Being ushered to the train station on the corner of Carden and Wyndham Streets by a brass quartet, one might be confused as to whether or not Mayor Karen Farbridge was kicking off her campaign with a joyful tone or with a New Orleans-style funeral procession. When she began to speak, however, there was no doubt that Farbridge is in it to win it. Ferociously defensive of her leadership-style and he vision as mayor, Farbridge made it perfectly clear that she's out to secure her fourth term in office despite the polls or the perceptions of the pundit class.
Before the candidate herself spoke, Farbridge campaign manager Sean Yo set a tone saying that "The 'purple wave' has come to Guelph, and it's thanks to you." A crowd of 60-70 supporters were gathered just outside the train station to hear Farbridge launch her re-election bid, and Yo said that they already had 200 volunteers on side and thousands more ready to re-endorse the incumbent mayor, no matter what the polls now say.
"The only poll that matters" is the one on October 27, he said adding, "this is the most important election in Guelph history."
The crowd responded with chants of "four more years" and then the mayor got up to speak. She talked about her pride for Guelph and the city's commitment to "energy, passion and hard work." Farbridge said that she wants to channel that into her campaign efforts, and defend what she thinks is a record all Guelphites can appreciate, balancing business interests and progressive politics.
"We have so much to be proud of," she said before taking her first of many shots at the race's current front-runner, Ward 4 Councillor Cam Guthrie. "Sadly a few people aren't as proud of our city as we are. They spend their days - mostly on computers - trying to tear down our city - to hurt our reputation any chance they get.
"Councillor Guthrie is one of these people," she added.
Farbridge then went on to talk about "the Guelph Factor," the belief that the city purposefully makes it difficult for business and development to operate in the Royal City. Farbridge said that Guthrie is on the one had disparaging Guelph's decisions while still being a part of that decision-making process on council. "He is telling everyone he can that Guelph is not a good place to do business, "Farbridge said to a chorus of boos. "He's been at the table. He has seen the press releases. He's attended the ribbon cuttings and the ground breakings."
Further, Farbridge wants to reclaim "the Guelph Factor" and spin it as a positive, noting that its an indication that Guelph is a caring community that thinks of its friends and neighbours as much as its bottom line. "The Guelph Factor is what makes Guelph special," she said. "The Guelph Factor is why so many people want to move here and why so many of us would never consider living anywhere else. And no matter how many times Councillor Guthrie repeats it to damage our reputation, we know differently; you can't cut your way to a better city."
Farbridge didn't try to avoid her own controversies, although she did talk around them. "There are tough decisions to be made that are not always popular. And sometimes, beyond our best intentions, we make mistakes," she said. It could be presumed that she was talking about the Urbacon ruling, but the mayor didn't go into specifics. "Those are the times when we need conviction to openly and honestly understand what went wrong so that we can do better."
Playing against Guthrie's populist stance on property taxes, Farbridge made a case that a city's worth should be measured more then by how little one pays to live there. "Trickle-down economics is a fairy tale," she said emphatically. "I believe we measure value not by asking 'how little taxes can I pay' but by looking at the return on investment that our taxes is bringing us. Talking about taxes without taking the value they bring is naive, short sighted and frankly bad for business and people."
As for her plans for the Royal City, Farbridge promised to bring more jobs to Guelph, work to secure all day GO train service, close the gap between tax increases and the rate of inflation, protect services and make Guelph Canada's greenest city.
"We urgently need to keep Guelph on track for the next four years," she said driving the metaphor home. "Councillor Guthrie will derail this city and run it off the tracks - and that would be a disaster. He says he is bringing back choice. What he really means is that he wants you to choose less. Less value. Less service. Less Guelph."
Guthrie will launch his campaign this coming Wednesday at his Wyndham Street campaign office.