Friday, May 30, 2008

Elizabeth May Interview

On Monday May 26th, Elizabeth May became the third federal leader in as many months to pop in on party faithful to get them ready for a potential by-election in the near future. Stumping for local Green candidate Mike Nagy, May played to a packed house at the Guelph Youth Music Centre making speeches, helping to recruit eager campaigners and taking audience questions.


It didn’t take too long into my interview with May following her Q&A before she launched into her disappointment in Jack Layton’s sudden disproval of carbon taxes. “It boggles the mind that he’s against the carbon tax. It’s got to give him some pause when David Suzuki attacks the NDP and says that they’ve made a huge mistake.”

Layton was quoted in The Globe and Mail the week before saying “With energy costs soaring in Canada, we've got to ensure that the solutions to climate change don't aggravate an already dire situation for those who struggle to make ends meet.” Adding, “We shouldn't punish people, and that's what a carbon tax does.”

One of the goals of the evening was to rally support to help get May into the nationally televised leaders’ debates. Her inclusion, however, does not have the support of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or the aforementioned NDP leader Layton. But more than not being allowed to debate as of yet, May senses something else afoot in both Layton’s refusal to allow her to participate and in his repudiation of the carbon tax.

“The strategy is ‘the enemy of my enemy,’” said May, “that when the Liberal Party is crushed and eliminated, than the NDP can replace them as the natural alternative to the Conservatives. It’s politically inspired and it doesn’t make sense ideologically. It doesn’t make sense in terms of climate crisis and it panders to the idea that gas prices will go up if you have a carbon tax.”

Carbon taxes have become a staple in many Europeans countries as a way to help battle global climate change. In a time of increased gas prices, May says that a carbon tax is even more attractive because the bulk of the revenue will come from oil sands and oil production, creating nearly $40 billion in new revenue. This new money could make the government able to provide tax cuts in other areas, rather than offering what May calls “superficial” trims to the GST, which was done pure in the interest of “political capital.”

“The bottom line from anyone who’s a resource geologist and who’s looking at the International Energy Agency Report, is that we’re running out of cheap oil. So with supply and demand, basic economics, the price is going to go up. How do you have a public policy response that protects people from high gas prices?”

As for the leader’s debates, May already has a vote of support from St├ęphane Dion, while Gilles Duceppe’s people have also voiced support for her getting a podium in the next election. “Only Stephen Harper and Jack Layton don’t want me there,” she explains. “It’s a very interesting dynamic. It’s a two tier cause where the Greens want to see a Liberal minority government and the NDP want to demolish the Liberal Party even if it means locking in the Conservatives.”

Aside from being the leader of only the fourth federal party to ever have candidates run in every riding in Canada, May also desires to be a part of the debate in order to return some sense of civility to national politics. “Parliament right now is dreadful. It’s toxic. The hostility from Question Period filters in to parliamentary committee. When there are five committees under Conservative MP lead filibusters it’s really distressing.”

The question remains though: when is the Conservative minority government going to fall? May thinks Harper’s too clever to allow that to happen before he’s ready, but she also supports Dion’s method of “strategic patience,” a term coined by Liberal MP Bob Rae in describing his leader’s pacifist stand on challenging Harper’s power. “I don’t know how refusing to succumb to a bully makes a person look weak, I think that’s actually fairly resolute,” May says.

May also doesn’t want to rush the inevitable and thinks that we should all use this time to seriously think about where Canada is going and where we’d like it to go. “I think that this next election will be the single most important election in Canadian history in terms of the choices to be made. We can’t afford to go into the next election with people feeling disaffected, people have to be wide awake and paying attention.”

As for post-election results, May feels very certain of a Green future with at least a couple of seats in the Commons held by her party. “I know we’ll be in the House, I feel very confident about that. The critical thing for me, other than where we are is to make sure Harper isn’t Prime Minister.”

Thursday, May 22, 2008

When Do We Get to Get On GO?

With escalating gas prices, the average consumer is looking for other ways to get a cheaper commute, mostly through looking at public transportation. For commuters going to Toronto daily, this can be tough but it was announced this past week that the province is looking at making things easier by bringing GO trains back to the Royal City.

"There's a huge pent-up demand for commuter rail service to Toronto," Mayor Karen Farbridge told the Toronto Star. Currently, for rail riders in Guelph, the only option is the thrice daily VIA train to Union Station. GO Transit announced last week that it would be studying the feasibility of bringing GO back to Guelph and whether there’s the “pent-up demand” as the Mayor insists.

Bring the GO train back to Guelph has been a secondary issue in the last municipal and provincial elections. The last time that the train did come as far as Guelph was the year 1993. The NDP government of Bob Rae scaled the service back to Georgetown due a deficit of ridership. GO transit users, however, complained at the time that the service was too limiting and if they wanted/needed to stay late at work, then they had to find another way home.

According to Greg Ashbee, GO Transit's manager of rail expansion programs, trains could start rolling back to Guelph with an initial commitment of two daily trains from Guelph to Georgetown, where passengers could make transfer connections be they a second train or bus. Eventually, this could lead to 20 minute GO train service in a direct route from Guelph to Toronto, both morning and evening.

This would be the second expansion of service after GO started running hourly buses from the University of Guelph to Mississauga last fall. It constituted a significant investment as GO supplemented the bus service by helping to pay for a “Park and Ride” lot near Aberfoyle, as well as a heated shelter at their stop at the University. Meanwhile, a GO bus to Union Station still leaves several times a day from the Greyhound Bus Terminal on Macdonell.

Still, there are logistical concerns to be taken into account that have to do with the train station downtown. A letter to the Guelph Mercury wrote that, in the writer’s opinion, the service failed “because Guelph was the only station other than Toronto Union where GO Transit did not provide free parking.”

Parking, as it is currently at the train station, is extremely limited. The station was constructed in 1911 and is designated a Heritage Site under the Railway Station Protection Act, but being situated on the corner of Carden and Wyndham leaves little room for expansion to make better parking facilities.

One of the ideas thrown around has been to use the Lafarge site in the city’s west end as a new transit hub with particular emphasis on a new rail station that can accommodate increased commuter service to Toronto and possibly, in the future, Kitchener. But the fate of the Lafarge site is an entirely separate debate with its own long and complex history.

The report from engineering consultant R.J. Burnside probably won’t be done until early 2009, but the pressure is on for politicians to meet increased demand for public transportation. “It's something the provincial government should give serious consideration to given our population growth and the increasing number of people making the commute to Toronto,” said Ted Arnott, Wellington-Halton Hills MPP and member of the Opposition.

As for the all-mighty dollar, typically municipalities pay no operating costs for GO service. However, they can contribute to funds for service expansion, as Barrie did when they paid a third of the bill for upgrades to GO rail service. It’s unknown right now if and how much the city might be held to for expanding GO Transit in Guelph.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Still Waiting: A By-Election Non-Update

Since I’ve started working on the Guelph Beat column, I’ve kept the focus primarily on municipal politics and issues within the borders of the Royal City. But wait, I thought, isn’t there some very important Federal politics happening in Guelph? Aren’t we currently without representation in the House of Commons, waiting breathlessly for a writ of by-election to be dropped?

Ah yes, I said to myself, I do remember these things correctly.

Brenda Chamberlain’s resignation as Guelph’s Member of Parliament became official on April 7 as she stepped down after nearly 15 years of service. One month later, there’s still no sign that a by-election is forthcoming even though Canadian law deems that one must be called within six months of a vacancy; meaning that the government has until October 7 to call it.

Certainly local candidates appear ready to go anytime between then and now. As I trolled websites this past week, I found a swipe at Chamberlain and the Liberals published on Gloria Kovach’s website. Kovach is the Conservative nominee for Guelph.

“The Liberal Party wasted no time getting out of town,” the April 20 statement said. “Although responsible to maintain the constituency office, they quickly removed all indications that one continues to exist.” The message went on to say that, “No statement has been issued by the departing MP, or local party officials as to how the people of Guelph are to obtain federal government services.”

Well, either in response to Kovach’s website, or in spite of it, an announcement was made two days later that Kitchener-Centre MP Karen Redman would be acting as Guelph’s temporary representative until a new one can be elected. The constituency office on Cork St. remains open even though, yes, it no longer bares the Chamberlain name on the front or any other signing. Redman told the Guelph Tribune that new singing is not usually put up in these instances.

Still, when you walk past the old Chamberlain office, one can’t help but get the feeling of abandonment. For this reporter, when I went by the office myself the other day, I had to stop and think about what was there (and apparently still is there) previously. But what it does do is draw attention to the fact that Guelph currently has no representative in Ottawa, which makes the need for a by-election all the more apparent. Some don’t seem to see it that way though.

Ken Morgan, a candidate for Ward 6 in the last municipal election and current president of Guelph Conservatives, wrote a column for the Guelph Tribune and told Guelphites to “Have patience, Guelph will have a new MP soon enough. We've gone almost a year without one . . . and no one seemed to have noticed . . .”

Morgan also said that, “If the people calling for an immediate by-election were so concerned about Guelph not having representation in Ottawa, where have they been the past few years? Why wasn't Jack Layton standing up in the house almost one year ago demanding that Guelph MP Brenda Chamberlain step aside?”

Well Layton’s man in the Royal City is standing up now. Writing in response to Morgan, in a letter printed April 22 in the Tribune, King said, “As the NDP candidate in Guelph, I want to see a by-election called as soon as possible. Being without an MP to voice our concerns in Ottawa is, frankly, unacceptable and unnecessary. It's rather like playing hockey without a goalie.”

So far, Kovach and King’s fellow candidates, Liberal Frank Valeriote and Green Mike Nagy, have been silent as to where they stand on the immediacy of a by-election. But the smart money says don’t look for a move on any of this until September at the earliest.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Hanlon Drag and Mayor Blogging

The Hanlon becomes mainly a drag

The Hanlon Expressway made the news a couple of times this week, neither necessarily in a good way.

First, a number of by-invitation-only workshops began last week to discuss concerns about the Ministry of Transportation Ontario’s plans to upgrade the Hanlon. Basically, the current MTO proposal says that all traffic lights are to be removed from the Hanlon so that they can turn it into a high-speed connection to the Highway 7 expansion to Kitchener-Waterloo.

Now, this may come as something of a shock to the hundreds of people that use the crosswalks at the Hanlon everyday, all over Guelph, from north to south. Well, you haven’t been forgotten in the plan. The original version unveiled in December called for the development of a whole new interchange at Stone Rd., a partial redo at Kortright/Downey and an underpass at College St.

But aside from access for pedestrians and cyclists, residents’ concerns also include questions over how these changes will affect business and services at several intersections and general concerns about noise impact and property values. Questions of necessity have also been raised in council. Ward 3 Councillor Maggie Laidlaw, for one, has been very vocal about her opposition to expanding the Hanlon.

The MTO has said that if it’s deemed necessary from the workshops that significant changes need to be made in order to address residents’ concerns, then a new public consultation process will be struck.

Meanwhile, the Hanlon was at the centre of another protest on Monday April 29 when a group of 20 people blocked the southbound lanes near Paisley to show camaraderie with the Tyendinaga Mohawks who are involved in a land dispute near Deseronto, Ont. The group placed branches on the road and set them on fire while displaying a banner declaring “Solidarity with Tyendinaga.” Both the Guelph Police and the OPP attended the scene, but no arrests were made.

This was the second protest in Guelph that was committed in the name of the Tyendinaga. The Friday before, three Bell Canada vans on Cork St. had their tires slashed. A post written anonymously on the website anarchistnews.org stated “SOLIDARITY FOR TYENDINAGA! 2 BELL TIRES FOR EVERY PRISONER TAKEN!"

Brant Bardy of the Bay of Quinte Mohawks told the Guelph Mercury that when it comes to this kind of solidarity it’s, thanks, but no thanks. “We're a peaceful people . . . and conflict and violence do not move our claim forward. The issue is a lawful obligation owed by the Crown to the Mohawk people. It's not about protests and blockades."

Blog with the Mayor

Last Friday, the City of Guelph officially launched Mayor Karen Farbridge’s blog, which the Mayor herself believes is a “great way to boost the accessibility and transparency of the Mayor’s office.”

The Mayor’s blog can be found at http://mayorsblog.guelph.ca, and so far it’s covered about a week’s worth of activities for Farbridge including last Friday’s trip to Queen’s Park with members of the Guelph community. The delegation met with several Ministers and attended Question Period in the Assembly. Readers are invited to leave comments in order for the Mayor to “engage citizens in a positive dialogue about the issues and opportunities in our city,” said Farbridge

But Guelph’s Mayor needs to be careful. The New York Times reported last week that blogging might be dangerous to your health after three well known bloggers suffered heart attacks, two fatal, citing crushing deadlines and competition pressure as stress factors. Many bloggers have spoken out though saying that there’s no evidence that blogging directly leads to death, so the Mayor is safe… for now.

But what about Park Place?

As water once again makes it back into the headlines (see last week’s Guelph Beat), the Guelph Waterworks is opening its doors to the public this Saturday. The City invites everyone to come out to the facility at 29 Waterworks Pl. (off York Rd.) to learn how Waterworks, well, works and get handy tips on conservation. There’ll be refreshments, door prizes and fun stuff for the kiddies.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Heat Still on Over Water

The decision to allow Nestle Water a two-year permit renewal to keep taking water from Guelph’s south end continued to reverberate as the provincial government proposed the idea of charging a “token” fee for companies to bottle Ontario’s water last week.

"We've kind of put in a floor and we've begun to attach a real value to a natural resource, water," Premier Dalton McGuinty told the press before a Liberal cabinet meeting last week. "We're looking to see what we need to do in the future to attach value to that resource."

That “floor” McGuinty talks about is a $3.71 charge for every one million litres of water taken out of Ontario’s lakes and rivers. Environment Minister John Gerretsen later added that the fees “are at the low end” of where they need to be, but at the same time said that the government is not about to put an actual price on water.

But a price is what a lot environmental activists would like to see as companies like Nestle can take as much water as permitted for free, bottle it and resell it for profit. For a $3,000 application fee, the Nestle plant in Aberfoyle is allowed to pump 1.3 billion litres per year; enough for over 27 million 24-pack cases of water.

The debate in Guelph started last summer when Nestle applied for a permit renewal that would have allowed them to continue taking water from the Mill Creek for another five years. Nestle has been operating in Aberfoyle since 2000 and all previous permits have been for a duration of two years.

It was at the suggestion of a five year permit that the activist group Wellington Water Watchers sprang into action last summer.

"People like ourselves are trying to raise the alarm bell about the privatization and commoditization of water," WWW member Mike Nagy told me last summer. Nagy is also the Federal Green Party's Guelph candidate and environment critic, "Water taking permits were never intended for people to make money off of the water."

In response to the Ministry of the Environment’s decision to only renew the permit for two years, the WWW expressed mixed feelings. “While we would like to stress that, in our view, any permit granted to a commercial bottler to take public water essentially for free is squandering a precious public resource; we are nonetheless pleased that the MOE has reduced the requested timeframe,” said a statement on the WWW website.

As evidenced by the province’s recent announcement, this is an issue that’s far from over. People are becoming increasingly concerned about not just who’s taking their water, but what’s happening to the waste generated from all those plastic water bottles.

Even in the shine of their semi-victory, the WWW promises to continue their activism to secure the city’s water. “This two-year time frame will give our region the opportunity to properly plan for the management of municipal water supplies to accommodate our rapidly growing population,” their website states.

Get on Board

The City of Guelph is looking for interested people to fill a couple of Board vacancies. There are two spots open on the River Systems Advisory Committee, while the Board of Commissioners of Guelph General Hospital and the Guelph Junction Railway Company Directors each have one spot open. For more information, you can visit the City of Guelph website at http://guelph.ca//news.cfm?itemid=75103&task=display

Be Careful of Bus Changes

As your travelling around the Royal City on Guelph Transit, keep in mind that a few routes are being affected by detours. The #54 Arkell will be diverted from Arkell Rd. between Summerfield Dr. and Gordon St. through to Friday May 2nd and the #8 General Hospital will redirected to Paul St. from Delhi as construction’s being done on Emma until Mid-July. Also, the extra frequency buses to the University of Guelph are on hiatus until September. Maps of route changes can be seen here: http://guelph.ca/living.cfm?smocid=1764