Thursday, May 26, 2011

Green Matters, Safety and Coffee

Watchers to Nestle: This Ain’t Over

After a disappointing permit renewal that will see Nestle Waters draw precious H20 from the aquifer in Aberfoyle for another five years, many observers expected the Wellington Water Watchers, at least, to keep up the fight. But a short deadline on the appeal, as it turns out, is only one of the reasons why the WWW opted out of further action.

“The Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) system is flawed, and we have decided there is no point in participating in a process that appears to be a window-dressing exercise,” explains Mike Nagy, a WWW Board member in a press release. Nagy cites the fact that his organization was excluded from a March 24th technical meeting as an example. “The MOE should have been leading these meetings and ensuring that all stakeholders were invited and able to attend,” Nagy adds. “It’s obvious to us that ‘the proponent’ has a vested interest in keeping specific parties – particularly those seeking restrictions – from participating.”

In it’s response to Nestle’s permit renewal, the Watchers were pushing for the Ministry of Environment to deny their request, or at the very least set in place measures through which the amount of water Nestle is allowed to draw, 3.6 million litres daily, to be rolled back on an annual basis. The only concession the Ministry made in the end was to only renew the permit for five years rather than Nestle’s request for 10. Regardless of the defeat Nagy says that he, and the other Watchers, will indeed be watching Nestle for those five years.

“We’re not going away,” he adds. “We’ll continue to do everything we can to protect our watershed, and to properly regulate this wasteful, unnecessary industry.”

Meet Greens

Having trouble deciding between who would best represent the local Green Party in this fall’s provincial election, then maybe getting up close and informal with them will change your mind. Both Mike Salisbury and Steve Dyck will available live and in person at the Hallman Room in Dublin Street United Church from 7 till 9 pm tonight. The setting is informal, and you don’t already have to be coloured Green to enter. “We are very excited to have a contested candidacy, a sign of our strength and momentum toward electing a Guelph Green MPP,” says a post on the Guelph Green website. “The next Provincial election is scheduled for Oct. 6, 2011 so we have 6 months to learn from past election campaigns and move The Greens forward in Ontario.” The Green candidate will be selected at the party’s AGM on June 7th.

Everything Falls Apart

In a rare and almost improbable move, the city closed seven "high risk" structures last Friday out of safety concerns. They include the standalone washroom buildings at Silvercreek Park, Margaret Greene Park, Hanlon Creek Park and Norm Jary Park, as well as the combination washroom/concession buildings at Exhibition Park and Riverside Park and the Riverside Bandshell. This is after the grandstand at Hastings Stadium was closed for safety concerns as well. What's the problem? Mario Petricevic, the city’s general manager of corporate building maintenance, says that the issue is the buildings' roofs, or rather the anchors that keep those roofs fastened to the walls of the buildings in sever wind. There are 34 buildings in the City that are deemed "high risk" and although the engineer didn't order the closure of those seven facilities, the City felt it necessary to act with an abundance of caution. In this year's budget, the City put aside $1.3 million for building repair. Some of the buildings will be able to be fixed right away, others have such extensive damage they'll need to be sent out for tenure.

Bean Lands at a New Location

It might be a Planet Bean before too long at this rate as a third Planet Bean location is set to open in the city’s south end. The new Bean will be based out of 1467 Gordon St., on the west side of Gordon halfway between Arkell and Clair roads, and according to the now-minted coffee chain’s co-founder, co-owner and head of marketing, Bill Bennett, expansion into the southside was a no-brainer. “We’re like coffee missionaries,” he told the Guelph Mercury. “We feel like south Guelph is devoid of excellent coffee, so we have to bring flavour to the people of south Guelph,” The original Bean opened in downtown Guelph in 1998, and its second location opened on Grange Road in 2006. So congratulations to the Planet Bean team on their continued success. Good to the last drop, I should say.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Top 5 Stories to Watch in the Summer

Summer unofficially kicks off this weekend with the Victoria Day long weekend and assorted festivities, so let’s run down the Top 5 news stories that might be making waves in the Royal City this summer.

5) Gas Prices

John Lawson may have come in fourth place in the Federal Election, but he does get first place in being able to prognosticate the future. During our interview last month, Lawson told me that he believed that that gas prices would hit $1.50 per litre this summer, and it seems he’s going to be proven right, as gas prices flirted with the $1.40 mark last week. “There’s no one in the mainline parties that [understands] that this is just the beginning,” said Lawson. “Now there are no alternatives, and what we need to begin now is looking at real alternatives. My vision for Guelph would be one that is largely self-sustainable for each house.” Of course, this isn’t an issue that impacts Guelph alone, but it will add to driver headaches on the road, which are already affected by a redux from last summer.

4) Road Construction

Granted if you head down to Carden Street it might look like the construction monster has come back to Guelph to rooster, but the city swears that this year will be a more chilled construction season. "The Guelph Remastered campaign did what typical road construction signs couldn’t do," says Tara Sprigg, Manager, Corporate Communications. "Guelph Remastered connected people to important information and helped residents understand that more than 20 construction projects were part of one huge infrastructure renewal program." Still, residents are sure to notice, especially if they take a drive downtown. Most major construction projects are expected to wrap by Fall.

3) The Gummer Building

After nearly three years, will this be the summer that will finally see some progress made on the revitalized Gummer Building. “We’re going to get going as soon as possible,” chief operations officer Jason Ashdown said back in April. “I hope to give the crane a test run (Wednesday) and be back under construction within two to three weeks.” I took that from my a post on Guelph Politico on April 6th, and unless something’s changed in the time between me writing this and it getting published in this issue of Echo Weekly, really no progress has been made. The historic Gummer Building was destroyed by fire on Good Friday, April 6th, 2007. A consortium of Skyline employees later purchased the building for redevelopment, getting tax credits form the city for preserving the historic visage. Construction ceased in the Summer of 2008 as the Global Recession started heating up and funds started drying up. The Co-operators will be the majority tenant in the building, which has now been approved to include a number of rental units as well.

2) Provincial Election

Yes friends, our election fun isn’t over, it’s just on hiatus until Fall. Come September, we’ll be gearing up for the Provincial Election, trying to decide whether or not to give Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals the hat trick, or if Tim Hudak’s PCs or Andrea Horwath’s NDPs get the nod. In Guelph, we know that our current MPP Liz Sandals will run again for the Liberals, but it’s a pretty interesting slate shaping up with the rest of the main parties. Well-known singer/songwriter James Gordon looks to be the likely nominee for the New Democrats, and will likely be acclaimed at the party’s nomination meeting on June 13 at 7:30 pm at the Guelph Youth Music Centre. Over at the Green Party, former city councillor Mike Salisbury is going up against riding association vice-president Steve Dyck at the Greens’ Annual General Meeting on June 7 from 7 to 9 pm at Norfolk Street United Church. Meanwhile, a name has yet to be dropped for the Progressive Conservatives, but a nomination meeting is in the works.

1) The Health Unit

When McGuinty came to town last week, the topic of the City’s tiff with the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit naturally came up in conversation. The Premier said that the dissolving the Health Unit, as proposed by a recent unanimous motion in city council, is not an option and that it’s his government’s job to help resolve the issue “and to do so in a way that doesn’t compromise public health along the way.” The “issue” is the WDG Health Unit’s push to build a new facility in Guelph, with the city being stuck with the cheque for $10 million. McGuinty’s comments weren’t cool with some members of city council, like Ward 4 rep Cam Guthrie. “I don’t know if the premier’s comments, to me, really can stand. We didn’t ask the premier to be the assessor… I don’t think it’s the premier’s role to jump to conclusions without have a proper process done.” The issue is far from settled.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Scandal Amok

The Well Still Runs for Nestle

Much to the dismay and disappointment of environmentalists and anti-corporatists in the Royal City, the Ministry of the Environment approved a five-year renewal of the Nestle’s water taking permit at its Aberfoyle bottling plant. The good news is that the approval wasn’t for the 10 year stretch that Nestle applied for, but the bad news is that Nestle will be permitted to continue taking the allotted 3.6 million litres per day. Reaction was swift, but local advocates only have a limited time to make their appeal, primary among them the Wellington Water Watchers.

With a limited window to appeal, 15 days from when the decision was announced the Friday before the election, the Watchers quickly sprang into action forming a subcommittee to meet last Wednesday for a strategy session about the matter "The Wellington Water Watchers had made submissions to the Ministry of Environment and it looks to us that a great extent these submissions were almost ignored by the Ministry of Environment in the decision that they made," said Andre Hueniken, a Board Member of the Water Watchers.

The MOE for its part, seems to think that they have been conciliatory to concerns about the aquifer, limiting the permit to five years over ten “to allow a fulsome and ongoing review of monitoring data in a shorter time frame,” according to MOE regional director Carl Slater in the Wellington Advertiser. “It also allows for consideration of the water taking to be re-evaluated depending upon the local conditions and development in the area.”

John Challinor, the Director of Corporate Affairs for Nestle Canada, says that his company has no interest in draining the well, as it were. “When you invest millions of dollars in your plant like we do, you don't want your water source to be impacted,” he said to CTV. “You don't want it to go dry, you don't want to see a reduction, you don't want to harm your neighbours.”

This issue’s unlikely to go away, so stayed for more developments on the water front. (Get it! Oh, never mind. Next issue…)
Cam Says Bygones

From a bit of controversy of elections past, Ward 4 Councillor Cam Guthrie posted to the Mercury’s 59 Carden Street blog last week an apology to readers of the blog for posting comments using pseudonyms. “As most of you here are aware, up until last fall I had used other names to represent myself and I was wrong to do that,” Guthrie wrote. “I took swift steps to apologize to those I hurt outside of this arena, but I couldn’t do it individually to people here because I don’t know many of your real names. I want to rejoin you in the conversations here, but before I do that, I owe all of you a heartfelt apology and I wanted to ask for forgiveness.” Forgiveness seems to be what Guthrie has received, so we can now return to our regularly scheduled tirades.

Wanted: New Treasurer and Details

It was a bit under a cloak of secrecy last Tuesday night when, in an in-camera session of city council, mayor and council were informed that Chief Financial Officer and City Treasurer Margaret Neubauer had been terminated after nearly three years of service to the City of Guelph. Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig made the announcement to council, but said that there were few details he could release about the reason for the termination. “It is very difficult for us to say anything more than making a basic statement,” Loewig told the Guelph Mercury in a quick interview.

So what’s the story here? As of deadline, we’re still not sure. What we do know is that Neubauer will, according to Mark Amorosi, the city’s executive director of corporate and human resources, “receive an exit package in accordance with the Council approved Non-Union Termination Policy.” What does that mean? I refer you to the City’s termination without cause policy, which is defined as a termination “as a result of the employer’s decision to end the services of an employee for reasons including, but not limited to: reorganization, position elimination, inability of the employee to fulfil the expectations of their position.” So it’s possible that Neubauer was downsized, but a report in January said that her department was understaffed.

Neubauer is one of a number of City employees to leave their high-level positions in the last several months. I think at this point we can officially certify it as a mass exodus, but as to the cause, right now, that remains a mystery.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Post-Election - Madness and McCrae

So Who Won the Election?

I don’t know. My deadline for Echo is on Thursday and the election was on Monday. If you want all the election results and other stuff go to Guelph Politico at This edition of Guelph Beat, meanwhile, is all about local, municipal stuff not even remotely to do with anything falling under the federal portfolio.

Guelphites Like Value for Money

Two-thirds of Guelph residents say they get good value for their municipal tax dollars, while satisfaction with City services is high, with a majority saying they are satisfied with all services in a list of 11. This according to findings of a citizen survey conducted for the City of Guelph by Environics Research Group, and a City press release issued last week.

More than 80 per cent of residents surveyed expressed satisfaction with parks and trails, police, garbage collection, fire protection, and library services. Satisfaction with sports fields, ambulance services, snow plowing, and arts and heritage services ranged from 70 to 79 per cent. Additionally, 64 per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with road maintenance, and 57 per cent said they were satisfied with public transit, though one-quarter of respondents said they were unable to express an opinion about this service (meaning that don’t use the bus and they don’t have an opinion to offer).

So what other insights did the City gleam from the survey. High tax rates/tax increases is the most important issue facing Guelph according to the slim majority (12 per cent), with urban development/expansion (11 per cent) as a close second. Five in ten residents (51 per cent) indicated that fees and taxes should be lowered even if it means a small reduction in services, while about four in ten (37 per cent) believe that inadequate services need to be improved even if it means a small tax increase. Also, 83 per cent of residents who have contacted the City of Guelph over the past year said they were satisfied with the service they received, which is up from 60 per cent satisfaction in 2008.

To see the full results at this link: here.

City to Health Unit: Peace Out!

Fed up with the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit’s unilateral pursuit of new facilities, Guelph’s City Council voted to begin the process of pulling out of the unit and forcing its dissolution. Mayor Karen Farbridge will seek a meeting with the wardens of Wellington and Dufferin counties “to commence a discussion of the process for the dissolution of the health unit.” In a special resolution endorsed unanimously, the City effectively said that they have “concerns with regard to the governance” of the health board.

This move is a follow-up to a temporary injunction last month imposed by Justice Joseph Fragomeni, who wrote that the city “would suffer irreparable harm” if the project proceeded before some “serious questions” were answered. The question is about $17 million for new facilities, both here and in Orangeville, the entire cost of which is being put on the shoulders of the municipalities. The province is supposed to kick in 75 per cent of the cost for all Health Unit expenses, but they’ve opted out of funding the new facilities, and the health unit put it to council that they will precede regardless.

Speaking of the province, Guelph MPP Liz Sandals told the Guelph Mercury that the province can take over a health board if there are concerns over its management. But she said that isn’t the case here. “Quite frankly, the Ministry of Health has not been considering dissolving the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph public health unit.”

Needless to say, there’s more to come on this issue.

McCrae Pushes Poppies and Arthur Currie

McCrae House will be hosting its annual Poppy Push Plant Sale and fundraiser this Saturday, rain or shine, at the Water Street museum from 8:30 am till 1 pm. Poppy varieties available at the sale include Oriental and Allegro perennials and, of course, the “Flanders” corn poppy. Perennials from the historic garden will also be available for purchase. Volunteers that tend the historic garden at the museum will be on hand to talk about the various plants there, all of which were found in Guelph between the years 1850 to 1880.

At 11 am, McCrae House will open up its doors for its new exhibit “Remembering Arthur Currie.” Sir Arthur Currie is recognized as a brilliant military tactician who was knighted in 1917 after capturing Vimy Ridge and he became the first Canadian to attain the rank of General in 1919. After returning from the war he became Principal and Vice Chancellor of McGill University in Montreal. This exhibit looks at the life of Arthur Currie and his connections to John McCrae. Admission on Poppy Push day to McCrae House is by donation.