About the Blog:

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

Friday, January 30, 2009

The City's down with Lafarge deal

As my fans will note, I've done a number of stories about the ongoing fight over the development of the Lafarge site in the city's west end. Well it appears that this fight may be drawing to a close with a deal reached by all sides through mediation. All that's left apparently is the seal of approval of the Ontario Municipal Board.

Here's the press release I just got from the City:

Guelph City Council Endorses Settlement Proposal on former Lafarge lands

GUELPH, ON, January 30, 2009 – An Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) mediation process has resulted in a potential settlement on a proposed development on the former Lafarge lands at 35 and 40 Silvercreek Parkway South. The City of Guelph, together with the Howitt Park Neighbourhood Residents’ Association and Silvercreek Guelph Developments Limited, has agreed to request that the OMB approve a mixed use employment/commercial and residential development on the site at an upcoming OMB hearing.

Key components of the proposed development, the result of a five-month negotiation and mediation process, include proposed official plan and zoning amendments which would permit:

• A main street area for restaurants and other services along Silvercreek Parkway between Paisley Street and Wellington Street;
• A business park, residential community and park on the east side of Silvercreek Parkway; and
• Retail/commercial uses on the west side of Silvercreek Parkway on lands bounded by the Hanlon Expressway, to be phased in over six years to minimize impacts on existing retail/commercial businesses.

The proposed development would be subject to a number of detailed conditions including a requirement to construct an underpass under the CN Rail Line to make Silvercreek Parkway a through street between Paisley and Wellington.

Guelph's mayor Karen Farbridge says the mediation process has been very useful. “Because of the hard work of the three parties, what began as a proposal for pure retail development has evolved into a neighbourhood-friendly development that will serve our city well.”

A further prehearing conference before the OMB is set for February 11. A hearing is scheduled to begin March 2, 2009. The settlement is subject to approval by the OMB.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Final Countdown

So the most surprising part of the budget was that there were no surprises in the budget. Shoot, even the CBC didn't show it live and instead unleashed the talking heads as Jim Flaherty laid it down for the House.

On the plus side. there's lots of stimulus: $40 billion in the next two years, but on the down side we're looking at $85 billion in deficits over the next five. Then there's $20 billion in personal income tax cuts this fiscal year and business taxes too are also cut by $2 billion, with up to $200 billion to be made available to businesses in liquidity and financing to ensure Canadian consumers and businesses have access to credit. The unemployed get five extra weeks of E/I, but nothing will be done to accelerate the time in which applicants can start receiving those funds.

Quebec? Hosed, changes to the equalization formula will go forward. Cities? Sure, they're going to get some of that infrastructure cash, but they'll have to navigate the usual governmental obstacle course of red tape to get the money. Conservative street cred in being the stewards of sound and balanced budgets? Gone, Flaherty was all about taking a chance because "These are extraordinary times," he said in a news conference.

And that's not to mention the seriously, sudden turn to a more conciliatory tone coming from the Finance Minister and, by proxy, the Prime Minister's Office. "In the past quarter, the world economy has deteriorated substantially. We consulted broadly with Canadians (and) what we heard from Canadians is that we need to do certain things right away to stimulate the economy."

Well not according to the NDP and Bloc. Giles Duceppe said that there was "nothing in [the budget] to obtain our support." And Jack Layton said it fails to "protect the vulnerable, doesn't create jobs for today and doesn't create jobs for tomorrow." So the fate of the Harper government is now up to Michael Ignatieff in his first real test as Liberal leader. But Layton warned Red leader today, through reporters, that it's "absolutely" Ignatieff's responsibility to defeat the budget because it fails to meet the tests "at a minimum" that he set out for his support.

Oh. what to do, what to do? I'm sure it's going to be a sleepless night for Iggy, but we'll know by 11 am tomorrow what way he's going to swing. Smart money says he'll support the budget with conditions. But it appears in the meantime that things are back to normal on Parliament Hill: the NDP and the Bloc hate everything, the Conservatives get stabby and the Liberals are forced to decide how deep they want the shiv to go.

Look! A press release:

Frank Valeriote reviewing budget with caucus

Frank Valeriote, Member of Parliament, is joining his Liberal colleagues for a careful review of the federal budget.

"The Liberal party has been clear and concise on what we wanted to see in the budget—protection for the most vulnerable Canadians, protection of Canadian jobs and creation of the jobs of tomorrow," said Valeriote. "This government is long-overdue for action to address the economic crisis. This budget must be considered carefully to determine if it will provide the action necessary to get our economy back on track. Above all else, the Liberal Party will act in the best interests of the country."

The economic challenges facing Canada were evident long before the government tabled its autumn economic statement and Parliament was prorogued. It is discouraging that this Conservative government has taken so long to signal a willingness to act.

In September, the Prime Minister said if we were going to have a recession, we would have had it by now. In October, he told us there was no recession, but there were ―a lot of great buying opportunities emerging as a consequence of all the panic.‖ In November, Mr. Flaherty presented an economic update setting out a surplus, when now we know that this Conservative government was aware we were headed into a recession and nevertheless mislead us about it.

"Over 100,000 Canadians have lost their jobs in the past two months. It is absolutely unacceptable that this government has wasted time playing political games instead of focusing on the economic crisis," said Valeriote. "It makes one wonder whether we can believe anything that comes out of this Conservative government."

"In these tough economic times Liberals will do our best to make Parliament work for the sake of Canadians," said Valeriote. "However, making Parliament work does not mean that the Prime Minister gets a free ride – he remains accountable to all Canadians and Parliament."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Here we go again... (Again)

As Peter Mansbridge so deftly pointed out, we're back where we were 68 days ago with a Speech from the Throne and a new parliamentary session. However, the nearly eight and a half minute speech delivered by Governor General Michaelle Jean was definitely different in tone from the one last fall. Don Newman just said that the government is scrambling from suffering a "near death experience."

There were not a lot of details in the speech, and honestly what details could it unveil that haven't been leaked by Conservative MPs cross-country in the last couple of days. The promise in the speech was that tomorrow's budget will be, at least partially, focused on helping people at risk; meaning low income earners, seniors and Aboriginal Canadians. And further they will provide "stimulus" while avoiding "long term high deficits."

Well on the surface, the speech seemed to say the right things. All I know is that Harper sat there looking like a kid who was just told that wrestling is fake. Michael Ignatieff says that while he liked the tone of this throne speech better, there's a problem with trust, and the question about what language Canadians can believe when hearing from the Prime Minister. "Canadians face a difficult year, perhaps several difficult years," read Jean. "Our government will do what is necessary to stimulate the economy and invest when necessary for our long term prosperity."

So what's going to happen? Well, Jack Layton said that he has no intention of supporting the Conservatives, on anything, ever. It seems that things have not changed much, NDP members are already saying that they haven't heard anything that will change their minds. And Giles Duceppe, who was first at the microphones, went off crazier than usual. So probably no support there either. So the onus is going to be on Ignatieff, whose shoes I think being in, is not nearly an enviable decision.

The speech ended with these words: "May divine providence be your guide and inspiration." Lord help us if we're leaving this to the gods of fate. Or maybe this is the best move that Harper could have made.

See you at 4 pm tomorrow.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Addendum to today's Guelph Beat

The below remarks are from the original notice about the first meeting of Land Is More Important Than Sprawl (LIMITS) as discussed in my Guelph Beat column in today's Echo. It's got the most basic and important of the information involving why LIMITS is fighting to protect this piece of land.

I plan on making a pilgrimage down that way myself, hopefully in the not too distant future. I'd love to check it out first hand before and if it disappears. Anyway, here what LIMITS has to say about it's cause:

This upcoming spring, the City of Guelph is hoping to finally start building their Hanlon Creek Business Park, a sprawling 675-acre industrial development on the south end of Guelph. Located on the west side of the Hanlon, across from the existing Hanlon Business Park, the land is a mix of forest, meadow, farmland, and a provincially significant wetland.

Located in the center of the proposed industrial development is a spectacular Old Growth forest, the only one of its kind left in the area. Approximately 165 acres, this forest contains hundreds of rare and old growth trees, and on the south end of the proposed industrial development is a hop hornbeam tree that is believed to be about 500 years old. This tree is located within a grove of 150-230 year old sugar maples.

Many of these trees were alive long before European settlers founded Guelph, alive even before the first French Jesuit missionaries explored this land in the 1600s. Archaeologists doing a survey for the HCBP lands recently found evidence that Indigenous people used this area as long as 11,000 years ago.

Also noteworthy is that the city's Downey well, which supplies 20% of Guelph's drinking water, is located about 800 meters from the proposed site for the HCBP. This well is fed by the Hanlon Creek, which travels through the proposed industrial park, and even further, the proposed site includes a recharge zone for the Hanlon Creek. The Hanlon Creek is a tributary of the Speed River, which is one of the four major tributaries of the Grand River.

According to the city's promotional publication on the HCBP, they want to surround this important creek and Guelph's last old growth forest with approximately 370 acres of industrial buildings and 74 acres of new roads. It doesn't take an environmentalist to know that this would permanently and seriously degrade the land.

For the survival of this land, the Hanlon Creek, and Guelph's last viable Old Growth forest, as well for the long-term health and survival of residents of Guelph, we believe there are better things to do with this land than build a massive industrial 'park'. Combining a look at the economic depression we are entering, the coming food security challenges, the severe threat of climate change, the mounting health problems of our industrial system, and much more, a powerful and comprehensive case can be made against the HCBP. We are excited to be working on this and to see where it can go.

Currently we are only a few people, and we would love to diversify and be part of a strong community opposition to such reckless development. Please get in touch if you have any ideas or desires to help us with research, outreach, media stuff, developing ideas, and more. This kind of thing can be very fun to work on with others when the workload is shared.

LIMITS also has a Facebook group, but should you too believe in their cause, the best way to get involved is through e-mail: guelphlimits@gmail.com.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Economy Talk

Or as one might have called it jokingly "Frank & Gerard's Excellent Adventure." But with all due seriousness, the issues that have come out of today's events around Guelph paint a dire though not entirely hopeless picture of what's going on around the Royal City economically.

Liberal Industry critic Gerard Kennedy was in Guelph today as part of the "Sustaining Jobs" Liberal tour of communities across the country. In fact, Guelph was the kick-off point and was put together to "gather input for the upcoming federal budget and for measures beyond the budget required to support Canadian industry and jobs," according to the press release.

The day consisted of a series of meetings, but two were open to media: a tour of Guelph Tool on Lewis Rd. and a roundtable at the Guelph Business Enterprise Centre. Several social, business and neighbourhood groups were represented at the latter. A lot of information and statistics were flying fast and furious in the room, but it all painted a picture that was seriously pessimistic, while making you oddly appreciative for what these various groups are facing.

Here's some of the stats I gathered that came out of the meeting:
  • 23 per cent of the car parts business is done in Guelph
  • Food Bank use is up 19 per cent, and they gave away 850,000 lbs of food last year
  • It takes an average of 8 weeks to get your first E/I cheque
  • It can take up to 5 months to finish the application process for the provinces "Second Careers" retraining program
  • In the tri-cities area, out of 10,000 applicants under "Second Chances," only 70 have been accepted
  • 1 in 8 children live in poverty
  • 1 in 5 households are at risk of becoming homeless
  • An investment of 2 per cent of Canada's GDP can address many poverty issues
  • Public school breakfast programs spend $1.10/student
  • The E/I roster is up 25 per cent
  • The GBEC has seen an increase in 5-times the number of clients per week this month over last
  • But they only have 150 seeds for 500 applications
  • There's a decrease in childcare enrollment
  • There were 60 per cent more people on E/I in Oct. '08 than Oct. '07
  • Wellington County Social Services is still 140 calls behind since coming back from Christmas; and their case load increased by 102 in December '08, including the opening of new files from people who've never sought assistance before
  • The Hitachi plant in Guelph makes a truck worth $2.5 million
That's kind of a very brief overview of what came out of the meeting, and as Kennedy observed, the social services and non-profit organizations are the canary in the coal mine for how truly well or unwell the economy is doing.

There'll be more discussion about these issues in the days ahead, especially going into the budget next week, which will test how well the government is able to respond to Canadians' concerns. The tour of Guelph Tool is the focus of my next Guelph Beat column to, in Echo, on newsstands next Thursday.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Welcome to the New Normal

Today, I officially turned off the old Guelph By-Election Beat '08 Blog and turned it into Guelph Politico, a more semi-permanent sounding presence on the Guelph political blogging scene.

I got the taste for political blogging during the by-election and subsequent Federal election, but ever since, whenever I've found myself with something political to say, I've been stumped with a place to lash out my occasionally profound observations, or other bits of news I may need to relate. This especially became difficult during the Great Constitutional Crisis and Coalition Freak-Out (GCC&CF-O) of last fall. Oh the humanity! But what could I do?

Well, there was only one thing I could do: and that was to return to the GB-EB'08 site and start blogging again. As these things go though, the rigors of (close to) daily blogging can be a little much, so I couldn't hit full force like I used to, but what I'm aiming for is consistency. I hope to do some heavy blogging (that sounds dirty) going into the budget next week, and whatever may come from that, and then we'll see where we go from there.

It's a big day south of the border. As I write this I can now say "President Obama," which once had an even great sense of improbability than "Prime Minister Harper." All around, there's the feeling that change is coming, but unfortunately I still have at least one cynical voice in my head saying, "Oh yeah..."

Yeah. Well, we'll see. But at least I have a new "home," so to speak, from which to cover it all. Welcome to Guelph Politico.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Barack Show

Tomorrow's the big day for some several million Americans, along with millions of more people worldwide, that are looking forward to some life-changing alterations in their political lives. When Barack Obama takes the Oath of Office tomorrow at around noonish eastern time, he's taking up not just the hopes and dreams of all those people, but is inheriting a whole sackful of crap from his predecessor.

He's not in an enviable position, our President Obama, and he's spent much of the last weekend "as a free man" to downplay expectations, but he's going to have to do more than talk in order to convince people that there are still rough waters ahead. But no matter the practical realities, one can't not smell the sweet scent of change in the air. Obama, a diametric opposite from George W. Bush, in oh, so many way, offers a complete sea change in (hopefully) the way America will do business.

Michael Terry wrote an interesting, and occasionally hilarious, piece on the outgoing President in this week's Echo. I have to say that I agree with a lot of what he said, but I hope to disagree on one thing, and that's that the U.S. has learned a lesson from the last eight years and that they're now on to an idea of singular importance: it DOES matter who's President. Obscure, I know, but true nonetheless. I hope to look back in four years at a promise kept, as opposed to being disappointed that nothing really changed, or rather changed at a snail's pace. As we all know, now's not the time for glacial pacing.

Speaking of progress, it's about a week now until our leaders attempt to get back down to business without metaphorically throwing feces at each other like proverbial monkeys. A week from tomorrow, the budget is going down on Parliament Hill, and it could get ugly... well, uglier. Prime Minister Harper is talking spending in order to jump-start the economy, and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff articulated his willingness to accept a small deficit if it means helping Canadians, at a caucus meeting in Ottawa yesterday. It's nice when we all agree, but the question is: will agreement last the length of the process to pass a budget, or is a confidence motion next week inevitable?

Apparently, the coalition rebellion is still in the cards, and Harper's been lately in a more conciliatory mood, clearly unwilling to go down in history as the PM with the shortest term in office. What interesting times we live in, not that anyone really seems to be noticing right now. But I suspect once Obamamania chills out after tomorrow, it's going to be show time up in here.