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.

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