The secrecy and deception behind Collingwood’s utility sale

Shady dealsMeetings held behind closed doors late into the night. Personal vendettas. Kickbacks. Conspiracy theories. Scams and phony reports. Backroom deals. Unethical politicians conniving. Dubious legality. Shady characters pulling strings from the shadows. Scheming. Minions acting like thugs. Cowardice. Hidden contracts. Lies and deception. A deal they can’t refuse. A financial shell game. The betrayal of public trust.

If that sounds like the ingredients for a crime novel, to me it reads like Collingwood Council’s secretive, unethical “process” to sell our public utilities. The public was betrayed by The Block. The process has a stench of corruption about it. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Monday night, The Block voted to sell our electrical utility; only the remaining two ethical and honourable members of council – Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd – voted against the deal. And what a “deal” it is – crafted in secret, without any public consultation or input, and giving away the keys to the candy store to a for-profit buyer. It screws Collingwood. What little we know about it only illuminates the devious scheming that went on behind it. For example:

Other terms of the sale include a 25-year lease of the Collus PowerStream property and operations centre from the Town, job and location guarantees for Collus PowerStream employees, and a contribution of $150,000 towards the Waterfront Master Plan, one of the community’s biggest priorities, as identified in the Community Based Strategic Plan.

Since when does a utility sale become contingent on a “contribution” for an unrelated project like the waterfront? When you buy a car, do you have to “contribute” to the dealership’s coffee fund? Or to the salesman’s kid’s little league uniforms? Sure sounds like blackmail to me. And who signs a 25-year lease for anything, let alone an old, outdated building without any commitment by the owner to upgrade or maintain it?

And will the OEB permit a utility sale to be contingent on a 25-year lease? Or a kickback for the waterfront? My industry sources suggest not.

Council “offered” the share sale to its partner, Alectra simply because the shareholders’ agreement (USA) required it. Alectra already offered to buy it earlier this year (outside the RFP process; the amount undisclosed, but industry contacts suggest the offer was likely $10-11 million) but The Block turned them down. Without saying why, of course. But we know they were already in bed with EPCOR.

The latest price demanded by the town is highly inflated – it includes unrelated items to bump up the asking price by $2-3 million (or more) above the actual value. Why? Because The Block want the municipally-owned, Ontario-based Alectra to refuse so the town can buy it back and then sell the whole thing to the out-of-province, for-profit EPCOR:

If Alectra opts to buy the Town’s shares at the same price as EPCOR has offered, Alectra will become the sole owner of the utility. If Alectra opts to sell its shares, EPCOR will become the sole owner of the utility.

See? It’s already decided. EPCOR wins. The deal was made behind closed doors.

That’s a direct quote from the town’s own media release. This whole deal was connived in secret to sell it to EPCOR, without any public discussion, much less consultation. It’s very dirty; from my viewpoint, it’s negotiating in bad faith with our existing partner. If this isn’t corruption, then the definition has been changed since I was in office.

EPCOR will get $1 million even if Alectra buys it. That’s $1 million of YOUR money paid out as a kickback. Plus the town has agreed to pay a portion of EPCOR’s legal fees. Why? As the Connection reported, that was one of those sleazy backroom deals The Block cut:

If Alectra chooses to buy the town’s shares, $1 million would be transferred to EPCOR for their time during the process. Rodger said the town would pay a portion of the legal fees for the deal, as would the purchaser.

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The Block are privatizing our public assets

sneakySo Brian and his Block minions want to sell our airport. Our publicly-owned asset. And they’re doing it without even the pretence of the courtesy to tell us why. No public input, no public engagement, no open discussion over it. In the flaccid Connection story, it notes,

In November, 2016, deputy mayor Brian Saunderson asked Clearview Township Deputy Mayor Barry Burton if his municipality was interested in taking over operation of the airport.

As usual, the slavish local media drool over their buddy Brian, but cleverly neglect to point out that Saunderson is neither the spokesperson for the town (and has no authority to make such a request), nor does he even sit on the airport board. Any such request should be made officially by the town to Clearview Council, as a group. And yet the paper has no critical comment about how sneaky and underhanded this process has been. Ah well, local media gave up its credibility years ago.

Now, I know that egregious secrecy on The Block’s part doesn’t surprise my readers by now. In almost three years of their term, The Block have never once publicly divulged the reason for any of their destructive rampages through our community. They – who promised us openness and transparency during the election campaign – have rightfully earned the nickname The Most Secretive Council Ever. And several less printable but equally deserved nicknames, of course. But they just love secrecy and conniving in back rooms. They’re addicted to it, a habit they can’t break.

The Block have not told us why they want to sell our public utilities to a private, for-profit corporation out of Edmonton. They have never told us why they are in a libertarian frenzy to privatize our public assets and utilities without public input. They didn’t tell us why they created a new IT department in town hall, hired three new staffers and are spending two-three times the cost to operate it than we used to pay for in the shared services agreement. They didn’t tell us why they illegally fired the water utility board, or the electrical utility board and replaced them with their own secretly-chosen patsies (or put themselves on the board, instead). They didn’t tell us why they separated the water utility from the effective, efficient, 150-year-old working partnership with the electrical utility (and now the water utility is in chaos). And they didn’t tell us why they threw up roadblocks to stop the much-needed hospital redevelopment.

So no one really expected them to start acting all open and transparent now, over the airport. They are, after all, The Block. They live up to their name at every meeting.
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Collingwood deserves answers

The Most Secretive Council Ever
The Most Secretive Council Ever has never told the public why it has been so intent on damaging this community. We have never had an explanation why they are so inflexible, so hostile to other ideas, so adversarial to opinions other than their own. We have never been told why they are so focused on their own entitlement and give no thought for or support to the residents and taxpayers in Collingwood.

We have been kept in the dark about their motives and goals while The Block continues its destructive rampage against community institutions through these past two and a half years.

So much hatred, so much anger, so much selfishness, so much secrecy and deviousness in one council. This lowering of standards is unprecedented. But the electorate deserves to know why they were betrayed by the people they voted for, deserves to know why so many campaign promises were broken, why personal agendas and vendettas take precedence over the greater good.

We should and be told in public, not have The Block scurry behind closed doors as it always does when anything important or controversial is raised. And you know the local media will NEVER ask them why, or ask the tough questions about their motives.

So here is my list of things we want to know. I’m sure it’s not complete and you, dear reader, could add more to it.

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Council in panic mode

The Block in panic modeCollingwood Council has graduated from inept bumbling and stumbling to fully-fledged, sky-is-falling, Henny Penny panic mode, it seems. A special meeting has been called to try and do damage control over the Monday night fiasco about the hospital.

The Block divided the community, alienated their supporters, and fostered division and acrimony. No bandage will heal those self-inflicted wounds. So they panic.

The meeting was called today for tomorrow, Saturday, March 4. It is another in-camera meeting – this council LOVES to go behind closed doors to discuss everything and avoid public scrutiny. The agenda says:

4. IN-CAMERA
THAT this Council proceeds in camera in order to address a matter pertaining to:
* a proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality or local board; (a)
* advice that is subject to solicitor/client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose; (a)
Items for discussion: a) Hospital Redevelopment

Deputy Mayor Saunderson spoke about expropriation in his argumentative cross-examination of David Finbow, Monday. I inferred from his comments that the town was eager to start legal proceedings that will oust residents from their property in the vicinity of the hospital. My guess for this meeting: The Block will scream “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” and demand staff start panic-expropriating homes around the hospital. They will then try use that to bribe the hospital board into choosing the current site for its redevelopment.

But why would they propose expropriating ANYTHING until the hospital had made a planning application? Like the two reports that set up the initial roadblocks to the hospital redevelopment, this is another pointless, premature action sure to further annoy the hospital board. It sure won’t make the Ministry of Health look more favourably on Collingwood’s intransigence towards the redevelopment.

And it will mean more legal fees YOU have to pay because apparently a lawyer will be in attendance: “…subject to solicitor/client privilege.” Wasting taxpayers’ money on Machiavellian schemes cooked up in secret has never given The Block cause for thought in the past, so why should it bother them now? After all, tax money grows on trees, right?

Given the notice of motion filed this week by Councillor Lloyd for inclusion in the March 13 council meeting, this will likely be a waste of time, too. He is requesting staff include the hospital in the “employment lands” category, and to support the G&M’s proposed Poplar Sideroad location.

They can’t do both – expropriate and support the greenfield site – no matter how hard The Block try to suck and blow at the same time. They have to decide. It’s a shit-or-get-off-the-pot motion.