Category Archives: Snafu

Facts? Balance? Thoughtfulness?

Sadly, as the September 30, 2011 Global News Hour Final stories on the Abbotsford Heat and Abbotsford’s need for upgrading the city’s water system made clear, traditional broadcast media coverage all too often has little or nothing to do with facts, balance or thoughtfulness.

While the segment on the Heat did reference the $1.4 million subsidy paid directly to the Heat ownership for last year’s (2010/2011) season under the ten year revenue guarantee made by Abbotsford’s mayor and city council, it ignored or missed several important points.

Points such as: the indirect subsidies taxpayers pay for items such as the Heat banners adorning city lampposts or the advertising materials that adorn city facilities and buildings or the use of city staff to conduct business on behalf of the Heat.

Nor was there any mention of the yearly multi-million dollar operating subsidy to the Heat in the form of subsidizing the operations of the Sports Complex, the Heat’s home.

But the truly criminal aspect of Global’s story was the failure to address Abbotsford’s mayor and council signing an agreement to subsidize the Heat’s ownership that is illegal under the Community Charter that governs municipalities in BC.

No reference was made to Chilliwack’s mayor and council not entering into the same type of agreement to keep the Bruins (who moved to Victoria) in Chilliwack because as Chilliwack’s Mayor Sharon Gaetz stated “Under the province’s Community Charter, the city is not permitted to fund private business with taxpayers’ funds. This is deemed to be an assist to business and is strictly forbidden.”

Nor did Global say anything about Abbotsford’s mayor and council’s acknowledgement that the subsidy agreement with the Heat violates the Community Charter or their claims of having circumvented the law rather than obey it.

Global failed to question a mayor and council who, when a law forbids them from doing something they want to do, ignore/circumvent the law. Or ask just what else was circumvented or ignored behind the closed doors mayor and council prefer to operate from.

Later in the same broadcast Global’s story on Abbotsford’s need for a new water source left one wondering if some in Abbotsford were questioning the need to spend money on the City’s water infrastructure, while failing to address the true issue(s) of concern citizens have with Abbotsford’s mayor and council’s proposed upgrades to the water supply.

Contrary to the impression fostered by Global, nobody is disputing that Abbotsford needs to upgrade its water supply infrastructure. Indeed, many of those Mayor Peary labels as ‘naysayers’ – meaning they disagree with him – were calling on council to upgrade the water supply infrastructure before it built the ‘great white elephant’ AKA the Sports and Entertainment Complex.

There are major differences between the mayor and council’s intentions and the wishes/wants/best interests of the citizens of Abbotsford.

Council insists on using a P3 to upgrade the infrastructure, with Mayor Peary and council liking to talk about the $61 million grant they will get for going with a P3. Mayor Peary and council don’t like to talk about what prior ‘savings’ by mayor and council have cost the taxpayers (considerably more than the ‘savings’) or the fact that the increased costs associated with a P3 will be more (millions, tens of millions of dollars more) than the $61 million ‘savings’. Leaving Abbotsford taxpayers (once again) paying out of pocket for council chasing a mirage they call ‘savings’.

One significant cost the mayor and council like to overlook is that operating costs under a P3 would be at least a million dollars a year more expensive. Ironically this additional cost was included in the report commissioned by mayor and council to sell the project to the citizens of Abbotsford.

The mayor and council’s insistence on using a P3 ignores, as did the Global broadcast, the reality that around the world municipal governments are choosing not to use P3s on vital city resources such as water for a variety of good reasons, including keeping the control of vital resources such as water with the municipal governments.

Then there is the history and experience citizens have with the mayor and council’s promises as to what the total final cost of a project will be. The last time council told taxpayers the price was guaranteed by the contract with the builder (the last project council sold to the citizens) the cost of the project doubled. Costs that run over the cost promised by council by millions or tens of millions of dollars are simply normal operating procedure for mayor and council.

Keep in mind this is a mayor and council that built new Highway 1 interchanges where the roundabouts have signs telling drivers not to get in beside a truck because the design has trucks needing the entire roundabout to manoeuvre or where trucks tip over if they try to transit the roundabouts at or near the posted speed limits. A mayor and council that, with a short window for construction, a window that was open during the late fall/winter/early spring, thought hiring a firm that had never built a pool tank was a good idea.

Water is far too important a resource to go with a design build as the mayor and council want to. Yes, designing the system first in order to ensure it meets not just current but future needs, is robust enough for the years of service it will need to deliver and delivers the highest quality water requires far more of council than simply saying build me one of these – but council could always go back to meeting weekly to earn the salaries and perks they have voted themselves in recent years. More importantly, if the mayor and council are not willing to put in the time and effort required to ensure the needs and best interests of taxpayers are met – exactly why are they in office?

By its nature design build is a poor choice as the way to build a project, since the builder maximizes his profits by delivering the least he can, at the lowest cost he can, and meet the specifications of the contract. Design build is how you get roundabouts with signs warning cars not to enter beside trucks.

Abbotsford’s water infrastructure is too important to be built to the lowest standards and costs permitted by the contract.

Those are the major points of disagreement on upgrading the water infrastructure in Abbotsford. The disagreement is not whether we should upgrade, but about taxpayers wanting to ensure the upgrading is done correctly, managed well and has appropriate financial controls and frugality. As opposed to council’s take the easiest way out by going with a P3 and paying whatever the cost comes to.

All levels of government in Canada (municipal, provincial and federal) have a need to deal with a number of serious, complex issues at the same time they are constrained by the need to get their financial houses in order.

Unfortunately politics today are about politicians holding onto their power, perks and overly generous salaries by getting re-elected and has nothing to do with providing good governance and taking care of the people’s business.

Just as unfortunate is that traditional media is not about facts, balance or thoughtfulness. It is about the bottom line and best interests of whichever conglomerate the media in question is part of.

More unfortunate is that with the traditional media having become conglomerate owned and controlled, there is no media outlet for disseminating and discussing differing ideas, points of view and thoughts on what our priorities should be, the issues we need to address and how we should approach those priorities and issues. At least until such time as newer, open internet media such as The Tyee or Abbotsford Today are more well established and the public has an awareness of the new, emerging, information driven media world online.

I say more unfortunate because without information, knowledge and at least basic understanding you cannot make good choices and the functionality of democracy will continue to deteriorate.

With politicians focused on re-election and their own best interests and the public residing in wilful denial, media’s failure or refusal (or inability to recognize or understand?) to raise important issues, challenges and differing points of view in the public forum makes media partners with politicians and citizens clinging to wilful denial in our current sad state of affairs and the inauspiciousness of our future.

Media’s ‘news’ should, at the very least, resemble a broadcast containing facts, balance and thought, rather than having every appearance of being a promotional video for, in this case, Abbotsford’s mayor and council members seeking re-election in November.

Taxpayer Terror

Experience has made ” making profits” and ” saving taxpayers money” words and concepts that strike terror into the hearts of Abbotsford’s taxpayers when spoken by members of Abbotsford City Council.

Paying to cover the losses of Council’s ‘profitable’ get rich quick schemes or the costs of repairing, completing, redoing or living with the consequences of Council’s ‘saving taxpayers money’ has (and continues to) impoverish the taxpayers and citizens of Abbotsford, not just monetarily but also in terms of City services, infrastructure, amenities, the cost to use facilities etc.

One would have Hoped (Prayed) Council would have learned, after all their costly squandering of taxpayer dollars, to consider possible consequences of their actions instead of simply doing the math to arrive at the dollars that would be earned or saved IF and ONLY IF everything went absolutely perfectly.

What makes council’s recent announcement of their latest plan to reap big profits from electronic billboards notably worrisome is not the fact that once again council has, behind closed doors, created a fantasy world of imagined big profits that has little or nothing to do with the real world that rules existence outside the confines of City Hall. Nor is it that council still refuses to hear or consider any questions or objections raised by those who don’t share council’s fantasies.

No, what raises dread about council’s latest get rich quick ‘sit back and let the $millions$ roll in’ scheme is that, apparently unable to find any new financial disaster to pursue, council has RETURNED to the electronic billboards business.

Remember, council had to have a big, multicoloured, all the bells and whistles billboard for ARC because council could then simply ‘sit back and let the $dollars$ roll into city coffers’?

Since its installation no advertising dollars have materialized – none, zero, zip, nada. The ARC billboard has only been used, until recently at least, to deliver information about ARC’s programs and events that a smaller, simpler, far less expensive billboard would have sufficed to deliver at a substantial savings to taxpayers pocketbooks.

Yet in spite of the fact that none, zero, zip, nada of the advertising revenue promised by council ever materialized, council has returned to electronic billboards as a source of ‘profits’.

[Recently the billboard has been used to increase the dollar value/cost of council’s hidden subsidies for the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports complex by advertising upcoming events at the AESC.]

In light of Mayor Peary’s statements concerning the City’s agreement with the Pattison Sign Group one has to wonder if it is the ability to use the billboards to provide new, major advertising subsidization for the AESC and the Heat that led to the agreement?

The black hole that AESC is for taxpayer’s dollars – multi-million dollar subsidies to the Heat ownership group, multi-million dollar operating subsidies so the Heat have an arena to play in and the growing cost of council’s hidden (from taxpayer’s) subsidies – would seem about to consume millions more taxpayer dollars thanks to city council’s agreement with the Pattison Sign Group.

What makes me say that? Two things.

First is that councils big fancy digital billboard at ARC failed to attract advertising; that the only non-event  advertising on the Tradex electronic billboard is City advertising; that the display on the Automall’s very large, easily seen from Highway 1 electronic billboard is……..the time and temperature.

If there is no market for your product, in this case advertising on large electronic billboards, you are going to find yourself stuck holding said unsellable product.

Second, whatever else people have to say about Jimmy Pattison, they acknowledge that he is a sharp businessman.

The Pattison Sign Group is about to spend millions of dollars erecting 3 large electronic billboards in Abbotsford, were the lack of advertising dollars being spent on existing electronic billboards suggests there is a strong possibility that the Pattison Sign Group’s billboards will fail to generate sufficient revenue to break even on the billboards and their multi-million dollar cost.

Given council’s demonstrated willingness to provide revenue guaranties (a la the Heat) and the sharpness of Jimmy Pattison as a businessman – I want to know just how much Abbotsford’s taxpayers are potentially on the hook for when the billboards, which will operate in the real world and not council’s fantasy worlds, fail to generate enough revenue to cover their costs?

Unfortunately, what this agreement can cost Abbotsford’s taxpayers to pay for council’s latest get rich quick scheme’s ‘profits’ is undoubtedly something council considers taxpayers ‘don’t need to know’ and since it involves a private business they can (and will undoubtedly) refuse to disclose this information to taxpayers (as they do with the Heat).


I wonder how long it will be before council decides the problem with the AESC, as it would appear they did with ARC’s billboard, is that it is too small and that building a three or four times larger complex will have umpteen tens of $millions$ rolling in?

It is well past time that, if council wants to gamble on get rich quick schemes, they use their own money.

And if they cannot, as the BC lottery ads put it, learn their limits and play within them……

Because councillors are elected to take care of the City’s business and taxpayer’s best interests, not to be impoverishing taxpayers pursuing nonexistent business ‘profits’.

Aesthetically Pleasing?

Just how does one make a 10 X 20 foot electronic sign that is designed to be obtrusive and get your attention ‘aesthetically pleasing’?

And given that electronic signs have two sides would it not be more accurate to say Abbotsford is getting six signs? Or at least getting the visual pollution of six signs?

“stems the proliferation”?

To stem is ‘to stop, check or restrain’. I am not aware of the city being inundated with this type of visual pollution or of any proposals to visually pollute our cityscape with eye assaulting electronic billboards?

Council’s actions would seem to encourage others to consider the money to be made from this visual pollution; encouraging, not stemming the proliferation of visual pollution around our cityscape.

The attempt to use Amber alert as a justification is facetious since there are already signs on Highway One and around Abbotsford capable of giving an Amber alert.

No, what this is about is Council’s desperate search for sources of revenue so they can continue their spendthrift ways.

Business as usual for Council were it is all about Council’s wants and needs and ‘who cares about’ the wants or needs of Abbotsford’s citizens.

Council is suppose to focus on managing Abbotsford in the best interests of citizens, not on commercial business ventures.

The question that should have been asked is not how much money the city can make, but whether we want this type of visual pollution sprouting up like weeds around  Abbotsford.

While other cities in BC fight to protect their citizens from this type of visual pollution Abbotsford council, with dollar signs glowing in their eyes, happily sell Abbotsford’s citizens out; opening the door to visual pollution the extent of which only time will reveal.

Abbotsford, where the cityscape is littered with brightly glaring Signs of Council’s mismanagement and blatant disregard for the needs and best interests of Abbotsford citizens.

More ad hominem mayor Peary?

I see mayor Peary has changed the negative label he applies to any who dare disagree with him.

‘Naysayers’ have now become ‘critics’. Perhaps because the use of ‘naysayers’ reminds citizens that the predictions of the naysayers about the outcome and consequences of building the AESC have proven fairly accurate. Especially in contrast to the wildly inaccurate ‘everything will be wonderful’ predictions, claims and promises made by city staff and council.

When did critical review and evaluation of expenditures that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars become a bad thing?

Without the feedback provided by critical review and evaluation companies, countries, provinces and municipalities can easily end up wasting millions upon millions of dollars on projects that become white elephants and money pits. At least companies, countries, provinces and municipalities lacking papal infallibility.

Admittedly one needs solid self esteem to accept and examine the feedback provided by critical review, acknowledging oversights or mistakes and making changes as needed.

Personally, I must acknowledge that in my analysis and evaluation of the proposal to build the AESC I did not foresee that council would saddle taxpayers with a $75 million dollar liability for the Heat (of which $60 million remains for the 8 years the revenue guarantee has left).

Fortunately (or should that be unfortunately?) taxpayers are only out $5 – $6 – $7 million rather than the maximum possible $15 million for the first two years of the revenue guarantee.

I admit I failed entirely to anticipate that council would ignore the law – flout the law -break the law – and put taxpayers at risk for $75 million dollars by signing an illegal revenue guarantee with the Heat ownership.

As to Mayor Peary’s latest derogatory term for those who disagree with him:

Labelling me a critic or naysayer does not change what I am.

A person of common sense with an appreciation of financial reality and the need to act in a financially responsible manner.

A person who believes council should be acting in the best interest of and to address the needs of the city and its citizens and not council’s ego.

A person of ethics who believes that when subsidizing a hockey team is against the law council should respect the law rather than, as this council chose,  ignoring or finding ways to circumvent the law.

A person who feels that if the only benefit (or beneficiaries) of an economic impact report is the re-election campaign(s) of elected officials, payment for the report should come out of the pockets of those seeking re-election and not out of the pockets of taxpayers.

Insult to Insult to Injury

Over the years many people have compliment me on my willpower for my dedication in swimming 5 – 6 days a week. The truth is that it is not so much willpower or dedication as it is being highly motivated. 

As the years have accumulated all the contact sports, injuries etc have come home to roost with a vengeance. To maximize, to maintain, mobility and minimize pain I need to swim those 5 -6 days a week.

Which is why the sizable surcharge imposed on the users of the Abbotsford Recreation Centre (and the City’s other facilities) to pay the multi-million dollar subsidy for a professional hockey team and a multi-million dollar subsidy to the well connected members of the Heat ownership group is so painful both as a citizen of Abbotsford and physically.

The surcharges have pushed the cost of a pass for ARC from affordable (with planning and frugality) to out of reach for the best part of Abbotsford’s citizens – as well as propelling the cost of using public facilities well past the cost of using private facilities. Only in Abbotsford would you end up with the public facilities affordable only for the well-to-do and the private facilities affordable to the general public.

The reason I have not followed so many others to the private recreation facilities is that I am a length swimmer and it is only the public facilities that permit 25 metre lengths.

The limitations on swimming imposed by being able to afford to swim only during toonie swim times means that since pool fees moved into the stratosphere my mobility has been decreasing and my pain levels have been increasing.

Struggling stiffly, slowly and painfully up to start the day serves as a daily reminder of city council’s practice of serving the needs of council’s egos rather than the needs of the taxpayers – with the notable exception of well connected taxpayers.

Adding insult to the injury of the usurious surcharge is the decision to abuse perfectly fine walls with paint to caricature a mural – as opposed to using the money frittered away on the mural to keep the cost of admission less extortionate.

A mural that seems to have a great deal in common with a Rorschach inkblot adds yet another layer of insult. Filling balloons with paint and having patrons throw them at the walls would have gotten much the same look, at a negligible cost.

Council, in typical council fashion, painted murals in a building where the cost of painting the murals pushes the admission cost up leaving people unable to afford to use the facility and see the murals.

The purpose of public facilities is not to fritter away money on murals or to provide funds to provide multi-million dollar subsidies to/for a facility for a professional hockey team or to provide multi-million dollar subsidies for an ownership group to buy themselves (themselves – not the city that is paying the subsidies) a professional hockey team.

The purpose of public recreation facilities is to provide amenities that all citizens can afford to access.

AESC Economic Impact Report

Not really surprising that with an election only a few months away the mayor and council felt the need for an economic impact study on the AESC.

After all, with the AESC’s appetite for consuming taxpayer dollars, its multi-million dollar subsidy to a professional hockey team, its multi-million dollars subsidy for well connected local citizens to buy themselves said professional hockey team and the consequences of council’s decisions driving property taxes, facility admission costs, field rentals and other city fees and charges into the stratosphere – mayor and council were desperate for something – anything – that would allow them to claim the AESC was in some way good for the community.

In exchange for pouring tens of thousands more taxpayer dollars into the AESC’s black hole, mayor and council got a report with numbers they could point to and claim the AESC was positive for the community.

Of course……given that the methodology used to calculate the economic impact made it impossible not to get numbers that could be claimed to be positive, while ensuring no negative impacts would be recognized……means the report is meaningless in terms of assessing the impact of the AESC on Abbotsford.

Not much of a surprise that paying big bucks for an impact report resulted in the use of methodology that served mayor and council’s need for numbers that obscure and/or ignore actual impacts.

Methodology that resulted in an increase in economic impact in this second impact report on the AESC, over the first report prepared before the AESC opened.

Despite the fact that none of the promises made by council as to the financial performance of the AESC has materialized economic impact increased. Which is what happens when you use ‘multipliers’ to calculate economic impact – the higher the expenditure you apply the multiplier to, the larger the economic impact becomes.

In other words – the bigger a disaster, the more of a money sucking black hole the AESC becomes, the higher the number for economic impact becomes.

As to the report’s claim of the creation of 305 FTE jobs, the report did include the information that FTE jobs meant full time equivalent jobs.

What the report did not include was information on how the number 305 was arrived at. From the information contained in the report the number 305 appears to have been plucked out of thin air.

Even if 305 could be supported, what full time equivalent jobs means if that a lot of different people got a few hours of work here and a few hours of work there. As anyone who is looking for work or trying to survive in Abbotsford can tell you what is needed in Abbotsford is not full time equivalent jobs but full time jobs paying wages sufficient to live on.

Another non-surprise concerning the report is that the City’s news release as well as Mayor Peary’s comments omitted to note or draw the attention of taxpayers to the $15,208,000 Abbotsford portion of total AESC expenditures.

Or that – since if you read the report on economic impact you would discover the methodology used, the lack of any support for the claimed 305 FTE jobs and the $15,208,000 Abbotsford portion of total AESC expenditures – if you wanted to read the report it was not easily available on the City’s web site but required on to request a copy of the report from city hall.

Finally concerning mayor Peary’s statement “The critics of the sports centre either don’t understand, or choose not to understand, that there are some benefits.”

The question is not whether there are some benefits to the centre, obviously the ownership group and their businesses derive substantial benefits from the centre and from the pocketbooks of Abbotsford’s beleaguered taxpayers.

The question is about a) the benefits that the taxpayers should receive for their $15,208,000 portion of total AESC expenditures and b) how anyone with common sense, an understanding of fiscal reality and who behaves in a fiscally responsible manner could or would be expected to place any value on the expensive drivel contained in this new report on the economic impact of the AESC.