Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reviewing the Federal Ballot

The arrival of last week’s Federal Budget might well have been a starter’s pistol. With a couple of hours, it seemed to be common knowledge that a spring election would be taking place this May, as all opposition parties said that it is their intent to vote against what is a rather benign document because it doesn’t meet their specified standards. Anyway, the local ballot has been rather complete for some time, but a new face joined the race just in time for the post-budget foofaraw. Let’s review.

Liberals – Frank Valeriote

Winning by a 1,788 vote nose in 2008, Valeriote runs as the incumbent, but that may not be as secure a position as advertised. Not only is Guelph the only Liberal red riding surrounded by a sea of Tory blue, but the Globe and Mail has targeted Guelph as one of three riding to watch swing in the next election. Still, Valeriote has proven himself an active and engaged Member of Parliament, despite the fact that he’s an opposition MP. For a full list of Valeriote’s duties, I refer you to Valeriote’s website, but before that he was highly active in several Guelph non-profits and was a respected Guelph-based attorney. No matter the odds, Valeriote is a formidable opponent.

Conservatives – Marty Burke

Speaking of formidable opponents, Marty Burke looks really good on paper as the Conservative candidate to beat the Liberal hold on the Royal City. Burke flew for the Air Force where he was a dedicated and decorated officer for 23 years. After he retired form the military in 2000, Burke started working as a pilot of Air Canada, while he and his family settled in Guelph, where Burke got involved in politics serving on the federal Conservative and provincial Progressive-Conservative Board of Directors. He also goes to services at the Church of Our Lady, and his website says he’s a Scout Master to boot. So what’s wrong with this picture? Other recent Conservative candidates have looked just well on paper too, including two respected business men, and a popular city councillor.

New Democrats – Bobbie Stewart

Last time out, the NDP went with celebrity and put forth well known author and University professor Tom King, and the result was a fourth place finish with 16.5 per cent of the vote. This time out, the NDP are going with someone with the credentials and the experience in their party’s key constituency: social justice. Stewart has a Masters of Social Work degree and does clinical social work and coordinates the care for children from newborn to age 21 who are in foster care. She’s been involved with Family & Children’s Services for over 20 years and has participated on the Board for the Guelph Youth Singers and has volunteered for Onward Willow, the Cancer Society, and the YM-YWCA. And to sweeten the deal, according to her bio on the NDP Guelph website, she met her husband in Union Station while on her way home from the NDP Convention in Quebec in September 2006. On the downside though, she currently lives in Cambridge, and I think we all know how sensitive Guelphites are about making sure that people sleep where they eat, as it were.

Green Party – John Lawson

Originally, City Councillor Bob Bell was supposed to go to bat for the Green Party, but being a shot caller around the horseshoe, I guess, was just too much fun to let go. (Actually, to be fair, Bell runs his own business making Wike Bicycle Trailers and spring is his busiest time.) As of last week, the new Green Party candidate for Guelph is John Lawson, Pastor of Dublin Street United Church. Looking at his resume on the Guelph Greens website, Lawson’s experience includes working as an underground miner and studying at both the London School of Economics and Princeton. In Guelph, he’s fought poverty and Wal-Mart, while bring the word of God to local pubs by organizing religious discussions there.

The appearance of more “third party” candidates is a certainty, considering that there were a total of 10 candidates that ran in Guelph in the last election. If the writ is dropped, expect representatives from the Marijuana Party, the Communist Party, the Marxist-Leninist Party, the Libertarian Party, the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party, and one unaffiliated candidate.

So are you in the mood for a spring election? Too bad, it seems to a forgone conclusion whether you like it or not.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Google Laidlaw, Application Deadline and Councillor Green?

Laying Down the Laidlaw

Ward 3 Councillor Maggie Laidlaw is taking it on the chin for some comments made during budget deliberations earlier this month. On the first night of budget deliberations, Laidlaw said that she had used the Street View function of Google Maps to get a closer look at the homes of some of the people that sent her complaints about the proposed 5.67 per cent tax increase for the 2011 budget. She noted that the more vehement anti-tax constituents had "two cars and a boat in the driveway, and these people are asking for taxes not to go up." Laidlaw’s sleuthing gave fodder to her council colleagues, got her the label “Councillor Creeper” from a Guelph Mercury blogger, and opened the floodgates of public response from the man and woman on the street.

In a letter to the Mercury a few weeks ago, Laidlaw tried to better articulate her position. “I have often wondered, over the years, whether the people who complain most bitterly about, for example, the city’s investment in public transit, community facilities, libraries, taxes, etc., are the ones who could most afford to pay taxes and, in a very small way, ‘share the wealth,’” wrote Laidlaw. “In the last couple of weeks, of the many emails I received about the budget and other things, I randomly picked out the three that appeared to be most vehemently opposed to a tax hike of any sort, and who were, in fact, pushing for a zero tax increase. I Googled their homes just to get an inkling of whether my theory might be correct.”

But Laidlaw’s clarification seems to have inspired only more vitriol. One woman writing to Mayor Karen Farbridge (which was shared by the Mercury on the 59 Carden St. blog) demanded that she “must hold this councillor to task” for violations to the Council Code of Conduct, in a manner more stringent than just a “slap on the wrist.” In her response, the Mayor wrote, “It is not the role of a Mayor to supervise Councillors’ responsiveness to constituents. It is up to the voters to make their own judgments at election time.” She also encouraged the letter writer to express herself directly to Laidlaw, but don’t expect that to sooth the savage beast, as it were.

Nope this is a hot button, for sure. Look for more responses, both heated and cooled, in the days ahead.

Former Councillor Going Green (Politically and Entrepreneurially)

Former Ward 4 Councillor Mike Salisbury is not letting his loss in last October’s municipal election keep him down. Instead, he’s now seeking higher office as a nominee for Guelph’s Green Party candidate in this fall’s provincial election. “Electing Canada’s first Green Party member will send a strong message that Guelph is a leader in Canada’s green industrial revolution,” said Salisbury in a press release. “What we need most is a local change agent who understands the cultural dynamics of our city, and can leverage our local energy initiatives to create sustainable, high-paying jobs here in Guelph.”

Indeed, these are busy times for Salisbury, who along with kicking off ambitions for provincial office, also appeared on the CBC show Dragon’s Den this week with his new Guelph-based business Tribute Caskets, which manufactures environmentally-friendly caskets that can also feature artwork and photo designs to better memorialize the deceased. The episode aired Wednesday night on a CBC station near you, so you know better than I do how things turned out for Salisbury. As for his political ambitions, Salisbury’s is currently the only hat in the ring for the Green Party of Ontario nomination. Their nomination period closes on April 17th.

Exciting Paperwork News!

If you’re reading this on Thursday, then it’s just one more sleep until the deadline for candidates from the 2010 municipal election to file their financial statements from the campaign. This is not exactly news because the Ontario Municipal Elections Act has always required candidates, both successful and unsuccessful, to file their financial paper work after a suitable grace period. But the difference this year is that those financial statements will be made available to the public through the City’s website. A press release sent out on March 14th said that 26 of the 57 candidates that ran for mayor, city council or school trustee had filed their paperwork thus far. The final deadline is at 2 pm Friday.

But out of curiosity, what happens if a candidate doesn’t file their paperwork by tomorrow afternoon? The penalty, should an elected candidate fail to submit his or her financial statement by the deadline, is the forfeiture of any office to which he or she was elected, the office is deemed to be vacant, and the candidate is ineligible to run in the next municipal election. The penalty for unsuccessful candidates who fail to file by the deadline is ineligibility to be elected or appointed to any office to which the Act applies until after the 2014 election. Well, I hope everyone’s punctual then.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lawsuits and Costs

Let’s Get Litigious… Again

Anyone else get the feeling that the reason they converted the Old City Hall to a Provincial Court House was to cut down on travel time? Coming soon, to a judge near you, is a suit brought by the City against the Board of Health to prevent them from constructing a new Health Unit headquarters and unilaterally saddling Guelph with the $10 million cheque.

"Guelph City Council has agreed it will urge the Counties of Dufferin and Wellington to not support the Board of Health in proceeding with direct ownership of property," said Mayor Karen Farbridge in a press release. "We will be requesting the counties participate, along with the City, in meetings with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to discuss alternatives that would not jeopardize Provincial participation in funding accommodation costs or add to the City's debt."

The Province is the key to all this. Basically, about $22 million is needed to build new facilities for the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit both here and in Orangeville. According to the current budget structure for the WDGHU, 75 per cent of the funding comes from the Government of Ontario and 25 per cent from the municipalities. But for some reason, the Province isn’t going to foot their share of the bill on this one, and is sticking the whole cheque with Guelph and Orangeville. Naturally, this was not received well on the local level.

“While the City of Guelph acknowledges a new location is needed, it hopes an injunction will afford the chance to determine its legal obligations to fund these types of projects,” said the formal statement in the press release. “The City is committed to exploring alternatives, and remains hopeful an alternative can be found.”

Museum for Sale?

Why do construction cost always overrun? No time to worry about that now, because costs for the construction of turning the Loretto Convent into the new Civic Museum have overrun and the City needs a way to pay for it. Last week, a potential solution presented itself: sell the current Civic Museum building. In a report, City Staff gave the okay to investigate what would be involved in selling the 160-year-old limestone building, which could fetch between $500,000 and $700,000 on the market. Members of the Community and Social Services Committee also asked to see options for leasing, but the fact of the matter is that the City needs money, or the new Museum might not be completed this year as planned. “It’s best to complete the Loretto project and get it done right rather than have two assets to pay for,” said Ann Pappert, executive director of community and social services.

The Tax Burden on Council

Two nights of debating till midnight, a string of confused or misunderstood numbers, a bunch of new hires, a revolt over transit funding, raiding reserves to keep taxes down, and still ending up with a 3.14 per cent increase, it seems that everyone agrees on one thing: the way the City of Guelph does its budget just isn’t working.

The Guelph Tribune reached out to all 13 members of Guelph City Council to get their opinion on improving the budget process for next year. Considering that nearly half of council voted against the 2011, opinions were not in short supply.

“I recall doing zero-based budgeting when I was first elected,” wrote Gloria Kovach. Zero-based budgeting requires city departments to account for every dollar spent by making them start their budget process at zero rather than basing it on spending from the year before. “Unfortunately, that opportunity, even modified, is not available for council or staff. At some point when the budget is only given to council at a high level, without detailed explanations, it is impossible for council to understand the details needed for responsible budgeting.”

Karl Wettstein was a little more pragmatic saying that this year was a unique case because the process got started so late this year due to the election and that the City was still suffering from the residual impact of the recession. “I expect we will have a budget debrief session to assess where we can make improvements, get back to earlier time lines and generally continue to improve our budget process,” Wettstein said.

You can read the full story for yourself here:

They Cost How Much?

Partisan back and forth is nothing new, especially with the possibility of an election (constantly) in the air, but last week Liberal MP Frank Valeriote and Federal Conservative candidate Marty Burke disagreed on the math. The math in question is the cost of Canada’s new fleet of 65 F-35 fighter, the government originally said the cheque for the planes would come in at $16 billion, but Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page estimated the entire package will cost taxpayers $22.6 billion over 20 years. If the planes are in service for 30 years, that price tag could jump to nearly $30 billion. Valeriote accused the Tories of hiding the true cost, but Burke says they were merely talking about two different timelines for the life of the planes. But there’s one thing both men agree on, and that is that Canada really does need new fighter planes. It’s ironic that it takes war planes to bring us together.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hans, James and Apps

Farewell Hans

After a recent city council meeting that saw him being taken away to the hospital by ambulance after unexpectedly collapsing, the City of Guelph’s Chief Administrative Officer announced last week that he’s going to leave his position a little earlier than expected. “Mr. Loewig shared his plans at a closed meeting of City Council last night and offered to stay on as the City's Chief Administrator until the end of 2011, committing to help Council with its recruitment of a new CAO and ensure a smooth transition,” said a City press release last Tuesday. “He is stepping down from the City's top job for personal reasons.”

Loewig first took the position in 2007 when he was acting as interim CAO. He was later confirmed as the City’s permanent CAO, being hired on a four-year contract in 2008. Loweig’s nearly four decades of experience in the municipal sector includes serving as CAO of the City of Brantford from 1999 till 2004. The press release credited Loewig for helping to solidify Guelph’s economic strength during his tenure by helping to secure Federal and Provincial stimulus money and by pushing ahead with the development of the Hanlon Creek Business Park lands.

But February’s health issue was the second time in two years that Loewig took time off for personal reasons, so I guess the time was right to “focus on his own well-being and his family,” as Mark Amorosi, executive director of human resources and legal services said to the Guelph Mercury last week.

"This decision was a difficult one for me because I continue to be passionate about the important work we do on behalf of this community," said Loewig in the press release. "The years I've spent as Guelph's CAO have been rich with positive challenges and very rewarding. I have been very fortunate to have worked with so many committed and capable people in the organization."

The Mayor also offered words of praise for the outgoing CAO. "The legacy Mr. Loewig leaves is one of exemplary leadership, integrity, and a roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic that has served our community extremely well over the past four years,” said Karen Farbridge. “I'd like to thank Mr. Loewig for everything he's done for our community, and wish him the absolute best."

The City will begin the hiring process for the new CAO in the next couple of months.

James Gordon Wants to Be NDP

After years of being the singing voice for progressive issues in the City of Guelph, singer/songwriter James Gordon now wants to be its actual voice at Queens Park. According to the Guelph Mercury last week, Gordon is one of two high-profile candidates vying for the NDP nomination for this fall's Provincial Election, the other is Susan Wheeler, writer, educator and advocate for the disabled. According to NDP Federal candidate Bobbi Stewart, the local Provincial New Democrats are expecting to have their nomination meeting sometime for the end of April. Local PC's are also looking for a candidate and the Green Party says that they'll begin their search sometime this week. Current MPP and Liberal Party candidate Liz Sandals will be running again for a third term.

Playing Telephone

That annoying phone call you’re getting a dinner time? It just might be the City of Guelph. Starting this past week, phones are ringing in hundreds of Guelph households as the City surveys residents on their priorities and aspirations for their community over the next four years. So for those of you either too jaded or too lazy to write letters, make phone calls, go to public meetings, or even vote, this is your time to shine. (But you'll probably hang up before you even learn what the call is about.)

Environics Research Group will conduct the survey which will be a 10-minute survey conducted in English and three other languages among a representative sample of 600 residents aged 18 and older. The sample will yield an overall margin of error of +/- 4.0 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Questions on age, gender, education, income, ethnicity, and ward will help ensure the demographics of the sample mirror Guelph's population as a whole, according to a city press release.

In other telephone-related news, Grand River County now has its own iPhone app that will enable people to take Grand River with them no matter where they go. The free app, available through Apple iTunes App Store, is Grand River Country’s new trip planning companion for the iPhone described as an easy-to-use, and featuring the best of attractions, dining, accommodation, festivals and recreation found throughout the Grand River watershed. “I am excited to pass this one-of-a-kind benefit on to our tourism partners,” says Sue Trerise, Senior Business Development Specialist-Tourism for Guelph Tourism Services. “We are working hard to keep up with the changing technologies available to the tourism sector.”

So yes kids, Guelph, there’s an app for that.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Anger Over Water and the Arts

The Wonders of Water Anger

It almost slipped by them, but the Wellington Water Watchers mobilized quickly and used Facebook to get public reaction and outrage to the possible approval of a 10-year contract extension for Nestle Waters in Aberfoyle. The new contract could be approved by the Province of Ontario as early as March 5th, and if allowed would permit Nestle to take 3.6 million litres of water per day from the Grand River watershed.

“This is far too long and way too much,” states Mike Nagy, former Green Party candidate and board member for WWW. “In fact, there are many aspects of this proposed NestlĂ©-Ministry of Environment agreement that should raise red flags for all Guelph-area citizens who care about water issues.”

And care they do. As soon as WWW changed the name of their Facebook group to “Oppose Nestle Waters Canada's ‘Permit to take Water’ Renewal Bid!” a tidal of wave of member reaction was posted to the site. “The water Nestle pays $5,000 for in Aberfoyle would cost $5 million in New Jersey,” said former Mayoral candidate and local provocateur Ray Mitchell. “Who is getting paid off, the Provincial gov't. or Guelph City Hall?” Michael Wright, another poster on the site, was even more curt. “Our water is not for sale - F*ck off Nestle.”

Emotions concerning Guelph’s water and the private corporations that want access to it have always been high. In 2007, Wellington Water Watchers was formed to combat Nestle’s previous contract renewal for five years at 3.6 million litres per day. After nearly a year of back and forth, the Ministry of the Environment followed direction from Guelph City Council and renewed the contract for only two years, but the litre per diem mark remained at 3.6 million.

“At the very most, the maximum volume of water allowed in any new NestlĂ© agreement should be no more than the maximum taken in 2010, which was 1.6 million litres per day,” Nagy says. “And then it should be reduced by at least 1.56 percent per year after that, consistent with Ontario’s initiatives on sustainable water use.”

The period for public comment about the renewal closes today, and a decision could be made about the renewal as early as March 5th. To learn more about WWW’s objections to the permit and find out how you can help their cause, go to

…Speaking of Negative Reactions

Last Tuesday was the public’s chance for input into the 2011 operating and capital budgets, and wouldn’t you know it, a lot of that reaction was of the negative variety towards transit’s service cuts and fee hike. The sum and total of the (stated) public reaction can be found on my blog at, but the point is, it wasn’t all about transit.

Yes Virgina, the people of Guelph had other things on their minds about their city and how their local government spends money. For instance, Anastasia Ziprick spoke to council on behalf of several major arts festivals including the Guelph Jazz Festival, the Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival and Hillside, remarking about how rental fees on the River Run Centre need to be lowered. Ziprick said that it’s hard to deal with mounting expenses and if fees at the River Run’s Co-operators Hall aren’t reduced, then the Jazz Festival may have to relocate.

Sandy Ferguson-Escott spoke next on behalf of the Guelph-Non Profit Housing Committee. She was looking for tax relief on the GNPHC’s development on Paisley Road. The problem for GNPHC is that they got a bad deal when the project was developed in 2005, which prevents them from seeking additional revenue by transferring it over from one of their other eight sites. Without the tax relief, Ferguson-Escott said, there won’t be enough money to pay for the bills, and the project will be effectively bankrupt.

On another subject, Konnie Peet, Executive Director of the Guelph Community Health Centre on behalf of the Wellington-Guelph Drug Strategy Committee, asked for $30,000 in new funding from the City and the County of Wellington in order to hire a co-ordinator and help fund overhead costs. This money would be an annual budget line item to help the WGDDSC with its outreach, treatment, harm reduction and prevention programs.

Before the end of the night, Guelph Chamber of Commerce President Lloyd Longfield took the floor to state his concerns about the City’s hiring of 87 Full-Time Equivalent positions saying that most businesses are continuing to act with an abundance of caution in these early stages of economic recovery. He also added that as much as he wants the City to help foster industrial and commercial development, he also wanted them to keep in mind residential growth, as many of the businesses he works with are telling him that they’re looking outside the city limits for skilled, and professional workers.