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 Stéphane 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.