The towering heights of the SVJI

Mountain of paperworkFour hundred and twenty seven thousand, two hundred and sixty five. That’s how many documents have been submitted to the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) to date, according to a story in Collingwood Today.*

There is no indication if more are expected after that, but it wasn’t ruled out, either.

More than 425,000 documents. The sheer volume is gobsmacking. Let’s take a look at what that might mean.

It isn’t specified if these are single or multiple page documents. We have to assume at least some are more than a single page. For the sake of easy calculations, let’s say 17% of them have two pages. That brings the number of pages up to 500,000. Now we need to do some calculations about just what the SVJI is doing to your tax dollars and the environment.

One typical ream of paper, and a cat (right).

Start with a base measurement: a standard ream of 20-lb paper is 500 sheets. It measures (in imperial) 8.5 x 11 x 2 inches and weighs 5 lb. Heavier weight paper (24 and 28 lb.) result in thicker and heavier reams. I’ll translate those numbers to metric below.**

Five hundred thousand pages is 1,000 reams of paper. That stacks up to 2,000 inches or 166.7 feet (almost as many as I have feet of books in my home). Just a little wider than an American football field. Laid end-to-end it would be 917 feet long. It would weigh two and a half tons  – about what a mid-size pickup truck or SUV weighs.

According to the Sierra Club, that much paper would take 25-50 full-grown trees (an average 8-inch diameter trunk and height of about 45 feet) to produce – not taking into account any other environmental, industrial or energy impacts from cutting trees to produce the paper. Other sites suggest about 16-17 reams per tree (or about 60 trees to make 1,000 reams)

Paper is sold by the box of 5,000 sheets and the SVJI has 100 cases worth of paper in those documents (printed one-sided). The least expensive paper on the Staples.ca website sells for $54 for a box of low-grade copier paper, but it can rise to $70 or more for better quality paper (heavier, brighter). Assuming the town buys in bulk from a wholesaler, they may pay as little as $40 a case.

The image on the left shows to scale 1,000 reams of paper  – 500,000 sheets – measured against the average male (174 cm or about 5’9″).

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SVJI costs continue to skyrocket

BureaucracyAs I predicted earlier, the costs for Saunderson’s Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) are going to climb through the roof. And of course you, the taxpayer, are going to pay for it.

Last month local media carried stories that the SVJI – scheduled to begin this month (November) – wasn’t going to meet its deadlines. It was delayed and would not start until the “new year” (apparently not until February, 2019). Bayshore Broadcasting notes in its coverage*:

The inquiry team had hoped they would start this fall, but Inquiry Counsel Janet Leiper tells us that won’t be possible and that it will be the new year before the public hearings can start. She says that’s because the rest of some of the necessary documents aren’t expected until the end of November.

Three more months of lawyers being paid $400-$700 an hour, plus travel and accommodations , plus the other staff, computers, phone, office space… That’s going to hurt the town’s budget but hey, it isn’t Saunderson’s money he’s spending. And it helped him win the election, so he doesn’t care what it costs you.

The piece also noted the inquiry had already received about 11,000 documents and interviewed more than 60 witnesses, some of whom may need to spoken to again. Ka-ching!**

Alectra – the company that came from the merger of PowerStream and other Ontario utilities – has already submitted more than 4,000 documents, sorted out from about 40,000 the company had from the time period in question. But that’s not enough: the SVJI wants more paperwork from more people.

Alectra’s lawyer, Michael Watson, said that could mean sorting through 100,000-200,000 documents from that period.  Big job. So why not do it twice? The Connection noted:

(Judge) Marrocco suggested the company provide the documents and allow inquiry staff to do a search while Alectra does the same.

Okay, let’s do some cost and time estimates on the effort required to search through 100,000 or more documents.
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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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