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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Debates Yes, Signs No

Are You Ready to Debate?

With just a little over a month left before the Municipal Election on October 25 (I know, where does the time go?), it’s time to start the debating… In an official way, of course.The debates are being sponsored by the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and Rogers TV and got underway yesterday with the candidates for Ward 4 city councillors.

Missing the debates? Well you shouldn’t. Our local Rogers station is covering them each live-to-air, direct from the debating ground at the City Hall Council Chambers at 1 Carden St. The format of each debate will be a combination of questions by written submission from the audience, as well as submissions received in advance from the business community. Candidates will be given one minute to answer each question, as well each candidate will be given the opportunity for a one and half minute opening statement and a one minute closing statement. This should make for an interesting Ward 1 debate. Considering that there are 11 candidates there should be just enough time for a total of three questions. But I kid Ward 1.

As for the rest of the schedule, the debates will continue tonight with a double header featuring Ward 3 at 6 pm and Ward 6 at 8 pm. The Ward 1 debate will go down next Thursday, September 30 with the Mayoral debate to follow on Tuesday October 5. The final two debates will be another double feature on October 7 with Ward 2 taking place at 6 pm and Ward 5 taking place at 8 pm. For full debate coverage, keep your eyes peeled to my Guelph Politico blog at
Sign-less of the Times

In the midst of our heightened awareness of these more environmentally-mined times, a number of candidates in this election have decided to go “sign-less.” That is their campaign will not be putting up any signs in favour of social media and old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning. Ward 3 candidate Craig Chamberlain was one of the first to declare that he was going sign free so that he could “lead by example” when it comes to focusing on an affordable approach to city government. “My campaign is simple and direct, and I have cut out the excesses of electioneering,” said a Chamberlain news release.

Ward 1 candidate Allan Boynton declared last week that he will also be going sign-less saying that he will “not be doing signs on the side of the road, because I believe they are not environmentally friendly and an eyesore to our great community.” Additionally, another Ward 3 candidate, Missy Tolton is also reportedly not putting up signs, and, like Boynton, she’s running a campaign for under $1,000.

In the mayoral race, one candidate has also taken the no-sign pledge. Ray Mitchell, former owner of the Family Thrift Store and current owner of a downtown antiques store, joined the election race on the final day of nominations. In what he calls a social experiment, Mitchell says that he’s running a campaign without signs and without donations. “I believe that election signs should be outlawed, as they serve no useful purpose and give the rich an unfair advantage over the poor,” he told the Guelph Tribune.

Mitchell added that in our media savvy world he hoped that modern technology and the media can help candidates overcome a lack of campaign money. “In an increasingly tech-savvy world, and with widespread media events like debates, I believe that a candidate can get their message out at little or no cost, which will hopefully allow the participation in future of more candidates who are limited financially,” he said.

For full election coverage, check out Guelph Politico at

Thursday, September 16, 2010

City Putting the Squeeze on Renters

Unless you have eight people living in your two bedroom bungalow, you can probably take a sigh of relief after reading that headline. Yes, as alluded to in previous comments made by councillors in recent months, including ones made in my award-eligible series “Better Know a Ward”, the horseshoe revisited rules governing shared rental housing at their meeting last week.

"Guelph is a wonderfully diverse city and an outstanding place to live," said Guelph’s Executive Director of Planning, Engineering and Environmental Services, Janet Laird in a press release. The problem, she says though, is that in recent years shared rental housing has increased and be concentrated in certain neighbourhoods, particularly neighbourhoods in the Old University area and the south end of the city. The effect is that many long-term residents are moving out, which leaves many neighbourhoods as little more than ghost towns between the months of April and September.

In a marathon meeting last Tuesday, council heard from over 20 delegations on the matter, from student representatives to landlords to neighbourhood groups. One of the most contentious issues was putting new restrictions on rental properties. In the end, council approved a new zoning by-law, a new two-unit house with six or more bedrooms must be at least 100 metres from any other two-unit house, lodging house, group home or emergency shelter. Additionally, a new lodging house must be at least 100 metres from any other lodging house, two-unit house with six or more bedrooms, group home or emergency shelter.

So what does that mean? Well it means a new standard for 20 per cent of the rental units of the city. Councillor Lise Burcher wanted to make an amendment to make it five or more bedrooms rather than six, but city staff said that this would impact negatively on 80 per cent of the rental units in the city, and the proposed amendment was dropped. Still though, staff recommendations take into account lodging houses and restricting them to one kitchen, in order to prevent accessory apartments from being constructed inside them.

Aside from the simple by-law changes, the city is also working with the University of Guelph on an education and awareness campaign. Last Saturday, as part of the U of G’s Right Foot Forward event, teams of students, City Staff, University Staff and community members spent the afternoon knocking on doors in areas with a high number of rental housing units in order to ensure renters understand the responsibilities associated with their property. They also received information about waste sorting and recycling, transit, property maintenance, parking, noise and tips to keep parties from getting out of hand.

Also this month, the City will enhance its by-law compliance and enforcement program to increase compliance with noise and parking by-laws. Residents will see more by-law compliance and enforcement staff in residential neighbourhoods, and increased service levels during peak times, according to a city press release. This combined with “zero tolerance” measures to curb littering, noise, underage drinking, and public urination means that the city is working harder than ever to attack the problems that come back every fall with the student population. Will it work? Well, let’s ask the guy I saw peeing in the alley between Molly Bloom’s and Scotiabank last Wednesday night. On second though….

Nature Wins!

To all my tree-hugger friends out there, here’s a bit of news to make you smile. The demolition of a large chimney at the Trafalgar Building was called off last week on account of a rare species of bird called Chimney Swifts taking up residence in the chimney. The birds were identified as Chimney Swifts by a Canadian Wildlife official who noted that the bird is known to make nests in certain types of chimneys at specific times of the year. Demolition in the chimney, which has been redundant a while anyway, has been postponed indefinitely. I guess it’s a good thing that the bird wasn’t a Jefferson Salamander. Boom! Be sure to tip your waitresses.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Transit Hub, White Night, and Reminders

Transit Hub in Danger (Naturally)

This should come as no surprise given our city’s less than sterling recent track record so far as public transit is concerned, but it appears that our glorious new transit hub is in danger of missing its completion mandate as per government funding deadlines. That’s slap number one. Slap number two was revealed by Rick Henry, the city’s general manager of engineering services, at a council meeting last week. He said that of the 25 local projects that received provincial and federal funding through infrastructure funding programs, only the Transit Hub on Carden St “is at any risk” of not being completed before the required March 31st, 2011 deadline. Naturally.

What’s the hold up, you might ask. Well, like Lex Luthor said, it’s all about land, or make that land that the city doesn’t own. “We’re ready to go with the project but we need that property,” Henry said. “Staff are confident we will acquire the property in time.” As well, negotiations between the city and stakeholders like GO Transit and VIA Rail have been “arduous”, in Henry’s words. “I don’t know what to tell you; whether it’s two weeks or four weeks,” he said. “We think we’re close.” But how close is close, especially given the Federal and Provincial governments’ deadline for project completion by March 2011? “The government will pay us for all work done by March 31st,” Henry said, so if the terminal is 95 per cent complete by that date “we just won’t get the funding for the remaining five per cent.”

White Night This Weekend

Joining such lofty company as Paris, St. Petersburg, Tel Aviv and Montreal, Guelph will be hosting a Nuit Blanche celebration this weekend as part of the Guelph Jazz Festival. On the menu are indoor and outdoor musical performances, multimedia art instillations, interactive performances and dances parties both silent and unsilent. Locations vary but include usual GJF hotspots like the River Run Centre, Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, Ed Video, St. George’s Church and the Wyndham Street Jazz tent; as well as new spaces like the former Woods plant, Royal City Park, Temple Studios and the Synnema. There’s also stuff going at numerous locations around the downtown, and it all happens Saturday from dusk till dawn. Check out the full program and schedule at

Looking For Special Guests

As part of my self-appointed job to encourage civic participation in our community with the upcoming municipal election, I’m opening the doors of my blog to people who wish to contribute their thoughts and opinions on the issues of Guelph 2010. Interested? Want to know what you have to do? It’s simple. First, you need to have an issue, then you need to get in touch with me with your name, a brief two line bio, and the text of what you want to say. Please remember that I’m interested in issues, which means no name-calling, ideology, demagoguery, or excessive use of colourful metaphors (swear words). For full details and how to submit, head to my blog at

Quick Reminder

If you’re more of the opinion that you’d like to shape policy than rave about it, please keep in mind that tomorrow’s your last chance to do so. Nominations for mayor, city Council and the two school boards close tomorrow (Friday) at 2 pm, and then we’re really off to the races. If you’re running you’ll need to file your nomination papers in person, at city hall, with government-issued photo I.D. and cash or cheque worth $100 if you’re running for council, or $200 if you’re running for mayor. Best of luck to all the candidates, and I’ll be talking to you soon.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Well, that went by fast. Summer that is. And as we enter the Labour Day long weekend, it is time to take stock of the last few months and remember what we all came here for as we re-enter the routines of autumn. I don’t know what you did/learned/talked about, but here’s my five for the Summer of 2010.

1) Waiting for the Bus

This happened a lot. But in this case the context is outside the fact that one goes to their bus stop by a pre-arranged time and wait a couple of minutes for the city’s public transportation to show up as scheduled. But then, when you make it downtown, there was the indignity of watching the bus you needed to transfer to drive away without you. Then, to add insult to injury it seemed to come as almost a surprise to city councillors at a July meeting that our transit system needs improvement. Perhaps if more city officials were dependent on the bus, they wouldn’t need a consultant’s report to tell them that changes are needed.

2) Dealing with Road Construction

I have a philosophy about the weather: of all the things in the world to complain about, why would you complain about the weather? Can you change it? Can you make a rainy day sunny by thinking about it, or via some kind of weather-changing device? That’s what I thought. Well the same can be said about road construction. Sorry kids, but when you’re over five years behind on infrastructure repair and the government throws money at you to get ‘er done, you’re not going to refuse the opportunity. After all, today’s road closures avoid tomorrow’s sinkholes.

3) Getting Bitch Slapped for Being an Artist/Activist

Not sure where all the litigation came from this summer, but first the police slammed shut the doors of the Medical Cannabis Club of Guelph and then the city bylaw officers started slapping postering fines on anyone with space available to a concert, a screening or a protest. Granted, I’m biased given one of the hats I wear is Co-Chair of Ed Video Media Arts Centre (PS: See our ad on whatever page it’s on in this issue of Echo), but still, with the Alma Gallery closed and Manhattans smoked out, the number of venues in our fair city is dwindling. Never has a piece of 8 and a half by 11 piece of colour paper generated so much red tape.

4) Waiting Patiently for Fall

Perhaps it’s the American election cycle of one-after-the-other, but I’ve been dying in anticipation for the start of our municipal election season. But while it’s been fun to watch the scorecard in Wards One and Two fill up, it’s been something of a struggle to get candidates to sign-up in the other four wards. In the last couple of days though (before press time anyway), a few people have put their names forward for the school board elections, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that this is the trickle before the rainfall. You can’t say that there’s not anger out there, and people are looking for options. So let’s give it to them.

5) Finding New Reasons to Love the Royal City

Despite our problems, there’s still a lot to love about the City of Guelph. Aside from the usual summer trappings like Hillside and Art on the Street, the festival circuit was joined by the first ever editions of the Guelph Electronic Music Festival and Top Freedom Day. As well, the Guelph Jazz Festival has added a Nuit Blanche program, which will feature all different types of music and art installations across the city. You may not be able to DIY promote your own show, but if you keep your eyes open, there’s plenty to get excited about.