Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top 5 Stories for 2010

It’s that time of year again. Time to look back at the year that’s almost over and quantify which stories were more important than others. I know it sounds like I’m being sarcastic, but there is something to recommend taking a moment and seeing where we stand and backtracking just how we got to this point. So without further adieu, I offer, in my estimation, the five biggest news stories in Guelph in 2010.

5) The Garbage Fail Bids

If the new Organic Waste Processing Facility hadn’t already gotten enough confused and/or negative press, then the news that the City is going be trading plastic bags for plastic bins put it over the top. There was already a matter of uncertainty as to the numbers in the final bill for both the construction and operation of the OWPF, but the added expense of buying new bins and converting the City’s fleet of garbage trucks to service them, created a Red Alert level of rhetoric in this past fall’s Municipal Election. While legitimate questions remain, like how Waterloo will get its garbage processed for cheaper than we will, this is a provincial mandate, and ultimately a very sound, environmental direction. Still, a lot of people are against the move on the basis of storage, hygiene and transport of the bins, which are, ironically, a lot of the same reasons why people were against Wet/Dry when it was introduced a decade ago.

4) Reefer Madness

So for years, four shady characters in Downtown Guelph have been selling pot to anyone that needed it, and the Guelph Police finally arrested this gang back in May. The trouble was that the characters in questions were the owners and employees of the Medical Cannabis Club of Guelph, and the drug users they were selling to had subscriptions from their doctors. Basically, the Police busted the MCCG for operating “outside [the] guidelines and regulations” set by Health Canada for the sale of medicinal marijuana. But the biggest crime wasn’t the ever static grey area that seems to be our country’s legal policy about pot, but the fact that dozens of the MCCG’s customers, people suffering and in need of the relief marijuana provides, were left out in the cold as to where they could now secure their prescriptions. Some dubious questions still surround why the MCCG got a police smackdown, while the Club itself is in legal limbo till 2012. So much for Guelph’s reputation as a “caring community.”

3) Moan Temple Pilots

Speaking of which, there was the bizarre affair of the proposed Sikh temple in the south end. I say “bizarre” because despite a million reassurances from everyone short of the reincarnated soul of Sikh founder Guru Nanak Dev that the temple will have an occupancy of 400 people max, neighbours in the Claire and Victoria Roads area were still against it. There was some overt racism to accompany the impression of covert racism in the passionate, though half-hearted, arguments against, but it all came to naught anyway. The appeal by Westminster Woods Residents’ Association was withdrawn from the Ontario Municipal Board after members heard that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the appeal. Look for construction to begin on the temple next year.

2) Staffing Solutions Fail

While a lot of the 2010 budget negotiations fell in the waning days of 2009, the full effect fallout didn’t really hit until the new year was upon us. In the budget, it was passed that all City Staff had to take five unpaid days off in the calendar 2010 year. The hope was that the City and the unions could work out a scheme were the five days off could be spread out enough to avoid a state where the City would have to be closed for five days. This didn’t turn out to be the case. The so-called “Karen Days” (named for, and with exception by, Mayor Karen Farbridge) frustrated Guelphites, especially the skip weeks for garbage pick up and the no Sunday service for Guelph Transit in August. While many candidates in the election towed the “Never Again” mantra, we’ll have to see what happens during the 2011 budget deliberations next month.

1) Never Bet Against Karl Hungus

So despite all the rage – property tax rage, Karen Days rage, construction rage – only 33.9 per cent of the eligible electorate in the City of Guelph came out to vote in the Municipal Election. At election headquarters at City Hall, the votes were counted and the lights were off by 10:30. And in the end result, only two of the incumbents running again, Mike Salisbury and Vicki Beard, were voted out. The implication: we’re mad as hell, but what are you going to do? The aftermath, if you follow the comments in the blogosphere is renewed anger and low expectations for the new council. But really, what else is new, and who else is to blame?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Last News of the Year (Probably)

So in a couple of days it’s Christmas, and then a week after that it’s New Year’s. It the time of the season for retrospection and consideration, and with few exceptions it’s also a slow news period. So before we bid adieu to 2010 (next week’s column), let’s look at some lingering news items from 2010.

Frank Valeriote Will Slap a Minister

Local Member of Parliament Frank Valeriote wants answers now, or he wants them eventually in the case of the government’s discontinuing of funding for the faith-based NGO KAIROS Canada. Along with his colleague John McKay (MP for Scarborough-Guildwood) last week on the Hill, Valeriote tried to get International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda to explain why she denied KAIROS Canada $7 million in funding.

“KAIROS is an organization of the highest repute and does remarkable work on behalf of Canada for the world’s poor,” said McKay during last Monday’s Question Period. “The facts show that the Minister was not being honest when asked why KAIROS was cut. To make matters worse, church leaders have asked the Prime Minister for a meeting to get an explanation and as yet have received no response. The Minister and the Prime Minister have some serious explaining to do.”

“Without warning, its funding was mysteriously cut and the explanation given as to why was clearly not the truth,” added Valeriote. “This incident raises the issue of whether Canadians can trust this government to tell them the truth. If they are willing to mislead the House on this issue, what else are they not being honest about?”

So who are these fascists that no longer deserve the funding from our government? Well, KAIROS is made up of about a dozen member churches across Canada and have partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East to promote issues of Ecological Justice, Economic Justice, Energy and Extraction, Human Rights, Just and Sustainable Livelihoods, and Indigenous Peoples. A four-year grant of $7 million was requested by KAIROS, and apparently endorsed by the president and vice president of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), but somewhere between them and the Minister Oda, it was decided that the proposal didn’t meet CIDA standards. Or government standards. Or government priorities. One of the three.

Regardless, other aid groups across Canada are joining the two Liberal MPs in questioning how and why CIDA approves and disapproves of funding applications. Meanwhile, Oda says that she doesn’t know how or why the funding wasn’t approved when it came out of committee, even though her signature is on the document. What’s the old Bronson saying, “This ain’t over.”

New Officer to Liaise with Film

The Guelph Mercury reported last weekend that after an internal competition, someone has been selected to serve in the Film Liaison position vacated by Jennifer Peleschak earlier this fall. Christine Chapman will now fill the slot as the person at City Hall who will direct all matters pertaining to film and film shoots in the Royal City. For a while there, those of us in the local filmmaking community had some concern that the City was going to leave the position vacant. Of course, Film Liaison Officer wasn't Peleschak's official position in City Hall, it was something she took up when the City started getting inquiries about shooting films, TV projects and commercials in Guelph. Jen was uniquely qualified for the post because she genuinely loves film and was supportive of all productions, from big international projects like Blindness to local indies like Mind's Eye. So I happily welcome new Film Liaison Officer Ms. Chapman and say that as a filmmaker in Guelph, I look forward to working with her.

Are Taxes High or Aren’t They…?

A report in the National Post last week lit up the blogosphere like the Yule log on Christmas morning TV when it said that Guelph pays the third highest property taxes in Ontario behind Ottawa and Toronto. But not so fast, some are saying, are these numbers the real numbers? City reps point to a BMA Management Consulting in 2008 that says when compared to similar municipalities our size, Guelph has the lowest taxes in Ontario. As well, there could be an oversight in the report covered by the Post as some of the municipalities are two-tier payers, meaning they not only pay property taxes to the town they live in, but to the county as well; Guelph has a single-tier system. Either way, this is fuel for the fire as city council gets ready for budget deliberations next month.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Week of Drama for The Farmers’ Market

So the weather outside is frightful, and so is the shopping season for vendors at Guelph’s Farmers’ Markets… And speaking of the weather outside, that was where produce vendors of the Market were supposed to be before a last minute reprieve. Yes, the ingenious solution by the City to the sudden need to move the Farmers’ Market before the roof on the building at the corner of Gordon and Waterloo collapsed, was to set up the arts & crafts sellers in the foyer at City Hall, while sticking the produce sellers in the Wilson St parking lot. But then last Thursday, the City said they had more room than they thought, and all venders were moved inside. However due to Echo Weekly’s deadlines, I’m not sure how this whole thing turned out, but the process leading up to it was, to use the correct terminology, a gong show.

It started a couple of weeks ago when vendors at the Market were told that repairs were needed on the roof of the building. Repairs were needed, said the City, but it isn’t so bad that the building would have to be shut down for, say, eight to ten weeks so that repairs could be made. That was Saturday November 27. Precisely one week later came word from Derek McCaughan, the city’s director of operations and transit, saying that if you even breathe on the roof wrong it’ll fall like a house of cards.

Okay, he didn’t actually say that, but the message at a meeting between city reps and the vendors of the Farmers’ Market on Saturday December 4 was that we need to get you guys out of here because this roof will fall with even a hint of snow. This after saying exactly seven days earlier that despite the need for repairs, it would take a “once in 50 years snowfall” to collapse the roof of the Market building. And before you can say that the announcement caused outrage amongst the vendors, the outrage was already on…

The first option presented was to move the Farmers’ Market to an old bus barn on 12 Municipal St., which, apparently, was the closest, biggest and most conveniently located facility which could house the Farmers’ Market. After a health inspection, the bus barn was, surprisingly, deemed unsuitable. As it turned out it would have taken longer to bring the barn up to code in order to temporarily house the Market, then it would take to do the repairs on the Market’s building. The result was the Solomon-like decision that you read at the top of the column. And although meat and cheese were initially shut out, the option to sell frozen meat was made available. But considering most vendors sell fresh that probably wasn’t much of a consultation.

Seriously, if you are a vendor at the Farmers’ Market or a user of the Farmers’ Market, you really have every right to get ticked off. From the City’s changing appraisal of the direness of the situation to the Michael Brown (as in “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of job…”) like response to the problem, there are a lot of questions in the air about just what the heck went wrong. Why did the roof problem get so dire, so fast? Was there no where else that the City could have moved the Market to? There was no contingency plan in the works prior to last week? Especially, since they knew the roof was an issue since last July

Those are serious questions and in an article in the Guelph Mercury even McCaughan conceded that there weren’t enough answers for the questions people have. In the absence of actual answers, the vacuum is being filled by pundits and conspiracy theorists. One person sent a letter to the Mercury saying that they were “convinced that the City of Guelph is undertaking to systematically and methodically disrupt, dismantle and dissolve the farmers market as we know it today.” They added that recent by-law adjustments and a new insurance requirement were also part of that campaign, and now that those didn’t completely work, the City is moving to a more aggressive measure.

Of course, letting air into a conspiracy theory is like leaving the food on your plate to grow more fungus, it’ll keep spreading until you get the dish soap out and disinfect that sucker. Despite the statement in her inaugural address about promoting better communication between the City and its people, this kick-off issue of the new term shows that there’s still a divide, and it’s one of the city’s making. As of the Farmers’ Market only one thing is certain, it will probably never be the same again.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

All I Want From this Next Council…

Dear Guelph City Council,

I’ve been a very good citizen of the Royal City this year, and I would like to get a few items for next term. Before I begin though, my Mom says I should thank you for the things I got last term. The new roads and infrastructure was really nice, once we had them assembled, of course. The new City Hall is pretty swanky, but it’s almost too nice to play with. The improvements on the Provincial Court House were pretty cool, but I didn’t like that Hanlon Creek Business Park so much, but my parents say we need it so…

But seriously folks, there are some developments that I wouldn’t mind seeing coming out of council in the next four years (if not sooner). Primary among them is the transit hub.

Such a monumentous undertaking, converting an entire section of Carden Street into a one-stop shop for local and inter-city public transit, was the last item being funded by cash from Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill to be shovel-ready. Are we going to get an extension on that loan, or are we going to have to eat it, which, if I know the city of Guelph and its past actions, will mean transit cuts? The good news is, as of last Thursday, it appeared that no eating would be necessary.

And really, what’s the deal with Ward 1 Councillor Bob Bell wanting to take a minute and edited the plans. In case you missed the Mercury article he said that he wanted to cut the number of bus bays at the hub from 22 to 18, and that those four cut bays “could be accommodated along the Gordon/Norfolk streets corridor.” So it’s a transit hub where there’s an 18 per cent chance that the bus you really want is a couple of blocks and a five minute walk away.

While I appreciate the councillor’s due diligence, I am aghast. I thought the City couldn’t revisit a construction plan once the shovels were in the ground. At least, that seemed to be the argument when the Hanlon Creek Business Park started to get going. Sadly, as I walked from one store to the other last Wednesday in a vain effort to find bus tickets (because apparently stocking up suppliers on the first day of the month so that they don’t run out is too much to ask), I wondered if former Mayoral Candidate Ray Mitchell was right. “Transit is the fallback position to cut when money is needed as it primarily hurts the poor, and we know they don’t vote” said Mitchell in his Candidate Questionnaire for Guelph Politico. “Cutting bus services was probably the meanest thing this council did.”

I know I’ve been harping the transit issue a lot this year, but it really does seem like there’s a concerted effort out there to perpetuate the myth that freedom is a car that you yourself ride in alone and that buses and trains are for poor people and hippies. Parking for the transit hub has been a concern, but I ask, why does one have to drive their car to the bus station? Or the train station? Or at the very least, why is their no encouragement from the City to car pool? If everybody’s going to the same place anyway…

With Rob Ford in Toronto ending “The War on Cars” (Worst. Covered War. Ever.) I wonder how long it will take his thinking to trickle outward from the GTA. Roads are for cars! Bikes are for sissies! Street cars are stupid! If you can’t drive a car, at least have the decency to travel by way of a dark tunnel underground where car people don’t have to look at you! First of all, can we get Clarence Odbody to stop by Rob Ford’s house this Christmas before he turns Toronto into Potterville? And second, if the increasingly long drive to get anywhere hasn’t given you a clue, I’m out of ideas on how to get people to think of transit more positively, and not wrinkle their nose at the thought of taking a bus.

Anyway Council, there’s some milk and cookies in it for you if you figure out a way (not that that’s a bribe or anything). In the meantime, stay cool and good luck with the term ahead.

A random lunatic (with his own newspaper column)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Council's Back, Parade Scam and Police Overtime

Back to Council

It was a hard fought election, now it’s time to enjoy the spoils of victory: hard work, countless committee hours and hundreds of thankless decisions. The new Guelph City Coucil officially takes their seats this Monday, December 6th at 7 pm. And unlike the fancy River Run Centre induction of City Council that took place in 2006, this term begins with a much more frugal inaugural meeting in the council chambers at 1 Carden Street. To get the full agenda for the meeting go to the City of Guelph website, or tap in this address:

As for the last meeting of the last council, it was teary eyed affair as Councillors Kathleen Farrelly, Christine Billings, Vicki Beard, and Mike Salisbury waved goodbye. As well, there were reasons to celebrate. Mayor Karen Farbridge gave Gloria Kovach her 20-year pin, while Billings and Maggie Laidlaw were presented with 10-year pins. As well, each outgoing councillor was given a framed sketch of Carden Street depicting a view of both the old and the new City Hall, as this council oversaw the transfer of Guelph’s flag from one to the other.

So what wonders await the City of Guelph and all the assorted Guelphites there in? Stay tuned to Guelph Politico at

Spend Like Santa, Scam Like Scrooge

Usually the Santa Claus Parade is a time of jubilation and excitement in keeping with the spirit of the Christmas season, but this year it seems like some Grinches saw dollar signs – instead of sugar plums – dancing in their heads. The Guelph Mercury reported last week that a group identifying themselves as “Kare for Kids” was collecting donations along the parade route for “sick kids.” (That’s lower case sick kids, meaning a general reference to unhealthy children, and not the capitalized “Sick Kids” inferring the Toronto children’s hospital of the same name.)

A Mercury reporter called George Marton, who runs Kare for Kids from his North York condominium, and asked him about his group’s “activities” in Guelph and he said that there weren’t any. In other words, the Kare for Kids people at the Guelph parade had no affiliation with the lawfully recognized charity. “Definitely, 100 per cent, we don’t condone this and in fact we specifically prohibit it,” Marton told the Mercury. “They are not allowed to go near any parade. It is not sanctioned by the charity.”

So how did this not-charity manage to get on to the parade and make off with possibly thousands of dollars that have ended up God knows where? Good question. Let’s go to Dave Thompson, the organizer of the Guelph parade, who says that people participating in the parade have to check-in to a marshalling area before the parade’s start, which “Kare for Kids” did not do. “People just carrying buckets … would not have been allowed on the parade route,” Thompson told the Mercury. “I think they’ve likely just come in from the crowd.”

So I guess the lesson here is that some things once thought sacred aren’t sacred anymore. I know it’s a season of giving, but usually we weed out the con artists.

Guelph Police Saves on Overtime

The Guelph Police have spent less on overtime for 2010 to date then they had in 2009. This according to the Guelph Police Service who said last week that despite having their services farmed out to huge-scale events like the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the G20 Meeting in Toronto, Guelph Police have spent about $20,000 less in overtime this year over last. “We haven’t had as many major cases this year, which tends to drive a lot of overtime,” Guelph Police finance manager Kirsten Hand told the Guelph Mercury. Guelph Police Service spent $805,549 on overtime as of October 23rd, where as by that same time in 2009, they had spent $827,303. This even though City police spent 1,584 hours of overtime for the G20, and 1,945 hours of overtime at the Olympics.

Still, when budget deliberations start in January, look for the Police to be asking for the $2 million budget increase they were floating before the election. What does $2 million more on top of a $32.3 million budget buy you? Aside from the typical increases in salaries and employee benefits, it will also mean getting three officers to form a community response unit that would patrol three main neighbourhoods, intelligence surveillance equipment, expenses toward the construction of a south end facility and an officer dedicated to high-risk domestic violence cases.