Thursday, April 28, 2011

Burke Still MIA, and Cam Wants a Gun

The Curious Case of Marty Burke

Not to keep beating a dead horse (may Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party candidate Karen Levensen forgive me), but Conservative candidate Marty Burke once again made news last week for not showing up some place. The stage was Guelph Place Banquet Hall, the event was the Guelph Mercury-sponsored all candidates debate. Sure, maybe the 100 or so people, there, at the hall, in person, might have been the only one’s that noticed, but then the whole thing was broadcast live over the internet, and the dreaded press themselves were hosting the darn thing…

Burke’s sudden, last minute bow from the Mercury debate, brought his attendance record for all-candidates forums in the 2011 federal election down to a staggeringly bad two to four count. Burke, the man who would help Prime Minister Stephen Harper secure his majority government, at the time of this writing, couldn’t be bothered to show up for two-thirds of the public debates he was invited to, and that doesn’t seem to care to respond to press requests unless they’re from major local media outlets and by e-mail. Are you still planning on voting for Marty Burke? The question you should be asking is why.

Sure, he had a pretty good reason why he couldn’t come to the Mercury debate. An old back injury incurred during his time in service with the Canadian Forces flared up and on the advice of his doctor and his chiropractor, he avoided the possibility of further injury by sitting in a chair for two straight hours. Just 24 hours later, Burke let the Mercury (and their readers) know that everything was alright and he was back to campaigning, knocking on doors and attending campaign events 12 hours a day. Either Burke has Wolverine-like healing abilities, his back wasn’t that big an issue, or he was just looking for out from another unfriendly debate situation.

But no matter who you vote for, remember to vote on Monday May 2nd. To learn more about where and how, go to and for all the latest election news got to my blog at
Help Cam Guthrie Buy a Gun (Not Like That)

A couple of Guelph politicians are teaming up to bring home a piece of Guelph history. At auction this weekend, a handgun owned by Nathaniel Higinbotham will be put on the block at F.J. Corring in Toronto in a sale of militia artefacts. Ward 4 Councillor Cam Guthrie is leading the charge to buy the vintage Smith and Wesson firearm that was presented to Higinbotham, a prominent developer in the early days of Guelph and later its Mayor and Member of Parliament, in 1866. The estimated value of the gun is between $5,000 and $6,000 but it could go for a much as $10,000.

This where Guthrie’s efforts come in. Gerald Austin, the owner of the firearm in question, has said he was called about a year ago by both the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and the Guelph Civic Museum. “We tried to work out a deal, but it just didn’t work out,” said Austin, adding: “I always thought it should be in the Guelph Museum. I just wasn’t in the position to give it to them.” In other words, there wasn’t enough cash on the table, which isn’t surprising considering that the acquisitions budget for the Civic Museum is $1,000 per year.

But there is support for Guthrie’s efforts. Fellow councillors Todd Dennis and Gloria Kovach have already pledged $100 each, and Guthrie himself pledged $500 to get the ball rolling. Paul Schmidt, owner of Winmar Restorations, has also stepped up promising to match donations dollar-for-dollar. “If we can bring something from Guelph back to Guelph, I think that’s an awesome thing,” said Schmidt who’s a self-described history geek said. “I came to this city 15 years ago, and it’s been nothing but good to my family and my staff. I just want Ontario to recognize how great our city is.”

If you can help out, get in touch with Councillor Guthrie at his City Hall number 519-822-1260 x2513, or his e-mail

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Valeriote's Missing Work and Burke's Just Missing

Frank Valeriote Would Rather Be Working, But…

It’s hard to say if Liberal candidate Frank Valeriote is an enviable position this election. Sure, he’s the incumbent candidate, and one that still has that new Member of Parliament sheen having just been elected for the first time in October 2008. But that victory, hard fought though it was, was by a narrow 1,788 votes, and with the Conservatives identifying Guelph as a piece on the board they need to take in order to win a majority, this fight is going to be tougher than ever. But in talking to Valeriote while he was taking a break from the campaign trail, it sounds like a fight he’s ready for.

“I don’t think Canadians realize how significant a moment that was, how historical a moment that was, being found to have lied to Parliament,” Valeriote says of the contempt of Parliament charge that ended the minority government of Stephen Harper. “Mr. Harper has an attitude that he’s above it all, he’s above the need to tell truth, he’s above the need to be transparent and he’s above the need to be accountable. The opposition is nothing more than an irritant to him.”

On the budget put before Parliament before its dissolution, Valeriote says that Harper and his government put forth a document that he knew was “not palatable to any party, [and] he knew it would provoke an election.” Valeriote added that it only paid lip-service to seniors and the economy, and had almost nothing to offer the environment, students and people of low-income. These are the very people that the Liberals want to win over, he says.

One of the items on the Liberal proposals that Valeriote is most passionate about comes out of his work with the Compassionate and Palliative Care Committee. The Liberals Family Care Plan will allow people to stay at home for six months to look after dying parents, as well as give them $1,350 towards expenses like travel costs. For students, Liberals will offer $1,000 for every year, from grade 9 to 12, in an RESP to “kick start” parents in saving for university and college while their kids are still in high school. The Liberals also want to give people an incentive to invest in local, environmentally-friendly businesses with a $13,500 credit and the option to write off the first of investment in green technologies.

But where is the money going to come from, you might ask. Simple, says Valeriote, no money for mega-prisons and fighter jets, and no huge, corporate tax cuts. “Of course, you know that the Conservatives will spin a message anyway you want and misinform people,” says Valeriote. “But the fact of the matter is we’re not going to give the $6 billion dollar tax cut to the largest corporations like he wants to. The fact of the matter is that over 60 per cent of the jobs created in Canada, are created by small business, not large business.”

To hear the whole Valeriote interview, go to my blog at

This Space Reserved for Marty Burke

The second of this week’s space in Guelph Beat should be taken up with excerpts from my interview with Conservative candidate Marty Burke. The problem with that is it would have required Burke’s Communications Director Michael Sona to give me the courtesy and respect of retuning any one of my seven phone calls to the Burke campaign office. Journalistically speaking, there’s no crying in covering a political campaign, it is, however, nice to know that I don’t have to go through it alone.

Last Thursday, CFRU 93.3, which has been doing its own weekly election show Monday mornings on your FM dial, sent out a press release to other media outlets (including me) saying that they have been having troubles getting Burke to take the proverbial hot seat. “[W]e are very disappointed that Conservative candidate Marty Burke has not responded to e-mail invitations and a personal office visit to come on the show to discuss his candidature,” said the release. “It should also be noted that in 2008, Conservative Gloria Kovach was one of the first candidates to respond, and, indeed, our first guest.”

The line for Marty Burke is to see if one can get him to respond at all. Three all-candidates debates were held last week, and Burke showed up for exactly one of them. He came out to a debate at Our Lady of Lourdes last Wednesday (where we was shellacked by various third party candidates for being racist), but skipped a University of Guelph forum for “personal reasons” and couldn’t make a Centennial C.V.I. debate because he was “booked.” So I guess the lesson here is give Marty Burke lots of advanced notice is you’re having an all-candidates debate in the near future.

The Slate

Speaking of Election Day, this is the list of confirmed candidates for the riding of Guelph in the 41st General Election: Philip Bender (Libertarian), Marty Burke (Conservative), Drew Garvie (Communist), Kornelis Klevering (Marijuana), John Lawson (Green), Karen Levenson (Animal Alliance Environment Voters), Bobbi Stewart (NDP) and Frank Valeriote (Liberal).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Candidates Part 1

This week’s Guelph Beat begins the first of two parts that will look at the four major party candidates. In sequential order of when each of the candidates returned my request for an interview, we’ll begin this week by talking to the Green Party’s John Lawson and the NDP’s Bobbi Stewart.

John Lawson Chooses the Right Direction

The day I met John Lawson at his campaign headquarters on Woolwich St., was the same morning the consortium of broadcasters announced that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May would not be a part of the leaders debate this election cycle. From Lawson’s point of view, the banning of May and the immediate outrage from Canadians coast to coast to coast it provoked, is part of a larger discontent with the current political tone. “It’s not just partisan,” Lawson explains, “It’s coming from a broad spectrum that the democracy we treasure here in Canada is about voices coming to the table and having a chance to speak and sadly we’re not seeing that represented in Ottawa.”

Lawson, a pastor at Dublin Street United Church, has big shoes to fill as the local Green candidate. Mike Nagy, who ran in the last two elections, took the Greens to their best showing ever with 21 per cent of the vote in 2008. “I think I’ve been part of a Green movement for a long time, but finding a political expression for that is new for me,” says Lawson. The candidate has a deep concern for the environment, although he notes that his is not a “one issue party.” In fact, Lawson says, solutions to both environmental and economic concerns can be found in the same place: more Green jobs.

“There are real jobs for young people,” he explains. “As I’ve been talking to people who are reading Echo, the reality is that some of them are really quite hopeless in finding work that feels like they’re really contributing. They’ve got ideas, they’ve got energy and they’re told to go work at the mall.”

As for that change in tone on Parliament Hill, Lawson hopes people will vote with their heart in this election. “There’s a great sense of the politics of fear right now with strategic voting, ‘We don’t like Harper, we’ll do anything to get rid of him,’” he says. “At some point we’re hoping, and we’re hoping that this is the election that will do that, to be able to say, ‘We need you to vote your heart. We need a breakthrough to put a Green member in Parliament to signal that the same-old, same-old is not going to be there any longer.’”

Bobbi Stewart has Corner Store Values

NDP Candidate Bobbi Stewart was born and raised in Niagara Falls, where her father had a small grocery story. It was the kind of corner store where the man behind your counter knew your name, knew your story, and gave you the kind of personal service you just can’t get from the bigger chain stores. It was here, says Stewart, where she learned the values as a person, and the values she wants to stand up for as a New Democratic Party Member of Parliament.

“I always tell people that this is where I believe I got my start in community development,” she says of her father’s store. “Everybody would come into the store and tell my dad their stories, he would give them store credit, he would deliver to seniors, and all sorts of great things. There was a Dominion store up the street, but people liked coming to this small store and get that kind of service.”

As for her own background, Stewart was a graduate of the University of Guelph with a BA in Music, and though she volunteered with local music festivals, it was in other volunteer opportunities that Stewart found her true calling. She’s worked with at-risk youth, seniors, families, and new immigrants, and like Lawson, Stewart sees engagement, or lack thereof, as a key issue in this campaign. “I had a big conversation with a young fellow just outside here the other day,” she remembers, “And it was neat because I got somewhere with him and cut down on the cynicism just a little bit.”

But mostly, Stewart wants to focus on the economic inequality and social justice. She referred specifically to the Poverty Elimination Strategy brought before Parliament by Sault Ste. Marie MP (and New Democrat) Tony Martin, as well as affordable housing and the environment as her priorities. “If you look at Guelph, we have an amazing plethora of social justice groups,” Stewart says. “One of the things I think we need to talk more about is how we can people in poverty. I know that it’s a provincial and municipal issue as well.”

As for going to the polls after being ready to run for nearly a year, along with the constant threat of election, Stewart says that for her it was now or never. “It’s been a steady gear up and frankly it would have been a bit of a let down if we hadn’t go now.”

You can listen to the full interviews at

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Campaign News and Music for Earthquakes

Prognosis Negative

It took less than a day for the 2011 Federal Election to go negative, both on the national stage and in the City of Guelph. As the federal party leaders battered themselves back and forth over the issue of who likes the idea of a coalition and who doesn’t, there was something more sinister afoot in the Royal City. This reporter witnessed a bit of this negativity first hand on Sunday morning while walking downtown. The broken remains of a couple of signs for Conservative candidate Marty Burke were lying in the snow at the corner of Edinburgh and Paisley. Little did I know that this was merely the tip of the iceberg.

The Guelph Mercury reported Monday morning that there was a rash of sign vandalizing across Guelph last weekend. More than that, there was someone, or someones, harassing Burke's family on Sunday morning, ringing the door bell and knocking on the door before 3 am before peeling off in an unseen car when Burke's wife came to investigate. Heck of a way to start a campaign, especially one that already has overtones of bitterness and partisan disdain. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time election harassment has been this bad. In 2008, several houses with signs supporting Liberal Frank Valeriote were vandalized, and several cars on the street were also vandalized. I'm afraid to say that this probably won't be the last time we’ll hear about voter intimidation this election.

Return of the Third Party Gang

Last week in Guelph Beat, we looked at the candidates that are running for the four main parties in Guelph. But well-known Politicos will remember that in the 2008 election, 10 candidates in all were on the local ballot. The Guelph Mercury reached out to some of those so-called fringe parties and candidates to see if there was any news for 2010 and discovered that there would be some returning faces for round two. Karen Levenson of the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party, who finished with 73 votes in 2008 has said that she’ll be running again, as will Libertarian Philip Bender who placed a respectable sixth in 2008 with 159 votes. Independent John Turmel, a record holder for 72 elections contested and lost, said that he is interested in running again, but at press time was still deciding between his hometown Brantford and running in Guelph. There’d no news from other parties, but the final ballot won't be announced until after the close of nominations on Monday April 11th.

Guelph Musicians Helping with Quake Relief

If you’ve got nothing to do on Sunday, or if you do and are able to cancel it, head down to the Norfolk United Church for Raise the Sun: A Benefit Concert for Japan. “Following the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, members of the Guelph community have pulled together to organize a benefit event featuring a wide selection of our amazing and world-class local-area talent,” said a press release. “With overwhelming support from the local community, event organizers (Paul Clarkson, Ajay Heble, and Marie Zimmerman) have come together in the strong belief that music and artistic expression can create opportunities for hope and help to mobilize new communities of involvement.”

The show starts at 3 pm with contemporary dance and music by the Fall on Your Feet dance lab working with improvisational musicians such as Jane Bunnett, Matt Brubeck, Kevin Breit, Amadeo Ventura, Larry Cramer and Colin Couch. Improvised jazz by the Vertical Squirrels, dance by David Earle's famous company, and folk music by acclaimed singer-songwriter Tannis Slimmon will round out the performers on the ticket. Additionally, Nagata Shachu, a six-member ensemble who perform Japanese taiko drumming and music, will also be at the benefit, along with special guest Joy Kogawa, acclaimed author of the novel Obasan. All proceeds will go to the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre Foundation Earthquake Relief Fund, and all donations are guaranteed to go to the Japanese Red Cross and to infrastructure in Japan. For more information go to

Headline: For a bit of Election Fun

If you haven’t already, try CBC’s Vote Compass at It’s a ten minute quiz that asks for your position on several issues of national concern, and asks for your opinion on the national parties and their leaders. I took the Compass and apparently, my allegiances should be going to either the Green Party or the Bloc Quebecois. I eagerly wait for the Bloc candidate for Guelph to present himself or herself, and I look forward to engaging them over the issues. But seriously folks…

For up-to-date election stuff go to