Heritage icon or white elephant?

Collingwood grain elevators
Everyone recognizes the Collingwood terminals, one of the iconic (albeit unused) grain elevators on the Great Lakes, but it is actually the fourth on our waterfront. The first three were wooden; the first one was built in 1855 and burned in 1862, the second was built in 1871 and also burned down (date unknown); the replacement third was demolished in 1937. (I’ve got pictures of the first and third, but not the second – although I have seen an early photo showing two elevators on the waterfront together).

Built in 1929, the existing elevators heralded a new era for Collingwood as the terminus of a great transportation network that brought grain from Canada’s western provinces to be distributed here to the eastern half of Canada and, once reaching the east coast ports, overseas. But it never lived up to its promise.

It stands 100 feet tall (183 feet at the top of the superstructure), is 350 feet long, and has 95 bins (55 large, 25 smaller ‘star’ bins and 18 half-stars) inside to hold the grain. It was built on 125,000 wooden piles – using 700,000 feet of timber and 26,500 barrels of cement, plus another 695,000 feet of timber for the concrete forms used to build the structure above. The railway line ran to the terminals and could hold 70 cars at a time.

Shortly after it opened, in Sept. 1929, the Great Depression brought most commercial business to a standstill. Then, while the world was recovering, the Welland Canal opened (1932) and ships could sail directly from Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay) through to Lake Ontario. They didn’t need to stop and unload in Collingwood. The terminals still got used, but never in the volume expected.

Built to handle 10 million bushels of wheat a year, by the start of WWII, it was only handling about 2 million. The outbreak of war proved a brief boon for the terminals, though: grain shipments climbed to about 8 million bushels by 1945 and in 1948 52 ships docked there – one of its best years. But another change was coming: the St. Lawrence Seaway. When it opened in 1959, ships could sail directly from Port Arthur to the east coast. Business at the terminals plummeted.

The owners made several efforts to drum up business. They sponsored Western farmers to grow corn in the 1950s, but when the Ontario corn market grew in the 1970s, they went after the milling business, which remained its major work until the terminals closed.

The Beattie family, from Stayner, bought the building in 1973, then the Hamilton brothers bought it from them in 1987. The Yacht Club leased the land south of the terminals in 1974. Similar terminals in Midland and Port McNicoll closed in 1990, while Collingwood’s struggled on until 1993. The town purchased the site in the late 1990s.

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A few answers

AnswersI was surprised that only ten people stood at the lectern to speak in the Judicial Inquiry’s first public meeting, last Monday.  I had expected that at least Brian Saunderson or one of his minions would have the courage to stand up in public to explain why they wanted to spend so many millions of your tax dollars pursuing their private vendettas. Explain why they launched an inquiry a few weeks before the municipal elections opened, instead of three and a half years ago, when they took office. Explain why they haven’t been able to stop looking at the past since they were elected, and start looking to Collingwood’s present – and plan for our future.

But of course that would take a spine.

However, some good, salient comments were made, in particular by John Worts, Kevin Lloyd, David O’Connor, Peter Dunbar and Irene Matwijec. And, I hope, maybe a few were made by me, too.

However, some of the other speakers asked surprising questions. Surprising because most have been answered many times in the past in local media and on my blog. In particular in my admittedly lengthy timeline of events.

I suspect many of these questioning speakers are rather new to the community, and not fully aware of the lengthy history of these events – many of which are already more than seven years old. I thought I might try to answer at least some of their questions here, so in future they have the background. I am paraphrasing their questions below.

1. How was the price of the share in Collus established?

A. World-renowned consulting firm KPMG was retained by the Collus board in Feb. 2011 to establish the value of our electrical utility as a sellable commodity, examine the options for its future, explore opportunities in the then-current political climate, and return to the board with a report that spring.

Their draft report was titled Calculation of Value, and presented to the Collus board on May 20, 2011. It determined the fair market value of all the common shares of Collus Power (on page 2 of the report) as at December 31, 2010 as:

…we have calculated the fair market value of all the issued and outstanding Shares of Collus Power Corp., as at December 31, 2010, to be in the range of $14.1 million to $16.3 million (i.e. with a midpoint value of $15.2 million).

Half of that (the RFP was for “up to” 50%) would be somewhat less than $8 million, which is what the town received from PowerStream. The balance of the funds paid to the town came from the utility’s recapitalization and from the $1.7 million promissory note held by the town, for a total of approx. $14 million.

The valuation report was marked as a draft because, as John Rockx of KPMG noted in a 2015 email,

The valuation report was left in draft format since the former controller, Tim Fryer, did not provide us with responses to a few questions in respect of the report content (see blanks on page 5 of the report) or provide us with the final December 31, 2010 financial statements of Collus Power…

Fryer, as you know, is now a councillor and running for re-election.
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Statement for the Judicial Inquiry

NB: This is the statement I read aloud at the public meeting for the Judicial Inquiry, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. It is a much-abbreviated version of a statement I have made in my written submission to the inquiry.

Thank you, your honour, for letting me speak tonight. My name is Ian Chadwick. I was a member of the previous council.

This inquiry is about two of the many challenges council faced and overcame last term.

First was the changing nature of Ontario’s energy sector. Prior to the provincial election, all three political parties vowed to reduce the number of Local Distribution Companies across the province. The town expected legislation to force amalgamations after the election.

Council chose to be proactive.

Council listened to our utility board, to our utility and town staff, and to a consultant from the world-renowned firm KPMG. We created a Strategic Planning Team tasked with the responsibility of finding the best option and then guiding us along that path through an open public process.

Our decision to engage in a strategic partnership was lauded around the province as a model of cooperation and collaboration.
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More costs pile onto the SVJI

Pie in faceIt seems Saunderson’s Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) is eating up taxpayer money rapidly, with a little help from other town departments. It was originally estimated to cost taxpayers between $2 and $6 million – and now it seems that could be much more thanks to this latest farcical chapter.

Saunderson’s Vindictive Judicial Inquiry needs space, not just your cash, to conduct its business. Lots of space, it seems. The SVJI crew had set up shop in town hall, and were occupying office real estate therein, but it wasn’t enough: they needed room to expand. With space in the building already at a premium, they looked around town for some larger, commercial space to occupy. Space to spread out all that paperwork and put up posters of Saunderson’s Most Wanted (aka the previous council).

And last month, the SVJI people found just the space they needed in the Sheffer Court building. The town sighed a quiet ‘hooray’ and promptly signed a lease for them. Everyone in town hall eagerly looked forward to the move so they could get their desks and copiers back. Until someone in the Saunderson  cabal caught wind of the new address.

It seems that’s the building once occupied by the Block’s antichrist, Paul Bonwick. And even through he’s long gone, the Block fear Bonwickism is a transmittable ailment that might lead to brotherly associations with the mayor – one of The Block’s principal targets of their bile and hatred this term. Or maybe it’s his Liberalism that could be catching. Heaven forbid: the SVJI members might start hanging pictures of Justin Trudeau or even Jean Chretien on the walls.

Either way, someone had a hissy fit over the closeness of the SVJI to the ghost of Bonwick past.

In full Blockish “sky-is-falling” mode they ran into town hall screaming hysterically, and demanded the move be stopped. Now! This instant! Cancel the deal! Cluck, cluck, the sky is falling! 

But the landlord said, No way. We had a deal. You signed a lease; the offices are yours for the year. And he wouldn’t let the town off the hook. So tenant or not, taxpayers still had to pay for the offices. And the SVJI still needed space.

The solution was worthy of the Marx Brothers : move the town’s entire treasury department and staff out of town hall and into the offices instead. That’s right: take all of the people, furniture, phones, computers, copiers, files, chairs, desks,filing cabinets, Rolodex cards and printers they needed to function and move them down the block. Then install security locks, new phone lines, and new internet and network cables both there and in town hall for the SVJI folk. And, of course, we taxpayers shoulder the moving and installation costs.

It’s not Saunderson’s money, so why should he care? After all, he and his minions have raised your taxes four times this term already – another four years of him will provide the opportunity for another four tax hikes to pay for their wild spending habits. And, of course, for their mandatory pay raises they vote themselves each time they raise your taxes.

Surely the treasury department is as vulnerable to the taint of Bonwickism as the SVJI staff, but the Block don’t seem to have noticed that little inconsistency in their plan during their collective cluck, cluck, clucking.

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Doherty’s Magic Money Fairy

the money fairyAt 3:55:20 in the video of Monday’s Collingwood Council meeting, Councillor Deb Doherty utters the self-congratulatory claim that she is “glad” the costs of the upcoming judicial inquiry to pursue the Block’s maniacal conspiracy theories are not coming out of “taxpayer funds on an annual basis.”

I can hear your head shaking. Where does she think money comes from? And since taxes are calculated yearly, is there any other sort of taxation aside from an “annual basis”? Well, read on…

This bit of financial wisdom comes from the same councillor who last year expressed bafflement over what dividends are and complained that the town wasn’t getting one from the utility to which it had caused excessive operating costs. This from a person charged with helping manage the town’s financial well-being.  Maybe she has other talents.

The costs of this inquiry were estimated at $1.4-$1.6 million in a staff report presented to council April 30. That estimate was vague because it didn’t include the costs of staff time to prepare reports, gather documents and appear at hearings, and possibly other expenses. A similar inquiry held in Mississauga was also estimated around $1.2 million ended up costing the municipality $6.2 million instead!

Doherty made her comment during a discussion on how to pay for the judicial inquiry that Deputy Mayor Saunderson demanded – without anyone (including him) bothering to figure out how to pay for it or even include it in the current year’s budget (Saunderson himself wasn’t at the meeting to answer questions, and my sources tell me he didn’t bother to inform anyone he wouldn’t be there!). So the costs get passed on to the next council (one that will, mercifully, be shorn of Blockheads).

Well, we all know finance has never been The Block’s strong suit. Or ethics, responsibility, openness, public consultation, fairness – but they are huge in conspiracy theories. Yuge, as Trump would say.

So how will the town pay for the inquiry? By taking the money from reserves. And how does money get into reserves in the first place? Yes, you’re going to tell me it gets funded from taxes which we, the taxpayer shell out every year. But clearly Councillor Doherty doesn’t understand that rather basic concept. I suggest she likely believes a Magic Money Fairy flies by at night and with a touch of her wand refills the coffers The Block have depleted.

As soon as she had uttered these words, Councillor Edwards corrected her, noting that “any money we spend comes from the taxpayers’ pocket.” *

True, but that apparently escaped Deb, who retorted that it wasn’t coming from taxpayers’ funds “this year.” So it seems no tax revenue went into reserves in 2018, at least in her mind. Need I tell you how utterly incorrect she is? Or that The Block initiated a fixed, extra 0.75% added to annual taxes to fund reserves? For which she voted? Which has been in the annual budget three times? For which she voted each time ? Okay, stop laughing.

It seems her Magic Money Fairy will simply fill up those reserves regularly so The Block can continue their spending-like-a-drunken-sailor-on-shore-leave-in-a-brothel tactic of financial management. While giving themselves a pay hike every year.

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Our treasonous council

If Collingwood Council operated at a higher tier or government – say the federal level – they would be called treasonous and taken to court for their culture of deception, their attacks on our democratic and civic institutions, and for their ongoing betrayal of the public trust. But because they are only a municipal government, they can merely be called despicable while we await the next election.

The latest act of desperation in the dungheap of this term is the recent motion to demand a judicial inquiry into the sale of 50% of our electrical utility to PowerStream last term. At a cost of at least $1 million.

Just when you think they couldn’t sink any deeper into the muck, The Block lower the bar again. And of course it followed yet another closed-door meeting during which public business was discussed and decided on in secret.

This is, of course, an attempt to head off the upcoming demand for just such an inquiry into this term’s unethical and secretive processes to sell ALL of our utilities to a private, for-profit, out-of-province corporation. Without, of course, public input.

The first sale happened SIX years ago. During that process they all had the opportunity to comment, to oppose the sale, to speak up. Which, of course, none of them did.

Let’s see how the processes stack up. Last term: open process, open meetings, public engagement, full media disclosure and coverage, transparency, all documentation published and available for public scrutiny, world-renowned consultants hired to oversee the process, all money accounted for, and a single in camera meeting held at the very end of the process to open the sealed RFPs. This term: secrecy from the start, deception, illegal acts, utility boards fired and replaced by puppets, OEB investigations into town actions, immoral and unethical behaviour, lies, obfuscation, personal agendashidden documents, rumours of big commissions, no public engagement, a sole-sourced lawyer, a secret deal to hand over our water utility to the same company without public input, the broken shared services agreement that cost taxpayers millions in new expenses, a promised savings of $750,000 a year from separating the water utility from the electrical but that mysteriously vanished at budget time, at least  37 closed-door meetings about the utility,  a secret contract to keep paying the interim CAO after he retired, and secretive terms of the sale the town won’t disclose.

Which one do you think most deserves investigation? Me, too. Secrecy, lies and the betrayal of the public trust this term SHOULD be investigated. 

And, I’m told, The Block secretly informed their pet CBC reporter of the impending motion head of time, so they could get media attention and play the same sort of smear campaign they arranged for last term with their phony OPP investigation (five years later and no charges, not even one police interview of an alleged miscreant: it’s long been proven to have been a hoax).

Hey! Guess who the CBC reporter – the same one who covered the phony OPP investigation – quoted and photographed? Why, our own Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson! Are you surprised? Me either.

Continue reading “Our treasonous council”