About the Blog:

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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Temple of Doom? Why is the Sikh Temple Causing so much Controversy?

Yeesh. What's the deal with all this controversy around the Sikh temple? The Guelph Mercury made it front cover and centre in the weekend edition, just in time for the matter to be discussed at a Council planning committee meeting tomorrow night.

The proposal is whether or not a four-acre piece of land in the southend of the city along Claire Rd between Victoria Rd and Tolton Dr will be re-zoned to allow the construction of a Sikh temple on the site. Currently, Guelph Sikhs meet weekly at an old beer store on Stevenson, so a 18,000 sq. foot temple for 400 worshippers would be, if you'll pardon the expression, a Godsend.

But then there's the other part of the story. A grassroots campaign made up of area residents has pushed back at the re-zoning proposal and list a myriad of reasons why that particular area is no good for a Sikh temple. Now that's perfectly fair and within their right at citizens, but a chilling prospect quickly arose in regards their desire to stop the construction of the temple: charges of racism.

A website called Stop the Temple went online earlier this month as a way for people to organize and stay informed. But a couple of weeks later, on the same day, two posts were put up on the site that changed the whole frame of the debate:

"First its a Sikh Temple. Next it will be a Mosque. Both are violent cults and next it will be a memorial to martyrs aka terrorists. We must stop this eastern influence."

"So any middle eastern minority wants something, They'd better get it! If we oppose..we are all racist, and discriminating! God forbid we offend these people. Last I checked, they are suicide bombers, child molesters, they kill their kids because they go out after dark, rapists, Con artists, Scammers. Sorry no offence I dont want to take the risk of hundreds more moving to this community, and opening hundreds of corner stores, pizza pizza's and subways. Enough is enough. You have Brampton. Move there, stay there, and leave our city alone."

A third post two days later spelled Sikh as "Sheik" but I'll chalk that one up to spelling difficulties, a malady that I can relate too. However, those first posts remain paradoxically disturbing. Who would say this? Where is this ignorance evident in what many of us consider as Guelph the tolerant, Guelph the open-minded?

The Mercury's Scott Tracy wrote an editorial which has received some pretty enthusiastic feedback, with people against the temple asserting they're not racist and everybody else asking what's the problem then. There's no reason to doubt the sincerity of the people against the temple when they say they are not racist, nor do I doubt that the two comments from above represent an extremist view only. Still, I'm forced to wonder: why so vehemently against the temple? Let's look at the arguments against:
  1. Traffic: Yeah, I guess when you have 400 Sikhs coming in to worship every Sunday the road's going to get pretty busy. But I've seen churches in Guelph here on far tighter roads than Claire and they somehow manage with a minimum of nuisance. So why is this particular area so susceptible to cataclysmic traffic breakdown thanks to one temple? Aren't the banks and shopping centres a couple of blocks over going to do more to increase traffic?
  2. Lighting: Along with the temple, there'll be a 169 space parking lot, and naturally, in today's world, you're not going to let you parishioners walk to their cars in the dark. But the way you hear opponents talk you'd think that developers were looking at giant plane spotters. Bottom line is, if done right, you'll never notice the difference. I literally live beside the Hanlon, where it's constantly lighted, and it doesn't bother me.
  3. 24/7: Apparently, a comment was made that the temple would be open 24 hours a day/7 days a week. If you think this means that scores of Sikhs will be visiting their temple for services at 3 am on Tuesday, then nothing anybody says in defense of the temple will be able to persuade you.
  4. Usage: Another argument I've heard is that placing a temple on the site does nothing for the larger community, ie: the ones who aren't members of the Sikh faith. Well, they'll probably get as much out of it as a Sikh would with his or her local Anglican church. Which is why temple reps have said that the temple will be available to be used as a community centre when religious services aren't in session. Just like your local church.
  5. Aesthetic: Basically saying that the design of a Sikh temple wouldn't blend well in the cookie-cutter inspired developments that populate much of the south end. Heaven forefend we see something other than the same three houses and uninspired strip malls over and over again. I agree that next to all that, a Sikh temple is a little ostentatious, but next to those giant Loblawses, which are basically designed like big, empty concrete boxes, even U of G's south res looks like it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Those were more or less the main issues I've heard brought up, and when I look over that list the whole notion of racism (or at the very least discrimination) on the part of opponents seems even more stark. If this is the best of the dissenting arguments, then it's no wonder that people think that racism is the real underline cause.

But as I said, I do believe that people are sincere in saying that these are the problems they have with the development of the Sikh temple, I'm just having trouble believing it. I'm also not sure what's coming up at council tomorrow night, but I have a feeling that it's not going to stem the negativity, or appease those against the project. The tricky thing about racism is that people can be racist and not even know it, not even realize. But we have to ask, why is it that of all the construction projects in the south end, these 400 acres represent the biggest threat to neighbourhood stability?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

HCBP Episode II: Give Us Our Money!

Warm, spring days may still be at least another month away, but the City is opening the first salvo in what's sure to be another year in the contentious debate about the Hanlon Creek Business Park.

Now I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but this press release was sent to me while I, and numerous other media outlets, were focused on the Farbridge re-election announcement. (Not a big deal for, say, The Mercury, but I'm a one man show.) Anyway, I'll let the press release be read first, and then comment:

City and Belmont Equity take next step in legal action relating to Hanlon Creek Business Park Claim to protect taxpayers from costs 24-Feb-10

GUELPH, ON, February 24, 2010 – As part of the ongoing legal action relating to the Hanlon Creek Business Park (HCBP) occupation that took place last summer, the City of Guelph and Belmont Equity have served former occupants of the site with a statement of claim which includes damages in the amount of $5 million. During the occupation, the City obtained an injunction which prevents people from trespassing and interfering with business park construction. Service of the statement of claim is part of the legal process that is necessary for cases involving injunctions.

The claim is intended to ensure that the actual cost of damages incurred to date and potential future damages resulting from protestor activity can be recovered so the business park can move forward without further cost to taxpayers. The City and Belmont Equity are hopeful damages will not reach $5 million.

The City and Belmont Equity are not seeking punitive damages as part of the claim, but hope to recover the actual cost of damages, including damages to the site, resulting from protestor activities, and costs relating to the loss of monitoring equipment. The full extent of damages incurred to date and which may be incurred in the future is not known at this time.

The City and Belmont Equity’s statement of claim alleges conspiracy, interference with economic relations, inducement of breach of contract, trespass, nuisance and intimidation.

So the City of Guelph and Belmont Equity thinks it's going to get $5 million, in Canadian dollars, out of the people that occupied the HCBP last summer? I hope this more deterrent than actual legal action because I can't foresee a lot of those guys having huge depositories filled with gold that they dive into and swim around in a la Scrooge McDuck. Bottom line though, this is probably not the best way to chill the indemnity between the two sides in this debate.

Campaign '10 Kicks Off with Farbridge Announcing Re-election Bid

The 2010 Municipal Election season officially kicked off just moments ago when Mayor Karen Farbridge threw her hat into the ring by announcing her intention to run for a third term in office.

"I'm here to announce that I will be running for re-election as Mayor of the City of Guelph in this fall's municipal election," she told a crowd of supporters and well-wishing city councillors this afternoon in front of City Hall. "I am quite excited at the opportunity to serve my community again as Mayor."

Amongst her reasons for running, the Mayor said that a lot of important work has begun under her current tenure in office and that she wants to see it through. "Our city requires experienced leadership to meet the challenges that are ahead of us, build on our successes and continue the good work we have begun." This good work includes improving city infrastructure, balancing sustainability with growth and leading Guelph out of "the worst economic recession since the 1930s."

Farbridge also gave a requisite shout out to Canada's Olympic athletes, saying that it's okay to toot our own horn despite Canadian tendencies to the contrary. "Our Olympic athletes have given us permission to bang our drum as a nation," she added saying that we, as a community, should be proud of all that Guelph's accomplishments and accolades, like being labelled Canada's most caring community.

As for why she's announcing early (although still two months behind some of her Toronto counterparts), Farbridge had two reasons. One, was to stymie idle speculation in the media (*ahem*) and two, to start a dialogue. "I look forward to the opportunity to talk with the people of Guelph over the next several months about ways we can continue to work together to a prosperous and sustainable future for our city."

To the best of my knowledge, Farbridge is not only the first mayoral candidate to throw her hat in the rink, but the first candidate on any ticket for the 2010 election. I could be wrong, of course, and if I am feel free to let me know below.

Also, what do you think of the idea of Mayor Farbridge part III? Good idea or great idea? For it, or again' it? Best wishes or good riddance? You know where to post.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Clean-Up Crew Wants Feedback

It would seem that the annual Speed River Clean-Up isn't drawing the numbers it used to, and the Clean-Ups organizers, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) is asking for feedback from the community on how to make it more appealing. The story was published in a recent edition of the Guelph Tribune.

“The spark has gone out of it,” said Alison Morrison, Speed River Project co-ordinator. “Our numbers are dwindling, and we’re not even sure of the impact of sending 200 people into the river on a Saturday morning,” said Morrison.

But numbers aren't the sole concern for OPIRG as they're looking to re-energize the 30-year-old event. As Morrison says, the idea of going out into the river and removing the trash, while once being novel, does nothing to address the main issue: the fact that people keep dumping garbage in the river.

So amongst the suggestions already on the table is paternerships with community groups and holding further, informational events throughout the year. But not to worry, says OPIRG, they want to know what you think on the matter too. What are your suggestions for improving the Speed River Clean-Up? OPIRG requests that you post them here.

Regardless, I don't think anyone can deny that the Clean-Up still has a part to play in the community. It's a fun event that raises awareness in a very practical way. Granted, there's still more that needs to be done to keep awareness and action going through the year, but I'd hate to this event disappear, or written off as ineffective. Like the man said, every little bit helps.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Recap: Better Know A Ward - Part 1

As you may or may not know, about a year and a half ago I started working on a 6-part series called "Better Know A Ward" in which I was profiling each of the city's six wards and the city councillors that represent them. I got about half way done and that was December 2008.

Now I'm trying to play catch up before the election this fall, and I'm starting with a recap of Ward's 1 through 3. Here is the profile I did of Ward 1 that was printed in the December 4th, 2008 issue of Echo.

Ward 1: The Centre of it All

After an unpredictably lengthy hiatus, it’s time to return to my award-eligible series (hint), “Better Know a Ward.” For the third part of this six part series, we go to St. Patrick’s; Ward 1 – the Fightin’ First. The borders of Ward 1 extend from downtown to the south-eastern border of Guelph; everything east of Victoria Road, and south of Eramosa and Eastview Roads. The two people charged with representing this diverse area are first-term Councillor’s Kathleen Farrelly and Bob Bell. I sat down with Farrelly and Bell last week, in the parlour of Farrelly’s home, to talk about issues in the Ward.

Bell and Farrelly make no qualms, they both consider Downtown Guelph to be the most important part of the city and there are some big changes coming in the next couple of years. The next step comes in January, when council will vote on whether or not to make the downtown train station the official Go Train terminal in Guelph. Bell calls it “the single biggest thing that will happen to downtown Guelph this decade,” and is part of an overall plan to revolutionize transit in, and out of, town.

The target date right now is to bring the GO Train back to Guelph by 2011, but before that, Bell and Farrelly have their eyes set on 2010, the date to create a new transit hub along Carden Street, bringing together out of town buses, trains and Guelph Transit into a single strip in the downtown. “That would enable someone to get from downtown Toronto to the University [of Guelph], on public transit, in about 70 minutes,” explains Bell. “That’s when you can really get people hauled out of their cars, if you can provide a faster service.” Adds Farrelly, “And to be as convenient as possible, which it would.”

This plan has not come without some controversy however. “Some people are very much against the relocation of the transit hub and some people seem to love it,” says Farrelly. “What was explained to us is that while the hub is being moved, the buses will still go through downtown, we’re not losing that bus stop downtown.” What might be lost though is the number of buses going through downtown. In order to create more efficiency, and to expedite travel from points A to B, Bell particularly wants to see Guelph Transit move to a grid system with express and cross-town routes that don’t have to stop downtown.

In the meantime, there are concerns in the Ward beyond transit, but are nonetheless of practical importance: the grocery store and retail deficit in the East End. “What the East Enders want is fair city investment, and the provision of services there to be at a par with other areas of the city,” says Bell. “There’s no dispute right now that they’re being treated unfairly.” Farrelly adds that the delay is not the fault of the city, but the fact that the corporations that own the land, Loblaws and Metro, have yet to capitalize. “What they’re saying is that they’re rethinking the size of the store, with the view of not having the huge stores they presented.”

And that’s not likely to change given current economic conditions and in a new age of fiscal restraint given the global recession. Like all city employees and representatives, Bell and Farrelly say they’re looking for ways to keep costs down and are re-evaluating certain purchases. Bell says he took a suggestion that the city could put off the purchase of replacement computers, which has a price tag of $1 million. “You have to be very conscious of where your discretionary funding goes,” he says. Buying new computers won’t necessarily help Guelph because they’re manufactured overseas.

All-in-all, and given the seemingly enormous nature of some of the issues facing the ward, Farrelly and Bell say that the job has been more or less what they expected. But Farrelly knew advanced what her duties might entail; her son was on the council from 1993 to 2003. And if there’s one thing these two Ward 1 representatives have in common, it’s a dislike for the trappings of government. “I’m very impatient with red tap and bureaucracy,” says Farrelly, who adds that she’s learning patience. But if she and Bell are proud of one thing, it’s maintaining a campaign promise to keep council functional and communicative. “Even though we disagree on issues, we still maintain our civility and friendliness, we don’t harbour ill-will,” she adds, “We’ve made a point of that.”

Friday, February 12, 2010

Am I Next? (The Curious Case of Politico Ownership Issues)

A fan named Martin sent this link to me today. It's from the US political blog The Huffington Post, and it's an article about how The Politico, a US political magazine based in Washington, has issued a cease and desist order to a British blog called Tory-Politico. Basically, The Politico doesn't like the 120,293rd most viewed site in the UK using the name Politico and has demanded... well, I think the Media Bistro article summed it up best.

"In a cease and desist letter to the blog's founder, Politico counsel Dow Lohnes demanded that the UK blog (1) cease all use of the mark and name Tory Politico (2) cease all use of confusing design and graphics (3) transfer the url tory-politico to Capital News (Politico parent) (4) verify in writing the permanent cease of any future use of mark, trade name, domain and trade dress that is confusingly similar to Politico within ten business days."

To his credit, Tory-Politico's Jason Brown says that they're not going quietly into that good night and that The Politico, for all intents and purposes, can step off. But he puts it better than I can saying, "For the record I have no intentions of ether changing the name of this blog or transferring the domain name to Capital News, though I do not know how long I will be able to hold out with the wolves at the door. I am anticipating escalation on their part as I am refusing to comply with demands 1 and 3, so in the next couple of days I will be considering my option, this could involve launching a 'Save Tory Politico' campaign and a fundraising operation to fund a defence."

For the record, at least according to Merriam Webster, the word "politico" dates back to 1630, so The Politico is about 380 years to late to stake a claim, but if they had it would probably been under public domain at this point anyway.

Let me state for the record that I stand with our fellow Politicos in Great Britain in an act of transatlantic blogging solidarity, in the hopes that if the boom falls on Guelph Politico they might be so good as to return the favour.

Thanks to Martin for the link, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Street View of Guelph Now Available

Say what you want about Google's controversial new Street View function, but its nothing if not interesting. Getting to see the streets you walk everyday, frozen in time, is, well, kind of fun. Well now Guelph can count itself among the lucky few, one of 150 Canadian cities, that can see itself in full detail on Google Street View. Just type in an address and drag the little orange man on to the area of the map you want to see the street view of. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Torch Flap not Assault, Just Mischief

As someone posted on the original blog about the incident at the Torch relay in December, assault charges were dropped yesterday against a 19-year-old Kitchener woman for the altercation between torch security and protesters during the Olympic torch's run through Downtown Guelph on December 28th.

As reported yesterday by the Mercury, a new charge of mischief was made against Brittney Simpson. The assault charge was dropped because there was “no reasonable prospect of conviction” according to Assistant Crown attorney Steve Hamilton.

A second person arrested in relation to the incident is still facing an assault charge with an additional mischief charge filed against her in court yesterday. Both Simpson and Kelly Pflug-Back from Guelph will be back in court on March 5th.

If anything the dropping of the assault charge seems to add credence that the tripping of torchbearer Cortney Hansen, though unfortunate, was probably more accidental than many people were willing to believe at the time. What little in terms of eye-witness reports of the incident seemed to indicate as much (although some will disagree, I concede that), and there were many a pitchfork ready to skewer Brittney Simpson for the matter.

What was it that Paul Harvey used to say "And now you know… the rest of the story." Well, some more of it anyway. To be continued...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Organic Waste Plant: The City Dossier

Today, the CIty of Guelph released the "backgrounder" for the new Organic Waste Processing Plant which will be will be located at the Waste Resource Innovation Centre, 110 Dunlop Drive once completed in 2011.

If you want to see the whole dossier, you can click over to the City's website here and read all about it. Below I clipped some of the pertinent highlights for your future post-dining clean-up pleasure.

Plant capacity
  • Guelph currently generates approximately 10,000 tonnes of organic waste each year.
  • Similar to the capacity of the original composting facility, the OWPF is designed to handle 30,000 tonnes of organic material per year to ensure efficiencies of scale (i.e. the minimum capacity in order for the facility to be economically viable) and to allow for future population growth.
  • The amount of organic waste that Guelph generates is expected to grow from approximately 10,000 tonnes per year to over 16,000 tonnes annually over a 25 year period.
  • To take advantage of its excess plant capacity, the City will benefit by receiving organic waste from other municipalities, which will reduce operating and capital costs. The Region of Waterloo has entered into a contract with AIM to have its organic waste processed at a facility operated by AIM. The Region will pay AIM to process its organics and the City of Guelph would receive compensation from AIM for the use of its facility should the Region of Waterloo have its organic waste processed at Guelph’s facility, reducing costs to Guelph taxpayers.
Operational costs associated with disposal and processing organic waste
  • $85/tonne to ship organic waste to New York for disposal through energy-from-waste incineration (price is approximate, depends on fuel surcharge); this is the current method used by the City of Guelph and is not considered to be diversion from disposal by the Ontario Ministry of Environment.
  • $100-$150/tonne to ship bagged organics to a private sector composting facility in Ontario, subject to available capacity (e.g. the Region of Waterloo currently ships its organic waste to a composting facility in Hamilton).
  • $87.50/tonne (plus the capital cost of construction for the new facility) to process Guelph’s organics locally at the new organics facility.
Capital costs associated with building the new OWPF
  • $32,825,000 is the total budget for the new OWPF.
  • $27,524,400 to design and build the new OWPF (not including taxes).
  • The remaining budget ($5.3 million) will be used to secure all necessary provincial approvals, project management, taxes and contingency.
Cost per tonne

In 2011, it’s expected to cost residents approximately $2 million* more to process wet waste than in 2010, which works out to approximately $0.70 per week, per household**. This additional cost is primarily the capital financing costs of the OWPF.

The City has the option to choose a pricing structure that would reduce the operating and capital costs of the OWPF. Later this year the City will meet with the contractor to discuss the available pricing structures.

(*Based on debt issued for the facility in 2010, completion of the organics facility in 2011, and half a year of plant operation in 2011. **Based on the average property value of $257,000.)

Note: These numbers are based on information available today and are subject to change as details are confirmed (e.g. sales tax impacts, fixed vs. sliding scale operating costs, interest rates).

Project timeline (as of this date)

  • March 2010 - Provincial permits and approvals (anticipated)
  • Spring 2010 - Construction to begin
  • 2010 - Community Liaison Committee to be established
  • Spring/summer 2011 - Anticipated start of operation
  • 2011 - Staff report regarding the efficiencies of moving from bagged organics collection to using green bins will go to Council for consideration.