About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Frank Valeriote: Building Bridges**

(**The Director's Cut)

Today's Echo published the first of my candidate profiles, an interview with Frank Valeriote. You can find the link to Echo's website here, or otherwise pick-up a hard copy of the paper at points around town. Because it's impossible to fit a 40 minute interview into a 700-word column, I decided to run a "Director's Cut" of the interview with additional quotes and information.

It’s Thursday morning, the day before Stephen Harper announced the date for the by–election in Guelph, and Frank Valeriote has the appearance of a man ready to get campaigning. The first–time Liberal candidate faces a long and winding road down the campaign trail. Even though Guelph is currently coloured red on the electoral map, Valeriote himself says that he’s not taking anything for granted. “I don't look back. I don't regard whether this riding is Liberal or any other party. I look forward. I make no assumptions,” he says. “I’m working for every single vote that I get. And I've told my team that."

In the spirit of not taking anything for granted, Valeriote says that there is no single issue that he favours above others, comparing it to being asked which child he loves more. Naturally, it’s hard to have any conversation with a Liberal candidate without bringing up the centrepiece of the party’s platform: the Green Shift. “Personally, I think Mr. [Stéphane] Dion hit the bullseye in such a way that he’s left no more room on the target for any of the other parties to shoot at,” he says, calling the plan bold, visionary and comprehensive. "I think that's why it got such a negative, almost juvenile reaction from Mr. Harper."

"For two years, when [Dion] talks about a greener, more prosperous and fairer country, he's saying that they're all intertwined," he continues. Not only does the Green Shift offer money back to the individual taxpayer, points out Valeriote, but it's an incentive for industry to invest in Green technology; jobs and reduced emissions. "We have to do something about these issues, we choose to ignore them thinking that they'll somehow go away. And we know that the longer you have a repair in your house, the more its going to cost and the worse its going to get."

The Green Shift has not come without its share of controversy, but according to Valeriote people are beginning to understand that they’re not going to be paying more, but paying differently. “A large majority of people say we have to do something and they recognize that it can’t be done without some sacrifice. Yes you're going to have some resistors, some climate change deniers or people that accept it but frankly don't care. But the vast majority of people in Guelph know that something must be done." Valeriote believes that Guelph can be the epicentre of growth (in areas of environmental and bio technologies) here in Canada and that a lot of research being done at the University of Guelph offers prime research and development opportunities in the creation of a greener economy. (Thanks to the Green Shift, along with another previously announce Liberal initiative called the Advanced Manufacturing Prosperity Fund.)

Valeriote says that he's talked to people at the U of G, and that they're eager to commercialize their ideas and innovations and turn them into jobs in Guelph. Reversely, local industry is eager to embrace them too, as Valeriote lists off several local companies that have closed their doors and laid off staff.

It all fits into Valeriote’s vision to improve the future and help the people of Guelph. On the economy itself, Valeriote says that government needs to be more intentional with its efforts and offer more support local industry. Of course the Green Shift will help in this regard; as Valeriote explains, tax credits and incentives will drive research and innovation which will translate into jobs and increased investment.

More specifically
with the economy - "We have to be far more intentional, and by 'we' I mean the government. They have to partner with local industry. I'm getting this from a lot of people, they feel that we're just adrift. There's this feeling of no direction. I'm of the belief that government should do more than just retrain workers because there are some people that just can't be retrained. I believe that [government] should support existing industry and help them to diversify."

The environment - Again, Valeriote says that there's no leadership through this government. "And we have to harmonize the response across Canada so that no one province is isolated or excused from their responsibility about doing something about Green House gases." Of Dion's July 10th visit to Guelph Valeriote says, "There were a lot of skeptics in that crowd - a lot of them Liberal, let's not kid ourselves - and when they walked out they said to me 'This guy knows what he's talking about. He's open, he's honest, he's inclusive and this is a good idea.'"

"Make no mistake, I'm on board," he adds subtly refering to accusations that he was less than enthusiastic about the Green Shift, "When a plan can tackle all those issues, and the fact is we have to do something."

In terms of social issues, Valeriote wants to see a reinvestment in early childhood learning and says that part of Dion’s plan for Canada is a commitment to cut the number of people living below the poverty line (3.5 million) by 30 per cent within five years. [First, Valeriote mentioned how the Liberals worked for years to create hundreds of new daycare spaces only to see that swept aside when the Conservatives came to power. "We've lost up to 300 spaces in Guelph," he says, "and people have told me that the loss of spaces has not been replaced adequately with that $100 monthly payment. That doesn't do anything for childcare."] Valeriote’s also in favour of expanding programs to help new immigrants. He remembers his grandparents’ own difficulty settling in Guelph and wants to make it easier for the large number of immigrants coming into the city to become a part of the community. [Valeriote says that his grandparents were "practically isolated" for years on Alice St. and that since we're inviting people to come here, we should also be doing more to help immigrants settle here. He cites programs in Toronto and Waterloo that helps new arrivals to Canada navigate the system as good examples of local solutions that could be taken to a national level.]

Also on early learning - Valeriote points out that children in early learning get off to a better start in school while helping them psychologically adjust and releasing parents to explore school, training or works opportunities. He goes on to say that even Chiefs of Police say that spending on social programs is a better investment than increasing minimum sentences. "For every dollar you spend in early learning, you save two dollars later," adds Valeriote.

On poverty - Valeriote says we see it everyday, and the Green Shift will help put more money in the pockets of Canada's lower income earners in the form of tax cuts and credits.

You can tell the issue’s personal to Valeriote, who’s lived in Guelph for 53 years, the last 26 of which as co–founder and senior partner of the Smith/Valeriote law firm on Silvercreek. “It’s not what you say but what you do,” explains Valeriote, who adds that his skills as a lawyer and an advocate make him a powerful candidate. [Included under the braod heading "advocate" is the vast number of organizations that Valeriote has served as a part of, for a full list see Valeriote's website here. "People will tell you [I'm] a fellow that roles his sleeves up, and gets the job done," Valeriote adds about himself. "Grass doesn't grow under my feet- I move. I have an idea, or I embrace someone else's, and we go with it."] "If you look at my record you’ll see that I’m a doer, not a sayer.”

His only previous elected position is as a member of the Catholic School Board. It’s here that Valeriote says he cut his teeth and earned a reputation as a conciliator and bridge-builder. He served on the Board during the tumultuous Mike Harris years, which saw much strife between teachers and school boards. “I entered into teacher negotiations saying ‘this is going to be a win–win,’” Valeriote remembers. “And it was made very clear that when you announce at the beginning of your negotiations what your goals are — that everybody will leave this table with something — then you work towards it. Similarly, when I was on the Catholic Board I liasoned with the public board and the Minister of Education recited Guelph in reports as having the two boards with the best relationship in all of Ontario.”

[Coincidentally, one of the people that Valeriote worked with was Liz Sandals, current MPP of Guelph.]

Mostly though, Valeriote is anxious to tackle problems and look for solutions rather than participate in partisan arguments and joining a polarized parliament. "We have to demand more from our parliamentarians," he says. "More respect, putting the partisanship away and working for solutions. We have to attack problems, not people. And that's what this current governement is doing." He had some harsh words for Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, saying that he was “taken aback” by the minister’s comments about Ontario as “the last place” anyone should want to invest in. “I cannot, embrace someone who’s dismissive in their approach to every issue that’s brought before them. It’s discouraging that what was promised — openness, transparency and honesty, has been anything but.”

Valeriote says what will make him different is the fact that he likes to tackle problems head on and work through differences, whatever they are, in order to find solutions. "I like to break those barriers down and people see that and people want that. They want to be engaged, they want to be included and that's what I work towards as a bridge-builder."

Valeriote’s up against some pretty high profile competition this election, but he’s confident that he’ll stand out from the crowd. “I have a long history in Guelph with greater community involvement than the other candidates. I think the people of Guelph will look for substance over profile and they’ll see substance when they look at me. When I knock on the door people say to me, 'Frank, you've done a lot in this community, and you've done a lot of good in this community.'

Additionally, Valeriote wanted to make me aware of a couple of points he'd forgotten to mention during the main interview:

1) While working with the group Women in Crisis, he helped start up a sub-committee called the Committee Against Family Violence. He and the members of this committee helped change the police response to domestic abuse allegations, by pushing for police to change their protocol and remove the offender from the home. They also pushed for anger management programs for offenders rather than "just giving them a slap on the wrist," according to Valeriote.

2) Valeriote also forgot to show me some of the environmentally friendly changes he`s made to home, including the installation of a new boiler.

Next week, I'll run my Director's Cut Tom King interview, with the rest of the candidates being profiled over the subsequent Thursdays in Echo and on this blog, until I either run out of candidates or the election is over.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Today. (Changes, Opinions & Stuff)

It's been a busy day for me. I interviewed Tom King at his home today for my Echo column next week. Since I'm on deadline, I'll round up some of the by-election headlines I scoped out today:

1) Sometimes a by-election can be so darn inconvenient. Elizabeth May announced today that the Green Party has had to shift the date of their national policy convention because they don't want candidates running in by-elections to have to choose between coming to the convention and campaigning the last weekend before voters go the polls. This must be especially good news for Mike Nagy, who's the Greens' Environment critic in their shadow cabinet.

2) The Guelph Mercury printed an article yesterday detailing the candidates opinions on compensation to Steven Truscott. It was announced that Truscott would be compensated with $6.5 million stemming from being wrongful convicted and sentenced to death in the 1959 murder of Lynne Harper. When Truscott was paroled, he moved to Guelph with his family and has spent the last several years fighting for his innocence.

Now the question was: should the Feds split the cost of compensation for Truscott. Here's how their answers broke down:

Mike Nagy -"The most important thing is that Mr. Truscott gets justice. There was a miscarriage of justice and he suffered long enough. So compensation is important. I would say that will be up to the federal agency to discuss between the provincial agencies whether they share or not." [...] "My primary concern isn't really who pays the bill. It's that Mr. Truscott is compensated more than fairly for his suffering . . . because it's clear it's been a miscarriage of justice."

Tom King -"I think there should be some compensation. I mean, the man was accused, wrongly convicted and incarcerated for a fair amount of time. I think those kinds of mistakes - I mean we try not to make them -- but I think that if we do make them . . . then certainly we have an obligation to try to do the right thing. In this case I think that compensation is about the only right thing we can do." [...] "I think the two levels of government can figure that out on their own. It doesn't strike me as a hard question to answer particularly."

Frank Valeriote (who's a lawyer, by the way) - "If you've investigated this, you'll know that the Criminal Code under which he was convicted is federal law. The rules of evidence that would have been applied, there's actually rules of evidence provincially and there's rules of evidence federally. The application of the law and enforcement of the law is a provincial jurisdiction. So both the federal government and its laws and the provincial government and its application of the laws contributed to the failure of the system of justice. So it makes sense to me to conclude that since the whole national system of justice failed Mr. Truscott, the entire national system -- provincial and federal -- should contribute to [compensation]. Personally, I support that decision that it be born 50-50," he said. "Neither was more at fault than the other. That's clear."

Gloria Kovach - "I am pleased with the Truscott decision." [...] "The issue of funding is not a local issue and those questions are best directed to the PMO press office."

So quick note: if people are accusing Conservative members of taking their orders directly from the Prime Minister's Office, without regard for their own opinion, especially on matters of one of their (eventual) constituents, then it might be best not to put that in writing.

3) Speaking of Gloria Kovach, the cavalcade of high profile political guests continues to roll as Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz will be in town this Saturday at the Farmers' Market for the World's Longest Barbecue.

4) So now that I've done the plug, let's play the "Dot. Dot. Dot." game. Today I found a press release on Gloria Kovach's website that begins:

"Earlier this week Stephane Dion’s Liberal candidate in Guelph, Frank Valeriote attacked the Conservative government’s cut of the GST from 7% to 5%. Rather, Valeriote argues that instead of having tax cuts for Guelph families the GST savings should instead be passed on to more politicians, “what (the government) should be doing…is better applying that tax to what you and I both know to be very much needed infrastructure money by municipalities” (Guelph Mercury, July 23, 2008)."

Which begs the question: what's in the "Dot. Dot. Dot." Here's how the quote originally appeared in the Merc:

“'What (the government) should be doing, notwithstanding that their hands are now tied, is better applying that tax to what you and I both know to be very much needed infrastructure money by municipalities,' he said."

And there were five paragraphs before that, which included other key quotations, like, "'The Conservatives, against the advice of every economist, gave a two per cent cut of the GST, which amounts to $12 billion a year,' Valeriote said."

You can find a .pdf of the page in question here. When you read it you will note that what Valeriote was saying is that he wouldn't recommend a GAS tax cut because of the Conservative's ill-advised cuts to the GST. And more to the point, the money cut from the GST could have helped with the nationwide infrastructure deficit. Not that he doesn't want to help Guelph families, not that he wants the money to "be passed on to more politicians" and not that he wants to raise the GST again.

5) For those of us who may be assigning a lot heavy meaning to not just Guelph's by-election, but the one's in Quebec as well, the Globe and Mail offers a bit of cold water.

6) Oh and for some hilarious vitriolic right/left sniping, I highly recommend this thread from the Mercury's Guelph Votes blog.

That's all for now. My interview with Frank Valeriote is in tomorrow's Echo and I'll post it here too, but with director's commentary. Also, I'll be returning to CFRU on Friday for some colour (and hopefully colourful) commentary on the by-election for "The Press Conference" at 1 pm, 93.3 on your FM dial.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Layton Says "Get on the Bus"

Jack Layton returned to Guelph for what was the 30th time (The Mercury's Rob O'Flanagan's guess, not mine) today to make a major policy announcement. Under a NDP government, Layton said, one cent of the gas tax would be dedicated for public transit for a total of $12.8 million in new money, the equivalent funds for 30 new buses, according to an NDP press release.

"The NDP believes that its very important to invest in public transit because if we're going to tackle the problem of climate change, if we're going to make our cities more livable, and if we're going to allow people to get around in an affordable fashion, we've got to invest in transit," declared Layton.

Layton said it's important to work harder to make transit affordable, to offer better service while avoiding fair hikes. The NDP leader went on to say that he and King had a meeting with Guelph's Mayor and Council members about issues facing the Guelph community. Naturally one of the bigger issues mentioned was transit. "It's very important that Canadians, in community's like Guelph, have the choices to be able to have less of an environmental impact, and that's what the NDP approach is all about," he said.

"I think that the more we can get into public transit and away from privet cars I think it will affect the environment in a positive way," added King. "I think Guelph is the type of community where those ideas are important, all it takes is some leadership and the political will to make those things happen."

King went on to say that he's dedicated to work on a local and national level to secure more transit funding and not just "make promises to make things happen." Layton reiterated that Federal cash will give municipalities a steady and regular source of income to insure service and funding. It will be part of a national transit strategy that will be legislated by a potential Layton government, outlining a Federal role in funding transit.

The NDP leader went on to say that the Liberal's Green Shift plan will end up having a negative impact on transit because diesel is one of the fuels that will be taxed under the plan. "Transit systems across the country now are grappling with how they're going to play the carbon tax charge and there's no element of the Liberal proposal that would compensate the municipalities for that," said Layton.

Layton continued with his Guelph tour by helping to officially open King's campaign office on Woolwich and then later went canvasing with King.

Quote of the Day: "We're not just in opposition, we're in proposition. We're bringing ideas forward that will improve the daily life of the people of Guelph and we're happy to be a part of it." -Jack Layton

Monday, July 28, 2008

It's going to be a hot time in the old town tonight!

So we're three days into the by-election and the proverbial claws come out. I know Jon Stewart thinks that Canadian negative campaigning is, in his words, "adorable." But still, one can detect a trace of bitterness in the air, or at the very least on the printed page.

Saturday's Guelph Mercury saw Frank Valeriote dish on Gloria Kovach, observing that, "It's going to be a tough fight, since it seems the Prime Minister's Office and all of their resources have now been set up here in Guelph. The prime minister is adamant about obtaining this riding. He stepped in here and removed a democratically selected candidate, Brent Barr. And he is absolutely intent on reaching his tentacles into Guelph. He is pretty much managing Miss Kovach's campaign."

Ouch. But honestly, it's no worse that what the Kovach campaign's been saying about Valeriote for the last few months. Let's look at a recent Kovach campaign press release that asks the important question: "Does Brenda Chamberlain Really Support Frank Valeriote?":

"And yet, as the Mercury reporter pointed out, Chamberlain was 'notably absent' from this high profile visit to Guelph by Stephané Dion. Her endorsement and any pictures with her are also notably absent from Frank’s website. And, of course, she says nothing about him on her non-existent website.

"Frank may think that he has Brenda’s support, but it is certainly half-hearted at best.

"In fact, Frank appears to have very limited support from the Federal Liberals. His published endorsements are primarily local. He’s only had one major visitor recently– last week’s appearance by Stéphane Dion. No wonder the Guelph Mercury has speculated that Frank is destined for the backbenches if he’s elected."

Oh, snap! Believe me gang, you guys aren't the only one's who were frustrated with Brenda Chamberlain during her last days in office. As Editor-in-Chief of the Ontarion last year, I saw Chamberlain's people shut down Features Editor Greg Beneteau when he tried to get an exit interview with the former MP. And that's really to say nothing of how she gave the university campus a wide berth in her last two campaigns.

Tom King, meanwhile, was able to stay out of the partisan rake out, but that doesn't mean that he wasn't dealing with some negativity of his own. On the weekend, some King campaign signs were vandalized, kicked over and "decorated" with American flags. King, an Aboriginal by ancestry, was born in the US but immigrated to Canada several years ago. He waved off the attempted discrediting by nothing, "The joke is, when all the rest of the candidates' ancestors came over here my people were there on the shores to greet them, but somebody's going to slap an American flag on my sign."

Sticking with the NDP, I got a call today that Jack Layton will be making a transit announcement tomorrow morning in St. George's Square. As soon as it's over, I'll post photos along with the substance of the press conference. In the evening, King and Layton will officially launch the King campaign office.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Who's Cooler Now?

The first weekend of the campaign coincided with a little Guelph tradition called the Hillside Festival. The cool as ice music and community festival at Guelph Lake has been a sellout the last four years, but with Friday's dropping of the writ, organizers were concerned about a different kind of selling out: the politicization of the festival.

Green candidate Mike Nagy was at the Festival in his capacity as a member of the Wellington Water Watchers, supplying concert goers with tap water and educating the public on the need to protect our water resources. It's the second year in a row that WWW has had a presence at Hillside (of course this is their only second year of existence too) and Nagy is one of their most high profile members.

Also at the festival was NDP candidate Tom King, who participated in Sunday's Aboriginal circle and hosted special guest Ed Broadbent, a popular former Federal NDP leader and Member of Parliament. King, by far, is winning the high profile endorsement derby; on his website, he's got Stephen Lewis, Shirley Douglas and Robert Munsch. But perhaps most importantly, he secured the endorsement of Corner Gas' Officer Davis, Lorne Cardinal, who says:

"Tom King is one of those exciting people who makes me hopeful for Canadian politics again."

Powerful words from the man formally known as "The Hawk." (Corner Gas joke, sorry.)

And let us not forget King's ace in the hole: Jack Layton. I was once keeping a running tab of how often he's been in town, but now I'm afraid to say, I've given up. He's back again Tuesday for the official opening of King's campaign office.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Or, what a difference a day makes.

I took a quick tour around some neighbourhoods in Guelph this evening to see who was winning the sign wars just 2 days into the campaign. Well, I can tell you that from what I've seen Gloria Kovach is winning the lawn sign battle, but its still early and she has the infrastructure to get the head start. As for public spaces it seems that Kovach and Frank Valeriote are running about even keel for coverage.

Here is the corner of Paisley and Silvercreek, and all four corners is a deadlock between the Liberal and Conservative candidate.

Down a bit further at the corner of Paisley and Edinburugh it was much the same story, but this time Green candidate Mike Nagy's trying to squeeze in on the action.

Continuing down Paisley, I reached the intersection at Yorkshire and came to realize that I was now in Tom King country. He and Nagy were duking it for signs on the northeast and southeast corner, but heading down Yorkshire it was all King.

Although on Waterloo, I did find a small Nagy sign on the grass next to the Civic Museum.

My next stop was the very popular corner of Gordon and Waterloo, which is always prime real estate no matter the campaign and this one is no exception.

Heading up Norfolk, I checked out another busy corner: Norfolk and Quebec. And again it was another traffic jam of signage.

I wanted to make one more stop, so I headed up Woolwich, only once confronted by a sign between London and Speedvale (a Valeriote). The corner in question was where it all began for me: Woolwich and Woodlawn and like it all began it was Kovach and Valeriote country, although it looked like Nagy and King has something to say about that.

In actual campaigning news, I saw the Young Liberals out in force yesterday in the Willow/Westwood area. And to think, this is just the beginning.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Writ: Oh, It be Dropped

After months of waiting, and waiting... and waiting, we, the people of Guelph, finally have our by-election. And all those candidates that have had to campaign in a purely theoretical fashion, some of them for nearly two years, can at last put all that pre-campaigning to the test on the actual trail to votes.

Mark you calendars! Monday, September 8th is the day.

Why now? Simple. Westmount–Ville-Marie, Que. was due for a by-election. According to law, one must be announced six months after a seat becomes vacated. The deadline for Westmount was Saturday. And since it's no fun alone, Elections Canada combines several necessary by-elections in one go. Along with Westmount and Guelph, the Montreal riding of Saint-Lambert will also go to the polls on September 8th.

And while this blog over the next six weeks will seek to chronicle the campaign here in Guelph, let's take a moment to recognize how this affects the table nationally. You may note that Sept. 8th is a little early in the Fall. Shoot, technically, it isn't even Fall - it's still Summer. Plenty of wiglge room in the schedule for a full blown Federal election in sometime later Autumn, wouldn't you say... Globe and Mail reporter Campbell Clark:

"Losing the Liberal-held riding of Guelph in Southern Ontario would probably put off Mr. Dion's fall election plans. A second loss in the Liberal bastion of Westmount–Ville-Marie, Que., would probably raise questions about his leadership."

The Conservatives are already hitting the spin bag by saying that this will be a test of Liberal leader Stephane Dion's Green Shift plan. But in the same Globe article, Conservative spokesman Ryan Sparrow took it to a whole other level by called the by-elections a "'referendum' on Mr. Dion's leadership and asserted anything less than two Liberal wins would be a major defeat for him."

I don't know what time the call came today. I was on my way to Grand Bend with the "Four Aces" film crew at about noon and there were Gloria Kovach signs all along Woodlawn from Woolwich. This article on Fountain Pen shed a little light on the matter:

"Stephen Harper has called a by-election for Guelph for September 8.

"Candidates lost no time as election signs popped up everywhere in Guelph within seconds of the election call.

"Two other By-Elections have also been called for September 8, Westmount-Ville Marie in Montreal and Saint Lambert.

"Guelph should expect to see a lot of campaigning this time around as this riding is a "Must Win" for all the main party's involved."

Well, needless to say that by the time the crew and I got to Guelph at about 9 'o' clock, there were signs everywhere. I think I'll do a little tour tomorrow.

So it's on baby! And this blog will (hopefully) keep you posted through the whole thing.