Thursday, October 13, 2011

SERIES FINALE - Election Results, Quarry Matters and Bus Drama

Sandals Still the Word in Guelph

The news may be a week old, but it’s still worth reiterating. In last Thursday’s Provincial Election, incumbent Liberal MPP Liz Sandals walked to victory in a very competitive race with 19,734 votes, a loss of barely 450 over her total vote load in 2007. Beating her nearest competition by nearly 7,800, it seems that opposition strategy to cast Sandals as Queen’s Park’s cat’s paw in Guelph didn’t seem to carry much water. And the argument for strategic voting doesn’t hold much water either because Sandals easy victory in Guelph was the closest thing to a blow-out in a region full of tight races.

But the real story in Guelph was the number 802, as in the number of votes that separated PC Greg Schirk and NDP James Gordon. Schirk won 11,950 votes to Gordon's 11,148. For Schirk it was a marginal 308 vote loss over what Bob Senechal brought in for the PCs in 2007, but for Gordon it meant a 63 per cent improvement over Karan Mann-Bowers, who ran for the NDP in the last election. Sadly for local Greens, Steve Dyck was only able to collect 3,234 votes, or barely a third of the votes of Ben Polley's third place finish in 2007.

Province-wide though the results for the Liberals weren’t so clear cut, as they won a 53 seat minority government, which is one seat short of securing their third straight majority. But will a minority McGuinty government in Ontario be under the same kind of attack recent minority governments federally were? Unsure. For one thing, McGuinty has a much closer margin than either Paul Martin or Stephen Harper enjoyed, and with so many close races, not to mention an exceedingly low voter turnout, a redo, impromptu election sometime in the next couple of years might work in McGuinty's favour. Then there's the Hudak factor. There are some grumblings about how much the PC leader didn't help the cause with comparisons to the increasing unpopular Rob Ford and commitment to potentially xenophobic and homophobic policies on the campaign trail. In an election where everything seemed in his favour to win, the reasons for Hudak's fortunes are multiple choice.

Either way, it's a new day, (almost) the same as old day in Ontario. Where will go to next?

Sandals Calls Mega-Quarry ‘Bizarre’

In a move that would have scored her points during the campaign (like she needed the help as it turns out – see above), Sandals came out strong against the proposed “mega-quarry” in Melancthon saying that “I think it’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen,” while talking to the Guelph Mercury Editorial Board the day after her re-election.

The word “bizarre” is kind of putting it mildly for advocates against the quarry. An American-backed company is petitioning to build a colossal limestone quarry on 930 hectares of farmland in Melancthon Township in the Hills of Headwaters, about 80 kilometres north of Guelph. The eventual pit will reportedly be as deep, if not deeper than Niagara Falls. The Ministry of the Environment ordered a full environmental assessment of the proposal under the Ontario Aggregate Resources Act. Sandals said that the government couldn’t just say ‘no’ to the plan without a clear, technical reason why the project shouldn’t go forward, and she thinks the assessment will provide such a reason.

“At the end of the process of digging out this great huge pit is that they are going to pump out the ground water in perpetuity and grow potatoes at the bottom of the pit,” Sandals said. “How can you possibly guarantee that somebody is going to pump out anything in perpetuity?” he added before quoting Prince. “That is forever. That is a very long time.”

Bus Hiccup

Regular Guelph Transit users who were eagerly awaiting new routes and new schedules on November 6th are going to have to put their excitement back in a box. Due to circumstances they should have foreseen, the City of Guelph has had to push back the start date till the New Year.

“Over the past couple of months, we’ve worked hard at planning and communicating the introduction of new routes and improved service anticipating a start on November 6,” says Michael Anders, General Manager of Guelph Transit and Community Connectivity. “We are ready to implement the changes, but because of collective bargaining agreement obligations, we have to move the implementation date to January 1, 2012.”

I can see the new signage running late, but some fine print in the collective bargaining agreement of Transit employees? Isn’t that something that should have been checked first off? Combine this latest incident with thrice delayed transit hub and constant yo-yoing of transit funding, the slogan of Guelph Transit should be “In Your Way” instead of “On Your Way.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It’s Election Day!*

*Assuming of course, you’re reading this on Thursday, and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t be because everybody waits with baited breath for the new issue of Echo, right? Right?

After three years, covering four elections, I get a rarefied opportunity to release a column on an Election Day, rather than just before or after. Perhaps you’re reading this on your way to the polls. Perhaps you’re reading afterward. Perhaps Election Day is over and you already know who won. Perhaps this knowledge disappoints you verily. Either way, I think it’s time to articulate my views on elections, why vote every Election Day and why you should do the same.

There were two elections within a year I turned 18, and I voted in both. It was 1997, and the first was that year’s Municipal Election and the other was the Federal Election that elevated the Jean Chrétien Liberals to their second term. Two years after that was the 1999 Provincial Election that returned Mike Harris’ Tories to Queen’s Park, and as a university student at the time, I have to say that that wasn’t the way I wanted things to go.

But you know what I didn’t do? Throw up my hands in exasperation and renege on the notion that democracy doesn’t work. This is an attitude I find all too common: democracy doesn’t work because the outcome we wanted wasn’t achieved. No, democracy works, you just didn’t get what you want. And while I agree that an electoral system that lets the party that achieved only 40 per cent of the popular vote to form a majority government is broken, it’s only because another 40 per cent sit on the bench believing their either too busy or too unimportant to vote.

In the short term, electoral reform is out because no party in power is going to legislate change that will mitigate their own power. But if the 40 per cent that sat out the Federal Election this past spring threw their support behind an independent candidate like, say, Communist Party candidate Drew Garvie, then right now he would be MP for Guelph. Or to go back to last fall’s Municipal Election, where two-thirds of electors sat out exercising their franchise, if even half of those people voted for antique store owner Ray Mitchell or skateboard enthusiast Scott Nightingale, then they would be sitting in the Mayor’s office this minute.

Having said all that, I do understand why people still think that their vote doesn’t matter, but like the man said, with all things, you’ll miss it when it’s gone. That’s why I’d like to propose a simple amendment to election law: If you do not exercise your right to vote in three consecutive elections you should lose that right. Not forever. I’m not quite mean like that, but almost.

My proposal is modest: if you shirk on your vote for any reason, for three elections in a row, at all levels of government, and you decide that you would like to exercise your right to vote in an upcoming election, then you will have to writer a 1,500 word essay explaining why you didn’t vote, and why you’ve decided to vote again. You won’t get marked on it, and if nobody likes your essay you won’t be refused the right to vote, but the point is the effort. You have to put in the effort, and you have to prove that you want it. Like most things in life, the work is its own reward.

Sound harsh? Especially in light of the fact that essay writing was at the bottom of a very long list of things you didn’t like about school? That’s what I thought, and that’s why this idea occurs. So before someone with real authority not bestowed upon them by the publishers of Echo snatches up this idea, then you might want to get off your duff today, find your polling station at, and put an ‘x’ beside the name of someone that you’d like to see speak for you in Queen’s Park. Even if they have, in your mind, no chance of winning.

Besides, unless either the McGuinty Liberals or Hudak PCs are returned to Queen’s Park in a minority government, then this will be the last election for us until the year 2014, and let’s face it, if those conspiracy theories turn out to be true, we could all be dead by then. But in all seriousness, to go from four elections in three years to no elections for the next three years, will be a tough adjustment for us happy few politicos. And if voter fatigue is a real thing, I expect to see record turnout for the Municipal Election in 2014.

To get all the scoop post-election and other political stuff, visit my blog, Guelph Politico, at

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Candidates: Sandals and Gordon

James Gordon Sings a New Tune

In politics, like show business, name cache matters. Just look at Julian Fantino, the former OPP Chief, who has run twice for MP of Vaughn and has won twice despite the fact that he gave no press access, and participated in no public forums. But Gordon’s not that complacent. As a singer, song-writer, playwright, and radio man, Gordon knows how important the public forum is.

Now, after being an active member of the NDP for years, and after years of having party members try and entice him to run for office, Gordon is now putting his name on a ballot, and aiming to get himself elected as Guelph’s MPP. “I think it’s because they presumed that I had a profile in the community already that would work well,” says Gordon on his appeal as a candidate. “But in the arts sector we have a natural outlet for trying to communicate messages and issues, so I’ve always said no to them because I’m already doing that work, and enjoying what I do and having fun while doing it, so why would I want to change it up?

“This is the first time when they’ve asked when, you know what, I’m ready for a change up,” he adds. “I think this is an exciting opportunity and that there’s a unique window of opportunity with this particular election.”

Gordon’s campaign has been as much about hearing what the people have to say as it is about promoting the NDP platform. Gordon’s says his summer listening tour, going to constituents’ homes and hearing what they have to say, was a smash success. “It was a great experience,” he says. “They’ve almost disappeared because every evening now is filled with debates and events. But it was such a great learning process for me, and everybody was actually surprised by the process that ‘Hey, people want to know what I have to say,’ and you realize how seldom it is that people gather for the purpose of sharing ideas and visioning.”

Liz Sandals Has More Work to Do (And Wants Your Vote to Do It)

Liz Sandals has represented Guelph for the past eight years in Queen’s Park. That’s a large amount of time to hold any political seat, so it’s no wonder that a lot of her colleagues took the opportunity this fall to retire from provincial politics to explore new ventures and new challenges. But Sandals felt that her current job still had some challenges left to conquer.

“I think we’ve made really exciting progress so far in turning the province around,” says Sandals. “It’s been tough work the last few years because we’ve had worldwide recession, but all things considered Ontario has pulled through that pretty well. We’ve recovered the jobs, but there’s still a lot of work we have to do rebuilding the economy here in Guelph, making sure we’ve diversified the economy so that we don’t take such a deep hit when there’s a recession. And I’m really excited by some of the things we’re doing with education because that’s my background.”

In the campaign, Sandals has been hitting back against the impression that she doesn’t represent the people of Guelph as much as she represents the Liberal Party in Guelph, but Sandals says this depiction is wrong. “I think if you look at some of the projects that I’ve personally been involved with advocating for here, they actually are a result of listening to people in the community,” says Sandals. She points to the development of an emergency mental health ward, working with Guelph General Hospital and Homewood, to better serve the community, particularly people in mental health crisis.

“It took a lot of work, working with all the different players of Guelph, it took a lot of bugging the Minister of Health of the day because this was a uniquely Guelph problem,” she adds. “This wasn’t something for which there was a provincial funding line, but we were eventually able to get Trellis, Homewood and Guelph General to all come together, and now there’s an emergency mental health ward at Guelph General Hospital that has the proper secure facilities.”

To hear the complete interviews, check out the Guelph Politicast, available at

The Horse Race As It Is

With one week to go until Election Day, the polls are coming fast and furiously, and with every announcement it one thing is perfectly clear: it’s a toss up as to what the political landscape in Ontario is going to look like next Thursday. Province-wide, the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives are in a statistical dead heat, with the NDP in a respectable, but distant 23 per cent. With these numbers and others,’s seat projection model shows that the Liberals are likely to win 55 seats, which is one more than they need for a majority. It’s a loss of 15 seats for the Grits, but just barely enough to win their third majority.

Locally, the results seem much clearer. A Forum Research poll released last Saturday showed that Liberal Liz Sandals will walk to re-election with 37.6 per cent of the vote. PC Greg Schirk comes in second with 30.3 per cent followed by NDP James Gordon and Green Steve Dyck with 21.9 per cent and 8.8 per cent respectively. Next Thursday should be very interesting indeed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Candidates Speak!

After a busy couple of weeks covering some anonymous film festival in Toronto, I finally got down to the real process of politicking by interviewing the candidates running for Member of Provincial Parliament of Guelph. Of our riding’s seven declared candidates, here are some words from three who are looking for your vote on October 6th.

You Don’t Know Dyck

Green Party candidate Steve Dyck faces a similar dilemma as he campaigns for Guelph MPP that his Federal counterpart John Lawson did in this past spring’s election. Like Lawson, Dyck follows a candidate with two elections under their belt and a wave of popular support. But unlike Lawson, Dyck hopes to break though and build on Ben Polley’s third place finish in 2007, and he hopes to do that by tackling his party’s core issue, and doing so more thoroughly than the other parties.

“I’m so passionate about the issues,” says Dyck who officially kicked off his political career as the Green Party of Ontario’s energy critic on The Agenda with Steve Paikin. “I feel like the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP really have abandoned the environment.”

The environment doesn’t get a lot of air in these difficult economic times when jobs and budgets are more worrisome, so how does the Green Party candidate reach voters? “I often don’t speak about the environment, what I mostly talk about is the economy and building an economy that makes sense, and works for people,” explains Dyck. “The Liberals have imported the Green Energy Act from Germany, and when they did that I wanted to applaud. But they imported the technology and left the community out. Renewable energy in Germany is overwhelmingly community-financed, community-based, which allows rate-payers the ability to gain the benefit.”

Fourth Time Around for Garvie

By running again for the Communist Party of Canada in Guelph, Drew Garvie holds up a proud Royal City tradition as the Canadian face of the revolution began here in 1921. Garvie is running for the fourth time for political office in Guelph, his second attempt at the MPP seat after two Federal runs.

Amongst his campaign promises, Garvie, and the Communists, are pledging to do something that, surprisingly, no other party has said that they’ll do: completely eliminate the HST from Ontario’s bookkeeping. “I think what the HST basically is, and the voters of B.C. obviously understood it, the majority of voters see it as placing the burden on them rather than the people who actually have the ability to pay,” explains Garvie.

Garvie also wants to bring attention to another issue that’s not being discussed a lot in the campaign: the demand for an inquiry into police action during the G20 protests in the summer of 2010. “It was the largest crackdown, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history, and it was facilitated by the McGuinty Liberals and the Federal Tories,” Garvie says emphatically. “[They] gave police sweeping powers that they need to go in bust heads, arrest 1,100 people and ended up not charging a lot of them. People were in terrible conditions in ‘Guantanamo North,’ as they called it, and André Marin, the Ontario Ombudsman, has said that this was the biggest compromise of civil rights in Canadian history.”

Schirk is Lovin’ the Campaign Trail

Greg Schirk talks about missing his morning coffee, but he doesn’t seem like it. The Progressive Conservative candidate was the last of the major party candidates to be acclaimed by his riding association, but Schirk says it’s been an easy transition to full-on campaign mode, and he’s ready to help PC leader Tim Hudak form the next government of the Province of Ontario. But first things first: the issues.

For one thing, Schirk maybe campaigning on eliminating Smart Meters and undoing some of the McGuinty government’s deals to create Green energy, but Schirk doesn’t want you to think he’s not environmentally friendly. “Guelph has a reputation for being a green community, and that happened long before the Green Energy Act,” he explains. “It was grassroots driven, it wasn’t top down. You look at this community and I just can’t see us shutting that desire to be a community and contribute to a better environment. When you look at this push from the community, I think it’s going to continue regardless of what legislation is in place.”

Schirk has been busy campaigning and attending events and debates, and says that he wouldn’t mind campaigning full-time. “I’ve got to tell you how much I love doing this,” Schirk says with obvious joy. “This is so much fun. I get to meet so many people, I’ve always liked talking politics, and I’m learning so much, that’s the great thing. And I’m not only learning fro the PC caucus, but from the average person that answers the door.”

To listen to the complete candidate interviews, go to my blog at where you can listen the complete podcast of my candidate interviews, as well as get all the latest election scoop.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Garvie's Back, Sign Issues and Debate Prep

Fourth Try for Fifth Party Candidate

The day after the writ was officially dropped for the 2011 Ontario Provincial Election, Communist Party candidate Drew Garvie announced his intention to once again run to represent Guelphites.

“Youth and working-people in Ontario are justifiably angry at the Liberal Government for protecting corporate wealth and privilege while real wages and living standards are falling, real unemployment is rising and the real economy is tottering on the edge of another deep recession,” said Garvie in a press release. “But voting Tory to punish the Liberals is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.”

Garvie first ran in the 2007 Provincial Election, eventually winning .4 per cent of the vote. Running the next fall in the Federal Election, he didn't finish as well with only .13 per cent of the popular vote, but he did however capitalize on that in this past spring's Federal Election, increasing his vote share to .17 per cent. True it doesn't sound like much, but for a so-called third party candidate, literally every vote counts. Garvie’s entry into the race takes the slate up to five, although potential candidates have until 2 pm today (Thursday) to file their nomination papers.

Fun fact: the Communist Party of Canada was actually founded just outside Guelph in 1921. Of course, “just outside Guelph” is relative because what was outside of Guelph 90 years ago is now way inside the city limits. Some may say Garvie’s being a nuisance, but to the rest of us he’s keeping up a proud Royal City tradition. Welcome back to the race, Drew.

Sign Language

A bit of controversy to kick off the election as the Liz Sandals campaign put up election signs on Tuesday afternoon, several hours before the writ was official dropped for the start of the campaign. This is a bit of a murky area because while limitations for fundraising for a campaign are very well defined, advertising your campaign with the placement of signs is not. “Our read of Elections Ontario is that there is not a distinction,” between pre-writ and post writ advertising with signs, Sandals told the Guelph Mercury. She added that the reason her campaign didn’t put out signs earlier is out of respect for the public. “It’s more a case of respecting the public’s tolerance for wanting to look at signs, as opposed to any particular legal rule,” she said. An Elections Ontario official said that elections signs can appear anytime before the writ so long as the campaign can identify who paid for the signs.

Opening Arguments

The first all-candidate meet of the election happened last Thursday at the main branch of the Guelph Public Library. Liberal Liz Sandals, NDP James Gordon and the Green Party’s Steve Dyck were each in attendance, while the PC’s Greg Schirk and Communist Drew Garvie were unable to attend.

Not surprisingly, one of the major issues discussed was library funding, a hot button for library-lovers given Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s recent efforts to cut the municipal library budget in that city. Gordon was quite adamant in his support saying, “Investing in libraries and cultural activities brings money to a community. It’s not ‘throwing money at a problem.’ Libraries are income generators.”

Gordon then promised to cut the wait time for the construction of a new library in half saying that 10 years is too long a time to wait. But Sandals rebutted that while libraries are a good thing, the library funding isn’t really a matter for the provincial government. Dyck, meanwhile, wanted to talk about the provincial budget and getting Ontario out of the red, which means not much room for new spending. “The Green party would hold the spending in all ministries except health care,” he said. “We can’t tax more and we need to get our debt in line. So we’d have to hold the spending for now.”

Look for several debates and candidates forums in the next couple of weeks. Two of the biggest ones will be the University of Guelph debate on September 28th, which will feature questions from students, and the Guelph Chamber of Commerce debate, which took place this past Tuesday, but will probably be repeated ad nauseum on Rogers TV.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Schirk Smarts, Garbage Woes, and Gordon Plays

Get Smart

It seems one of the big issues in these early days of the election is the newly installed hydro smart meters. The intention of the smart meters is to charge a premium during a peak hours in the effort to get consumers to pay a fee closer to the true cost of electricity and to promote conservation. But some people are calling it an unfair hit to the pocket book of Ontarians, including Guelph Progressive Conservative candidate Greg Schirk.

Schirk was joined in town last week by PC MPP Jim Wilson (Simcoe-Grey), and the two not only campaigned against the smart meters, but what they’re calling the “Smart Meter Tax,” which is a charge to administer the monitoring of the smart meters. The Tories say that under Dalton McGuinty, hydro rates have gone up 84 percent and 150 percent for homes with a smart meter, not to mention the $1 billion ($200 per household) price tag that came with installing smart meters.

“The choice Ontario families face is clear,” says Schirk in a press release. “Dalton McGuinty who plots tax hikes in secret. The NDP who plot tax hikes out in the open. Or a Tim Hudak Ontario PC Government – that will cancel the Smart Meter Tax, unplug the mandatory smart meters, and give families the relief they deserve.”

Current Guelph MPP Liz Sandals responded in the Guelph Mercury calling the Tory allegations “a campaign stunt.” She also said that the added costs to install and maintain smart meters were included in long-term energy cost projections and are public knowledge. And then, for the final blow, Sandals said that if the Tories are only finding this out now is “their problem,” and that “they have not discovered anything new.” Ouch.

Look for this to be an ongoing campaign issue in the next couple of weeks.

Garbage Woes

So was your garbage picked up last week? If it wasn’t it might be because you’re not aware of the new regulations concerning what garbage goes into what bag. On September 1st, some slight modifications were made to what type of garbage should be put in what bag. Dirty diapers and tampons can no longer be put in green bags, and plastic coffee cups and Styrofoam can no longer be placed in blue bags. These changes are but the first phase of as the city tries to follow provincial mandates and new standards concerning waste collection, including the elimination of plastic bags and the introduction of bins for household waste collection.

The Music Man

There were cupcakes with orange coloured icing, orange coloured punch, and, of course, oranges. So it must have been an NDP campaign event. James Gordon and staff officially opened their campaign office last Wednesday offering a cozy atmosphere, light refreshments and some tunes in the old Alma Gallery space. Considering that Mayor Karen Farbridge used the space last fall in her successful re-election campaign bid, perhaps the Gordon crew are hoping the good karma will rub off. "It's new what we've got here," said Gordon kicking the night off in front of over 100 supporters and well-wishers, "It's democratic and it's a party."

Several of the local NDP’s familiar faces were in attendance including Bobbi Stewart, who ran federally in Guelph this past May. Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay, was also on hand for the opening. Angus played some music, along with the candidate himself, and local favourite Tannis Slimmon. "Suddenly it's okay to for a musician to be an MP, and it's okay to bring music to politics," cheered Gordon before he broke into his first song of the night.”

Gordon’s got a lot of expectations on him being a familiar Guelph celebrity and an active activist in the community. As of last Wednesday, his campaign has raised $8,000 so far, and will be holding at least two other fundraiser, including one at Spice 11 on Monday.

Dyck Moves

Green Party candidate Steve Dyck has been quietly building support, but this Sunday he has his first big campaign event, a dinner and silent auction with special guest Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Green Party of Ontario. The dinner begins as 5 pm at the Woolwich Arms, or the Wooly to the those in the know, and includes salad, choice of meat or vegetarian lasagna and dessert. Tickets are $50 each and are available to purchase by calling the campaign office 519-780-5193. In the meantime, I stopped by the Guelph Greens website to see if, at the start of this election season, it was back up and running at full capacity. It wasn’t

For the latest campaign news go to

Thursday, September 1, 2011

All the Writ Moves

The writ for the 2011 Ontario Provincial campaign officially drops next week, which opens the doors to a tight month of campaigning for local politicians vying for the seat to represent Guelph in Queen’s Park. The slate of the four major party candidates was officially solidified in July, but the question is what moves have they been making in their operations leading up to the official campaign kick-off.

Our current MPP, Liberal Liz Sandals, has been doing what she usual does: her job. The typical series of announcements and commentary have been made by Sandals as she both fulfills her constitutional mandate and defends her party in the face to opposition statements meant to curry voter sympathy. To wit, Sandals was quoted in an August 15 article in the Guelph Mercury saying that the Progressive Conservative’s plan to slash home hydro and heating bills by approximately $275 per year was “nothing more than a shell game.”

She added that the debt at Ontario Hydro can be laid at the feet of the previous Tory government saying that it was driven up, in part, due to mismanagement. “All that money got run up during the last PC government because they were charging less than the true cost of hydro,” Sandals said. “If you don’t charge the consumer, you have to borrow from the bank.”

On the other hand, Sandals has tried to hit some usual constituencies. It was her voice (or e-mail, I supposed) that informed 2,4000 opponents to the mega quarry in Melancthon Township that the Ontario Ministry of the Environment has major concerns about the project. On a slightly more positive note, Sandals was on hand to announce a $77,800 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to be used toward making high school students aware of the opportunities in the burgeoning agriculture sector last week. Obviously this program, if successful, could have a huge impact on Guelph.

Speaking of all things environmental, Green Party candidate Steve Dyck has been quietly getting his campaign together while getting fundraising together and doing some canvassing at local events. He officially opened his campaign office at 497 Woolwich St. N. Additionally, Dyck has been helping to get the word out about the GPO platform and leader Mike Schreiner, and responding to electors’ questions and queries on Facebook and Twitter.

Readers of my blog will already know that NDP candidate James Gordon has been spending some of his summer vacation doing a listening tour of the city. The singer/song-writer asked Guelphites if they might like to gather their friends and invite him over to their homes so that they can ask him questions and voice their concerns. This week he opened his campaign office at 133 Wyndham St. N., the former home of the Alma Gallery, which featured music courtesy of the candidate and his NDP colleague, and Timmins-James Bay MP, Charlie Angus. Gordon also helped organize a candlelight vigil for Federal NDP leader Jack Layton, who passed away from cancer a week ago Monday.

Greg Schirk, candidate for the local Progressive Conservatives, spent much of his summer campaigning not for provincial office, but to get acclaimed as his party’s local candidate. Securing his candidacy in late July, Schirk has hit the ground running by hosting events and doing the leg work to get his campaign off the ground. Despite his late entry in the race, Schirk’s political machine was quick to establish itself and get to work, and with a province-wide lead in opinion polls, the PCs here and across Ontario don’t want to lose momentum going into the race before it’s even officially begun. Especially since recent polls have shown the provincial Liberals starting to turn their own downtrodden fortunes around.

Starting next week, look for Campaign 2011 Coverage Part 2: “The Wrath of Khan.” Also, check out my blog, Guelph Politico, for all the latest updates and election scoops at And if you’re not sick of me by then, I’ll probably be a guest on CFRU’s “Beyond the Ballot Box” political show before too long. Happy election season, folks! Here we go again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Summer Editorial Series: The Conclusion – Has Guelph Changed?

Sometimes wading into the online debate and trying to make common sense of the issues is like yelling at chestnuts for being lazy. If you’re interested in sampling some of the Whitmanesque wit that makes up the Guelph political discourse, one needn’t look any further than the comment section on the latest blog post at 59 Carden St.

The topic du jour was last week’s unveiling of a new logo for Guelph Transit, a mitigating nugget of public relations to help cover for the fact that we won’t actually get our new routes and schedule till the late fall, and won’t step foot in the inter-module transit hub till next spring. Many of the comments were about the wasteful cost of an obviously aesthetic manoeuvre, but never underestimate the anonymity of the internet to allow for the most puerile and base comments to be made in the name of “debate.”

Let’s scroll down, as it were, to a couple of comments in particular. “Waiting for a slow, roundabout ride that almost gets you there, accompanied by the smelly freak show, is for people who can't afford better,” said a regular poster named Grumpy Old Corporal. Adds Doug, of no fixed last name, “If you think that a new logo and slogan will get me out of my car, so I can ride with drooling, mumbling staggering, rude, loud, profane, sloppy and the freak show of Guelph. You're crazy!”

First of all, you know your day’s gone topsy turvy when Grumpy Old Corporal is the voice of reason, and regulars on 59 Carden Street know what I’m talking about. Second of all, would these guys say any of this aloud if not for the anonymity of the internet? I’d bet my bus fare that if Doug or Grumpy ever come into direct contact with the Hills Have Eyes mob from central casting that is apparently the transit using population of Guelph, they’d be too busy trying to not lose control of their bowels.

But this isn’t about the not-so-startling lack of civility on the internet. This piece is about a tonal shift I’ve been sensing in Guelph for some time now. (Hence the above name of the piece.) Now granted, the internet is a terrible place to gauge the temperament of people on average since it typically attracts extremists from both ends, but I’m thinking of something more basic. A gut feeling. This isn’t the city that fought Wal-mart tooth and nail for 10 years. This isn’t the town that revels in, as my friend Oliver from CFRU observes, being the Berkley of Canada. Heck, this isn’t even the place they took Mondex for test drive in back in the 90s.

Remember Mondex? It was to the debit card what HD-DVD was to Blu-Ray. Never mind.

I guess what I’m trying to say, simplistically, is Guelph used to be cooler. Don’t get me wrong, Guelph can still be cool, and is infinitely more cooler than, say, Burlington, but I do feel, what I will call a “Stepford Effect,” creeping into the works. The Stepford Effect, of course referring to Bryan Forbes’ subversive cult classic, where in people start imposing a set of characteristics on a city for what it should be, not what it can be or what it is. A city should have low taxes, lots of shopping, malleable borders, a quiet downtown, and no roustabouts with a cause ready to disrupt.

The assumption now is that Guelph, as it was, is wrong. Being known as the place that held out for so long against Wal-Mart is bad for business. Being known as a place where conscientious objectors occupied green space to try and stymie urban sprawl is bad for business. Despite the fact that our downtown is a centre of arts of culture, you better not put up posters to promote and celebrate that culture because the city will slam you with fees. Then, when its time for a budget crunch, we’ll always make sure to cut transit first, because no one worthy of being pandered to takes public transit. Oh, and by the way, in the one area of the city where we know the highest concentration of low-income people live, we’ll support the closing of the area’s only discount store and replace it with a mid-priced furniture outlet, because there’s one thing our city’s poor needs it’s not paying a cent on a new living room set till 2013.

As with any editorial piece, I don’t mean to say that my way is the right way, but the intent, like with all my editorials this summer, is to try and get people to think and promote dialogue. This is the complete opposite of the intent of the above comments discussed, but it seems like this the only kind of conversation that counts anymore. As we head into a new election cycle, let’s try and reverse that trend together.

And now, on with the news…

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer Editorial Series – The List

There’s nothing like a little time out of town to give you perspective and appreciation. Last weekend, I was in downtown Indianapolis for GenCon, a convention of gamers that’s the largest of its kind in North America. This was the weekend after that whole debt ceiling nonsense had been resolved and the same weekend that saw the United States lose its prestigious AAA credit rating, which it had possessed for nearly 95 years.

But on the streets of Indiana’s state capital, where a homeless individual or other needy person seemed to be taking up residence on every corner at the intersection of Washington and Capital, none of that mattered. Better still, none of that seemed to matter to the people handing out postcards outside the convention centre, advising people going in of the importance of living, and if necessary dying, by the word of The Bible. Perhaps they hadn’t heard that connections between Dungeons & Dragons and Satanism had been debunked decades ago.

In the back of my mind was the comfort that I has heading back to Canada; where people were smarter, where they were more caring, and where radical Christianity hasn’t gotten a stranglehold. When I woke up Monday, it was literally morning in Canada. And then I saw the front of the Toronto Sun. Handed down from on high, or wherever it is that their editorial board meets, were the three main focuses that they thought should make the top of Mayor Rob Ford’s to-do pile: licensing bikes, panhandling, and getting rid of surcharges for plastic bags.

Now, I can’t for the life of me understand the appeal of Mayor Ford; he has all the personality of Boss Tweed, but has the extreme misfortune of being a politician in the Information Age. (Guy can’t even flip the bird at cautionary citizen pointing out his law violating Blackberry use behind the wheel without making CP24.) Still, he won the election, he’s the mayor for three-and-a-half more years at least, but should these really be the three most important things he needs to get immediately?

Certainly, the Sun thinks so. After Monday’s cover story, they launched into a week-long series of covers demanding, practically ordering, that something be done about panhandlers. First of all, what’s the urgency? Second of all, can one get rid of the poor like they’re overstock cookies at a bake sale? Solving the problem of all the poor people on the street requires one of two solutions: social spending to help these people out with the programs and services they need (which I’m sure would tick Sun editors off) or two, rounding them up in debtors’ prison and poor houses like the social welfare state never came into effect in the first place.

What about licensing bikes? Were does that come from? Actually, I know where it’s coming from, the recent, well-publicized traffic incidents involving cyclists. Incidents, mind you, where the cyclist was usually at fault. That is regrettable, and while I don’t necessarily disagree with the notion that a bike should be licensed, should making it so really be in the Top 3 of Mayoral priorities in Canada’s biggest city. Besides the whole thing smacks of “Summer of the Shark” syndrome, something’s made the news a couple of times in quick succession, which means a clear and present danger is there and it needs to addressed. It’s the chicken and the egg problem of the modern media: Problem A is in the news because it’s an immediate threat, and it’s an immediate threat because it’s in the news.

Last, but certainly least, is the matter of paying a nickel for a plastic bag at the grocery store. Aside from sorting your recyclables and being mindful of much electricity you use, it’s literally the least you can for the environment. No Frills has been doing it for years, I wonder if Ford pushes through on this and the by-law is repealed, will Toronto take the grocery store chain to court? What am I talking about, it’s not like they’re Guelph.

But seriously, this is a matter of world-crumbling urgency? How can you fault a law that encourages people to be more environmentally conscious, while making them pay a premium for using something that harms us and the planet? Doesn’t the Sun know there’s a big floating pile of plastic in the Pacific the size of some larger U.S. states? What am I talking about? They’re too busy swearing under their breath trying to find pocket change for a plastic grocery bag.

Perhaps once the immediate problems of these three issues are resolved, Ford can get busy working on other issues. For instance, there are trees in Toronto with too many leaves. Doesn’t he know people are going to have to rake them up in another month? Also the TTC subway trains make too much noise, but we don’t want to pay more for quiet trains. Maybe you should be writing this down…

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summer Editorial Series – There’s a Bus for Everyone

A few months ago, the Guelph Mercury published a week long series about Guelph Transit; its past, present and future. And while the series was informative and interesting – especially the details of Guelph’s forward-thinking past so far as mass transit is concerned – it seemed that the series remained, at the core, one written by people who don’t take the bus regularly, and can’t speak with true insight on the problems with our transit system.

The examination-slash-retrospective came from the coming changes to Guelph Transit starting this fall. These changes include new and altered routes as well as peak time 15 minute scheduling. Combined with the move from St George’s Square to the inter-module transit terminal next spring, and the anticipation for the expansion of GO Transit trains to the Royal City, it would seem things are looking up for those in Guelph that either by choice or necessity, take the bus. The sad part is though that the new transit looks a lot like the old transit.

To wit, if you are on a Guelph bus right now, and it’s a weekday, then you may have noticed that you only had to wait 20 minutes for the next bus rather than 30. This is thanks to a grassroots effort by a number of citizens who spoke out against another year of transit cuts in the 2011 budget. As a result of the outcry, not only did city council maintain 20 minute service throughout the summer, but partial stat holiday service was restored too. You might have taken the bus to Canada Day festivities in Riverside Park, or enjoyed John Galt Day activities downtown.

Sadly though, in spite of a number of Guelph Transit drivers that perform their duties admirably and professionally, there are some on the job that still can’t get their heads around the idea that the bus is a commuter service and not Sunday Night vespers with grandpa and grandpa. To them, a trip on the bus is a leisurely drive with friends where you can chat the day away knowing that you will eventually reach your destination. That is if you leave on time. Boarding the bus from downtown, it’s like a game of Win, Lose or Draw: will your bus leave on time, or are you waiting five minutes later waiting for the driver to appear, or finish up a conversation with a colleague?

Again, to be clear, this is not a majority of Guelph Transit employees, but incidents like the ones stated above happen with unusual frequency. The first thing you learn in customer service is that people will remember times of bad service to a far greater degree than the instances of good service, no matter how frequent the latter occur. How many people have been turned off riding the local bus because they missed their transfer, or the bus drove past their stop because the driver was distracted? I’m sure the number is greater than you or I might think because people don’t usually tend to call in to the Transit office to let them know that they’re breaking up.

But it’s not just driver behaviour that confounds, and while one of the articles did compliment Guelph Transit drivers for their friendly attitude, it’s probably one of the reasons why so many people feel like it’s okay to have a conversation with them while the driver makes their rounds. Or that it’s okay to put their bag on the seat and leave no where for someone else to sit. Or that it’s okay to sit at the back in a seat with your feet up. So yeah, this isn’t your buddy’s car, this is public property, and in the winter it’s hard enough to get people on the bus without making them wonder if the only seat available will come with muddy foot prints.

I’ve said this before, taking the bus will never be as fast and convenient as taking your own personal car directly from your garage to the parking lot of you place or work, but it’s also not supposed to be. And because of this, and because its hard enough to convince people to get on the bus in the first place, every time someone has a uniquely terrible experience on the bus is another excuse given to them to tune in, drop out, and get their own ride.

Guelph has invested a lot in their new transit system, but how can we expect people to take advantage and get excited when we’re still acting like it’s 1999, back when there was no Sunday service and accessible buses were a pipe dream. I think I speak for all of us that take the bus regularly when I say we want an improved transit service, and we don’t want to let old world thinking get in the way.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer Editorial Series – The Jack’s Creek Covered Bridge

The news last week that Jack Layton was taking some time off to fight another bout of cancer comes as shocking to a lot of politicos cross-country. This man is a lion. He defeated the strain of pancreatic cancer he was diagnosed with in February, had hip surgery in March, and then got out on the campaign trail in April, leading his party to its biggest victory ever in May. You know the old marine motto about doing more before 6 am… Well Jack Layton may not be a marine, but by any standard, that is a pretty eventful spring.

Now, I’m not a doctor, but anecdotally-speaking some of Layton’s recent public appearances have not painted the picture of a man who’s got a full health bar, to use video game parlance. Of course the stress of a major illness and a cross-country Federal campaign doesn’t do much for one’s stress levels, but all-in-all Layton’s physical struggles seems to have not damped even slightly the man’s vigour and commitment to leading his party to heights never before thought possible. At least until now that is.

Now it’s not all bad news. Layton intends to be back in time for the recommencement of Parliament in mid-September. In the meantime, Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmelhas was Layton’s personal selection for interim leader. She’s a rookie MP and part of the NDP’s “Orange Revolution” during May’s Federal Election, and on the face of things, politically, that makes a lot of sense. But the selection of Turmelhas, no matter how temporary, is odd because she leap-frogged over deputy leaders Thomas Mulcair and Libby Davies, as well as party stalwart Paul Dewar. And all things being equal, the NDP hasn’t had a lot of luck when one of their freshmen class is thrust into the spotlight.

And make no mistake, leadership matters. Could the NDP have made the gains they have without Layton at the helm? Possibly, but not probably. Layton’s miracle with the NDP is that he was able to play on even-keel with the two traditional main party leaders, and in recent years, even best them in national debates. He wasn’t whiny, he wasn’t resentful, and he came across as completely forthright, confident and ready to serve. Cogito ergo sum. Despite his small caucus he believed he was a national leader, therefore he was a national leader.

By comparison, think of the former leader of the Ontario wing of the NDP, Howard Hampton. I remember exactly two things that Hampton did in the 2003 Provincial campaign: 1) he tried nailing Jell-O to a wall, and 2) he had several huge dollar sign sacs on a flat bed truck be driven down a Toronto street as a visual aid during a speech. I can’t remember what either of those things were supposed to symbolize, but I remember that Hampton did them, and along with then-Premier Ernie Eves’ “reptilian kitten eater” comment, they probably painted Dalton McGuinty as the sanest choice for Queen’s Park.

Sadly appearances matter, and in the case of Jack Layton the appearance was of a man working hard to get your vote. Since his first election as party leader in 2004, Layton has led the NDP to posting a bigger share of the popular vote, even if their total number of seats didn’t increase; his predecessor Alexa McDonough didn’t post better than 11.05 per cent in the 1997 election. It’s why commentators were hesitant to call Layton’s ascension to Official Opposition leader an overnight success. It was a victory eight years in the making, and if the intention was to form an NDP government then they’re one more move shy of their goals.

But if Layton’s health continues to be an issue, then a question of more permanent leadership will have to be addressed, and like of all the major Federal parties, no clear successor is obvious. And the NDP is painted in a tight corner too. While the tenor of Quebecers and their new found allegiance to the NDP may not be fly-by-night, they’ll want to see progress on what the Orange can do for them. At the same time though, none of the new 59 NDP MPs from Quebec are probably leadership ready, though do the residents of “La belle province” have expectations that way? I doubt it.

Either way, Layton will be a tough act to follow in Ottawa. Not that we want anyone to follow him yet. He’s worked too long and hard to get that seat directly across from the Prime Minister, and I have a feeling that even Stephen Harper is relishing a real challenge in the Commons. Get well soon, Jack.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer Editorial Series – Parsing the Slate

Last Monday, the Guelph Progressive Conservative Riding Association had their nomination meeting and selected local businessman Greg Schirk as their candidate for this Fall’s Provincial Election. With that belated selection, the slate of four main party candidates was complete for the riding of Guelph, which means the election season is unofficially underway, at least until the writ is dropped at the end of summer.

So with about a month to spare till the campaign begins in earnest, lets take a look at the names we’ll be seeing on the ballot, their strengths and weaknesses, and maybe what the political landscape, provincially-speaking, is going to look like on October 6th.

Liz Sandals – Liberal
Incumbent Candidate
2007 Election: Won by 20,346 votes; 40.92 per cent

Sandals is a quality candidate: stalwart, loyal and a background of committed public service to the community she represents. On the other hand, there’s not a lot of love out there for her boss, Premier Dalton McGuinty. A recent opinion poll put PC leader Tim Hudak up 11 percentage points on McGuinty, with people citing issues like the HST and hydro prices as reasons for backing the Official Opposition, but since they literally rebelled against the HST in BC, how bad could we hate it here? Still, Sandals may be the nice, safe choice. She works hard, she does her job, and the only press she makes has to do with funding announcements and facility openings. Plus, if the comments in the blogosphere are to be believed, a lot of people in the city are on her side with the whole Health Unit drama. Maybe that’s enough for a hat trick.

Greg Schirk – Progressive Conservative
2007 Election: PC candidate Bob Senechal received 12,180 votes; 24.49 per cent

Schirk is an accomplished entrepreneur and a life-long Guelph resident, and in this business they call that cache. But in all seriousness, Schirk is going to be tough competition for Sandals, especially if the poll numbers continue to hold up in Hudak’s favour. But ay, there’s the rub. Who’s preoccupied with politics in the middle of a heat wave? Well, except you and me, of course. Still, Sandals should not be underestimated, and neither should the people of Guelph and their affinity for our Liberal representatives. In her last election, the people and the press were junk piling on Brenda Chamberlain for things like voting against same sex marriage. Yet, she still won her final election in 2006 by a healthy margin, and against a very attractive Conservative candidate. Sometimes, the odds go out the window.

Steve Dyck – Green Party of Ontario
2007 Election: Green candidate Ben Polley received 9,750 votes; 19.61 per cent

On paper, Dyck has got it going on. He’s a local businessman (he’s President of Guelph Solar Mechanical Inc., a solar heating solutions company), he’s a trained mediator, and he knows how to socialize (he’s the inventor of Green Drinks, a regular Green Party social). The man has definitely got his Green credentials down, but the question is if Dyck will be able to capitalize on Polley’s gains in 2007? That’s a tough one if you consider the results of the recent Federal election. Like Polley, Mike Nagy ran before and was able to capitalize on previous gains. In 2011, John Lawson wasn’t able to keep pace, and perhaps lost ground to the resurgent Liberal. Could Steve Dyck be looking at a similar fate in his own 2011 race?

James Gordon – New Democratic Party
2007 Election: NDP candidate Karan Mann-Bowers received 6,880 votes; 13.84 per cent

While it seems unlikely that an Orange Revolution will sweep Ontario, the ascension of Andrea Horwath to the leadership of the party means good news for the NDP, and the same can be said of Gordon’s nomination locally. Advantage one: name cache. People know the name James Gordon, and if they don’t like his politics, they might surely appreciate his unique brand of folk music. Advantage two: Gordon is no fly by night politico. He knows the issues and has been engaged in local politics for some time. In short, he’s accomplished. The problem? The NDP don’t have a lot of success with local celebrities, but maybe this time it’ll be different.

Stay tuned, because it’s countdown to Election Day. Well, again. Election Day 2! “The Wrath of Hudak.” “The Search for Dalton.” “The Voyage Horwath.” Whatever you want to call it. We’ll see you in September with more election news, and see you next week with more editorializing.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summer Editorial Series – We Used to Be Friends, A Long Time Ago

With July nearing its end, thoughts turn ever so lightly to the offerings of Fall. It won’t be too long till those Back to School commercials start filling the airwaves, and stacks of spiral notebooks and printer paper start taking up the real estate once held by lawn chairs and barbeques (can you tell I once worked in retail?). But when September hits, it won’t just be school some of us are heading back to, but the polls as well.

The Ontario Provincial Election will unfurl over the six weeks leading up to the October 6th polling date. Locally, Liberal Liz Sandals will attempt to defend her seat from the NDP’s James Gordon, the Green’s Steven Dyck and either Robert Demille, Greg Schirk and Bob Senechal for the Progressive Conservative Party. (NOTE: My Echo deadline was before this past Monday’s PC nomination meeting, so to find out which of the three is the one, head over to my blog at

You’ll notice that ‘P’ word in front of the Conservative. That’s important because the leaders and organizers of the Guelph-branch of the Ontario PCs want you to know they’re different. “One piece of information that’s important to know is that the PC Party of Ontario and the federal Conservative Party are not the same thing,” wrote Guelph PC President Allan Boynton to the Guelph Mercury’s managing editor Phil Andrews. Andrews posted the letter from Boynton on the “From the Editors” blog on the Mercury website.

Boynton’s sentiments were echoed in an e-mail we exchanged the week before. “I want you to know that this process is important to the City of Guelph, and it is our job as the local riding association to not guard our candidates but to make them available to you, and the people that vote here,” he wrote. Perhaps it should go without saying, but Boynton, who has some experience putting his name on a ballot after running for city council last year, knows that one can’t get elected in a vacuum of silence.

What’s strange is that Boynton has to make such assurances to begin with. It should be a foregone conclusion that a political candidate of any party should be available to reporters looking to talk to them. At some point a certain segment of the political discourse decided that the press was the enemy, and while some members of the press sometimes behave in a manner unbefitting of our noble profession (*cough*News of the World*cough*), the truth is that “gotcha journalism” is something made up by Sarah Palin to explain why she didn’t know stuff. We’re just asking questions.

That’s a shame because no matter the division that separates us in our politics, there’s always stuff we can come together and celebrate. For instance, I salute Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his appearance this week as a day player on the turn-of-the-20th-century crime procedural Murdoch Mysteries. The Prime Minister is a big fan, and says he’s never missed an episode of the show. After a nudge from his daughter, he reached out to the show’s producers, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Like a number of Canadian politicians, Harper has, in the past, shown no qualms about appearing on sketch comedy shows like The Rick Mercer Report, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and The Royal Canadian Air Farce. It always amuses me when American politicians laud their own humorousness by appearing on Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show, while in Canada the interim leader of one of our major political parties once dived into a lake naked with a CBC TV host.

I’ve ranted and raved a lot in recent months about the cone of silence that the Conservative Party perpetuated during the last election, and I don’t just mean locally with a certain candidate that will remain nameless. To be clear, elections are about engagement, and included in that are press interviews and debate appearances. But even if there’s something not self-evident in that, Can’t we at least believe that we all mean well, and that we probably have a lot in common once we get past our political alignments.

You see, I, like the Prime Minister, also enjoy the intrepid Inspector Murdoch, who uses up-to-the-date scientific techniques, the then ever burgeoning field of forensics, to solve crimes in Victorian Toronto. It’s like a steampunk CSI. Now do you think that the stars and producers of Murdoch Mysteries were vetted for their politics before Harper arrived on set to play the bit part of a desk sergeant? I hardly think so. Why can’t the same be said for average citizens and journalists?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer Editorial Series – The Pinko Commie Manifesto

“Actually I'm wearing pink for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything.” That’s what Don Cherry told the gathered politicians, reporters and general public in December at the swearing in of Mayor Rob Ford. Undoubtedly, this admission was prompted by the audible gasps heard form the crowd when Cherry stood up in a hot pink sports coat that would even make Barbie call gauche on the Hockey Night in Canada commentator.

The “pinkos” Cherry was referring to were people vocally opposed to Mayor Ford’s “roads are for cars only” policy. “Grapes” then went on to compare Ford favourably to former OPP Chief Julian Fantino, and lauded both men for their honesty before wrapping up his address with a hearty “put that in your pipe, you left-wing kooks.” Don Cherry, class act.

But this editorial’s not about Cherry, or even Ford for that matter (he’s suffered enough… for now). But Cherry’s comment is the harsh reaction that encapsulates a growing feeling of negativity towards bikes and bike riders. In Guelph, the philosophy of a city being bike friendly was tested again recently with the introduction of a bike box at the intersection of Stone Road and Chancellor’s Way.

For the uninitiated, a bike box is a space reserved for bikes at an intersection where a bicyclist can pull up in front of a line of cars and thus get to turn the corner before the car traffic. The use and implementation of the bike box falls in a kind of grey area so far as traffic law is concerned, but some are wondering why the city’s squandering so much time and effort to accommodate bike riders when many of them either a) don’t obey traffic rules to begin with, or b) are a nuisance and the city should be more occupied with improving traffic flow. CAR TRAFFIC.

Others have mentioned that a lot of bicyclists don’t use the roads, and still use sidewalks when perfectly good bike lanes are already there. A reasonable point, but speaking as a bike rider myself – not to mention the fact that I’m also a frequent pedestrian – car drivers in the City of Guelph are scary as hell. Scary. As. Hell.

I have been at an intersection, crossing with the light, walking at a reasonable pace, and have seen out of the corner of my eye some car creeping around the corner so that they literally don’t have to stop for me. There’s something so sinister in this. A tacit implication that maybe if you don’t start moving faster then this car driver will lower the boom on the gas petal and just mow you out of the way. And then there are the ones that don’t slow down at all. The ones that take the corner and miss you by inches. You can literally feel that breath of wind as the car just zoomed around the corner behind you.

Now that’s not to say that bicyclists are victimless. Certainly there are a number of riders who are rude, they ride too fast, they don’t observe basic safety, they don’t signal and they switch from sidewalk to road with reckless abandon. But for the cautious majority, I can understand perfectly the nagging fear that riding on roads, especially ones with no clear bike lane, can lead to potential doom. To coin a phrase, in the battle of car versus bike, the car always wins.

There was a headline lately that Guelph Police had fined 36 bicyclists in a safety blitz, mostly for riding on the sidewalk and disobeying traffic lights and stop signs. I bet the amount collected from 36 bike riders will be a tidy sum, maybe enough for the Chief of Police to buy everyone at the precinct a donut and coffee. But as I pointed out last week, it was reported in April that the City has yet to collect $5.2 million in overdue fines going back six years for offenses like speeding and careless driving. I predict that any rider defaulting on his ticket will have the court system on him faster than by-law on Led Zeppelin.

This isn’t a call for bicyclist anarchy in the Royal City, but an appeal for rationalization. Bikes are fun, they encourage exercise and they’re part of a more sustainable, liveable community. And while people on bikes may occasionally skirt the law out of indifference or ignorance, the same can be said for car drivers, and the potential negative effects can be much more severe. For years, the term “pedal to metal” was associated with driving fast in your car. Let’s change that. Let’s make bike riding gangsta, and leave commie comments to the guy in the pink sports coat.