closed doors this term. Dozens of times. Until last week, of course, when they publicly announced their plan to sell it. Anyone else see this as corruption and breach of public trust?

Last term, when half of our ownership in Collus was sold to PowerStream, it was all done in public, with public input. How quickly things changed under The Block.

If you’re a senior or otherwise living on a fixed income or with typically low wages, you’ll need to come up with at least $26.80 a month more, or you’ll have to cut it from somewhere else. Like your food. Medicine. Clothes. Or heating in winter.

Plus don’t forget to add in the entirely unnecessary but burdensome tax increases this council has already put through TWICE this term. All part of The Block’s war on seniors.

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Thick as a brick

You really have to watch Rogers’ coverage of Collingwood Council, July 11, 2016. Start around 2:08:00. That’s when the discussion about the upgrades to the brick at the Collingwood Curling Club begins.

Another comedic episode full of zany antics and madcap mayhem brought to you by The Block. Be prepared to howl with laughter as Councillor Ecclestone attempts to justify hiding public information from view.

Let’s pause for a moment to remind readers that these upgrades and repairs were approved last term, in 2014 and should have been completed by now. But this council and administration dropped the ball for almost two years.

The former building department official who oversaw the project when it was supposed to go ahead provided a report on the status of the building and proposed repairs in early 2015. The administration sat on the report while the snooze button kept being hit until mid-2016. But I digress.*

Finally, the work got approval to go ahead, two years after it was first proposed and approved. But better late than never, eh? Who cares if costs have risen in the interim? It’s only taxpayer dollars! There’s millions of them where they came from!

Push ahead in the video to 2:09:45. That’s when Councillor Ecclestone speaks. Be prepared to drop your jaw and guffaw aloud. He says:

In the future, I don’t think we should be making public the 15 percent, uh, contingency. I think that it, you know, doesn’t need to get out there, cause I think once you put that in there, the company then can, fffff (sic), go for the full bundle, right? So I’m just thinking that in the future we should just keep that, uh, um, not announce it to the public.

Is he kidding? Hide information from the public in an open bidding process? This is someone who claims to have been the “head of council” previously. Yet here he appears thicker than the brickwork about to be repaired.**

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Strategic planning: what we missed

Strategic planningThe July 2016 issue of Municipal World has an article on the process of implementing strategic plans. It’s called, Getting from Here to There, and it’s written by a trio of experts including the president of a company specializing in municipal strategic planning, a strategic planning professional in the public sector, and a CAO from Alberta. In the short, two-page article, it outlines pretty much everything Collingwood did wrong in its so-called strategic plan – which was neither a plan nor strategic.

Experts, schmexperts, eh? Who needs experts? Not Der Block! I mean, aside from all the out-of-town buddy consultants and ambulance chasers the town’s administration has hired at great expense… can you really think of a better use for several hundred thousand of your tax dollars than paying people to tell you what to think? Neither can I…

Because The Block cancelled its collective subscription to MW in early 2015, it won’t read the advice of experts in this and any other field. Thus it will avoid polluting its myopic ideology with information, process, education, and peer advice. After all, when you already know everything, what need is there to learn what others do?

Besides, when you want outside advice, the administration will happily buy some for you that matches your own ideology.

But for my readers, I’d like to examine the process as outlined in the article and compare it to Collingwood’s. Keep in mind that what The Blockheads risibly call a “community-based strategic plan,” I usually refer to as a poorly defined, committee-based wish list. But let’s move on to the comparison.

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Rules for The Block, different rules for us

Application formEver apply to sit on a town board or committee? If so, you’ll be familiar with the form to the right. It’s the town’s application form. Click on it to see or download the full form. Everyone who wants to sit on a town board of committee must complete and sign it.

Everyone, that is, except the people The Block appoint to the committees and boards they want to control. One set of rules for The Block, another for the rest of us. How very accountable and transparent.

In June, The Block illegally (not to mention unethically and immorally) “fired” the democratically appointed members of the Collus PowerStream board and replaced them with their own selection of tame staff, ones they could cow into submission. I wrote about this naked power grab earlier.

(I say illegally because there is no mechanism in the town’s Procedural Bylaw to remove appointees, and it clearly states their term is concurrent with the term of council. So to me, it seems they have broken the law. But laws don’t apply to The Block, do they? They’re above such petty considerations. Besides, you’d have to be a lawyer to really understand what they say, anyway…)

The town’s policy has (as long as I’ve lived here and for the entire three terms I served on council) is that all appointees must fill in the form and go through the selection process. Except, it seems, when you’re a Block toady. Then you just get parachuted into the position and screw the public input. We don’t need no steenkin’ rules… laws are for losers.

But wait. It gets more interesting…

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Misleading mouthpieces

StinkyContrary to what you might expect, I am not surprised that the Enterprise Bulletin recently printed a letter replete with disinformation and disingenuous claims from someone who might be best described as one of The Block’s more rabid mouthpieces. Call it an editorial fart.

My faith in any objectivity, neutrality of, or fact-checking by the EB was long ago disabused. The EB has been The Block’s tame outlet even before the current editor took the job. That the EB continues to run a similarly biased, inaccurate column by another of The Block’s mouthpieces (albeit one of lesser talent) merely underscores my impression of overt bias.

I am, however, annoyed that no one who knows the facts has come forward to challenge these outlandish assertions.

For example, “The CAO of our town spent 15 frustrating months trying to obtain documents pertaining to the sale of Collus from its CEO.” This is simply incorrect. Any information in the hands of Collus/Powerstream was provided to the town, sometimes several times over.

Frustrating? Yes, for the utility. How many times do you have to keep giving out the same material to the town before it stops demanding what it already has?

The utility could not, however, provide such information as minutes of council meetings because they were the responsibility of town staff to record and keep. But let’s blame the utility for not doing town staff’s work for them.

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Power, naked ambition, and corruption

Collingwood sinking...No matter how many times you watch the film, Titanic, the ending is always the same: the ship hits the iceberg. Sort of like watching Collingwood Council these days. They just keep hitting the iceberg. And hitting it and hitting it and hitting it.

But unlike the Titanic’s crew, our feckless crew is doing it deliberately. Their goal is to sink the ship. And they’re doing a bang-up job. Literally. Of course, they don’t plan to go down with the ship themselves: that’s the fate left to our town institutions and facilities. They’re just doing the steering. Into the iceberg.

Although the epithet says power corrupts, I think the corruption had set in among them long before the Block came to power. But their naked ambition, their arrogant disregard for the greater good, have never been so blatant as found in the agenda for next Monday.

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Yellow Journalism

Yellow journalismHere’s an interesting approach to developing good relations with your print media advertisers: take their money, publish their full-colour advertisement, then challenge their content, their integrity and their claims in a story that doesn’t present all the facts.

Then wonder why your other advertisers may be nervous about this tactic… and wonder why print media is in trouble.

That’s just what the Collingwood Connection did recently. They accepted and ran an ad last week from Collus/Powerstream – an innocuous, non-political, full-colour ad that modestly promoted the utility and its partnership with the town – then challenged it in an piece this week (the original, online piece was later updated, as I understand it, after complaints were made to the writer).

Not surprising if the folks at the utility are seriously pissed off at the Connection and feel betrayed, either. (update: I’ve been informed that the ad ran twice and wasn’t cancelled and ran twice… but I didn’t see it in the paper where the story ran…)

As Wikipedia tells us, yellow journalism is…

…a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism. By extension, the term yellow journalism is used today as a pejorative to decry any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.

Is it ethical or professional not to ask the basic questions reporters are taught to ask: who, what, where, when and why? Or to rely on unnamed sources? Those practices certainly look like yellow journalism to me.

Now, anyone who has followed local politics is aware of this council’s unrelenting attacks on our utility services and their staff. And you’re probably aware that the utility’s side of the story has never been covered in any local media, even though pretty much everyone in town is talking about it.

Local media seem content to look the other way and pretend it’s not happening. Investigative journalism? Not welcome here…

You also know how council broke the water service away from the electrical, and what a miserable dog’s breakfast that situation is now. The 150-year old mutual service relationship was torn asunder, and in almost two years the town has failed to craft a new one, although it should have taken an hour at most… but this council never intended to renew the agreement.

The experienced, respected professionals on the water utility commission were tossed overboard and replaced by a group of ideologically-motivated, inexperienced and inept councillors and pet staff. After, of course, deciding to so so without public input at a meeting behind closed doors.

And yes, they refer to themselves as “Our Group.” I, personally, prefer the term “Politburo” since it better captures that Stalinesque odour about them, but let’s use their own appellation for this post.

Since then, staff morale in water has plummeted. I’m told the utility is in chaos, the unions are squabbling, everyone is complaining, resumes have been sent out by the dozen, and no one is happy. Except for “Our Group,” of course. Another story whitewashed in the media.

Having basically destroyed one utility, “Our Group” has actively and aggressively pursued doing similar destruction to our electrical utility.

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The 50% Solution

Wings'n beerImagine you want to go out for dinner with a friend. Get some wings and beer. You like mild dry rub wings, and a nice, crisp lager. Your friend likes sticky and spicy, with a dark stout. The restaurant will bring out the food and drinks split according to your wishes. And your bill.

That means whoever pays for the meal gets to decide what you both get on the table.

You can’t afford to pay for the whole meal yourself, and you don’t want your friend to pay for it because you don’t want to share a basket of hot and sticky wings and a jug of Guinness. You want your own meal: you want half the food and half the beer, the kind you like. So you know you can’t pay less than 50%, otherwise you’ll give up control of the meal.

And if you pay more, you’ll end up with more than you need and your friend will feel unsatisfied. So you ask your friend what percentage of the bill they want pay before you order.

Your friend feels the same way. Your friend wants a fair share, a full meal, and doesn’t want anything less, and certainly doesn’t want to pay for your food, either. So your friend offers to pay half the costs. Fifty percent. Split right down the middle. That way you both get the wings and beer you want, no fighting. Both walk away from the table happy.

That’s the logic Collingwood used when it decided to sell half of its power utility, Collus, to Powerstream. Sure, the process was a little more complicated than that, but it still boils down to the same thing.

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Two conferences and a show

Windsor: Ontario Water Conference

I had the honour and the enjoyment of attending two municipal conferences last week. While no longer directly involved in politics, I am able to keep my finger in some of the political pies through my current work for an NGO. Plus, I like to remain informed and up-to-date about politics and governance, and am always looking for opportunities to increase my knowledge and understanding of pretty much any topic.

The first event was the Ontario Water Conference, in Windsor. While predominantly a technical and operations event for facility managers and operators, it also has a good political component where utility board members and politicians can learn about initiatives, developments and government updates.

I sat in on presentations over two days, learning about levels of service and risk models; improvement actions from frozen services; eco-fiscal challenges to building resilient communities; business case for a one-water approach; updates from the IESO, the MOE, MOECC, Drinking Water Advisory Council and Safe Drinking Water Branch of the MOECC. From climate change to electricity prices to algal blooms and utility board governance… I learned a lot.

The great majority of workshops were, however, technical, and well out of my depth of knowledge. It also has a large trade show where attendees can see the latest updates in water-related technologies and discuss their implementation with the vendors.

As the website tells it:

The Conference continues to be the premier drinking water event in Ontario, consistently attracting over 900 delegates from all areas of our industry: operators and owners, manufacturers and suppliers, consultants, academics and regulators. The Trade Show has more than 100 exhibitors representing the manufacturers and suppliers of products and services to the water industry. This is a great opportunity to network, and keep informed about technical, regulatory, and equipment development which affect the industry.

I would have assumed that any politician who sits on a water utility board or any public member of such board, who is dedicated to their role and cares about water would have at least made the effort to attend these sessions. After all, they are personally liable for the quality of our water and can be sued for not maintaining it.

I guess if you don’t read the Clean Water Act, this might not concern you. (Hint: it’s crucial reading for members of water utility boards like ours…)

However, there were not many politicians in sight, although I did encounter a few. While I recognized several water utility employees from Collingwood, none of its water utility board (which consists of five inexperienced, neophyte politicians) was present. You would think someone who knew nothing about the subject would be eager to learn about what they have the responsibility over, but perhaps I expect too much from them. Ignorance is bliss, they say.

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Banning Phosphorus

Algal bloom
In 2014, Toledo experienced a water crisis that caused the city to issue a “do not use” warning for more than 500,000 residents. They had to rely on bottled water; boiling wasn’t safe because it further released toxins into the water.

That crisis was caused by unsafe levels of the toxin Microcystin in the city’s treated water. The toxin came from the unprecedented algal bloom in Lake Erie; a huge swath of the west end of the lake blossomed with the algae.

The algae were growing rapidly because of the increasingly high nutrient load in lakes and streams. In particular: phosphorus. The bloom wasn’t as large as the 2011 giant that covered 5,000 sq. kilometers of the lake, but it was more deadly.

Not all algae  – or, more properly, cyanobacteria – produce toxins. Many are benign and all play important roles in the environment. But those produced can cause illness and even be fatal, at least to animals. There are some 50 types of Microcystin, of which Microcystin-LR is the most common. And most dangerous: it causes severe and sometimes fatal liver damage.

In the past few months, oceanic algal blooms known as red tides have killed tens of thousands of fish off the coasts of Florida, Chile, ChinaCambodia, and Vietnam. A 500-km bloom polluted one of Australia’s major rivers this spring.

Economies are suffering from algal blooms and their impact on fishing, tourism, shipping and recreation. In Chile alone, the devastation from algal blooms cost their salmon industry $800 million this year.

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Killing gnats with grenades

Starving catCollingwood Council has taken the equivalent approach of a grenade attack to swat at a little gnat. It has launched a full-frontal assault on people feeding wildlife in order to get a couple of people in town to stop feeding feral cats.

And of course it was done without any public input.

The sensible, socially active and responsible approach would have been a campaign of education, public meetings, and information. But no, that’s too damned open and transparent for this council.

What this council wants – and got – is punitive legislation. Let’s punish people who think they’re being humane and kind. After all, they’re only taxpayers.

Besides, education costs money and Council thinks your money is better spent letting Councillor “Senator” Jeffrey fly around the county, wining and dining at taxpayer expense, while she pursues her personal political ambitions to become queen of FCM (yes: there’s a motion on the upcoming agenda to give her an unlimited budget to do this. L’etat c’est moi…)

The staff report on the April 11 agenda (starts p. 84) makes it seem like it’s a big move to deal with coyotes – but don’t kid yourself. This is all about feral cats. Coyotes have little to do with it.

Cats which, it seems, this council would rather have hunting birds or starving to death on the street. Real compassion there. Did I mention there wasn’t any public input?

Two letters in this week’s Connection complained about this bylaw. People are upset. After the fact, of course, since (stop me if you’ve heard this before…) Council didn’t get any public input about this.

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