Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Editorial Series – Part the Second: Skate Punk’d

Sometimes the tenor of a debate is more frustrating than the debate itself, and that’s been happening a lot lately. Not being able to agree is one thing (ask Canada Post), but when the demand for a thing is dismissed outright because one segment of the population views its expense as a luxury and unnecessary, well that’s not democracy, that’s just being a jerk. Or an old fogy, to coin a phrase. That’s the way it seems to anyone following the debate about a new skateboard park, particularly on the message boards of the Guelph Mercury’s 59 Carden Street blog.

Now belligerence is nothing new to the debate process (or the 59 Carden Street blog for that matter), but there was a certain dismissive tone to some of the posts that really got to me.

Example #1: “This is just plain stupid. Why do we need a skatepark? Just because someone says they want one? Because someone over there has one and we don't? Because [sic] the little skulls full of mush will have a place to ply? If these brats need a special park, perhaps they or their parents [sic] should start digging for the cash to buy the land and build one.”

Example #2: “Speaking of downtown, if they give these drunks washrooms after the bars close...I want all the left wing, tree hugging, NDP'S, like Farbridge, Piper, Burcher and Laidlaw to have a shift cleaning these would be hilarious...see how soon these " hopefully on their last term pubic employees" vote to keep these washrooms open for these drunken pigs.”

That second one didn’t have anything to do with a skate park, but little things like topic relevance haven’t stopped people from anonymously sounding off about the politicians they hate in the past. A discussion about washrooms downtown is one best left for another time (or another column), but this is the spirit in which an issue of concern by some of our younger citizens, and their parents, is being discussed.

The history of the issue goes like this: in 2009 there was a skate park in the Deerpath Drive Park, where local skater boys and girls could practice their boarding in a safe, clean and free environment. The project was a pilot with the intention of perhaps opening other skateboard facilities across the city. Unfortunately, the typical hooliganism came to settle in the park, parents rallied, the city responded and long story short, despite promises to the contrary, there’s still no where for youth to skate, discounting the privately-owned (and pay-per-use) Ward Skatepark at Victoria and York.

The wheels of political action do move slowly, and at this rate the kids that used to enjoy the Deerpath Skate Park will be in grad school by the time they get another city-run facility going. I’m just kidding, of course. There are plenty of grad students who still enjoy their skateboards. But the typical issues with any city-run initiative – funding, location, cost, construction – are playing second to the typical misconceptions and stereotyping about skateboarding. And if people aren’t lamenting the few that brought drugs, foul language and noise to ruin the Deerpath Park, they paint those that legitimately want somewhere to skate as “stupid, spoiled and disrespectful.”

Some of that may be true, but here’s what else is true: kids just want somewhere to skate, and maybe can’t afford to do it at a privately-owned and operated facility. There’s the classic argument that a skate park is a kind of extravagance, an elite service that only a few will use, so why should taxpayers pick up the cheque? I don’t know. Do you use every library branch? Get your share of emergency rides in the ambulance? Play in every ball diamond? Swim in all the pools? Obviously not. In the park near my house there’s a public tennis court, and for the life of me I can’t see there being a greater number of tennis players in the city as compared to skateboarders.

But I find these arguments tiresome, not to mention useless without the hard numbers to prove, well, anything. I will say this though, the town I used to live in, Georgetown, has a skate park. If a municipality as bass-ackwards as Georgetown, whose stewards allowed their town to slowly become little more than a bed and breakfast for people from Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville, Brampton and the rest of the GTA – in other words a town without a culture or economic signature of its own distinct individuality – then why can’t a progressive community like Guelph move forward on this issue?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer Editorial Series – Part the First: Labour Pains

You’ll forgive me for checking out for summer by passing off my blithe-like, semi-informed opinion as news in this Guelph Beat space, but with one election down this year, another one on the go in October and the usual seasonal chill on big news, I find myself gasping. If the Feds can go on summer break a week and half after taking their seats on Parliament Hill, why can’t I? (Although I should add that if big news does break, The Dude will abide and cover it accordingly.)

But the big news everywhere last week was labour disruptions; Canada Post was locked out by management after a week and half of rolling strikes, and Air Canada’s service and sales staff walked out. These types of situations make people question the current status of the labour union in North America. In the harsh, almost heartless environment of 21st century corporate culture, some are asking the question, why do some employees represented by unions get perks and rights the average worker can only dream about, and what nerve do they have in wanting more?

Earlier this year, certain state governments in the United States believed that the solution to budget deficits was simple: eliminate collective bargaining. School teachers paid by the state will take what they get and be darn lucky for the privilege. I know Krusty the Klown once observed on one of his downward slides that, “Everywhere I go I see teachers driving Ferraris, [and] research scientists drinking champagne.” But in real life you’re more apt to see an American public school teacher riding on an actual horse to work before a Ferrari.

But in Canada, we are not immune to such anti-union fervour either. The outdoor workers strike in Toronto in 2009 had more people siding with the City of Toronto than it did with the workers, many of who were garbage men and women whose picket line meant no garbage pick-up for nearly a month in the middle of the summer. One might say conditions were ripe for animosity, but I won’t because that is a pun and puns are the lowest form of humour.

What’s not funny is that unions, once the salvation and inspiration for workers everywhere, are now being seen as an element of the elite. With the erosion of the manufacturing sector, unionized workers are now mostly relegated to the public sector, and if that didn’t make public sector workers an appealing target for scorn by the common man before, it most certainly does now. To said common man, public unions have protection, they have benefits, they have good wages, and they have some degree of job security. They have a lot of nerve wanting more.

Of course getting more is what all workers have strived to achieve through collective bargaining. Whether it was having the right to reasonable working hours and decent pay, or the securing more vacation time and better benefits, workers used to be united in pushing The Man for more perks and opportunities. Like in all things, the landscape between then and now has changed considerably, and now people seem content to complain about the unions that still exist and have influence rather than stepping up and demanding better for themselves.

It’s understandable why though. Trapped in a middle ground, people are on the one hand concerned that direction action in their place of work will result in their unemployment, and on the other hand there’s the fact that the conditions modern workers face rather pale in comparison to the conditions that drove workers to unionize in the first place. Still, it was about as easy then as it is now to get people to take the plunge and risk unionizing. But as they say: no risk, no reward. And perhaps if we have a problem with the rewards other people are receiving, we should be better prepared to take up certain risks to get just as good for ourselves.

So chew on that, I guess. Summer is officially here, and in the coming weeks look for more of my mindful meanderings, and for the latest news stuffs go to

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dyck is Green, Storm Trouble and Legal Health Issues

Steve Dyck Gets Nod for GPO

At their annual general meeting last Tuesday, the Guelph branch of the Green Party of Ontario acclaimed entrepreneur Steve Dyck over former city councillor Mike Salisbury as the local GPO candidate in this fall’s provincial election. It was a real horse race between the two candidates, and it drove an increase in membership in the local Greens, from 73 eligible to vote in the AGM to 150. In the end though Dyck, who’s been a long time familiar face to local Greens, as well as a trained mediator and president of Guelph Solar Mechanical Inc., a solar heating solutions company, was the overwhelming choice on the first ballot.

Interestingly, an even bigger Green was in attendance in the form of GPO leader Mike Schreiner. It was the second time in the past couple of weeks that Schreiner has made a stop in the Royal City. And this past Monday, another major party leader, the NDP’s Andrea Horwath, also came to Guelph to be a part of the official confirmation of James Gordon as her party’s Guelph candidate. Could the visits from all this party brass mean that Guelph will be in serious play this coming election? I guess the ball’s in Dalton McGuinty and Tim Hudak’s court now.

Storms Postpone Stuff

The wicked weather last week put a serious crimp in the plans for a couple of events here in Guelph. The Speed River Clean-up on Saturday June 4th was called off as high winds and lightening came rolling in about an hour before start time. And last Tuesday morning, the City called off a planned demonstration of the new bike box at the intersection of Stone Road and Chancellor’s Way. The storm didn’t end up happening in the day on Tuesday, but instead struck early Wednesday morning. The resulting maelstrom resulted in hours and hours of clean-up for city crews; a 300 metre stretch of Laird Road was even closed till Wednesday afternoon so expedite clean-up.

Legal Battle with Health Unit Heats Up

The City of Guelph’s showdown with the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit appears to be getting uglier, with City Hall stepping up on legal action against the WDGHU. In a press release last Wednesday, the City said that it’s expanding its legal actions against the WDGHU Board beyond its court action in March to stop the health Unit from proceeding with the construction of two new facilities, here and in Orangeville. The total cost of the construction comes to about $17 million, with Guelph’s share cashing out at about $10 million. The court action in March was to also determine how much of a financial obligation the city has to the project as typically the Government of Ontario kicks in 75 per cent of the Health Unit’s costs.

"We are scheduled to be in court on July 11 to argue the City’s request for a temporary injunction," says City Solicitor, Donna Jaques. "Unfortunately, the Board served the City with additional court documents and is asking the court to make a final determination on the City’s claim on that date. As a result, the City has no choice but to seek an order adding the County of Wellington and the County of Dufferin to the litigation as they are, in the City’s opinion, necessary parties to any final resolution of the issues."

The City also wants to make sure that they have their ducks in row in order to follow up on their threat to withdraw from the WDGHU under the terms of the 1997 agreement with Wellington and Dufferin counties. And while their at it, the city wants to make sure that construction on the Orangeville facility doesn’t go forward while this thing’s still in court on our end.

“We are committed to continuing to work with the Province in the hopes of resolving this issue,” said Mayor Karen Farbridge. “In the meantime, the court process continues, and we are ensuring that all proper parties are included and all issues are before the court.”

The Mayor was finally able to have a conversation with Premiere Dalton McGuinty about the kafuffle with the Health Unit last month, and the Mayor called their talk “a very good discussion.” In a statement from his office, the Premier asked Farbridge to draft a letter expressing her concerns, which he would to Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews adding “his continuing desire” that the city, health unit and partner counties “find a positive way forward that works for all parties.”

I guess we’ll see what happens as summer rolls on.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

An Essay on Civility in Politics (Or, “Don’t be Hatin’”)

So I was thumbing through NOW (like I usually do) and I came across a letter regarding a past issue about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his push to privatize the city’s garbage pick-up.

“I read your article on the garbage debate and sensed a little bitterness toward our mayor,” wrote Mike Holt. (Of course where he got an idea like that, I’ll never know.) “I, for one, am very proud of the citizens of Toronto for electing Rob Ford and feel he is doing a wonderful job. I savour every defeat of the socialist councillors and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”

He continued, “First Ford, then a majority for the federal Conservatives, and in October a landside victory for the PCs in Ontario. I have never been prouder to be a Canadian.”

A couple of things concerned me while reading these words. One is the fact that in order for this man to be a proud Canadian, the majority of Canadians must support his political views, and two is the continuing notion of total warfare in politics that I’ve been seeing ever since the commencement of the last Federal Election.

To bring this back to Guelph, someone posted a comment on my blog, Guelph Politico, shortly after I adjourned for the Victoria Day long weekend. The comment was attached to a story I wrote about Conservative candidate Marty Burke a couple of days after the May 2nd election. I don’t think I had given a second thought to Burke or his disastrous campaign since hitting ‘Post’ on that article, but what was it that Al Pacino said famously in The Godfather Part III…

“Just curious as to what you feel qualifies you as any type of political expert?” asked the anonymous poster. Well there’s this monthly cheque I get from Echo Weekly. But seriously, what? Am I being called out? Because that’s what it feels like. But the poster goes further.

“Have you a graduate degree in political science? Have you worked behind the scenes for any of the parties? Are you a party member?” he or she asks.

First, I do not have a degree in political science. I have a plain old BA in History from the University of Guelph, where I also did take a several political courses. You know who else got a BA in History from the U of G? David Akin, an Ottawa reporter for CTV, Global and now host of The Daily Brief on the Sun News Network. Like me, he cut his journalistic teeth as Editor-in-Chief of the student paper The Ontarion.

As for the other two questions, no, I’ve neither worked behind the scenes for a party, nor have I been a party member. Do I have to be in order to better understand politics? One of the reasons I’ve never signed up for a party is because I enjoy by status as an independent. I find it better to keep my political options open, at the very least to make it easier for me to appear impartial as political reporter and commentator. But honestly, I’ve never in my adult life found myself drawn enough to a particular party to be a member.

“Or have you just taken the five minutes it takes to fire up a new blog through blogger, and viola you consider yourself and therefore implicitly demand others respect your opinion because you’ve actually taken 20 minutes and written an article? [sic]”

Well I’m not sure that sentence entirely makes sense, but I get your gist. And it actually took me 10 minutes to set up the blog and that includes choosing the template, and adding the words “Guelph Politico” to a picture of Guelph’s skyline I took for the banner. Oh, and then there’s the over 500 posts I’ve generated in nearly three years, and the hours I’ve invested in writing and doing research and searching out contacts and going to various events.

And I don’t demand others respect, I just seem to get it. Here are the names of a few people that have treated me like a journalist: Frank Valeriote, Liz Sandals, Mayor Karen Farbridge, the entirety of the 2006-10, and the 2011-14 city councils, Jack Layton, Elizabeth May, Stephane Dion, and numerous candidates in elections at all levels of government. And that’s just politics.

“Sorry Adam I see so much horse shit in your articles, plain lies in fact. You’re actually very lucky no one has decided to sue your ass yet.” Well, if they did decide to “sue my ass” as you say, I hope they enjoy their settlement win of X-Men comics and old Babylon 5 tapes (RIP Jeff Conway, AKA: Security Chief Zack Allen).

I won’t bother to ask Anonymous to point out the “plain lies” I’ve perpetuated. “Lying” has become a blanket term used by people of all political stripes to attack people that disagree with them. My conduct and my credentials have never been called into question until this past election cycle, and I’m sorry to say that it’s because of the growing state of poisonous partisanship.

Speaking on violence after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy said that hatred forces us to look at our brother like aliens, “Alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community.” He asked people to remember that “that those who live with us are our brothers,” and that perhaps “we can begin to work a little harder, to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”

May the same be said of us after a nasty election.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Clean-Up, Tory Tussle, and Video Victories

Call to Clean-Up

This weekend is the 32nd annual Speed River Clean-Up organized by the Guelph branch of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG). Brought to you by Wellington Water Watchers, Trout Unlimited and GUFF (Guelph Urban Forest Friends), the Clean-Up, as always, aims to educate people about the importance of Guelph’s waterways, get them involved and in the river to literally take out the trash.

Like in years gone by, everyone is to meet up at the gazebo in Royal City Park (Gordon Street) by 11 am. Bring your gloves, sun gear, water and a pair of either old shoes, boots or hip waders. Then sign-in, join a group and start cleaning up the river. Afterward at around 12:30, everyone’s invited back to McCrae House for some eats and some entertainment. The theme is pot luck, so volunteers are being asked to bring a dish to share, and for each dish contributed, you will be entered in a draw to win two tickets to the Speed River Fundraising Dinner at Borealis Grille, a $120 value. Additionally, volunteers are being asked to bring their own plates and utensils to cut down on waste.

If you’re looking to get even more involved, OPIRG is looking for volunteers to take on specific jobs at the Clean Up. Among the list of jobs needed to be filled are crew leaders, photographers, set-up and take-down volunteers, and people to help out at the potluck. For more information, get in touch with OPIRG at 519-824-2091 or at

A Trio of Tories Tussle

Three nominees have put their names forward for the local Progressive Conservative nomination in this fall’s Provincial Election. John F. Ross high school teacher Greg Cawsey, entrepreneur Greg Schirk and businessman and former pastor Bob Senechal are the three who will be metaphorically duking it out to get their name on the ballot for the PCs, said a news release. “These three candidates bring a wide range of qualities that will allow any one of them to represent Guelph well in Queen’s Park,” said local PC riding association president Allan Boynton in the release. Cawsey ran the business department at Ross, Schirk once owned Royal City Glass, but now works for PM Doors and Windows, and Senechal has been a partner for the past 11 years in CG Maintenance. He also ran as the PC Party’s candidate against Liberal Liz Sandals in the 2007 provincial election.

In other news, the day and time for the first all-candidates debate of the fall election has been established. Look for The Guelph-Wellington Social Justice Coalition hosted forum on Sept. 13 at the Italian Canadian Club. Presumably, the Coalition is looking to avoid any situation where a candidate says that they didn’t get enough notice and have something already book.

The Hanlon Hacks It

The Phase One lands of the Hanlon Creek Business Park have satisfied all conditions of Draft Plan of Subdivision approval and have now achieved Registered Plan status at the land registry office. I don’t know what that means, but the City thought it was a big enough deal to write a press release about it. “What this means, is that title to these lands are now able to be transferred to potential end purchasers” says Jim Mairs, Senior Business Development Specialist, Economic Development and Tourism Services, in the release.

“We are extremely pleased with the completion of this next stage,” says Peter Cartwright, General Manager of Economic Development and Tourism Services. “In order to register this Phase approximately 50 conditions imposed by various government and review agencies needed to be addressed and approved. It is further validation of the commitment this Park has to the environment and the development process.”

All-in-all, 16 acres of land, in various stages of development in the Hanlon Creek Business Park representing nearly $5 million in revenue for the city, are ready. The total land acquired by the City for the Business Park property is about 420 acres, but a percentage of that will be preserved as green space.

Video Victories on Two Counts

As one video contest wraps another begins. Voting for the viewer’s choice favourite “I love Guelph tap water” video closed this past Monday, but the winners won’t be announced until June 15th. Various high tech prizes will be awarded to the first, second and third place finisher, and people’s choice winner will designate a favourite charity to receive a $500 donation. Next up are videos for Guelph Tourism. Go to and vote for your favourite video promoting the Royal City as a tourist destination and the winner will receive $100 in prizes. The winner will be announced during the closing ceremonies of Tourism Awareness Week on June 10 at 1:00pm at City Hall.