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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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.
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The hypocrisy, it burns, it burns…

HypocrisyThe Block on Collingwood Council can’t seem to go a week without diving into their deep, private lake of hypocrisy. Remember how they whined and snarled about the partnership last council formed with PowerStream to own and operate our electrical utility? How the Jeremiahs at the table lamented that a partnership deal was bad for the town.

Now they want one for our airport. Ah, the hypocrisy.

Yep. A story in the Connection last week noted, “…the two best options for the municipality would be a full sale of the property or a sale that includes a private and public partnership.”

Partnerships were evil when the last council created them. Now The Block thinks they’re good. Hypocrisy is in their bones. They can’t help themselves. I suppose their remaining handful of supporters will say at least they’re consistent.

This is the same cabal that has been secretly scheming to sell the airport behind closed doors, without any public consultation, or engagement. Without even informing our municipal neighbours who are partners on the airport board (a Municipal Service Board created under special provisions in the Municipal Act). They never even discussed it with the people who work there or who have their planes at the airport.

But of course, the Block have never consulted, engaged or informed ANYONE outside their tiny circle about ANYTHING. That would be open and honest and run counter to their secretive, closed-door ideology.

And you, the taxpayer here, have never once been told why The Block are so intent on selling the airport. Or been asked if you agree with selling a publicly-owned asset. It’s all been decided behind closed doors. Secrecy and deception: the watchwords for Collingwood Council this term (14 closed-door meetings about the airport as of last November and one on Mar. 26 this year: 15 meetings behind closed doors and not a single public statement made to the public about WHY).
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Council kills Collingwood construction

NoiseCollingwood council – dominated by The Block – has voted to cripple the booming construction industry in town. A bylaw passed this week prohibits, “…operation of construction equipment to Monday to Friday from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m.” according to a story in the Connection.*

This means The Block have really put a damper on construction, making it even more difficult for developers to get homes finished on time, hurting the workers who depend on those jobs, delaying new home buyers from moving in and creating yet another liability situation for the town.

The article notes:

This deals with major development, and equipment used in connection with construction projects on developments not assumed by the town, or on property where site plan development was approved.
Residential construction, such as building a deck, is limited from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m., Monday to Friday and 8 a.m., to 4 p.m., on Saturday. This construction would be prohibited on Sunday and holidays.**

So it’s okay to build a deck, run a noisy lawnmower, leaf blower (a particularly annoying offender) or a chainsaw in your backyard, but not run a quieter backhoe or grader. Apparently to The Block a homebuilt deck or a leafless walkway is so much more important to the local economy than, say, a 100-home residential development that provides a few hundred jobs.

This comes from the same people who didn’t know what a dividend was,  said comparing equivalent municipal jobs with the same titles was apples and oranges, and didn’t understand that a levy on property tax is still a tax increase. Even simple economics escapes their grasp.

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The report The Block don’t want you to see

Huge reportLate last year, BMA Management Consulting produced a hefty 517-page report called Municipal Study 2017* that examines a wide variety of socio-economic indicators in more than 100 Ontario municipalities: taxes, user fees, population, average home value, water/sewer, economic development programs and more. As Owen Sound notes on its website:

The study identifies both key quantifiable indicators and selective environmental factors that should be considered part of a comprehensive evaluation of a local municipality’s financial condition. Use of the study over a number of years provides trends to allow decision-makers to monitor selected indicators over time. Trend analysis helps to provide interpretive context. In addition, context can be provided by comparing a municipality’s own experience with the experience of other municipalities. In 2016, 105 Ontario municipalities participated in the Study.

Sudbury also notes on its website (with links to studies from 2011-17):

In 2017, 102 municipalities participated in the study which provides comparisons of financial information, select user fees, tax policies and rates, sewer and water services, and taxes as a percentage of income.

Collingwood data is listed among those 100+ participating municipalities (see pages 10 and 25 of the full report). But as far as I can tell, we were not presented with a copy – at least not for public consumption.
Did we even participate? If so, why hasn’t the report been released to the public? Are The Block hiding it from us? (I know what you’re going to say: because The Block encourages the culture of secrecy in town hall, they don’t ever like to release ANYTHING). A search for it on the town’s website turns up as much as you’d find in our Blockheads’ grey matter: no results.

Or was the data merely lifted from an earlier study BMA did of the town? By my count, we have used BMA for at least four such reports (Jan. and Dec. 2014, Nov. 2015, and Nov. 2016). I cannot find any record that these were actually put out to tender, but given The Block’s and the administration’s eagerness to sole-source everything and hand out contracts like party favours, I doubt it.

Maybe the town declined to buy it because some folks in town hall didn’t want it to be made public because it might reflect badly on their policies and practices.

Continue reading “The report The Block don’t want you to see”