Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ward 5: The “Sandwich” Effect

Nearing the completion of its cross-city tour, this week’s penultimate edition of “Better Know a Ward” brings us to Ward 5. The uniqueness of this particular area, according to its representatives Councillors Leanne Piper and Lise Burcher, is that Ward 5 is sandwiched between two different cultures: downtown and the south end. As well, there’s a “vibrancy that comes from having a high student population,” says Piper, as Ward 5 is home to the University of Guelph and numerous students, staff and faculty that have settled nearby. As well, the HQ of The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and the largest commercial zone in the city in and around Stone Road Mall dwell within Ward 5.

At the same time, Ward 5 hosts a very active community. Not only socially-conscious U of G students, but also several well established neighbourhood groups like the Hanlon Creek Neighbourhood Group and the Old University Neighbourhood Residents' Association. In fact, the OUNRA is where many city councillors, including former Ward 5 rep Cathy Downer and Burcher, got their political start. “They’re a really good training ground for citizen engagement,” says Burcher. “The good thing is that it was very much about community mobilization, and very much focused on engagement and bringing people to the table.”

As for the issues, Piper and Burcher face the usual things associated with a heavy student populated area, but not so much the usual development issues being discussed throughout the rest of the city. One on the duo’s radar though is the ongoing concern from the Guelph Limestone Inc (formally Dolime) property just adjacent to the Ward along Arkell Rd, east of Victoria St. S. “It has become an issue, not just in terms of noise, but blasting, migration, and water quality,” says Piper. “The city has taken a very strong position that the pit needs to be decommissioned to protect our surface water.”

“What we want to do is encourage Carson-Reid (the owner’s of the quarry) to get to the end use plan and stop the blasting and stop the excavation,” adds Burcher. “The really serious risk from a water quality perspective is that recently there was a geological survey conducted and the City of Guelph was told that they could see the top half of the aquifer, had actually been removed in one portion.”

City requests for operations to cease seem to have been ignored and the concern is that there might be contamination of the aquifer from surface water. The result is that the water would have to be treated at the cost of millions of dollars. Sadly, this is provincial jurisdiction and the city can’t seem to get the traction it needs from the Ministry of the Environment. But there are hopes that there’ll be a break on that soon with help from community pressure and groups like Wellington Water Watchers.

Another issue that generated some heat in Ward 5 early this year was the removal of older, dying trees in Royal City Park. “It had to be done in my opinion, however unfortunate that is,” said Piper. “It’s a very significant move on the city’s part to go from just managing trees on an ad hoc basis to doing a very comprehensive urban forestry master plan for the whole city,” adds Burcher. Although the removal of trees is sad, they say, it’s necessary in order to keep the city’s urban forests healthy. As well, they add, it’s part of the city’s new commitment to the health of these trees, which is now being only limited by budget restraints.

Having said that and considering re-election plans, both councillors affirm that they are interested in pursuing political life after this fall’s election. “Many of the initiatives that you begin in 2006, you can't see through in four years,” said Piper in response to being asked about re-election. “Two terms of council, I think, are a minimum in order to feel satisfied that you've made a difference and you've seen through your vision into action. So yes, I'm running again.”

“Absolutely, I plan on running again,” responded Burcher. “And having been there another term I have to say that several of the large initiatives we've talked about started two terms ago. But I think the exciting thing now is that there have been so many initiatives in the last two terms, I would venture that it's a 10, 12 year outcome for a lot of those larger things to even get to the starting stage.”

In any event, Burcher considers it important that every citizen be part of the process at all levels, and not just at the voting booth on Election Day. “I believe it’s critical that we engage citizens very intentionally and very effectively, early and often as it goes, to contribute to and be the creators of these plans moving forward. And I think effective citizen engagement really draws that community value. It’s not about doing it for people, but doing it with them.”

For “Better Know a Ward” segments past and present go to

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Local Bomb, No Jefferson, and Pot Pulled

What is this? Beirut?

Guelph proved that there’s room for humour in the middle of a bomb scare last week, when the downtown found itself in the middle of an actual bomb scare. Now, I say “scare” even though things at the scene were rarely tense as police officers cheerfully answered residents’ questions about the situation while the explosives device unit (EDU) did their thing with the help of a special robot loaned from Waterloo Region.

Details about who did what and why were still sketchy at press time (like up-to-date info, try my blog at, but a suspicious package was found at the post office in St. George’s Square about noon, and police responded by closing down a large portion of upper Wyndham, and diverting buses to the River Run Centre alternate-stop. By 4 pm, the EDU had exploded the package safely, and it was back to business as usual in the Square.

But who’s responsible? I don’t know, but I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive.

Jeff’s Not Here, Man

Well, it seems that the first best reason not to build the Hanlon Creek Business Park has been disproved, according to a City press release last week. According to the salamander monitoring program, no trace of the reptile has been found on the HCBP lands so it’s time to drill, baby, dr… I mean, let the construction begin on the Business Park without any further interruption.

Not necessarily. On May 7th, a group opposing the HCBP marched on City Hall and a local developer and articulated their continued opposition to the planned development, and already their tone had moved to an overall environmental cause. “This is our drinking water at stake … clean air … the Earth,” spokesperson Marcie Goldstein said in an interview with the Guelph Mercury.

Still, the city says all precautions are putting put into place to protect the local wildlife. “The City will be moving forward with the development of the HCBP subdivision as approved by the Ontario Municipal Board in November 2006,” said the press release last Monday. “The 2010 salamander monitoring program has provided additional information on the location and movement of other amphibians within the HCBP subdivision. This additional information will be used to consider design refinements and to undertake measures for wildlife protection during construction activities.”

Cannabis Calamity

On May 6th members of the Guelph Police Drug, Intelligence Unit, Co-ordinated Enforcement Team and Uniform Division executed Controlled Drugs and Substances Act search warrants at the Medical Cannabis Club of Guelph at 62 Baker Street as well as 5 residences, which resulted in the arrest of four people for trafficking, possessing a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking and production of a controlled substance. Apparently, the bust of these tax-paying, pot-selling citizens have been under police investigation for some time, after all, they were selling medicinal marijuana to the sick to ease their suffering.

What’s more mysterious is the Police Service’s restraint. The Medical Cannabis Club has been in operation since 2006, and are duly recognized members of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, Ontario Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Guelph Business Association. (I have the links on Politico, look it up if you don’t believe me.) “Our investigation has revealed that The Medical Cannabis Club of Guelph has illegally sold marihuana and hashish” said Sgt Doug Pflug-Guelph Police Media spokesperson. “Health Canada sets clear guidelines and regulations for the use of medically sanctioned marihuana use and these individuals operated outside those guidelines and regulations.”

While he’s technically right, it begs the question about why it took so long to lower the boom on the Medicinal Cannabis Club. As well, it ignores the fact that one of the defendants did have a license to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes, and that nearly half of the Club’s membership had the proper permits to procure it. And most importantly, this does nothing to rectify the still sorted grey water that’s our government’s pot policy. For the latest info, and scenes from last Saturday’s protest in St. George’s Square go to

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Old Fight, New Candidate

Hanlon Creek Fight Gearin’ Up Again

Last Friday, opponents of the Hanlon Creek Business Park gathered at Goldie Mill Park to distribute information and talk to the public about why they think the business park should be shuttered. It’s another sign that this might be another long summer for the development project in the city’s southwest end. This comes just a couple of weeks after a press conference in front of city hall where the Hanlon Creek 5, the five people charged in a SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) suit for last summer’s occupation of the HCBP lands, decried being bullied by the City for acting, as they say, in the public interest. During my interview with the Ward 6 councillors for last week’s “Better Know a Ward,” Coun. Karl Wettstein said in no uncertain terms that the HCBP will move forward this summer, and there will be repercussions for anyone disrupting work on the site. Stay tuned for more because this issue is far from resolved.

New Candidate Enters Ward 1

Last week, Eugene Gromczynski threw his hat into the ring to become the fourth candidate running in Ward 1 for the municipal election this fall. Gromczynski ran in the 2006 election and finished fifth out of five candidates. If you're interested, I did a questionnaire with Gromczynski during the 2006 Election when I was editor of You can read it at If you want to see the full slate of candidates thus far, then you’ll want to click on, or you can check out my blog at

Transit Workers Try to Rally Support

If you've rode on transit lately, you'll have witnessed a growing, but silent, sense of disgruntlement from the drivers. You might recognize one of three flyers, either taped up on bus shelters, left out in public areas or slipped to dedicated riders on the Q.T. In no uncertain terms these flyers say that the members of the transit union are fed up, and they're trying to rally support from loyal transit users to kick up a storm. Smart strategy considering that the city's bus lines are returning to 30 minute service all week long for three months starting in June, there's going to be no Sunday service at all in August, and from the U-pass to adult tickets, everybody's seen a fare increase in the last couple of months.

Transit workers have got their own reasons to be ticked too. About 31 transit employees will be laid off between June and August, or otherwise have their hours severely cut back. This, while the City talks about the priority of transit and all its future plans, which kind of comes off looking like a lot of double speak. In the meantime, the drivers, the front line workers, probably are taking the brunt of the abuse for all of transit's recent shortfalls. If you want to take a look at the flyers, if you haven’t already, checkout Politico.

Get the lead out…

Interested in water issues? Well, tonight is your night. Members of the community are invited to a public information session to learn more about lead in our drinking water.The information covered will include Ontario drinking water regulations, health risks of lead in drinking water, options on reducing lead levels, and details about the new grant pilot program for Guelph homeowners replacing their private lead service lines. City staff, consultants and representatives from the Ministry of the Environment and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit will answer questions and ask residents to provide their feedback about the City’s lead reduction options. The info session begins at 6 pm at the Guelph Waterworks at 29 Waterworks Place, off York Rd.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ward 6: A Hub of Activity

After an inadvertently long hiatus, Better Know a Ward returns. For those of you who’ve forgotten, this six-part, award-eligible series profiles a different ward in Guelph and the councillors that represent it. Today, it’s Ward 6, the southern most ward in the city that covers everything below Kortright Road. Containing many of the newer parts of Guelph, Ward 6 is a hub of activity with a near constant level of development. The two councillors representing this Ward are Christine Billings and Karl Wettstein, and I recently got a chance to sit down with them in Guelph City Hall.

So in the mind of these councillors, what makes Ward 6 unique? Two words: growth and development. “We’ve got the age-old dilemma about services,” adds Wettstein. “I think we’re really well serviced now, but we went through a lot of years, as a ward, where there has been a service gap for the last decade.”

It’s a matter of some confusion for constituents as Billings points out, because many pay higher taxes as compared to the rest of the city. “Karl and I can have the same size lot,” Billings explains. “We can have the same size home, and I can live in the south and Karl in the northeast, for example, and his taxes are much lower. And why is that? Market Value Assessment.”

In other words, taxes rates times market value assessment equals how much you pay in taxes. “Where that gets complicated in the minds of the taxpayer,” says Wettstein, “is when you’re in a new area, with high growth, quick development, slow to be serviced by the city and commercial services, the public says ‘Hold it. We have the highest taxes and the lowest services.’ There’s a mismatch.”

Another issue that’s becoming more prominent on the Ward 6 plate is student housing. With the south Gordon corridor intensifying and the availability of transit, this ward is attracting more and more student tenants. “There are some streets where there’s clearly a disproportional number of [student] houses in the minds of the residents,” Wettstein says. He and Billings have been looking at how other communities including London are dealing with the issue. “We said we’re going to do something significant so when the students come to school on September the first they’re going to notice a difference.”

The issues aside, and the occasional tedium of the debate there of, the councillors find their jobs rewarding. “What will happen is that you have a constituent and their frustrated. Maybe they’ve already gone through the system and what they do is phone you and e-mail you and go ‘Help!’” explains Billings. “When there’s resolution and the constituent’s happy, the staff’s happy, and we’re happy, what a good feeling of accomplishment when you’ve actually helped.”

But this is an election year, and soon the discussion will look to the next four years and the next term in council. Wettstein has already declared saying that he likes to make his intentions known early. His goal, if re-elected, will be to continue looking at the business side of the city. “I have a lot of interest in the financial strength of the city. I have a tonne of interest in good corporate governance and try not to step in each other’s backyard too much. But I also recognize that we are one team, we’re not two teams, and we’ve made progress in that area.”

Billings says she hasn’t made up her mind if she will run for re-election, and will take the summer to decide whether she’ll try for her third consecutive term. “For me it’s very serious, it is a commitment,” she notes saying that in 2003 she made up her mind on the last day nominations were open. “Because I have a family, things change. If you win it is your term, it’s a four year term, so it’s not something you want to do halfway.”

Still, Billings sounds like she’s already in re-election mode saying, “At election time, a lot of people say they are fiscally responsible, but I will have a different definition of ‘fiscally responsible’ because I do not find that to be the case, for me anyway.”

Wanna hear the whole interview? Beam over to Guelph Politico at