Category Archives: Blog

Timing of Region of Waterloo debt issue saved $1.4M

The Region of Waterloo estimates it saved about $1.4 million worth of interest payments by carefully timing its latest debt issue.

The region and the cities of Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo joined to issue $65 million of debentures at historically low interest rates over ten and 20-year terms on October 21.

Craig Dyer, the region’s chief financial officer, wrote in an email that the region and its advisers closely followed shifts in the bond market for weeks.

“Government of Canada bond yields increased in the first two weeks of September and then dropped significantly over the following four weeks.

“Had the Region launched the deal at the peak on September 18, the [weighted average] cost of borrowing would have been approximately 3.277 per cent,” Dyer said.

However, with patience and thorough analysis, the region was able to secure an overall weighted average interest rate of 3.022 per cent.

For comparison purposes, by issuing the debenture on October 21 rather than September 18, Dyer calculates the region saved approximately $1.4 million in interest payments over the 20-year term.

Niki Allerton’s campaign attacks of Scott Davey over Kitchener’s debt are unfounded

It recently came to my attention that a candidate for Kitchener city council in Ward 1 used my name to apparently try to discredit an opponent.

First, Niki Allerton wrote on her campaign Facebook page that she is concerned about Kitchener’s financial position and seemed to imply that incumbent Scott Davey – chair of the finance committee for the last three years – is somehow responsible for debt increases during the 2010 to 2014 council term.

Here’s Allerton, quoted unedited.

“The incumbent has shown forecasts of our debt going down without any source or details …”

“…our debt has gone UP by over $20 MILLION DOLLARS in the last 4 years!”


“…it’s time for someone with ACTUAL experience in banking and finance who can deliver efficiency AND value for your tax dollar.”

And later in a reply, she used my name:

“So Scott Davey tweeted that his source for the projection is Mike McCulloch… so let me get this straight: Our chair of finance has the Rogers debate moderator doing his financial projections for him?”

Again, the entire bizarre post is here. For the record, Allerton claims she was in no way trying to use my name to discredit Davey.

I wasn’t going to get involved in the high school-educated former banker’s apparently misleading campaign. However, when a candidate decides to use my name for political gain, they cross a line and I am left no choice but to set the record straight.

In order to understand the city’s current debt position, it needs to be viewed through the context of recent history and a full-slate of facts needs to be presented. Not just the convenient ones.

In 2004, after thorough public consultation, City of Kitchener council approved a $110 million stimulus package called the Economic Development Investment Fund.

The city funded EDIF through $89 million of debt and $21 million in tax levy increases averaging 1.22 per cent each year of ten years. From 2004 to 2013 the city issued $8.9 million in debt each year and raised an average of about $2 million in taxes to help pay for a number of strategic investments.

EDIF was designed to breathe new life into the city with emphasis on reviving the downtown core.

The stimulus package was originally approved by the 2003 to 2006 class of Kitchener council including mayor Carl Zehr and councillors Berry Vrbanovic, John Gazzola, Geoff Lorentz, Michael Galloway, John Smola and Christina Weylie. The vote was 6-1, Gazzola registered the opposing vote.

Rod Regier, the city’s director of economic development, recalls the economic climate in 2004:

“The Canadian dollar was rising dramatically against the US dollar, our manufacturers were losing market share, we were seeing a significant decline in manufacturing; and our only other plan was to build more industrial land and sell it to manufacturers from outside the region. We knew that was not going to happen.”

To top it off, downtown Kitchener was, as Regier said, “dramatically under-performing the rest of the city in terms of growth, job creation and its financial contribution to the city.”

“Dozens of vacant store-fronts, nobody wanted to live downtown, nobody wanted to be downtown,” Regier said.

Under the leadership of Carl Zehr and successive terms of council, the city made several key investments:

  • $30 million toward the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy
  • $6.5 million for the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Social Work
  • $32.5 million for major expansion and renovation of the Kitchener Public Library main branch, including parking
  • $13.9 million for centre block development, including land acquisition and demolition of the condemned Forsyth building
  • $5.5 million for a yet-built centre block parking garage
  • $5.1 million to redevelop the downtown streetscape
  • $2.7 million for Victoria Park improvements
  • $500,000 invested into the Communitech Hub

Complete EDIF spending breakdown on slide two of this .PDF file.

The EDIF investments acted as a catalyst and sparked private investment. In the 2014 EDIF impact analysis, the city said between 2010 and 2012, there were 863 startups associated with the Communitech Hub and 60 companies established through the University of Waterloo’s Velocity program. The Hub helped attract $350 million in investments while Velocity startups netted over $100 million in funding.

As startups graduate from the Hub, they are creating demand for office space. This has helped lead to private investment by Perimeter Development, among other substantial projects, to redevelop the Breithaupt Block. The development recently landed high-profile tenants in Square and Motorola, and it’s where Google is building a 200,000 square foot office facility.

EDIF investments have also made downtown Kitchener more attractive for large residential projects, first with the development of the Kaufman Lofts. More recently, large 17 and 19-storey condo towers City Centre and One Victoria broke ground. The city says these two projects alone will combine to generate about $450,000 a year in City of Kitchener property tax revenue.

“EDIF was transformative; it allowed us to be real partners in the development of a new economy. Without EDIF, we might have been whistling Dixie,” Regier said.

“Carl [Zehr] has provided absolutely invaluable leadership of the whole process, from conceptualization to the implementation,” Regier said.

With EDIF related debentures leading the way, Kitchener’s debt peaked at $112 million in 2013, the last year of the stimulus program.

Scott Davey, chair of the finance committee said he is, “ecstatic the debt is declining now for the first time in decade.”

“Based on the 2014 budget, Kitchener’s debt will continue to decline without the need to raise taxes one penny,” he said, “and by next year, the city’s debt should be $93 million.”

“The debt isn’t a beast that needs to be slayed. It’s something that has already been dealt with,” Davey said.

This City of Kitchener graph demonstrates how the city’s debt is projected to drop through 2023:

Kitchener debt projection
City of Kitchener projected total debt outstanding. (Kitchener financial planning department/ 2013 capital budget)

Download EDIF and debt related slides from the 2013 capital budget.

By the end of 2015, Kitchener’s debt per household is expected to drop below $1,000 – the upper threshold of the moderate range.

Meanwhile, the city has a brand new and burgeoning economic engine, improved assessment growth and rapidly growing population in the core.

While there is no doubt the EDIF investment is now delivering major economic returns to Kitchener and the greater region, the decision to take on $8.9 million in debt every year for the last ten years was made two councils and six years before this current group of eleven representatives sat down around the horseshoe.

Davey and his peers had little they could do about the city’s debt level when they took office in 2010; but ride the wave and try to stay afloat.

Director of financial planning, Ryan Hagey said:

“The current council had very limited ability to adjust the EDIF levy as it was part of a much bigger program that was put in place before they were elected.”

In closing, voters should be wary of misleading campaign material. In the age of spin, candidates are likely to attempt to present parts of facts that cast doubt onto the competency of their competitors.

Ask yourself, do you want a councillor who will tell you half the truth to get what they want?

It’s an important question.

There is no question, however, that Kitchener’s EDIF related investments in the core have transformed the city’s economy for the better.

Questions over the value of taking on debt to fund the historic economic stimulus package are long since answered and their onus does not belong to the 2010 to 2014 term of council.

They are however, as the 2014 to 2018 group will be, responsible for managing the debt.

Allerton was unable to be reached for further comment before this story was published.

Two other candidates are running in Kitchener Ward 1, Marcus Drasdo and Wayne Reihl.

New Jay Aissa robocall claims LRT can be stopped, infuriates resident

Waterloo Region resident Jennifer Adams is upset over a “disingenuous,” robocall she received from the Jay Aissa campaign Monday afternoon.

The message claims the “LRT is not a done deal, as [Ken] Seiling would have you believe. You will have the last word on the future of the LRT,” the pre-recorded message states.

“That’s outrageous,” Adams said as she finished playing back the message over the telephone on Tuesday afternoon.

“I think [the robocall] is disingenuous. I think that it’s the worst kind of Republican-crap that we need to get rid of in Canada.”

“If you have an alternate argument to present, fine. Present it accurately. But no-one is going to be able to get out of the contracts that have been signed, the arrangements that have been made without it costing more than the LRT is going to cost,” Adams said.

Municipal elections will be held on October 27 across Ontario to select new municipal councils and school boards.

Aissa is  is one of seven people running for the Regional Chair position, including long-serving incumbent Ken Seiling.

Five broadcast language clutches that irk me

Anyone who has spent any length of time in broadcasting and/or journalism has used these terms on the air and in their stories. Including me.

And if you watch and listen to enough content you are likely to hear each of these little gems of nonsense.

For the offending broadcaster, sometimes the realization of how godawful these terms and words are only comes after their ridiculousness has been revealed by a  colleague, superior or listener moments after uttering them into a microphone.

I present to you five of those shudder-inducing broadcast-isms that I have come to hold in contempt.

1) “It’s a crash-free drive.”

I used to say this one in about every “crash-free” traffic report I delivered up until it was pointed out to me how backwards it is. The way it was phrased to me by my superior was something like, “we would never report a knifing-free night in Kitchener.”

So report what the drive is, not what it isn’t. No crashes to report? It’s a smooth drive, it’s a great drive, typical drive-time volume. Just not a crash-free drive. Please.

2) Use of the word “blaze” in place of “fire.”

I’m guilty here too. But honestly, why say it? We hear it all the time when the announcer tries to soup-up their script with synonyms to fire. Sure, by definition a blaze is a very large fire. But is an overnight kitchen fire really worthy of being elevated to the status of blaze? And is this word even really used in conversation? Between human beings? Just say fire.

Additionally, overly flowery writing in broadcast makes me scratch my head. Just say it.

3) “Give yourself extra time.”

This phrase, while well-intentioned, is absolute nonsense. If I could give myself extra time I would win a Nobel Prize, because it’s impossible. Time is intangible. Time is fleeting. Time is a human construct used to measure the rotation of planet Earth.

Time is not something one can give themselves more of.

This little treat of poppycock language is dragged out of the broom closet and dusted off every time the road conditions turn for the worse. What the announcer means is either “leave early,” for where ever you’re off to, or “leave extra space,” between your vehicle and others on the roadway, because it’s covered in a slippery substance known (on the radio) as “the white stuff.”

Which brings me to 4) “We’re going to receive 10 to 15 centimetres of the white stuff today.”

I can honestly say I have never conjured up this phrase for use in person, on the air or online (except right now). Why? Because it’s another one of those things that only broadcasters say. Broadcasters, just do yourself and the public a favour and call it what it is; snow.

5) “Welcome back.”

Usually heard in talk radio after a commercial break. I wonder to myself, “where did I go?” when hosts use this phrase. Includes the variation “we’re back.”

What are some broadcast language crutches that irk you? Remember, by bringing them forward we can improve the quality of our collective radio and television experience together. Get me on Twitter, @McCullochKW.

Kitchener council candidate Harald Drewitz smears incumbent Bil Ioannidis

Smear campaign
1.  a campaign to tarnish the reputation of a public figure, especially by vilification or innuendo.

Harald Drewitz is running a negative, or smear campaign in his bid for a Kitchener city councillor position representing Ward 7, centred around the Forest Heights, Westheights and Highland Hills areas.

Take for example a portion of a post on Drewitz campaign website where an apparent letter from an anonymous Ward 7 “senior” named Gary is featured.

The post is titled ‘A senior’s reaction to the Roger’s (sic) Cable Ward 7 debate’, which as you may know, I had a front seat for as the host-moderator.

This excerpt is from the third and fourth paragraphs of Drewitz post:

“Mr. Ioannidis’ excessive rhetoric betrays his fear to tackle a potentially difficult issue.  He speaks a lot and says nothing.  I want the person who is going to represent me to be able to stand in front of a group and make a presentation with the courage of their convictions.

Mr. Ioannidis spoke at length about the high number of seniors in the ward. Why then did he fail to address the concern that I as a senior spoke about at the debate?”

This last part is where I get confused. There was no one named Gary at the debate. In fact, we did not have a live audience or any live interaction from television viewers. So who is Gary? And what concerns did he speak about at the  Rogers TV debate?

Whether Gary is real or imagined to push Drewitz agenda, this type of negative politicking bewilders, and frankly, disgusts me. Get me on Twitter @McCullochKW with your opinion.

A third candidate, Fauzia Mazhar is also running to represent Kitchener Ward 7.

Election day is nine days from now on October 27.

Vote wisely my friends.

Dan Glenn-Graham appears to have contradicted himself

Kitchener mayoral candidate Dan Glenn-Graham is embroiled in controversy with ten days until the October 27 election due to an email he claims was sent by a team member using his campaign iPhone.

The email is written in first person and is signed “Dan”. It appears to show Glenn-Graham asking Kitchener Ward 2 councillor candidate Wasai Rahimi to withdraw from the election and support competitor Dan Graham.

Both CBC Kitchener-Waterloo and 570 News have produced thorough stories on the matter.

In reading and listening to each outlet’s coverage, I have identified at least one contradictory piece of information gleaned from the interviews with Glenn-Graham which you can find attached to the stories I have linked above.

In the CBC interview aired Friday at 8:25 a.m., host Craig Norris asked Glenn-Graham to name the person who sent the email in question. He responded “I don’t think that would be appropriate.”

Then in an interview aired on 570 News Midday Show Friday at about 11:10 a.m., host Eric Drozd asked, “Do you know who sent the email?” Glenn-Graham’s response was, “At this point, it’s not clear to me, so no I don’t.”

Both interviews were presented as live conversations.

The key discrepancy here is that in the CBC interview, Glenn-Graham appears to be shielding the identity of the campaign staff member in question implying he knows who it is. Yet in the 570 News interview, he is no longer clear as to who that person is.

Campaign fairness

Meanwhile, I asked a (rhetorical) question on Twitter surrounding campaign fairness that elicited a number of responses from current municipal candidates. The question followed this statement regarding candidates being able to live with the choices they make in order to get elected.

What do you make of this latest plot twist in the race to form Kitchener’s next council? Get me on Twitter, @McCullochKW

James Rhodes drops Kitchener mayoralty bid; endorses Dan Glenn-Graham

And then there were four.

James Rhodes has dropped out of the race to become the next mayor of Kitchener.

Glenn-Graham expressed his appreciation to Rhodes for the endorsement. 

However, Rhodes name will remain on the ballot on October 27, because the deadline to officially withdraw from the municipal election was September 12.

Certainly an interesting turn of events. Rhodes sudden change of heart less than two weeks before the election seems a little odd. People don’t often enter a race for political office only to call it quits and endorse a competitor during the home stretch.

Election campaigns aren’t cheap. Rhodes has a website, campaign signs and has made the time commitments to participate in a number of debates.

Glenn-Graham, Berry Vrbanovic, Peter Martin and Slavko Miladinovic remain in Kitchener’s mayoralty race.

Poll: Do you intend to vote?

In three weeks from Monday, residents of municipalities across Ontario including here in Waterloo Region, will elect new mayors, councillors and trustees.

However, voter turn-out – especially in municipal politics – is awful. Anywhere from 25 per cent to 35 per cent of eligible voters actually cast a ballot.

For example, let’s look at the Cambridge mayoralty race in 2010, which had three candidates, Doug Craig, Andrew Johnson and Linda Whetham. According to the City of Cambridge website, out of 80,714 eligible voters, only (and I mean only) 23,494 people voted.

That means 29.1 percent of eligible Cambridge voters took the time to elect their mayor.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, or are truly disengaged and didn’t know, Doug Craig won. He collected 47.8 per cent of the vote.

That means of eligible voters, Craig was elected into another term as mayor by merely 13.9 percent of eligible voters.

13.9 per cent.

That’s it. That’s all.

Nothing against Doug, but that is not exactly an overwhelming mandate.

And this is nothing new. The case is the same in virtually every city, in every ward and for every position up for grabs.

Municipal governance is the layer of politics both most responsive and most likely to affect our day-to-day lives. And yet, very few people seem to be engaged in a democratic right that people have given their lives to deliver. A right that is supposed to under-pin our society.

So it begs the question. Are you going to exercise your civic duty, and make your opinion count?

Do you intend to vote in the municipal election on October 27? free polls


When I quit smoking

Nearly eight years ago I quit smoking.

And Guess what? It was hell; one of the most difficult things I’ve done.

But I had help. I used a prescription drug to get me past the overpowering cravings that followed in the first few days and weeks after my last cigarette. I also had family and friends who encouraged me to stay on course and permitted my irritability. Oh yeah, I also had a co-worker who used my predicament as an opportunity to try to get under my skin for his schadenfreude-fueled amusement. His plan worked.

And I also had willpower. I wanted to quit. I’d grown disgusted by smoking. The taste. The odour. The stinging sensation from smoke that had risen into my eyes. I was also concerned about the huge physical and financial toll of my near pack-a-day addiction.

I realized a major component to beating nicotine was patience. I had to learn to wait-out the cravings. That being said, the first few days combined to form a virtually continuous craving. It felt as if there was a nagging little voice in the back of my mind working to justify just one more cigarette.

I also learned that my addiction to nicotine had become ingrained into my daily routine. Wake up? Have a cigarette. Eat breakfast? Wash that down with smoke. Coffee? Smoke. Leave home for work? Smoke. Exit any building? Yep.

I had to  recognize that each of these day-to-day moments triggered cravings.

The good news is the intensity of these urges subsided over time. The same cravings that once seemed so absolutely physically and psychologically compelling gradually became mildly annoying and then almost non-existent.

Today, I’m only occasionally tempted by nicotine cravings. But it’s almost always when I am confronted by a waft of the seducing aroma generated by the lit cigarette of a downwind smoker. Or if I see cigarettes portrayed in a movie, television show or video game. Gone are the days when my daily life was filled with craving triggers.

I quit smoking on October 2, 2006.

However, my self-imposed “quit-date” was actually the day before, October 1. I had several cigarettes left-over for what I convinced myself were for, you know, just in case I couldn’t handle it. I struggled most of that entire day before I gave in to the cravings and relapsed. I smoked two or three cigarettes in a row.

That last nicotine-induced rush of dopamine-laced euphoria quickly turned to regret. I pulled the last two cigarettes out of the pack and crumbled them in my hand.

I haven’t looked back.

Quitting smoking was absolutely difficult. But none of the best things in life are easy. The time that I have spent not-smoking  has been enjoyed by my family and friends, and has been invested into leisure and work. The money I haven’t spent on cigarettes has been spent elsewhere. And finally my overall health is undoubtedly better.

My Conestoga College admittance demo

I was disappointed to learn that the Conestoga College Broadcast Radio program (from which I am a proud alum) no longer asks for a portfolio when prospective students apply.

I was disappointed because when I applied to the program in June (or something) of 2009, I worked tirelessly on a demo that included a few parody commercials.

I was (and still am) proud of the work I put into these recordings. Listening to them today, I feel like they offer a glimpse into the not-so-distant past when I was dreaming upon a star to get my foot in the door of the radio business.

When listening, please keep in mind I had no formal training at the time. I was also using a crumby little dictation microphone not suited for broadcast-quality audio.

So without anymore throat-clearing, I present to you; me trying to be funny five years ago. Be gentle.