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!