London’s Ring Road – Where Would It Go?

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Someone by the name “Oldtyme Hockey” posted this on the London Free Press’ story about London’s $200M Downtown Master Plan unveiling last night. I tried to reply to it because it goes to something I’ve actually given a lot of thought to, but the comment is being held in moderation (probably due to length, like another one I posted earlier today). I wanted to post it here to make sure it gets out.

Oldtyme Hockey said:

There is a transportation corridor available from Highbury downtown along the railroad tracks – under the Quebec Street and Adelaide street bridges; along the tracks. A ring road could travel along Veterans Memorial, Sunningdale; west of Riverbend and cut across Col Talbot to Exeter Road. its workable.

That would make a ring road look like this (click for full version):

oldtymehockey-ringroad

My response:

You’ve had almost the same thoughts I had when I thought about where to put a ring road. And then the problems started…

1) VMP can’t be extended directly north without running through Forest City National Golf Club, Fanshawe Golf & Country Club, or Fanshawe Pioneer Village. So that won’t happen, and then you’re talking about using Clarke Rd instead.

2) Sunningdale is already too built up, and if you think the rich folk at Sunningdale Golf & Country Club will allow the city to take away more land than they are already to expand Sunningdale Rd, or that putting a ring road in front of a high school or through the middle of brand new subdivisions is going to happen, I think you’ve got another thing coming.

3) Almost everything west of Hyde Park Rd, that far north, doesn’t belong to the City. It belongs to Middlesex Centre. I think you meant Riverside, not Riverbend, in that case you’re talking about putting a road through the middle of London Hunt & Country Club, another high school, and an older residential area.

It’s not workable with the layout you’ve proposed, and loses its benefits if you push it our any further, despite what Coun. Henderson told me.

I guess the message is, even if a ring road was a good idea (I’m not convinced it is), there’s no easy answer when it comes to where to place it.

Letter to MPs Jim Flaherty and Bev Shipley

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The iPod tax/tariff issue that has reared its ugly head over the past few months, after the federal government introduced a “streamlined” set of tariffs, still isn’t over. I’ll spare you all the details and developments that have arisen since the issue was initially revealed by economist and professor Mike Moffatt, but suffice to say I thought it prudent to email my MP, Bev Shipley, and Minister Jim Flaherty about the issue. Below is the email I sent, and the responses I’ve received thus far.

Wed, May 29, 2013 at 10:43 AM

Subject: MP3 Player Tariffs & End Use Certificates

Good morning Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Shipley,
I write to you because, unfortunately, this matter of the so-called “iPod tax” is still entirely unresolved. Mr. Flaherty, you recent testified to the FINA committee, and unfortunately did not directly address Mr. Brison’s question. As seen here in Mike Moffatt’s most recent piece for Canadian Business magazine:
http://www.canadianbusiness.com/blogs-and-comment/flaherty-provides-more-questions-than-answers-on-end-use-certificates-and-the-ipod-tax/
I must say that I concur with Mr. Moffatt. Your answer to the question, “Can you confirm if the tariff exemption for iPods under 9948 will depend on a requirement to collect end user certificates? Yes or no?” was not sufficient.
Mr. Moffatt poses additional questions that I would really appreciate, and frankly expect, answers to. They are:

  1. Have any Canadian retailers collected end use certificates on sales to Canadian consumers?
  2. Is it true that the CBSA informed importers that end use certificates were not required for televisions and other consumer electronics? If so, why?
  3. What is the purpose of end use certificates for consumer electronics sold at retail?
  4. How will the CBSA audit end use certificates for consumer electronics sold at retail? Will those audits involve the CBSA contacting individual consumers?

And to add my own, I purchased two iPod Touch devices roughly two years ago from Best Buy. I was not asked to complete end use certificates for those devices. Should I have been asked to do so by a Best Buy employee? If not, how do those iPod Touch devices then qualify under the tariff exemption under 9948? If I should have been asked to complete the certificate, it seems CBSA has been misleading electronics wholesalers and retailers for several years now, putting it potentially at the liability of lawsuits.

I eagerly await your response, and I hope you’re both having terrific day.

The response I received from MP Shipley’s office one day later.
Thu, May 30, 2013 at 2:04 PM

Dear Mr. Silva,

On behalf of Mr. Shipley, I acknowledge receipt of your email. Thank you for writing to your Member of Parliament.

Mr. Shipley appreciates hearing your comments on this matter and will follow up with the Minister’s office regarding review and response of your correspondence.

Thank you again. Please do not hesitate to contact Mr. Shipley should you have other questions or concerns on any federal matter.

Sincerely,

Sarah Brown
Parliamentary Assistant to
Bev Shipley, MP
SW Ontario Caucus Chair
Lambton-Kent-Middlesex
613-947-4581

And, oddly, I received a PDF of a scanned physical letter just three days ago from Minister Flaherty’s office, mostly with the same message as the initial response from MP Shipley’s office. I know that the MPs are all sitting in the House for rather long hours at the moment trying to wrap up a great deal of business, but I’ll definitely be following up soon. I’m not going to let the summer recess give either MP Shipley or Minister Flaherty an opportunity to let this go by.

On Selling City Assets; There is a Middle Path

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The topic of selling City of London assets has come up quite often in the last few years. People have discussed what it would mean to sell Budweiser Gardens, downtown’s crown jewel, home of the London Knights and London Lightning. Selling London Hydro has also been discussed twice in the last year or so, and overall I don’t think that’s an idea worth pursuing. Here’s why.

Budweiser Gardens and London Hydro are both terrific, and profitable, assets. Budweiser Gardens is already partly owned by other entities; the City of London is not its only shareholder. So control is already split there, which helps when new capital expenses arise. It means the City isn’t on the hook for everything.

On the other hand, London Hydro is wholly owned by the City, which means only the City (and its citizens) benefit from the dividend it distributes. Last year that was over $7 million, which would mean the City would have had to find an additional $7M this year to avoid a massive property tax, user fee, or some other kind of fee hike.

That said, I’m not against looking what the City’s options are. Sure, let’s find out whether there are parties interesting in buying London Hydro. But let’s also:

  • See if there are suitors interested in purchasing a minority stake
  • Look at merging with another, likely smaller, utility
  • Outright purchasing another utility

Having another company purchase a portion of London Hydro may give us the best of both worlds: the City gets a cash infusion, perhaps $100 million for 33% of London Hydro, but the City and its citizens retain majority control.

Merging with another utility would achieve cost savings in reducing any duplicate positions, infrastructure, etc. So expenses could be lower, while revenues increase, leaving majority control with the City assuming London Hydro merges with a smaller utility. Purchasing a smaller utility would also achieve the same, but 100% of ownership would stay in London, whereas that wouldn’t happen in a merger.

On the other hand, there is at least one type of asset the City should offload: its golf courses. This was first bandied about two years ago, and then again last winter during budget season. River Road in particular has not done well overall, and it’s no wonder. London and area is chock full of terrific golf courses, including some nearby in Delaware, Komoka, Melrose, and even Strathroy. Even the middle of the road options in this case could have turned out to be disastrous, potentially losing the city another $500,000 in a single year. How many small businesses lose $500K and survive? Not many, but when you’re subsidized by a large tax base it’s much easier. When it looked all but certain that the city-owned golf courses would be shut down after letting them have one more year to turn things around, last year there was terrific weather and people flocked to play, so they made a bit of money. Not enough, however, to warrant taking money away from local businesses, in my opinion. The City shouldn’t be in the golf course market when there is plenty of competition from cheap-afternoon-out to luxury-experience.

And so, my point is, every situation has to be looked at individually. Adapting a “sell it all” mentality doesn’t do anyone any good, and blinds us to what good some of the City’s assets do. And on the other side of the spectrum, adopting a “keep it all” mentality also blinds us to the money pits some City assets can be, and certainly are, and where the City shouldn’t be extending its reach. Arena, hydro? Good. We don’t compete with private businesses in those markets, and overall they do the City a great service. Golf courses? Bad. Lots of competition, no net benefit to the City or its citizens; sell them.

 

My Phone Call with Councillor Henderson

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As a follow-up to my original letter to Councillor Henderson, a phone call and voicemail to his office, and then a subsequent phone call and voicemail on his cell phone did get him to call back on April 5, 2013. Here’s how the call went, along with some conclusions.

Councillor Henderson didn’t quite put my name and the letter together, so I refreshed his memory. He let me know he was driving to a meeting somewhere, so I told him I would do my best to keep the call short and not distract him. I cherry-picked a few questions to ask him, instead of going through one-by-one.

Henderson started explaining the whole fiasco by explainging that two years ago, extra money was allocated to councillor’s budgets. Currently there is a ratio of four councillors per secretary, which doesn’t provide much time for each councillor to get the help they need. Some councillors have used that additional funding to hire a secretary, as “we’ve been hobbling along” making do without dedicated staff. The aforementioned budget was increased to $15,000 per year.

Henderson said that in the last six months there’s been so much trouble, they can’t get their work done, and the City decided to hire some students(?). Council agreed they were going to provide an additional $7,500 per year for communication purposes – whether that’s getting training, hiring someone for help, taking out ads in the paper, etc. That money was finally appropriated last fall.

When I switched topics (or rather tried to get him on topic) to the recent video camera debacle, Councillor Henderson then harkened back to the revised smoking ban debate. He said he checked with clerk regarding the expenses, and then went into a rant about increasing the cigarette smoking ban from 2m to 6m, and that he didn’t want that ban approved. Henderson is the Councillor who suggested increasing ban from 2m to 3m, and that measure was approved. Then he mentioned that maybe we should talk about carcinogenics overall, and let’s look at Toronto. I’m not familiar with Toronto’s smoking bylaws at the moment, so I’m not sure what that means.

Henderson began breaking up a lot, but proceeded to talk about the smoking ban debate for two or three more minutes. He finally got around to his point where, because a bunch of different sound bites that went out via the press, he sounded like a nut case, and he know there was no way he was going to get re-elected again if things continued this way. He mentioned that Metro has a far more accurate article, which I’ve found here.

He finally circled back around to the camera and YouTube channel issue, stating that the funds were pre-approved by the City Clerk. He purchased a $1,000 camera, a couple of lights, and got a few good responses (responses to what, he didn’t elaborate). And as a follow-up to the City Council meeting that happened just prior to our conversation, he said that the City Clerk and Mayor have both confirmed that the equipment is Henderson’s to keep, despite the City reimbursing him for the purchases.

I moved onto the issue about comments being disabled on both his blog, and his YouTube channel; I didn’t understand how this was “engagement” when he’s not offering constituents the chance to engage using the very mediums he’s using to communicate with them. At this point Henderson went into a bit of a tirade, saying he receives 65 emails a day, along with phone calls. He said he doesn’t use a Twitter account because he can’t watch it for 10 hours a day. He didn’t address his blog or YouTube channel’s comments functions. But he did say that he uses email and phone only, as that’s all he has time for, meanwhile Councillors do just as much work as the Mayor.

I asked him about the ad distribution program with YouTube, to which Henderson responded that he didn’t know anything about the ad program initially, but that he saw the option for ads about a week after starting DaleTV. He said he’s going to keep any money sent his way from YouTube because it costs money to film, edit, and upload the videos (using equipment the City has paid for). He also went on to say that the City is going to start broadcasting more and more livestreams, bypassing the media, and that the media isn’t happy about it. I’m not quite sure how he reaches that conclusion, but it was very clear that Henderson dislikes most of the City’s press outlets.

The last thing I asked Councillor Henderson about was his comments about a ring road, annexation, and the need for “quietly deciding where road will go.”

He replied saying he wants to annex nearby communities, and get the Planning Department to decide where the best place for the ring road to go would be. It’s quite obvious he didn’t understand the legal implications of his statement. He does, however, think that a ring road north of the city would benefit people who live in the core. I’ve given this some thought, and haven’t been able to come up with any ideas as to how that would happen. Regardless, that’s his opinion.

We concluded our conversation with Councillor Henderson stating that his big focus (with DaleTV) is “definitely getting my ideas out there, no matter how crazy they sound.” And that, “I want to be a leader, and hear people say, ‘Hey, these are new ideas.’” He then attempted to prove his point by introducing me to the idea of a London Film Association, how it was going to kickstart job creation, that it wouldn’t have any membership fees, etc. He invited me to the launch on April 11, but it was scheduled during the day.

Conclusions:

  • The fact that the City Clerk pre-approved the purchase, and then stated the equipment was Henderson’s to keep, is very problematic. If the City pays for it, it ought to belong to the City.
  • Henderson doesn’t seem to understand the point of Twitter, and the fact that he does not need to monitor it for 1 hour a day, let alone 10 hours. The point is to be on there, response to questions/comments/concerns, perhaps provide a bit more insight into his thinking, etc.
  • There are a lot of issues preventing the Planning Department from simply putting a ring road wherever it wants, and doing so “quietly” without expecting any landowners not to ask for a decent sum of money to move them off their land. That issue alone is fraught with risk.
  • Henderson is definitely getting his ideas out there, “no matter how crazy they sound.” I still don’t think they’re helping his chances for re-election in Ward 9.

What do you think?

Letter to Councillor Dale Henderson

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Ward 9 Councillor Dale Henderson

Ward 9 Councillor Dale Henderson

Earlier today I sent this letter to City of London Councillor Dale Henderson regarding the recent revelations that he spent over $7,000 on video equipment, a website, and graphics for DaleTV.ca. Additionally, he has explained he will “probably” keep the equipment, despite being reimbursed, once he has completed his career in London municipal politics.

References: The McLeod Report | London Free Press | AM980

From: Derek Silva
To: Dale Henderson
CC: Joe Fontana, Bud Polhill, Joe Swan, Nancy Branscombe, Judy Bryant, Matt Brown
Date: Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 10:00 AM
Subject: DaleTV

Dear Councillor Henderson,

I am, frankly, rather disappointed with how you have conducted yourself lately. Not only are you embroiled in today’s Open Meetings investigation being conducted by staff of the Ombudsman’s office, but yesterday’s controversy surrounding DaleTV, and it’s related expenses, have begin to shine one very dark light on you.

Personally I have not been very impressed with your tenure thus far as a City Councillor, and I suspect many of your constituents feel the same. In fact, I’m certain they do, as I’m personally in contact with many of them on a frequent basis as friends and acquaintances. I’m going to ask you a few questions that I believe deserve answers, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s looking for them.

  • Why was so much money spent on DaleTV? Why did it cost so much for something that could have been achieved for under $500 using a more suitable camera, less expensive video editing equpiment, building a green screen yourself (there are many tutorials online), and buying a stock photo to achieve a similar background?
  • If this is a community engagement activity, why are comments disabled on your YouTube channel and website/blog? It doesn’t seem to encourage much engagement if people cannot communicate with you using the same method you want to communicate with them.
  • Given that you want the City to reimburse you for the money spent on the equipment and production for DaleTV, will you also be sharing revenues derived from the YouTube channel? For example, I had to watch a 15 second advertisement prior to watching Episode 1. I’m also a member of YouTube’s revenue sharing program, and know for a fact that ad revenue will be shared with you from those ads.
  • If the City reimburses you for the money spent on the equipment, how do you justify your statement on “probably” keeping the equipment after you complete your tenure with London municipal politics?
  • You are, seemingly, a fiscal conservative. How do you justify these types of costs under the ideology of attempting to save taxpayers money, reduce City expenses, and lower spending overall? For example, you claim it will be less expensive for many of the communities north of the City if London were to annex them and put in the sewers for them. You have also supported the tax freeze that Mayor Fontana has put forth each year. Clearly you’re interested in reducing taxpayer costs.
  • In episode 2, you talk about a ring road and annexation. How exactly do you propose to, “quietly decide where that [ring] road will go, so we don’t have all the property values go to the moon,” as you put it? I’m fairly confident that would violate several laws related to open meetings, and therefore is simply illegal.

You, Councillor Henderson, have much to answer for. I’m afraid you have many ideas, but want to do many things in secret. That is highly unethical, and I don’t feel any of your ideas don’t result in going to taxpayers and say, “Gimme more, gimme more.” I look forward to your responses.

Oh, and I have also CC’d each member of the Corporate Services Committee. Given that they played a part in approving the DaleTV-related expenses, I felt they should see the questions I’m asking, along with your answers. I hope you don’t mind.

Sincerely,

Derek E. Silva

http://dereksilva.ca/

“My strategy can be reduced to two rules: 1) Find a way to make it fun and 2) If that fails, find a way to do something else.” – Paul Buchheit