Thursday, April 30, 2009

Council Plays Musical City Halls

In a night filled with pomp, circumstance and some delightful little snack foods, the doors were officially closed on the building that’s acted as City Hall since 1857 while City Council walked casually down the road to their new digs at 1 Carden St. A full house of councillors and mayors, past and present, as well as the regular round-up of politicos, reporters and city staff, bid adieu to the building now destined to become the next local branch of Provincial court. The evening was all about celebrating the old and ushering in the new, as the long in development building, through ceremony, became the official home base for the City of Guelph
First was the decommissioning of the old Council Chamber, a room that’s seen God knows how many decisions concerning the City of Guelph reached in over 150 years of service. Of the old building, Mayor Karen Farbridge said that in the chamber over the years, “people have come together in earnest to make this city a better place.” One of those people was Norman Jary, who spent 37 years on council; 15 of those as Mayor. Jary was in attendance and reminisced about his time remembering all the ribbon cutting he did over the years and time Pierre Trudeau visited Guelph and going to meet him at the train station amidst a ravenous crowd of Trudeau-maniacs. Jary recalled that it was the first time as a public servant that he was afraid for his person.

Not to be outdone, Guelph’s first mayor, John Smith (processing the human form of re-enactor Vince Wall), talked about laying the cornerstone of the then New City Hall in 1856 and his other contributions to the city. Wall’s bombastic performance was great, especially since he usually plays the part in the much more intimate setting of Guelph Museum’s Spirit Walk. Some interesting factoids about Smith: he was the founder of the Wellington Advertiser, Guelph’s first newspaper; he pushed for gravel roads to make travel easier and less muddy; and he literally read the Riot Act and called in the military to quell civil disobedience during the Orange Riots.

With “John Smith” having said his piece, it was time to bang the gavel for the last time in the old Chamber. Mayor Farbridge called for a recess and reconstitution as everyone left the building and headed one door over. A piper led Wall as Smith with Farbridge, present council and special guests behind, walking up Carden Street and into the new City Hall building. The new horseshoe, which is probably big enough to house two rooms of comparable size to the old chamber, awaited council with its wood panelling and state of the art finishings. The good news? The gallery section is also larger, which will come in handy to better accommodate those especially contentious council meetings and protestors.

Once everyone was settled in the new Chamber, it was time for the presentation of the pins. The special pins, which feature the City’s coat of arms, blue and green colours and co-ordinating stones of sapphire and emerald, where given to all members of council that were in attendance. The evening concluded with the unveiling of a restored picture of Elvie Lowell, the first female ever to sit on city council. From her place of honour in the new City Hall, the portrait of Councillor Lowell will observe, perhaps, the next 150 years of Guelph history. For pictures from the evening, and other assorted Guelph political news, head over to

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Water, Water (Issues) Everywhere

The persistent issues surrounding our local water resources was one of the topics at a day long roundtable last Tuesday hosted by Guelph Member of Parliament Frank Valeriote. Valeriote’s special guest was Liberal Water Critic Francis Scarpaleggia, and together they gathered over a dozen community members from city employees to University of Guelph Profs to conservationists and activists. Valeriote began by saying that the issue needed to be discussed because, as in the ancient past, we may be looking at “wars over wells.”

“If we continue to take this (water resources) for granted – quality as well as quantity – it’ll be coming much sooner than we think,” he said.

Much of the early discussion focused on the issue of water as a human right. Last year the United Nations Human Rights Council removed references to access to water as a human right after countries like Canada refused to support the measure. The stand of the Harper government was that support of the human right to water would open the door to bulk exportation of our water resources. Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, continues to criticize the Conservatives for this stand and believes, along with others, that part of the reason for it is so that the door to commoditization of water in this country could be kept open.

A reasonable suspicion, but as brought up at the meeting, Barlow and others have been doing research into whether or not the recognition of water as a human right would be in exchange for being relieved of sovereignty over our own water supplies. According to several legal opinions, what deeming water a human right would mean is that every country would be responsible for making sure that their citizens have access to safe and reliable drinking water.

"Unsafe water and sanitation are the source of 85 per cent of all disease and one in every six people on Earth has no access to clean drinking water," said Barlow in a statement on the Council of Canadians website last month. "A UN covenant on the right to water would serve as a common, coherent body of rules for all nations, rich and poor, and clarify that it is the responsibility of the state to provide sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water to all of its citizens."

Scarpaleggia, the MP for Lac-Saint-Louis, PQ, was first elected to Parliament in 2004. He started the party’s National Water Caucus in 2005 and has chaired the committee ever since. Scarpaleggia says that the Opposition Liberals have taken a leading role in advocating for the protection of Canada’s water resources. “I’m not an activist, I’m a politician,” he explained. “I’m an activist within my party in trying to get them to pay attention to the issue, and they’ve responded well. […] I’d like to see the issue become a priority.”

Scarpaleggia added that despite the government’s point blank refusal to support human rights recognition on water, they’ve done so without studying the issue. Meanwhile, his special Liberal caucus met with Barlow just weeks ago in order to explore the issue further. “My job as a policy maker is to make sure some due diligence in done before we respond,” he said, adding that the Harper government, as of yet, have not done the due diligence, and are unqualified to respond either way.

See Guelph Buildings

“Guelph’s New City Hall is likely to be one of the most popular buildings during this year’s Doors Open Guelph event,” according to a City of Guelph press release. This Saturday, the city will open the doors to a number of buildings of historical value in the Guelph Arts Council’s annual Doors Open Guelph event. On this year’s tour, along with the new City Hall, is the former Guelph Correctional Center, the Boathouse CafĂ©, Hastings House, St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Guelph Little Theatre. For more information, and a complete list of sites, go to the GAC’s website at

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New City Hall Opened, and OPIRG Coup?

At Last…

The new City Hall finally, and officially, opened for business last Tuesday April 7; that is if you don’t count that big brown patch of land where the landscaping has yet to be done. Regardless of the aesthetics and the trim, the important thing is that all city services are now under one roof rather than spread out across five buildings downtown. "It’s the first stop for anyone visiting City Hall," says ServiceGuelph Supervisor, Markham Wismer. "People can purchase transit passes, sign up for recreation programs, buy dog licenses, pay parking tickets and property taxes and more." ServiceGuelph is now open Monday to Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.

And along with convenience comes some impressive Green credentials for the new building: a green roof, living wall, eco-friendly building materials and fixtures that use 30 per cent less water than a typical office building. Guelph’s City Hall is built to the LEED Silver Standard set out by the Canadian Green Building Council. Also a first, the City Hall is the first building in Guelph to be bottled-water free. For a closer look visit the City of Guelph website at

No-PIRG, they didn’t. Did they?

Who would have guessed that a simple Board of Directors election for a small community activism group out of the University of Guelph would generate the kind of electoral fervour not seen since Bush V. Gore. Here’s the skinny: recently the Guelph-branch of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) held elections to fill vacancies on its Board of Directors. Controversy erupted after OPIRG extended the nomination deadline after it had passed. According to OPIRG, the deadline was extended because they had not received enough nominations to fill two community member seats on the Board. However, some are accusing of OPIRG of playing partisan politics in order to keep four members of Guelph Campus Conservatives from being elected.

Now why would OPIRG, granted a left-leaning organization, want to keep out four eager and community-minded youngsters from joining their esteemed group? Well, it apparently has something to do with a Conservative conspiracy and some audio recordings, photographs and documents that were leaked from a recent Conservative Party student workshop at the University of Waterloo. Among those present at the workshop were Member of Parliament for Kitchener-Waterloo, Peter Braid and his campaign manager, Aaron Lee-Wudrick. Reportedly Lee-Wudrick can be heard on the recording saying, "If it's possible if, in one fell swoop, to take over the Board of Directors [of OPIRG], I think that it would be pretty impressive, and you'd be a hero to the Conservative movement if you can pull that off."

Two executives of the Central Student Association, External Affairs Commissioner Cailey Campbell and Local Affairs Commissioner Arden Hagedorn, believed that the four members of GCC were taking those words to heart and sent out e-mails accusing them of trying to usurp OPIRG mandate. The four young men though say that there was no hanky-panky with their decision to run for OPIRG’s Board, and that they didn’t even know about the content of the U of W workshop; they simply wanted to make OPIRG-Guelph more transparent and less partisan.

Needless to say though, that’s not the end of it. On his blog, the Christian Conservative posted a letter received through his anonymous source of the Request for Discovery filled by the four Conservative to the OPIRG-Guelph Appeals Board. Amongst the papers being requested by the appeal are minutes and notes of all Board of Directors meetings from March 19th to 31st; all resolutions made by the BoD both in and outside Board meetings during the same time period; and e-mails between OPIRG staff, Board, Campbell and Hagedorn. The response to this appeal was not known by deadline. For more information as it develops head to my blog at

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Traffic, Museum and Earth Hour Savings

The Roundabouts are coming!

Long has the city wondered what to do with the five-pointed intersection where Norfolk, Norwich and Woolwich meet, and now city staff will revisit a previously proposed solution later this year when they float the idea of a roundabout. Now this wouldn’t be the first roundabout in Guelph, there are a few amongst the subdivisions in the city’s south end. The five-cornered intersection is the scene of numerous near-miss traffic accidents, for years being a source of right-of-way confusion for even seasoned Guelph drivers. "That intersection lends itself to something like this," city engineer Rick Henry said. "We will look at that as a viable alternative [and] we'll see if the city gets behind it." In a Guelph Mercury poll, only 52 per cent of respondents got behind it though.

More traffic news…

The debate over expansion of the Hanlon Expressway continued at a community development and environmental services committee meeting last week. Several community members spoke out about lack of consultation in changes proposed by the Ministry of Transportation, but committee members were keen to move forward. "At the end of the day we're not debating whether to put in an expressway; we're debating whether to finish an expressway," Ward 4 Councillor Mike Salisbury said. "It's there already." The changes will affect the southern Hanlon between College and Laird, which will see the elimination of lights on the Hanlon through the use of over- and underpasses. Many speakers were residents of Old Colony Road, behind whose homes will be a service road for the expanded Hanlon. The issue will come before council on April 27.

Royal City Saves More during Earth Hour

Local residences and businesses powering down for an hour on Saturday March 28 and reduced the city’s power consumption by three per cent, which is up four fifths of a per cent over last year’s Earth Hour. "Through our collective efforts we reduced our consumption, and perhaps more importantly raised awareness about how simple energy conservation can be," said Mayor Karen Farbridge in a press release. Overall across the province, Ontarians saved almost six per cent, or 920 megawatts, during Earth Hour. "We are grateful to all residents and businesses of Guelph that contributed to this year's event, and hope the actions from Saturday evening will inspire everyone's conservation efforts," said Art Stokman, President of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.

Save the Date

The Ceremonial Commissioning of New Council Chambers, in the recently completed Civic Administration Building, will take place on Tuesday, April 21 at 7 pm. The final council meeting in the old City Hall took place on Monday March 23, and although there is a planning meeting on April 8, this was the final gathering of the full council under the roof of what’s been the city’s headquarters since 1878. Council’s first business meeting at the new city hall will be held on Monday April 27.

Museum attendance way up

The numbers are in for the attendance at the Guelph Civic Museum over the course of their latest exhibit, “Egypt – Gift of the Nile,” and it seems that turnout was exceptionally high during both the Family Day holiday and over the March Break. According to the city, about 300 people visited the museum on Family Day and over 400 people came out to the museum on the Tuesday of March Break to see some visiting reptiles. Apparently, attractions like museums and galleries increase in popularity during economic downturns as people look for “cultural, affordable and fun activities for the entire family in their own backyard.”

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Emotions Stirred at Community Meeting

It was billed as a discussion and a dialogue, and sometimes that was the case. The Guelph Civic League hosted a town hall-style event last Thursday in Norfolk United Church, where members of the community were invited to hear from all sides about the issues involving the development of the Hanlon Creek Business Park. It was a packed house, as evident by the fact that more and more chairs had to be brought out to accommodate the masses. Clearly this issue has struck a chord in the public, and though the atmosphere was mostly collegial, there was something else there under the surface.

The panel was made up of Judy Martin (Sierra Club Canada and Guelph Urban Forest Friends), James Gordon (Wellington Water Watchers), Matt Soltys (Land Is More Important than Sprawl), Councillor Lise Burcher (Chair of Community Design and Environmental Services Committee, City of Guelph), Peter Cartwright (General Manager of Economic Development and Tourism, City of Guelph) and Lloyd Longfield (Guelph Chamber of Commerce). The panel was kind of split up along Crossfire lines. Everybody had five minutes to open with their point of view, comment on they’re position or their organization’s position and maybe wrestle with a Power Point presentation.

During the Q&A portion was where the civility of the evening suffered the biggest threat of fracturing. Cartwright, and to a certain extent Longfield, took the brunt of the questioners’ tone. Many seemed to suggest some sort of conspiracy theory on the part of the city to get the HCBP done as quickly and quietly as possible. A third year zoology student from the University of Guelph accused Cartwright and of his office of denying her the chance to study the Jefferson Salamander in the HCBP site, and that he’s been ignoring her phone calls and e-mails. Cartwright responded that he’s done no such thing and the reason she was denied access to the site was for a liability issue. Panellist Gordon riffed on this statement later when he said that he didn’t realize he was a liability issue when he’s gone there to walk the grounds.

But of more universal concern was a lack of information about the current plan, or the fact that this plan is being pushed ahead in spite of the fact that there are currently no tenants lined up, or just generally the prevailing economic conditions. Also mentioned was the prevalence of brownfields and the increasing number of vacant industrial areas in the city limits. The question was why do we need to lose more greenspace because of all these factors, to which Cartwright said that the point was to have a “good product mix” for potential businesses in the city.

As the meeting wrapped, it seemed that the civil feeling of the room was sort of encountering a rough patch. Obviously, with everyone piling on the city staff, things seemed to be a little one-sided. Burcher was the last one to speak during the one-minute wrap-up, and she got a “Shame” and a “How about you listen?” in response to a couple of her comments. Clearly, many of the people at the meeting were of one mind on the issue of this development, if not development generally. While some agreed that development, to a degree, was necessary, others were emphatic in their belief that any amount of development on the HCBP site is too much. This debate is far from over.

In memoriam…

By the time this hits newsstands, the Family Thrift Store will be no more. Despite the protests and the lamentations and the media attention, Ray Mitchell’s mecca of all things practical and curious shuttered its storefront after a week long celebration affectionately called “Thrift Stock.” Bands like Evan and the Sad Clowns, The Magic, The D'Urbervilles, Tacoma Hellfarm Tragedy, The Saltlick Kids, Richard Laviolette and His Hollow Hooves, The Neutron Stars, and The Burning Hell all played sets during the seven night celebration. Family Thrift Store: you will be missed.