Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top 5 Stories for 2010

It’s that time of year again. Time to look back at the year that’s almost over and quantify which stories were more important than others. I know it sounds like I’m being sarcastic, but there is something to recommend taking a moment and seeing where we stand and backtracking just how we got to this point. So without further adieu, I offer, in my estimation, the five biggest news stories in Guelph in 2010.

5) The Garbage Fail Bids

If the new Organic Waste Processing Facility hadn’t already gotten enough confused and/or negative press, then the news that the City is going be trading plastic bags for plastic bins put it over the top. There was already a matter of uncertainty as to the numbers in the final bill for both the construction and operation of the OWPF, but the added expense of buying new bins and converting the City’s fleet of garbage trucks to service them, created a Red Alert level of rhetoric in this past fall’s Municipal Election. While legitimate questions remain, like how Waterloo will get its garbage processed for cheaper than we will, this is a provincial mandate, and ultimately a very sound, environmental direction. Still, a lot of people are against the move on the basis of storage, hygiene and transport of the bins, which are, ironically, a lot of the same reasons why people were against Wet/Dry when it was introduced a decade ago.

4) Reefer Madness

So for years, four shady characters in Downtown Guelph have been selling pot to anyone that needed it, and the Guelph Police finally arrested this gang back in May. The trouble was that the characters in questions were the owners and employees of the Medical Cannabis Club of Guelph, and the drug users they were selling to had subscriptions from their doctors. Basically, the Police busted the MCCG for operating “outside [the] guidelines and regulations” set by Health Canada for the sale of medicinal marijuana. But the biggest crime wasn’t the ever static grey area that seems to be our country’s legal policy about pot, but the fact that dozens of the MCCG’s customers, people suffering and in need of the relief marijuana provides, were left out in the cold as to where they could now secure their prescriptions. Some dubious questions still surround why the MCCG got a police smackdown, while the Club itself is in legal limbo till 2012. So much for Guelph’s reputation as a “caring community.”

3) Moan Temple Pilots

Speaking of which, there was the bizarre affair of the proposed Sikh temple in the south end. I say “bizarre” because despite a million reassurances from everyone short of the reincarnated soul of Sikh founder Guru Nanak Dev that the temple will have an occupancy of 400 people max, neighbours in the Claire and Victoria Roads area were still against it. There was some overt racism to accompany the impression of covert racism in the passionate, though half-hearted, arguments against, but it all came to naught anyway. The appeal by Westminster Woods Residents’ Association was withdrawn from the Ontario Municipal Board after members heard that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the appeal. Look for construction to begin on the temple next year.

2) Staffing Solutions Fail

While a lot of the 2010 budget negotiations fell in the waning days of 2009, the full effect fallout didn’t really hit until the new year was upon us. In the budget, it was passed that all City Staff had to take five unpaid days off in the calendar 2010 year. The hope was that the City and the unions could work out a scheme were the five days off could be spread out enough to avoid a state where the City would have to be closed for five days. This didn’t turn out to be the case. The so-called “Karen Days” (named for, and with exception by, Mayor Karen Farbridge) frustrated Guelphites, especially the skip weeks for garbage pick up and the no Sunday service for Guelph Transit in August. While many candidates in the election towed the “Never Again” mantra, we’ll have to see what happens during the 2011 budget deliberations next month.

1) Never Bet Against Karl Hungus

So despite all the rage – property tax rage, Karen Days rage, construction rage – only 33.9 per cent of the eligible electorate in the City of Guelph came out to vote in the Municipal Election. At election headquarters at City Hall, the votes were counted and the lights were off by 10:30. And in the end result, only two of the incumbents running again, Mike Salisbury and Vicki Beard, were voted out. The implication: we’re mad as hell, but what are you going to do? The aftermath, if you follow the comments in the blogosphere is renewed anger and low expectations for the new council. But really, what else is new, and who else is to blame?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Last News of the Year (Probably)

So in a couple of days it’s Christmas, and then a week after that it’s New Year’s. It the time of the season for retrospection and consideration, and with few exceptions it’s also a slow news period. So before we bid adieu to 2010 (next week’s column), let’s look at some lingering news items from 2010.

Frank Valeriote Will Slap a Minister

Local Member of Parliament Frank Valeriote wants answers now, or he wants them eventually in the case of the government’s discontinuing of funding for the faith-based NGO KAIROS Canada. Along with his colleague John McKay (MP for Scarborough-Guildwood) last week on the Hill, Valeriote tried to get International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda to explain why she denied KAIROS Canada $7 million in funding.

“KAIROS is an organization of the highest repute and does remarkable work on behalf of Canada for the world’s poor,” said McKay during last Monday’s Question Period. “The facts show that the Minister was not being honest when asked why KAIROS was cut. To make matters worse, church leaders have asked the Prime Minister for a meeting to get an explanation and as yet have received no response. The Minister and the Prime Minister have some serious explaining to do.”

“Without warning, its funding was mysteriously cut and the explanation given as to why was clearly not the truth,” added Valeriote. “This incident raises the issue of whether Canadians can trust this government to tell them the truth. If they are willing to mislead the House on this issue, what else are they not being honest about?”

So who are these fascists that no longer deserve the funding from our government? Well, KAIROS is made up of about a dozen member churches across Canada and have partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East to promote issues of Ecological Justice, Economic Justice, Energy and Extraction, Human Rights, Just and Sustainable Livelihoods, and Indigenous Peoples. A four-year grant of $7 million was requested by KAIROS, and apparently endorsed by the president and vice president of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), but somewhere between them and the Minister Oda, it was decided that the proposal didn’t meet CIDA standards. Or government standards. Or government priorities. One of the three.

Regardless, other aid groups across Canada are joining the two Liberal MPs in questioning how and why CIDA approves and disapproves of funding applications. Meanwhile, Oda says that she doesn’t know how or why the funding wasn’t approved when it came out of committee, even though her signature is on the document. What’s the old Bronson saying, “This ain’t over.”

New Officer to Liaise with Film

The Guelph Mercury reported last weekend that after an internal competition, someone has been selected to serve in the Film Liaison position vacated by Jennifer Peleschak earlier this fall. Christine Chapman will now fill the slot as the person at City Hall who will direct all matters pertaining to film and film shoots in the Royal City. For a while there, those of us in the local filmmaking community had some concern that the City was going to leave the position vacant. Of course, Film Liaison Officer wasn't Peleschak's official position in City Hall, it was something she took up when the City started getting inquiries about shooting films, TV projects and commercials in Guelph. Jen was uniquely qualified for the post because she genuinely loves film and was supportive of all productions, from big international projects like Blindness to local indies like Mind's Eye. So I happily welcome new Film Liaison Officer Ms. Chapman and say that as a filmmaker in Guelph, I look forward to working with her.

Are Taxes High or Aren’t They…?

A report in the National Post last week lit up the blogosphere like the Yule log on Christmas morning TV when it said that Guelph pays the third highest property taxes in Ontario behind Ottawa and Toronto. But not so fast, some are saying, are these numbers the real numbers? City reps point to a BMA Management Consulting in 2008 that says when compared to similar municipalities our size, Guelph has the lowest taxes in Ontario. As well, there could be an oversight in the report covered by the Post as some of the municipalities are two-tier payers, meaning they not only pay property taxes to the town they live in, but to the county as well; Guelph has a single-tier system. Either way, this is fuel for the fire as city council gets ready for budget deliberations next month.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Week of Drama for The Farmers’ Market

So the weather outside is frightful, and so is the shopping season for vendors at Guelph’s Farmers’ Markets… And speaking of the weather outside, that was where produce vendors of the Market were supposed to be before a last minute reprieve. Yes, the ingenious solution by the City to the sudden need to move the Farmers’ Market before the roof on the building at the corner of Gordon and Waterloo collapsed, was to set up the arts & crafts sellers in the foyer at City Hall, while sticking the produce sellers in the Wilson St parking lot. But then last Thursday, the City said they had more room than they thought, and all venders were moved inside. However due to Echo Weekly’s deadlines, I’m not sure how this whole thing turned out, but the process leading up to it was, to use the correct terminology, a gong show.

It started a couple of weeks ago when vendors at the Market were told that repairs were needed on the roof of the building. Repairs were needed, said the City, but it isn’t so bad that the building would have to be shut down for, say, eight to ten weeks so that repairs could be made. That was Saturday November 27. Precisely one week later came word from Derek McCaughan, the city’s director of operations and transit, saying that if you even breathe on the roof wrong it’ll fall like a house of cards.

Okay, he didn’t actually say that, but the message at a meeting between city reps and the vendors of the Farmers’ Market on Saturday December 4 was that we need to get you guys out of here because this roof will fall with even a hint of snow. This after saying exactly seven days earlier that despite the need for repairs, it would take a “once in 50 years snowfall” to collapse the roof of the Market building. And before you can say that the announcement caused outrage amongst the vendors, the outrage was already on…

The first option presented was to move the Farmers’ Market to an old bus barn on 12 Municipal St., which, apparently, was the closest, biggest and most conveniently located facility which could house the Farmers’ Market. After a health inspection, the bus barn was, surprisingly, deemed unsuitable. As it turned out it would have taken longer to bring the barn up to code in order to temporarily house the Market, then it would take to do the repairs on the Market’s building. The result was the Solomon-like decision that you read at the top of the column. And although meat and cheese were initially shut out, the option to sell frozen meat was made available. But considering most vendors sell fresh that probably wasn’t much of a consultation.

Seriously, if you are a vendor at the Farmers’ Market or a user of the Farmers’ Market, you really have every right to get ticked off. From the City’s changing appraisal of the direness of the situation to the Michael Brown (as in “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of job…”) like response to the problem, there are a lot of questions in the air about just what the heck went wrong. Why did the roof problem get so dire, so fast? Was there no where else that the City could have moved the Market to? There was no contingency plan in the works prior to last week? Especially, since they knew the roof was an issue since last July

Those are serious questions and in an article in the Guelph Mercury even McCaughan conceded that there weren’t enough answers for the questions people have. In the absence of actual answers, the vacuum is being filled by pundits and conspiracy theorists. One person sent a letter to the Mercury saying that they were “convinced that the City of Guelph is undertaking to systematically and methodically disrupt, dismantle and dissolve the farmers market as we know it today.” They added that recent by-law adjustments and a new insurance requirement were also part of that campaign, and now that those didn’t completely work, the City is moving to a more aggressive measure.

Of course, letting air into a conspiracy theory is like leaving the food on your plate to grow more fungus, it’ll keep spreading until you get the dish soap out and disinfect that sucker. Despite the statement in her inaugural address about promoting better communication between the City and its people, this kick-off issue of the new term shows that there’s still a divide, and it’s one of the city’s making. As of the Farmers’ Market only one thing is certain, it will probably never be the same again.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

All I Want From this Next Council…

Dear Guelph City Council,

I’ve been a very good citizen of the Royal City this year, and I would like to get a few items for next term. Before I begin though, my Mom says I should thank you for the things I got last term. The new roads and infrastructure was really nice, once we had them assembled, of course. The new City Hall is pretty swanky, but it’s almost too nice to play with. The improvements on the Provincial Court House were pretty cool, but I didn’t like that Hanlon Creek Business Park so much, but my parents say we need it so…

But seriously folks, there are some developments that I wouldn’t mind seeing coming out of council in the next four years (if not sooner). Primary among them is the transit hub.

Such a monumentous undertaking, converting an entire section of Carden Street into a one-stop shop for local and inter-city public transit, was the last item being funded by cash from Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill to be shovel-ready. Are we going to get an extension on that loan, or are we going to have to eat it, which, if I know the city of Guelph and its past actions, will mean transit cuts? The good news is, as of last Thursday, it appeared that no eating would be necessary.

And really, what’s the deal with Ward 1 Councillor Bob Bell wanting to take a minute and edited the plans. In case you missed the Mercury article he said that he wanted to cut the number of bus bays at the hub from 22 to 18, and that those four cut bays “could be accommodated along the Gordon/Norfolk streets corridor.” So it’s a transit hub where there’s an 18 per cent chance that the bus you really want is a couple of blocks and a five minute walk away.

While I appreciate the councillor’s due diligence, I am aghast. I thought the City couldn’t revisit a construction plan once the shovels were in the ground. At least, that seemed to be the argument when the Hanlon Creek Business Park started to get going. Sadly, as I walked from one store to the other last Wednesday in a vain effort to find bus tickets (because apparently stocking up suppliers on the first day of the month so that they don’t run out is too much to ask), I wondered if former Mayoral Candidate Ray Mitchell was right. “Transit is the fallback position to cut when money is needed as it primarily hurts the poor, and we know they don’t vote” said Mitchell in his Candidate Questionnaire for Guelph Politico. “Cutting bus services was probably the meanest thing this council did.”

I know I’ve been harping the transit issue a lot this year, but it really does seem like there’s a concerted effort out there to perpetuate the myth that freedom is a car that you yourself ride in alone and that buses and trains are for poor people and hippies. Parking for the transit hub has been a concern, but I ask, why does one have to drive their car to the bus station? Or the train station? Or at the very least, why is their no encouragement from the City to car pool? If everybody’s going to the same place anyway…

With Rob Ford in Toronto ending “The War on Cars” (Worst. Covered War. Ever.) I wonder how long it will take his thinking to trickle outward from the GTA. Roads are for cars! Bikes are for sissies! Street cars are stupid! If you can’t drive a car, at least have the decency to travel by way of a dark tunnel underground where car people don’t have to look at you! First of all, can we get Clarence Odbody to stop by Rob Ford’s house this Christmas before he turns Toronto into Potterville? And second, if the increasingly long drive to get anywhere hasn’t given you a clue, I’m out of ideas on how to get people to think of transit more positively, and not wrinkle their nose at the thought of taking a bus.

Anyway Council, there’s some milk and cookies in it for you if you figure out a way (not that that’s a bribe or anything). In the meantime, stay cool and good luck with the term ahead.

A random lunatic (with his own newspaper column)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Council's Back, Parade Scam and Police Overtime

Back to Council

It was a hard fought election, now it’s time to enjoy the spoils of victory: hard work, countless committee hours and hundreds of thankless decisions. The new Guelph City Coucil officially takes their seats this Monday, December 6th at 7 pm. And unlike the fancy River Run Centre induction of City Council that took place in 2006, this term begins with a much more frugal inaugural meeting in the council chambers at 1 Carden Street. To get the full agenda for the meeting go to the City of Guelph website, or tap in this address:

As for the last meeting of the last council, it was teary eyed affair as Councillors Kathleen Farrelly, Christine Billings, Vicki Beard, and Mike Salisbury waved goodbye. As well, there were reasons to celebrate. Mayor Karen Farbridge gave Gloria Kovach her 20-year pin, while Billings and Maggie Laidlaw were presented with 10-year pins. As well, each outgoing councillor was given a framed sketch of Carden Street depicting a view of both the old and the new City Hall, as this council oversaw the transfer of Guelph’s flag from one to the other.

So what wonders await the City of Guelph and all the assorted Guelphites there in? Stay tuned to Guelph Politico at

Spend Like Santa, Scam Like Scrooge

Usually the Santa Claus Parade is a time of jubilation and excitement in keeping with the spirit of the Christmas season, but this year it seems like some Grinches saw dollar signs – instead of sugar plums – dancing in their heads. The Guelph Mercury reported last week that a group identifying themselves as “Kare for Kids” was collecting donations along the parade route for “sick kids.” (That’s lower case sick kids, meaning a general reference to unhealthy children, and not the capitalized “Sick Kids” inferring the Toronto children’s hospital of the same name.)

A Mercury reporter called George Marton, who runs Kare for Kids from his North York condominium, and asked him about his group’s “activities” in Guelph and he said that there weren’t any. In other words, the Kare for Kids people at the Guelph parade had no affiliation with the lawfully recognized charity. “Definitely, 100 per cent, we don’t condone this and in fact we specifically prohibit it,” Marton told the Mercury. “They are not allowed to go near any parade. It is not sanctioned by the charity.”

So how did this not-charity manage to get on to the parade and make off with possibly thousands of dollars that have ended up God knows where? Good question. Let’s go to Dave Thompson, the organizer of the Guelph parade, who says that people participating in the parade have to check-in to a marshalling area before the parade’s start, which “Kare for Kids” did not do. “People just carrying buckets … would not have been allowed on the parade route,” Thompson told the Mercury. “I think they’ve likely just come in from the crowd.”

So I guess the lesson here is that some things once thought sacred aren’t sacred anymore. I know it’s a season of giving, but usually we weed out the con artists.

Guelph Police Saves on Overtime

The Guelph Police have spent less on overtime for 2010 to date then they had in 2009. This according to the Guelph Police Service who said last week that despite having their services farmed out to huge-scale events like the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the G20 Meeting in Toronto, Guelph Police have spent about $20,000 less in overtime this year over last. “We haven’t had as many major cases this year, which tends to drive a lot of overtime,” Guelph Police finance manager Kirsten Hand told the Guelph Mercury. Guelph Police Service spent $805,549 on overtime as of October 23rd, where as by that same time in 2009, they had spent $827,303. This even though City police spent 1,584 hours of overtime for the G20, and 1,945 hours of overtime at the Olympics.

Still, when budget deliberations start in January, look for the Police to be asking for the $2 million budget increase they were floating before the election. What does $2 million more on top of a $32.3 million budget buy you? Aside from the typical increases in salaries and employee benefits, it will also mean getting three officers to form a community response unit that would patrol three main neighbourhoods, intelligence surveillance equipment, expenses toward the construction of a south end facility and an officer dedicated to high-risk domestic violence cases.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Better Know a New City Councillor Part 2 of 2

Continuing on our introductory tour of the new city councillors, we return to the cool and comfortable confines of the Red Brick Café to chat with Ward 1’s Jim Furfaro and Ward 2’s Andy Van Hellemond. Furfaro spent over 30 years working in Guelph as a teacher and educator, while Van Hellemond is well known for his nearly three decades as a referee in the NHL. What both men have in common though is an eagerness to get down to work.

Furfaro campaigned on low taxes, more commercial development and greater communication and he sees those being amongst his top priorities. “Obviously, those are the issues that resonated with constituents and those are the issues that I think are going to be part of my agenda for Ward 1,” he says.

Van Hellemond, meanwhile, says that he plans on looking out for seniors, who are a well-represented constituency in his ward. “Many of them are on fixed incomes and obviously rising costs definitely affects a lot of people,” he explains. “I’ve talked to a lot of people on $24-26,000 a year income, and they budget quite strictly and worry about a substantial raise in taxes.”

Also of concern to seniors, as well as being a campaign issue for both rookie councillors, are the proposed changes to the city’s garbage pick-up and introduction of bins. Among concerns the councillors have heard include questions about their size, the storage demands, and hygiene issues. “This should be part of a public forum like a town hall meeting,” says Furfaro. “Let’s go back to the people that will deal with this everyday, and I know that’s sound simple, but we know that whenever you introduce something new, it’s not a simple as it looks.”

What both Furfaro and Van Hellemond want to see is more communication. “There’s a lack of information being relayed to the people,” says Van Hellemond, “and you can blame the people for not being interested, but there are people that are interested and they don’t have a lot of information as to where the money’s being spent.” Van Hellemond adds that he’s spoken with the owners of the Speedvale Mall and his fellow Ward 2 Councillor Ian Findlay about holding quarterly town halls in an empty storefront there. Furfaro also plans to have regular town halls with an eye on March for his first.

Along with last week’s interviewees Cam Guthrie and Todd Dennis, Furfaro and Van Hellemond want to make sure that Guelph is “open for business.” Van Hellemond feels that Guelph has developed a reputation as a place that’s firmly anti-business and would like to see that changed. “I don’t think the city knows just how much taking 10 years to get Wal-Mart here, with all the protesting and all the campaigning, has hurt the city in the business world,” he says. Van Hallemond’s comments echo those made by Guthrie in last week’s column about rebranding the city.

Part of a rebranding campaign may include a focus on cultural activities in our city. “Why not take all the different cultures that want to showcase their traditions and customs, and let them choose a date between July and the end of August?” suggests Furfaro. Van Hellemond, meanwhile, would like to make Guelph a regional destination like the train tours that take Torontonians on day trips to the Niagara Region “Why can’t we get something out this way where riders can ride to Elora and back and spend an eight hour day out here and see the countryside and see what we have to offer?” he asks.

As for their goals in office, Furfaro is looking to start evening out the tax base ratio by increasing the percentage of commercial tax from 16 to 20 in the next four years. Furfaro also wants to see progress on the IMCO brownfield. “The city’s owned that property since the early 90s,” he explains. “I’ve often asked myself, and I know this isn’t going to get me any bouquets left at my home, but if that site was anywhere else in this city but Ward 1, would that have remained dormant for all these years?”

Van Hellemond meanwhile hopes to help create co-operative and productive council that can get things done, but leave disagreements on the floor of the council chamber once the vote is done. And even though he admits that he’s “not a great computer guy,” he’s dedicated to reaching out to his constituents and creating a dialogue with them. So Ward 2 residents can look forward to getting to know him better in the next four years.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Better Know a New City Councillor Part 1 of 2

The October 25th election brought four new city councillors to the horseshoe in Guelph’s City Hall, and on December 6th, the new Gang of 13 will be sitting down together for the first time and begin to sketch out what they’ll accomplish over the next four years. But before they start, I decided to get to them first, beginning with the new councillors for War 4 and 6: Cam Guthrie and Todd Dennis.

Meeting with Guthrie and Dennis last Friday night at the Red Brick Café downtown, it was easy to see their exuberance about their new responsibilities. Both men have talked with Mayor Karen Farbridge, exchanged chats or e-mails with their colleagues and are looking to the immediate concern of the next council: the 2011 budget.

“The main promise is to maintain low taxes,” says Guthrie adding that he made a point of never campaigning on zero tax increases. “I’ve always been taught that if you mind the pennies, you’ll find the dollars, so I can’t wait to get my hands on that 2011 budget so I can start looking for those pennies.”

Dennis is also eager to see the budget. “We know that Fire, EMS, and Police can’t be touched,” he explains, “so we have to get those pennies, as Cam was saying, and figure out how to do things more efficiently. There are some interesting things coming up in conversations with constituents and staff about finding inefficiencies and looking at the whole process, it’s going to be a challenge going in.”

One budget item that has already gotten some traction is Guthrie’s campaign promise to not except the planned pay increase for councillors next year. “No matter what happens, I will be refusing that salary increase. Period. That’s the end of the discussion,” says Guthrie. “I think that’s being effective and I think that’s showing the people of Guelph that I’m looking for efficiencies and if that starts with me, then so be it.”

Dennis, meanwhile, is seeing a change in something he pointed out in his campaign, the perception of his ward as an example of negative growth. “I know it’s a lovely thing to say in the paper, but saying ‘urban sprawl’ and ‘cookie-cutter houses’ you know what? You’ve just offended a whole pile of your population.” observes Dennis who adds that he wants Guelphites to know that Ward 6 is not just commuters, and he says that attitude is changing. “People moved here for a reason, they bought their homes her for a reason, they moved their families here for a reason and you’re insulting them by putting a label or a tag on them.”

Along with that is changing perceptions about the city as someplace unfriendly to business, something that was referenced by both candidates during the campaign. “What I saw in reports was backed up from what I heard from businesses,” says Guthrie, whose day job is selling insurance. “It’s about making sure that the companies we already have here feel welcome to stay, it’s about making them feel welcome when they want to expand, and then attracting new businesses by getting employment lands up and running, and they are, so I’ll give [the City] that credit.” Guthrie also says that we need to rebrand the city and promote business success stories.

Dennis agrees saying that much of council is on the same page in terms of attracting business to the city as a major goal in the next term, and Dennis has some big ideas on how to do that. “We probably have more commercial land in the bank than Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge does, so were in a really good position,” he explains. Dennis says that he’d like to see the tri-cities become a “high-tech triangle” like Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina. It maybe be naïve, he adds, but “Why aren’t we sitting down with Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge, leveraging our land and creating a high-tech corridor?”

In the meantime, Dennis and Guthrie will be making their committee selections and doing other orientation-related items. Guthrie has also begun to realize another campaign promise by turning his website into “Ward 4 News,” which will be dedicated to keeping people informed about what’s going on in the west end.

Tune in next week for an interview with Jim Furfaro (Ward 1) and Andy Van Hellemond (Ward 2).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wait, Don’t We Have Three Levels of Government…?

Why yes. Yes we do. Whatever the reason – mostly municipal election related – we’ve neglected coverage of our provincial and federal representatives these last few months. So with all things municipal chilled out until the new council sits for the first time on December 6th, let’s check in with our local MPP and MP and see what they’ve been up to.
Sandals Like a Pro

Guelph Member of Provincial Parliament Liz Sandals has been keeping her usual low profile, quietly doing the work of your average, everyday MPP. In fact, Sandals career as MPP is so chill that it’s always surprising when she makes the news for something that has nothing to do with a policy, funding announcement, or other act in accordance with her responsibilities as an elected official.

But back on August 20th, Sandals made the news in an unexpected way. She was name-checked by Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman from Thornhill as a member of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s caucus who was more deserving of cabinet position in the last reshuffling of the portfolios than some of the less experienced MPPs who were elevated to the head of a ministry. “Liz Sandals has been toiling away ... for a very long time,” Shurman said in an interview with the Mercury. “She can take the compliment. Maybe she would have been a better choice.” Of course of the two people who were given cabinet seats, Sherman said that the represented “an additional opportunity to tax and spend."

Aside from that one, odd piece of news, it’s been business as usual for Sandals. In October, she delivered $650,000 from the province for local literacy programs at Action Read and Conestoga College. The money is part of Ontario’s $122.9 million investment in the Literacy and Basic Skills Program. On that same day, Sandals also handed a cheque for $100,000 to the Guelph Wellington Women in Crisis Centre. The money will go to help repair a leaky roof at their 38 Elizabeth St facility. All in a day’s work it seems for Sandals.
Frank Valeriote in “The Road Warrior”

Meanwhile, things are much more interesting on Valeriote’s side of the street, not to mention dangerous. Family members of Guelph Member of Parliament Frank Valeriote, along with other members of the community, were victims of vandalism. Occurring overnight in the waning days of October, at least nine cases were reported to police of cars having their break lines cut, tires slashed, or having the letter ‘L’ spray painted somewhere on the property, sometimes all three. The incidents mirror similar vandalism committed recently in Toronto and again in Guelph earlier this year.

The question on everybody’s mind though was whether the slicing and dicing was politically motivated. Valeriote’s nephew was one of the affected, however the Guelph MP was not. “I don’t believe it is a personal statement,” Valeriote said last week. “I believe it is a statement against authority.” Guelph Beat Readers will also remember incidents of graffiti and vandalism directed against Valeriote near the conclusion of Guelph’s aborted Federal by-election in 2008. The incident was precipitated by the wide-spread destruction of election signs, until one Saturday when the homes of people who had Liberal lawn signs where vandalized with slogans like “Vote Liberal C-68 slime” spray-painted on houses and the break lines of cars were cut.

In more positive news though, Valeriote is moving forward with his community outreach endeavours, not the least of which was bring his boss, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School for an open mic Q&A session. As well, he held an open forum to respond to constituents’ concerns this past Tuesday as well as pledging his support to the “Movember” campaign to raise awareness about prostate cancer. “I’m proud to be part of the Movember team helping to support those suffering from prostate cancer and to raise money to advance research and education towards its eradication” Valeriote said in a press release. “4,400 men die from prostate cancer annually, and with the incidence of prostate cancer rising as a result of our aging population, a cure must be found.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rants and GFOMM

I Rant on Your Grave

Hey Guelph! Thanks for voting!

Or at least that’s I would say if more than one-third of you actually gave a damn and voted.

But seriously, thanks to the 33.9 per cent of Guelph that did give a damn and got out and voted. You are the real heroes, and that’s maybe the saddest thing I’ve ever typed. Not that you voted is sad, but the fact that so few of you couldn’t get yourselves to a polling station and fill in four little boxes with a pen is an epic tragedy worthy of Sophocles. Where was the anger? The outrage? The pettiness? Nothing. Sense of civic pride and responsibility? Crickets. Okay.

But seriously, what’s the deal? Are people in Guelph any less frustrated with the economy, taxes and services as compared to, let’s say, Toronto? In the T-Dot, 53.2 per cent came out to vote for *sigh* Rob Ford. Perhaps voter dissatisfaction was higher in Toronto, while the number of people in Guelph who were either content with city leadership, or discontent with the choices offered, was stratospherically high. Considering that there are people in the world that brave bullets – or worse – to vote, what’s our excuse?

Ed The Sock did a bit during the 2006 Municipal Election saying that 36 per cent of people voted in the 2003 election, so majority rules: no more municipal elections. We’re not there yet are we? Surely, the 66 per cent that didn’t vote in Guelph last week  will agree that this reaction is extreme, yet still one wonders why we can’t hoist more people off the couch and into a voting booth.

Of course, people can’t get over their ignorance either. A woman named Jeri Scheffer wrote a letter to the Guelph Mercury on Election Day decrying the fact that her child’s school was being used as a polling place, like every other school has been since at least when my mom was a kid. But if this woman’s misalignment with, you know, how society works was messed up, there was the other side of the coin that was slipped in to her letter so surreptitiously that you you’d almost miss it.

Yep, Ms. Scheffer doesn’t vote, and she said so right in black and white before taking the school board, the school, the trustees and everyone to task for not keeping her informed about the fact that the school’s gym – far from where the kids sit in class – serves as a polling station and probably has since time and memoriam. A better metaphor for this election I can’t think of: A person mad at the system that they can’t even be bothered to participate in. Oh well.

Fill Your Brain

This weekend is the annual Guelph Festival for Moving Media, or what used to be called the Guelph International Film Festival, if your memory goes back that far. The one thing that GFOMM does best, if it can only do one thing, is inspire you and invest you in some unique documentaries, shining a light on people and issues in small towns and big cities across the globe. This year’s program looks to be no exception with environmentally-minded flicks, compelling docs about the arts, and some short animated films for adults only (not like that).

Let me include a few recommendations. First, and this is no particular order, is The So-Called Movie. Savvy Canadian music lovers will be able to name check So Called, a musician and artist based out of Montreal who gave one of the most rockin’ performances from this year’s Hillside Inside. The NFB doc about this madcap man of music is a definitely a fun watch if nothing else. Another neat movie, albeit with a more advocate bend is A Different Path, which follows activists from across North America as they try to overcome the tyranny of the single-occupant automobile. Along similar lines, check out the Friday night performance of Polydactyl Hearts who will be performing their new show Hello Adventure, as well as their now classic show Le Cyc.

For information and the full program and schedule, go to

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Election ’10: Lessons Learned

Due to the deadlines for Echo Weekly, I had to submit this piece without knowing the results of the 2010 Municipal Election on Monday, but to get all that be sure to take a peak at my blog, Guelph Politico, at So in the void of not really knowing what the new council now looks like, I look back as I look forward to try and gleam some meaning out of the election that was/is. I will share some of those meandering thoughts now.

1) I Know Who I Am; Do You Know Who You Are?

One of the major minor issues of the election had nothing to do with how council is spending our money, or how mad everybody is at the endless construction, but has everything to do with anonymity on a blog. Cathy Downer, a campaigner for Mayor Karen Farbridge, was caught for posting multiple times, under multiple names on the Guelph Mercury’s 59 Carden St. blog. Later, Ward 4 candidate Cam Guthrie admitted that he was also guilty of multiple personality disorder on the blog. While I think there was something important to say here about the nature of the blogosphere and the blanket comfort of saying what you want and not having to put your name on it, it seems that a lot of that got lost in the conversation. Of course, the human drama over the perception of sneakiness is easier to grasp then the larger issues of how one conducts themselves on the digital soapbox. I suppose discretion has always been half of the internet, but creating imaginary people to agree with you seems a little too All the President’s Men for me.

2) Facebook May Work on Film, But…

When it comes to electioneering on a local level, the results are decidedly mixed. A quick glance on the social networking site shows that the candidates with the most “friends” (or “supporters” I guess), barely top off at about 530. While it’s certainly admirable that many of the candidates went signless and focused on the paperless campaign on the internet, there’s still, obviously, a huge emphasis on traditional communication forms like signs, pamphlets and newspapers. Perhaps it’s because of the enthusiasm gap on a municipal level, but the internet’s still yet to be lit up by the campaign, and even signless proponents like Ward 1’s Allan Boynton had banners in storefronts downtown. For my money, I did find several candidates more responsive to media requests from blogs and websites, that is unless that candidate’s name was David Birtwistle. (Inside joke, sorry.)

3) Sometimes, the “Kooks” Are Right.

The thing about local politics is that it brings out the people that lack the spit and polish of a national-level campaign and it gives them the spotlight. On the Politico blog, a poster called mayoral candidate Ray Mitchell “this is one craaaazy dude,” and said of Mitchell’s fellow nominee Scott Nightingale that he “sounds like he sent his intern application to the wrong department.” Now unless Mitchell’s packing a four-leaf clover, or if Nightingale’s been hording horseshoes, they’re probably not the Mayor-Elect right now. Still, it’s a very rare person that is completely able to write-off Mitchell and Nightingale. Were they unpolished? Sure. Did they take rather non-mainstream perspectives on key issues? Absolutely.

Last week, the internet became fascinated by Jimmy McMillan, a retired postal worker running for the Governor of New York for The Rent’s 2 Damn High Party. While I’ll submit that McMillan’s insistence that cutting rents in New York would create three to six million new jobs and $6 trillion in surpluses is out there, there is a kernel of truth there not really considered: Paying less for rent means more money for other things. You Tube “Jimmy McMillan” and you can see for yourself, that he’s nearly a studio audience away from being an SNL sketch, but his ideas are interesting, and say what you want about him, but he’s engaged. And that’s something you can’t say about the mass majority of people on a municipal level in the City of Guelph. Of course I could be wrong. I’m right now looking at the election as a future event.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Election Day Parts 1 and 2

Better get your voting shoes on because the polls open at 10 am on Monday. To see if you’re on the voter list or to find out when and where to vote, go to What do you need to bring? Well, according to the Municipal Elections Act you’ll need either one piece of identification that shows your name, qualifying address (where you currently live or own property), and signature, or two pieces of identification, one with name and signature and the other with your name and qualifying address. For a list of what’s cool to count as I.D., go to this site to learn more:

But that’s enough about the boring instructions on how you will exercise your franchise this Monday, and let’s talk instead about who you will use it for. There are 37 candidates in all running for positions on City Council; from the big Mayor’s Chair in the centre to one of two seats in each of the six wards. So what drives people to seek out elected office in the City of Guelph? Let’s ask someone running to sit in the highest office of all.

“I ran for Mayor out of a yearning to dig out the pertinent and otherwise nitty gritty bits of information on how our particular council runs,” says Scott Nightingale. “I am finding the minutiae of municipalities to be rather muddled and inaccessible. I have a mind for what may to some seem mundane and boring. As long as I may use this mind to help those around me understand and in some small cases control their environment, then this is truly a good thing.”

But others already know what they’re getting in to. “I was on Guelph City Council for nine years between 1991and 2000 [and] I am not impressed with the direction we are headed,” says Ward 1 candidate Gary Walton. “I feel the spending and the direction the council is taking is not where our city should be going.”

Meanwhile, Walton’s fellow Ward 1 challenger Karolyne Pickett sees a different story coming from last council. “I support the strategic initiatives taken on by last council with respect to reducing our water consumption, developing community energy consumption goals, and looking at how to improve our transit system,” she explains. “My concern rests with development plans and zoning decisions. I want the City to shift to mixed-use zoning, because people want residential areas to include grocery stores, cafés and small local businesses.”

Development is a concern for many candidates, and while most feel that future construction projects are inevitable, we should follow the plan as outlined by the city and not by the developers. “Development has to follow the official plan and be able to integrate into the neighbourhoods it’s going into,” says Paul Mahony, Ward 2 candidate. “It also has to make sense. I saw the last council meeting and a great deal of time was spent around a development just off Arkell Road. The person addressing council made reference to many parts of the development not being in compliance with the city's official plan. Despite this, the developers were going ahead with what he had proposed. This can't happen. If it does if I am elected, I will vote against it every time.”

But everybody has their own idea about what the craziest decision made by this council has been. For Ward 3 candidate Dimitrios "Jim" Galatianos, that decision was made earlier this year when council agreed to a plan to convert the city’s waste management program to a bin system rather than bags. “Really that is what broke the preverbal camel's back for me,” says Galatianos. “We just went through a summer where the city had to turn out the light and put out the ‘closed for business’ sign because they had over spent – I mean failed to generate enough revenue – $8 million and then they go and do this. […] Some hard decisions will have to be made and the previous council has shown they are not the ones to do it.”

Since that budget shortfall is probably going to haunt the next council as it has the last couple of years of this council, the problem at hand should definitely by able to bring out big ideas from the candidates, and one thinks that he’s found a way to save the city some cash. “I'd like to introduce you to the Budget filter that I will use on your behalf,” says Cam Guthrie, a challenger in Ward 4. “It's called the ‘FREE BUDGET.’ I am the only candidate that will ask these tough questions. F - What can we Freeze? R - What can we Reduce? E - What needs to be Evaluated? E - What needs to be Eliminated?”

Others though have ideas on how to improve things that already exist in order to get the maximum benefit for the City of Guelph. “Personally, I would love to see the Italian Festival become as big a landmark as Kitchener’s Oktoberfest,” says Linda Murphy. “Now that would help our tourism problems also. Guelph is a culturally diverse community and we need to embrace that and build on it.”

Murphy’s fellow Ward 1 candidate Tamara Williams also sees Arts & Culture as part of the plan when it comes to tourism in the Royal City. “Guelph is unique because of the large population of artists and musicians within the city,” she explains. “This represents a large group of very talented people giving to the city. We should continue to support the arts and our cultural heritage which would also promote tourism and result in good business for the city.”

Still, there is something to be said for pragmatism. Which is where some of the incumbents come in, like Ward 1’s only returning councillor Bob Bell. “We will have trouble keeping them down next term because of all the money that was spent this past term,” he says. “We need to do a better job here, forecast 3.66 per cent and having expenditures for 7 per cent, then correcting it by cutting transit and garbage collection.”

Still, there is reason to hope, according to Ward 6 incumbent Karl Wettstein. “Although we have made progress in a number of key areas, we need to be diligent in making sure these changes take root,” he says. “This requires a Council and Senior Management team that clearly understand the critical roles that strong financial policy, good corporate governance, positive and constructive teamwork, and the ability to find consensus solutions play in running an effective and efficient $300 million complex corporation.”

But no matter what any of the candidates say, what’s important is that you have your say. Make sure that you get out and vote on Monday October 25th. And for full candidate responses to my Candidate Questionnaire, go to

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More From the Candidates

So let’s start with the incumbents, because despite the high profile nature of the position, being a city councillor is a full-time job that pays like a part-time one, no matter what you feel about whether or not those people are worthy of the paycheque they get. So with all the scrutiny and armchair quarterbacking, why would someone want another go-round in the horseshoe? Let’s ask Ward 4 Councillor Mike Salisbury.

“The City of Guelph is in the midst of a transition – from a small, progressive community to a much more complex and diverse mid-sized city,” explains Salisbury. “We require leadership capable of navigating this transition - a council capable of seizing the opportunities while preserving the character and quality of life that makes Guelph so unique. […] My personal vision for the City of Guelph is to build upon this legacy and making Guelph an inspiring place to live – invest – and to visit.”

Part of that vision is an increased focus on improving transit, according to Salisbury. “Perhaps the most exciting (and overdue) initiative was the development of the Transit Growth Strategy,” he says. “The strategy combines increased service frequency during peak periods and off peak periods combined with a host of routing improvements which addresses long standing complaints about the radial transit system we have struggled with for years. I believe we are making strong headway but there is still much more to be done.”

Salisbury isn’t the only one making transit a priority. “My family of young adults (high school and university) and myself are transit users, and know the importance of a dependable system (including holidays),” says Ward 5 Councillor Leanne Piper. “On time, on budget, increased ridership, friendly staff, improved technology and better inter-modal linkage; the Transit Growth Strategy speaks to all of these key issues and I strongly support the growth and efficiency of our system.”

Piper also believes that Guelph is a city in transition and that strong, experienced leadership is needed to keep things moving forward. “Guelph is on a forward momentum path,” she explains. “We are poised to be national leaders on a number of fronts – water conservation, wastewater, community energy, economic development, arts and culture, and more. We need strong leaders at City Hall to keep us on that path. I want to look back in 25 years and know that I did everything in my power to ensure Guelph’s sustainability and prepare us for the next generation.”

Strong points, but many of the candidates challenging the current councillors for their seats have said that one of the biggest problems with the current council is keeping its constituents informed about those accomplishments. “A common and often heard complaint from voters is that that candidates are visible to voters during the campaign and once elected are seldom seen,” says Jim Furfaro, one of 11 candidates running in Ward 1. “I want to assure voters that their support will be recognized beyond Election Day. I plan to “put constituents and their needs first.” I will keep voters informed (townhall meetings) and up-to-date on key issues that have a potential impact on Ward One or the entire city.”

In Ward 2 meanwhile, one incumbent councillor begs to differ and says that he’s been doing a pretty good job of keeping his constituents in the loop. “The Ward 2 Blog helped connect residents of Guelph with City Hall,” according to Ian Findlay. “It became a popular forum for community discussion and information on a variety of topics. To date I have made over 1,800 postings to my blog and it has been viewed more than 225,000 times!” But for Findlay, there’s also been more human interaction too. “I also co-hosted 16 town hall meetings in Ward 2. These neighbourhood meetings allowed residents and other stakeholders the opportunity to express themselves on a variety of topics and issues.”

Still, Furfaro holds to his guns that this election is about bringing some new blood into the council chamber. “This election is as much about ‘change’ as it is about issues,” he says. “There are ten incumbent councillors seeking re-election and twenty-three individuals believing they can make a difference. Be prepared for ‘business as usual’ in how things are done in the council chamber if voters choose not to make substantial changes.

For full candidate questionnaires zip over to Guelph Politico at

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Issues and Arguments Continue in Campaign ’10

With the 2010 Municipal Election now just over two weeks in our future, let’s visit some more of the comments from the various mayoral and council candidates, as provided to me in the Candidate Questionnaire. The questionnaire’s are still coming, and can be found in their entirety at my Guelph Politico blog at

Let’s start with someone running for the mayor’s seat. This week, we’ll hear from Ray Mitchell, former proprietor of The Family Thrift Store. Given the somewhat unique circumstances that befell him in the last couple of years, let’s ask his opinion of last council’s performance. “I thought it was horrible,” he said empathically. “They demonized the young, built walls between our city and the county, spent too much on the wrong things, and raped the wild. And now they’re trying to put a positive spin on it all.”

Mitchell had further harsh words when asked about the issue of transit. “Transit is the fallback position to cut when money is needed as it primarily hurts the poor, and we know they don’t vote,” he said. “Cutting bus services was probably the meanest thing this council did.”

Ward 3 incumbent, and vocal environmentalist, Maggie Laidlaw pressed the importance of transit and promised that improvements will be coming to our transit system in the next couple of years. “We must make our transit system as convenient and reliable as the private automobile while remaining affordable to all,” said Laidlaw, who added her voice to the chorus of regret about the cuts to service this past summer. “Like other members of council, if I had known that voting for five days off without pay for all city staff, including members of council, would have meant cutting bus service, I would not have supported it. If we want to increase our ridership, we MUST keep fares down and service consistent and reliable.”

Still, it seems that the quintessential issue of the election remains the twin devils of taxes and spending, at least according to Ward 3 challenger Craig Chamberlain. “This past council was out of touch with most people’s realities,” Chamberlain explained. “It spent too much, too fast on a special interest-driven agenda, committing taxpayers and future councils to capital expenditures people cannot afford and many do not support. It seemed as though the recession was an inconvenience for this council.”

Chamberlain also accused the last council of group think and mischaracterizing people that don’t agree with them as being out of touch. “We need to get away from needing villains and scapegoats for our problems, and take responsibility for the ways we have failed,” he said. “We need to own our role in the debacle with the County, and not make city staff defend themselves for wanting to go to work in the morning and pay their mortgages.”

Still, the argument for experience is strong, at least in the view of Ward 4 incumbent Gloria Kovach. “The future will provide challenges and opportunities around growth. The Province through legislation, Places to Grow has mandated that the City grow to 175,000 by 2031 – that’s 54,000 more people and 32,000 more jobs,” she explained. “Experience is needed to deal with the challenges of the density requirements and to ensure growth is sustainable and is compatible with existing neighbourhoods.”

Bringing things full circle, Ray Mitchell wasn’t the only candidate to bring up the plight of the impoverished in our city in his questionnaire. Candidate for Ward 3 Mark Enchin related a story about a poverty briefing he had with members of Onward Willow and the United Way. Enchin was confounded by the lack of funds seemingly reaching the poor in the City of Guelph and just how much help they really need once you start digging into the issues.

“I was ashamed to be a Guelphite after leaving that poverty briefing,” said Enchin. “All the talk, all the studies, all the bullshit and still these people can’t be given a few extra dollars to help them live in our city. […] I was born and raised in the Willow Road area. I was there when they were building the townhomes on Valleyview and Willow. Things were better for them back in the 70s , at least the units they were living in were brand new! After that meeting I realized that nothing ever will change for these people. They have no voice, they have no representation, and they have no hope. That’s why I’m still in the race.”

For full questionnaires and more election news and coverage go to:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Council’s Past Produces Questions… And Opinions

So last week I was finally able to get down to the serious business of parsing the candidates running to be the next mayor or the next members of city council. I sent out my questionnaire to all candidates, asking them many of the same questions. The responses started trickling in almost immediately, and at press time, of the 37 total candidates, eight had returned the questionnaire with another five promising timely responses. By my count, that’s nearly a third of the candidates in just five days time, which ain’t bad.

The questionnaire was simple. It asked why the candidate decided to run for office, what they thought of the performance of the current council, and their thoughts on a variety of issues including taxation, development, city budget, transit and arts & culture. In this space, over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting some of their responses. But for the whole kit and kaboodle click over to my Guelph Politico blog at

First let’s go to the head cheese, Mayor Karen Farbridge, who’s pleased with the progress the city has made under her last four years in the chair at the centre of the horseshoe. “We have made sustainability a hallmark of Guelph’s future,” she said. “We have saved our taxpayers $48 million dollars: because of our success with the Infrastructure Stimulus Funding program we were able to fix our roads and sewers while putting 800 people back to work during a recession.”

Many of the challengers for councillor seats though seem to have opinions to the contrary. “There are issues of transparency at city hall,” says Ward 6 candidate Todd Dennis. “Where is the discussion and debate expected in a democracy? This council appears to be automatically approving every project put forth. Does anyone stand up and question the project’s necessity and whether value is being provided to taxpayers.”

Others though are more pragmatic in their appraisal. “Do I think they could have made tougher decisions when it comes to spending and being financially more credible than what they tell us? Yes,” said Ward 1 candidate Allan Boynton. “We all know that there is going to be new people there and I hope the public chooses my ideas and values. The last council will be held accountable for their decisions on the 25th of October.”

Boynton’s fellow Ward 1 challenger Russell Ott agrees with that assessment. “This council did a less than average job,” Ott said. “They came in with one priority which was to change the decorum around the council table. Unfortunately, to avoid any conflict or heated discussions, too many times issues and proposals came forward which were flawed. The right questions were not asked of staff or delegations, and several councillors, including both in ward one voted in a ‘block’ and did not consider how it would affect residents in ward one.”

Still, others are looking to the issues that are not as frequently spoken about. “The Community Youth Strategy has gotten lost in the shuffle,” explains Ward 4 nominee Steven Petric. “Our young people deserve more respect and resources from us. I feel as though Guelph is well behind many others in providing much needed services and places for young people. I would make sure we implement the strategy and push for more youth services within our neighbourhood groups.”

Others, meanwhile, are just filled with questions. “Why does the south end have such a problem with absentee landlords and their tenants?” asks Ward 6 candidate Susan Ricketts. “Why doesn't the south end receive equal treatment when it comes to services like police, fire, bylaw enforcement, waste management and property standards? Why can someone downtown receive money from the City to renovate their business premises but not if your business is located outside the Downtown Business Association boundary? Are we sure, yet, what the true cost of the new waste management system will be? Has there been sufficient public input and education on that issue?”

For more questions (and answers) head over to Guelph Politico at