Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guelph Getting Remastered, But Not Without Difficulty

“It’ll be worth it.” That’s what the City of Guelph wants you to think this summer as you struggle to navigate through a minefield of road work that’s going to make last summer’s construction look like a simple road patch job. Hyperbole? Not quite. At a media briefing about the coming construction season last Wednesday, Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig said that 2010 will see four-times more road construction than 2009. Or to put it another way, that's five years worth of construction crammed into one calendar year. In all, 25 projects have already or will go under the shovel thanks to $48 million in stimulus from the Federal and Provincial governments, with another $24 million from the city. And all 25 of these projects have to be finished by March 2011.

In some opening remarks, Mayor Karen Farbridge said that Guelph did extremely well in getting stimulus money from upper levels of government and that “sometimes you’re a victim of your own success.” Meaning that now the city has to get down to work at doing $72 million worth of construction in 12 months, which will mean a lot of inconvenience and, potentially, a lot of anger from inconvenienced citizens. Knowing this though, Farbridge said that Guelph was “very fortunate” to be getting this funding saying that “a lot of our infrastructure is at the end of its life span.”

That goes especially for areas of the city that are oldest, like the downtown core, where some sewers and watermains are nearly a century old. Additionally, many cities are behind in the infrastructure construction. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that there’s a $123 billion deficit in infrastructure nationwide.

So there’s going to be a lot of construction between March and December, but the city wants to make residents and businesses an informed partner in the endeavour and not a hapless victim. “We want to make sure that this is a partnership throughout the community,” said Loewig, “they are stakeholders in the process.”

It begins this week with an information insert will be sent out to Guelph homes via the Mercury and the Tribune newspapers. That will be followed up with regular print, radio and web updates as the city will try to keep citizens informed about changes through local media. Once construction starts there will be rush hour updates on local radio stations CJOY and MAGIC while the City's website will be the main hub for updated information. Along with getting information, people will be able to report a construction problem or submit a question, while affected businesses will be invited to regular meetings to promote information sharing and to get updates. “We’re going to do everything possible to avoid disruption but it’s going to look like we’re not,” resigned Loewig.

So where is it going to be hardest hit in terms of construction? It seems that Carden Street is going to be the focal point as improvements are made in preparation for the possible transit hub to be developed there with the arrival of GO trains next year. The Wyndham St bridge will also be improved necessitating further disruption there come spring. As well the corner of Wilson and Carden will feel the “most impact” according to Loewig, even necessitating the short term use of the civic square as a parking lot. Considering all this, city officials say that the goal of their public relations effort will be to keep things light while still being informational. All the construction in the coming months may represent a short term inconvenience, but these improvements will make Guelph better in the long term. In other words: no pain, no gain.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Graffiti, Curling, Monopoly and Robbie Burns

Graffiti: Not just for whippersnappers any more

Over the last two years, anti-Semitic graffiti has appeared on a number of buildings across the City of Guelph. From Stone Road Mall to the Meadowvale Garden Centre to Riverside Park’s Enabling Gardens to Wal-Mart, the incidents have literally been recorded from one end of the city to the other. Would you surprised to learn that this tagging spree was perpetrated not by the idle hands of youth, but an 83-year-old Guelph man? In another strange-but-true tale, Max Mahr appeared in a Guelph courtroom last charged with five counts of mischief under $5,000 and willful promotion of hate. That last charge, willful promotion of hate, needs approval from the Ministry of the Attorney General. According to the Criminal Code, the willful promotion of hate is communicating statements promoting hatred willfully, other than in private conversation, against any identifiable group. Anyone found guilty of the charge can be imprisoned for a maximum of two years. Mahr will next appear in court on February 5th.

Secret to Saving Local Economy: Curling

Last weekend saw the end of the $100,000 Swiss Chalet National –the second leg of the men’s 2009-10 Capital One Grand Slam of Curling series at the Sleeman Centre, and according to all sources it was a grand slam for the city. (Not being acquainted with curling terms, I subbed baseball ones.) The tournament featured curlers who will go on to represent Canada at the Olympic Games in Vancouver next month, meaning a lot of attention was paid to events in Sleeman. Rich Grau, the Sleeman Centre’s facility manager, told the Guelph Tribune that hosting the tournament meant national exposure for the city, and it gave the Sleeman Centre a chance to show its capacity to host a national event. Additionally, Grau said that between the fact that the tournament was five-days long and it drew a total attendance of 28,431, there’s been a positive economic benefit to the city. “There has to be a substantial impact that goes along with this event that you wouldn’t get with a one-day event,” in terms of hotel, restaurant and other spending. Guelph souvenirs, perhaps? Speaking of which…

Guelph about to get monopolized… but in a good way

Do you like the Parker Brothers board game Monopoly? Do you like playing the variant versions? Do want to be able to buy Guelph in the upcoming 75th anniversary edition of the classic game? Well, the only thing standing between you and this reality is you. Guelph is one of 65 Canadian cities vying for 22 slots on the upcoming new edition of Monopoly. “Guelph has a really good chance to make the top 20. But you have to get people online and voting every day,” Hasbro spokesperson Marissa Pedatella said to the Guelph Mercury. Guelphites can go to to register and vote. Be sure to vote early and vote often because the contest closes on February 7th. According to the rules, the two cities that receive the most votes will get the high class spots of Park Place and Boardwalk, while two cities chosen by “wild card” vote will get shafted with Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues. The selected cities will be announced sometime in June, and the new game itself will be released on Canada Day.

“Tak a cup o' kindness” for Burns at Civic Museum

No, that’s not a misspell, that’s the proper Scottish verse as written by “Auld Lang Syne’s” author Robbie Burns in 1788. Now Master Burns is a pretty big deal for those of us with Scottish blood, so if you count yourself among us, or are otherwise a well-wisher of the Scots or other interested third party, then you’ll want to come out to the Civic Museum this Sunday. Robbie Burns Day is always a wonderful celebration, and this year appears to be no exception. The day includes special talks, music, highland dancing, spinning and weaving, calligraphy, traditional food and lots of family activities. Plus, you’ll definitely not want to miss the piping in of the haggis. The festivities go from 1 pm to 4:30 pm, and admission is $6 per adult or $12 per family. For more information go to

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Another Torch Arrest and Prorogue Complaints

Second Arrest in Torch Flap

It seems the conspiracy went deeper than we knew. Last week, a second person was arrested in relation to the Olympic torch tripping incident on December 28th in downtown Guelph. Kelly Pflug-Back, a 20-year-old Guelph resident, was charged with assault by Guelph Police and will appear in court on February 8th along with the previously charged 19-year-old Kitchener protestor who was arrested on the scene at the torch relay. This new arrest was made as part of an ongoing investigation into the incident where a clash between protestors and torch security resulted in 28-year-old Milton resident Courtney Hansen being tripped and falling while carrying the torch.

In an interesting twist, Pflug-Back says that she was a victim, telling the Guelph Mercury that she was punched in the face by an RCMP officer and treated later that day at Guelph General Hospital. “It was pretty much the only violence that I saw perpetrated in the incident,” she said, adding that in her opinion, the incident was completely unprovoked, and that she filed her own complaint with Guelph Police Service. Additionally, Pflug-Back doesn’t know whom she’s allegedly assaulted. “All it says is that I have been charged with assault,” she said. “I wasn’t given a name as to whom I have been charged with assaulting.” Guelph Police Chief Rob Davis said that names are only given when staying away from the victim is a condition of release. “They’ll find out (the alleged victim) through the court process,” Davis said. “It has to go before the court and it has to be sworn to.” To be continued…

Decisions Soon in Two OMB Cases

The Ontario Municipal Board should be releasing their decision regarding two controversial Guelph cases sometime later this month according to an article in the Mercury. One case involves the disputed gravel pit off Downey Street in the south end of the city, a contentious battle that’s been raging between area residents and Capital Paving Inc for nearly four years. “The board said it would endeavour to have (a decision) out as soon as possible in the new year, so it should be fairly soon,” said Peter Pickfield, lawyer for Capital. The other case is the development of the Lafarge lands in the west end. Armel, the last opponent standing against developing the land under an arbitrated plan, took the matter to the OMB last August in a hearing that wrapped by October. Steven Zakem, lawyer for Armel noted that the OMB normally tries to issue decisions within 60 days. Pickfield, who represented the city in this case, agrees saying, “I think we should have a decision any time now.”

Valeriote calls proroguing a “coward” move

Seemingly echoing the sentiments of much of the country, Guelph MP Frank Valeriote said that Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed cowardice by calling up Governor-General MichaĆ«lle Jean and asking for a surprise suspension of parliament until after the conclusion of the Olympic Games in Vancouver. “Frankly he’s showing himself to be a coward running from accountability,” Valeriote said to the Mercury. “He’s decided he does not want to be accountable to the people. […] There is absolutely no sense in what he’s done.” There are many that agree, including the nearly 100,000 strong (at press time) Facebook group “Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament.” The reasons for this prorogue stem from the banal (letting the country enjoy the Olympics without Parliamentary pissing contests) to the sinister (scuttling the inquiry into the treatment of Afghan detainees). Valeriote meanwhile laments all the lost work coming from this move. “That’s a whole year’s work down the drain that we will never get back,” Valeriote said. “Millions and millions of dollars gone forever, and that’s only the agriculture committee. I really hope at some point the people of Canada come to understand the depth of his disregard… and his desire to put himself above everyone else. ”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Goodbye 09, Hello 10

While You Were Sleeping…

After the year it’s been in Guelph, it would make sense that the Royal City would get one last lick in before the books were closed on 2009. Our fair city made national news last week when one of the runners in the Olympic torch relay fell while carrying the torch downtown during an apparent clash between torch security, police and anti-Olympic protesters. There was a galvanizing effect as a result of this issue as many junk-piled on the protesters for either precipitating the clash or out-and-out tripping the torch bearer, 28-year-old Courtney Hanson from Milton. Arrested for assault was 19-year-old from Kitchener, and before I go into the division of perspectives, can we at least take a moment to find the oddity in a Milton woman being tripped by a protester from Kitchener during the Guelph leg of the relay. Anyone?

Okay, so I think we can all agree that what happened to Ms. Hanson was horrible. No matter how you feel about the legality or morality of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, ruining a once in a lifetime experience for someone, not to mention the thousands of people that came out to share it with you at the crack of dawn,is the epitome of a dick move. But having said all that, the exact details of the altercation are still a little fuzzy as of the writing of this column. Some say it was a direct provocation by the protestors to the torch’s security and RCMP escort, others say that it was a crowding issue as tempers on all sides flared. Unfortunately, nothing less than the Zapruder film equivalent of this incident will prove anything one way or the other, and such evidence has yet to surface. Just consider the whole thing proof that the wackiest stuff always happens when you’re taking time off from your column.

Newsmakers of ’09 Named

The Guelph Mercury named their male and female newsmakers of 2009 last week, and on the one hand the choices can almost be taken as a case of David versus Goliath. The female newsmaker was Mayor Karen Farbridge who was cited for a busy year that included the protest over the Hanlon Creek Business Park, legal battles over waste processing and city hall, and a year end budget crunch. “If I’m newsmaker of the year it’s because of my role as mayor and spokesperson for council,” Farbridge said. “I think (the honour) reflects a lot more on our CAO, council and senior staff who support the spokesperson’s role.”

For male newsmaker of the year, the prize went to Matt Soltys, one of the organizers of the opposition against the HCBP. Soltys was also recognized for his work with local groups like Groundworks and the Apple Seed Collective. “My hope lies in more people recognizing the need for that,” Soltys said. “I think a lot of people know very well the futility of always playing by the rules that are set out for us.”

Countdown to Indecision 2010

Yes friends, 2010 is an election year, and in October Guelphites will be asked to go to the polls and elect the next Guelph city council and mayor. Nominations officially opened on Monday January 4, but there’s already been speculation as to who amongst the current slate of councillors will run again. Before the holidays, the Guelph Mercury talked to several councillors and the Mayor about their re-election plans and their answer, for the most part, was a definite maybe. Ward 1 Councillor Kathleen Farrelly said that she’ll most like run so long as her health holds up, while Ward 6 Councillor Karl Wettstein says that he’s leaning towards running, but won’t firm up his plans until March. Karen Farbridge said that she’s “obviously giving (another run) serious consideration,” but has not yet dedicated herself either way. If you’re interested in seeking local office, the list of appointments and rules and guidelines for the nomination process are available on the city website at