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”

Collingwood’s culture of secrecy

Soviet politburoFor the past fifteen months, I have been trying to get a copy of the Request For Proposals (RFP) sent out to potential buyers for the purchase of our public utility. For the past fifteen months, the town has fought me, has refused to hand it over, has challenged my appeals to the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC). The public is not allowed to see it, even though it affects us and our once-public utility. Even though it is in the public’s interest to know what has been going on.

Why not? After all, the RFP was released in August, 2016, the responses were received that fall, and this council decided to sell our utility to the for-profit corporation, EPCOR, shortly after. All done, of course, behind closed doors with no public input or engagement. So why not release the RFP? It’s not a legal document, it has no bearing on the sale nor the conditions of proposals. The process is completed.

Seeing the RFP now surely has no effect on any of the already-completed negotiations. But the town still says no. The inescapable conclusion is that the town is hiding something. Something devious, unethical, something The Block don’t want revealed to the public.

The public can’t see it simply because of the deeply entrenched culture of secrecy and deception in town hall. This culture is so ingrained in everything this council does that it acts more like a Soviet politburo than a supposedly open, democratic government.

The RFP was crafted by the sole-sourced lawyer hired by the administration (with The Block’s unanimous approval). He sent it out, not the town, and it was not shared with council. This is not merely highly unusual: it was a deliberate act to ensure the secrecy of this document. Not only can the public not learn to whom the RFP was sent, but what it asked for because now the town can hide behind client-solicitor privilege. Very devious.

That’s right: this was set up to deliberately block public scrutiny. But as you already know, the entire process has been done behind closed doors to avoid all public scrutiny and input. As I wrote before, this council held at least 37 (and possibly more) closed-door meetings about the fate of our public utility yet in three years has never ONCE said why they want to sell it, has never ONCE asked for public comment on the sale. An open, transparent government would not behave like that.

Who can forget the promise made by candidate Brian Saunderson – now deputy mayor, in the Connection before the last election:

Ensure all major decisions seek out community input, and ensure there is rigorous staff research and due diligence before any decision is made.

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What became of Better Together Collingwood?

GullibilityRather amusingly, the Better Together Collingwood website is still online. The latest event noted on the site is a rally for Monday March 25, 2013. Its Facebook page also remains intact, although the most recent post there is dated Jan. 15, 2015. But what are stale-dated entries about non-existent activities of a fake association among friends, eh? Well, it seems the only friends left for BTC are at the council table.

It’s amusing because as a group it ceased to be a functional entity the moment the last municipal election was held and Brian Saunderson won his seat as deputy mayor. That’s because the real purpose of the group – in fact the sole purpose – was to get him and his minions elected. Which it did. After which any pretence of it being a community or citizens’ group was immediately dropped. The gullible people who tagged along thinking they were working collaboratively towards a better community were no longer needed and there was no need to string them along any more.

And it wasn’t as if the organizers sent emails or letters to all members or supporters saying, “Thanks for your efforts, keep up the good work.” Nothing was said about how the groups was supposed to make sure their candidates ALSO toed the line and behaved as they had promised. The Block just turned their backs and walked away. They never looked back. They were too busy taking things apart and breaking Collingwood.

Apparently the organizers and site manager(s) were too busy celebrating their victory to bother to attend to the infrastructure they used to get into power. So the site and FB page remains as ironic reminders of how easy it is to fool some of the people all of the time. You joined? You were conned.

BTC’s sites exist to rub people’s noses into the fact that they actually believed in Brian and his cabal at one time. Few would admit to that these days, of course. Not after three years of deception, secrecy and pursuit or personal agendas and vendettas at public expense by this council.

And where, oh where was the local media coverage of this debacle? Oh right: no harm or criticism ever done to your friends.
Continue reading “What became of Better Together Collingwood?”