The headline I used for covering this announcement was far more diplomatic than the one the City of Guelph used for their press release: "Ministry confirms audit would be waste of time." I'm not sure that was quite the intent that Minister Linda Jeffery wanted to convey, but I suppose that headline nicely conveys, and in a succinct manner, the finding of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing: that there's no grounds for them to conduct a full audit of Guelph's finances as per a petition by GrassRoots Guelph.
Technically I would call the letter, which can be read here, a brush off. "I am satisfied that the remaining questions raised within the petition are local matters and the responsibility of Guelph City Council to address," the letter says in closing. "I have decided that no further ministry action is appropriate." Basically, the Ministry asked for the information they needed to make an assessment, got it, and have not seen the need to go any further, adding that if GRG wants to keep talking about their concerns, they'll have to talk to those running the city.
"The Minister’s letter reaffirms my confidence that the City of Guelph is well managed and has an open and transparent process," said CAO Ann Pappert in a statement. "The letter also confirms what we know to be true about the City—our financial position is not only strong, it’s getting stronger."
Then, to rub salt in the wound, Pappert added, "It’s a shame that despite these recognized practices and our provision of accurate information about City finances and operations, members of GrassRoots Guelph choose to ignore financial facts and use blatant misinformation to try to attack the organization’s reputation."
"This ridiculous statement is indicative of the callous disregard the City of Guelph's administration has for the qualified opinions of its citizens,"said GRG's Gerry Barker in response to the city's press release, which he, I think correctly, calls a "victory lap."
To the merits of their petition, and what they were apparently told during that first meeting with Ministry officials, Barker remains defiant. "The provincial authorities stated in a November meeting with GRG representatives that the numbers contained in the four-page petition are accurate," said Barker.
"The same day we met with Ministry officials, they went to City Hall to discuss our issues with City officials," Barker added. "To this day we have not received copies of the notes of their meeting with the City."
Leaving aside the sometimes fickle nature of official note-taking, Barkers often stated position that the Ministry agreed with GRG's interpretation of the numbers has always seemed like overeagerness. At the end of October Barker tweeted that the MMAH was going to investigate Guelph's finances, but MMAH spokesperson told the Guelph Mercury that, "A decision about an audit has not been made."
Barker now seems to be confusing the ministry's acknowledgement that the numbers given by GRG and the City as being correct to be the same thing as meaning that they're both interpreting them the same way. You can look at the temperature and say that 15 degrees Celsius is cold if it's an August day, but 15 degrees is rather warm on a February day. Or to look at it another way, and befitting the conspiratorial nature that the GRG seems to be addressing the issue, one person may look at the pictures from the Apollo moon landing and see man's greatest accomplishment, and someone else may look at those same pictures and see all the flaws that say that the moon landing was faked. Both may agree that these are legitimately photos from NASA, but disagree completely on what they say.
Regardless of the decisions rendered today, GRG pledges to keep up the cause, and is reportedly pondering that meeting with city officials suggested by the minister. In the meantime, I sense it's unlikely that Barker et al will give up on this theory that there's a conspiracy afoot at City Hall to bankrupt Guelph through mismanagement and lofty progressive ideas. Despite this initial setback, will GrassRoots Guelph be a factor in the upcoming municipal election? Time will tell.