Thursday, October 28, 2010

Election ’10: Lessons Learned

Due to the deadlines for Echo Weekly, I had to submit this piece without knowing the results of the 2010 Municipal Election on Monday, but to get all that be sure to take a peak at my blog, Guelph Politico, at http://guelphpolitico.blogspot.com/ So in the void of not really knowing what the new council now looks like, I look back as I look forward to try and gleam some meaning out of the election that was/is. I will share some of those meandering thoughts now.

1) I Know Who I Am; Do You Know Who You Are?

One of the major minor issues of the election had nothing to do with how council is spending our money, or how mad everybody is at the endless construction, but has everything to do with anonymity on a blog. Cathy Downer, a campaigner for Mayor Karen Farbridge, was caught for posting multiple times, under multiple names on the Guelph Mercury’s 59 Carden St. blog. Later, Ward 4 candidate Cam Guthrie admitted that he was also guilty of multiple personality disorder on the blog. While I think there was something important to say here about the nature of the blogosphere and the blanket comfort of saying what you want and not having to put your name on it, it seems that a lot of that got lost in the conversation. Of course, the human drama over the perception of sneakiness is easier to grasp then the larger issues of how one conducts themselves on the digital soapbox. I suppose discretion has always been half of the internet, but creating imaginary people to agree with you seems a little too All the President’s Men for me.

2) Facebook May Work on Film, But…

When it comes to electioneering on a local level, the results are decidedly mixed. A quick glance on the social networking site shows that the candidates with the most “friends” (or “supporters” I guess), barely top off at about 530. While it’s certainly admirable that many of the candidates went signless and focused on the paperless campaign on the internet, there’s still, obviously, a huge emphasis on traditional communication forms like signs, pamphlets and newspapers. Perhaps it’s because of the enthusiasm gap on a municipal level, but the internet’s still yet to be lit up by the campaign, and even signless proponents like Ward 1’s Allan Boynton had banners in storefronts downtown. For my money, I did find several candidates more responsive to media requests from blogs and websites, that is unless that candidate’s name was David Birtwistle. (Inside joke, sorry.)

3) Sometimes, the “Kooks” Are Right.

The thing about local politics is that it brings out the people that lack the spit and polish of a national-level campaign and it gives them the spotlight. On the Politico blog, a poster called mayoral candidate Ray Mitchell “this is one craaaazy dude,” and said of Mitchell’s fellow nominee Scott Nightingale that he “sounds like he sent his intern application to the wrong department.” Now unless Mitchell’s packing a four-leaf clover, or if Nightingale’s been hording horseshoes, they’re probably not the Mayor-Elect right now. Still, it’s a very rare person that is completely able to write-off Mitchell and Nightingale. Were they unpolished? Sure. Did they take rather non-mainstream perspectives on key issues? Absolutely.

Last week, the internet became fascinated by Jimmy McMillan, a retired postal worker running for the Governor of New York for The Rent’s 2 Damn High Party. While I’ll submit that McMillan’s insistence that cutting rents in New York would create three to six million new jobs and $6 trillion in surpluses is out there, there is a kernel of truth there not really considered: Paying less for rent means more money for other things. You Tube “Jimmy McMillan” and you can see for yourself, that he’s nearly a studio audience away from being an SNL sketch, but his ideas are interesting, and say what you want about him, but he’s engaged. And that’s something you can’t say about the mass majority of people on a municipal level in the City of Guelph. Of course I could be wrong. I’m right now looking at the election as a future event.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Election Day Parts 1 and 2

Better get your voting shoes on because the polls open at 10 am on Monday. To see if you’re on the voter list or to find out when and where to vote, go to guelph.ca/vote. What do you need to bring? Well, according to the Municipal Elections Act you’ll need either one piece of identification that shows your name, qualifying address (where you currently live or own property), and signature, or two pieces of identification, one with name and signature and the other with your name and qualifying address. For a list of what’s cool to count as I.D., go to this site to learn more: http://guelph.ca/vote/index.php/voting/acceptable-identification

But that’s enough about the boring instructions on how you will exercise your franchise this Monday, and let’s talk instead about who you will use it for. There are 37 candidates in all running for positions on City Council; from the big Mayor’s Chair in the centre to one of two seats in each of the six wards. So what drives people to seek out elected office in the City of Guelph? Let’s ask someone running to sit in the highest office of all.

“I ran for Mayor out of a yearning to dig out the pertinent and otherwise nitty gritty bits of information on how our particular council runs,” says Scott Nightingale. “I am finding the minutiae of municipalities to be rather muddled and inaccessible. I have a mind for what may to some seem mundane and boring. As long as I may use this mind to help those around me understand and in some small cases control their environment, then this is truly a good thing.”

But others already know what they’re getting in to. “I was on Guelph City Council for nine years between 1991and 2000 [and] I am not impressed with the direction we are headed,” says Ward 1 candidate Gary Walton. “I feel the spending and the direction the council is taking is not where our city should be going.”

Meanwhile, Walton’s fellow Ward 1 challenger Karolyne Pickett sees a different story coming from last council. “I support the strategic initiatives taken on by last council with respect to reducing our water consumption, developing community energy consumption goals, and looking at how to improve our transit system,” she explains. “My concern rests with development plans and zoning decisions. I want the City to shift to mixed-use zoning, because people want residential areas to include grocery stores, caf├ęs and small local businesses.”

Development is a concern for many candidates, and while most feel that future construction projects are inevitable, we should follow the plan as outlined by the city and not by the developers. “Development has to follow the official plan and be able to integrate into the neighbourhoods it’s going into,” says Paul Mahony, Ward 2 candidate. “It also has to make sense. I saw the last council meeting and a great deal of time was spent around a development just off Arkell Road. The person addressing council made reference to many parts of the development not being in compliance with the city's official plan. Despite this, the developers were going ahead with what he had proposed. This can't happen. If it does if I am elected, I will vote against it every time.”

But everybody has their own idea about what the craziest decision made by this council has been. For Ward 3 candidate Dimitrios "Jim" Galatianos, that decision was made earlier this year when council agreed to a plan to convert the city’s waste management program to a bin system rather than bags. “Really that is what broke the preverbal camel's back for me,” says Galatianos. “We just went through a summer where the city had to turn out the light and put out the ‘closed for business’ sign because they had over spent – I mean failed to generate enough revenue – $8 million and then they go and do this. […] Some hard decisions will have to be made and the previous council has shown they are not the ones to do it.”

Since that budget shortfall is probably going to haunt the next council as it has the last couple of years of this council, the problem at hand should definitely by able to bring out big ideas from the candidates, and one thinks that he’s found a way to save the city some cash. “I'd like to introduce you to the Budget filter that I will use on your behalf,” says Cam Guthrie, a challenger in Ward 4. “It's called the ‘FREE BUDGET.’ I am the only candidate that will ask these tough questions. F - What can we Freeze? R - What can we Reduce? E - What needs to be Evaluated? E - What needs to be Eliminated?”

Others though have ideas on how to improve things that already exist in order to get the maximum benefit for the City of Guelph. “Personally, I would love to see the Italian Festival become as big a landmark as Kitchener’s Oktoberfest,” says Linda Murphy. “Now that would help our tourism problems also. Guelph is a culturally diverse community and we need to embrace that and build on it.”

Murphy’s fellow Ward 1 candidate Tamara Williams also sees Arts & Culture as part of the plan when it comes to tourism in the Royal City. “Guelph is unique because of the large population of artists and musicians within the city,” she explains. “This represents a large group of very talented people giving to the city. We should continue to support the arts and our cultural heritage which would also promote tourism and result in good business for the city.”

Still, there is something to be said for pragmatism. Which is where some of the incumbents come in, like Ward 1’s only returning councillor Bob Bell. “We will have trouble keeping them down next term because of all the money that was spent this past term,” he says. “We need to do a better job here, forecast 3.66 per cent and having expenditures for 7 per cent, then correcting it by cutting transit and garbage collection.”

Still, there is reason to hope, according to Ward 6 incumbent Karl Wettstein. “Although we have made progress in a number of key areas, we need to be diligent in making sure these changes take root,” he says. “This requires a Council and Senior Management team that clearly understand the critical roles that strong financial policy, good corporate governance, positive and constructive teamwork, and the ability to find consensus solutions play in running an effective and efficient $300 million complex corporation.”

But no matter what any of the candidates say, what’s important is that you have your say. Make sure that you get out and vote on Monday October 25th. And for full candidate responses to my Candidate Questionnaire, go to http://guelphpolitico.blogspot.com/

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More From the Candidates

So let’s start with the incumbents, because despite the high profile nature of the position, being a city councillor is a full-time job that pays like a part-time one, no matter what you feel about whether or not those people are worthy of the paycheque they get. So with all the scrutiny and armchair quarterbacking, why would someone want another go-round in the horseshoe? Let’s ask Ward 4 Councillor Mike Salisbury.

“The City of Guelph is in the midst of a transition – from a small, progressive community to a much more complex and diverse mid-sized city,” explains Salisbury. “We require leadership capable of navigating this transition - a council capable of seizing the opportunities while preserving the character and quality of life that makes Guelph so unique. […] My personal vision for the City of Guelph is to build upon this legacy and making Guelph an inspiring place to live – invest – and to visit.”

Part of that vision is an increased focus on improving transit, according to Salisbury. “Perhaps the most exciting (and overdue) initiative was the development of the Transit Growth Strategy,” he says. “The strategy combines increased service frequency during peak periods and off peak periods combined with a host of routing improvements which addresses long standing complaints about the radial transit system we have struggled with for years. I believe we are making strong headway but there is still much more to be done.”

Salisbury isn’t the only one making transit a priority. “My family of young adults (high school and university) and myself are transit users, and know the importance of a dependable system (including holidays),” says Ward 5 Councillor Leanne Piper. “On time, on budget, increased ridership, friendly staff, improved technology and better inter-modal linkage; the Transit Growth Strategy speaks to all of these key issues and I strongly support the growth and efficiency of our system.”

Piper also believes that Guelph is a city in transition and that strong, experienced leadership is needed to keep things moving forward. “Guelph is on a forward momentum path,” she explains. “We are poised to be national leaders on a number of fronts – water conservation, wastewater, community energy, economic development, arts and culture, and more. We need strong leaders at City Hall to keep us on that path. I want to look back in 25 years and know that I did everything in my power to ensure Guelph’s sustainability and prepare us for the next generation.”

Strong points, but many of the candidates challenging the current councillors for their seats have said that one of the biggest problems with the current council is keeping its constituents informed about those accomplishments. “A common and often heard complaint from voters is that that candidates are visible to voters during the campaign and once elected are seldom seen,” says Jim Furfaro, one of 11 candidates running in Ward 1. “I want to assure voters that their support will be recognized beyond Election Day. I plan to “put constituents and their needs first.” I will keep voters informed (townhall meetings) and up-to-date on key issues that have a potential impact on Ward One or the entire city.”

In Ward 2 meanwhile, one incumbent councillor begs to differ and says that he’s been doing a pretty good job of keeping his constituents in the loop. “The Ward 2 Blog helped connect residents of Guelph with City Hall,” according to Ian Findlay. “It became a popular forum for community discussion and information on a variety of topics. To date I have made over 1,800 postings to my blog and it has been viewed more than 225,000 times!” But for Findlay, there’s also been more human interaction too. “I also co-hosted 16 town hall meetings in Ward 2. These neighbourhood meetings allowed residents and other stakeholders the opportunity to express themselves on a variety of topics and issues.”

Still, Furfaro holds to his guns that this election is about bringing some new blood into the council chamber. “This election is as much about ‘change’ as it is about issues,” he says. “There are ten incumbent councillors seeking re-election and twenty-three individuals believing they can make a difference. Be prepared for ‘business as usual’ in how things are done in the council chamber if voters choose not to make substantial changes.

For full candidate questionnaires zip over to Guelph Politico at http://guelphpolitico.blogspot.com/

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Issues and Arguments Continue in Campaign ’10

With the 2010 Municipal Election now just over two weeks in our future, let’s visit some more of the comments from the various mayoral and council candidates, as provided to me in the Candidate Questionnaire. The questionnaire’s are still coming, and can be found in their entirety at my Guelph Politico blog at http://guelphpolitico.blogspot.com

Let’s start with someone running for the mayor’s seat. This week, we’ll hear from Ray Mitchell, former proprietor of The Family Thrift Store. Given the somewhat unique circumstances that befell him in the last couple of years, let’s ask his opinion of last council’s performance. “I thought it was horrible,” he said empathically. “They demonized the young, built walls between our city and the county, spent too much on the wrong things, and raped the wild. And now they’re trying to put a positive spin on it all.”

Mitchell had further harsh words when asked about the issue of transit. “Transit is the fallback position to cut when money is needed as it primarily hurts the poor, and we know they don’t vote,” he said. “Cutting bus services was probably the meanest thing this council did.”

Ward 3 incumbent, and vocal environmentalist, Maggie Laidlaw pressed the importance of transit and promised that improvements will be coming to our transit system in the next couple of years. “We must make our transit system as convenient and reliable as the private automobile while remaining affordable to all,” said Laidlaw, who added her voice to the chorus of regret about the cuts to service this past summer. “Like other members of council, if I had known that voting for five days off without pay for all city staff, including members of council, would have meant cutting bus service, I would not have supported it. If we want to increase our ridership, we MUST keep fares down and service consistent and reliable.”

Still, it seems that the quintessential issue of the election remains the twin devils of taxes and spending, at least according to Ward 3 challenger Craig Chamberlain. “This past council was out of touch with most people’s realities,” Chamberlain explained. “It spent too much, too fast on a special interest-driven agenda, committing taxpayers and future councils to capital expenditures people cannot afford and many do not support. It seemed as though the recession was an inconvenience for this council.”

Chamberlain also accused the last council of group think and mischaracterizing people that don’t agree with them as being out of touch. “We need to get away from needing villains and scapegoats for our problems, and take responsibility for the ways we have failed,” he said. “We need to own our role in the debacle with the County, and not make city staff defend themselves for wanting to go to work in the morning and pay their mortgages.”

Still, the argument for experience is strong, at least in the view of Ward 4 incumbent Gloria Kovach. “The future will provide challenges and opportunities around growth. The Province through legislation, Places to Grow has mandated that the City grow to 175,000 by 2031 – that’s 54,000 more people and 32,000 more jobs,” she explained. “Experience is needed to deal with the challenges of the density requirements and to ensure growth is sustainable and is compatible with existing neighbourhoods.”

Bringing things full circle, Ray Mitchell wasn’t the only candidate to bring up the plight of the impoverished in our city in his questionnaire. Candidate for Ward 3 Mark Enchin related a story about a poverty briefing he had with members of Onward Willow and the United Way. Enchin was confounded by the lack of funds seemingly reaching the poor in the City of Guelph and just how much help they really need once you start digging into the issues.

“I was ashamed to be a Guelphite after leaving that poverty briefing,” said Enchin. “All the talk, all the studies, all the bullshit and still these people can’t be given a few extra dollars to help them live in our city. […] I was born and raised in the Willow Road area. I was there when they were building the townhomes on Valleyview and Willow. Things were better for them back in the 70s , at least the units they were living in were brand new! After that meeting I realized that nothing ever will change for these people. They have no voice, they have no representation, and they have no hope. That’s why I’m still in the race.”

For full questionnaires and more election news and coverage go to: http://guelphpolitico.blogspot.com