Thursday, June 24, 2010

I’ve Got Issues (For you to think about this Fall)

So it’s officially summer and you’re just about ready to put politics out of your head for a couple of months. Who can blame you? Well, before you check out, or heck, even if you have no intention checking out, I thought it’d be corking if we ran down some of the issues that might make the grade in this fall’s municipal election. (Or at least the top five issues that are important according to my own meandering experience.)

1) Transit

With the bright, shiny transit hub ready for groundbreaking and the Guelph’s Transit Growth Strategy revealed earlier this year, why does transit in this city still suck? And if you’ve been taking the bus lately, you will have noticed that it sucks just a little more. The so-called summer schedule has been pock-marked by longer waits, late buses and only the vaguest hope that you might make it downtown on time to get your transfer. Plus, people that use city buses are left holding their bag on Sundays this August, when Sunday is put on hiatus. Oh, and if you’re having trouble with the new normal, don’t look for support from city management.

In this day and age, in a city this size, it’s irresponsible and short-sighted for Guelph to be cutting back on transit as a stop-loss measure for budget deficits. And the fact that they talk about the future of transit while cutting it in the present makes city council and staff seem hypocritical. When the TTC strikes for a day the Provincial government comes in on a Saturday to order them back to work. In Guelph, a day without transit is cost effective.

2) City Finances

It was the worst of times and it was the even more worst of times at budget meetings last fall as councillors’ deliberations veered more towards what not to cut as opposed to what can we cut. As previously discussed, transit was a big victim of the proverbial machete, but even if you don’t take the bus, you would have surely enjoyed the first of five so-called “Karen Days” this past Monday. While the complete closure of the city for five days this summer has numerous people’s fingerprints on it, there’s still something odd about a city that threatens facility closures, yet still has cash money for indulgences like pissoirs and downtown beautification.

3) Development

It’s an ongoing issue, and one that will keep going in every election from here till eternity. Still, I think there are a lot of questions people have regarding the city’s growth strategy, as well as issues regarding specific corners of the city in their own wards. Generally speaking, I would love to hear about the city’s brownfields and any plans on making these spaces viable rather than mowing down more green space.

4) Downtown

There’s no question that there are still a lot of issues to be worked out in the core. For one thing, there’s a whole block that stands near empty with nothing but a vague promise that it may one day be developed into a swanky new anchor for culture in our downtown. But how about finishing works-in-progress like The Gummer Building, which has stood in a state of half-finishedness for over a year now? Plus the semi-artificial clash between day-downtown and night-downtown needs to be rectified. There’s something wonderful about how the same space can mean two different things depending on the time of day, but still there are concessions to be made on both sides. And for the record, I’m still against having people pee in the street in a big plastic can, not matter how French you make it sound.

5) Arts & Culture

Since the last election, Guelph has lost one movie theatre, several small art spaces and more or less hung a condemned sign on the largest music venue in the city not called The River Run Centre of Sleeman Centre. Combined with the postering flap a few weeks ago and what I see is a trend city hall double speak: we love our artistically vibrant city, so long as you have a Trillium grant. Saying that you love the arts isn’t enough, it means accepting that indie artists are going to put up posters because they have no other means to advertise and that they need spaces they can afford in order to do their work in. Lip service only counts if your name’s Ashley Simpson.

For more on Election 2010 go to

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Good News

Here at Guelph Beat, we like to take a few knocks at the City from time to time. (Of course, by “we” I say mean “I” since as far as Guelph Beat’s concerned there’s only me, myself, to blame.) So for a change of pace this week, I decided to take a time out and give the city a pat on the back.

City wins Silver for going Green

With oil still gushing out of the Gulf of Mexico like a tapped keg at a frat party (at least at press time), it does us all good to know that the City’s fleet of vehicles are not a huge part of the problem, environmentally speaking. The City of Guelph is one of only two municipalities in Ontario to receive an E3 silver rating for sustainable fleet management, said a city press release. The Royal City is also the only municipality in Ontario to receive a silver rating for its transit fleet. “Guelph can take pride in being the first municipality in Ontario to achieve a silver rating for our transit fleet,” said Mayor Karen Farbridge. “The E3 Fleet rating is proof of Guelph's commitment to reducing our environmental impact, including greenhouse gas emissions.”

So what is E3? Well, it stands for Environment, Energy and Excellence. It’s a rating system that public and private sector fleets can seek based on staff training, idle reduction practices, vehicle purchasing practices, fleet operations and maintenance, trip and route planning, fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas performance. Guelph began the fleet review process under the E3 system starting back in 2008. “We are pleased to be the second municipality in Ontario to be awarded with a silver rating. Earning the E3 rating has been a two year process and involved several departments of our organization,” said Bill Barr, the City’s Manager of Fleet and Equipment.

Burcher doing fourth term on FCM

Ward 5 City Councillor (and recent “Better Know a Ward” profilee) Lise Burcher was re-elected for a fourth term to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Board of Directors last month at the group’s annual general meeting in Toronto. For those that don’t know, the membership constitutes 1,775 community members representing over 90 per cent of the Canadian population. The FCM Board is composed of sixteen elected municipal officials in Ontario and a total of seventy one directors across Canada. “It is an honour to be supported by my colleagues throughout Ontario in my bid for re-election to the Board,” said Burcher in a press release. “I look forward to contributing further to the valuable work of this outstanding organization.” Burcher will also continue her role as a Green Municipal Fund Council (GMF) member. This committee administers $550 million in funds to support municipalities to undertake projects and plans that demonstrate innovations in sustainability.

Book Sale need somewhere to sell from

Let’s end this week’s Guelph Beat with some community service. It seems that The Friends of the Guelph Public Library are in a bit of a jam: they can’t find a space to hold their annual giant fall book sale. The Guelph Mercury did a story on the issue last week, and although the book sale was able to secure a sorting and storage space, they were (at press time) still in need of a sale space.

In the past, sales were held at empty shops in Old Quebec Street and the vacant storefront of former Wyndham Arts location. Virginia Gillham, chair of the FGPL, is hoping to secure a space somewhere in the core for the sale, and to give you an idea of the size of space needed, last year’s sale had over 40,000 books donated. The proceeds from this year’s sale will be combined with the cash collected over the last four years of the sale and will be donated to pay for books and amenities to serve children and young adults in the new and improved central branch of the public library. If you’ve got a lead on an appropriate space you can get in touch with the FGPL at

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Poster Peril and Water For All

Sign of the Times?

That sound you heard last Wednesday was the book being thrown at three Guelph businesses for actions that they had nothing to do with. In another example from the “Sometimes I Don’t Think Government Knows What It’s Doing” file, comes the court case last week of the City of Guelph versus anybody that tries to promote their small-scale indie arts/awareness/charity event.

You see, the City of Guelph has a by-law regarding postering in that you’re only allowed to poster in three designated places downtown. Since everybody postering in the same three places is neither efficient nor effective, sometimes promoters like to put their posters up in numerous places so they can get the maximum eyeballs possible. But the City of Guelph seems to want to designate this as criminal, and as such brought the owner/operators of Ed Video Media Arts Centre, The Bookshelf and The Palace nightclub to court for the better part of the day last Wednesday.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to add here that I have a personal stake in this story given that I was one of the organizers of the event that was held at The Bookshelf Cinema. We took our lumps and reimbursed The Bookshelf their fine of $85 plus assorted processing fees, but Ed Video, an artist run organization that lives off fundraising and grant dollars had to eat the $250 fine. This despite the fact that contracts for use of their gallery space have a clause noting that the event runner will obey all city postering by-laws.

Perhaps most egregious though was the story behind the origin of The Palace’s fine. Basically, The Palace is out $100 because a young woman put up 11 posters for a charity fashion show for kids with cancer that she was putting on at the night club. And not only were there a mere 11 posters for a cause as benign as “kids with cancer” but from what one source tells me, the by-law officer was standing there watching and laughing as she was putting up the posters. He was quite content to not let her know that she was in the wrong.

Regardless the reasons and what-fors, the City’s grand total for the day’s court proceedings was less then $500. I realize that the city’s got cash flow issues, but didn’t I read a couple of weeks ago that Guelph-Wellington has 10,395 cases of defaulted fines from moving violations that comes out to a grand total of approximately $5.3 million? If something here seems hinky to you, you’re not alone. Why these groups? Why now? How can a city that portends to support the arts dump on the independents that give the city’s culture its diversity? All good questions, no good answers.

A W. We Can Get Behind

If you've been turned on to the joys of simple old tap water, and convinced that bottle water is a long con perpetuated by multinationals selling a resource you already pay for back to you, then you might interested in this. Now, thanks to the Blue W program, finding local restaurants, City facilities and businesses willing to fill reusable containers with municipal tap water free of charge is easy.

"Refill your reusable bottle—anywhere. It's really that basic." said Evan Pilkington, the Director of Blue W in a press release. "Guelph is a city full of people who appreciate tap water. Helping provide residents and visitors greater access to safe, clean municipal tap water is what Blue W is all about.”

The Blue W program is a not-for-profit initiative that lists locations in numerous Canadian cities, via computer connection or Smartphone application, where people can get free tap water in refillable containers. All you have to do is log on to or look for the Blue W at one of your favourite Guelph establishments; there are about 30 around town.

And if you need another reason to get off the bottle, there’s always an article published in the Globe and Mail a couple of weeks ago. I believe it was called “Bottled water has high level of bacteria, researchers find.” Happy drinking.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Meds, Temple, & Trains

Get the Meds Out

If your reading this on Thursday (and why wouldn’t you? The new Echo comes out on Thursday and you’ve been dying to read it naturally), then you have two more days to get to your local pharmacy to safely dispose of your old medication thanks to Safe Communities on the Grand and the City of Guelph. “This medication clean-out event is intended to provide safe, convenient ways for people to get rid of old medications,” said a City press release. “It’s also intended to reduce environmental pollutants that result from society’s use of medications, trace amounts of which can end up in the world’s water supply.”

According the press release, residents can empty their old or unused pills from their containers and place them in a plastic bag, then empty the bag into disposal containers at one of the following pharmacies: Guelph Medical Pharmacy, Royal City Pharmacy IDA, Westmount Pharmacy, Prime Care Pharmacy, Campus Drugmart, Surrey Prescriptions, and the Shoppers Drugmart at Stone Road Mall. But remember to leave the packaging and all liquid medications at home, they are not accepted.

The City also wants to remind people that that they can safely dispose of prescription and over-the-counter medications free of charge at the City’s Household Hazardous Waste Depot, year round. The Depot is located at 110 Dunlop Drive and is open 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, 1 to 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday, and 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Staff says Temple’s a go

Just before press time came news that city staff had delivered their report on the zoning bylaw amendment that would allow a Sikh temple to be built on Claire Rd. (Readers might remember the hubbub made about the issue earlier this year). According to staff, the re-zoning is A-OK with a couple of amendments including the planting buffer trees along the west side of the property and ensuring parking lot lights are turned off overnight. Of the more contentious issues, like the size of the temple itself, looks to stay the same. The recommendation will be brought before council on June 7th.

Do the Locomotion

Save the date - June 15th - if you want to see a big old steam-powered locomotive be hoisted by crane on to a flatbed truck and transported a few hundred metres away to its new resting place. "This week we’ll start building the new concrete pad and tracks," said Andrew Janes, Project Manager in a City press release last Thursday. "We’ll build a temporary bridge over the tracks, and move the train itself in June."

The relocation of locomotive 6167 is the first step in turning the stretch of Carden between the train station and the bus terminal into the new intermodal transit terminal. The next step, later this summer, will be the “removal” of the Greyhound station to make room for a new bus platform that will accommodate both Guelph Transit and regional bus services. The VIA rail station will then be renovated to house the administrative offices of VIA, Guelph and GO Transit. Construction on the $8 million facility is expected to be finished by March 2011.

There’s a new Transit Schedule

In case you haven’t noticed already, Guelph Transit is currently on a summer reduced-frequency schedule (and just in time for Environment Week). Buses are now running routes every half hour Monday through Sunday effective as of last Sunday. From the City of Guelph website: “Routes operating out of St. George’s Square arrive in the Square at 15 minutes to the hour and 15 minutes after the hour, Monday to Saturday from 5:45 a.m. to 12:15 a.m., and Sunday from 9:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.” The website also reminds everyone that there will be no buses brought to you at all on Sundays during the month of August. The regular schedule will become active again on September 5. For more details and new schedules and times go to the Guelph Transit website at