For all their evils and their wrongs, the Soviets did some things very well: propaganda and disinformation. As one writer commented in the Spectator, “Communist ideology dismissed the idea of truth as a bourgeois construct. What mattered was power; and you baptised as truth those doctrines which provided it.” Stalin defined truth as what he said it was.
The Soviets were such masters at it from an early stage that George Orwell declared that history stopped in 1936; after that there was only propaganda. So good were they at it that their methods and techniques were copied by other states and are still in play in the West, today. And they’re not just in what comes from the Trump administration: both are in play right here in Collingwood, alive and active this very week.
Yes, Collingwood has been subject to the sort of propaganda and deception that has its historic roots in Soviet propaganda.
The headline on the media release reads, “Alectra selling its shares in Collus PowerStream to Collingwood.” What it should add is that Collingwood residents and taxpayers were betrayed by members of their own council and administration. After a three-year campaign to screw us, The Block have won a major victory in abhorrent behaviour. They are privatizing our electrical utility and next year will do the same to our water/wastewater utility, to the same corporation.
Our publicly-owned utility will be sold to EPCOR, an out-of-province, for-profit corporation that pays a dividend to the city of Edmonton only, and that will raise our electricity rates as soon as they are allowed. Our utility will be privatized within a year, with no local control, no local representation, no local input. And it’s all been done to us behind closed doors.
What will Collingwood get from the sale? Basically nothing, once all the legal fees, consultant fees, taxes and kickbacks are paid. We will have lost everything just to satisfy some personal vendettas.
In fact, with the changes made to staff, to departments and the termination of the shared services agreement, and the skyrocketing legal and consulting costs approved by The Block and this administration, operating costs are already escalating. Your taxes will be raised significantly to pay for their vile acts.
It is a devastating blow to the hardworking staff in Collus-PowerStream. It will be devastating and extremely costly to residents once the deal is finalized. This is the lowest moment in our town’s history. It goes way beyond merely being unethical and immoral: it has the stench of corruption about it.
In the previous part of this story, I provided dates of meetings and events in the terms of the previous council (on which I sat) and the current council. I documented how last term, the sale of one half the share of our electrical utility (Collus) was sold to the municipally-owned PowerStream (now Alectra) through a very well-documented, open and transparent process. I compared it to the secretive, deceptive process used by The Block on Collingwood Council, and the administration.
Last term, residents and stakeholders were engaged and informed. This term we have been ignored, avoided and lied to. Last term, there was a single in-camera meeting during the 18 month-long process, and that was to open sealed bids.
This term there have beenat least 37 closed door meetings about the utility in three years to date, and perhaps more than 40. Last term, everything about the process and the public discussions was covered in the local media (even the number of proposals received was reported last term). This term, only the barest coverage exists, in part because the process has been so secretive that there has been little to report (this term even the number of bids received from the RFP has been kept secret).
Keep in mind, too that in July 11, 2016: Council voted 7-2 (The Block vs Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd) to “explore” selling its share in Collus-PowerStream, even though by then they had already, secretly appointed a sole-sourced lawyer to oversee the share sale. At that meeting, Councillor Madigan disingenuously said, “I will assure you, no decisions have been made, we are just exploring our options with any interested parties.” He also said, “You can never be in control if you own 50% of anything,” then voted to sell 100% of the utility! Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson said, “By bringing it out in the public, we’re just letting all parties know that we’re kicking the tires and seeing what’s available.” The hypocrisy and deception was – and remains – rampant among The Block.
In this post I will cover the final year for the process in both terms: 2012 compared to 2017. Since this is still ongoing, and likely will continue until the end of this term (Nov. 2018), I will report on the subsequent events in later posts. But even a to-date comparison shows clearly how much the public has been misled and deceived this term.
There were also public discussions about how to spend the money from the sale last term, and a meeting where public suggestions were invited and received. The council discussion about the sale money continued until mid-2013, when the final decision was made. I have listed those dates, below.
Alectra has recently rejected a demand from the town to buy the town’s share for $12.5 million. The Block’s plan to privatize all of it to a for-profit corporation (and next year to follow through by selling that same corporation our water and wastewater services) is in motion. Under their plan, all of the utility will be owned by an out-of-province company with no local representation, no local say, no transparency or accountability, no local control over services and rates. And all done with no public discussion or consultation.
This process has gone far beyond merely unethical. It has the stench of corruption about it. Secrecy always does. Sole-sourced lawyers and consultants were brought in at great expense to taxpayers to push a one-sided agenda. Public consultation was ignored. Requests from our own utility board and from our municipal partner to make public presentations were refused. Secret deals to pay money from taxpayer funds even if the sale doesn’t go through have been signed. The former interim CAO was retained as a “consultant” at taxpayer expense after he allegedly resigned – done at another closed-door meeting. At the very least, a judicial inquiry into the process should be held, but perhaps the OPP Rackets Squad should be called, too, to determine if public money has been legally and ethically used.
Using the agendas posted on the town’s website, I tallied up the number of Council’s in-camera meetings for three specific topics this term: Collus-PowerStream (including the share sale, shared services agreement, advice from Mark Rodger and board appointments); the hospital redevelopment, and the airport (including the request for a letter of intent and possible sale of the airport).
There are several other items listed for in camera discussion that may be related to one or more of these, but since I could not pair them with motions or later news items, and the listed descriptions were inadequate, I did not include them. I did include three closed-door meetings that I have good reason to believe were related to Collus-PowerStream (CPS) issues. These are council meetings only, and does not include any the standing committee meetings.
Of course, I cannot list any of the numerous one-on-one or small group meetings about these issues held in the interim CAO’s office, nor meetings between the town administration and CPS staff. Note that some of these were special council meetings called specifically to discuss the subject behind closed doors:
Airport: 14 meetings: 2015: Jan 5, Feb 2, Feb 17, Apr 7, May 4, Oct 19, Nov 16; 2016: Jan 4, Mar 21, July 11; 2017: July 17, Aug 21, Sep 11, Sep 25.
Hospital redevelopment: 4 meetings 2016: Apr. 11, Aug 8; 2017: Mar 4, Mar 27.
Collus-PowerStream: 37 meetings, plus three potential 2015: 9 definite, 2 possible (of a total 28 council meetings)
Mar 16? property disposition (agenda description is inadequate);
Mar 28? legal advice (agenda description is inadequate);
Apr 7 shared services;
May 19 shared services;
May 27 shared services;
June 15 shared services;
June 22 shared services;
Aug 4 shareholder’s interest, Collus PowerStream board applications;
Aug 24, board applications;
Sep 8, board applications;
Oct 5 Hydro shareholder update review and services.
How two Collingwood councils handled the utility sale process very differently
Last term, Collingwood Council went through a lengthy, open and public process to sell a portion of its electrical utility, Collus. That open process – with full discussion, community involvement, consultation and public input, and local media coverage – resulted in 50% of the utility being sold to PowerStream (an Ontario-based LDC owned by three municipalities, now merged with Alectra). The shared utility is now called Collus-PowerStream. It’s about to be sold to a private, for-profit corporation based in Alberta.
This term, our town has negotiated in secret to sell our public utility and everything has been done behind closed doors without ANY community input. Compare that to Wasaga Beach where this term’s council discussed the sale of their utility publicly many times, invited comments, conducted online and telephone surveys to get residents’ opinion, help public meetings, and in the end listened to public and chose not to sell.
Our current council has used an excessively secretive, deceptive process to avoid ALL public input so it can sell our remaining share in the utility to EPCOR. without ever once telling the public why it wanted to do so.
By comparing side by side the open process from last term and that used this term, you can see just how secretive this group has been. The closed process this term has led to several investigations, ruined reputations, bad faith, broken trust and open hostility this term (local media has not fully covered this story and the process). And make no mistake: this story is about the process, not about whether selling the utility is a good or bad decision.
But it’s not simply the sale: there has been considerable collateral damage this term, including the loss of several highly-respected and provincially decorated staff members, deteriorated staff morale, and massive expenses incurred from council and administration interference. Not to mention we lost the golden opportunity to be part of and participate in the operation of Alectra, now Ontario’s second largest and most innovative electrical utility.
Because this is a long piece, I will publish it in two posts. Let’s start at the beginning with an overview. I’ll open in early 2011, in the middle of the previous term, and compare it to January, 2015, barely a month into the current term.
My negative comments on the impending privatization of our electrical utility (and potentially our water utility once the first deal is sealed) drew some online criticism recently. None of those critics refuted any of the facts I offered, or attempted to debunk any of the numerous documents I quoted and linked to.
Nor could they. After all, they are easily proven, well-documented facts. But still, they called me a liar and attempted to use other cheap ad hominem tactics to discredit me.* However, regardless of their like or dislike of me, the facts remain, the facts speak for themselves. Facts matter; name-calling doesn’t.
It’s not about me. It’s not even about the decision to sell the utility. It’s about the process used to get to that point. And that means it’s also about the people who chose that process over an open and transparent one. Open and transparent is honest. Anything else isn’t. If you can defend such dishonesty, then we can’t have a reasonable discussion about the process.
We elect representatives to make our decisions for us. That’s what a democracy is all about. And for the most part, the public leaves those representatives alone to do their job. But when a major issue arises, such as the sale of a publicly-owned asset, those representatives are bound by both honour and ethics to both inform and consult the public. Neither of which have been done this term.
The process this term has been appallingly secretive and deceptive. We elected people whom we trusted to accomplish their job with consideration of the basic rules or ethics and morality. And they didn’t follow them. They betrayed the public trust and they continue to do so.