Thursday, December 25, 2008

Year in Review - 2008

As the wicked pre-New Year weather endures, I find it oddly fitting as a way to describe Guelph politics of this year’s past: it doesn’t rain but it pours. There was no shortage of stories to fill a year end recap, but here, presented, is my humble opinion of the Top 5.

5) Development Wars Continue

On the east end, there was still no movement on a much requested grocery store. Councillors Farrelly and Bell told me last month that it’s because the two grocery companies that own land there are reconsidering the size of their proposed projects. In the north end, Wal-Mart saw its expansion plans defeated in July only to have them approved in September. The big elephant in the room though continued to be the Lafarge Site. A council meeting back in February called to determine the fate of the site was standing room only, but in the months to follow, things got quiet as affected parties went into mediation.

4) Hydro Merger Nixed

Swallowed up by the hoopla over the By-Election (see below), a lot of people missed the debate over a possible merger between Horizon Utilities and our own Guelph Hydro. Those that opposed the deal saw this merger with Horizon, which already covers Hamilton and St. Catherines, as a backdoor to privatization meaning concerns about rate increases, a loss of regulatory authority. On September 28, the merger was defeated in council by a vote of 8 to 5.

3) (Still) Under Construction

Guns N’ Roses was able to release Chinese Democracy this year, but the brand new city hall isn’t done yet. After already numerous delays, the construction company, Urbacon, missed the planned fall opening of the new civic administration building. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that the lease was coming due on city offices all over downtown. So while the new city hall was sitting there waiting to be completed, a number of city workers found themselves working out of boxes, that is if they still had an office. Urbacon was canned and a new company, Alberici, was contracted. Still no word on an end date.

2) Transit Upgrades

At the start of the year, Transit users had to suffer through 40 minute turnarounds. But with the approval of extra city money, and a quarter more per trip from riders, the bus schedule was upgraded to a 20-minute rotation – from first light to the dinner hour every weekday. Meanwhile, GO Transit committed to bring its trains back to Guelph by 2011. Further, council recently endorsed the VIA train station as its preferred site for the GO stop. Though the final decision lies with GO, it’s the hope of some members of city council to create a transit hub where out-of-town buses, trains and Guelph Transit converge downtown. In the meantime, GO’s already increased the frequency of buses on the weekend service of the Acton-Georgetown-Brampton line.

1) The Never Ending By-Election

Brenda Chamberlain had arranged to resign as of April 1, and as the date drew nearer, pressure for an immediate by-election increased. Jack Layton and Stephen Harper showed up in town within a week of each other, several days before Chamberlain’s retirement. In the subsequent months St├ęphane Dion and Elizabeth May popped in, and on July 25, the race was on. A veritable cavalcade of special guests came through town, from Tony Clement to Bob Rae to Naomi Klein and Olivia Chow. But the summer by-election fun was cut short one day before the finish line when a full-on national election was called.

In round two, Guelph had to spread the wealth in terms of attention, while the attention of the electorate itself was divided amongst a total of 10 candidates including nominees from the Marijuana, Libertarian and Communist Parties. On Election Day, it took a while to get results, but when the smoke cleared Liberal Frank Valeriote won with about a third of the popular vote and bucking the Blue trend of the region. But Conservative Gloria Kovach stood her ground only three percentage points behind Valeriote, while the Green’s Mike Nagy more than doubled his 2006 take with 21 per cent of the vote.

So that was 2008 in a nutshell, and we eager few that cover the Guelph Beat can’t wait to see what the Royal City will throw at us in 2009.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Word on Lafarge is Still, “Shhhhhh.”

A small, but highly informed group of local advocates gathered at the Guelph Bible Chapel last Thursday for a meeting of the Howitt Park Neighbourhood Residents' Association. The purpose of the meeting was to let the group’s membership know that they’re still in mediation with the City, Armel and Silvercreek Development, and that they still can’t tell them anything substantive about the fate of the triangular patch of brownfield bordered between the Hanlon, Paisley Road and Waterloo Street. Still with an Ontario Municipal Board Hearing slated for early January, the executive felt they had to say something to the membership, said HPNGA exec member Ron Foley.

To recap, here’s how we got to this point. For years now, there’s been a question about what can be done with the track of land known affectionately as “the Lafarge site” for the cement factory that once stood on that spot. The factory was closed in the mid-90s and subsequently torn down, since that time the land’s been used for biking, jogging, dog-walking and numerous other functions by neighbourhood residents. Recently Armel and 6&7 Developments, the peeps behind the Wal-Mart on Woodlawn, wanted to build a 400,000 square foot retail park on the land. There was some disagreement on that point.

On June 3rd at a city council meeting, the city unanimously denied the application to rezone the area, which would have paved (pun intended) the way for the beginning of construction on shopping centre. With council’s disproval, it seemed to be full-steam ahead to the OMB, a process that’s always costly and would be nearly repetitive after the Residents for Sustainability’s decade long fight against Wal-Mart. But in the days following, Silvercreek Developments, the City and HPNRA hammered out a “wish list,” a detailed account of what each group would like to see. The next step was mediation, a process that’s moved forward in good faith since late-September and continued through to last Friday, December 12.

While mediation is taking place, a media blackout’s been in affect, so news as to how the talks have been progressing, whether that news is good or bad, has been unavailable. Foley says that members should know by this week what the outcome of the last two months of negotiations have been and more importantly, whether its onward and upward to the OMB hearing on January 12. In the meantime, HPNRA felt they owed their members something, and despite the difficulty in getting people out to a community meeting in the midst of the Christmas rush, they decided to bring the update, such as it was, to the group.

On the books for HPNRA now is the recruitment of new members and fundraising. The current roster of 107 was joined by some new inductees at the meeting, but the neighbourhood group is reaching out to include members from the entire city to join them in the fight against the proposed development. As for fundraising, the costs the group is currently incurring is the retaining of a lawyer from the firm Smith/Valeriote and a couple of urban planners from the Davidson Group. If the mediation fails and the OMB hearing proceeds, both these costs will increase because, according to Foley, the OMB will take you more seriously with the infrastructure backing you up. Only one thing is for certain though, and it has to do with the most controversial part of the development: the underpass connecting the south and north sides of Silvercreek Parkway. The money for the underpass is listed D.C., or “Development Charge” in November’s draft of the 2009 budget. Going along with this is pre-existing concerns in the area over traffic and the desire for calming measures to be implemented.

Undoubtedly, there will have been developments since the time I wrote this piece and when this issue of Echo was published. For any updates that may have broke, head over to the old blog at http://guelphbyelectionbeat.blogspot.com/ for all the details.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Winegard Walks, Lafarge Talks & City Haggles

Winegard speaks out on Harper

By the time you read this, either St├ęphane Dion has seized power in a bloodless coup that undermines our democracy or Stephen Harper did the right, Canadian thing and ask the Governor General to put Parliament on hold till cooler heads prevail. Hopefully, whatever’s going down it’s not another election, but I can tell you one thing: Mr. Harper hasn’t made any friends after current events with at least one high profile Guelph Conservative. In an article for the Guelph Mercury, former Guelph Conservative MP (1984 – 1993) Bill Winegard told the paper that a coalition government is “a slap on the wrist” for Prime Minister Stephen Harper “and in my opinion one he deserves.”

Winegard, who’s still active in the local wing of the party, went on to say that the situation stems from people’s belief that Harper was going to put aside partisan politics for the good of the nation, out response to the global economic crisis. This did not happen though when Jim Flaherty gave his financial update to the House two weeks ago. “I think it's a most unfortunate situation, but regretfully Mr. Harper brought it on himself,” Winegard said. “People wanted assurances they would be protected financially … and what they got was a rather fighting document, which didn't address any of those things and instead addressed only party politics.”

Lafarge talks remain secret

Things might be moving forward on the Lafarge front, although to what extent we have no idea because there’s at present a media blackout on the top level negotiations between a number of players. Apparently talks resumed between the city, 6&7 Developments, Armel Corp., the Howitt Park Neighbourhood Group and the Lafarge developer last week in an attempt to resolve the development stand still through mediation. The hope is to have a deal in place before the Ontario Municipal Board hearing on January 12; if mediation fails, the OMB is the next hope to resolve the matter.

In case you can’t remember, the debate is as to whether or not a 400,000 square foot retail part will be built on the land at Silvercreek Parkway South. The city and the HPNG are against the current plan, but the debate is fairly open as to what sort of things could possibly be built there instead. The media blackout will continue through the mediation, although the HPNG will be holding a meeting tonight at Guelph Bible Chapel, 216 Silvercreek South, to discuss the outcome of mediation talks. Everyone is invited to come.

Council haggles over budget

After last Monday’s council meeting, the budget, as presented in its current form, calls for a 5.3 per cent tax increase for the 2009 fiscal year, but that might not be the end of it. The 5.3 per cent increase translates to about an extra $12 per month for the average taxpayer, but that might not be the end of it. Ward 2 Councillor Ian Findlay put forward a motion to direct city staff at seeing if that increased tax burden could be reduced to 3.75 per cent, in order to respond to his constituents’ concerns. The motion was passed unanimously, and options will be presented at the December 15 council meeting where the budget will hopefully be voted upon. Chief administrative officer Hans Loewig, while promising to look at options, stressed that given the turbulent economic waters, it’s important for council to pass a budget before the end of the year.

Amongst the items already modified from previous budget discussions is the deferment of the purchase of land for the new library and Baker Street redevelopment project until 2010 and the air quality monitoring project from the Hanlon will be spread over nine years rather than two. Basically, new and future services projects will be targeted for money saving initiatives. The city’s also looking at increased user fess, delaying capital projects and using reserve funds in order to make ends meet. The Guelph City Council - 2009 Operating & Capital Budgets Deliberation & Approval meeting takes place on Monday, December 15 at 7 pm in the main council chamber in City Hall.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ward 1: The Centre of it All

After an unpredictably lengthy hiatus, it’s time to return to my award-eligible series (hint), “Better Know a Ward.” For the third part of this six part series, we go to St. Patrick’s; Ward 1 – the Fightin’ First. The borders of Ward 1 extend from downtown to the south-eastern border of Guelph; everything east of Victoria Road, and south of Eramosa and Eastview Roads. The two people charged with representing this diverse area are first-term Councillor’s Kathleen Farrelly and Bob Bell. I sat down with Farrelly and Bell last week, in the parlour of Farrelly’s home, to talk about issues in the Ward.

Bell and Farrelly make no qualms, they both consider Downtown Guelph to be the most important part of the city and there are some big changes coming in the next couple of years. The next step comes in January, when council will vote on whether or not to make the downtown train station the official Go Train terminal in Guelph. Bell calls it “the single biggest thing that will happen to downtown Guelph this decade,” and is part of an overall plan to revolutionize transit in, and out of, town.

The target date right now is to bring the GO Train back to Guelph by 2011, but before that, Bell and Farrelly have their eyes set on 2010, the date to create a new transit hub along Carden Street, bringing together out of town buses, trains and Guelph Transit into a single strip in the downtown. “That would enable someone to get from downtown Toronto to the University [of Guelph], on public transit, in about 70 minutes,” explains Bell. “That’s when you can really get people hauled out of their cars, if you can provide a faster service.” Adds Farrelly, “And to be as convenient as possible, which it would.”

This plan has not come without some controversy however. “Some people are very much against the relocation of the transit hub and some people seem to love it,” says Farrelly. “What was explained to us is that while the hub is being moved, the buses will still go through downtown, we’re not losing that bus stop downtown.” What might be lost though is the number of buses going through downtown. In order to create more efficiency, and to expedite travel from points A to B, Bell particularly wants to see Guelph Transit move to a grid system with express and cross-town routes that don’t have to stop downtown.

In the meantime, there are concerns in the Ward beyond transit, but are nonetheless of practical importance: the grocery store and retail deficit in the East End. “What the East Enders want is fair city investment, and the provision of services there to be at a par with other areas of the city,” says Bell. “There’s no dispute right now that they’re being treated unfairly.” Farrelly adds that the delay is not the fault of the city, but the fact that the corporations that own the land, Loblaws and Metro, have yet to capitalize. “What they’re saying is that they’re rethinking the size of the store, with the view of not having the huge stores they presented.”

And that’s not likely to change given current economic conditions and in a new age of fiscal restraint given the global recession. Like all city employees and representatives, Bell and Farrelly say they’re looking for ways to keep costs down and are re-evaluating certain purchases. Bell says he took a suggestion that the city could put off the purchase of replacement computers, which has a price tag of $1 million. “You have to be very conscious of where your discretionary funding goes,” he says. Buying new computers won’t necessarily help Guelph because they’re manufactured overseas.

All-in-all, and given the seemingly enormous nature of some of the issues facing the ward, Farrelly and Bell say that the job has been more or less what they expected. But Farrelly knew advanced what her duties might entail; her son was on the council from 1993 to 2003. And if there’s one thing these two Ward 1 representatives have in common, it’s a dislike for the trappings of government. “I’m very impatient with red tap and bureaucracy,” says Farrelly, who adds that she’s learning patience. But if she and Bell are proud of one thing, it’s maintaining a campaign promise to keep council functional and communicative. “Even though we disagree on issues, we still maintain our civility and friendliness, we don’t harbour ill-will,” she adds, “We’ve made a point of that.”

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Money for City Stuff News

The Gummer Bummer

It should please City Hall to know that they’re not the only ones that can’t open a building on time downtown. Skyline, the company behind the preservation and reconstruction of the Gummer Building site, has said that they will miss their February 2009 deadline for opening the new commercial/office building, which is being integrated into the surviving visage of the heritage site. The faltering economy and the coming winter were cited as two reasons why the building won’t be completed, but no final completion date was given by the contractors.

In with the new; what with the old?

While the city and its recently hired replacement contractors, Alberici Constructors Ltd., work with all due hast to open the new City Administration building sometime early in the New Year, there is a forgotten component to this sad affair: the old City Hall. The original plan was to turn the current building at 59 Carden St. into a new courthouse following the completion and move into the new building, but now those plans are in limbo as the final tab for constructing the new city HQ hasn’t come in yet. Currently Alberici is being paid by the hour, at least until the full extent of what needs to be done to finish the new Hall has been tabulated. There’s also the small matter of the liens against the city saying that Guelph owes $12 million to old contractor Urbacon Buildings Corp, and possibly another $9.6 million in back pay to subcontractors. Lois Payne, the director of corporate services, says that the city will open competitive bidding process for the contract to transform the current City Hall.

Provincial cash for city streets, et al

Provincial surpluses have yielded $1.1 billion in extra cash and the Ontario government is spreading that around, with $11 million being given to Guelph for various infrastructure projects. The biggest piece of that money, $4 million, is being directed towards four big road projects as well as road repairs deferred because of an increase in the price of asphalt. The next biggest earmark is $1.1 million for to install an optical sort unit at the recycling facility, which will sort plastics more efficiently. Nearly $1 million more will go to improvements to parking at the Guelph Youth Music Centre; $810,000 will be directed towards renovations for the new, permanent homeless youth shelter on Norfolk; and the rest will be dispersed to improvements in Sleeman Centre, parks and recreation facilities, and storm water management projects. “This funding is great news” for the city, Mayor Karen Farbridge said in a press release. “It allows us to make much-needed and, in many cases, long-awaited investments in infrastructure for our community.”

State of the City: good, could be better

Now halfway through her mandate, Mayor Karen Farbridge delivered a State of the City address at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Guelph Chamber of Commerce. The presentation highlighted the City’s progress so far, as well as the priorities and plans for the next two years. The three main topics of the presentation were: municipal governance, including a principle-based governance framework that serves as a yardstick for the City’s progress; economic and financial performance indicators, which show how the City stacks up to other communities in areas such as taxation and jobs; and a new economic development strategy to respond to current economic challenges.

Farbridge pointed out that only 10 to 20 per cent of City resources available for strategic projects and emphasized the importance of Council’s rigorous priority-setting process. “Our principles inform our priorities,” she said, “And our priorities drive our progress.” Addressing the global economic crisis, Farbridge said that Guelph is in good shape to weather the storm with 59 jobs for every 100 people in the city. Farbridge also added that over the past year, the City has stabilized its debt and increased its reserves. The local tax burden for a residential bungalow is the lowest among a group of 10 comparable communities, while the tax burdens for the neighbourhood shopping, office, and industrial categories rank at about the middle of the group. 

The full speech is available on the City of Guelph website, but if you’d rather hear it in person, Farbridge will be delivering it at a free event put on by the Guelph Civic League in their new office at 10 Carden St. on December 13th at 10:30 am.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Arts, Projects and Attendance


Everybody get artsy now

City staff have recommended to council spending $4 million to build a new arts centre in Guelph from the 2012 and the 2013 budgets. It’s not a new idea, there have been numerous discussions about making the project since 2003 when the city commissioned a feasibility study into building one. Now the idea is still in a very preliminary stage, but Ann Pappert, the city's director of community services, told the Guelph Mercury that putting it on the books, budget-wise, so that the project can move along from a mere notion to the road to reality.

And it’s a reality a lot people in town have been saying has been a long time in the making. One of them is Sally Wismer, executive director of the Guelph Arts Council. "It would be a space where the arts community could come together, a meeting space where you could drop in and see what was going on," she said adding that she sees studios that could be rented to artists, meeting rooms, rehearsal space, a gallery, a gift store and a small performance space as some of the proposed amenities. As for location, the city wants to use an existing building rather than build something new. Singer/songwriter James Gordon said that he hopes to see the current Civic Museum converted to an Arts Centre, once the new museum opens in the Loretto Convent.

City invites feedback for big projects

Speaking of the Civic Museum, an open house is being held at its current location on Dublin Street Tuesday so that members of the community can review, evaluate and give feedback about the plans and designs for the new location at the Loretto Convent. The material on display will represent the conceptual design, building renderings and site plan drawings for the main museum, Children’s Gallery, Guelph History Gallery, temporary exhibit areas, classroom and programming area, artefact and archival storage, research room, and offices. The deadline for completion of the renovations is September 1st, 2010, with construction starting exactly one year before that. The open house starts at 6:30 pm at the Museum on 6 Dublin Street.

Speaking of open houses, community members are also invited to review and discuss the conceptual design of Eastview Community Park and Pollinators’ Park at the northwest corner of Watson Pkwy N and Eastview Rd. The open house is part of the Public Consultation Process on the proposed End Use Plan for the former Eastview Landfill Site. This open house is going down in Activity Room #4 at the Evergreen Senior Centre, 683 Woolwich St. from 4 pm to 6:30 pm, also on November 25th.

Valeriote ready to receive you

Newly-elected Liberal Member of Parliament Frank Valeriote was finally sworn in during a ceremony in Centre Block on Parliament Hill last Friday. Valeriote is one of 13 new Liberal MPs that was introduced in caucus and inducted into Parliament last week, and already Valeriote is setting a high bar for himself. The former lawyer says that he intends to be as available as possible to his constituents, while being highly visible in Ottawa while the House is in session.

Now pundits will point out that anything will be an improvement over the abysmal attendance record of Valeriote’s predecessor Brenda Chamberlain. In the last session of Parliament, a month before her retirement, Chamberlain ranked 299th out of 303, or the fifth worst, in attendance, being absent a total of 33 times between January 2006 and March 2008. But Valeriote’s seat is not the only thing of Chamberlain’s that he’s taking over. Valeriote is setting up shop at 40 Cork St. E., Chamberlain’s old constituency office. The new MP says he’s ready to hear from you, so send inquiries through e-mail to valerf@parl.gc.ca or by phone at 519-837-8276.

League gets new Watchtower

Looking for the Guelph Civic League? Have you tried their new location? On November 8th, the GCL hosted an open house for their new digs at 10 Carden Street, conveniently across the road from the new Civic Administration building. In an alternative universe, the move for the progressive grassroots organization would have been ideal, had the new City Hall opened on time. But at least some people got a new office this month.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Groceries, Parking and City Hall

New Company Ready to Finish City Hall

Alberici Constructors have been given the daunting task of completing the in-limbo City Hall construction project. The Burlington-based company was officially hired Thursday October 30 to oversee the remaining 10 per cent of construction in the Carden Street building. "It's a little bit of a discovery job," Steve Moffatt, senior vice-president of operations for Alberici Constructors Ltd, told the Guelph Mercury. "I don't know much about Urbacon and what happened. What I want to focus on is moving forward." Hans Loewig, Guelph’s chief administrative officer said that the company will be paid an hourly rate till the project’s complete, but the final tally’s not expected to exceed the remaining $3.8 million in the budget. The company says that they’ll need two weeks to put together a timeline for completion.

Good News South End! You’re Getting a Grocery Store… Eventually.

The south end of Guelph is getting closer to seeing a new grocery store from the Loblaws chain of stores being built in their side of town, but the there’s still no date in sights as to when exactly that will be. City council unanimously approved phase 1 of a secondary development at Gordon and Claire Roads. Loblaw Properties Limited, in turn, withdrew their appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board which was scheduled to start later this month. The appeal was in response to a change in Guelph's large mixed-use planning policies that effectively rescinded an early 2006 approval for the site. Phase 1 calls for a bank, transit terminal and three smaller buildings, as well as some councillor added amendments to take the environment and aesthetics into consideration. Still, there’s no word on when a new grocery store might be built, and according to Steve Thompson, director of planning development and approvals for LPL, the evolving company directive is the result of changing local business competition, the declined economy and staff changes at head office.

Parking Plans Publicized

A public open house to look over the plans for a parking garage at Wilson and Carden Streets took place last week. The intention of the facility is to make sure that it fits downtown both aesthetically and functionally. Aside from six-storeys worth of parking, the conceptual design revealed features including brick and stone facades, street-level commercial space, public washrooms, LEED sustainability measures and parking for at least 30 bicycles. The preliminary plan will see construction begin next August with a completion date of May 2010 in mind. All-in-all, the projects is expected to cost roughly $14.75 million, and with a planned 395 spaces, it means a $37,000 per parking spot price tag.

Temporary Shelter Opens

In a follow-up to last week’s story about the tent city protest in St. George’s Square, the city’s temporary youth shelter on Delhi St. opened on schedule last Wednesday, November 5. The shelter, operated by Wyndham House at the Delhi Community Centre, will have 12 temporary and emergency beds for youths and will be open from 6:30 pm to 8 am daily. "City Council committed funds for the shelter during last year’s budget process in order to provide supports for local youth in need," said Mayor Karen Farbridge. "We are moving forward as quickly as possible with the permanent shelter, and in the meantime, we are pleased to be able to offer space at our Delhi Street facility."

Bodies Found (No, Not Like That)

It was a bit of a Halloween surprise for work crews repairing the foundations of the Church of Our Lady on October 23 when they came across human remains while digging in the parking lot. To answer your first question: no, they’re not fresh. The approximately 30 graves belonged to early Guelph settlers buried between 1832 and 1847 and were parishioners of St. Patrick’s Church, the first Church on the hill in Guelph. This isn’t the first time in recent years that digging in downtown has led to the discovery of skeletons beneath the pavement. A number of remains were found beneath Baker Street during repairs to that road in 2005.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Week-Long Protests to Fight Homelessness Wraps

About 10 local activists spent the week protesting the lack of permanent emergency housing for homeless youth in Guelph by erecting a tent city in St. George’s Square. With nothing to protect them from the cold except for a few canvas tents and a blue tarp, the group hoped to draw attention to the City’s as yet unfulfilled promise to replace the old Change Now Youth Drop-In Centre with a new, permanent shelter. Under a banner stating, “City Hall Lies - Homeless Youth: Fight to Win!” the protestors hoped a practical and peaceful demonstration might light a fire under City Hall to deliver, especially with winter coming.

This story began in June 2007 when Change Now was suddenly and unceremoniously closed. The Youth Drop-In and Emergency Shelter was located in the basement of Norfolk United Church and on the morning of Friday June 15, members of Change Now’s Board of Directors showed up and ordered everyone out. No reasons were given as the youth were herded out and the staff were given pink slips. An impromptu protest took place in St. George’s Square all weekend, as no answer were given as to why, and the doors to Change Now remained shut with nothing but the words: “Change Now is permanently closed” on the door. The exact reasons were never given. At the time, all board co-president Li Peckan could say was, “The programs at Change Now were no longer able to provide for the needs of the young people.”

Change Now was jointly funded by The United Way and Wellington County Social Services. In the wake of the closure, Morris Twist, then executive director of the United Way, said that it was his hope that a new shelter would be open by September ’07. Of course, this didn’t happen. The concern on the part of the city and all organizations involved was money. Norfolk United didn’t charge rent for Change Now, but wherever a new youth shelter lie, then chances were that rent would have to be an expense taken into consideration. Temporary provisions were set up at Wyndham House and Our Place, and the former Change Now funds were funnelled into these outlets.

Local anti-poverty activists continued to push for a new shelter saying that these supposed temporary measures were no where near enough. At council, the debate mostly focused on funding and how much each stakeholder would/could invest in the development of a new shelter for youth in Guelph. After months of wrangling, the city decided to go it alone as the sole municipal funder, but still working with the Province and the United Way, and get moving on finding a new youth shelter with an opening date of October 2008. Obviously, since last week was the end of October, the inaugural did not happen as scheduled.

However there is a site, bought by the city, that’s ready to serve as the new shelter. The thing of it is that the house at 18 Norfolk Street requires some major renovations in order for it to become safe and liveable. These improvements aren’t expected to be completed until the spring. The Norfolk Street house is currently expected to be opened in May 2009 with an initial offering of eight beds, which may be increased depending on zoning issues. A temporary shelter at 65 Delhi Street, set-up by Wyndham House through $230,000 from the city, will have 12 beds available to youth aged 16 to 21 seeking emergency shelter

But back at tent city, protestors are keen to point out that, according to some estimates, between 150 to 200 homeless young people in Guelph. Many of those people, since the closure of Change Now, have had almost no support, and more importantly, no where to go. “When Change Now got shut down, they promised us a new shelter,” Jeff Way, 25, told the Guelph Mercury. “That shelter ended up not being opened, and here it is, a year and half later. They tell us they have another shelter, but it might take a year to do the renovations.”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

News From City Hall

City goes DIY with stalled Hall

Urbacon may have put a lien on the City of Guelph saying that they haven’t been paid $12.1 million for work they done on the new City Hall, but that hasn’t stopped administrative offices and staffers from facing a matter of homelessness. Many city offices that were scheduled to move out of their current tenements this month have had to find temporary shelter or otherwise negotiate for a stay-of-moving-out like in the case of offices at 2 Wyndham St., the lease for which was set to expire at the end of the year.

The City is moving forward with finishing the new HQ after insurance company Aviva denied the City’s claim that they were responsible for completing the project following the firing of Urbacon in September. It was a move Guelph's chief administrative officer Hans Loewig called "certainly not unexpected." Regardless the city’s submitted a claim to Aviva for the extension of office leases, the hiring of a new project manager and other related expenses. Right now, city staff is looking at a move in date of mid-to-late January. "There probably won't be anything visibly happening on the site for a bit. But we are looking forward to getting on with the project as soon as we can," says Loewing.

DGBA says keep those letters coming

The Downtown Guelph Business Association has announced that they’ve extended their deadline for letters in support for the two-hour free parking downtown. Executive director Jacquelyn Garrard told the Guelph Tribune that the deadline for the letters, which was formally October 17, has been extended indefinitely "due to the sheer volume of letters" coming in. The DGBA is currently deciding the fate of the pilot-project, which has been in place for the last year. A report from city staff was expected last Thursday. "We've had a wonderful response from the membership," said Garrard adding that 30 letters have come in so far, and more are coming in everyday. "They feel this is something we cannot lose in the downtown. […] Some of the (letter writers) are saying 'please, please keep it.'"

Budget Presentations Continue

All this week there have been budget meetings at City Hall as city departments present their financial plans for the next fiscal year. Today the Governance and Economic Development committee will be meeting to discuss Police, Library, Museum, Tourism, Social Services and Health Unit funding at 5:15 pm. And tomorrow, the Community Development and Environmental Services Committee will gather to look at Construction Projects, as well as Recycling and Solid Waste. Finance, Administration and Corporate Services and Emergency Services, Community Services and Operations met yesterday. Citizens and community groups are invited to participate, but delegations have to contact the City Clerk’s office in advanced if they wish to speak. Call Joyce Sweeney, the Council Committee Co-ordinator at 519-837-5603 ext. 2440.

For if you own a piece of history…

Heritage Guelph is having an open house on November 7 in City Hall, followed by a meeting of the Community Development and Environmental Services Committee where the expansion of Guelph’s Municipal Register of Cultural Heritage Properties will be considered. Guelph is planning to add 1,900 non-designated properties to the Municipal Register of Cultural Heritage Properties. If your property is included in the proposed expansion, you would have received a letter from Heritage Guelph. Individuals, groups and delegations are welcome to participate in the committee meeting and must contact the City Clerk’s Office to register. Call 519-837-5603 or e-mail clerks@guelph.ca.

Bye-bye Bottle

It was announced that the City of Guelph intends to join the increasing chorus of municipalities by eliminating bottled water and water coolers from offices, meetings and facilities and replacing it with greater access to pure Guelph tap water. “The City wants to lead by example by making municipal water easily accessible in its facilities,” says Janet Laird, Director of Environmental Services. “The City of Guelph does an excellent job managing our drinking water system and we are confident that our municipal drinking water is of the highest quality.”

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Election Post-Game

The fascinating results of the Federal election have forced me to take the Guelph Beat column into very familiar territory one last time. As I’m sure you’re all aware, local attorney Frank Valeriote beat the odds both locally and nationally to become Guelph’s new Liberal MP. Not only was Guelph one of the ridings to watch leading up to Election Night, it was also one of the ridings to watch On Election Night as Conservative hopes for a majority government came down to several tight races across the country. In fact, the Guelph race was so tight, final results weren’t made known until the midnight hour.


Victory was never a foregone conclusion for Valeriote as the polls constantly demonstrated. It was always a toss up between the Liberal nominee and his Conservative rival Gloria Kovach as the lack of incumbency in this riding opened it up to an anything can go attitude that contributed to a ten name long ballot. Also contributing to the uncertainty is the rise of Mike Nagy, the Green Party candidate had serious momentum going into the September 8th by-election, with many observers expecting a win for Nagy who was mounting his third campaign.

In the midst of all this uncertainty, Valeriote had played the odds and prepared both an acceptance and a concession speech, he told the Guelph Mercury. Arriving after midnight at the Italian Canadian Club for his now-victory celebration, Valeriote had no compunction about his party’s decision to push the Green Shift, only regrets that there’d be no Liberal government to see it through. Valeriote did, however, reiterate his desire to build bridges with the other centre-left parties and listed his priorities as child care, climate change and the economy in no particular order. “We have to deal with all of them,” he said.

Meanwhile, a short distance away at her campaign office, Kovach admitted defeat. In what had to be a profound upset for the veteran city councillor, she came out with a 1,792 vote difference between her and Valeriote. She was also locked out of a seeming Conservative sweep of Southwestern Ontario; Guelph is the only red spot on the map surrounded by blue after Conservative victories in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Brant, and Wellington-Halton Hills. While Kovach closed the gap with the Liberals, following the 5,300 vote difference between Liberal Brenda Chamberlain and Conservative Brent Barr in the 2006 election, the Conservative share of the popular vote remained steady at 29 per cent.

The real Cinderella story of the night though is Nagy’s strong, third place finish. Nagy more than doubled his 2006 totals, finishing with 12,456 voters desiring to send him to Ottawa as the first, elected Green MP. With 12,000 plus ballots in his favour, Nagy secure a little over 21 per cent of the popular vote; a significant showing despite the fact that he didn’t secure a first or second place finish. It took three elections to get here, but at his post-election soiree at the Fox and the Fiddle in Old Quebec Street, Nagy seemed to indicate that he was done. "I think this is probably it for me," he said. "I think we had it on Sept. 8th and Stephen Harper knew that.”

Finishing fourth, in what was surely an upset in an otherwise positive night for the party, was NDP candidate Tom King. King, a popular author and radio personality was considered one of the NDP’s star candidates, an impression helped by the fact of party leader Jack Layton’s frequent visits to the riding during the by-election. "The disappointing thing was coming from a by-election into a general (election) campaign," said campaign manager Justin Gniposky. Like Nagy and the Greens, the NDP expected the fact of the by-election and no incumbent to generate enough excitement for Guelph to elect its first New Democrat to the House of Commons.

Rounding out the results are the Marijuana Party’s Kornelis Klevering with 129 votes; Libertarian Philip Bender with 159; Communist Drew Garvie got 77 votes; and Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party’s Karen Levenson had 73. Meanwhile, John Turmel secured his place as the most losingest man in Canadian politics with his 67th loss, but he did however beat Marxist-Leninist Manuel Couto, who I’m still relatively sure doesn’t really exist.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back to Basics

For the last 12 weeks or so, the Guelph Beat has been preoccupied with the by-election and the immediately following federal election. But as of this past Tuesday, all that is over and we can get back to business as usual. (For an election wrap visit my blog at http://guelphbyelectionbeat.blogspot.com, and that’s going to be the last mention of it. Honest to blog… D’oh!)

So now it’s back to… whatever it is we did in this space before the extended edition election began. So I decided to revisit some of the press releases from the City that I only had opportunity to glance over in the midst of all the Federal action in our town. It’s actually been a fairly busy time in municipal politics, with a decision coming down on a couple of really big issues.

First, there was the September 19 announcement that the City was terminating its contract with Urbacon Buildings Group, the construction crew that was building the new city hall. With another deadline on the horizon, as well as yet another announcement of delay, the city’s solicitor suggested the move to terminate the contract on grounds of the numerous breaches committed and instead approach a bonding company to oversee completion. “I believe this will allow us to complete the project sooner and be more cost-effective,” said Guelph Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig. “The City is now in a better position to direct the completion of the project and firm up the move-in date.”

In meantime some city offices are in limbo because they expected to have been moved into their new digs by now. Some are currently living out of boxes, others are in need of temporary quarters. On Urbacon’s end, they’ve had a lien put on city hall, demanding that they be paid the some $12 million they say that they’re still owed for construction costs and subcontractors from July on. As for the building itself, Loewing told the Guelph Mercury on October 7 that if construction resumes by the middle of the month than it should be finished by the end of the year.

The other big issue was the proposed merger between Guelph Hydro and Horizon Utilities. The matter’s been debated for months as the pros offered by the city and Hydro met the cons of concerned Guelph residents who worried that this was back door privatization. The argument came to a close on September 28 when in a special council session, the motion to approve the merger was defeated by a vote of 8 to 5.

The issue was complex. Horizon’s current shareholders are the Cities of Hamilton and St. Catherines, Guelph would have been the third partner in the utility. The deal was endorsed by the hydro board and the Chamber of Commerce, but many community groups and private citizens were concerned about rate increases, loss of regulatory authority and possibility that Guelph customers could be paying for repairs and service in the other two municipalities. Despite assurances from hydro, the city and the Ontario Energy Board, many remained unconvinced. In fact, Councillor Kathleen Farrelly said that her negative vote was in response to “overwhelming public opinion.”

In happier news, it was announced that Ward 5 Councillor Lise Burcher would be joining the Green Municipal Funds Council - the group responsible for administering Canada's Green Municipal Fund - by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' (FCM) Board of Directors. The GMF, according to the press release, “provides loans and grants, builds capacity, and shares knowledge to support municipal governments and their partners in developing communities that are more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.”

"In my role on the Council, I plan to serve Guelph and the rest of the province by showcasing Guelph’s innovative projects to the rest of Canada, and exploring other ground-breaking opportunities for all Canadian municipalities," said Burcher about her new duties.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Meet the Other Candidates Pt. 2

Last week, I talked to Communist Party of Canada candidate Drew Garvie, but there is another far-left candidate in this campaign: Marxist-Leninist nominee Manuel Couto. Couto has run in the last four Federal elections in Guelph, including the present race. And that’s just about all the info I’ve been able to find for Mr. Couto. His contact information is notably absent from the CBC and the Globe and Mail candidates’ pages and a request to the MLPC’s media department for contact info went unanswered.


The party itself has a strongly worded platform which follows three key tenants. First is the need to invest more money in social programs and “Stop paying the rich,” which includes nationalizing all banks and financial institutions amongst its plans. The second point is to reform Canada’s electoral system with an emphasis on equality, the hereditary rights of Aboriginal periods and respecting Quebec’s right to self-determination, up to and including the right of secession. Finally, the MLPC intend to “modernize” our foreign policy, meaning a withdrawal from NAFTA and other free trade agreements, a withdrawal from NATO and NORAD, and to demand the democratization of the UN.

Kornelis Klevering meanwhile says that issues surrounding the use of marijuana are on the minds of many of the people he talks to, and being the Marijuana Party candidate he’s focused on bringing those issues to the forefront. “Every time there’s a federal election, or a by-election, someone has to come out and remind everyone that this is an unacceptable situation in a free and democratic society,” says Klevering, who also likes to be called Brother Kase, referring to the continued criminalization of cannabis.

Klevering says that his party’s goal is the complete end to “the prohibition against marijuana,” although past proclamations of decriminalization from the Liberals and the NDP is a step in the right direction, he adds. But Klevering says it’s more than simply the right to smoke, but the stigmata against the plant extends to the potential benefits of hemp-based products. “You mention marijuana and all of the sudden, everything else is tainted,” Klevering explains. “So hemp for bio-mass, or hemp seed oil as a health product, all that doesn’t stand a chance because there’s a stigma against marijuana. People are talking about a Green Shift, well we want a Green Shift too and that includes hemp.”

Rounding out the local roster is John Turmel, an independent candidate running in his 67th election. It’s been a slow year for Turmel as compared to 2007 where he ran in three races: a Provincial by-election in Burlington, a Federal by-election in Outremont and the Provincial election in Brant last October. His impressive number of elections fought and lost has earned him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Turmel has also adopted several epitaphs over the years; he’s referred to himself as The Engineer, The Gambler, The Banking System Engineer, Bank Fighter Extraordinaire, TajProfessor, and Great Canadian Gambler.

Turmel is an advocate for "Local Employment Trading Systems" (LETS), which Wikipedia describes as "interest-free barter arrangements." Under this system, money is eliminated, and people can use the "Time Standard of Money" to work off their loans or just about any other type of debt you can think of. Turmel was a candidate in the by-election, but decided to stick with Guelph telling the Brantford Expositor, "It's so undemocratic in Brantford […] I may probably go where I have a chance to participate." This comment was in reference to a debate sponsored by Rogers Television in Brant last fall, where he was removed by police after demanding to be allowed to speak.

For more information on the election, up to and including Election Night, visit my blog at http://guelphbyelectionbeat.blogspot.com/