Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fighting Over Budgets and Climate Change

Budget fight begins

With all the deep cuts potentially on the table in regards to the 2010 city budget, it came as no surprise that council’s first look at the document would come with some apprehension. The major areas that got air last Monday night were transit and downtown parking, but considering the variety of cuts proposed, there isn’t a single area under city management that isn’t saved from belt-tightening. The debate should get much more interesting in the next week as public debate is opened up on the matter. It was expected that as many as 26 delegations had requested time to speak to council at the meeting this past Tuesday. But public forums are seeing their share of debates as well.

The Guelph Arts Council was quick to react to potential cuts, sending out a mass e-mail last week asking all its members to speak out in defense of arts funding in the City of Guelph. “We are not at the top of the list but we are on the list – in other word, we are threatened, and we do need to make our case,” said the e-mail. The GAC further asked its members to send letters and e-mails to Guelph city councillors and local media as part of a co-ordinated effort to make it known that the arts matter in the Royal City.

Meanwhile, University of Guelph students are rallying to save the universal bus pass, after it was suggested in the budget proposal that it be eliminated and replaced with a cost per month plan like the one high school students have to pay for. Comparatively, the U of G universal bus pass costs roughly the same per semester what it costs for a high school student to get one student pass for a month. The city feels that that there’s a pretty big gap there where a few extra dollars can be made. “It’s sad that a program that Guelph Transit has won awards for, for innovative ways of getting people out of cars and into buses, is being dismissed without any discussion,” said Brenda Whiteside, the university’s associate vice-president (students affairs) to the Guelph Tribune. The universal bus pass has been part of the student experience at the U of G since 1994, and it won’t go quietly. As of Sunday, the “Save the Bus Pass” Facebook group has over 6,400 members.

For up-to-date blow-by-blows go to my blog at

McKitrick feels “vindicated”

The recent “Climategate” mess where thousands of e-mails and documents from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England were hacked and then leaked has cultivated a Guelph connection. No, no one from Guelph was involved in either being hacked or doing the hacking, but a University of Guelph professor has gotten a shot of renewed notoriety out of the fallout. “My phone’s been absolutely ringing off the hook,” economics prof Ross McKitrick told the Guelph Mercury last week. McKitrick has for a long time been a climate change skeptic (or denier depending upon your slant), believing that all the talk about end of the world consequences from global warming was much ado about nothing. “There’s a sense of vindication there,” he added in response to the allegations that the e-mails prove climate change scientists were cooking the books to make the problem seem much worse than it is. But perhaps the real conspiracy here is that all this came out just days before the UN Climate Change conference began in Copenhagen.

Another hurdle for HCBP quietly leapt

Posted quietly on the City of Guelph website Friday was news that funding assistance from Industry Canada for the watermain and utility highway crossing construction for the Hanlon Creek Business Park project had been approved. The city submitted an Environmental Assessment to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and from that report and the “implementation of appropriate mitigation measures,” the Feds decided to grant the request for funding. According to the city press release, appropriate implementations of mitigation measures included in the Environmental Assessment include: fauna at risk; human health and safety; structure, site or thing of historic, archaeological, paleontological or architectural significance; air quality; noise levels; soil quality; vegetation; and water quality. "We are pleased that this project has cleared this level of environmental review with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency," said Peter Cartwright, General Manager for Economic Development and Tourism.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Budget Details Released and Reaction Will be Mixed

Last Wednesday, officials from the City of Guelph including Mayor Karen Farbridge, Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig and Treasurer Margaret Neubauer, outlined to the media budget proposals that were being brought to council this past Monday. The good news first: the City did not send our banking information to the lawyer holding $100 million in trust for the Nubian prince that needs access to foreign banking institutions in order to get his inheritance. The band news is that the 2010 is looking at quite a substantial shortfall of available funds, and its going to take some serious cuts to make up the difference.

Planning for this year’s budget actually started in May with city managers looking towards the fact this was probably going to be a year for cuts rather than spending. Mayor Farbridge said that in a time when families and employers are having to make some tough decisions in regard to their own finances, then the municipality should do its part. She added that although their have been signs of some recovery from the current economic downturn, it will still take about two to three years for Guelph to feel the effects of any recovery. So with a mind on lean times ahead, city staff is presenting a number of options for city council to consider for the 2010 budget.

To begin with the city is trying to mitigate a loss of $8.1 million in revenues as much as possible. What this means is that even without any new spending, and using the numbers from the 2009 budget, there's already a 5.2 per cent increase in the 2010 budget that needs to be covered. Contractual obligations, collective agreements and compensation account for another 4 per cent increase. So when it's all said and done, the City of Guelph basically needs to find another $14.4 million for 2010. So where is much of that money going to come from? Cuts mostly, hope city officials, and their proposed cuts are divided into two categories: Department Reduction Proposals" and "Other Considerations." With the options presented in the "Department Reduction Proposals" the city can save 4.48 per cent or $7.4 million. If all the items under "Other Considerations" are enacted then a further $2.5 million can be shaved off the deficit, bringing the increase down to a more manageable 3 per cent.

If those sound like serious numbers, they are, and the impact will be felt by just about everyone in the city. Biggest of all considerations is the delay of capital projects previously discussed. Basically, anything that hasn’t had started being built is on the back-burner until 2011 at least. As for projects in various phase of completion, their openings will be pushed back by months in order to save money. For example, the east end branch of the library will not open until June 2010. Also, City staff might be asked to take up to 5 unpaid days off and 29 full-time positions could be eliminated, hopefully through attrition such as retirements and resignations. Transit may be hit worst of all with the proposed elimination of stat holidays schedules, a reduced service summer schedule and a 7 per cent fare increase. There could also be a general increase on fees for rentals of city facilities.

Things get worse under the “Other Considerations” category. If councillors decide to accept these further measures to tighten up the deficit then it could mean the closing of the Centennial and Lyon's pools, the closing Centennial rink, eliminating John Galt Day activities, ending two hour free parking downtown, no longer having any special waste collection (like for Christmas trees), shuttering the household hazardous waste facility and adjusting the Industrial and Perimeter transit routes (Note: this does not mean cancelling them). Contingencies if these options should be adopted are being worked out, but it was stressed repeatedly in the briefing that these are merely options and don’t necessarily represent the shape of things to come.

Don’t like what you just read, well you can let your voice be heard by council starting with the meeting on Tuesday December 8 at 6 pm in the council chamber. For more information, check out the meeting schedule on the City’s website here: or pay a visit to my blog at

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Woods Closes, Protest Remembered and Bike Lanes Info

Manufacturing Hit again as Woods Closes Down
After 75 years in operation, the W.C. Woods plant on Arthur Road in Guelph closed its doors and put 250 workers out of a job last week after a deal to sell the company fell through. To add insult to injury, those same workers received no official notice from the company and many showing up for work at the plant Monday morning business as usual. A former Woods’ employee told me that he learned about the plant’s closing by trading rumours on Facebook, and showed up early Monday to collect his things before the doors were locked. Other employees not so informed had to make an appointment to come in to the closed plant and collect their belongings.

Ultimately though, the closure of Woods came as no surprise to many of its former employees. The plant’s been on the proverbial bubble for much of the last year with employees having been part of a government work share program in order to compensate for lost hours at the plant. For frustrated workers, the loss of their job was exacerbated by a wall of silence from the company as to the status of their pensions, holiday pay and severance cheques. Before the employees can even get EI, their paper work on the work share program had to be finished, but it appears this at least will give workers some relief. As for the rest, Woods has been mum as to what the people that used to make their factory run can expect.

In an attempt to get some answers, about 75 employees and supporters gathered at the plant Thursday morning. The only one dolling out answers however was a representative of BDO Dunwoody, the firm that’s overseeing the liquidation of Woods’ assets. The business’ creditors will be the first to receive money from the sell-off, but how much that is and how much will be made from the sell-off is not yet known. In the meantime, the workers are getting more information from each other and third part sources then they are from the guys that used to sign their paycheques. For late breaking information head over to my blog at

Week of Events Remember HCBP opposition

Local activists have planned a whole week of activities to keep up awareness over the Hanlon Creek Business Park project. Hanlon Creek Celebration Week began this past Monday with HCBP protestor Kelly Pflug-Back serving the Guelph police department with a plaintiff's claim on behalf of herself and Julian Ichim. Pflug-Back and Ichim are claiming that police defamed them while investigating a supposed threatening letter that was dropped off at the home of one of the developers. Events continue today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) with a protest at Xterra Construction’s Kitchener office, and a lunch hour hootenanny at Guelph City Hall. For more information and a full schedule go to

City wants your notes about bike lanes

The City of Guelph is hosting a public information session to present plans for the construction of bike lanes on Stone Road from Scottsdale Drive to Victoria Road South, and on Gordon Street from Stone Road to Harts Lane. The session takes place between 5 pm and 7 pm Thursday November 26th at the Delta Hotel on the corner of Gordon and Stone. After a presentation at 5:30, attendees will be given the opportunity to ask questions and give feedback to city officials and planners. Construction is set to begin early next summer and will last at least seven months. This is another fine “shovel ready” project brought to you by Federal and Provincial Infrastructure Stimulus Funds.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Food Security, City Challenged and Downtown Traffic

When in Rome (attend the UN Food Security Summit)

Ever the world traveller since being elected last fall, our Member of Parliament, Frank Valeriote, is jet-setting again, this time accompanying Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda as part of the Canadian delegation to the World Summit on Food Security in Rome. The summit ran from November 16 to 18 and was organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as part of the international community’s efforts to address the devastating effects of rising food prices in developing countries.

In a press release, Valeriote said that his previous experiences in international development and his efforts to help develop a comprehensive national strategy for Canada’s own food safety were amongst the reasons he want to be a part of this conference. “I know through consultations towards the creation of a national Canadian food policy that there are few areas of more critical importance in the lives of people everywhere,” said Valeriote. “I believe it is absolutely essential that the developed countries take real action to ensure that the world’s poorest regions have the tools they need to increase their own agricultural productivity. Food must be accessible, affordable and nutritional to all nations and helping developing countries create and maintain food security strategies is something to which Canada can make a significant contribution.”

The State of our City is Challenging

Mayor Karen Farbridge delivered a “State of the City” address to the Guelph Chamber of Commerce last Thursday, and while it was positive overall, the Mayor noted that it was a good time to re-examine the way City Hall gets things done so far as budgeting in the midst of tough economic times. "The State of the City address is an opportunity to pause and reflect on the progress we’ve made throughout the year, and look ahead to the year to come. It’s particularly timely to reflect on this now, as we head into one of the most challenging Budget years in recent memory," said Mayor Farbridge.

The Mayor highlighted the city’s day-to-day commitments to the people of Guelph before tackling the delicate financial picture for the coming year. Facing an $8 million decline in revenue for 2010, the Mayor said that there were some tough decisions ahead. "Even in good economic times, it would be unacceptable to pass on an impact of this magnitude to City taxpayers. It would be unthinkable in the difficult economic times families are experiencing right now," she said. She added that through the 2010 Budget process, Council is prepared to make the tough decisions necessary to protect taxpayers, maintain the City’s excellent AA credit rating, and keep the City’s finances sustainable over the long term. You can see the presentation for yourself on the City of Guelph website at

Downtown is losing precious traffic

It was brought to the attention of Downtown stakeholders at a meeting last week that Wyndham St doesn’t attract nearly as many cars as it used to. A survey of the amount of traffic between 1990 and 2007 shows a significant drop in the amount of cars that pass through the core. Apparently this is a huge problem, not being able to drive through the downtown with limited interruptions from traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. So-called “barriers” like the all-way stop in St. George’s Square were to be addressed at the meeting. It’s interesting that we’d be talking about ways to increase traffic in the same week that a report was released saying that traffic jams cost Toronto $3.3 billion a year in lost productivity. Call me an iconoclast, but I think it’s nice that there’s one area in town where people can’t drive like maniacs. Already, there are times where crossing Douglas St is like taking your life in your own hands, but I guess that’s what some of us get for walking.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Flu Shots, Trees and Signs

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

As Federal parties choose who’s going to represent them in the next Federal Election, there’s an important issue concerning the future campaign that needs action, at least according to Gloria Kovach: Too many election signs. The Ward 4 Councillor and former Federal Conservative candidate brought forth motion to city council last week to have city staff look into the possible implementation of additions to the signing by-law to reduce the number of signs that can be posted on public and private property. The move is to diminish visual pollution on the busy corners of the city where “signus eruptus” happens every elect, but Kovach also said that the move will help keep a lot of signs out of the landfills once elections are over. 

“This is not political. There is a gross amount that goes to landfill,” said Kovach, who added that while visiting other communities her time as President of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities she never witnessed a Guelph-like orgy of election signage everywhere (my words, not hers). At the meeting, Mayor Karen Farbridge said that the city has too many other, more important balls in the air to address the issue right at this moment, but Kovach found a seconder in Ward 3 Councillor Maggie Laidlaw. The motion was passed on a 7 to 6 vote. Laidlaaw said that she offered her support in order to “help level the playing field” so that new candidates can have the same shot as incumbents. We shall see what comes to pass, because there’s at least one election coming down the pipe in the next year: the 2010 Municipal election. 

Tree police make a bust (sort of) 

The City of Guelph laid 151 charges against three companies after an investigation into an incident this past summer where trees were being cut down in the Victory Rd. S. area, and no one at City Hall seemed to know about it. According to a press release, “Under the City of Guelph’s tree by-law, it is an offence to injure or destroy a tree, or cause or permit a tree to be injured or destroyed within the city,” and “If found guilty of such an offence, a person or an organization could be subject to a fine between $500 and $2,000 per offence.” The incident on June 11th, a neighbour reported that about 65 acres of trees, part of the Paris-Glat Moraine, had been cut down. So why the four month wait before charges? “We wanted to make sure we got all the evidence before we moved forward at all,” Doug Godfrey, the city’s supervisor of bylaw enforcement, told the Guelph Mercury. South Edge Ltd. And Williams and Associates Forestry and Environmental Consultants Ltd., each face 50 charges, while O.T.S. Contracting Ltd. faces 51 charges. 

Flu Shots in reserve

Hey you! Perfect health person under the age of 65 that doesn’t have a chronic health, contact with a baby, work in the health profession, and or are currently pregnant. Get out of the line for the flu shot says Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health’s medical officer of health, Dr. Nicola Mercer. Those shots are for at-risk groups only. “I have confidence the (general) population is understanding that the reason they are being turned away is because they are in a low-risk group and we’re trying to put the vaccine in the arms of people who are high-risk.” I like your optimism Doctor, but haven’t you watched the news lately? We’re all doomed! Apparently the seasonal flu shot is still available to the general public at the local flu shot clinic, for all the good it’ll do you. 

And in case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Protests at Hanlon as Bell Goes Green

Definitely not your father’s groundbreaking

Given the rather contentious nature of the issue, it was a bit surprising that the City would have so public an event in honour of the Hanlon Creek Business Park like a ground breaking. When the announcement was made Tuesday, you could practically smell trouble in the air. The proverbial ink was barely dry on the press release when LIMITS (Land Is More Important Than Sprawl) sent out a flyer calling for a peaceful demonstration at the Downey St entrance to the site. The flyer further declared that instruments and street theatre were welcome.

Well there was certainly theatre, but the calls for a peaceful demonstration seemed to fall on deaf ears. About 75 people were there for the rake out on the other side of the barricades at the groundbreaking as several city officials and other guests there by “invitation only” had to walk past shouting protesters, at least one grim reaper and “Barnie,” the purple Jefferson salamander dinosaur. As Mayor Karen Farbridge and others overturned the sod for the future business park, protestors dug an effigy grave for Barnie and his brethren.

But if getting in was rough, getting out was murder. Or at least there were shouts of it, anyway. “You will pay for this. Your life is on the line,” shouted a hooded protester according to the Mercury’s Rob O’Flanagan. Over on his Ward 2 blog, Councillor Ian Findlay said that while returning to the bus with a city staff member, “We were greeted by what could be described as a feral mob of protesters, dressed in Halloween costumes chanting ‘F**k You Scum! F**k You Scum!’” Buses were only able to leave the site once the police had cleared a path. In a City press release celebrating the groundbreaking, there was no mention of any troubles on the site.

Bell goes Fed for the Greens next election

After Mike Nagy’s three at bats for the Federal Green Party in Guelph, Ward 1 Councillor Bob Bell will step up to the plate for the team in the next federal election. Bell was acclaimed at a meeting of local Greens last week. The first-time federal candidate said that he was drawn to the idea of taking more action on the environment and feels that it’s the most important issue facing Guelph and Canada. “Climate change is an issue that I find is the biggest driver,” on other issues, Bell told me by phone on Saturday. “It trickles down to transportation planning, energy pricing, food security and international trade.”

Bell added that he thinks that the way environmental issues and how people see them is continuing to evolve. “Most people have thought of issues as independent but my perspective is that other issues all fit into the environment, but I think that’s typical of the Green Party.” The newly minted Green candidate also said that he thinks a federal election is far off, but in the mean time he’ll be learning the fine art of a federal campaign along with getting some helpful pointers from his predecessor Nagy.

Flu shots come to those who wait

Swine flu fever hit Guelph last week… Oh, wait. Poor choice of words. Okay, so swine flu vaccination fever hit Guelph last week as the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit began flu shot clinics last Friday, including the controversial H1N1 shot. The shot was recommended, as per usual, for pregnant women, children between the ages of six months and five years old, people with chronic health conditions and health care workers but because of the looming, media-hyped threat of pandemic, 2,000 people and a four hour wait were what people showing up at the former College Avenue Public School got. Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health has received two allotments of the vaccine. The first was 12,000 doses and the second was 14,500. For clinic times and locations go to or follow updated info on wait times on Twitter at

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mitchell's Back, Project Chilled, and Communications Breakdown

Ray Mitchell’s Back in Business

Ray Mitchell, formally the owner and operator of the Family Thrift Store, is back in business downtown with a new store on Wyndham St. The store, called Dis-A-Ray Antiques and Collectibles, is located next to The Cornerstone and opened in a low key fashion on October 17th with cake, and the news of the move has quickly spread to Mitchell’s loyal clientele. “It’s ostensibly an antique store, but it’s an antique store for kids,” says Mitchell who adds that by his reckoning roughly half of his customers are under the age of 30. “It’s going to be all the best of the Thrift Store with none of the bad.”

There are a couple of big differences though. First, due to space restrictions, the new store won’t be carrying much in the way furniture (although today, you can get a pair of old roller coaster cars that are sitting in the window). Mitchell’s also disappointed that that he won’t be able to help students and people on welfare in the same way he used to, and while he can’t be the patron of the arts he was by offering a venue, Mitchell says that he’ll continue to be a supporter in whatever way he can. “I’ll let them use the window, and may be the occasion acoustical concert, that kind of thing […] But you’re going to see me somewhere down the road with some kind of musical component.” In the meantime, Mitchell invites all his old customers, from far and wide, to come by his new store and say hi.

City Chills on Big Projects

In irony news, just as Mitchell’s getting his retail life back in order, the City is shelving certain capital projects from the five year capital budget forecast, including the new public library that was to be built at the north end of Wyndham. Avid fans of The G-Beat will remember Echo’s cover story this past spring about the project, which would effectively shut down every business between Cowboy Bar and the old post office. Unless they moved somewhere else to do business like Wyndham Arts last fall.

But tough times, economically speaking, have meant that certain big ticket capital projects are getting mothballed until the city can see its way out of recession footing. Chief among those projects is the new Main Branch of the public library, which was to be the linchpin of the entire Baker Street redevelopment project. Other projects on that list include a new south end rec centre and the Wilson Street parking garage, which, if remaining in a state of development limbo, will have a pronounced negative impact on business development downtown. With a second Co-operators office moving downtown and the arrival of Go trains next year, those parking spaces are seriously needed.

All hope is not lost though. Treasurer Margaret Neubauer told he Guelph Mercury that “There probably is some capacity later in the forecast to get started” later on, but still the city is looking at being unable to fulfill on promised parking needs and leaving several buildings vacant in a development limbo for, potentially, years.

Communication Dysfunction

In more irony news, a city initiative to answer a note of concern in 2008’s Citizen Satisfaction Survey identifying 'communication with residents' as a key issue, three community communication sessions on October 22nd and 26th were cancelled due to lack of interest. The City cancelled the sessions last week due to low registration, and will instead issue a survey, both online and by hard copy, for area residents to comment on pertinent issues facing the city. The City of Guelph's Corporate Communications Plan is intended to foster effective, two-way communications that encourage public involvement for the purposes of government decision-making, and professional, consistent, open communications between the City and its stakeholders, according to a City press release.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Money Problems, Pissoirs Pulled and Climate Change

No Money, Mo’ Problems

It appears that despite rumours to the contrary, the economy hasn’t quite reached recovery status quite yet as it seems the recession is taking a sledgehammer to coffers city wide. A summary report prepared by the City’s chief administrative officer Hans Loewig was released a few weeks ago showing that the city’s revenues were entering into serious deficit territory, though not quite the $8.1 million as initially reported. The forecast deficit will probably be closer to $4 million, but don’t think for a minute that that’s got people sweating any less about the financial forecast. There’s talk of their being less money to go around in the form of cuts to grants and other expenditures, and the governance committee last week nixed the idea of spending $5,000 on a consultant to analyze the citizens’ committee findings for the scheduled market review of council remuneration.

Additionally, last week at the annual meeting of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, local chamber president Andrew Anderson had this to say about this year in business for Guelph: “Obviously, the last year has been less than stellar for most.” Anderson made these comments to the Mercury after the Chamber’s meeting at the Delta Hotel on Gordon. Keynote speaker, and Ontario Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive, Len Crispino told the audience that there’s room for optimism because our pre-recession domestic economy was strong and he endorsed the integration of Federal and provincial sales tax scheduled to be phased in July 1st as a good move to help businesses’ bottom line.

Of course, this discussion of recovery/not-recovery situation comes mere weeks after the Guelph Community Foundation’s second annual Vital Signs report card that gave the city Cs and Ds for the growing gap between the poor. Amongst the statistics presented: the richest 10 per cent of families earns more than six times the amount of the poorest 10 per cent; the Guelph and Wellington Ontario Works caseload increased by more than 30 per cent between April 2008 and April 2009; and the unemployment rate in Guelph since June 2008 has increased by 84.8 per cent. So is the economy recovering? I guess that depends on where you stand.

Pissoirs Pulled

Looking to pee downtown? Well, you’re stuck again with the indoor variety as the outdoor pissers, sorry: pissoirs, have been pulled with the conclusion of the two month-long pilot project. As you’ll recall, the controversial project was brought to city council by the Downtown Night Life Task Force which includes representatives from downtown businesses, the Downtown Guelph Business Association, Guelph Police Service, the University of Guelph and the City of Guelph. The pissoirs (I hate that word) were part of a three pronged assault on public urination downtown, which also included heightened awareness and greater enforcement of by-laws against peeing where you feel like as if you’re a common dog. City staff monitored the level of use, the number of by-law infringements and number of calls for maintenance during the pilot. Reports will be made to City Council on the assessment of the pilot project in the coming weeks, so look for that information when it comes across my desk.

Fight Climate Change this Weekend

Guelph will be holding its own celebrations in recognition of the International Day of Climate Action this Saturday at St. George’s Church. From Noon to 4 pm there will be several activities in order to promote “fun and reflection on how we will create a sustainable future.” Amongst the all ages activities will be arts and crafts, face painting, music and other entertainment (like story telling), an art show featuring local talent and information from local organizations dedicated to sustainability and environmental protection. When the sun goes down, come back to St. George’s for a public presentation by David Noble, a Guelph-based entrepreneur, author, and climate change advocate recently recognized by the Guelph Mercury as one of the city’s 40 Under 40. There will also be a musical performance by James Gordon. For more information, check out the Guelph Climate Festival on Facebook at

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New HCBP Developments

City looking at amendments to HCBP plan

From the Weirdness of the Week file, it seems that talking softly does work after all. A letter signed by many prominent environmentalists was sent to city councillors and staff stating that while the project “has appreciable merits,” it also has “significant shortcomings” that could end up being harmful to the environment. In response, the city is bringing in consultants to review some of the proposed changes. “The decision was really made in 2006 with the signing of the OMB minutes of settlement,” Farbridge told the Guelph Mercury adding that the City is open to compromise as long as terms of settlement aren’t breached. “It is now at a technical stage and a lot of (residents’) suggestions would have to be dealt with at a technical level.”

Norah Chaloner, a member of the Guelph chapter of the Council of Canadians said that with the City announcing suspension of work until the spring, the time was ripe to explore a more conciliatory process. Of course, she refers to the occupation of the construction site in the HCBP land this past July, which lead to a court ordered suspension of construction for further investigation of environmental concerns, which, by the time it was over, was too late for work to continue on the site. But while groups like Land Is More Important Than Sprawl and the HCBP occupiers want a complete cessation of construction on the land, the signatories of the letter are looking for a third path. “I’m satisfied that there is good potential in the Hanlon Creek Business Park proposal,” said Hugh Whiteley adding that there is “not an ideal balance” between proposed development and natural areas.

Meanwhile LIMITS is gearing up again to take full advantage of the winter months to continue to push for their goals. A meeting was held at the ebar on Tuesday looked to such action as organizing an information sharing event, tabling at local events, poster campaign, and walking tours. Stay tuned for more.

A Quick Dose of Updates

Because you demanded it (I assume since I got no factual demands), here’s the latest news on a couple of stories I previously reported about.

First, it seems that the frogs are on their own once again. Last week the City announced that the nightly closures of Laird Road for amphibian migration had ended after being closed two weeks earlier when local residents brought some 200 dead frogs and toads to the front door of City Hall in protest. So did the City just give up on the frogs? Well no, environmentalists say that amphibian movement stops when the nightly temperature dips below 10 degrees celsius. The plan to install a culvert below the road and drift fencing above is scheduled to proceed next month in anticipation for the even bigger spring migration which can start as early as March and end as late as June.

Meanwhile, the hammer came down on the two people being investigated for leaving an allegedly threatening letter at the home of someone connected to Drexler Construction… only it was one of those inflatable novelty hammers. Police Chief Rob Davis told the Guelph Mercury that no charges would be filed against Julian Ichim or Kelly Pflug-Back, who outed themselves as persons of interest following the delivery of the letter over the Labour Day long weekend. The chief said that there was no evidence against Ichim and Pflug-Back even despite their admission. As for their intention to file defamation suits against the police, there’s been no word on how that’s going.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Next Federal Candidates and Protest Fall-Out

Parties move on next election

As Michael Ignatieff continues to try, unsuccessfully, to bring down the government of Stephen Harper, two local riding associations are lining up the people their putting forward once the writ is cast. Last week the Guelph Federal Conservative Party Association nominated Marty Burke to be its candidate in the next federal election. The 49-year-old Air Canada pilot, who moved to Guelph with his family in 2000, has solid Conservative credentials as a professional, and a family man; additionally, Burke has 23 years of service in the Canadian Armed Forces under his belt. It’ll be interesting to see how Burke will fair up against Liberal incumbent Frank Valeriote who’s well-liked with years of community involvement to his credit as well as being a natural born Guelphite. In the 2008 election, then Conservative candidate City Coun. Gloria Kovach lost by a little over 3,000 votes.

Meanwhile, Guelph’s Federal Green Party will be holding its nomination meeting on Tuesday, October 27th at 7:00 pm at Norfolk United Church downtown. Nominations are now open, and anyone that’s currently a member of the Green Party is eligible to put their name forward for the consideration of the riding association. Remember to allow at least a week for the Green Party of Canada to review your nomination, so don’t doddle with your paper work. Unfortunately, for potential Greens sitting on the fence, one must become a member, or renew their membership, 30 days before the nomination meeting to be able to vote. For more information, head to the Guelph Greens’ website at
Remember when I said “This ain’t over…?”

Two little nuggets came out of the orbit of the old Hanlon Creek Business Park controversy from last summer. One involved two activists that delivered a letter to the home of the owner of Drexler Construction asking him to part ways with the City in developing the HCBP lands. Julian Ichim and Kelly Pflug-Back returned to the police station where they tried to surrender themselves early in September to let Guelph PD know that they’ve filed two "notices of action," each seeking $30,000 in damages. The dynamic duo say that police defamed them, were negligent in their "investigation of criminal charges" and violated their Charter rights. “[T]he premise of our recent actions has to do with the fact that the media's vilification of activism is unacceptable, as is the police force attempting to take on a political role rather than one of impartial law enforcement,” said Pflug-Back in a response on the Mercury’s 59 Carden St Blog. Paradoxically, the one thing that Pflun-Back didn’t address is that it was she and Ichim that identified themselves to media, they weren’t named in any police press release.

Later that week, a concerned citizen tipped of the Mercury to some movement of dump trucks and heavy equipment on the HCBP lands. The concern was that maybe work was being done on the DL (that’s down low) to avoid a fuss from protesters. After some investigation, City staff told a Mercury reporter that the mounds of top soil dropped off at the site was being used to stabilize the Road A culvert site and would be spread evenly between McWilliams Drive and the Road A Culvert and then it will be seeded to prevent any erosion and sediment issues over the winter/spring months when the development (and the development protests) are expected to continue. Case closed.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Linamar, Frogs and Irony

Harper brings cash to Linamar

Last Monday, Linamar had its grand opening for the Frank Hasenfratz Centre of Excellence in Manufacturing, a new Teaching and Technology Centre at 700 Woodlawn Rd., and the guest of honour was the Prime Minister himself, Stephen Harper. Harper’s gift to the company: $54.8 million in a repayable interest-free contribution to fund the development of the company’s green and fuel efficient powertrain projects. That’s a pretty big slice of the Automotive Initiative Fund, a provision from last year’s budget that provides $250 million over five years to car and part manufacturers in order to support strategic, large-scale research and development projects.

“The auto sector is an essential part of the Canadian economy. It has created hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs for Canadians,” Harper said in his remarks following a photo opportunity. “Parts and assembly plants fuel the growth and prosperity of cities like Guelph… they are a major contributor to the wider economies of Ontario, Quebec and Canada as a whole.” Linamar CEO Linda Hasenfratz added that the pursuit of green technologies made good environmental sense as well as good business sense and she estimated her company will have spent a total of $365 million of such projects by 2013. “We should never wait for the good old days to come back and wait for (auto) production volumes to resume,” she said. “You have to be proactive and find new markets and new products… and continue to grow the company. You have to be proactive about staying ahead of the curve.”

Quick action saves frogs

After weeks of warm, dry weather, a rain finally fell last Monday. Now normally rain is a good thing for plants and animals alike, but for several amphibious animals in the Laird Rd. area between the Hanlon and Downey Rd. it mean a high stakes game of Frogger. Confused? Let me explain. The migratory path of several species of frogs and toads crosses from one side of Laird Road to the other. At this time of year, during particularly warm and wet weather, the amphibians travel from one side of the street to the other, retuning to the waters in which they’ll collect food and hunker down for the winter. Literally hundreds of the animals were killed by passing motorists on Laird Road at the beginning of last week until action by environmentalists and local residents forced the City to close the road to traffic last Tuesday.

Norah and Richard Chaloner along with friend Judy Martin were amongst the people trying to save the frogs and petition the city to close the road to prevent further deaths. But Rajan Philips, manager of transportation planning said that closing the road was not an option because advanced notification was required and appropriate detours needed to be established. On Tuesday afternoon, the Chaloners and Martin, along with members of the group LIMITS brought the remains of 200 dead animals to city hall to prove how big a problem it was. By late afternoon the City’s chief administrative officer, Hans Loewig, told citizens that the city will indeed be shutting down a section of Laird Road between McWilliams Road and Downey Road, from dusk till dawn, for the duration of the migratory season. A more permanent solution of a culvert under Laird Road is being considered by the city.

Other notes in brief

Ward 2 Councillor Ian Findlay posted some statistics on his blog from the first half-month of operation of the pissoirs on Macdonnel and Carden Streets. Between September 1 and 14 over 1,500 litres of urine had been collected between the two locations, over one-third of that total was collected on the weekend of September 11-13, or the first weekend after the University of Guelph opened for business again. So far the only downside is some damage to the privacy screens and one instance of graffiti on signage.

Then, last week in an act of cosmic irony, a vote to end street parking on Elizabeth St. in order to install bike lanes was defeated in a tie in a meeting of the emergency services, community services and operations committee. The tie breaking vote belonged to Coun. Maggie Laidlaw, one of City Hall’s most outspoken advocates for biking in the city, who was in Waterloo that night attending the Ontario Bicycle Summit. The Summit was billed as being dedicated to a vision of "creating a bicycle friendly Ontario for everyone.” Oh, the humanity!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Downtwon Vacancy, Water Levels and New Blood

Downtown Guelph’s got (lots of) room

While the New City Hall represents three stories of awesomeness for city employees, the buildings that used to house city offices downtown are singing the vacancy blues. The biggest big empty is the some 27,000 square feet of office space that were used by 100 city employees at 2 Wyndham Street at the corner of Wyndham and Carden, owners have yet to find someone else to lease the space. “It is something that we have just created, so it is a new situation,” David Corks, the city’s downtown economic development manager, told the Guelph Tribune last week.

It’s a problem that will only get bigger as time goes on, as Old Quebec Street will loose 13,000 sq. feet of occupancy when renovations to the Old City Hall as the new provincial court house are complete. One recent bright spot is that much of the 77,000 sq. feet of space in the future rebuilt and retrofitted Gummer Building has been tentatively agreed to be occupied by the Co-operators, moving 150 employees from an office on Scottsdale to downtown. The Gummer Building has been having difficulty with getting funds for completion due to a lack of potential occupants and no construction has been done on the site all summer. Meanwhile, the owners of 2 Wyndham say they have the option of going residential since the building was formally a hotel, but their preference would be to still have some kind of commercial interest on the first floor.

Water level dips first time this summer

For the first time this summer, Guelph’s water use program went to Level 1 Yellow last week after going on to nearly three weeks without any rainfall. According to the Grand River Low Water Response Team (GRLWRT), the central portion of the Grand River watershed, which includes our own Eramosa River, has seen hotter, drier weather and a lack of significant precipitation recently. “As a result, river flows in the Eramosa River have dropped to about half of what they would normally be at this time of the year,” said a City of Guelph press release. “There is little precipitation expected over the next week and Environment Canada is predicting warmer temperatures and below normal precipitation over the next few months.”

At Level 1 Yellow, there are no further restrictions placed on water use, although the GRLWRT would like to see all residents decrease their use by 10 per cent in order to conserve. So you can still water your garden, fill your pool, run your fountain and take the Slip N’ Slide for a spin, but compliance on lawn watering is now mandatory. Waterworks staff and City By-law Officers will increase enforcement of the Outside Water Use Program now and residents who fail to comply with the City’s “reduce outside use” guidelines can face a fine of $110. For more information on the program visit the City’s website here

Conservatives looking for new blood

The call has gone out, and the Conservative Party of Canada is looking for someone to answer and run in the next Federal election for Guelph. Time is running out though because nomination papers have to be received at party headquarters in Ottawa by September 29th at 5 pm. The nomination process is open to all party members and anyone that’s interested in nominating someone or nominating themselves is asked to contact the chair of the selection committee, Neil Ruton, at The nomination meeting is tentatively scheduled for October 20th, although if an election is called before that the meeting date will obviously be moved up. If anyone’s interested in signing up to become a member of the Conservative Party, membership forms are also due on September 29th and are available at

Thursday, September 17, 2009

City Hall Official Opens While HCBP Battle Continues

Reminder: The Opening’s Official this weekend

The New City Hall will get its official christening this weekend as city staff and dignitaries roll out the red carpet at 1 Carden Street on Saturday. "Everyone is invited to be part of this historic occasion, as we officially open our new City Hall and come together to celebrate this remarkable new civic facility," says Mayor Karen Farbridge in press release. Farbridge will kick off the festivities with an official greeting at 10:20 am. From 10 till 4 there’ll be entertainment of all sorts and a barbecue lunch that will be served starting at noon. Farbridge will be joined by our local MP Frank Valeriote, Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong, our MPP Liz Sandals, Executive Director Association of Municipalities Ontario Pat Vanini, as well as members of Heritage Guelph and Moriyama & Teshima Architects. And bonus, city buses will run for free from dawn’s early light till 6 pm. So there’s no reason not to go. Ahem.

War of Words or Much Ado About Nothing?

The Hanlon Creek Business Park pot continued to stir last week when things seemed to get a little personal. As you’ll recall, the Mayor said in a city press release about the cancellation of this year’s phase of the project that the city was “held hostage” by a group that occupied the site to stop construction. Next up to bat where a group called “Friends of the Hanlon Creek” who delivered by hand a letter to the home of the owner of Drexler Construction in which they ask him to reconsider doing business with the city on this project. Next thing you know, a police press release said that these Friends, “Verbally and in a written warning, they advised that ‘it would be in his best interests to cease dealing’ with the city on this construction project.”

And now we’re off to the races with police saying “Attempts to intimidate or extort are criminal acts and will not be tolerated by this Police Service,” the release said. “Guelph Police are taking this issue very seriously and appeal to those associated with the protest to cease, desist and discourage this type of action.” And then they asked for anyone with information to call either Guelph Police or Crimestoppers.

Last Wednesday evening, two of the Friends tried to turn themselves in but found the doors to the station locked. Then when they called to switchboard they were told that the investigating officer was not on duty. Julian Ichim and Kelly Pflug-Back were accompanied by their lawyer Davin Charney, and when they couldn’t get into the station, they read the so-called intimidating letter and told their side of the story. “We wanted to go and inform Mr. Drexler about what is going on and appeal to him as a person. There was nothing illegal in our actions,” said Ichim. “We read the letter to the person that answered the door, we gave them the letter, wished them to ‘have a nice day,’ he did the same and then we left.”

The home visit occurred late afternoon on the Friday before the long weekend, and Ichim said that the exchange with the person that answered the door at Drexler’s home was cordial enough. “There is no intimidation in this at all,” Ichim said. “It was an appeal from one concerned citizen to another concerned citizen.” Charney however was less diplomatic in his remarks to the press. “This, to me, seems like another example where the Guelph Police are taking on a political role rather than simply a law enforcement role,” Charney said.

Guelph Police told the Mercury that they’d be having the investigating officer follow up with Ichim and Pfung-Back the next day. Stay tuned for more wackiness on this issue and go to Guelph Politico at for background info.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Top Five of Summer '09

With Labour Day past, it’s time to look back at the summer that was. For our friends only now returning to town after several months gone, here’s your checklist of what issues arose, and where they stand now.

1) Pissoirs

Hey, what’s that fenced off eyesore in the parking lot next to Sun Sun’s? Why that’s your brand-spanking new outdoor toilet, men’s only, and its part of a month-long project to see if their presence is going to reduce the number of incidences of people peeing in alleys, doorways and culverts. And as a bonus, they’re brand new in time for Frosh Week. The instillation of these pissoirs was a subject of much debate, the number, duration and price tag for these open-air toilets being the subject of much discussion in committees and council meetings throughout June and July. And yes ladies, despite the topic being brought up in conversation, these devices were not made with you in mind.

2) A River Runs Through It

There was an unsightly surprise for the staff of the River Run Centre when they returned from the Victoria Day long weekend to find a false alarm caused 8,000 gallons of water to rain down on the main stage. Several performances in late May and early June were cancelled, postponed or moved to another venue as clean-up and temporary repairs for safety were completed. All in all, the total bill for damage and other costs will come to about $300,000. The sprinklers have since been replaced with a fire curtain.

3) Why is this Road dug up?

The short answer is money. Lots of it. Federal stimulus money announced earlier this year trickled down to Guelph resulting in a flurry of road construction around town, with the lion’s share taking place downtown. At one point, the only access to the core was via Woolwich, and the bus transfer point in St. George’s Square was itself transferred to the road in front of the River Run and Sleeman Centre for two harrowing weeks. And speaking of buses, you may have observed that they now all have bike racks up front. It’s all part of the city’s commitment to make Guelph more bike friendly.

4) City Hall’s Grand Opening Postponed

After the sudden, accidental death of Bishop Macdonell student in a wall collapse in a public park in the south end, the grand opening of the new City Hall was deferred until September out of respect. The incident spurred a top level review of the structural soundness of many public washroom facilities in the city, a review still underway. Meanwhile, the new Grand Opening for City Hall will take place on Saturday September 19th and part of the celebrations will be free buses all day.

5) Protesters Occupy Hanlon Creek Business Park

By far the biggest story of summer was the three week long occupation of the lands of the future Hanlon Creek Business Park, and the improbable victory of those protesters in court. After the city attempted to remove them through injunction, the protesters lawyer filed an injunction of their own on the basis that the Ministry of Natural Resources weren’t given ample enough time to consider the implications of the start of construction on the probably presence of the endangered Jefferson Salamander. Two weeks ago, the MNR said it was cool for the City to proceed with phase one and the construction of a culvert in the site, but that more testing would have to be done come spring and the mating season of the salamander. Now accusations of sabotage and thievery are being brandied about as someone stole several environmental monitors at the end of August, and a large trench was redug on the site last week. This one is far from over.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Piss and Approval

Taking the piss(oirs) out in downtown

This week you may have noticed something new and different downtown, especially if you were caught with the sudden desire “to go.” Yes indeed, the highly controversial open air urinals, or pissoirs, are being installed this week, two of them anyway. The pissoirs will be set up at the Macdonell Street municipal parking lot (behind the ticket booth), just west of Wyndham, and at the northwest corner of Carden and Wyndham and will remain their for an eight week trial period as the Downtown Night Life Task Force assess their success in cutting down on public urination. The pissoirs are part of a three-part program with that goal in mind, the other two parts involve a public education campaign and stepped-up enforcement of the anti-fouling bylaw, which allows for a $240 fine for public urination. In July, Guelph City Council approved the $8,400 pilot project, which will cover the rental and maintenance cost of the two pissoirs for eight weeks. An additional $4,200 from downtown stakeholders will be spent on a public education campaign that includes posters for downtown establishments and signs for the pissoirs.

Valeriote: Show us the cash for clunkers, or don’t

Last week in the U.S., the government’s highly popular “cash for clunkers” program ended after running out of funds, but could something similar be enacted here in Canada to help our auto industry? Our local MP and Chair of the Liberal Auto Caucus, Frank Valeriote’s not sure, but he’d like to see the government make a decision either way. “Instead of stimulating car sales, one way or the other, people are now holding onto their vehicles on the chance this government may be offering a significant incentive at some point in the future,” said Valeriote in a press release. The release went on to say that although the U.S. program saw sales go up to 750,000, it’s difficult to know if people were acting out of need or out of the bargains offered. Also, international trade law prohibits establishing a proviso that says a program can only apply to domestic automakers, so there’s no guarantee that money will go to the companies that need it. Either way though, Valeriote wants the Conservatives to quit stalling. “While the merit of a scrappage program, and the model used is ultimately relevant, at this point this government’s ongoing speculation must stop. Either provide a substantial program or stop chatting about it—it’s a simple as that.”

MNR says HCBP is AOK

Well, it took the Ministry of Natural Resources about half a month to come back to the City and say, all’s cool on the Hanlon Creek Business Park front. Donna Cansfield, Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources, last Thursday that Drexler Construction, the company contracted by the city of Guelph to do the work, can finish a culvert and water main already started on the site’s east side, according to the Guelph Mercury. There are restrictions however. This is the only work that can be done on the site, no work is to be done at night, and further testing in the area for the Jefferson Salamander must be done next Spring before any more construction on the site can move forward. “We’re pleased on two fronts,” said Mayor Karen Farbridge. “We’re happy with the time it took to come to a decision; well within the 30 days. And we’re happy with the content of the decision.” But what of the protesters that occupied the HCBP site for three weeks, what’s their reaction? “If this development continues, it will be a loss for everyone… The minister’s decision does not legitimize the destruction this development will cause,” Shabina Lafleur-Gangji wrote in an email to the Mercury. Construction is expected to move forward immediately, with the deadline of September 15th for the completion of this phase expected to be extended.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trees Saved, Critical Valeriote, and Washrooms Closed

A lot of time, effort and energy over the last month have been absorbed in that little snafu on the south end involving the Hanlon Creek Business Park, but that doesn’t mean time stopped through the rest of the Guelph Beat. Here’s what’s been going down in other areas of interest.

Trees Saved (without protest)

Paradoxically, as the City was fighting to mow down some trees in the Hanlon Creek Business Park site, it was fighting to keep them up in the area around Goldie Mill. Last week, the City announced that a revised plan for the parking lot at the Guelph Youth Music Centre and the Goldie Mill Park will allow for the majority of the mature trees to remain. Moreover, the changes came in consultation with area citizens through comments and input at a meeting on August 5th. The City will implement measures to minimize construction impacts on the trees adjacent to the parking lot, said a City of Guelph press release. The City is also committed to replacing any transplanted trees that do not survive, and planting new trees adjacent to the parking lot.

Valeriote Gets Critical

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announced last week that our local MP Frank Valeriote had accepted the role of Liberal Critic for the Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. The agency, which will be based in Kitchener, had been announced in January’s Federal budget and will spend $1 billion over five years to promote new jobs and economic growth in Ontario. It was only on August 13th that Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially launched the agency along with Minister for Science and Technology, and Cambridge MP, Gary Goodyear. Valeriote’s first act as the new critic was to criticize what he called the government’s “inaction plan at work,” saying, “Southern Ontario has been waiting six long months since it was first announced in the budget to get this agency underway – the government has wasted precious time determining a site for it while thousands more jobs have been lost.”

Valeriote also talked about the sale of Nortel’s assets to Swedish film Ericsson, saying that if Goodyear and Harper really wanted to the Canadian economy a solid, they’d try and make sure those assets stayed in Canadian hands. “If Minister Goodyear is serious about Southern Ontario, he should turn his attention immediately to assisting Minister Clement with a review of the sale of Nortel’s wireless assets,” said Valeriote in a press release. “This review should exhaust all efforts to find a made-in-Canada solution involving one of Southern Ontario’s success stories, Kitchener-Waterloo’s Research-in-Motion.”

City Updates on Public Washroom Repairs

In the ongoing appraisal of public washroom facilities on city land following the death of a teenage girl earlier this summer, the City has released an update for the community. Based on the recommendations from the structural reports from Gamsby and Mannerow Engineers, the City of Guelph has contracted Action Construction Company of Kitchener for the demolition and rebuilding of the partition walls of the public change/washrooms at Guelph Lake Sports Field, Hanlon Creek Park, and St. George’s Park. The repairs began this week at Guelph Lake Sports Field and will be followed by repairs to Hanlon Creek Park and St. George’s Park with all repairs scheduled to be completed by the end of September. The City is also requesting a quote from Action for repairs to the public change/washrooms at the Norm Jary Splash Pad, and another company Group Eight Engineering Limited is performing the structural investigation work at the Larry Pearson Baseball Complex washroom facilities.