Thursday, January 29, 2009

Valeriote Brings Kennedy to Guelph to Get Ideas

With a little under a week to the redux of the O.K. Coral-like showdown on Parliament Hill, this time over the full budget, Liberal Industry critic Gerard Kennedy kicked off a multi-city, fact-finding tour in Guelph. During a full day of activities, Kennedy heard from local industry leaders and social service groups as to how the global recession is affecting the Royal City and how the Federal government can help ease the pain in the wallet. With our local MP Frank Valeriote as his guide, Kennedy got the rather bleak news from a group of people that should know how healthy our local economy really is.

Members of the local media were invited to join the Dynamic Duo on a couple of their appointments. First was a tour of the production floor of Guelph Tool’s Lewis Rd. plant. And incidentally, if you want to literally feel the hurt on by the auto sector, visit a parts plant first thing in the morning and marvel at how half the lights in the place are switched off and how only one out of the eight available machines is working. In Canada, our manufacturing sector is 70 per cent dependent on the auto sector, and that includes both cars and car parts.

As for the numbers, this plant we were walking through is only at a quarter of its capacity. At its peak, Guelph Tool ran 120 people out of this factory. They cranked out various products made with the metal press like some 25 million head rest frames a year. Throughout the day, anywhere from 15 to 20 trucks carried those parts, and others like them, to production lines across Ontario and into Michigan. Guelph Tool President Rob Ireland says that the Lewis Rd. plant is operating with a crew of 30 workers, cranking out fewer orders out of a single metal press crunching away on the factory floor.

After walking the factory floor, Kennedy and Valeriote sat down with Ireland to strategize; how could the government help the ailing manufacturing sector? Ireland suggested that loosening delays at the border would help a great deal, as would investments in education and retraining, and just generally getting assistance to make them more competitive in the new economy. Of course, the funding for these types of initiatives would be accompanied by some kind of budget deficit, which Kennedy accepts. He added though that any “bailout” should be subject to public scrutiny. “I think that what we need in this country is to see that the conditions are made public,” he said. "We want the same jobs in Canada, we want to make sure that the government takes the right action, but it’s got to be connected directly to how people are impacted, especially in communities like Guelph.”

He want to say that the Canadian government is going to have to look after its own, regardless of the directions the new US administration intends on heading in. “The American Congress will not look after our interests,” said Kennedy both at Guelph Tool and later to a group gathered at the Guelph-Wellington Business Enterprise Centre. “So we’re putting the pressure out there now because we’d love to see that stuff tabled. We’d like to see an objective, independent analysis to see that the taxpayers are protected and that we’re getting a good outcome as well in terms of the jobs in this country. So far, the government’s refused to release that information to the independent budget officer in Parliament.”

At the GWBEC, Kennedy and Valeriote met with numerous community groups and labour advocates that offered their perspective on how the recession is affecting the people they represent. Without getting too deep into the statistics let’s just say that the picture isn’t so rosy; poverty rates are going up, social services are being tapped beyond limit, and any ideas put forth to get people working again require an influx of capital. Kennedy said that a lot of what was being discussed at the table was on the mind of opposition parties as they discussed coalition last fall, but prudently, they were waiting until January 27th to see what they’re going to be working with.

For more information on this story, or to get updates and commentaries on current events and Guelph politics, visit the newly, reconstituted Guelph Politico at

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Origin of a Protest

It may have been cold and blustery outside last Monday night, but the resolve was on fire at Fresh Start on Baker Street as the first official meeting of the Land Is More Important Than Sprawl, or LIMITS began. Over 50 people filled the small space on the first floor of the Baker Street Centre in order to discuss direction in terms of mounting an appeal to the construction of a 675-acre industrial and business park development. The long in the works Hanlon Creek Business Park has been on the books for years, but it looks to moving forward to a groundbreaking sometime this year.

The problem? That nearly a quarter of that land is home to an old growth forest, where some trees are as old as 500 years, with many more well above the age of 200. As presented in the meeting, the land, which is west of the Hanlon with Laird Road running through the centre of it, is also home to 90 species of birds, 20 species of reptiles and several mammal species including deer, coyote and fox. The focus on local wildlife had a purpose, or as one member of LIMITS observed, “It’s about respect and realizing that there are things that belong here besides us.”

Much of the main presentation was about the environmental impact on the specific area where the HCBP hopes to set up shop and the Guelph area generally. The Downey Well sits on this tract of land, a source of water that supplies Guelph with 20 per cent of what it drinks. The Hanlon Creek itself feeds into the Speed River acting as a “recharge zone,” as well as being one of the four, major tributaries to the Grand River, which serves Cambridge and the Six Nations Reserve.

The way LIMITS sees it, there are some fairly large stakes for not just Guelph, but the surrounding community, should construction of the HCBP move forward. The point of last Monday’s meeting was two fold: to gage interest in making this activist start-up a more formal entity and kicking around some ideas about how to launch the “official” protest, so to speak. And time is of the essence, members of the group feel, they believe that the melting of the snow may herald the beginning of the end for this patch of greenspace.

Several options were discussed including make appeals to Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gord Miller and bringing the issue back to the City Council. LIMITS is also interested in exploring brownfield options, considering so much land in the inner city is already built on and simply waiting for business to make use of it. First and foremost, they want to avoid a situation where the wetlands and forests on the proposed HCBP site are drained and clear cut.

They’re concerned about a recent trend in construction called Speculative Development, where an area is cleared by the landowners as they try and sell the space and find tenants and finding tenants maybe an issue given current economic conditions. According to Statistics Canada, the number of new building permits issued nationwide declined by 12 per cent in November, the most recent month numbers have been released for. In Ontario, non-residential building permits were down by 30 per cent over the same period in 2007.

As for LIMITS’ next stage plans, they hope to keep up their momentum from Monday night with more meetings in the next couple of weeks. They’re also seeking out alliances with other environmental and pro-responsible development groups in order to make an impact on the public consciousness and get their message out before any shovels dig into the earth on the HCBP property. For full details on the city’s plans for the Hanlon Creek Business Park, you can check it out on the city’s website for this link: And to learn more about LIMITS, you visit their Facebook group or fire off an e-mail to

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Good Wishes for a Good Year at the Levee

It’s called a New Year’s Levee. That’s pronounced “lev-e” not “lee-vee.” It’s a tradition carried out by a number of officials and organizations in modern times, from the Governor-General to the Armed Forces. But it originated in the court of French King Louis XIV, where in the LevĂ©e du Soleil, or the Rising of the Sun, was the practice of the “Sun King” receiving his subjects in his bedchamber after just waking up. Louis’ idea caught on with monarchs across Europe in the 18th century.

But in 2009 Guelph, a levee is a chance for MPP Liz Sandals to meet with her constituency, and they with her. This year, Sandals was joined by newly minted MP Frank Valeriote. Jenny Waterson, a staffer with Sandals’ office, told me that this was her boss’ fourth New Year’s Levee, and that they decided to offer Valeriote the chance to share the occasion given the fact that his office is still establishing itself after the MP’s victory last October. Waterson said that joint levees aren’t usually the norm, but in this case it was the logical thing to do.

The setting was the Italian-Canadian Club on Ferguson Street in the East End. The parking lots off Ferguson were full and the line into the main banquet was long. Who comes out to the levee? All kinds from the looks of it: seniors, young families, individuals; all from numerous multicultural backgrounds too. The attire was business casual, so lots of suits and ties, or failing that, a tasteful turtle neck. I took my place in line, and thought of something to say to both Sandals and Valeriote, and it had better be good.

Sometimes the line moved quickly, and other times it seemed to grind to halt. Snaking around the foyer of the Italian-Canadian Club, I noticed why there was a delay as I got closer to entering the Hall – the place was packed. Well, it wasn’t a standing room only situation, but as I got closer, I noticed that staff were opening up the patrician in the centre of the hall so that more tables were available for people to take a seat and enjoy the coffee and snackables offered, once pleasantries were exchanged with the politicians.

Waterson told me that the turnout for this year’s levee was good, and that the number of people that come out to it seems to increase with every year. I recognized a few people there. I caught up with Liberal blogger David Graham and talked about missing the never-ending by-election. I talked with Kyle Mitchell, whom I knew from my days at The Ontarion. He’s a former Valeriote volunteer and current Valeriote legislative assistant. He went to Ottawa expecting to get down to work, only to find himself back in Guelph once parliament was prorogued following November’s economic update. “Hopefully, it’ll be more predictable this time, and not as crazy,” he said about heading back for the budget at the end of the month.

Around this time, my position in line had finally made it into the banquet hall, and Sandals and Valeriote were just metres ahead now. Both politicians were in good spirits, enthusiastically shaking hands with well wishers and hugging old friends. I got Valeriote first, who took my hand warmly and wished me a happy New Year and gave me his thanks for coming out. I asked him if being a parliamentarian is everything he thought it’d be. Without stopping to think Valeriote said it’s not “about what you hope for, but about what you expect, and it’s certainly beyond my expectations.”

Clearly, the House being put on hold and the internal turbulence of his own party hasn’t affected the Valeriote enthusiasm for governance he showed on the campaign trail. Sandals, for her part, was just as welcoming and her experience at being on the receiving line was clearly evident as she shook hands and welcomed each person in turn. And then that, as they say, was that. Coffee and cookies were being served at the back of the room. Some people enjoyed them in groups and stuck around to converse, while others went home to enjoy their Sunday. Meanwhile, outside the banquet hall, they were still lining up.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Budget, Input and LIMITS

Guelph’s Got Budget

Just before Christmas, in what was comparatively a quite session over last year’s ruckus council meeting, Guelph now has a budget for the 2009 fiscal year. The good news is that the tax increase is coming in at 3.7 per cent, the lowest rate increase yet in the last five years. The bad news though is that just hours prior to the meeting, the Provincial government said that Guelph would not be receiving Ontario Municipal Partnership Funding for 2009, leaving a $1.45 million shortfall. But overall, staff was pleased with the result. “Our goal with this budget is to continue to provide high quality public services and ensure good value for people’s tax dollars,” says the City’s Treasurer, Margaret Neubauer in a press release. “It’s a matter of balancing the quality of service people expect from the City, with the cost of providing those services.”

But aside from keeping up present services, including making permanent seasonal overnight parking and free two-hour parking downtown, as well as the 20 minute bus service, there are some other new additions. Money has been promised to the completion of the east-end library and an additional $25,000 will be earmarked for the Neighbourhood Support Coalition. As for new city hires, additions to staff will include a new staffer for corporate communications, a supervisor of arts and culture and the hiring of one new police officer and four full-time and one part-time staffer for the police station. The Guelph Police force had originally asked that four more officers be hired for the new year.

City Council also directed city staff to investigate the impact of the OMPF cuts, be it in the form of service cuts or looking for new revenue. At the very least, the city will be appealing the Province’s decision, but other money issues did arise. Council was given notice the Friday before that Wellington County Health and Social Services revised its funding requirements and is asking for an additional $625,000 from the City. “While Council has approved the 2009 budget, the tax rate will be set early next year after further discussion with the Province and the County. We still have some time to consider our financial alternatives,” says Neubauer.

The vote passed unanimously and in a relatively reasonable amount of time for a budget meeting. Last year, the vote was disrupted by protestors that heckled council throughout the meeting before a fire alarm was pulled just prior to the taking of the vote.

Council wants your input

The City is inviting input from residents and delegations on the Development Charges Act, which is the proposed new development charges by-law. The background study and proposed by-law will be available for viewing on the City of Guelph’s website on January 12th while the meeting itself will take place in the Main Council Chamber on January 26th at 7 pm. To register as a delegation and speak to Council at this meeting contact Joyce Sweeney, Council Committee Co-ordinator at 519-822-1260 x 2440 or or Dolores Black Assistant Council Committee Co-ordinator at 519-822-1260 x 2269 or by Wednesday January 21st.

New Group looking to set LIMITS

Speaking of development, a new group called Land Is More Important Than Sprawl (LIMITS) is getting a jump on the new year to organize against the planned creation of the Hanlon Creek Business Park in the south end. Saying that the City of Guelph is looking to start development of the 675-acre site this spring, LIMITS is looking to light a fire under current or potential city activists to take up the cause. They’re holding a meeting on Monday January 12th at 7 pm at Fresh Start, 40 Baker Street downtown. “Currently we are only a few people, and we would love to diversify and be part of a strong community opposition to such reckless development,” said an e-mail. If your interested in joining up, helping out, or otherwise learning more about LIMITS and its cause, e-mail