Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

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The mayor goes to breakfast

REPORT #1,139: Mayor Matt Brown will give his second State of the City address to the London Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Tuesday. It will be interesting as much as for what he says and for what he doesn’t

Monday, Jan. 25, 2016 – LondonOntario

The mayor of LondonOntario makes the annual State of the City address to the Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday, a semi-swank affair at the Convention Centre attended by upwards of 1,300 well-dressed folks from the local business and professional world.

As always, there’s speculation about what will be said, how it will be said, and in particular what will not be said.

In his first speech last January, after being elected mayor in the fall of 2014, Mayor Matt Brown used the occasion as more of an introduction of himself, a rookie in the job, and his council, mostly rookies to politics. 

It got generally favourable reviews, including what The Free Press described as a rare standing ovation from the audience. 

This time around, however, both the mayor and his 14 colleagues from the wards of the city have had a chance to actually put some marks on their record book. The enthusiasm may be more muted.

Over the years, our mayors have used the breakfast to lecture the audience about what London needed to do to get ahead (Dianne Haskett); to review what had been accomplished by council, and others, in the past year (Anne Marie DeCicco-Best); and to promise major developments just on the horizon (Joe Fontana)

It was Mr. Fontana who looked into his crystal ball in his last year in office and saw a downtown skyway whisking tourists across the city. Unfortunately he didn’t see the judge would find him guilty of fraud and breach of trust and that he would be forced to resign in disgrace five months later. Turned out, there was no skyway either.

But that wasn’t Mr. Fontana’s biggest miscue. In his second address, he announced a $200 million (later reviewed to $350 million) twin-tower condo project for SoHo anchored by a wellness centre. The project was to be completed by his good friend Loredana Onesan, CEO of a company called FinCore Canada. 

It hasn’t happened, doesn’t appear it ever will. Recently at least one resident of SoHo has sued FinCore and Ms. Onesan for breach of contract because a property sale fell apart. And although FinCore Canada’s website is still up and contains images of the SoHo Wellington Centre, the listed company telephone number, 519-667-1700, is answered by a recording: “The number you are calling cannot receive incoming calls.” 

Mayor Brown, both in his style at council and in his State of the City address, seems determined to follow Ms. DeCicco-Best’s lead. Several months ago the word went out to all departments at City Hall as well as all boards and commissions for a list of accomplishments, big or small, in the past year. Doubtless we’ll hear about many of them on Tuesday.

Four items deserve special attention from this audience:

The London Plan: Mayor Brown often talks about this proposed revision of the city’s official plan as if it was already the law. It is not. In fact, this council has never debated the document. That will come in the next month or so. 

Based on their public utterances, both during the 2014 election and since, it is assumed most members of council support the London Plan, and in particular its call for a future city built upwards rather than outwards. But we’ll see.

Once finally passed by council, the plan must be approved by the province and withstand the almost certain appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board before it becomes law, perhaps sometime in 2017.

Rapid Transit: As Mayor Brown will doubtless repeat, London is Canada’s largest city without rapid transit. Council is determined to fix this, and there appears to be solid support within the community – and certainly among the Convention Centre audience. The mayor will say again building this would be the largest civic investment ever made.

However, the mayor and the civic administration have taken to linking the well-documented need for a rapid transit solution with a model that includes light rail, for which there is at present no documented need. We are not the biggest city in Canada without a light rail system; Winnipeg, with almost twice our population, is and last year its council decided against light rail and instead expanded their bus rapid transit system.

What was mentioned by the mayor in last year’s state of the city address as a $380 million plan for fast buses has ballooned in a year to a $900 million proposal, including light rail The city’s share remains $125 million but the ask from the provincial and federal governments is wishfully assumed to cover the rest. Neither has yet said yes.

Multi-Year Budget: Instead of a budget for one year, this council has accepted a desire by a civic administration for a multi-year budget – that is, four years in one. It proposes annual tax increases of somewhere between 2.6 and 3.1 per cent, depending whether a basket of special projects is approved or not.

Clearly a four-year budget makes sense from the administration’s point of view. They can plan well ahead, knowing the money is already in place. But it is putting an enormous strain on this council to absorb all the implications of billions in spending that stretches to 2019. 

Embodied in the budget is the administration’s response to council’s strategic plan – which, in truth, the administration mostly wrote anyway. 

Mayor Brown sees completion of the strategic plan, in his first 100 days, as a major accomplishment of council. Others see it as a classic play of manipulation by the administration of the elected neophytes. 

The Stat Plan, as everyone seems to call it, begat a long list of projects. As at least one councillor has opined: “This list isn’t my list.”

Back to the River: Council has approved a $7 million project that would beautify the Forks of the Thames, including a walkway onto the river. 

The walkway assumes restoration of Springbank Dam which, when closed in the late spring, creates a mini-lake that backs up the Thames past the downtown and provides opportunities for boaters.

However, it’s now clear restoration of the dam cannot proceed without new permissions from local, provincial and federal environmental authorities – permissions which seem less likely than ever to be granted.

It would seem likely Back to the River is going to require a significant rethink before the money starts to flow. 

For Mayor Brown, however, this will require some back paddling. During the election he promised the dam would be repaired, a stance he has maintained since.

So beware the bobbing and weaving on those four points.

Comments   

# RE: The mayor goes to breakfastSamuel Trosow 2016-01-25 00:01
The Mayor's annual address should be in an accessible public space not in a closed and protected corporate setting.
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# Only when accountability and public service dominate is this usefulLeila Paul 2016-01-25 21:20
Open and public blog comments, one would imagine, that come from taxpayers appealing for relief would have far great effect - but that would only be true if , publicly-paid elected servants felt any sincere concern for those they "serve".

I'd guess, if anyone wants to influence decisions of an elected servant, then the person/s to contact would be their primary campaign donors or their voting blocs. However, they will only try to influence elected or administrative officials in ways to favor the taxpayers if the public interest does not conflict with donors' or city hall managers' self-interest.

Even elected officials rely heavily on city managers for their re-election success. Councillors or mayor must kowtow to them to fulfill council directions.

Our elections have become a means to legitimize the goals of those who pay the piper and we lack the harmonious goal of elected or un-elected servants
fulfilling moral obligations.

Until such an ideal is reality, we will continue to be victims of the cacophony of greed that rules at all levels of government.
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# Cesspools are goodNorman B. Vader 2016-01-25 01:17
The upside of a stagnant cesspool at the river forks created by the Springbank Dam is it will attract tourists from all around the globe to collect water samples in a jar and take them back home to conduct weird science experiments.
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# No dam required for Back to the River projectKallie Miller 2016-01-25 02:03
One of the conditions on the submission of the Back to the River Project plans was that it was not to require the working of the Springbank Dam. This was personally conveyed to me by Joni Baechler, who is on the Back to the River Committee.

At the unveiling of the five selected proposals at the Western Fair, I visited all five booths and asked everyone of the dam was needed for their submission and all answered NO. The dam needs to be decommissioned and thankfully, the dam is not needed for the Back to the River project according to the designer.
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# Cesspool attractionNorman B. Vader 2016-01-25 03:07
Quoting Kallie Miller:
One of the conditions on the submission of the Back to the River Project plans was that it was not to require the working of the Springbank Dam. This was personally conveyed to me by Joni Baechler, who is on the Back to the River Committee.

At the unveiling of the five selected proposals at the Western Fair, I visited all five booths and asked everyone of the dam was needed for their submission and all answered NO. The dam needs to be decommissioned and thankfully, the dam is not needed for the Back to the River project according to the designer.


That may be true but a stagnant cesspool at the forks would be a tourist attraction, so we need the Springbank Dam working to get the crowds.
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# Civic Administration has been dictating policyLeila Paul 2016-01-25 19:31
And Joni Baechler continued the trend set by DeCicco. "Obedient" is a good description of DeCicco while Joni Baechler imagines herself competent to but is really continuing city manager's goals. Yet she dares to imagine herself formulating policy for everyone else and competent to do so - she never was. In order for Baechler to ensure her girlish dreams were forced down the throat of taxpayers, Baechler worked to get her surrogates elected to council.

This council is merely an ongoing extension of those that preceded the Fontana era of Liberals at their worst in the hands of a stuffed shirt with goals of stuffing his pockets. As for the Liberal and NDP girls' club - their arrogance, based on illusions and not real-life business survival skills - will be painfully paid for by taxpayers for decades to come.

We need to get rid of city administrators who, like snake charmers, know how to use inexperienced councillors. And we need to dump councillors who've got neither real life hard knocks experience or have unfairly been bosted to jobs in the public sector because they fit a fantasy picture puzzle.
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# Blah BlahBlahJMAC 2016-01-25 03:23
This is nothing more than a fundraiser for a bunch of business people who should be able to support their own private club.
Ever since the DeCicco days it has been reduced to a cheesy political floor show with no real meaning.
Thousands of taxpayer dollars support the staging of this production each year and the profits go into Chamber coffers. HMMMM?
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# RE: The mayor goes to breakfastGord Drimmie 2016-01-25 13:43
Mayor Brown should educate the audience on how his upcoming tax increase(s) are
"consistent with inflation". He takes us all for a bunch of idiots who just don't understand math....and after all, a percent here or there? Who's counting? But his tax increase for the first year looks to be 2.5-2.9%.....wh ereas the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is the cost-of-living measure used by Statistics Canada is 1,2%; the relatively unknown "Construction Price Index" that Mayor Brown wants to use as HIS guideline, increased by only 1.1% in the most recent period; and the "Construction price Index" for London housing has recorded an average increase of 1.85% for the past 9 years! But 2.5 - 2.9%??? Really??? The only similarity that number has to fact is that it appears to be the number that Mayor Brown wants to bill us! The clowns running the Ontario Government have a good ally here in mayor Brown. They obviously speak the same financial language.
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# Enough with greedy Bull Shit!Tucker 2016-01-25 14:55
This may be a great forum for Londoners to throw raw eggs at Mr. Brown for delivering misleading “lies”.

Maybe his handlers/contro llers can be on stage at the same time.

We have great expectations, this will improve governance, within London City Limits.
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# RE: Enough with greedy Bull Shit!Gord Drimmie 2016-01-25 15:03
Quoting Tucker:
This may be a great forum for Londoners to throw raw eggs at Mr. Brown for delivering misleading “lies”.

Maybe his handlers/controllers can be on stage at the same time.

We have great expectations, this will improve governance, within London City Limits.


Mayor Brown is VERY GOOD at not going off script. He has his talking points and like his good pals in higher levels of Government, he is skilled at saying the same thing over and over again until people actually believe it. A subtle form of brainwashing.
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# Tourist AttractionSprin gbank DamCasey 2016-01-25 16:18
Maintain the Springbank dam in it's present condition, install a plaque that details why this structure would never work properly and the names of those who where responsible for it's design and ultimate failure. A display of poor management and design that engineering students from Western may learn from.
Use some of the funds from the settlement to construct several small waterfalls along the river, encourage natural growth and forget the back to the river project, call it the greening of the Thames.
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# Waterfalls?Cynic 2016-01-25 16:23
You really want to mess up the river by changing its elevation? Bad enough to have a mayor who makes promises while only having a superficial understanding of the matter? Agree with Phil, we will see a lot of dancing at the Centre
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# Waterfalls ?Casey 2016-01-25 16:47
We are talking about 2 foot or less weirs not large structures, just enough to add some motion to the water, there is such a structure behind the Labatt Brewery
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# RE: The mayor goes to breakfastGord Drimmie 2016-01-25 16:57
Does anyone here care about how much taxes rise? Am I the only one concerned about the Mayor's subterfuge? I know that politicans lying - or mis-speaking - is all the rage and is so common that many are immune to it.....but soaring taxes, utility costs, and fees at all levels threaten the finances of households across this City (and Province).
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# Social Justice, Democracy for the undemocratic - extract a heavy priceLeila Paul 2016-01-26 13:56
The price of false goals may be that one by one, like lemmings, members of a cultural group follow illusions into an inescapable trap. Ideals of the vague notion of social justice means the power of distributing wealth falls into the hands of those who often have no concept of the vast differences in individuals and their morals or capabilities. Not everyone who votes or influences policy really understands or cares what they're doing. No one is willing to compromise or, worse, sacrifice self-interest and acknowledge that decisions must be made by those who understand ramifications and consequences. Everyone, regardless of a lack of contribution to the system, demands they have rights to take and receive from the system. Distributing wealth, not based on merit, creates a form of social injustice that too often rewards the wrong people. It's unfair. Merit is lost and we substitute flatulent verbiage like social justice - a goal based on rewarding the takers and punishing those who pay because they're available to be fleeced. Until the backs of the taxpayers are broken, we will remain among the few who voice our objections.
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# weir is not a waterfallcynic 2016-01-25 20:13
And why a weir anyway? Gord D. would not like the cost either.
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# Another expensive charade we must pay forLeila Paul 2016-01-25 21:40
Does anybody else remember after Fontana was elected he held a 'brain' storming session with big wigs from UWO - including Chakma and Ivey's chief? It cost us taxpayers $9K just for the "beverage" tab. What came out of it?

Anything?

Now we're paying for another eat-fest for the invited to dress up as the elite and eat cake while we try to pay for our bread.
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# breaking news developer trashes councilobserver 2016-01-26 02:19
See the Tuesday Free Press. The fellow who got the city to pay for a basketball floor at the Bud for his team, then trashed a woodland in Byron, and will have taxpayers pay his development charges for a new downtown building is trashing Council. The gall.
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# Why spending now is absolutely negligentLeila Paul 2016-01-26 02:55
it's not just that we have a city debt, a huge provincial debt, a monstrous federal debt - but we're in a spending frenzy assuming that either or both the feds and province will be able to provide the funds they've negligently offered to buy votes during campaigns.

Even our Canadian banks - once a bastion of fiduciary stability run by old white Scottish men who knew the responsibility of being entrusted with the public's money - are now scheming to charge everyone more to compensate for their negligent loans, investments or whatever euphemisms they call their conduct today. Does no one else read business news? London will NOT be able to pay the bills for any of its grandiose schemes. Do NOT make irrevocable commitments.

http://business.financialpost.com/news/energy/canadian-banks-on-the-hook-for-hundreds-of-millions-to-companies-caught-in-oil-carnage?__lsa=8ef5-9a07


http://business.financialpost.com/news/fp-street/royal-bank-of-canada-fined-1-million-by-regulator-on-sales-of-reverse-convertibles
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