Thursday, February 24, 2011

Apples and Oranges

The budget deliberations have sparked a lot of emotion across the board. On the one hand there are increased parking rates and bus fares that have people incensed, and on the other hand there’s the proposed 5.67 per cent property tax hike that comes along with the budget presented to council a few weeks ago. Admittedly, that’s a tough hit for people on fixed incomes seeing as how we’re barely coming out of the worst economic downturn since the soup lines and dust bowl era. But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, we’re better being in Guelph than anywhere else, right? Right?

Well I found a conscientious objector on Ian Findlay’s Ward 2 Blog as I was scouring the net looking for Guelph-related political topic material last week. A letter was posted entitled, “What Guelph Really Needs,” and for the most part it was the typical plebiscite about how Guelph doesn’t have enough shopping and how the City is apparently unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

If I sound harsh towards the letter writer and his intentions, that’s only half true. Mining underneath there’s a truth that parts of Guelph look dangerously like bedroom communities, and in general our city needs more balance in its commercial space, but that’s not what got me. It was this, the second line from the letter: “You say we should take BMA’s suggestion and compare ourselves with Barrie – there’s no comparison, nor is there with places like Cambridge, Norval, Halton Hills, and shortly Fergus. We are falling that far behind the times.”

The letter writer’s right, there is no comparison between Guelph and places like Norval and Halton Hills, but he does seem woefully misinformed as to why. Of course, if the writer, who only identified themselves as “BA,” was really informed on the subject he or she would then know that Norval is technically part of Halton Hills and not a community that stands apart from it. Now that I’ve had my snooty moment, let’s look deeper at why BA (Baracus?) is wrong. What makes me know better? Why I’m from Georgetown, of course. DA-DA-DA-DUM!

(Georgetown is the biggest part of Halton Hills, a community of nearly 55,000 made up of Georgetown and surrounding districts like Acton, Stewarttown, Limehouse, Hornby, Glen Williams, and yes, Norval.)

To kick off, let’s start where BA started: transportation. “Massive sections of this city have no grocery store within any type of reasonable area – and these areas do not have bus service,” writes BA. “The closest corner store, also not within walking distance may not have what they require. And, heaven forbid they don’t drive – cab fares are in excess of $30.00 to get them to Guelph’s ONLY 24 hour grocery store.”

BA raises a good point, and it’s a point that would be further solidified if it hadn’t been for the previous mention of Halton Hills. You know what passes for public transportation in Georgetown? The GO Bus that leaves from Guelph for Brampton every three hours and the GO train that leaves Georgetown for Toronto twice a day. And B.A. may complain about four grocery stores being centralized in the south end of Guelph, well there’s only four in the whole of Georgetown. And if you live in the west end of town you’re screwed because all but three of those stores are in the far east end, and the other one is practically in Milton.

So if you’re a senior, a person of limited means or a person with limited mobility, you’re screwed if you want to do a little thing like go grocery shopping or go to Zellers to get a new pair of shoes, you might be out as much as a $30 round trip by taxi, or at least $15 if you don’t mind the 45 minute to an hour walk one way. You would think an area where services are spread so thin (Halton Hills covers 275 square kilometres), would adopt some kind of public transit service, but the truth is they don’t want it. You see, public transit matters most to two types of “undesirable people”: the poor and the immigrants. No one will tell you that to your face, but it’s understood that that’s the reason.

Mobility is a large issue in terms of making sure that we have a vibrant and liveable community, and I think that’s the point that BA is trying to make. However, the answers to Guelph’s problems won’t be found in Halton Hills, and on the surface of it, I’d rather that Guelph did not look like big box havens like the outlining areas of Cambridge. There’s room from improvement, but the backwards slide in making Guelph another bedroom community is a slippery slope.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Romance and Transit Cuts

Union Prez Also Confused By Transit Cuts

Of course, the transit riders of Guelph were not a happy bunch a few weeks ago when news came down that again this summer there will be service cuts and a fare increase, but they weren't the only ones. Indeed, the people driving those buses aren't happy either, and neither are their union reps.

I got the chance to talk to Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1189 President Gary Daters on the phone last week and it wasn’t hard to tell that he was slightly disappointed when reading in the newspaper on February 1 that his workers were going to have to take a budget hit for the second year in the row. “We negotiated a contract under the understanding that there would be no service cuts this year," explained Daters. "We ratified the vote on January 30th and the next day we were informed that there would be service cuts. We questioned that, and we were told even last year that it would only be a one time deal.”

Adding to the union's cynicism of the City's intentions is the fact that Daters and other members of union leadership didn't find out about the proposed cuts and fare hike until the day after the new three-year union contract was ratified, the same day that City Council got its first look at the proposed 2011 budget. Daters was called for a meeting with transit's general manager January 31st, but was unable to attend, hence the newspaper revelation the next day.

“Our goal is to keep 20-minute service in the summer time so that the public won’t be inconvenienced and also there won’t be any layoffs on our part," Daters added. "Last year, it was a tough summer. People were missing their transfers and there was a strain on the drivers that were here.”

Last summer, 20-22 workers were laid off from June to August as Guelph Transit’s 20-minute service, and Sunday service for the month of August, were both suspended in an effort to save money in the City’s operating budget. Of those some 22 workers, five did not return in September. Daters says that if the same number of layoffs occur this summer, chances are that the number of workers that won’t return will increase. “I’ve talked to many who were laid off last year already and they’ve said that this time, if there’s another layoff, [then they won't come back] because they can’t afford to work nine months of the year,” he said.

In the hope to build support for transit and to hopefully overturn the decision to cut service and increase fares, the ATU Local is asking for public support. Additionally, the ATU is putting together a presentation for the February 22nd council meeting and Daters says that he's been in communication with other local groups making presentations to City Council during their deliberations. Daters is asking transit users to make their displeasure heard with their City Councillors.

How Romantic…?

A couple of years ago, I was on the crew for a film shooting in and around Guelph called Four Aces. It was a romantic comedy, set in Guelph, about people that lived in Guelph, made by a crew mostly from Guelph, living in Guelph, or spent some time in Guelph. Clearly, we were on to something because just in time for Valentine’s Day, Guelph was named the second most romantic city in Canada for the second year in a year. It’s a vindication only Two-Face could appreciate, but still, it’s nice to think that little Ole Guelph – The Royal City – is also The Romance City (at least in Ontario).

So by what standard are we the second most romantic, or the most romantic in Ontario to put it another way? Was it the cozy atmosphere of our eateries? The charming vistas along the paths of our local parks? Activities that foster romantic connections like Guelph Jazz Festival or Hillside? Nope. Let’s quote the story from the 570 News website: “ bestowed that honour on the Royal City based on the per capita sales of romance novels, relationship books, romantic comedy DVD's and Michael Buble CD's since January 1, 2011.”

That’s great. We’re romantic because of the number of books with beefcake emblazoned covers and CDs with Rat Pack cover songs sold? Does anyone else feel cheated? You should because as the 570 News story pointed out, one could see these stats another way as they indicate that there may be a great number of lonely people in Guelph; hence their investment in items of fictional romance. And did you notice that mention of “relationship books?” Are you likely to have a lot of romance if you’re hitting the books trying to figure out why your relationship isn’t firing on all cylinders?

Anyway, Happy Belated Valentine’s Day, I guess.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Budget, Snow Days and Baseball

There Will Be Budget

Opening arguments were made for the 2011 capital and operating budgets last Monday night at City Council. First the good news: revenues are bouncing back and signs point to a recovery in the local economy following the last, great worldwide recession. Because of that, the City’s looking to loosen the purse strings and get hiring. Additionally, there will be no five-day layoffs or shutdowns in 2011, with the City of Guelph being open all 52 weeks this year. Most of the new hiring has to do with the plethora of new city facilities coming on line this year – the transit hub, Market Square, the new Civic Museum and Organic Waste Plant. Additionally, there are new city facilities that were opened in 2010, that will now have to be covered for a full year of operating expenses.

But you can’t have good news without some bad news, and though a lot of the pre-recession spending was returned, not all of it was. There’ll be no 20-minute service for Guelph Transit this summer, and indeed, there may even be a cash fare increase of 10 cents, which could be integrated as early as May. But Transit may not be the only fee increase coming to a city service near you in 2011; parking fees in particular will increase with the additional revenue being put towards transit. As for the number we’ve all been waiting for, the bump in the property tax, which will see an increase by 5.67 per cent. City Staff wanted to make particular note that they were trying to balance sustainability and affordability in going in to this year’s budget.

To learn more about this year’s budget and to follow the process along in the coming month, go to my blog at

In Reverse

Was everybody else underwhelmed by the “snow-pocalypse” that hit us last week? Certainly, there were a lot of people unpleased initially by the sheer tonnage of snow being forecast, and then later by the fact that we only got a percentage of what was promised. Apparently, there’s no pleasing some people. Too much snow, not enough snow, and on top it, the whole thing went down on Groundhog Day. Cosmic coincidence, or was Mother Nature flipping us the bird for all the whining despite the fact that this was the worst winter storm to hit us in over two years?

But out of that contradiction came an even more interesting phenomenon. For only when the weather threatens to make the Hoth system look like a tropical vacation does the University of Guelph pre-emptively shut its doors. To all our U of G readers, I hope you enjoyed your snow day, because God knows there’s a better chance of a rich man passing through the eye of a needle than the administration of the University deciding to put the kibosh on a day of classes. I went to school at the U of G for four years and worked there for another three, and I can count on one hand the number of times that place was closed. It’s not often that the phrase “Once in a Blue Moon” gets taken so literally.

No Joy in Royal City Ville

The outlook wasn't brilliant for Guelph baseball fans last Wednesday; time had run out and the City’s Intercounty Baseball League team, The Royals, had no more innings to play. The last hope for a lease at Hastings Stadium died first, and the patience of the IBL did the same. A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game. It was a silence that seemed to extend to Royal’s president and managing partner Jim Rooney, who emailed a short news release last Wednesday afternoon to the Guelph Mercury. It said that his team “has not reached an agreement for a long-term lease agreement with the City of Guelph. As a result, the Team will ask the IBL to suspend operations for the 2011 season.”

Big deal, you may scoff, it’s just small town baseball. Well the situation is this: The Royals are one of the IBL’s founding members, now benched for the 2011 season. The difficulty isn’t just in the fact that an agreement on the stadium wasn’t quite able to be reached, but because the matter ate additional time needed to shore up the team’s financials for this coming season. The shame of it is that The Royals are a solid team. They’ve made the playoffs the last 11 seasons in a row, won back-to-back championships in 2003 and 2004, and have made it so far as the semi-finals the last three years in a row. Strange that this winning team shall be forced to stay home for a year, while the Blue Jays continue to fumble all the way to the bottom of the standings… C’est la vie.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Build the World of the Dream

With so much talk the last few weeks about potential construction projects that can radically change the atmosphere of the City of Guelph, perhaps a little waxing and waning about nostalgia and the Royal City’s yesteryears was inevitable. As with all government projects, it never takes long for a strong vocal opposition to make its presence felt, as it was in the case of the proposed student high rises at Gordon and Stone, and now the proposed condominium at Woolwich and Macdonell.
The thing that gets me is with these issues is how people want to have their cake and eat it to. People want lower taxes, but the same (if not expanded) level of service. They want state of the art infrastructure and roads, but complain about the construction that makes it so. They hate having students spread out across the City and having a (perceived?) negative impact on their neighbourhoods, but they also don’t want them in all together in one place if it means building a tower.

These dualities are inherent in human nature. We want to park where we want despite the rules, yet see others punished by them. We want to eat junk food and stay paper thin. We want the exaltation of beating the latest Zelda game, but do so by looking up cheats online. We want a world of improbabilities, but reality has some strict rule about cause and effect. But what if it didn’t? What if you could build the Guelph of you dreams?


I have conflicting moments myself. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love the construction-in-progress inter-module transit hub. However, in the process of seeing the darn thing constructed, a couple of the added value items had to be tabled. Items like heated bus shelters and additional public washrooms had to be put on the “We’ll get to those later” list, and though that wasn’t the greatest news, it wasn’t really a deal breaker for me to not support the project. Really, I was more disappointed with the fact that the hub will close the pedestrian tunnel behind the current Greyhound terminal. There’s such wonderful graffiti down there.

As I recently noted on my blog, Guelph Politico, if I could conjure a change to Guelph, it would be to establish another movie theatre. Honestly, it need not be a state-of-the-art monstrosity of seizure-inducing lights and sounds, I’ll take a second run house like the old Three Star, where the popcorn flowed cheap and admission prices more inline with the quality of the Hollywood hogwash on its six screens. And I would get to this theatre by street car, which did actually operate in the Guelph of olden times. Sure, a recent survey conducted by a consultant said that Guelph’s streets were too skinny for light rail, but this is Inception world and I can widen the streets on a whim.

Other dreams, however, are less fanciful and have an actual shot at becoming reality. I refer to Guelph’s bid to become Canada’s Hockeyville. The contest put on by Kraft and the CBC, which closed last Sunday, invited Canadian residents to tell stories and send pictures about their local arena and prove why your community should be deemed “Hockeyville.” The prize is $100,000 in upgrades for the arena, a NHL pre-season game and a visit from Hockey Night in Canada. I’ll admit that last part got me excited because I have a lemon meringue ready for Don Cherry’s face after that “pinko-commie” bike rider comment at Rob Ford’s inauguration.

But aside from my own life goals, Guelph has responded with aplomb to the notion of being named Hockeyville. The amount of stories and photos provided about the arena in Exhibition Park put Guelph in the Top 3 cities in Ontario in terms of responses. (Guelph’s dedication certainly exceeded that of my hometown of Georgetown, which had a total of one story and one photo in support of its local arena.)

Could Guelph have done better though? Certainly an editorial writer in the Guelph Mercury thought so, and they were wondering where exactly the rookie Ward 2 Councillor, former NHL officiator Andy Van Hellemond, was with his vocal, public and sun eclipsing support for making his town Hockeyville. “We suspect Van Hellemond may be wary of jumping on this bandwagon because it could see him regarded anew as the ex-NHLer and not as a councillor with many interests,” said the editorial published on January 11th. “If that’s the case, don’t sweat such worries councillor. You’ll take a bigger political beating over sitting this one out than by jumping in.”

Call me kooky, but do you think that being a part of City Council for a little more than a month and looking down the maw of pressing issues concerning city development and finances might have Van Hellemond’s head in bigger places than getting Guelph a fake honorific. Besides, Van Hellemond was born in Winnipeg, so I’d wager that he doesn’t have a lot of childhood memories of skating at Exhibition Park, which is the point of this thing anyway.

And I may be dreaming, but considering that Guelph is the Royal City, isn’t winning the title of “Hockeyville” a little like the King of England abdicating and running for Mayor of Leeds. Just sayin’.