Thursday, November 25, 2010

Better Know a New City Councillor Part 2 of 2

Continuing on our introductory tour of the new city councillors, we return to the cool and comfortable confines of the Red Brick Café to chat with Ward 1’s Jim Furfaro and Ward 2’s Andy Van Hellemond. Furfaro spent over 30 years working in Guelph as a teacher and educator, while Van Hellemond is well known for his nearly three decades as a referee in the NHL. What both men have in common though is an eagerness to get down to work.

Furfaro campaigned on low taxes, more commercial development and greater communication and he sees those being amongst his top priorities. “Obviously, those are the issues that resonated with constituents and those are the issues that I think are going to be part of my agenda for Ward 1,” he says.

Van Hellemond, meanwhile, says that he plans on looking out for seniors, who are a well-represented constituency in his ward. “Many of them are on fixed incomes and obviously rising costs definitely affects a lot of people,” he explains. “I’ve talked to a lot of people on $24-26,000 a year income, and they budget quite strictly and worry about a substantial raise in taxes.”

Also of concern to seniors, as well as being a campaign issue for both rookie councillors, are the proposed changes to the city’s garbage pick-up and introduction of bins. Among concerns the councillors have heard include questions about their size, the storage demands, and hygiene issues. “This should be part of a public forum like a town hall meeting,” says Furfaro. “Let’s go back to the people that will deal with this everyday, and I know that’s sound simple, but we know that whenever you introduce something new, it’s not a simple as it looks.”

What both Furfaro and Van Hellemond want to see is more communication. “There’s a lack of information being relayed to the people,” says Van Hellemond, “and you can blame the people for not being interested, but there are people that are interested and they don’t have a lot of information as to where the money’s being spent.” Van Hellemond adds that he’s spoken with the owners of the Speedvale Mall and his fellow Ward 2 Councillor Ian Findlay about holding quarterly town halls in an empty storefront there. Furfaro also plans to have regular town halls with an eye on March for his first.

Along with last week’s interviewees Cam Guthrie and Todd Dennis, Furfaro and Van Hellemond want to make sure that Guelph is “open for business.” Van Hellemond feels that Guelph has developed a reputation as a place that’s firmly anti-business and would like to see that changed. “I don’t think the city knows just how much taking 10 years to get Wal-Mart here, with all the protesting and all the campaigning, has hurt the city in the business world,” he says. Van Hallemond’s comments echo those made by Guthrie in last week’s column about rebranding the city.

Part of a rebranding campaign may include a focus on cultural activities in our city. “Why not take all the different cultures that want to showcase their traditions and customs, and let them choose a date between July and the end of August?” suggests Furfaro. Van Hellemond, meanwhile, would like to make Guelph a regional destination like the train tours that take Torontonians on day trips to the Niagara Region “Why can’t we get something out this way where riders can ride to Elora and back and spend an eight hour day out here and see the countryside and see what we have to offer?” he asks.

As for their goals in office, Furfaro is looking to start evening out the tax base ratio by increasing the percentage of commercial tax from 16 to 20 in the next four years. Furfaro also wants to see progress on the IMCO brownfield. “The city’s owned that property since the early 90s,” he explains. “I’ve often asked myself, and I know this isn’t going to get me any bouquets left at my home, but if that site was anywhere else in this city but Ward 1, would that have remained dormant for all these years?”

Van Hellemond meanwhile hopes to help create co-operative and productive council that can get things done, but leave disagreements on the floor of the council chamber once the vote is done. And even though he admits that he’s “not a great computer guy,” he’s dedicated to reaching out to his constituents and creating a dialogue with them. So Ward 2 residents can look forward to getting to know him better in the next four years.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Better Know a New City Councillor Part 1 of 2

The October 25th election brought four new city councillors to the horseshoe in Guelph’s City Hall, and on December 6th, the new Gang of 13 will be sitting down together for the first time and begin to sketch out what they’ll accomplish over the next four years. But before they start, I decided to get to them first, beginning with the new councillors for War 4 and 6: Cam Guthrie and Todd Dennis.

Meeting with Guthrie and Dennis last Friday night at the Red Brick Café downtown, it was easy to see their exuberance about their new responsibilities. Both men have talked with Mayor Karen Farbridge, exchanged chats or e-mails with their colleagues and are looking to the immediate concern of the next council: the 2011 budget.

“The main promise is to maintain low taxes,” says Guthrie adding that he made a point of never campaigning on zero tax increases. “I’ve always been taught that if you mind the pennies, you’ll find the dollars, so I can’t wait to get my hands on that 2011 budget so I can start looking for those pennies.”

Dennis is also eager to see the budget. “We know that Fire, EMS, and Police can’t be touched,” he explains, “so we have to get those pennies, as Cam was saying, and figure out how to do things more efficiently. There are some interesting things coming up in conversations with constituents and staff about finding inefficiencies and looking at the whole process, it’s going to be a challenge going in.”

One budget item that has already gotten some traction is Guthrie’s campaign promise to not except the planned pay increase for councillors next year. “No matter what happens, I will be refusing that salary increase. Period. That’s the end of the discussion,” says Guthrie. “I think that’s being effective and I think that’s showing the people of Guelph that I’m looking for efficiencies and if that starts with me, then so be it.”

Dennis, meanwhile, is seeing a change in something he pointed out in his campaign, the perception of his ward as an example of negative growth. “I know it’s a lovely thing to say in the paper, but saying ‘urban sprawl’ and ‘cookie-cutter houses’ you know what? You’ve just offended a whole pile of your population.” observes Dennis who adds that he wants Guelphites to know that Ward 6 is not just commuters, and he says that attitude is changing. “People moved here for a reason, they bought their homes her for a reason, they moved their families here for a reason and you’re insulting them by putting a label or a tag on them.”

Along with that is changing perceptions about the city as someplace unfriendly to business, something that was referenced by both candidates during the campaign. “What I saw in reports was backed up from what I heard from businesses,” says Guthrie, whose day job is selling insurance. “It’s about making sure that the companies we already have here feel welcome to stay, it’s about making them feel welcome when they want to expand, and then attracting new businesses by getting employment lands up and running, and they are, so I’ll give [the City] that credit.” Guthrie also says that we need to rebrand the city and promote business success stories.

Dennis agrees saying that much of council is on the same page in terms of attracting business to the city as a major goal in the next term, and Dennis has some big ideas on how to do that. “We probably have more commercial land in the bank than Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge does, so were in a really good position,” he explains. Dennis says that he’d like to see the tri-cities become a “high-tech triangle” like Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina. It maybe be naïve, he adds, but “Why aren’t we sitting down with Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge, leveraging our land and creating a high-tech corridor?”

In the meantime, Dennis and Guthrie will be making their committee selections and doing other orientation-related items. Guthrie has also begun to realize another campaign promise by turning his website into “Ward 4 News,” which will be dedicated to keeping people informed about what’s going on in the west end.

Tune in next week for an interview with Jim Furfaro (Ward 1) and Andy Van Hellemond (Ward 2).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wait, Don’t We Have Three Levels of Government…?

Why yes. Yes we do. Whatever the reason – mostly municipal election related – we’ve neglected coverage of our provincial and federal representatives these last few months. So with all things municipal chilled out until the new council sits for the first time on December 6th, let’s check in with our local MPP and MP and see what they’ve been up to.
Sandals Like a Pro

Guelph Member of Provincial Parliament Liz Sandals has been keeping her usual low profile, quietly doing the work of your average, everyday MPP. In fact, Sandals career as MPP is so chill that it’s always surprising when she makes the news for something that has nothing to do with a policy, funding announcement, or other act in accordance with her responsibilities as an elected official.

But back on August 20th, Sandals made the news in an unexpected way. She was name-checked by Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman from Thornhill as a member of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s caucus who was more deserving of cabinet position in the last reshuffling of the portfolios than some of the less experienced MPPs who were elevated to the head of a ministry. “Liz Sandals has been toiling away ... for a very long time,” Shurman said in an interview with the Mercury. “She can take the compliment. Maybe she would have been a better choice.” Of course of the two people who were given cabinet seats, Sherman said that the represented “an additional opportunity to tax and spend."

Aside from that one, odd piece of news, it’s been business as usual for Sandals. In October, she delivered $650,000 from the province for local literacy programs at Action Read and Conestoga College. The money is part of Ontario’s $122.9 million investment in the Literacy and Basic Skills Program. On that same day, Sandals also handed a cheque for $100,000 to the Guelph Wellington Women in Crisis Centre. The money will go to help repair a leaky roof at their 38 Elizabeth St facility. All in a day’s work it seems for Sandals.
Frank Valeriote in “The Road Warrior”

Meanwhile, things are much more interesting on Valeriote’s side of the street, not to mention dangerous. Family members of Guelph Member of Parliament Frank Valeriote, along with other members of the community, were victims of vandalism. Occurring overnight in the waning days of October, at least nine cases were reported to police of cars having their break lines cut, tires slashed, or having the letter ‘L’ spray painted somewhere on the property, sometimes all three. The incidents mirror similar vandalism committed recently in Toronto and again in Guelph earlier this year.

The question on everybody’s mind though was whether the slicing and dicing was politically motivated. Valeriote’s nephew was one of the affected, however the Guelph MP was not. “I don’t believe it is a personal statement,” Valeriote said last week. “I believe it is a statement against authority.” Guelph Beat Readers will also remember incidents of graffiti and vandalism directed against Valeriote near the conclusion of Guelph’s aborted Federal by-election in 2008. The incident was precipitated by the wide-spread destruction of election signs, until one Saturday when the homes of people who had Liberal lawn signs where vandalized with slogans like “Vote Liberal C-68 slime” spray-painted on houses and the break lines of cars were cut.

In more positive news though, Valeriote is moving forward with his community outreach endeavours, not the least of which was bring his boss, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School for an open mic Q&A session. As well, he held an open forum to respond to constituents’ concerns this past Tuesday as well as pledging his support to the “Movember” campaign to raise awareness about prostate cancer. “I’m proud to be part of the Movember team helping to support those suffering from prostate cancer and to raise money to advance research and education towards its eradication” Valeriote said in a press release. “4,400 men die from prostate cancer annually, and with the incidence of prostate cancer rising as a result of our aging population, a cure must be found.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rants and GFOMM

I Rant on Your Grave

Hey Guelph! Thanks for voting!

Or at least that’s I would say if more than one-third of you actually gave a damn and voted.

But seriously, thanks to the 33.9 per cent of Guelph that did give a damn and got out and voted. You are the real heroes, and that’s maybe the saddest thing I’ve ever typed. Not that you voted is sad, but the fact that so few of you couldn’t get yourselves to a polling station and fill in four little boxes with a pen is an epic tragedy worthy of Sophocles. Where was the anger? The outrage? The pettiness? Nothing. Sense of civic pride and responsibility? Crickets. Okay.

But seriously, what’s the deal? Are people in Guelph any less frustrated with the economy, taxes and services as compared to, let’s say, Toronto? In the T-Dot, 53.2 per cent came out to vote for *sigh* Rob Ford. Perhaps voter dissatisfaction was higher in Toronto, while the number of people in Guelph who were either content with city leadership, or discontent with the choices offered, was stratospherically high. Considering that there are people in the world that brave bullets – or worse – to vote, what’s our excuse?

Ed The Sock did a bit during the 2006 Municipal Election saying that 36 per cent of people voted in the 2003 election, so majority rules: no more municipal elections. We’re not there yet are we? Surely, the 66 per cent that didn’t vote in Guelph last week  will agree that this reaction is extreme, yet still one wonders why we can’t hoist more people off the couch and into a voting booth.

Of course, people can’t get over their ignorance either. A woman named Jeri Scheffer wrote a letter to the Guelph Mercury on Election Day decrying the fact that her child’s school was being used as a polling place, like every other school has been since at least when my mom was a kid. But if this woman’s misalignment with, you know, how society works was messed up, there was the other side of the coin that was slipped in to her letter so surreptitiously that you you’d almost miss it.

Yep, Ms. Scheffer doesn’t vote, and she said so right in black and white before taking the school board, the school, the trustees and everyone to task for not keeping her informed about the fact that the school’s gym – far from where the kids sit in class – serves as a polling station and probably has since time and memoriam. A better metaphor for this election I can’t think of: A person mad at the system that they can’t even be bothered to participate in. Oh well.

Fill Your Brain

This weekend is the annual Guelph Festival for Moving Media, or what used to be called the Guelph International Film Festival, if your memory goes back that far. The one thing that GFOMM does best, if it can only do one thing, is inspire you and invest you in some unique documentaries, shining a light on people and issues in small towns and big cities across the globe. This year’s program looks to be no exception with environmentally-minded flicks, compelling docs about the arts, and some short animated films for adults only (not like that).

Let me include a few recommendations. First, and this is no particular order, is The So-Called Movie. Savvy Canadian music lovers will be able to name check So Called, a musician and artist based out of Montreal who gave one of the most rockin’ performances from this year’s Hillside Inside. The NFB doc about this madcap man of music is a definitely a fun watch if nothing else. Another neat movie, albeit with a more advocate bend is A Different Path, which follows activists from across North America as they try to overcome the tyranny of the single-occupant automobile. Along similar lines, check out the Friday night performance of Polydactyl Hearts who will be performing their new show Hello Adventure, as well as their now classic show Le Cyc.

For information and the full program and schedule, go to