Sunday, December 27, 2009

Only A Dream......... ?

It's mid-January 2010. Citizen Ellie is attending a news conference at City Hall. It's the day the BIG announcements are made -- who's planning to run in the upcoming municipal election and who's going to say "goodbye" to municipal politics .
Citizen Ellie is in for a big surprise. She had anticipated that every single one of them --all 23 -- would run again, having become used to life at the trough.
But no ! Here are Councillors Doucet, Brooks, Holmes, Hunter, Wilkinson and Thompson announcing they're leaving city hall in order to spend more time with their great-grandchildren, having missed out on their children and grandchildren's formative years as a result of their committment to civic politics.
Here comes another surprise ! Councillors Hume, Bellemare and Chairelli announce they too are leaving. Time to pursue careers in the real world before it's too late and they're too long in the tooth.
And what to make of this ? Councillors Legendre and Bedard state that tending to city business takes too much time away from their true calling -- ferreting out what they consider to be slights against the Francophone population in the Natonal Capital region. They have decided to become a language police force of two.
What's up here ? Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson isn't quite ready to step up to the microphone to make his announcement. He's tormented by this question: which is better -- being mayor of Ottawa or sitting on the opposition benches at Queen's Park after Dalton "The Deceiver" McGuinty's government is defeated in 2011 ? He's waiting on his personal augurer from Ipsos-Reid to provide the answer. Here comes the carrier pigeon now -- clutching a plain brown envelope in its beak. A hush of anticipation falls over the gathering........
And that's when Citizen Ellie woke up !
Only a few more days and we'll be into 2010. January is the month when we can anticipate electioneering to begin. If you thought the current bunch warming seats at city hall are far too ward-centric, you ain't seen nothing yet ! What's good for the city as a whole will take a back seat -- far, far back -- to ward issues as incumbents work to solidify their re-election prospects.
City finances should be the main issue in the coming election. Councillors are currently wrestling with budget issues -- hoping to limit a tax increase to 4%. But as Walter Robinson wrote not long ago in his Ottawa SUN column, a 4% property tax hike is "hardly an homage to fiscal prudence." A 4 % property tax hike is almost three times the rate of inflation. Many Ottawa ratepayers are already struggling -- witness the increased demands on charitable organizations during the current holiday season and the decrease in contributions from the public and business community. One doesn't have to be a sorcerer's apprentice to read these tea leaves. Friend Walter believes a 4% increase will result in ratepayer revenge at the polls. We can only hope he's right !
Citizen Ellie would like to see electoral reform as a major election issue. Maybe an even bigger issue than city finances. Especially since the current Ontario government led by Dalton "The Deceiver" McGuinty prefers to leave reforms at the municipal level in the hands of those elected at the municipal level. Talk about having the fox guard the henhouse. Does anyone really believe that a bunch of people who sustain themselves by sucking on the public teat are going to vote to limit themselves to two four-year terms ? Certainly not in Ottawa where 13 of the 23 muncipal councillors have been around since before amalgamation -- since before Hector was a pup ! Ottawa's the place where a seat on city council means having a job for life. Only one of the current bunch, Steve Desroches, stated when he was first elected four years ago that he planned to leave after two terms. This is already an election issue in Kingston, where a few councillors took a run at reform earlier this year, only to be defeated by their council colleagues at a city council meeting. Given how city business has been conducted since amalgamation, many Ottawans are beginning to think two four-year terms are more than enough and a wholesale housecleaning is needed at Disneyland on Laurier Avenue.
Ottawa badly needs an executive committee structure -- a return to a Board of Control type of structure where four members of council, along with the mayor, were elected city-wide. Decisions which were good for the city as a whole got made in those days. Things got done. There was no backtracking resulting in expensive lawsuits. There was less posturing by councillors. We lived in a well-run city, not the financially-challenged laughingstock it is today. But this is another decision on governance that the provincial government prefers to leave in the hands of those elected at the municipal level. Mayor Larry brought a high-profile group together (who, incidentally, worked for free) to look at governance but their report now languishes on city hall shelves due to the indifferance of current council members.
Then there's the question of election financing. Currently corporations and unions can give more than one donation to municipal election campaigns. As a corporation/union, then again on an individual basis. You and me -- ordinary ratepayers -- are limited. We can only donate once and it seems to Citizen Ellie that the ordinary ratepayer is left at a disadvantage especially when the situation arises where a councillor can participate and influence the adjudication of property matters where the developer has been a contributor or where the councillor can participate and influence wage/benefit decisions where the union has been a contributor.
The feds, when Jean Chretien was in power, put a stop to this sort of thing. Two provinces. Quebec and Manitoba, have done likewise. Dalton "The Deceiver" McGuinty's government isn't interested in including any such provisions in its propsed "Good Government" Act (Bill 212). Could it be because the provincial Liberals need those corporate and union donations for their election campaign in 2011, especially since "The Deceiver" has lost his teflon coat ?
It will be interesting to see what happens in Toronto where corporate and union donations have been banned in the 2010 municipal election. How can Toronto do it and Ottawa can't ? Didnt'cha know Toronto operates on a special set of rules which allow it to do things on its own while the nation's capital, Ottawa, is lumped in with other Ontario municipalities, major connurbations such as Spencerville, and must wait on the provincial government to act.
Corporate and union donations are very important in a mayoral campaign which can cost upwards of $200,000. Mayor Larry financed much of his campaign (over $150,000) from his own pocket. Mayoral wannabe Alex Cullen prides himself on never having taken a corporate donation for his council campaigns. Citizen Ellie can attest to this fact, having obtained a copy of the councillor's election donation declaration through the city's access to information program. The donors all appear to be private citizens. Whether Councillor Cullen will be able to resist the lure of corporate/union funding should he make good on his promise to seek the mayor's chair remains to be seen.
Given the provincial government's reluctance to move on any of the above issues, where does this leave Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson, who, it is said, is contemplating a return to municipal politics. If he wins the mayor's chair, he isn't likely to promote municipal electoral reform and the report on governance will continue to gather dust. After all, he's had ample opportunity to do it as Minister of Municipal Affairs, what with the Good Government Act and all, but he's always backed off. Something to consider at the polls in the fall.
New posts usually on Fridays

Monday, December 14, 2009

Public Consultation ? HUMBUG !
City councillors are occupying their next few evenings attending special interest suck-up sessions, otherwise known as "public consultation" -- the idea being that the public is given the opportunity to comment on the city's proposed budget prior to its adoption.
Citizen Ellie attended a couple of these affairs during last year's budget process and came away so disgusted with the whole thing that she just had to take up blogging.
Councillors greeted the special interest presentations with ears pricked up and eyes wide open. But let an ordinary taxpayer take the microphone and seek for relief from incessant spending, eyes glazed over, papers were shuffled and pencils were rolled back and forth -- sending a clear message to the ordinary taxpayer that his/her pleas were falling on deaf ears.
The special interest types were well-prepared. Many had statements printed in large type on cards which they read out when their turn came at the microphone. Many speakers represented the same special interest. Interesting though -- when these folk were asked to explain something or expand on their statements by one of the councillors or city officials in attendance, they couldn't do it. Instead, these special interest group trained seals (who turn up at every budget meeting) repeated the statement which they'd already read out. Citizen Ellie wondered who had prepared the statements, printed up the cards and coached the trained seals. City employees who might suffer dire consequences if council decided to give taxpayers a break and do some cutting ? The mystery remains to this day.
There are many in this city who have genuine needs. But there are also many who adopt the view that they are "entitled " to pick your pocket. They have all sorts of swell ideas about how your hard-earned dollars should be spent. It is from among this group that the socialist cadre on city council derive much of their support.
Take Councillor Alex Cullen's idea that no one who performs a job for the city (whether employed directly by the city or employed by a contractor working for the city) should be paid less than $13.75 per hour. Councillor Cullen put forward this idea earlier this year. In the past couple of weeks, an anti-poverty group known as ACORN, was promoting the same idea. Is it just a coincidence that ACORN's municipal minimum wage position should see the light of day at the same time budget deliberations are under way ?
And what do we know about ACORN ? It's an American outfit that has opened a branch plant in Ottawa. If you followed last year's U-S presidential election, you'd know that ACORN was credited with Barack Obama's election sucess. Indeed, ACORN was President Obama's favorite special interest group -- until some enterprising journalists, equipped with hidden cameras and microphones, walked into a couple of ACORN offices in different U-S cities to discover just what the organization was doing with the tax dollars the organization received for job creation and the like. According to news items about the "sting" which appeared on CNN, FOX News and other media outlets, ACORN job creation counsellors didn't flinch when asked how one could get funding to establish a stable of call girls, not to mention setting up a brothel. They just went ahead and gave advice on how to do it.
Once this juicy stuff hit the media, the ACORN apologist was trotted trotted out -- there would be an investigation, there would be firings, heads most certainly would roll and it was all a plot by conservative, family-values Republicans anyway! It would appear, however, that President Obama has backed away from ACORN, just as he backed away from his long-time pastor, Rev. Josiah Little. President Obama has no time for political liabilities.
If city council wants to save money and give taxpayers a break, it should take a look at a couple of departments where salary/benefit costs are high. The city solicitor's department, for instance. One would think the lawyers employed by the city would be expert in property and contract law. Why then, during the full council's debate on the Lansdowne Live project which, after all, was a property matter, was it necessary to bring in three high-priced lawyers from Borden, Ladner, Gervais LLP to advise council during the process ? If council has no faith in the city's own lawyers, then why bother to maintain a legal department ? Instead, every time a legal issue comes up, retain a lawyer from Borden, Ladner, Gervais. Probably would be cheaper in the long run. No employee benefits, no pension obligations.
Same thing goes for the planning branch. Seems it's necessaryto bring in outside consultants every time the city is involved in a major project. So why maintain a planning staff if second-guessing by consultants is necessary before council approves a plan ? To the person on the outside looking in, it would appear that council has absolutely no faith in its own employees. So why does the "sunshine list" grow longer each year ? That too is a mystery which needs solving.
An Apology
No I was not stricken with H1N1. The fact I haven't posted in a couple of weeks is due in some part to certain obligations which go along with the holiday season when one has a family and is also involved in volunteer activities in the community. I've also had to deal with a major piece of unpleasantness -- my cottage at Lac McFee, Que. was broken into for the second time within an 18-month period. As there was nothing of value left to steal, the criminals resorted to vandalism. I'm not a spring chicken any more and after much soul-searching, I concluded the best course of action would be to put the place on the market and say au revoir to la belle province. So to my loyal bl-eaders, sorry. I'm back -- at least until mid-January when I am off to Phoenix to get all the info on their LRT system, including what the good citizens of that city have learned about how much it costs to run LRT dependent on electricity.
New posts usually on Fridays

Friday, November 27, 2009

They Say It's Getting Better.....
The city's auditor-general, Alain Lalonde, released his annual report earlier this week. No one was surprised at the details of abuse, scamming and outright fraud perpetrated on the taxpayers by municipal employees who are supposed to be serving the ratepayers rather than picking their pockets.
What Citizen Ellie can't understand is the lack of concern expressed by various councillors. Bay Councillor (and mayor wannabe) Alex Cullen was quoted as saying "It's outrageous." Was this real outrage or was it of the nudge,nudge, wink, wink variety ? Other councillors expressed the view that sick leave abuse and other scams are to be expected, but "things are getting better" since the auditor-general was hired and most managers are now "buying in".
"Things are getting better" isn't good enough for this taxpayer and it probably isn't good enough for most of you who are reading these words at this moment.
Frankly, the rot starts at the top. With a couple of exceptions, the majority of current council members have been around since amalgamation, and a goodly number have been around prior to amalgamation. They are well beyond their "best by" date and hopefully many will be put out to pasture in 2010.
With few exceptions, these councillors have distinguished themselves with their laissez-faire, minimalist approach towards careful husbanding of taxpayers' money.
This laissez-faire, minimalist approach has also been allowed to creep into the bureaucracy at city hall. Lip service may be given to attendance management, but the facts set out in the auditor-general's report, detailing sick leave abuse, speak for themselves.
One wonders what the 174.6 staff in the city's human resources department are doing to earn their keep ? The auditor-general says much of the sick leave is of the Friday/Monday variety. This in itself should be a red flag to any supervisor or manager worth his/her salt. Seasoned HR people will tell you that someone who consistently displays a pattern of sickness on Fridays or Mondays or both has a problem with substance abuse. It likely means you have a boozer on your hands who takes a sick day on Friday to get a head start on the weekend's drinking and needs a sick day on Monday to recover from the hangover and probably is not a 100% performer when on the job.
Seasoned HR people will tell you that in addition to "assisting employees who have problems with sick leave", a good attendance management program should be set up in such a way as to help the employer constructively dismiss the employee who has breached the employment contract by constantly being absent.
Citizen Ellie never ceases to be amazed at the number of people working in the public sector -- a majority of whom are union members with gold-plated sick leave coverage enshrined in their collective agreements -- who see sick leave as an entitlement rather than wage insurance to cover absence from work when one is really and truly sick.
There was a point in time where employees in the federal service could accumulate sick leave which would be paid out at time of retirement. When this practice was abolished, Citizen Ellie's late husband, a federal public servant, had some 360 unused sick days in his bank. Did he lose out ? Those who regularly take their 1.4 sick days per month and use them to visit Aunt Miniie in Buckingham or for some other frivolous purpose would likely say he was a chump for not taking time off.
An attendance management program will never work unless how well/poorly a supervisor/manager is managing his/her employees' attendance becomes part of the supervisor/mnager's performance appraisal and the supervisor/manager's salary is based on how well he/she is performing the job.
It's not that hard to set up, presuming the city has a Human Resource Information System (HRIS) in place. (PeopleSoft is the one Citizen Ellie is most familiar with.) A good HRIS can be used to track absenteeism on a daily/monthly, annual basis. Monthly reports should be provided to the supervisor, the manager, the manager's manager, the city manager, the mayor and councillors. Reviewing absenteeism on a regular basis makes more sense than useless discussion of tanning parlors and whether Shannon Tweed needs a day in her honor. Errant employees should be tracked, sick leave documented, warnings issued and eventually enough evidence is gathered to justify a constructive dismissal.
The real problem at city hall is that no one gets fired. Apparently everyone who leaves gets a golden handshake. Severance is provided even when employees are "invited" to leave for failing to perfom their jobs. Take this example, uncovered by the auditor-general: an employee who spent 95% of her time on the internet texting family and friends and 5% of her time actually working at the job for which she was being paid is kissed goodbye with nine months' salary. What really galls is the fact this person was replaced. Why ? Obviously there wasn't enough work so why hire a replacement ?
HR department staff can't be overworked handling grievances and arbitrations involving employees who've been disciplined since it's apparent that no one -- even the most egregious offenders such as the nine who used sick leave and claimed overtime while moonlighting for their manager's little business on the side -- is ever disciplined. At city hall, the monkeys are running the zoo; the employees are in control; and the taxpayers just pay and pay and pay !
Does This Mean I'll Get An Answer ?
There's new blood in the city's communications department. A triumvirate of seasoned journalists has been hired to put the proper "spin" on doings at city hall.
Chris, Derek and Patrick have their work cut out for them. Making the current council look any better than the sow's ear that it is will be a task of Herculean proportions.
Citizen Ellie has one question: does this mean she will finally get a response to her e-mail query sent months ago to the communications department asking for the number of Ottawa seniors who are currently taking advantage of the city's property tax deferral program.
And Citizen Ellie has this supplementary question: will Chris, Derek and Patrick spend any time educating councillors on just how important it is to answer e-mails from their constituents -- and can Citizen Ellie soon expect a response from Councillor Jacques Legendre re his positions on the city's censorship of the Ottawa Taxpayer Advisory Group's bus ads and a proposed sustainability summit ?
New posts usually on Fridays

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Boo Hoo.............
It's been reported that Councillor Clive Doucet was in tears last night as the Lansdowne Live vote came in. He fought hard against the proposal, misguided or not, but he had the courtesy to apologize to those he may ( may ?) have offended during the campaign and the subsequent grilling of Roger Greenberg during yesterday morning's council session. No such apology forthcoming from that other councillor (and mayor wannabe) whose attacks on the Lansdowne Live proponents were also offensive, to say the least -- but more of that for another day when we examine that individual's fitness to be mayor.
Councillor Doucet had this to say in his final remarks:
"If I have any hard feelings, it's towards the succession of governments that have allowed it (Lansdowne Park) to decay so badly that the public says even a mall is better. It's been misused and abused, but still has wonderful potential."
Councillor Doucet was first elected in 1997 and has warmed a seat at the council table to this day. So doesn't that make him a member of the "sucession of governments " who allowed Lansdowne Park to decay and become a blot on the city ?
It's pretty hard to sympathize with a guy who was part of the problem.
Those who've had the opportunity to get inside the now vacant baseball stadium at the corner of the Vanier Parkway and Innes Road say it's being allowed to go the same route as Lansdowne Park. Decay and disrepair.
If that is true, the current members of city council are allowing it. Will we, at some future time, when there's a debate over what to do with a derelict Lynx Stadium, witness the councillor for the ward in which it sits cry crocodile tears because a "succession of governments" sat back and let it rot ?
New postings usually on Fridays

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dirty Words....?
Citizen Ellie never knew there were so many dirty words beginning with a "p" until
the Lansdowne Live proposal came down the pike.
Words like "public", "private" and "partnership", especially when combined together. And nothing beats "profit" on the scatology scale according to the jumped- up, "it's all about me", johnny-come-lately's from the Glebe, egged on by their poet-councillor, who've been mouthing off at the two-day "public consultation" sessions at city hall and on the city's website where opinion on the future of Lansdowne Park has been solicited. Some of the comments are not only outrageous, they're flatly untrue.
Opponents of the Lansdowne Live proposal have subjected the four Ottawa community leaders who brought forward to proposal (on their own dime) to character assassination of the worst sort. It's one thing to object to the process -- if sole-sourcing sticks in your craw, say so. But to paint Roger Greenberg, Bill Shenkman, John Ruddy and Jeff Hunt as bad boys who are out to screw the taxpayer is beyond the pale. Personal attacks are the weapon chosen by those who know they can't win their case because their case lacks merit and/or credence.
Wonder if "philanthropy" is one of the dirty "p" words in the Clive Doucet army's lexicon ?
The Greenberg and Shenkman families have contributed more to this city than Doucet and his army ever will in their lifetimes. The amount of philanthropic dollars these two families have poured into Ottawa -- into health care, the arts, sports, culture etc .-- boggles the mind. John Ruddy and Jeff Hunt are no slouches either in the philanthropy business.
We wonder why the best and brightest from Ottawa's business community or from the ranks of the senior public service prefer to give back to the community by serving on the boards of hospitals, United Way etc. rather than seeking election to city council. The excoriation of Roger Greenberg, Bill Shenkman, John Ruddy and Jeff Hunt -- just because they want to do something good for the city -- should answer that question.
Strength In Brotherhood ?
They're not singing "Solidarity Forever" down at the Amalgamated Transit Union hall these days.
Rumor has it that a significant portion of the membership wants Brother Andre Corneillier and his executive removed from office. They also want a forensic audit of the local's finances. And a petition to the International Union is being circulated.
Citizen Ellie spotted trouble ahead after union election results were announced in June. Usually, when union members are satisfied with the work of their executive, said executive is returned to office without opposition. This didn't happen. Brother Andre was opposed in his bid to retain the presidency, and while he did, his opponent got almost as many votes -- the local was clearly split down the middle.
This is not a good sign and if any members of city council think the next round of contract talks with this union will be a cakewalk, they'd better think again. As for the bus-riding public -- prepare to find other means of transportation sometime during 2011 !
Censorship Is Alive and Well in Ottawa
The Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group (Ottawa TAG) has run into a roadblock regarding its proposed bus adverts which were slated to appear this month. Officialdom has imposed censorship -- dictating to the group that unless it changes the content of its ads there won't be any ads. Why aren't the major media and all those "rights" groups picking up on this ? Why is it that ratepayers in this city are being denied their rights ? Is a ratepayers' organization no less a special interest group than a powerful city hall union ?
The issue ? Ottawa TAG wanted to advertise total compensation growth in the city since amalgamation. The city wants the group to advertise salary growth only. What rot !
How can one make sense of municipal spending if total compensation ( benefits, pensions, sick leave, statutory holidays, maternity leave, long-term disability and the like) is not included in the calculation ?
One can only conclude that officialdom doesn't want Ottawa ratepayers to know the truth about what amalgamation has really cost.
And what about the fact that city staff who earn 15% more than private sector employees (and way, way more than pensioners on fixed incomes) are setting tax levels for the rest of us. How many of these tax setters live within the city's boundaries ? Is it fair that people who don't live in the city set tax levels for the rest of us ?
New posts usually on Fridays

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nail In The Coffin ?
Bad enough that we're forced to separate paper and cardboard, bottles and cans, chicken bones and cabbage leaves. Now they want us to pay for the privilege.
News this week that our esteemed city council plans to impose a "user fee" -- tax by any other name -- had Citizen Ellie looking at her personal budget to see what could be cut in order to cover the $195 extra the city will be charging her to dispose of her trash. Funny ! Citizen Ellie thought garbage collection was a mandated item under the terms of the Municipal Act and thus a service included in what the ratepayer gets in return for his/her property tax dollars.
In order to meet the costs of last year's property tax increase, Citizen Ellie gave up her Ottawa 67s season tickets. Given the latest predictions re next year's city budget , looks like the United Way contribution will now have to go, contributions to her church will be slashed by 50% , and she will have to forego the glass of wine with Sunday dinner in order to ante up the wherewithall to meet the demands of the Laurier Avenue graspers.
News about the new garbage "user fee" came along at the same time as news about the OC Transpo pension shortfall which alone will add another 2.1% to the property tax bill. (The money-losing transit service is seeking a 12.7% increase in its budget, and despite this increase it will still require taxpayer subsidy of 50% of its operating costs.) Just about every other city department is seeking an increase in its budget. And we haven't heard from the really costly ones yet -- social services, fire and police.
Speaking of police, are we getting value for money ? Property owners find themselves responsible for their own security -- installing expensive alarm systems, burglar bars, and stockade fencing with padlocked gates to protect their homes; installing expensive alarm systems, "the club" and other security devices to protect their vehicles -- while at the same time empire building goes on apace at the cop shop.
With regard to the OC Transpo budget, Councillor Alex Cullen (and mayor wannabe) had this to say: "It's a reasonable budget and reflects costs we can't avoid."
Why is it, in Ottawa, that excessive requests for budget increases by city departments are always "costs we can't avoid" ?
Why can't our elected representatives demonstrate they have the balls to start avoiding these costs by emulating their Toronto counterparts who have instructed all departments and agencies in that city to get out their red pencils and start cutting.
Toronto aims to slash $343 million from its operating costs in what's being termed a "big hurt" budget. From the early figures, it would appear that city officials are planning "big hurt" budget in Ottawa too -- but in this city it's big hurt for the taxpayers -- just the opposite of what's going on in Toronto.
Apparently elected officials in that city are not afraid of immediate spending controls, reductions in services, a prolonged hiring freeze, possible layoffs and no new initiatives. The ultimate goal is to shrink their 2010 budget by 5 % compared with this year, with another 5% drop in 2011.
Citizen Ellie would not object to paying $195 extra to cover garbage removal if she believed this additional revenue was really necessary to keep the city going. Citizen Ellie would be a prime candidate to purchase swampland in Florida if that's what she believed.
Fact is that the current council hasn't been taking care of business. Taxpayers' dollars have been frittered away because money management hasn't been their number one priority. What's been their number one priority ? Useless debate over stupidities such as Shannon Tweed Day, pothole inspectors, tanning parlors, Ottawans' consumption of salt, farmer signage requirements, street furniture, city donations to political parties, and such "significant" by-laws covering tree cutting, locking pools, and settling neighborhood squabbles. No talk of line-by-line budget analysis or wage freezes or reduction in services or spending controls of any sort.
This new "user fee" for garbage collection may very well be the final nail in this council's coffin. Judging from letters to the editor in local newspapers this week, plus comment from citizens on local radio talk shows, this one isn't sitting well with taxpayers. It's probably scotched Councillor Peter Hume's chances at the mayor's chair as people tend to blame the messenger who brings the bad news. Unlike Lansdowne Live or the LRT where the figures boggle the mind, this is one cost Joe and Jane Lunchpail understand and they don't like it. At least Ottawa's rural residents have been spared -- chalk one up for the Carleton County Landowners' Association.
New posts usually on Fridays.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Time for Trusteeship ?
Were you shocked by yesterday's news that the estimated cost of Ottawa's proposed rapid rail transit scheme is now $2.1 billion ? And there's likely more to come. This is only the cost of the first phase.
Those of us who thought the initial price tag of $1.8 billion was beyond reality are no longer fazed by cost predictions coming from city hall. We've come to accept that no one down at the "hall" seems to understand (or care, for that matter) that ratepayers want to know what they're getting into in terms of immediate and future impact on their property taxes when major projects are proposed. In this case, a $700 million increase apparently is a mere bagatelle to those in charge.
Transit Committee Chair (and mayor wannabe) Alex Cullen opined after yesterday's committee meeting that thanks to funds raised by the city going into debt, plus contributions from the other levels of government and gas tax revenues, there would be no immediate impact on property taxes. The key word here is "immediate".
Earler in the week, Councillor Cullen was quoted as saying he wouldn't be falling down from a heart attack once the rapid rail transit cost figures were announced. Of course he wouldn't. Tax and spend is his mantra.
The news about spiraling rapid rail transit cost projections came on the same day we learned OC Transpo needs another great whack of our money next year. Those running this dreadful operation want a12.7% increase in their budget. They say they need more cash from our pockets to pay wage increases, cover Para Transpo costs related to the growth of this service and to make up a $8.1 million employee pension fund shortfall due to stock market fluctuations.
This last one really irritates. What does this say to ratepayers who saw their pension plans and retirement savings eroded by fluctuations in the stock market a year ago ? What does this say to ratepayers whose employers have told them the employer can no longer make pension contributions ? What does this say to former Nortel employees who don't know from one day to the next if they'll be receiving that pension cheque ? What does this say to the countless number of ratepayers in this city who don't enjoy gold-plated pension plans ? Maybe it's time some of those well-paid OC Transpo employees, and that includes bus drivers, bit the bullet.
OC Transpo is the same outfit that will run the rapid rail system if it ever gets off the ground. That's guaranteed to turn it into an even bigger albatross around the necks of ratepayers who are currently subsidizing its operating costs to the tune of more than 50%
OC Transpo doesn't pay its way now and one has to wonder what crystal ball the proponents of rapid rail transit and tunnels under the downtown core are consulting if they think OC Transpo will pay its way in the future. Maybe Tarot cards are telling them OC Transpo's ridership will magically increase to the point where fare box revenues will cover all costs and a subsidy from property taxes will no longer be required. Fat chance !
Ratepayers in Phoenix, Arizona bought into a rapid rail transit scheme a few years back. The cost of the electricity required to run this system has turned out to be prohibitive and Phoenix ratepayers now rue the day they ever went this route. Citizen Ellie obtained this information from someone who lives in the Phoenix area.
Fortunately for us, Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson is standing on guard. He says the $2.1 billion price tag for the first phase is likely unaffordable.
Once again he's expressed the provincial government's concern about what appear to be never-ending cost increases. But no one down at the "hall" is listening.
The province's finance minister, Dwight Duncan, outlined Ontario's serious financial situation earlier in the week. The province is looking at cutbacks -- including cutbacks to social services, health care, education etc. and even the Ontario Drug Benefit isn't sacred. The feds aren't in a much better position and we haven't heard Transport Minister John Baird jumping up and downj with glee over the fact this mass transportation project is going to cost more ....much more ! So why would anyone in their right mind think the two senior levels of government are just panting to pour money into into the rapid rail transit sinkhole in Ottawa ?
According to Ottawa Sun columnist Sue Sherring, the city's on a rapid road to financial ruin. She notes that already $1 million has been allocated in the city's 2009 budget and this will be spent by the end of the year just to get us to this process.
"The money," she wrote in today's column, "appears to flow faster than citizens can pay. Without traying to be alarmist -- it's incredibly scary. And there's no one there leading or reassuring the taxpayers this plan will both work and be affordable."
Right on, Susan. It's downright scary. And since nobody down at the "hall" is listening to Minister Jim's warning, maybe it's time he dusted off his copy of the legislation which allows the senior level of government to step in and take over, putting the city under trusteeship. Unfortunately some fiscally sensible councillors would be impacted, and some councillors' pet special interest groups would howl, but most Ottawa ratepayers would probably welcome the move. They've had it with this council and its free-spending ways! A previous provincial government took such a step when The Ottawa Hospital couldn't get its financial house in order and it turned out for the better. The timing is right -- the next municipal election is a year away -- time enough for a thorough housecleaning.
New posts usually on Fridays.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Beyond Boondoggling
Citizen Ellie does not normally comment on provincial affairs, there being no dearth of municipal hoo-haw to fill this blog and then some. The E-Health scandal, however, bears comment.
You may think that Ontario Premier Dalton "The Deceiver" McGuinty's management of the province has no direct impact on you. Wrong. As a result of a previous Ontario government downloading a number of formerly provincially-funded social service programs on the municipalities, our property taxes have skyrocketed. (Citizen Ellie refers to Premier McGuinty as "The Deceiver" because he deceived Ontario voters in his first election when he promised there would be no new taxes but implemented the Ontario Health Tax almost immediately after taking office.)
There's a provincial funding formula to guide municipalities in regard to their share of the cost of these social services -- 80% paid by the province, 20% paid by the municipality. That's how it works in most Ontario municipalities -- not so in Ottawa where the generous chardonnay socialists on council thought 20% was not enough in some instances and increased the city's percentage.
Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson ( who may be contemplating another run at the mayor's chair) likes to crow about how the McGuinty government is taking over the funding of the social service programs which were previously downloaded and relieving the poor property taxpayer of this onerous burden. In 2008, that amounted to some $12 million. In 2009, the province will pick up $7 million. In 2010, $19 million will become the province's responsibility, with a further $19 million beling picked up in 2011.
You might think that the uploading would lead to a reduction in property taxes or perhaps no increase. Not on your life ! Ottawa's Long Range Financial Planning Committee directed that these savings be used to first replace unsustainable (one-time) revenues which had been built into the budget; secondly to fund an increase to the contribution for capital works; and thirdly to reduce the impact of inflation on the city budget. No one at City Hall apparently gave thought to reducing the impact of inflation on the property taxpayer's budget. They will, however, tell you that if the city hadn't used the uploading savings to offset elimination of one-time revenues, ratepayers would have faced a 6% increase rather than a 4.9 % in 2008. In other words, we were given these savings back in the form of a lower tax increase. But it should not be forgotten that property tax revenue earmarked at the municipal level to pay for social services freed up loads of bucks the McGuinty government could spend on other things !
And spend they did at E-Health ! With no controls. According to the province's auditor-general, the folks running E-Health had an expense account field day, swanning off to the dog races at Sarasota and other exotic places; billing for every second spent on their coffee breaks -- where they consumed designer muffins and $7 lattes while us taxpayers counted our pennies to find $1.49 for our once-a-week treat of a small double-double and donut at Tim's. Expensive consultants were hired -- who also billed for every second of their coffee and lunch breaks, mileage, and lord knows what else !
It turns out no one was minding the store. It also turns out people were playing fast and loose with E-Health's $800 million computer -- downloading games and using it for other personal activities. The one Citizen Ellie likes best is the Toronto doctor who used the computer linkup in his practice to download an "extreme fighting" series through the $800 million computer. But all is well, taxpayers. The doc has promised he won't do it any more.
Has anyone been fired as a result of all this ? The provincial health minister has resigned, but continues to warm his well-paid seat in the legislature. The E-Health executives have all been sent on their way with golden handshakes. But that's government for you. Heads roll uphill or out the door, pockets stuffed with taxpayer dollars.
Meanwhile the premier smirks his way around the province refusing to call a judicial inquiry into the activities at E-Health. "The Deceiver" faces the electorate in 2010.
Let's hope the electorate has a long memory.
Ottawa ratepayers are invited to a gathering at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday, October 17) on Parliament Hill to protest the E-Health scandal.
Election Help From "The Beyond"
November is municipal election month in Quebec. You've got to hand it to those Quebeckers. They know how to liven up an election campaign.
News from the Saguenay this week that one mayoral candidate has artists in the communities (Chicoutimi, Jonquiere, La Baie) which make up this regional municipality creating voodoo dolls in the likeness of the incumbent mayor, who he hopes to defeat. The dolls are being distributed among the electors. Presumably they come with the necessary pins.
What an idea ! No doubt some of you would like to see Mayor Larry's likeness on voodoo dolls come election time. Citizen Ellie thinks there are other, far more worthy candidates for the honor both at the provincial and municipal levels.
New posts usually on Fridays

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

They're Damned Mad !
No one should be surprised at the level of anger being expressed at the Lansdowne Live public consultations.
The future of Landsowne Park is not entirely the cause of this anger. It's the catalyst that's bringing it to the fore. And Citizen Ellie hopes it continues into the upcoming round of public consultations on the budget.
What's the real cause ?
For the 100,000 or so who voted for Larry O'Brien in the last municipal election, they're mad because nearly three years of this council's term has been wasted thanks to a small group of conspirators who decided they didn't care for Larry's politics and set out to "get" him. Instead of dealing with important issues, council sessions became platforms for those who hoped the heat would be such that Mayor Larry would step down, leaving an opening for someone from within to fill the mayor's chair.
For others, the current punitive level of taxation is the bugbear. Pensioners, in particular, are especially concerned because no matter how well one plans for retirement one must face the fact that city taxes are the biggest uncontrolled expense faced by any household because property tax is not tied to household income.One of Citizen Ellie's sources says the city's current operational model results in at least a 5-plus percentage increase every year. The "official number" might be 4.9% as it was last year, but that doesn't take into account the additional bucks flowing into city coffers from that great money-grab, market-value assessment. It doesn't take into consideration the additional bucks flowing into city coffers from water and sewer charges,development fees, user fees and the myriad other surcharges the current council has imposed on taxpayers in recent years.
For others, its the never-ending waste and boondoggling surrounding city projects such as the LRT.
And for others, especially those living in the rural parts of the city, they're angry because they haven't seen any benefit from amalgamation. They are paying city-sized taxes for services they have yet to see. Paved roads, sidewalks, water and sewer come immediately to mind. Most chose to live in what have now become the rural areas within the city's boundaries because they didn't want to pay for a whole mess of services (such as OC Transpo) which they would never need. They've seen their taxes skyrocket.
The good news is that people are starting to organize. There are at least two groups which have taken up the taxpayers' cause -- the Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group (Ottawa TAG) and the Carleton County Landowners' Association. And it looks as if these two groups are joining forces. Great. There is strength in numbers.
You might be surprised to learn that Ontario has never completed Ottawa's amalgamation process and there will be a city-wide forum on governance for Ottawa next year. Mayor Larry, mindful of this, commissioned a study on governance which is gathering dust on a shelf at city hall bcause the "lifers" on city council take the poition that they, and only they, know what sort of governance is best for the citizens of Ottawa. (The sort of governance which keeps them in their jobs !)
The Carleton County Landowners have organized three events to help prepare rural input for said forum. Retired Senator Eugene Whelan will speak at the meeting on November 19 at 7 p.m. at the Carp Fairgrounds. Ade Olumide of Ottawa TAG will speak at the November 26 meeting at 7 p.m. at the Richmond Ciommunuity Centre. Councillor Clive Doucet (who has embraced the cause of de-amalgamation) will speak at the meeting on December 3 at 7 p.m. at the Kinburn Community Centre.
One of the problems Ottawa TAG and some members of the Carleton Landowners' Association have is a lack of knowledge of the Ontario Labor Relations Act and its impact on such approaches as privatization. And this goes to the credibility of the organization/s. Take OC Transpo, for example. Some think the solution is privatization -- sell it to a private sector operator who will lower wages, cut staff and implement efficiencies, making the system profitable.
Unfortunately this won't work. When an operation such as OC Transpo is heavily unionized, successors' rights clauses in the Ontario Labor Relations Act come into play. Unless the private sector operator is prepared for and can afford war, the private sector operator has to take the current employees along with their current union contract. Not too many private sector operators are prepared to do this. And unlike Britain's Margaret Thatcher who took on the miners, there are few, if any, politicians at the provincial and municipal levels in Ontario with the brass balls to take on sucessors' rights.
Credibility is a key issue for any organization wanting to take on the "lifers" on city council. And the least little gaffe which opens the door to councillors and their friends in the major media to point their fingers and adopt the familiar oh-so-patronizing attitude that while they work for us, we're too stupid to understand what they do. This can be the killer for any organization trying to change the status quo.
Citizen Ellie's advice to both Ottawa TAG and the Carleton County Landowners is to be very sure of what you speak. Building credibility is the key to success. And the time is ripe for a taxpayer revolt !
New posts usually on Fridays

Friday, October 2, 2009

Random Thoughts.....
Tooting own trumpet: In a June 27 post, Citizen Ellie quoted a source who told her the membership of the Amalgmated Transit Union (OC Transpo bus drivers etc.) were not interested in giving up their right to strike. The source said the union membership was divided on the issue of arbitration right from the get-go. Citizen Ellie also noted that union president Andre Corneillier and Councillor Alex Cullen were forgetting something important when they trumpeted that a new era of labor peace had arrived at OC Transpo. Like bloodhounds on the scent, they just had to rush to the media with the news that an agreement had been reached. What they forgot to say was that while they might have reached an agreement, it would have no weight until the union membership had the opportunity to vote on it. Given that Brother Andre barely escaped being put out to pasture by his members in June when the local election was held, Citizen Ellie opined that this did not bode well for an agreement substituting binding arbitration for the right to strike. ATU members voted on the issue last week. They didn't give up their right to strike. Was Citizen Ellie right, or what ?
They're not getting it: Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson has tried everything. He's raised the issue of costs. He's raised the security issue. No matter what he says, the powers that be at City Hall forge ahead with LRT planning which includes a tunnel beneath the downtown core. Time for a little plain speaking --in clear language so there can be no misunderstanding. Time to state once and for all that the province has no interest in a tunnel from the Bayview Yards to the University of Ottawa. Time to state once and for all that the province will not be contributing one red cent to the cost of building said tunnel from the Bayview Yards to the University of Ottawa. Time to state that the province recognizes that Ottawa property taxpayers are already overburdened. Save the taxpayers from this folly and they'll be erecting a statue in your honor. Get on with it, Minister Jim !
A sad sight: Citizen Ellie drives by the baseball stadium (previously known as Lynx Stadium) on an almost daily basis. It's been sitting empty for over a year, and it's reported that the facility is not being properly maintained. It's been suggested by some who've been in the place that the city is allowing it to deterioriate just like the city allowed the Civic Centre complex to deterioriate.
So there's no professional or semi-pro baseball in Ottawa any more. That doesn't mean the stadium couldn't be used for other revenue-generating activities. It would make a wonderful venue for small festivals, such as the jazz and folk festivals. It could have been used as the site for the provincial Little League championships which were held in Ottawa this past summer. It could have been used by a variety of baseball leagues in the city. A deal could have been struck with the nearby Hampton Inn re late night jazz sessions if the jazz festival was held there. A deal could have been struck with the Hampton Inn to accommodate and feed the Little League teams and their parents. These are the kinds of activities a private sector entrepreneur would organize at the stadium. These are the kinds of activities which would generate reveue for the city. Instead, it sits idle. That's what happens when you have a bunch of social engineers running the city. Maintaining assets owned by the taxpayers takes a back seat to exercises in wealth redistribution.
New posts usually on Fridays

Friday, September 25, 2009

Overbudget ? What's New ?
They haven't even started boring the Alex Cullen Memorial Tunnel deep into the centretown core and we learn that the LRT project is already $100 million over budget !
That same Councillor Cullen, who apparently won't rest until the taxpayers are bled white by this costly transit project, is the same man who earlier this week castigated the mayor and some of his fellow councillors for setting budget efficiency targets for 2010 which he says are "too ambitious."
These folks, he told The Ottawa SUN, want savings instead of resorting to a tax increase. Shame ! Shame !
The council-directed budget efficiency target for 2010 has city staff looking for about $138 million in savings. Almost $47 million has been found, and it's predicted another $22 million can be achieved in 2009 with another $19.4 million in 2010. That leaves the city some $50 million short of reaching its goal. Four city departments -- as yet unnamed -- are missing their targets and the city has created a group to help managers meet the goal. Given the city's penchant for hiring consultants at the drop of a hat, have consultants been hired to oversee this process ? Inquiring minds want to know.
Citizen Ellie wonders if the city's managers are subject to annual performance reviews and if so, surely meeting (or not meeting, as the case might be) departmental budget efficiency targets would be part of the review. It certainly would be in the private sector where managerial fortunes rise and fall on the manager's ability to either meet or exceed budgetary expectations.
Given this bit of news, and the word that the LRT project looks as if it's going to be waaaaaay over budget, Citizen Ellie can only conclude that this extremely important aspect of a manager's job isn't on the line when performance is being reviewed.
One good bit of news is that those councillors keen on saving tax dollars staged a revolt over giving committee chairs an additional $10,000 to spend on consultants --to help these poor overburdened chairs with their new budget duties -- i.e. membership on the audit, budget and finance committee which is headed by Mayor Larry and is supposed to streamline the budget process which, as everyone knows, is a huge joke, except that the taxpayers aren't laughing. This demand for extra cash closely followed the granting of additional funding so committee chairs could bring in an extra person to work half-time in their offices. The money was offered up by Mayor Larry -- money from his office budget which he didn't spend on mayoral activities while off on leave during that farce of a trial.
It's interesting to note that the councillors who wanted to save taxpayers' money are not committee chairs. It's also interesting to note that the money isn't going to be saved anyway. Mayor Larry apparently is going to take those dollars and -- guess what -- hire a consultant who'll be made available to the committee chairs. Just goes to prove old Polish proverb -- if you want to beat a dog you can always find a stick.
On the LRT issue -- enough's been said and written about what all the fumbles are doing to the city's credibility with its two potential partners --the federal and provincial governments. Those current members of council who are contemplating a run for the mayor's chair are probably going to be left twisting in the wind which is likely to sweep through city hall in November 2010.
One Way To Save Taxpayers' Dollars
Apparently charging taxpayers who want to use meeting rooms at city hall to hold budget consultation forums involving council members is the new way to inch a step closer to finding budget efficiencies -- especially if the group organizing the forum favors frugality when it comes to spending taxpayers' dollars.
The Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group (Ottawa TAG) hosted such a forum at city hall on September 15 and subsequently received a bill in the amount of $142.50 from Councillor Alex Cullen -- presumably Ottawa TAG's share of splitting room rental costs.
Ottawa TAG sees this as a cheap shot and Citizen Ellie joins the group in expressing gratitude to Councillors Bob Monette and Rob Jellett for stepping in and picking up this tab. These Councillors have demonstrated that they believe public engagement in the city's governance is a good thing.
Is Ottawa TAG correct in its view that certain members of city council would prefer to see the organization as a threat which must be silenced because its members hold opposing opinions on how taxpayers' dollars are spent ?
Citizen Ellie wonders if a social agency or one of certain councillors' pet special interest groups would be charged a room rental fee if it wanted to hold a budget consultation forum in a city hall meeting room ? What do you think ?
Regular postings usually on Fridays

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's Budget Time Again.....
Citizen Ellie has returned from a well-deserved vacation in the world centre of civility -- Prince Edward Island -- where the biggest problem confronting Charlottetown's civic leaders was the infestation of wasps in the city centre.
One could not walk on the streets with impunity. Indeed, Citizen Ellie was attacked and stung as she made her way past Province House.
But this was a minor matter when compared to what confronts Ottawans over the next couple of months.
Are we to take a hint from the fact that councillors need to hire extra outside help to assist them through the budget process ? One wonders if this bunch are so clueless that they need to hire outsiders to assist them with their household budgets? Seems simple to Citizen Ellie. Money comes in (salary, wages, pension or the like), money goes out (mortgage, taxes, groceries, car payment, hydro, phone, water, heating, cable/satellite) and what's left over is for savings or discretionary spending. Don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that when more money goes out than comes in, serious trouble lies ahead.
One also wonders what all those six-figure salaried city employees are doing to earn their top dollars ? There's a huge bunch of them. Surely one or two of these folk must understand the budget process and have the ability to present it to council members in the simple terms that they will understand.
The city currently faces a situation where more money is going out than is coming in. A deficit of about $12 million is predicted for the current fiscal year. That doesn't include the $37 million to settle the LRT lawsuit. That doesn't include cost of the bus strike or the arbitration award for which we're still waiting. That doesn't include fixing the west end sewers to put an end to flooded basements. That doesn't include the cost of cleaning up the Ottawa River. Then there are the pie-in-the sky items -- the new transit system (haven't heard a peep from the province or the feds re their share of the funding), and the planned rejuvenation of Lansdowne Park (another money-sucker which is going to make lawyers rich as injunctions are filed to prevent the handing over of one of the choicest pieces of downtown property to a consortium of developers without tender). All of this bodes ill for the residential property taxpayer.
The charade of public consultation regarding the budget will no doubt occur again this year. The charade takes the form of public meetings where the budget is presented and members of the public ostensibly have a say in how their property tax dollars are to be spent. What a farce !
Citizen Ellie attended one of these "consultations" last year. It was presided over by Councillors Michel Bellemare, Jacques Legendre and Georges Bedard. They listened intently when representatives of special interest groups made their presentations. Their eyes glazed over when overburdened taxpayers pleaded for restraint.
It became evident as the evening progressed that some of the special interest group representatives were well-coached and armed with printed statements which they parroted at the microphone/s. If asked to elaborate by one of the councillors, they resorted to re-reading the printed statement over again. One suspected that perhaps they'd had some assistance from CUPE 503 as the special interests being promoted employ numerous CUPE 503 members.
Citizen Ellie is a CNN fan and it's interesting to watch how our neighbors to the south are behaving at "town hall" meetings. Politicians of all stripes are having a hard time of it at these public sessions -- which citizens now refer to as "tea parties", the historical context being the famous Boston Tea Party which gave birth to the slogan "No Taxation Without Representation". Ottawa ratepayers could learn something from this. We've been sheep for far too long. It's time we stood up at a budget session or two or three and told councillors flat out to quit pissing on our legs and telling us that it's raining.
Fiscal restraint. Frugality. Those are the words Ottawa ratepayers want to hear.
Speaking of frugality, Citizen Ellie practised some herself in PEI. Instead of spending $130.00 green fees plus another $20.00 for share of cart, she contented herself with a soda on the clubhouse verandah at plush Crowbush Cove. That's cutting the coat in accordance with the cloth !
New postings usually on Fridays

Friday, September 11, 2009

Meeting Alert !!!
"Zero means zero: is it possible ?"
Interested Ottawa ratepayers will have the opportunity to hear the issue debated at a meeting on Tuesday, February 15 at 7 p.m. in the Champlain Room at City Hall, 110 Laurier Ave. West.
The meeting is sponsored by the Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group and will feature a debate between two Ottawa TAG members and Councillor Alex Cullen plus another individual of his choice.
Ottawa TAG says this will not be a debate about personalities or style. Rather, it's an opportunity to inform the public about the current city council's spending record and its impact on the average household, providing information so that when the next municipal election rolls around in November 2010, ratepayers will be able to judge past and current anti-zero- means- zero actions on city council's part. For some Ottawans, property taxes now exceed their mortgage payments. Unless there's restraint, spending growth means property taxes are likely to double in the next 10 years.
Can you afford that ?
Regular postings will resume next week

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Things To Ponder
Citizen Ellie is off on Saturday to the world centre of civility -- Prince Edward Island -- for a couple of weeks of much-needed R & R. Trying to make sense of the machinations at city hall takes its toll.
In the meantime, September is upon us, people are back from vacation, schools are re-opening and serious trouble may lie just around the corner.
Do you have confidence -- confidence that our civic leaders will not fall apart at the first signs the influenza pandemic has returned ? The response to the recent mini-disaster in the west end of the city left an awful lot to be desired. To be sure, they ordered the garbage trucks out fast enough to clean up the Katrina-like appearance of the afflicted neighborhoods. Some comfort to those who were flooded out for the third time in a dozen years and there's still no word on when the problems which gave rise to the flooding will be rectified.
Citizen Ellie recently re-read John Barry's definitive history of the 1918-19 pandemic, "The Great Influenza". It's grim reading, but it's also useful to learn about the so-called "Spanish flu" killed its way around the world. As they say, those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.
Barry writes about what happened in the U-S. On its first go-round in the spring of 1918, the flu was relatively mild. But when it returned in the fall, it returned with a vengeance. The H1N1 virus of 1918-19 is the same H1N1 virus which started to appear in the spring of this year in different spots around the world -- including Ottawa. It was relatively mild in the spring......
It pays to be a regular CNN viewer. Citizen Ellie learns many things from CNN.
Earlier this week the U-S Surgeon General and the Secretary of Health held a news conference in Washington at which time they advised that some 90,000 Americans could be killed by the flu which is now starting to appear again. They also announced that there might not be enough vaccine to provide the required two doses for everyone. Even worse, there are not enough health care workers to administer the vaccine and it may be necessary to train pharmacists so that they can administer it. There are not enough hospital beds in the U-S to accommodate the numbers who might require them, nor are there enough ventilators. There was an item on CNN the following day stating that H1N1 is now making its presence felt in student residences on U-S college campuses -- 100 students quarantined at Georgia Tech.
We're fortunate in Ottawa to have a steady hand at the helm in the city's health department in the person of Dr. Isra Levy. He advocates regular and vigorous handwashing, sneezing into the elbow
and immediate bed rest if one feels ill. According to medical evidence in Barry's book, those who fared best in 1918-19 were those who took to their beds at the first sign they were sick, and stayed in bed for several days even after the symptoms had disappeared.
No level of government in Canada has as yet released any figures re potential deaths from H1N1 in this country. We are told that there is plenty of vaccine. But given the hospital closures and the corresponding cutbacks in health care, one can't help but wonder if there are enough health care workers here to administer the vaccine. One wonders about hospital bed availability and whether there are enough ventilators.
In the 1918-19 pandemic, pneumonia killed the people. It was not a good death. They gasped and choked. Cyanosis (lack of oxygen) caused victims to turn blue -- dark blue in some cases. They coughed up blood, bled from the nose, ears and eyes. They were unrecognizable. They became delerious and they died. Entire families were consumed. Children were orphaned. In Philadelphia, the gravediggers were either sick or dead which meant that family members of other deceased had to take up shovels and dig the graves for their loved ones. There was a shortage of coffins. Eventually the dead were wrapped in sheets and buried in mass graves.
John Barry concludes that a virtual conspiracy of silence -- i.e. failure by politicians at all levels, and by the media to tell the public the truth about what was happening, contributed greatly to the panic which swept over America. Given the candor of the U-S Surgeon General and the Secretary of Health at this week's news conference, there will be no secrecy this time.
There was a little item on the Business News Network report a couple of weeks ago which caused Citizen Ellie to sit up and take notice. The manufacturing sector in Ontario is in bad shape, but there's a ray of sunshine in the fact that a small company in the Toronto area is working overtime. What 's being manufactured ? Disposable body bags, that's what. Apparently some municipalities are stocking up on these things. Is Ottawa among them ? What do they know that we don't know ?
One last zinger. What bright spark on the opposition benches has concluded that just what the people need in a time of plague and pestilence is another federal election ? Was it the intellectual giant who leads the Liberals or the Obama wanna-be who heads the NDP ? Rather than waste money on a needless election, what the people really need is for the opposition to pressure the government into issuing free boxes of tissues and hand sanitizers ! Now that would be taxpayers' money well-spent !
Regular Friday postings start again on September 18

Friday, August 21, 2009

Announcements and Pronouncements
People are talking about Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson. Is he or isn't he planning a run at the mayor's chair in 2010 ? He's keeping mum -- only saying that if there's an announcement to be made, he'll be making it in January. In the meantime, we pundits have to keep guessing. It's enough to make one turn to augury (i.e. the study of birds' entrails a la ancient Greeks and Romans) for the answer.
Jeff Polowin, who watches city hall for CJOH, is of the opinion that Minister Jim should state his intentions now. Reason being that the minister has been making spending announcements in regard to projects which directly affect the city. He's also been making pronouncements, some of which do not reflect kindly on current mayor and councillors.
Citizen Ellie reads something else into what's going on.
Citizen Ellie thinks Minister Jim is sending council a very clear message on the proposed LRT system. And that message is: FORGET THE TUNNEL ! He's probably been listening to people like Andy Haydon, and to others who share the same opinion -- the tunnel is a giant sinkhole into which boundless amounts of taxpayers' dollars will be poured to enhance a transit system which does not have the ridership to justify such an expense. Surface LRT is the cheaper alternative and that's what the province wants to see in the plan prior to committing its money. Transport Minister John Baird probably shares similar thoughts.
One does not require the ability to read tea leaves in order to figure this out. The problem is that having come up with what they think is just a dandy little plan, there's a reluctance on the part of councillors to back off, try some sober second thought, and admit it might be just a tad too rich for Ottawa ratepayers. It's unfortunate that the current council has the bad reputation of being indecisive. It makes it extremely hard for those who've supported the tunnel from the get-go to admit that while it would be nice to have, there are other, less costly methods of moving public transit users through centretown. It makes it extremely hard for those who believe cars will immediately disappear from the downtown core once the tunnel is operational to admit they've been living in a fool's paradise.
There was another interesting pronouncement from Minister Jim, one worth examining. This one came right after Mayor Larry was acquitted. The Minister opined that Ottawa's council would do well to work together and concentrate on two or three achievable goals, instead of being all over the place. Citizen Ellie took a hint from this. Could it be that the Minister was issuing a warning -- i.e. get your act together or there might be a trustee sometime in your future ?
Refunds ?
During the past week, Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson reiterated the province's pledge to continue uploading former provincial programs currently being funded through residential property taxes.
By 2018, he said, almost $4 billion worth of these programs, including the really expensive ones --delivery of social services, affordable housing and child care -- will once again be the sole purview of the province.
In 2009, the province will have uploaded $2.3 billion in previously downloaded services -- taking back 75% of the cost of administering public health, half the cost of delivering land ambulance service and the entire cost of Ontario's drug plan and the Ontario Disability Support Program.
Residential property taxpayers throughout the province have been fuming ever since the Mike Harris government effected the downloads in the late 1990s. But none have been fuming as much as those in Ottawa -- where council has consistently ignored the funding formula (80% paid by province, 20% paid by municipality) by generously exceeding the 20% required of municipalities.
If, by some miracle, this burden was lifted from taxpayers' shoulders tomorrow, do you think residential property ratepayers in Ottawa would see a tax reduction or maybe even a freeze ? Not on your life as long as the makeup of council isn't changed. Citizen Ellie bets that the chardonnay socialists see uploading as a windfall and have already spent the money -- in their minds. Another good reason for the winds of change to sweep through city hall in November 2010.
Regular Friday postings will resume after September 14