Thursday, June 26, 2008

By-Election Update and A Farewell to Hampton

Still Waiting…

So it’s the end of June, which can mean only one thing: we’re probably not going to get a by-election to replace Brenda Chamberlain as our Federal Member of Parliament until the Fall. I remind you, gentle Echo reader that our government has until October 7 to announce when they’re going to fill our seat.

But the question is, why haven’t they called an election yet? "I have no idea why they haven't called an election," University of Guelph political science professor Judith McKenzie told the Guelph Mercury last week. "It's a real guessing game."

McKenzie though had a potential answer as to why. "I haven't heard the buzz that there's a huge push to have by-election," she added. Since Chamberlain’s retirement, the riding has been represented by Kitchener Centre MP Karen Redman and Chamberlain’s old constituency office on Cork St. has remained open.

In the meantime, the candidates aren’t wasting anytime by hosting big named guests and hitting each other where it counts: the issues.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Conservative candidate Gloria Kovach fired off a salvo at Liberal Frank Valeriote last Wednesday saying that Valeriote “did not agree with investments in green technology.” Apparently, in an interview given for a Guelph Mercury article last March, Valeriote express his “disdain” for green technology saying, “Government shouldn’t help industries invest in green technologies. Instead, the government should place a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.”

“The Liberal policy on climate change has evolved through open debate and discussion and includes helping industry adopt new, greener technologies through the Advanced Manufacturing Prosperity Fund, part of the Liberal platform,” said Valeriote in response to my e-mail asking him about the press release. “I have said this in the past and continue to believe in a comprehensive response, including helping industries, regardless of what has been said otherwise.”

Meanwhile, the Kovach press release went on to say that instead of investing in green technology, Valeriote is a staunch supporter of St├ęphane Dion’s “Tax Everything” plan. There’s even a link to the Conservative’s non-too-subtle “Will You be Tricked” website where the talking oil stain tells you to beware of carbon taxes because “it’s a tax on everything.” The ads were a matter of some controversy when they began airing last month as Conservatives had originally intended to have the ad aired at some gas stations around Southern Ontario, including Guelph.

Valeriote added that there will be more news to come about the Liberal approach to the environment. “Over the coming months you will see the Liberal Party's response to our need for a comprehensive climate change plan. I have advocated for a comprehensive plan to address global warming every time I have been asked since I was nominated as the Federal Liberal candidate for Guelph.”

In the meantime, Kovach was bringing a lot of headliners to town last weekend for a barbecue fundraiser in Exhibition Park. The Guest of Honour was The Hon. John Baird, Member of Parliament for Ottawa West-Nepean and, more importantly, the Minister of the Environment.

Get Down with NDPs

Meanwhile, across the political spectrum, NDP candidate Tom King hosted a few of his party’s MPs from Ontario at his campaign office on Woolwich. Members of the public were invited to meet David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre), Chris Charlton (Hamilton Mountain), Irene Mathyssen (London-Fanshawe), Peggy Nash (Parkdale-High Park), and Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre) and enjoy some fair trade coffee and snacks.

Howard, We Hardly Knew Ye

Finally, Guelph Beat salutes Howard Hampton for his retirement after 12 years as provincial NDP leader. I will always remember Hampton for his campaign stunts from the 2003 election which included trying to nail Jell-o to a wall and having a flat-bed truck with big dollar sign bags drive away down the street. I can’t remember the point he was trying to make, but those were good gags. Hampton will continue to sit as MPP till the 2011 election.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lafarge Plan Approved, Wal-Mart Wants to Expand

Council Takes Charge of Lafarge

The development debate has geared back up in the last couple of weeks, with breaking news in terms of the planning for a couple of controversial sites.

At a council meeting on June 3, a plan endorsing the large scale commercial development of the Lafarge lands in the city’s west end was unanimously rejected in a 10-0-1 vote. The triangular shaped land is currently an open green field bordered by the Hanlon Expressway and two sets of CN Railway tracks that run parallel to Paisley Rd. and Waterloo St., respectively. The land is owned by the Lafarge company, which formally had a plant on the property until it closed in the 90s.

Plans for the Lafarge lands have been the biggest development controversy in the Royal City since the fight to stop the construction of Wal-Mart at the corner of Woodlawn and Woolwich. Many residents in the area of the Lafarge site, most of whom are part of a group called the Howitt Park Neighbourhood Residents' Association (HPNRA), have been fighting against the proposed commercial development on the land out of worry of the drastic effect such a facility would have on the neighbourhood.

Ward 3 Councillor Maggie Laidlaw has been one of the strongest voices in City Hall for the con side of the commercial development. “From beginning to end, several delegates have said (big box stores are) unanimously opposed by the neighbourhood, yet big boxes are still in the proposal,” said Laidlaw. “So much for neighbourhood input. This was mere lip service by the developer in my opinion.”

But the game was not over however. Silvercreek Guelph Developments Ltd, the developers behind the push to rezone the Lafarge site, pre-emptively took the case to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), who has the ability overturn council’s decision. A pre-hearing was set for late last week, but details were unavailable before deadline. Steve Zakem, a representative for Silvercreek said that no matter the decision, his group is still prepared to work with the city, but HPNRA appears intractable saying that any reworking of the site is like “fiddling around with the application and is like putting lipstick on a pig,” according to Susan Watson, an area resident.

While a few of the councillors weren’t opposed to development of the site per se, the vote came down to a matter of logistical problems with the proposed plan. Chief among those was access to any commercial shopping centre on the land that would that would draw more traffic to already congested arteries on Paisley and Waterloo. As well there’s some question as to who would be responsible for the construction of an underpass where the CN tracks divide Silvercreek Pkwy, north and south.

Expanded Service for the Smile?

Mark your calendars for July 7, because that’s when a development oldie but goldie comes back to council: Wal-Mart, who this time is looking for approval to expand.

Scott Hannah, the city's manager of development and parks planning, says look for planner’s recommendations to be released prior to that meeting, but basically it comes down to this: 6&7 Developers want 195,000 square feet of new space. Of that, 65,000 will go to Wal-Mart to add a grocery store while the remaining 130,000 will be up for grabs to other retailers.

The not-entirely unexpected expansion proposal was brought forward just over a year ago and was immediately met with strong opposition from Wal-Mart’s arch-nemesis Residents for Sustainable Development. “Given that this site's location is in one of the least populated areas of the city, and that the vast majority of residential growth is to the west, east and south, allowing more commercial development on this site now would only delay or even stop commercial development in areas where shopping and services are more needed,” wrote anti-Wal-Mart crusader Ben Bennett in a letter to the city’s planning department last summer.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Fight’s Not Over for Water Watchers

The Wellington Water Watchers celebrated not just a year of existence, but a year of triumph last Tuesday night as members gathered at Norfolk United Church for the group’s first AGM. The WWW started making waves last summer (pun intended) by coming out strong against the Aberfoyle Nestle Bottled Water plant’s application for a five-year renewal of their contract.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of the Environment announced that they would only be renewing Nestle’s contract for only two-years and part of the new contract is the requirement for better monitoring of the Mill Creek, from which Nestle pulls it water. As well, the Ontario government is considering making the Galt-Paris moraine protected land. “We’ve had some real successes and we have some really ambitious plans too,” WWW Board member James Gordon told the crowd.

Amongst WWW’s ambitious plans is to expand its “Klean Kanteen” program. The stainless steel canteen is free to everyone when they buy a membership in the WWW, which includes over 750 Guelph and area residents. But now, the group is looking at putting their canteens into the hands of every kid in the county as part of an overall campaign to promote tap water over bottled.

Two other components of the plan are “Emergency Use Only” and “L’Eau Municipal.” The former is a guerrilla promotion gimmick wherein WWW is encouraging members to really enforce the idea of bottled water being reserved for emergency purposes; bottled water being of primary importance in situations where the tap water’s been compromised. The second part, “L’Eau Municipal,” will be a campaign working with local restaurants to push the serving of tap water over bottled in their establishment.

Basically, the group is going to throw their focus on reversing the trend, pervasive in this generation, that carrying around and drinking water out of a plastic bottle is cool. Beyond that, the notion that bottled water is cleaner and safer than what comes out of the tap is a popular myth that WWW wants to dispel. One member held up a plastic water bottle and said that he considers the contents “plastic water” and reinforced the toxic effects these bottles have on our environment.

The evening was rounded out with a speech by activist, author and Blue Planet co-founder Maude Barlow, who had high praise for the group she calls part of a growing movement of “water warriors” and that WWW is an example she cites in her speeches worldwide. She reinforced the need to protect water from encroaching elements who want to see its commoditization, particularly NAFTA. Barlow’s speech was followed by a screening of the new documentary FLOW: For the Love Of Water.

Greens got a plan

Following-up to my interview with Elizabeth May in last week’s Echo, here are some details of the Green meeting at Guelph Youth Music Centre on May 26. The main point of the event was a kind of rally to garner local support and get May into the next televised leaders debate in the eventual Federal election.

Drawing on history, May hopes that if Guelph Green candidate Mike Nagy were to make it to the House of Commons via a by-election, than a sitting Green MP would force the hand of all those keeping May out of the debate. The same strategy worked for Preston Manning when, as Reform leader, he was invited to the 1993 debates after Deborah Grey was seated in a by-election in Alberta.

May also spent the day canvassing in Guelph neighbourhoods along with Nagy and former Green leader Jim Harris. Harris remains a consultant for the Green Party and participated in the event by enthusiastically getting members to commit to 40 hours of campaigning for Nagy when the writ is dropped.

Still no sign of that happening though.