Thursday, October 13, 2011

SERIES FINALE - Election Results, Quarry Matters and Bus Drama

Sandals Still the Word in Guelph

The news may be a week old, but it’s still worth reiterating. In last Thursday’s Provincial Election, incumbent Liberal MPP Liz Sandals walked to victory in a very competitive race with 19,734 votes, a loss of barely 450 over her total vote load in 2007. Beating her nearest competition by nearly 7,800, it seems that opposition strategy to cast Sandals as Queen’s Park’s cat’s paw in Guelph didn’t seem to carry much water. And the argument for strategic voting doesn’t hold much water either because Sandals easy victory in Guelph was the closest thing to a blow-out in a region full of tight races.

But the real story in Guelph was the number 802, as in the number of votes that separated PC Greg Schirk and NDP James Gordon. Schirk won 11,950 votes to Gordon's 11,148. For Schirk it was a marginal 308 vote loss over what Bob Senechal brought in for the PCs in 2007, but for Gordon it meant a 63 per cent improvement over Karan Mann-Bowers, who ran for the NDP in the last election. Sadly for local Greens, Steve Dyck was only able to collect 3,234 votes, or barely a third of the votes of Ben Polley's third place finish in 2007.

Province-wide though the results for the Liberals weren’t so clear cut, as they won a 53 seat minority government, which is one seat short of securing their third straight majority. But will a minority McGuinty government in Ontario be under the same kind of attack recent minority governments federally were? Unsure. For one thing, McGuinty has a much closer margin than either Paul Martin or Stephen Harper enjoyed, and with so many close races, not to mention an exceedingly low voter turnout, a redo, impromptu election sometime in the next couple of years might work in McGuinty's favour. Then there's the Hudak factor. There are some grumblings about how much the PC leader didn't help the cause with comparisons to the increasing unpopular Rob Ford and commitment to potentially xenophobic and homophobic policies on the campaign trail. In an election where everything seemed in his favour to win, the reasons for Hudak's fortunes are multiple choice.

Either way, it's a new day, (almost) the same as old day in Ontario. Where will go to next?

Sandals Calls Mega-Quarry ‘Bizarre’

In a move that would have scored her points during the campaign (like she needed the help as it turns out – see above), Sandals came out strong against the proposed “mega-quarry” in Melancthon saying that “I think it’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen,” while talking to the Guelph Mercury Editorial Board the day after her re-election.

The word “bizarre” is kind of putting it mildly for advocates against the quarry. An American-backed company is petitioning to build a colossal limestone quarry on 930 hectares of farmland in Melancthon Township in the Hills of Headwaters, about 80 kilometres north of Guelph. The eventual pit will reportedly be as deep, if not deeper than Niagara Falls. The Ministry of the Environment ordered a full environmental assessment of the proposal under the Ontario Aggregate Resources Act. Sandals said that the government couldn’t just say ‘no’ to the plan without a clear, technical reason why the project shouldn’t go forward, and she thinks the assessment will provide such a reason.

“At the end of the process of digging out this great huge pit is that they are going to pump out the ground water in perpetuity and grow potatoes at the bottom of the pit,” Sandals said. “How can you possibly guarantee that somebody is going to pump out anything in perpetuity?” he added before quoting Prince. “That is forever. That is a very long time.”

Bus Hiccup

Regular Guelph Transit users who were eagerly awaiting new routes and new schedules on November 6th are going to have to put their excitement back in a box. Due to circumstances they should have foreseen, the City of Guelph has had to push back the start date till the New Year.

“Over the past couple of months, we’ve worked hard at planning and communicating the introduction of new routes and improved service anticipating a start on November 6,” says Michael Anders, General Manager of Guelph Transit and Community Connectivity. “We are ready to implement the changes, but because of collective bargaining agreement obligations, we have to move the implementation date to January 1, 2012.”

I can see the new signage running late, but some fine print in the collective bargaining agreement of Transit employees? Isn’t that something that should have been checked first off? Combine this latest incident with thrice delayed transit hub and constant yo-yoing of transit funding, the slogan of Guelph Transit should be “In Your Way” instead of “On Your Way.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It’s Election Day!*

*Assuming of course, you’re reading this on Thursday, and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t be because everybody waits with baited breath for the new issue of Echo, right? Right?

After three years, covering four elections, I get a rarefied opportunity to release a column on an Election Day, rather than just before or after. Perhaps you’re reading this on your way to the polls. Perhaps you’re reading afterward. Perhaps Election Day is over and you already know who won. Perhaps this knowledge disappoints you verily. Either way, I think it’s time to articulate my views on elections, why vote every Election Day and why you should do the same.

There were two elections within a year I turned 18, and I voted in both. It was 1997, and the first was that year’s Municipal Election and the other was the Federal Election that elevated the Jean Chr├ętien Liberals to their second term. Two years after that was the 1999 Provincial Election that returned Mike Harris’ Tories to Queen’s Park, and as a university student at the time, I have to say that that wasn’t the way I wanted things to go.

But you know what I didn’t do? Throw up my hands in exasperation and renege on the notion that democracy doesn’t work. This is an attitude I find all too common: democracy doesn’t work because the outcome we wanted wasn’t achieved. No, democracy works, you just didn’t get what you want. And while I agree that an electoral system that lets the party that achieved only 40 per cent of the popular vote to form a majority government is broken, it’s only because another 40 per cent sit on the bench believing their either too busy or too unimportant to vote.

In the short term, electoral reform is out because no party in power is going to legislate change that will mitigate their own power. But if the 40 per cent that sat out the Federal Election this past spring threw their support behind an independent candidate like, say, Communist Party candidate Drew Garvie, then right now he would be MP for Guelph. Or to go back to last fall’s Municipal Election, where two-thirds of electors sat out exercising their franchise, if even half of those people voted for antique store owner Ray Mitchell or skateboard enthusiast Scott Nightingale, then they would be sitting in the Mayor’s office this minute.

Having said all that, I do understand why people still think that their vote doesn’t matter, but like the man said, with all things, you’ll miss it when it’s gone. That’s why I’d like to propose a simple amendment to election law: If you do not exercise your right to vote in three consecutive elections you should lose that right. Not forever. I’m not quite mean like that, but almost.

My proposal is modest: if you shirk on your vote for any reason, for three elections in a row, at all levels of government, and you decide that you would like to exercise your right to vote in an upcoming election, then you will have to writer a 1,500 word essay explaining why you didn’t vote, and why you’ve decided to vote again. You won’t get marked on it, and if nobody likes your essay you won’t be refused the right to vote, but the point is the effort. You have to put in the effort, and you have to prove that you want it. Like most things in life, the work is its own reward.

Sound harsh? Especially in light of the fact that essay writing was at the bottom of a very long list of things you didn’t like about school? That’s what I thought, and that’s why this idea occurs. So before someone with real authority not bestowed upon them by the publishers of Echo snatches up this idea, then you might want to get off your duff today, find your polling station at wemakevotingeasy.com, and put an ‘x’ beside the name of someone that you’d like to see speak for you in Queen’s Park. Even if they have, in your mind, no chance of winning.

Besides, unless either the McGuinty Liberals or Hudak PCs are returned to Queen’s Park in a minority government, then this will be the last election for us until the year 2014, and let’s face it, if those conspiracy theories turn out to be true, we could all be dead by then. But in all seriousness, to go from four elections in three years to no elections for the next three years, will be a tough adjustment for us happy few politicos. And if voter fatigue is a real thing, I expect to see record turnout for the Municipal Election in 2014.

To get all the scoop post-election and other political stuff, visit my blog, Guelph Politico, at http://guelphpolitico.blogspot.com/