It's that time of year for lists and rankings, and Guelph Politico is no exception to all this organizing and numerology. This week, we revisit the biggest news and political stories that affected us locally and provincially in the year 2013. What were my conditions? Mostly, stuff that stuck out in my mind. This may not be your list, or you may find yourself agreeing with some of the contents that make up my list even if you don't agree with the ranking of things. Some of these will be fairly self-evident, and some of them might leave you scratching your head, but I will say that this was an easier list to compile versus the National/International Top 10 (which I will publish next week).
So without further ado, The List:
10) Guelph Becomes the Football Capital of Canada
Not really a political story, but a fascinating one just the same. When last year it was announced that the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats would be be taking up residence in the Royal City as their new stadium was being constructed in Steel Town, who could have known it would be a "Cinderella" season for the Tabbies? The Guelph season launched the Tiger-Cats on a course to a Grey Cup berth, even beating last year's champions, the Toronto Argonauts, in the Eastern conference final. It wasn't an easy course to host the team, and indeed the CFL Labour Day classic between the Argos and the Ti-Cats had to be sacrificed for the University of Guelph Gryphons home opener. Even more problematic was October 26, where the afternoon Hamilton home game against the Montreal Alouettes had to clear our for an evening OUA match between the Gryphons and the Windsor Lancers. But all Cinderella stories end at midnight, and as the Ti-Cats lost the Grey Cup to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Gryphons season ended with a 34-17 loss to the Queen's Golden Gaels in the OUA semi-finals. So it wasn't a happy ending, but it was a wild ride to be sure.
9) Laidlaw Takes a Bow, Makes Trouble & Announces Encore
Never one to be shy about expressing herself, this was an especially banner year for Ward 3 Councillor Maggie Laidlaw. Already a lightening rod as an emeritus member of the highly derided "Gang of 8" on council for saying that she looks at the homes of people who complain about taxes on Google Street View, and how she looked forward to making phone calls after passing stricter idling by-laws, Laidlaw really stepped in it when she made some untoward comments at a committee meeting this past June. This incident brought about a probe by the Integrity Commissioner, an investigation that was wrapped when Laidlaw issued an apology. In other Laidlaw news, she said in July that she would be taking her leave from politics at the end of this term and not be running for a fifth term, but she ended up taking her retirement announcement back in November. The reason? Laidlaw wants to be a champion for the city's big projects and that. "I worry that a 'right-of centre' councillor who may be elected in Ward 3 if I step down would not support visionary initiatives such as these." Clearly, Laidlaw understands her critics, and clearly she still enjoys tweaking them.
8) Death by a Thousand Cuts
The third year of any administration's life is a rough one; the honeymoon's long over, mistakes have been compounded, bold moves for the future are put on hold as political realities set in, and looking at re-election... It's hard to separate out a lot of the "little cuts" at City Hall this year, but one might argue it's part of a managerial trend for Guelph that we keep hitting these speed bumps to a smoothly functioning city. In 2013 we're talking about things like the ongoing Wilson farmhouse debate, ongoing issues with waste collection, low employee satisfaction at City Hall, the Wyndham Street bridge, condo developments, the hiring and firing of a Transit manager sued for harassment in Hamilton, and, in fact, the general upheaval amongst senior city staff. It seemed like there was no move a city staff member or elected official could make that didn't cause controversy, like Ward 4 Councillor Cam Guthrie's straw poll of residents to see if they would mind the extra noise from extended construction hours on the Costco site. Heck, even those anti-abortion ads that have been on the back of the city buses since Jean Chrétien was PM got feathers ruffled. No doubt times are tough, no doubt issues are huge, no doubt everyone has opinions they hate, but for the Royal City and its representatives it seemed like "every which way was lose" in 2013.
7) Provincial Liberals Survive Despite... Everything
This time last year, there was wide-spread consensus that the Provincial government would fall. Once the minority Liberals had found a new leader, in this case Kathleen Wynne, it would only be a matter of time before a confidence motion, likely over the budget, would force an election, but a list of agreed upon demands by the NDP ensured the government would stand. And then the bombshell hit, over $1 billion was lost in the cancellation of two gas plants on the eve of the 2011 election, a pure political move meant to curry favour in contentious ridings. Still, despite being hammered daily by both opposition parties, numerous editorials and the average citizen, the Liberals stood. Summer by-elections produced mixed results as the Liberals kept two seats, lost two to the NDP and lost one to the Conservatives. Despite ongoing economic trouble and a growing sense of ennui with politics as usual at Queen's Park, the three major parties maintain a political stalemate where no one - not Kathleen Wynne, not Tim Hudak, and not Andrea Horwath - has the upper hand. The result is a 2013 that ends the same ways as 2012, everyone's looking to an election, while nobody wants one.
6) GrassRoots Guelph Launches
With a 33.4 per cent voter turnout in 2010, any effort to get out the vote for 2014 is needed and appreciated. With that in mind, GrassRoots Guelph launched this past September with an eye on community engagement and government accountability. So what's wrong with that? Well, there's a feeling that this "non-partisan" group has, in essence, very partisan intentions. First, there was the inference by GRG member Gerry Barker on his personal blog that fellow non-partisan grassroots voter engagement group Guelph Civic League is a natural nemesis and is partisan in their own right (which was further sanctified by a Guelph Tribune cartoon of dueling knights). Then, in their first action to promote citizen oversight, GRG took a petition to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing asking for an outside audit of Guelph's finances, a process fraught with further persecution if a post on the Canadian Taxpayers Federation website is to be believed.But GRG did end up meeting with the Ministry, but despite their claims that an investigation had begun, I can't find anything to support that other than the fact that a meeting happened. Regardless, the group's hit the ground running, so look for them to keep making waves in 2014.
5) Officer Down
The death of a police officer is never easy for a community, but it somehow hits home a little harder when that officer has a name well known to everybody. The accidental death of Const. Jennifer Kovach on March 14 drew the attention of people from across the province, and the country, drawing the sympathy of complete strangers on this rare occasion where a cop falls in the line of duty. Locally, the Kovach name has great community significance because of Kovach's mother, City Councillor Gloria Kovach, which did somewhat make their family's personal tragedy in turn personal for everyone, as we all know the Kovach name well in Guelph. Ultimately, a police investigation into the crash that killed Const. Kovach showed that she was going too fast, and the road was too icy, a fatal mix that resulted in the untimely death of a police officer with a bright future, but in the wake of sadness was a positive outcome. There was the 911 Ride for Charity to raise money for defibrillators that came through town in August, and an award for graduates of the Police Foundations course was established in Kovach's name at Conestoga College. There will surely be other such awards and honours to come in the future, but the incident is a reminder to everyone that sometimes the greatest dangers we all face can be the ones we encounter everyday, and not necessarily what we might think of as dangerous.
4) Sona Gets Busted
Even though the robocall scandal took a backseat to other breaking scandals in 2013, there were still some pretty big developments, like the arrest of Michael Sona who was charged with "willfully preventing or endeavouring to prevent an elector from voting." For many Canadians watching the drama, the arrest was a good first step, but citizens are still waiting for the complete unwinding of what is, in essence, a national scandal and one that's not just local to Guelph. Still, many thought that Sona's arrest would result in some kind of jailhouse confession, which, to the public's knowledge, has yet to materialize either. Meanwhile, the government Sona so loyally pledge himself to had bigger fish to fry. Dean del Mastro, the face of denial last year, was embroiled in his own legal issues resulting from election misspending, while the party itself got dinged again for using robocalls to rally support against redrawn riding borders in Saskatchewan, and using RackNine to do it. Meanwhile, with a little over a year to the next Federal Election, Canadians are weary: Is our democracy safe from interference, or will we have to worry about the Wrath of Pierre Poutine in 2015? Stay tuned.
3) Overtime Costs Take City by Surprise
This was a late breaking story, but it was perhaps not the story the City of Guelph wanted in the midst of a hectic budget season and on the eve of an election year. An internal audit revealed that the city may spend as much as $5 million on overtime for the year 2013, with Guelph Transit alone taking about 20 per cent of that with an overtime tab of $1 million on their own. So what gives? The auditor says that Transit has a higher rate of absenteeism, the transit union says that their workers are doing work that counts as overtime despite it being part of regular transit service, and the taxpayers are caught in the middle wondering how and why? To some, the incident confirms that the City of Guelph pisses away money without knowing or caring where it goes (see above), while city employees are feeling scapegoated. Either way, the city moved swiftly to try and curb overtime spending, but this report on one sector of human resources spending highlights the potential for deeper problems as time goes on. Salaries, benefits and pensions, in other words - people, represent the lions share of any corporations' spending. As various unions go into negotiations over new contracts (including the current mediation between transit and the city), the city will likely be more penny-pinching than ever, which could lead to more clashes between workers and management in the short term.
2) History for the Wynne
No matter how you feel about Kathleen Wynne, her immediate predecessor, the party she leads or her tenure thus far as Premier of Ontario, you have to, at least, acknowledge the history making fact of her election. Not only is Wynne the first woman to lead the province, but she's the first member of the LGBT community to be Ontario's Premier too. And while we're handing out kudos, let us also acknowledge that she's survived the year without going to the polls, a feat once thought impossible (see above). Even though there's a reasonable chance that she could still be "Kim Campbelled" in 2014, to Wynne's credit her personal likability rivals that of NDP leader Andrea Horwath, and is well ahead of PC leader Tim Hudak. Although my personal opinion is that Wynne has spent far too much time politicking rather than governing, I don't think it's so far outside the realm of possibility to say that she might be able to rally support for another minority government. Considering that this time last year anyone thought to pick up Dalton McGuinty's baton would be politically damned, perhaps Wynne's real history making move in 2013 was making it to the new year.
1) Rob Ford. Nuff Said
Fordsie. RoFo. Mayor Fraud. Whatever you call him, you can't deny Rob Ford's impact on the year in politics. He started the year by evading a judicial order demanding he remove himself from office when he won an appeal in the Conflict of Interest suit that had been brought against him by Paul Magder. If the near-miss had taught Ford a lesson about the dignity of his office, he quickly forgot it as the spring thaw brought the biggest bombshell of all: a reported video of Ford smoking crack cocaine. The denials were shift, and Ford went radio silent only to emerge a week later with the first of a series of vehement denials. We know now that the allegations were true, and that behind the scenes Ford's people were frantically trying to save the situation by getting the tape themselves. By the time full disclosure was made, what support Ford possessed had evaporated to just his loyal base of die hard Ford Nation citizens who support a mayor who now really only has a title to his name. Still, despite all this, Ford remains defiant about his role in his own downfall, and continues to create new controversies. As his brother hands out $20 bills in full ignorance of the term "influence peddling," Ford nearly went back to court, as Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale brought suit against Ford for repeatedly inferring that Dale was a pedophile. Still, despite the horrible year both personally and professionally, Ford was in the mood to dance Tuesday. Maybe he's just glad that 2013's over.