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

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, 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

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Meet The Other Candidates

One of the late comers to this election cycle is Drew Garvie, who’s running again as the Communist Party nominee following his bid in the 2007 Provincial Election. The recent University of Guelph grad has a very specific goal in running for Federal office. “I hope to really shed light on how important this election is and what it means to the future of Canada, especially if we’re facing a Harper majority,” Garvie says. “People need to know what their real agenda is and how far down the road of no return that can really take us with their regressive policies.”

More specifically, Garvie says that he wants to return Canada to a place of leadership in the environment and international action in peacekeeping. He adds that the issue of our country’s involvement in Afghanistan has been seriously downplayed in this election and he wants to bring it back to the foreground. He also has harsh words for the tenor of this election, which Garvie says have involved issues that have no bearing on the lives of Canadians, like the Maxine Bernier affair. “You hope to kind of shift the debate from the inane, media coverage and issues that aren’t really important,” he adds.

It’s not often we get a Libertarian Party candidate here in Guelph, but Philip Bender intends to bring his unique point of view, in terms of what kind of government we need, to the forefront in this election. “I have no pretense of winning,” he says. “I put my name forward to try and stimulate some thought about our political process, to give an alternative viewpoint and not just from a single issue, our issue is governance.”

This is Bender’s third campaign after running in the last two provincial elections. He explains that one of the reasons he runs is to provide libertarians, who have hard time finding someone to vote for, a focal point for politically like-minded people to come together. Bender notes that current approaches to various issues prove that the solution is less government, not more. Trade barriers, which create blocks on prosperity, are one issue that needs a more libertarian overhaul and he argues that healthcare, as it is now, constitutes a monopoly.

“People are concerned about their jobs, their livelihood, and they’ve unfortunately put their faith in government,” Bender explains, “I’m still hard pressed, in many endeavours, to find an example where a government solution has provided a good answer to a problem.”

If you haven’t heard of the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party, that’s okay, seeing as how they’re brand new. According to their local candidate, Karen Levenson, under Federal law, political groups can’t lobby during an election, so if the AAEVP wanted to keep animal rights issues in the limelight, they had to become a formal political party. “Why is it that no politician can feel enough compassion to do something about the horrible conditions that the majority of animals in our country live?” Levenson asks.

Levenson says that’s matter of politics, especially in the case of the annual seal hunt. “They know that any party, any politician, that goes against the seal hunt they will lose votes and lose their seats in the sealing provinces.” More locally, trapping is a big issue for Levenson and the AAEVP, and they’re pushing hard for an outright ban on trapping because of the ease in which pets and people, even children, can get caught in a trap. “Fifty per cent of the homes in Guelph have companion animals, and yet people don’t seem to realize that the Federal policies that are created do not protect their animals,” she says, adding that she includes farm animals in that statement. “Animal issues are human issues; we need animals to survive.”

For more information, news and updates on the election, visit my blog at