It seems as if the new Guelph Civic League will have some competition in the engagement to make citizens active voters in the coming municipal election. A new group called GrassRoots Guelph has made themselves known, and they are looking for a few good members. Once you've signed up, they've promised to include you in "regular newsletter for members keeping them informed of the issues," as well as "town hall meetings, led by neutral moderators, [that] will invite the public to express its views on the city political scene." Sounds good, doesn't it? But is GRG all it appears?
The first mention of GrassRoots Guelph appears on the blog of Gerry Barker, a journalist and writer who's recently been a regular columnist for the Guelph Mercury. He is also no friend of the mayor or the current council, which may make anyone take only a surface glance of the new group and think it's meant to be purely an anti-Guelph Civic League. "GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) is non-partisan, non-profit and incorporated under the laws of Ontario," Barker's August 31 post reads. "It was founded by a group of concerned citizens and is growing rapidly."
That tone of bipartisanship slips slightly in a September 5 post though when Barker urges people to come out for a public meeting to discuss the next 20 year phase of the city's solid waste plan. "It’s an opportunity for the people to respond to a proposal that accomplishes little except perpetuate the legacy of those who initiated it," the post reads.
"To begin with, proposing such a preposterous plan that affects waste management for 20 years is an affront to the taxpayers of Guelph. The current Solid Waste Management Master Plan (SWMMP) created in 2008 by the Farbridge administration has been unmasked as an abject failure."
First, is "abject failure" fair? I mean, the garbage still gets picked up every week. The term abject means to experience something to a maximum degree, or to assume something is without pride or dignity. I think for the purposes of the blog post, Barker means to say that the SWMMP plan is a 100 per cent failure with no room for even a little success, and although the new Organic Waste Processing Facility had its issues to do with leaking odour, those issues seem to have been corrected with time and testing. So is the entire process a 100 per cent failure with not a single thing working?
Regardless, at the end of the piece there's a plug for GRG. "GrassRoots Guelph urges all citizens to make the effort to demonstrate that they’re not pushovers when it comes to making their feelings known."
Granted Guelph Speaks is Barker's blog to pontificate on, just as Guelph Politico is mine, but considering that his blog right now is the sole source for any news about the GRG (at least that I can find), I'm not sure he's really selling the "non-partisan" proviso of the GrassRoots Guelph charter. I understand that Barker has a bone to pick with Karen Farbridge, and from all appearances, he will pick that bone clean, but to me, being "non-partisan" is about being critical without projecting; you can have your problems with the mayor, but if you want her thrown out of office, that's an impulse best kept to yourself if you're trying to project neutrality.
Adding to Barker's concerning definition of the term "non-partisan" is a post from September 7 where he references a Guelph Tribune cartoon depicting the Civic League and GrassRoots Guelph as dueling knights from medieval times, a depiction that even Barker admits is unfair, however, "We believe the Civic League is moribund and has morphed into a front organization called 10 Carden Street, that espouses the 'amazing' policies and strategies of the Farbridge administration."
What 10 Carden is supposed to be "fronting" for the Civic League, and why the Civic League needs a front, is never explained. What is clear (from two seconds of research) is that both the Civic League and 10 Carden are run by separate boards, and 10 Carden is made up of a diverse membership of numerous groups, one of which is, yes, the Civic League.
"GRG’s main thrust is informing people of the back stories of the unbridled spending the Farbridge administration has foisted on the city and its stakeholders," he continues. "In the coming months GRG, through an innovative communication program, will reveal how the city finances have been recklessly mismanaged and common sense abandoned"
Again, that doesn't sound very non-partisan, does it? Could it be that the GRG's real intent is to dethrone Farbride and the proverbial "Gang of 8" that Barker has such disdain for? Don't get me wrong, if that's the goal, more power to him, and if the point is to hold the local government to a higher standard of accountability, that's also fine. The two goals aren't mutually exclusive either, but you can't claim neutrality if your aim is to campaign against one person even if you're not (yet) campaigning for someone else. The Guelph Civic League in its original incarnation made no qualms about who they were against, or what they were for, and GrassRoots Guelph can do the same, but that means they have to drop the big N. Otherwise, we might start thinking that GrassRoots Guelph is a "front" for Gerry Barker's political opinion.