Thursday, July 29, 2010

Green Coup, Election News & Movie Night

The Green Coup is Guelph led

Well, sort of. Guelph was the place that Sylvie Lemieux, a former Lt. Colonel in the Canadian Forces and accomplished civil engineer, launched her campaign to succeed Elizabeth May as Green Party of Canada leader a few weeks ago.

The setting was the backyard of the home of Bob Bell. Bell, the locally acclaimed candidate for the Green Party in the next federal election, was hosting a barbecue get-together for local Greens. Lemieux made her announcement as the clock winds down on an August 2 vote by party members on constitutional changes that would stymie the requirement for a leadership contest before the end of 2010. This is the fourth year of May’s four year term as leader of the Green Party of Canada, but the near constant spectre of a federal election, May has been advocating that now’s not the time for a potentially divisive leadership contest.

“There are several people who will run for leadership when there is a leadership race and by far the numbers of people who want to run for leadership don’t want to have a leadership race before the next election,” May told the Globe and Mail. “They don’t think it will be in the best interests of the party.”

Lemieux, obviously, disagrees. ““This is not about running against Elizabeth May,” Lemieux told the Globe. “This is about creating a better option for Canadians by building the party into a true contender that's more attuned to Canadians from coast to coast.”

At Saturday’s barbecue, Bell, our local man in Green, was noncommittal, but believed that the party needed to look at their leadership situation head on. “Elizabeth has been the leader for four years, so it’s time to ask the question, and Sylvie is doing so,” Bell said. “There’s been this possible impending election for a year and a half and I believe that’s why our leadership issue has been pushed back.”

Still, it’s interesting that Lemieux would choose Guelph to make her declaration of interest in heading the Green Party. Our sorted little berg has long been considered a possible “breakthrough” riding for the party, and in the past two elections (the 2007 Provincial and the 2008 Federal) the Green candidate finished third. As for that elusive next Federal election, Lemieux says don’t worry because Prime Minister Stephen Harper “has no incentive to get into an election before [2011].”

Real 2010 Election News

So it appears that my prediction that things on the municipal ballot would be relatively quiet through to the end of summer was a wee bit off with several new additions to the slate of candidates in the last couple of weeks. First, veteran councillor Gloria Kovach became the name on the first hat thrown into the ring for Ward 4 when she announced on July 15. The same day Peter Bortolon joined the growing race for Ward 1 and was joined one day later by Gary Walton. This brings the total of candidates running in the Ward 1 race up to seven. Prior to that on July 8 Leanne Piper joined her fellow Ward 5 incumbent Lise Burcher on the ballot by officially declaring her nomination. So far, Piper and Burcher are the only candidates in Ward 5. For the full election ballot thus far, go to

Movie Night in Goldie Mill Park

If your looking for something to do tonight and you’re in a fight the power kind of mood, head over to Goldie Mill Park for a screening of the documentary Lucio: Anarchist, Forger, Bank robber. Bricklayer. It's about noted Spanish anarchist Lucio Urtubia, a man who's quite literally a modern Robin Hood. The film will start around 8:30 pm and the admission is by donation. Funds are being raised for local protestors still detained by the police following arrests made during the G20 in Toronto.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Civic Engagement Guide 2010

So it happened again: The second of five planned days of service cancellation throughout the City of Guelph. On Friday July 9, no facilities were open, doors were locked on City Hall, libraries and their books were shut up tight, and, oh yes, there was no garbage pick-up.

Once again though, it seemed that the news reached deaf ears and blind eyes, at least that’s how it was described by Guelph Mercury reporter Scott Tracy in a post on the 59 Carden Street blog. “I was out for a bit Thursday night and the affected area is between my house and downtown,” Tracy wrote. “I stopped and told about 10 people who already had their bags out or were in the process of putting them out. None of them had any clue what I was talking about and a couple of them seemed to think I was lying about there being no services today.”

Little did they know, apparently, that Mr Tracy is a man of impeccable moral character, but again the debate raged: just how exactly, given all the avenues of communication available to the City of Guelph, did the message not reach wider? More still, how detached are these people that Tracy mentioned, that the news of the so-called “Karen Days” only reached them once it was told to them by a random stranger on a walk through their neighbourhood?

So in an effort to tackle these questions, I decided to put together this quick civic engagement guide. Use it well, and you just might not be the one caught putting out your garbage for a truck that never comes.

1) Read a Paper – As curmudgeonly as Andy Rooney is, he was right a few years ago when he said that he didn’t think anyone that didn’t read a good newspaper should get the vote. Of course, Guelph is hardly Toronto with its several different daily newspapers to choose from. Still, we do have two solid newspapers in the Royal City, and if you’re too cheap to pay for the daily, there’s the one that comes to your house twice a week for free. That’s right, the only reason the Guelph Tribune won’t come to your house is if you ask it not to be delivered there. And here’s the kicker: each Trib usually features a two page spread of City news and updates, directly from the horse’s mouth so to speak.

2) Listen to the radio – Of course, modern commercial radio isn’t faring that much better than their cousins in print, but still, for locally relevant bits of news and information, you can’t do much better for accuracy and immediacy. And again, the City typically buys air time to update citizens on important news and information, like what days your garbage might not be picked up. So tune your dial in to either 106.1 FM, 1460 AM, or check out your community radio at 93.3 FM.

3) Visit the City’s Website – Yes, the City of Guelph has a website. And everything that you might ever need to know about where to do what and talk to who and when is as close as your nearest internet browser. Did I just blow your mind? I thought so. If there’s an important new piece of information the City thinks you should know about, it usually ends up in a press release right there on the main page. And if that’s still not enough for you, check out the city council’s schedule so that you can lodge your complaints in person. Or if you think you can do better than the two people currently representing you on council, find out how to file and run for office yourself this fall.

4) Keep reading Guelph Beat and Guelph Politico – Like my man Shaft once said, I may have to put you down, but I won’t let you down. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Willow Facelift, Election News and Drugs in HCBP

HCBP open for (illicit) business

When politicians said that the Hanlon Creek Business Park was going to attract new business to Guelph, they probably didn’t have a recent discovery by Guelph Police in mind when they said it. On June 29th, the Drug Enforcement Unity was tipped off that on the city owned lands that will become home to the HCBP, there was an outdoor grow op. After investigating the police did indeed confirm that yes, there were several marihuana plants being grown in a section of HCBP. In fact, there were 340 marihuana plants in the early stages of maturation. The combined street value of those plants if they had been allowed to mature into dried marihuana would have been $340,000. So far, nobody’s been charged for the operation of this op and all plants have been destroyed by the police.

Getting a jump on Election Season

With the hot summer weather, it seems logical that there’s not going to be any big candidacy announcements, with maybe a few exceptions, until late August. (Ray Ferraro was the last person to make the plunge as of June 17th. At least at press time.) Still, there seems to be one person e chomping at the bit for the nitty-gritty excitement of electioneering to begin. In the last week, a few “David Birtwistle for Mayor” signs have popped up at strategic locations around Guelph. Too soon, some would say, considering polls don’t open till the morning of October 25th. Not at all, say the City’s election rules. Once a candidate has registered and paid a $200 deposit, a candidate is free to put up signs as they see fit. Apparently Sean Farrelly, Ian Findlay and Maggie Laidlaw have also paid their deposit, but their excitement is clearly no where near as palpable as Birtwistle is seems.

Willow West Getting Facelift

Apparently the owners of Willow West Mall are taking the departure of Zellers as a sign. Last week, it was reported in the Guelph Tribune that the mall’s owners, Bentall LP, had given notice to all stores within Willow West, with the exception of Roy’s No Frills and the R U Serious restaurant, till the end of August to say sayonara. “The idea is to redevelop the shopping centre and convert most of what is enclosed today into large-box retailers,” Angelo Di Palma, Willow West’s property manager, said to the Tribune.

Clearly the recent closing of Zellers, which anchored the south end of the mall, created an opportunity for Bentall to gentrify their holding at the corner of Willow Rd and Silvercreek. In May, the owners announced that a Leon’s Superstore would be filling the space vacated by Zellers, and currently developers are in the process to get the proper permits in order to begin the renovations on the 76,000-square-foot premises. News of a forced mass exodus of most other Willow West shops came as no surprise to business owners like Kirit Gohil of Guildcrest Jewelers, but the timetable, however, was. “If they had informed us when Zellers was going out, we could have had the closing sale (at the same time) and that would have helped,” he said about his end of August eviction date.

Reversely though, others think Bentall’s rejuvenation of the mall is excellent news. “This site has been tired and ignored for entirely too long,” said Roy Zannoni, the Roy of Roy’s No Frills. “I think the community deserves better.” Interestingly, Willow West Mall was the first enclosed mall ever opened in Guelph, and the Willow West area was one of the first commercial developments outside the downtown to be developed in Guelph. Willow West Mall itself has been marked for redevelopment for a few years now with a lot of commercial business heading to the south end of the city or further west to the Paisley and Imperial area. Exact construction dates and potential new retailers have yet to be announced.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Innovation and Irony

So I think it’s time we get back to hard news. What do you think? Well too bad, by the time you read this I will have written it a week ago, so I’ve already made the assumption. Here we go:

Things Are About to Get Innovated

From the "Hey, maybe this will stifle some of those HST grumbles" file, comes word last week that the Government of Ontario and the City of Guelph has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in regards to the City's plan for the Guelph Innovation District. Now off the top, an MOU sounds a bit like when you tell your buddy that you'll get the next round when he buys your beer, but you say you've got to get home before it comes to that, but apparently, this is big news.

"The MOU signed today commits a portion of provincially-owned land in the district to the city’s plan to create this new, innovative employment area," said a joint press release. The City of Guelph anticipates the District will accommodate 10,000 of the 32,400 jobs projected for the City by the year 2031. "This is part of the province’s Open Ontario Plan to help create clean, green jobs and support innovation."

Guelph residents will welcome this Memorandum of Understanding which sets out a joint vision for the future development of the provincial lands in Guelph’s York District," said our own MPP Liz Sandals. "The Guelph Innovation District plan brings together an exciting blend of green jobs, cutting edge innovation, and environmentally-friendly places to live and do business that will benefit our community for years to come.”

“Home to as many as 5000 people and 10,000 jobs, these lands will bring together the best and brightest minds to address provincial and global environmental and technological challenges," said Mayor Karen Farbridge. "As a carbon neutral LEED-Neighbourhood, this urban village will demonstrate new approaches and technologies to manage the urban environment redefining our experience of city living.”

In Ironic News…

Everybody loves bike lanes, right? Well, except for Toronto City Councillor and mayoral candidate Rob Ford who once said, “I can’t support bike lanes. Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.” Still, most people like bike lanes because their progressive, they help get cars off the road and they’re environmentally friendly. Which is why it’s so strange that the construction of new bike lanes should have local friends of the shrubbery upset.

There are new bike lanes being constructed along Gordon St between Stone Road and Harts Drive, but because of the narrowness of this section of road, it’ll have to be widened to accommodate the bike lanes. But in order to do that, about 20 trees will have to be cut down. “Clearly, inadequate consideration was given to preserving trees when planning the reconstruction of sidewalks and a development of a bike path,” Norah Chaloner of Guelph Urban Forest Friends wrote in an e-mail to the Guelph Mercury. “It’s another indication of the lack of regard for the importance of urban trees and canopy.”

The City countered though that they’re not taking down trees willy-nilly. “If we don’t have to cut them down, we won’t. We’re saving them if we can,” he said. “There will be further refinement (of the plans) at the time of construction (of the bike lanes).”

Not cool though says Guelph Urban Forest Friends who submitted that in the past about half of the young trees planted don’t make it past five years and it’ll take decades for new trees planted “today” to reach the same maturity as trees currently in the ground on that same stretch. Construction is due to start by the end of July and is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

No Quiet on the Western Front

Smell that? That repugnant aroma is the relations between city and citizen going sour in the summer heat. Not that the relationship between Joe Q. Public and the government he hates so very much has ever been a cozy one, but it certainly seems that tempers are flaring with more alarming frequency during these first few days of Summer 2010.

First there seemed to be an incident a couple of Saturdays ago on transit where afternoon shoppers at Stone Road Mall had to face the fact that maybe they weren’t going to get downtown in a timely manner as a supervisor arrived to pull the driver before departure. The supervisor told those gathered on the bus that they’ll have to wait for the next trip as that bus was going out of service, but the riders revolted and the bus took them downtown as planned. However, anyone wanting a transfer to the Number 23 or 24 was left, well, wanting, because both buses were delayed. Another transit supervisor came over to those waiting in front of the Bank of Montreal on Quebec St. and said that while the 24 will be arriving late, the 23 wouldn't be arriving at all.

So what was going on with the bus system on this particular sunny June Saturday? Certainly there’s been a cold war between management and drivers since the “summer schedule” got underway, which leaves transit users caught in the middle as usual. Between management’s clinical detachment and the drivers’ work-to-rule literalism, an average, everyday normal bus rider is left no quarter. Complain to a driver, go tell it to city hall; complain to city hall and they’ll “look into it.”

Things seemed to exacerbate with the arrival of the first of five so-called “Karen Days” last Monday. City facilities were closed, library books sat unborrowed, and garbage was not picked up and hauled to the dump. All this, apparently, was a genuine surprise to several people. Now I don’t typically expect the average citizen to be as informed as someone that writes about local politics for a living, but the outrage from the ill-informed surprised me. I offer this bit from a Guelph Mercury article last Tuesday about one man’s reaction to the lack of garbage pick-up:

“Well, that’s just great,” said Jim Stevenson, owner of a three-unit apartment building on Alma Street which had about a dozen blue and green bags sitting at the curb. “Whoever’s in council now, I’m not voting for them again, put it that way.”

Stevenson went on to say that he had “no idea” that this effort to stymie the need to increase taxes further was coming, and that the city “owed him” $20 for a trip to the dump. The article went on to tell other stories of people blocked from their city facility-related activities including a student looking to study at the library and a mother looking to take her child for a swim in a pool before an educational jaunt to the civic museum. Quote the mom: “I had no idea it was closed.”

The revelation on the Mayor’s blog that the five days of city closures were factored into the property tax hike for 2010 (hence no refund) drew Samuel L. Jackson-like furious anger from those reading about in on the Mercury’s City Hall blog. “I wonder how many spin doctors it took to come up with that!” exclaimed Cathy. “Oh come on, Karen. You either run a city or you don't. You don't partially run a city,” said D.C. What’s interesting is that in a political sphere run by partisan rancour at the other two levels of government, it’s nice that we can all agree to hate the government together on a local level.

The anger isn’t what strikes me, although the way things are going on a transit I doubt anyone’s going to want to ride anymore come the return of the 20-minute schedule in the fall. What strikes me is the anger combined with ignorance. Now the informed angry I give a pass, but the people I referenced from the Mercury article don’t have a leg to stand on in my opinion. Truly, it seems that that the only way some people can get informed is if a city employee comes to their house and explains things to them face-to-face. Forget newspapers, advertising, word-of-mouth, press releases and posted notices on city facilities. Of course, then they’d be complaining about the waste of taxpayer’s money. Again.