Monday, 7 May 2018

Autobiographical Notes, Part 3

Bruce Nuclear site, in the foreground Bruce GSB (left) and Bruce B switchyard (right).

After 1992 my life seemed to have several parallel streams, even more so than it had before, so that's the way I'll present this.

If you missed the first two parts of this series, have a look here: Part 1 and Part 2.

Power and Politics

For most of the twentieth century, the province of Ontario was the industrial heartland of Canada. Ontario Hydro, as the supplier of cheap and plentiful electrical power, was a major enabling factor of that situation. Hydro was seen as an example by other power utilities, who used us as benchmark for their activities.

Ontario Hydro was publicly owned from when it started in 1906 as the Hydro Electric Power Commission. In 1974 (incidentally the year I was hired) the HEPC was reconstituted as Ontario Hydro, a "Crown Corporation" with a single stock holder: the provincial government. Our CEO reported directly to the Minister of Energy. When things weren't going well economically for the province, Hydro was a convenient scapegoat for the high cost of power (regardless of what the cost was) and the competence of Hydro's management would be questioned. And when things weren't going well at Hydro, the fortunes of whatever political party was in power would often take a dive.

In the 1980's, based on expected economic growth, the province was going to need a lot more power over the coming decades, and supplying that power was going to mean a big upfront investment in new generation and transmission lines. But cost and schedule overruns on construction of the nuclear plants at Pickering and Bruce led to controversy over whether Hydro was competent to undertake such a program of expansion. More overruns in the construction of the Darlington Nuclear plant in the early 90s further fueled that controversy.

"Fortunately", those forecasts of economic growth didn't pan out and Ontario switched from being Canada's industrial heartland to being Canada's rust belt. And Ontario Hydro went from being the benchmark for utility operations to "a failing utility", even though in the late 90s we were making record profits. We went through several reorganizations and downsizings and many stern lectures about running the company "like a business".

In the mid 90s there was such concern over the "incompetent management" of the Hydro's Nuclear Generating division that a group of American nuclear experts (often referred to behind their backs as the seven horsemen of the apocalypse) were brought in to solve the problem. These poor fellows were pretty much in awe of the size of the Bruce Nuclear site, and proved to have little of value to offer.

It soon became obvious that the American nuclear industry had a strong military background, having started with nuclear submarines, and that culture clashed pretty badly with the more democratic Canadian approach to management. The whole effort was a poor solution to a problem that hadn't really been much of a problem in the first place.

But the American managers' zero tolerance approach did a lot of temporary damage to the positive workplace culture that had existed at the nuclear plants and soon taught our nuclear workers to hid things instead of being honest about mistakes and using them as learning opportunities for everyone. It seemed to me that things went back to normal after the Yanks left, although some may question that.

In 1999 Ontario Hydro was broken up into two commercial successor corporations, Ontario Power Generation Inc. and Ontario Hydro Services Company Inc. (OHSC), as well as to two not-for-profit agencies, the Independent Electricity Market Operator and the Electrical Safety Authority. About a year later, OHSC was renamed Hydro One.

The Conservative Provincial Government under Mike Harris planned to sell Hydro One, and the process for an initial public offering was well underway. But increased power prices and public concern over the advisability of privatizing the province's electrical grid caused the government to call the process to a halt and freeze power prices. It appeared to me that this controversy had a lot to do with the Liberal victory in the 2003 election.

In 2015 the Liberal government under Kathleen Wynne announced a plan to privatize 60% of Hydro One and despite considerable discussion about whether or not this was a good idea, over the next couple of years, 50.1 percent of Hydro One was sold, with the province retaining 49.9 percent.

In 2001 OPG leased the nuclear units at the Bruce site to Bruce Power, a partnership of several companies, including British Energy. In 2002 British energy dropped out, and Bruce power became wholly Canadian owned. The motivation behind this deal was that Bruce Power would raise the money for refurbishment of the 4 units at Bruce A (and eventually all 8 unit at Bruce), so the province didn't have to. This has gone well so far, except that Bruce Power has just as much trouble with cost and schedule overruns as Ontario Hydro did. And of course, when it is time to finally shut down the Bruce Units, OPG gets stuck with the job.

I should note here that the real reason for all these cost and schedule overruns is that the estimates for each of the jobs were low balled in the first place. If the estimates had been realistic, then approval never would have been given to go ahead with the projects. Ontario needed the power, we didn't want to admit the cost, so we accepted the unrealistically low estimates, and people with a golden parachutes took the blame when the dust settled at the end of each project. All part of the job, and nice work if you can get it.

My Job at Ontario Hydro/Hydro One

So, the job I got in the fall of 1992 was that of Union Trade Supervisor, Level 2 (UTS2), commonly known as Crew Foreman. There were two of us UTS2s in the crew at Bruce, each with a crew of 4 or 5 journeymen. As the name implies, we were in the same union as the people we were supervising.

As I said in my last post, I took this job to stop someone even worse than me from getting it. I approached the job with considerable trepidation and I was not disappointed. I do not get any thrill from being in a position of authority, and in any case this job came with no real authority. About the best you could hope for was to earn the respect and personal loyalty of the people working for you. Fortunately, my experience was that usually only about one person in twenty would be a serious problem.

One of the things that made being a UTS II at Bruce more challenging than at many other location in Ontario Hydro was the interface with the nuclear stations. We did a lot of work for them, mainly on their main output transformers and station service transformers. Most of this was done during unit outages and I had to work closely with the outage planners at Bruce GSB. Fortunately, the head of that department was Hans Braul, a friend of mine from Chamber Music Kincardine (see below). We had to coordinate with operators, control techs, mechanics and scaffolders from the plant and with OPG who provided cranes and crane operators. And despite the best efforts of the planners, much of the work got planned by the foremen from each workgroup, often getting together after the daily planning meeting was over.

I could tell many war stories about supervising people (herding cats is easier), but a bigger part of my job was coping with the many downsizings, reorganizations, and the eventual breakup of the company.

In 1996 the Electrical Mtce. crew at Hanover was shut down and the workers moved to the Bruce, two of them in my crew, and two of them in the other crew. This would have been bad enough, but the foreman from Hanover, a TMS2 (same level as UTS II, but in management rather than the union) was put in charge of the whole bunch of us. This is the same guy who'd made my stay in Hanover as an apprentice so miserable. It was a stressful time. The other UTS2 ended up quitting because of the conflict, and in 1999 the TMS II's health failed due to the stress and he retired. There was a "retirement package" in 2000 to encourage employees to take early retirement (easing the downsizing process) and 4 members of the crew left. I was left as the only UTS2, in charge of an eight man crew.

If my memory serves, there were seven different people in the position above me in the thirteen years between 1992 and 2005. Training many new bosses who had very little idea what they were doing was a constant challenge. Barry Fuller, who had been our District Foreman for many years retired in the fall of 1993, when Ontario Hydro offered a retirement package. During the following years, I began to realize just how good a supervisor Barry had been.

Even the title of that position changed occasionally and in April 2004 I became the eighth guy since 1992 in what was by then called the "Front Line Manager" position for Hydro One at Bruce. Once again, I took this job in self defense. The fellow who preceded me was a real problem child and I didn't want to take the chance that he would be replaced by someone as bad or worse. In the 15 months that I was in this position I think I did a fairly good job of and I was actually starting to win over the guy above me, who at the start had clearly had his doubts.

Taking this job involved moving to another bargaining unit, the Society of Energy Professionals. Hydro One's CEO at the time, a transplant from Australia, had taken it in his head to blame Hydro One's problems on the Society, especially the FLMs. Our contract expired in the spring of 2005 and it was obvious that management was looking for some major concessions. One was that new hires would be under a different and very much inferior contract and this was something we weren't willing to consider. At the start of June 2005 we went on strike.

This was a pretty acrimonious strike, with management working hard to stir up bad feelings between the Society and the Power Workers Union, the organization representing the people who worked for me. The thought of going back to work after the strike and having to represent management to the working guys was pretty appalling. As it happened, I was eligible to take early retirement by then and I did so, ending my career with Ontario Hydro/Hydro One at the end of June, 2005.

I miss some of my friends in the crew at the Bruce, but not the work. I probably could have gone back as a contract worker with either Hydro One or Bruce Power, but never did so. If I'd wanted to stay, I would have stayed as FLM and worked on some of the changes that I'd been aiming for. But it was not to be.

When I broached the idea of retiring with my wife she was very supportive, eager indeed to have been at home all the time. And neither of us has regretted it in the years since.

CMK and KSMF

Since 1988 I'd been volunteering with Chamber Music Kincardine (CMK), doing publicity for a yearly series of chamber music concerts in Kincardine. This continued until 2000 when decreasing support from the Ontario Arts Council made it infeasible to continue.

In the spring of 1992 it became clear that the summer music camp in Southampton was not going to happen, so a group of people in Kincardine organized the first Kincardine Summer Music Festival. This was set up as a project of CMK, as part of CMK's mandate to bring music to the community. KSMF was a music camp with evening concerts performed by the teaching staff. I attended as a violin student in 92 and 93 and in the fall of 1993 took over as publicity director.

I had the privilege of working with Ron Lewis, who was chair of the KSMF organizing committee and also happened to be the Station Manager at Bruce Generating Station B. He knew more about ethics and how to treat people well that anybody I've ever met. I learned a great deal from Ron. The Lewis' left the area in 1999 and I took over as chairperson of KSMF in the fall of 99.

In 1992 we had somewhat over 200 students enrolled and by 2002 enrollment was over 600 in programs including jazz, chamber music, band, strings, vocal and "Music for Young People". I passed the chair position on to one of the other organizers after the festival in 2001 and retired altogether after the festival in 2002.

C&I Graphics

In 1992, along with everything else that was going on, we bought our first desktop computer and a big inkjet printer and started a graphic design and printing business which we named C&I Graphics.

Experience gained at C&I was a big help when reorganization began at Hydro and I, as a supervisor, was expected to "run things like a business".

At the start we mainly did work for CMK and KSMF, but we soon acquired many other clients—individuals and businesses in the Kincardine area. One of these clients was John Sangster, a fellow who ran a screen printing business and had us produce artwork for him to print, mainly real estate signs. Then John became a real estate agent himself and asked me to create a website for him and take photos of properties as well.

We had an assortment of photocopiers over the years and then copiers that were also printers—you could print to them directly from the computer. The quality kept getting better and so did the capability to print on heavier paper and coated papers. By the early 2000s colour laser printers got to the point where they could be called "digital printing presses". We had a Canon Imagerunner first and then switched over to Xerox machines which were pretty much the equal of an offset press for short runs of printing, which we specialized in.

After I retired from Hydro One business picked up considerably.

There was quite a demand in the area for large printing on a one-off basis, something that John Sangster couldn't do since screen printing is all about doing larger runs. Late in 2007 I bought a second hand inkjet printer made for printing on vinyl which could do up to 36" wide and we started to get into the sign making business. In the winter of 2009 we replaced it with a 54" Roland inkjet/vinyl cutter which was amazingly capable. And durable—it is still in use today, over nine years later.

We were also getting requests to print and bind books and I picked up a very rudimentary perfect binding machine on ebay, and replaced it a year or so later with a better model.

In 2008 the Municipality of Kincardine got together with a local historian, Bill Pace (who I had worked with at Hydro One) to create a set of plaques describing the history of each of the business on the main street of Kincardine, to be hung in the front windows of each of those businesses. Working from Bill's research we did the design and typesetting and printed those plaques and later we printed and bound a book with a page for each of the plaques. This was excellent publicity for our sign making and book binding capabilities.

In 2010 I was contacted by Eunice Lawrence, a retired school teacher and an absolutely brilliant woman. She had previously published a book on English grammar through on of the major text book publishers in Canada, but had a idea for another such book which would be done her way. She was in her 90s and this book was to be her legacy. We worked very closely together and turned out a grammar book that she was very satisfied with, and then another one on composition.

In 2014 I turned 60 and began to think about retiring from this second career. At the end of the year we sold to Progressive Results Group, run by a young fellow who was doing web sites and social media promotions and wanted to add printing and signmaking to the services he was offering. I was finally ready to retire, but not to relax, or at least not too much.

I don't miss deadlines or customers who can't be relied on to check proofs for typos. But I do miss the day to day contact with my customers, many of whom had become friends. C&I, along with CMK and KSMF, enabled me to do a lot of networking and to become well known in the community.

My Family and Friends

For the sake of their privacy, I'll let my wife and children tell their own stories when they choose to do so. But I will say becoming a husband and father was an experience involving a great deal of learning and growth that was helpful in everything else I did. When my kids set out to make their way in the world, I learned a lot about what it is really like out there today, that I wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. And I am pretty proud of how my kids are doing in the messed up world that us baby boomer have left for them.

Carolynn has been steadfastly at my side all this time and also busy helping our kids and grandkids in every way possible and volunteering in the community as well. She is an amazing networking resource—just seems to know everybody.

Dad died at September 17, 1996, just before his 87th birthday. He was in a nursing home in Shelburne, and Mom was in the retirement home part of the same facility. The whole family got together at the retirement home to celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary on September 15. I wheeled dad back to the nursing home side and talked to him for a while. He was suffering from some sort of dementia, but he made it pretty clear that he didn't want me to leave him alone there. I explained that everyone was waiting for me and we had to head for home and then left him. If I had it to do over again, I would have let everyone else wait a while longer and spent some more time with him.

Two days later I got a call early in the morning that Dad was failing fast and I should come as quickly as possible. We were in the middle of a big job at Bruce GSB and I stopped in at work long enough to get things moving before heading for Shelburne, even though a phone call would have sufficed. When I arrived, Dad was already gone. Seems I always have to learn things the hard way.

Mom died in June of 2001. The weekend before she passed away we had a very nice visit with her. When the call came that she had been rushed to the hospital in Orangeville, we left immediately and made it in time to see her before she passed on.

I haven't lengthened this account by talking about all the dogs and cats we've had over the years, but they have been a big part of our lives. After I retired in 2005 we got involved in fostering dogs for a local pet rescue and eventually adopted Rumour, a Siberian Husky/German Shepherd mix. He is thirteen years old now and still going strong. Carolynn and I both got pedometers and started walking at least 10,000 steps a day and Rumour has served as a personal training, giving us lots of encouragement in this endeavour.

Friends are a good thing to have and will become even more important as times get harder.

In 1993 I met my steadfast friend and financial adviser David Leigh. He doesn't give me a hard time about not drinking alcohol and I don;t give him a hard time abut being a vegan, so we get along well.

In 2013, Dave had the idea of getting a group of self employed or retired guys together once a month for coffee and talk. This caught on very well and there are seven of us now. These are some friends I would never have met if not for Dave.

In a couple of other cases I've met a new male friend, only to find that Carolynn knew his wife, through Aquafit, or the choir she sings in. This has led to close friendships with several couples in the area.

More next time: how I became a kollapsnik

I had hoped to finish up with this post, but it's already long enough and what is possibly the best part is still left to tell. So I'll break off here and leave how I became a kollapsnik for next time.

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