About the Blog:

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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

5 Lost Days of Summer

In a press release this morning, the City announced five dates this summer that the shop will be closed because of temporary staff layoffs needed in order to mitigate greater property tax increases for the 2010 fiscal year. You'll remember that the original intention was to co-ordinate with the unions to minimize the impact of the layoffs and avoid the effective closure of city services for whole days, but no agreement was reached.

Here's the press release:

GUELPH, ON, March 31, 2010 – City facilities will be closed and services cancelled for five days this summer in order to implement cost saving measures approved by Council in the City’s 2010 budget. In order to achieve these savings some temporary staff layoffs will occur. Facility closures and service disruptions will be in effect Monday, June 21; Friday, July 9; Thursday, July 22; Wednesday, August 11; and Tuesday, August 24.

The savings from these closures are part of Council’s efforts to minimize the impact on property taxpayers of a loss of revenue during a global economic recession.

The five separate days were chosen in order to minimize disruption to the public. Click here for a list of affected services and facility closures.

Guelph Transit buses will continue to operate on these days. In order to achieve the targeted savings, transit service—including mobility service—will be cancelled on Sundays in August, and 20-minute transit service will be replaced with 30-minute service in June, July and August as part of other service reductions identified in the 2010 budget.

Over the past few weeks, the City has met with union executives to continue to search for ways to achieve the budget reduction and avoid service disruptions. Despite collective best efforts, no solution was found. “While this has been a difficult decision and will undoubtedly be unwelcome news for residents, the measures are necessary to mitigate further property tax increases,” says Guelph’s Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig. “We thank all of the parties for their willingness to discuss ways to avoid service disruptions, which demonstrates a collective commitment to public service.”

There will be no closures or disruption of emergency services such as police, fire and emergency medical service (EMS). These services will continue to be available at all times.

In December, Council approved a preliminary budget which included a payroll savings of $1.2 million, representing the cost of five working days for all employees.

I usual try to offer some fair-minded analysis, but I have to admit that I got ticked reading this. Especially the bit about transit. I hope nobody in the City of Guelph takes the bus to church. Or perhaps might like to enjoy a day out in the city on a Sunday afternoon, like maybe at a city sponsored event or festival. Or work on Sundays. That's going to be huge because that's going to impact a lot of businesses and stores that will have to make allowances for staff without vehicle access. Not to mention the young people for whom working on Sunday is primetime for making money during the work week.

The kicker is I spent much of last night looking at the results of the consultation process in regards to the future of transit in the city, which actually had a lot of really interesting ideas (that I plan on writing about soon). But I kept coming back to a single thought: How is the city's transit supposed to improve when we constantly neuter it so easily. Remember 40 minute peak service? Constant fare increases without noticeable improvements in service? How about the pre-existing plan to scale back 20 minute service in June, July and August, the result of which lays-off several transit workers for the summer?

So yeah, I'm not pleased. How are we supposed to encourage transit use in this city when the PTBs (The Powers That Be) keep taking one step forward and two steps back? That was one question that I didn't get answered at the info session last night. Also, I hope that there aren't any heatwaves on those closure days. Sayonara to cooling centres and public pools...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Recap: Better Know A Ward - Part 3

Today, we have the final part of three recaps for the Better Know a Ward series. This piece was published in the July 3rd, 2008 issue of Echo Weekly and was actually the first part in the series. Hopefully, the re-publication of this piece will mean the second half of the years is nearing launch. So here's to good karma, and here's to the future and parts 4, 5, and 6 of Better Know a Ward.

Ward 3: Where the past and the future meet

Welcome to the first part of my six part series “Better Know a Ward.” (Any relation between this column and a sketch done on a popular late night comedy show is purely coincidental.)

This week’s ward: St. John’s, the fightin’ third. Located in the centre of the city, it’s home to both some of the wealthiest and poorest neighbourhoods in Guelph and counts the Library and Exhibition Park amongst its landmarks, as well as a number of heritage homes and buildings. Diversity is also a feature with many new immigrants settling into the Willow area, speaking 26 languages. The councillors representing this diverse sector are the thrice-elected Maggie Laidlaw and freshman June Hofland. I talked to both of them following a Ward meeting in the main council chamber at City Hall.

Amongst the concerns of Ward 3 residents is the usual: property taxes, transit, city services and termites? Yes, it seems that the wood eating insects are something of a nuisance, coming into the ward following the rail line and moving up Woolwich Street.

“One of the issues that was contentious, but its died away because it keeps getting put off, is to have a skateboard park in Exhibition Park,” adds Laidlaw. “Some people are vehemently opposed to it. We’re one of the only cities of our size that doesn’t have a skateboard park.”

Another issue is the placement of an expanded main branch of the library. Last Tuesday, a number of scenarios were presented for appraisal by the public during a library hosted open house. The original building was designed to hold about 40,000 books, a number that it’s since exceeded by a factor of three. Still, there is division about investing in an expanded library, especially after the city lost the preferred location of the old post office on Wyndham.

“There’s still a lot of bad feelings around losing that sale,” says Hofland. “The thing that I find most difficult is that the downtown is everybody’s neighbourhood. That’s why public spaces - libraries, skating rinks - all of those things are important to the health of a city, I really feel strongly about that.”

Of course, the two big elephants in Ward 3 are development related: the Lafarge site and Wal-Mart. As reported here a couple of weeks ago, council voted down the developers’ proposal on Lafarge and now the matter is before the Ontario Municipal Board, where mediation will start in September as all sides try to reach an accord.

Hofland, who refuses to comment on her feeling of the development due to a conflict of interest, says that, “People are not opposed to the development necessarily, but what they’d like to see is a ‘complete community;’ places for people to live, work, shop, public space, as opposed to 400,000 square feet of big box commercial.”

On the other side of the ward is Wal-Mart, and this month a motion will come to council to authorize an expansion of the store and create new shopping space on the surrounding land. After the furious 10 year debate, the fight against Wal-Mart seems oddly stayed as the expansion option has arisen.

“I think people are tired,” said Laidlaw, who was one of council’s staunchest anti-Wal-Mart voices. “One thing I have heard from a couple of people that live on Woodlawn, is that they want a grocery store. And yet there used to be a Zehr’s store where the Staples store is now, so go figure.”

“I don’t think we’ll have input as to what goes into the extension, but I think we’ll have input into the urban design, maybe we’ll be able to suggest a smaller scale but I don’t know if that’ll be the case,” added a hopeful Hofland.

As reflected in their comments, Laidlaw and Hofland share more than a ward in common, but a set of values, as Hofland says; a strong commitment to protecting Guelph’s environment and heritage, while promoting the communication and accountability of city hall. Clearly the people of Ward 3 like what their about as they both won their seats with over 3,000 votes a piece.

“People in my ward want the same things that I want, that’s why they elected me,” observed Laidlaw. “I’m not doing anything I didn’t say in my [campaign] brochure, I’m doing all the things that people expect of me, and I’ve had the same platform for eight years, people know me.”

Hofland agreed, adding, “I still hope that I’m here because I reflect other people’s values and that we mirror each others values.”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Celebrate Activism

NOTE: The date change below

From the people that brought you fighting the power and giving peace a chance, comes an event to celebrate those that stand up to the man and lived to tell about it.

Roots of Change
Thursday, April 1st, 2010, 6-11 p.m.
40 Baker St, Guelph, ON, Canada

We invite ALL members of the Guelph campus and community to come on out! There will be 4 key speakers who are all prominent local activists, either from the campus or community. They will share their stories of change and activism, with time for an audience question and answer period.


1. Abid Virani --> Co-founder of Student Reach International

2. Bob Gordon --> Involved this past summer with the HCBP occupation
3. mandy hiscocks --> OPIRG Volunteer Coordinator
4. Dr.Terisa Turner --> Co-director of the United Nations NGO, International Oil Working Group (IOWG)

-->>SPECIAL GUEST:<<-- We are pleased to announce that David Scott, a talented local musician, will be delighting us with his sensational acoustics and lyrics. Come to open your mind, open your hearts, establish new connections, and see a new light or perhaps find something you think is worth fighting for... bring your ideas and positivism and together we will learn from each others stories and make a difference in our community.

The evening is free by donation to support further continuation of the "Roots of Change" project, with complimentary beverages and food. We will have an open mic hour and encourage people to express their creativity by sharing poetry, singing a song, jamming out with some instruments or telling your OWN story!

We are currently in the midst of pairing this event with CFRU 93.3FM to record the event and make it into a mini series that will be aired on the station... so all of Guelph can be a part of the roots of change!! --> we'll keep you guys posted on the details!!

Invite your friends, family, teachers, peers. Spread the word!!

Consider it spread.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Don't Be a Menace to Downtown or People Will Write Letters About You

I was reading the new edition of The Guelph Tribune this morning, and I came across a rather terse letter to the editor. I couldn't find it on the Trib website, so I now re-write it verbatim:

"A sorry sign of the times?

"On St. Patrick's Day I was having a quiet meal on a restaurant on Carden Street when two drunk students lurched up to the front door and relieved themselves in full view. It was 6:30 pm, still daylight.

"The waitress told me that on her way in to work about a half-hour before, she had passed students urinating on the steps of the Church of Our Lady.

"Is it just me or is the population of rowdy drunken students increasing in beautiful downtown Guelph? I welcome feedback."

-Melissa Campbell, Guelph

To wit, I offer my feedback.

No it's not you, it's your perception. Generally our personal experiences inform our worldview. We hear stories about violence on the news and we think our community is violent in spite of reputable statistics that say the rate of violent incidents has gone down. So you had an unfortunate run-in with a pair of defective samples of humanity and you heard of another second hand from your waitress, but that doesn't necessarily mean that debauchery is on an uptick in the downtown.

My second thought concerns your assertion that these individuals were "students", meaning University of Guelph students, I presume. As a resident of the City of Guelph and a former student and student journalist at the U of G, I've been on both sides of this issue, but to my experience, anyone old enough to been seen drinking or being drunk is corralled into a broadly defined category of "student". Now to be fair, students can get rowdy, disrespectful and downright rude, but unless they were wearing a piece of clothing or had some other identifying mark that says they're affiliated with the university, then a "student" they need not necessarily be.

Next is the culture. Quick, tell me who St. Patrick was and what he's famous for? What time did he live in? When was he canonized? Who and where is he the patron saint of (besides Ireland)? If you can answer 3 out of 5 of those questions without referencing Wikipedia, then drink hardy with a clean conscience. The rest you, you're just looking for an excuse to consume mass quantities, aren't you? That's okay, just don't rub mine (or Melissa Campbell's) face in it.

One factoid of perhaps dubious truthiness that I've always enjoyed was that before the invention of indoor plumbing in Paris, a good pair of boots would last you a year. This is because human -ahem- waste would be deposited in a pot and thrown out the nearest window. Fortunately, things aren't that bad, but the notion of comfort with which some people have in using the city's back alleys, let alone the sidewalks, as a urinal is truly galling. Maybe the next time I'm in an establishment and I have an excess of phlegm I should start spitting on the floor.

The ideal solution: Get by-law officers out in force during busy nights at the bars. The police are already, but let's leave them the job of breaking up brawls and the other dangerous stuff that the police should, and do, prioritize before the loose leakers. Get by-law officers out and looking for the guys peeing against the doors of businesses and the steps of churches, but forget this $240 fine stuff. Double it! Really hit the scofflaws in their pocket books. Several weekends of this and hopefully it'll be message received. Next, go after people that dump half eaten Sun Sun's.

I wonder though, is this likely? Probably not. For it's easier to say to people "if you're going to piss in the street, fine, just do it in one of these two buckets." Did it work? I guess in a way. But at the same time I don't think anyone that typically doesn't care about peeing against the door of a restaurant is not going to be desuaded to do so with a pissoir nearby. Which is why, I think, the only solution is getting medieval on them. And if they are students, then they will recognize the educational weight of a valuable lesson.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Make Your Voice Heard on Transit

I've been waiting on this one since last December, when, as part of its cost cutting measures, the City hit transit by pulling stat holiday service, raising fares and putting 20-minute schedules on hiatus from June till September. The notion of growth and planning in regards to transit is funny to me because every time our public transit system takes a step forward, the next move involves taking two steps back. (See: this year's budget; 40-minute peak service; fare increases to maintain same, or nearly same, level of service).

Anyway, here's the skinny. If you care about affordable, dependable, and inclusive public transit in the City of Guelph, please come to one of these meetings.

The City of Guelph invites residents and businesses to a Public Information Centre (PIC) to learn about Guelph’s Transit Growth Strategy and Plan.

Discussions will focus upon integration with regional transit and other modes, a new system of bus routes, the feasibility of new transit technologies and proposed improvements for mobility services. Don’t miss this opportunity to be part of the vision for the future of Guelph Transit!

City staff and members of the consulting team will be available to answer questions and to collect your comments.

If you are unable to attend, please submit your comments online by following the “planning for growth” link at guelphtransit.ca.

Tuesday, March 30
1–3 p.m.
Evergreen Senior’s Centre, 683 Woolwich St.


Tuesday, March 30
5–8 p.m.
City Hall, 1 Carden St.

About the Transit Growth Strategy
The City of Guelph is working with Dillon consulting to develop a Transit Growth Strategy and Plan to identify existing service improvements and long term requirements for conventional and mobility transit services.

As part of this process, the City is hoping to hear from transit riders and citizens who live, study and/or work in Guelph, in order to develop a comprehensive Transit Growth Strategy which will support a viable, reliable and attractive transit service for both local and regional travel.

Don’t miss this final opportunity for public consultation on the Transit Growth Strategy and Plan.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Guelph Voluntarily blacks out for Earth Hour

It's that time of year again... Now that the weather's warmer, it's a fine time to power down the house for an evening. What do I mean? Why it's time for Earth Hour, of course. On Saturday March 27th, from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm local time, the World Wildlife Fund is challenging we passengers on spaceship Earth to power down all non-essential electronic doodahs and enjoy the silence (and the darkness) and show solidarity for energy conservation and fighting global climate change.

The City of Guelph (as a political entity and not just the collective efforts of the populace) will lead the way by turning off the lights in all non-essential city facilities. Here's the press releases:

GUELPH, ON, March 17, 2010 – Guelph residents and businesses are encouraged to turn off all non-essential lights between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 27 as part of the third annual Earth Hour campaign. Guelph has joined over 172 Canadian cities taking part in the global effort to raise awareness about energy conservation and climate change.

“Turning out the lights for Earth Hour is a symbolic gesture, but it is a good opportunity for us to reflect on how our quality of life is impacted by our use of energy and the importance of using energy wisely,” says Mayor Karen Farbridge.

Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. will monitor Saturday evening’s energy consumption to determine Guelph’s energy savings. In 2009, Guelph lowered energy consumption by three per cent during the event.

City facilities, including City Hall, will be dark during Earth Hour, and only essential lighting will be left on for certain 24-hour operations. Computers, monitors and printers will be turned off and thermostat settings in City facilities will be reduced or completely turned off.

“Many of these conservation measures are in place every day, and we’re upgrading facilities to save even more energy,” says Energy Conservation Project Manager, Prashant Bhalja. “This year we expect to reduce our energy consumption by 2,022,306 equivalent kilowatt hours and prevent 592,536 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions.”

In addition to annual savings between $100,000 and $104,000, the City has secured $114,000 in energy incentives from Natural Resources Canada, Union Gas and Guelph Hydro, and will save another $406,500 by purchasing electricity at lower, off-peak prices. This year, Guelph’s energy conservation and procurement programs will save the City about $624,500.

“We’re serious about saving energy,” adds Bhalja. "A number of upgrades are underway this year including solar water heating systems at the River Run Centre, Transit facility and Fire Department Headquarters; new heating and lighting systems at the Evergreen Seniors Centre; and lighting upgrades at the West End Community Centre and Guelph Public Library main branch.”

Already, partners like Guelph Hydro, Union Gas, the University of Guelph and the Chamber of Commerce are committed to creating a healthy energy future, and integrating sustainable energy solutions into the City’s plans for growth through the Community Energy Plan.

Earth Hour is an easy way for the community to get involved in Guelph’s energy conservation efforts. Residents can visit guelph.ca/earthhour to register for the event, find conservation tips, share their ideas and pledge their support as part of the National Earth Hour campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

As much as I enjoyed reading the Mayor's comment noting Earth Hour as a "symbolic gesture" I think the event does have a purpose. Although a part of me still thinks that the fight against Global Warming is well past the point where "symbolic gestures" are useful, one can't deny that when something affects enough people, they start to look at a situation and demand serious consideration:

Trailer An inconvenient truth
Uploaded by Net-Infosnews. - Classic TV and last night's shows, online.

It seems that in the last couple of years, amongst all the recession and depression making economic talk, the environment's been lost in the shuffle, and our own Federal Government's been none-too-interested in raising the topic by the themselves. Which is why this year, between 8:30 and 9:30 on Saturday March 27th, I'll be reading a good book by candlelight.

Save water this summer; Get money back

Spring is here, and so is the City's campaign to reduce and conserve water use in Guelph. We actually haven't been too bad off in the water levels the last few summers, but the downside of our mild and nearly snowless winter is that water levels don't get the replenishment they need before the lazy, hazy days of summer. Not to fret though because the City of Guelph has a couple of insentives for you. Here's the press release:

GUELPH, ON, March 15, 2010 – The City of Guelph is now offering residents rebates for installing water efficient furnace-mounted humidifiers and waterless floor drain trap devices in their homes.

Water efficient furnace-mounted humidifiers can save up to 128 litres of water per day during the heating season, compared with inefficient older models. The Home Humidifier Rebate Program provides rebates of $30 and $70 for the installation of furnace-mounted humidifiers that send 50 litres and less of water per day down the drain.

The Floor Drain Retrofit Rebate Program offers rebates of $60 for replacing automatic floor drain priming devices with City of Guelph approved waterless floor drain trap devices. Automatic floor drain priming devices can stop working, and when combined with a leaking laundry faucet can send volumes of drinking water down the floor drain.

“The amount of water used by older furnace-mounted humidifiers and water primed floor drains in the home is not always obvious to homeowners," said Wayne Galliher, the City of Guelph's Water Conservation Project Manager. "The City's two new rebate programs will help residents understand the value of replacing these devices—specifically, reducing water consumption and saving money on water bills."

The Floor Drain Retrofit Rebate Program and Home Humidifier Rebate Program were recommended programs identified in the City’s Water Conservation and Efficiency Strategy Update to help the City achieve its water use reduction targets. The City aims to reduce Guelph's water use by 8.7 million litres of water per day by 2019.

For more information about the Floor Drain Retrofit Rebate Program and Home Humidifier Rebate Program visit guelph.ca/waterconservation.

Don't Play in the Water

The City is reminding folkle that despite the nice weather, a trip down to the river banks of either the Speed or the Eramosa is perhaps inadvisable in the midst of melting snow and recent rainfall. Here's the press release:

GUELPH, ON, March 15, 2010 – The milder daytime temperatures combined with rainfall, have resulted in swift currents and higher water levels in Guelph’s rivers and those in the surrounding area.

The Guelph Fire Department encourages parents to educate children about the dangers associated with rivers at this time of year, and supervise them closely while outdoors near our watercourses.

Children should be aware of the dangers of swift currents and cold water temperatures during a spring thaw and need to be reminded to stay clear of riverbanks. A river safety brochure, prepared by the Grand River Conservation Authority, is available online at grandriver.ca (Education > River safety > Follow the river safety rules).

The Guelph Fire Department would like to remind residents to call 911 if they see someone in trouble in the river or on the ice. In the event of such an emergency, Emergency Services dispatch will send the trained water and ice rescue unit, which is equipped to safely enter the water at sub-zero temperatures.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guthrie Watch 2010 Continues...

Careful Echo readers will have spotted the piece about Cam Guthrie and the grassroots push he's being given to run for Mayor. It actuality, it was a truncated version of the piece that ran on Politico last week, but still any press... as they say.

Anyway, I thought today I'd check out the Facebook group again and see where the count is at. And as of 5:42 pm on Thursday March 18th, the "Cam Guthrie for the Mayor of Guelph" page has 362 members and counting.

Interestingly, there's another Facebook group called "Get Cam Guthrie Elected to the City of Guelph" which is about getting Guthrie to run for council again and has, so far, 138 members. The pages are administered by two different people.

Check out Cam for Mayor here and Cam for Council here.

The Slate Opens Up

I kind of feel like a dope for not finding this till now, but better late than never.

While writing my Echo column today, I was researching stories currently in the news and came across articles about Ward 1 Councillor Kathleen Farrelly's plan to bow out of the next election and her son Sean's plans to throw his hat in the ring for her Ward 1 seat.

Out of curiosity, I went to the city's website to remind myself the deadline for filing nomination papers, and I came across this:

It's a handy chart of everyone that's turned in their papers so far, and by the looks of things we've got 5 nominees on the ballot, including 3 incumbents. As well, you can sign-up for e-mail updates, which I pressume will let you know when the list of nominees is updated. You can find all this, by clicking on this link.

So I guess the race is a foot, huh? I wonder if Bob Bell is going to run again, or whether he's going to throw all his attention into running as the Green Party candidate in the next Federal election? What of Maggie Laidlaw, Ian Findley and the other representatives of Ward 4, 5 and 6?

Incidentally, if any potential canadidate reading this is interested in breaking the news of their candidacy on The Politico, I would only be too happy to oblige. (Keep it in mind.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cam Guthrie Not Running for Mayor... Yet.

An internet movement’s begun over the last few weeks to push a certain well know Guelphite and politico into the recently initiated mayoral race, but Cam Guthrie says that no final decisions have been made yet. “It’s weighing heavily on me right now because of all the phone calls and e-mails and people stopping me on the street,” Guthrie told me by phone the other day. “Whatever decision it is it will be in the best interest of my city and my family.”

The buzz comes from a Facebook group called “Cam Guthrie for the Mayor of Guelph”, which was started barely a week after the city’s present mayor, Karen Farbridge, announced her intention to run for re-election in this fall’s municipal contest. Guthrie calls it an encouragement page, but one that he had nothing to do with. Instead, credit for the group can be given to Karl Morant. “The first time I ever met him was in the [2006] municipal election,” Guthrie recalls. “I’ve probably had four conversations with him on passing over the last four years.”

Guthrie History Fact: Cam ran as a candidate for city council in Ward 4 in the last municipal election. It was his first candidacy and he finished in a respectable third place showing just 194 votes behind Mike Salisbury who won the second seat in the ward after first place Gloria Kovach.

As of today, Morant and his group have collected 239 members and counting. Guthrie admits that he’s recognized a few of the names that joined the group, but there’s also a great many he doesn’t. “I am very humbled by the encouragement and support that’s sprung on this thing in the last couple of days,” he says. “It’s just amazing.”

The question now is whether or not that encouragement is going to translate into a bid for the City’s highest elected post, Guthrie’s still mulling the possibilities and gauging his support. Guthrie says he’s seeking “wise council” in order to make the right decision for himself, the city and his family.

As for a timetable, Guthrie told me that his decision will be coming soon, if only out of practical consideration in running a mayoral race. “Unfortunately, these types of campaigns require money to run, and, of course, the sooner you declare yourself the sooner your able to start bringing in money for the campaign. So I can’t let it go too long.”

Still, Guthrie is keen to point out that since 2006 he has remained active and informed about the goings on in Guelph (he's even served a tour as a member of the Guelph Mercury Community Editorial Board with yours truly.) Sounding like he's ready to campaign, Guthrie's already got his eye on an issue. “The biggest issue, I feel, is fiscal accountability," he explains. "I know that’s something a lot of politicians say but that’s the biggest issue with me. And whether or not I run for mayor or run for council, or whether I run at all, that will consistently be one of my pet peeves with this city and the way that it’s being handled by the current leadership.”

You can check out the Facebook group here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Celebrate Water with WWW and Blue W

I got this sent to me by no less than three-time Guelph Green Party nominee Mike Nagy. It's a community event notice for World Water Day a week from Monday.

Wellington Water Watchers Celebrate World Water Day event
Monday March 22, 2010
7:00 - 10:00 pm
E.L. Fox Auditorium (J.F. Ross) 21 Meyer Dr. Guelph

International World Water Day is on Monday March 22. Come celebrate this day with the knock-your-socks-off show that Wellington Water Watchers has planned. This first ever annual event will be held at the E.L. Fox Auditorium (J.F.Ross high school). We will be celebrating what our youth have to say about our precious water. High school students throughout our county and city are creating submissions through our Message in the Bottle program. Their submissions - art pieces, performance pieces, science projects, etc. - will be displayed and presented at the celebration. All are designed to express how valuable our water is to us and why we need to protect and conserve this lifeline of ours.

We have enlisted the help of Derek Forgie as our emcee. If you have never seen him in action, check out this link

We also have the help of Evalyn Parry who will be performing a few of her spoken word pieces (), and many of you will know the local band Dancehall Free for All who will ensure that the evening is a supercharged-goodtimes dance party.

We will be showing the yet unreleased film called Tapped in the second part of the evening. From the producers of Who Killed the Electric Car, this timely documentary is a behind-the-scenes look into the unregulated and unseen world of an industry that aims to privatize and sell back the one resource that ought never to become a commodity: our water.

All of this... plus we will be launching our next big project! Wellington Water Watchers is very excited to pilot the Blue W project here to Guelph and Wellington County. What is the Blue W project you ask? Come to our Water Day Celebration to hear more about it - but here is a little hint!

The Blue W is a not-for-profit program dedicated to promoting municipal tap water as a healthy and waste-conscious alternative to bottled drinks. Using our website and smart phone application, we provide details on where to find clean, free sources to refill your reusable bottle. Look for the Blue W decal at the entrance of your favourite local cafes and restaurants.

We have a huge auditorium to fill and for this reason we are making tickets very accessible. For just $5 you can enjoy an incredibly entertaining evening celebrating our water. Tickets are available at The Bookshelf, at 10 Carden on Mondays and Wednesdays, and at the door. Students who have created a submission get in for free. The show runs from 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm. Doors will open at 6:00 pm to showcase youth submissions.

Looking forward to seeing all of you on Monday March 22 to Celebrate World Water Day!

For further information please e-mail wellingtonwaterwatchers[at]gmail.com, or go to their website

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sikh Temple: The Drama Continues

Who would have guessed that the construction of a Sikh temple would have been the biggest thing to hit the development wars in Guelph since Wal-Mart? That's almost what it looks like from this end of the looking glass, especially since thoughts and opinions on the issue keep piling on.

Last Monday, at a jam-packed, standing room only council meeting, supporters and opponents voiced either their endorsement or resistance to the proposition of the temple being built on a lot on Claire Rd near Victoria in the southend. I had wrote a post previous where I broke down the objections to the temple I had heard previous and tried to debunk them from my own point of view. I attended the first hour or so of the meeting, hoping to gleam some deeper understanding of the opposition to this development. What I heard gave me nothing new to change my previous point of view.

However, what was made very clear from the four delegates that spoke against the construction of the temple is that they don't appreciate being called racist or being told that they're hate mongers, and they especially didn't like being identified with the site Stop The Temple, which was become infamous for a couple of highly offensive posts. Fair enough, and while perhaps we in the media have given unfair weight to the site in question, I think people were questioning the notion that race was at play in all the opposition talk prior to the advent of Stop The Temple. (Incidentally, Stop The Temple has since been pulled from the internet. Type in the dominion into your web browser and you're dropped off at the page below.)

Anyway, the "growing racial undertones" have apparently made some residents feel as if their genuine critiques of the temple and its construction are merely excuses after the fact, a plausible cover-up to hide their racism. As I've said before, I have no reason to doubt these people their sincerity when they say they oppose the temple on the grounds that it can't be supported by local infrastructure, and similar reasons. But I do hold reservations.

First is the ongoing assertion that the estimated floor-space of the temple, some 18,000 square feet, does not include the basement, and as such, the floor plan for the temple should be doubled on the proposal. This despite the fact that basements are never counted in total floor space calculations be it residential, commercial, industrial or other. To say that the architect or anyone else is hiding the true size of the temple by not claiming the basement in total floor space is either ignorant or dishonest. Further I ask, is it at all likely that the Sikh community would hold services for the first 400 parishioners through the door and then pack the basement with a spill-over crowd? That's leaving aside for the moment that the Guelph Sikh community currently numbers around 200 and the maximum capacity for the proposed temple sits at 400.

Secondly, there was a remark from one speaker saying that the construction of the temple would "sacrifice the safety of the children" in the community. She was referring to the increased traffic in the area, a previously stated concern by many in the Westminster Woods area. However, I wonder exactly how many kids play ball hockey in the middle of Claire Rd? The answer is probably none, because Claire is a major artery in the southend. This same speaker also wondered about large trucks coming through the community all hours of the night since members of the Sikh community have previously stated that the temple will be open "24/7". Well I'm no expert, but I think that for any man or woman, no matter their religious affiliation, the last thing on their mind when they're driving a big rig at three in the morning is looking for somewhere to stop and pray.

Third, a comment was made saying something to the effect of why would the Sikhs insist on building a temple somewhere the area residents are opposed to having it constructed. To me, this was, perhaps, the most overtly racist thing I heard. At least it could be interpreted that way. It seemed a roundabout way of saying we don't want your kind here. Perhaps that's a misread on my part, however the question can be taken legitimately. As Joanne Shuttleworth pointed out in her editorial in today's Mercury, is it in the Sikh community's best interest to move into an area that fought tooth and nail to prevent them from doing so?

But it begs the question though: where is a good place to build a Sikh temple? A strip mall? The nearly vacant industrial area? Somewhere on the outskirts of town where public transit barely reaches? The Guelph Sikh Society said that they've looked at a lot of areas, and this was the best fit for their plans. Admittedly, I would be curious to hear their criteria, but at the same time I think it's silly to say that a temple fits better amongst stores or factories than within a residential neighbourhood.

Next, in looking for images to run with this story, I came across this:

It's a picture of the Sikh temple in EspaƱola, New Mexico, which serves 350 Sikhs in the northwestern part of the state. I post this to comment on the debate over aesthetics and ask: is something like this really so galling? Granted, I've never seen a picture of the proposed finished look of the Guelph temple, but I'm willing to bet that the Taj Mahal it is not.

Finally, there was an article in the Mercury last week following up on an ad placed in the Etcetera, also published by the Mercury, that was alerting temple opponents to a meeting taking place March 11th at the Puslinch Community Centre. It was made explicitly clear that this is for opponents only - no supporters and no media. The ad said that meeting was being sponsored by the Westminster Woods Residents Association, the WWRA's chair told the Merc that this was not the case. Temple opponent Glenn Carducci was the man that rented the hall, but he says he has nothing to do with the WWRA and added that he rented the hall on behalf of a friend. So who's hosting the meeting, and why did they apparently invoke WWRA's name when they have nothing to do with the group?

Then there's the text from the ad: "This meeting is not for those who want to support this application to build a Sikh place of worship. If that is your goal, you will be denied entry and the opportunity to speak. You are invited to host your own meeting, which we will graciously avoid." Why? Why are supporters and media not allowed? Could it be that organizers realize that the words and opinions that are going to be expressed may not be received well outside the context of this meeting? In the dark, people can't see you. In an unknowable situation, without new information to guide you, you have to go on precedent, and the precedent for secret meetings of people against a particular ethnic group is not good. If those against the temple don't want to be labelled racist, then full disclosure, as well as open and honest debate, is best.

Recap: Better Know A Ward - Part 2

As promised, here's the second part of my six part series "Better Know a Ward", which I'm reposting here in order to prepare for the eventual continuation of the series (I'm working on it, I swear). This BKAW was published in the July 24th, 2008 edition of Echo, so read, reminisce and enjoy

Ward 2: Always stable, but ready for change

Welcome back to part two of my six part series, “Better Know a Ward.” This week: Ward 2 – St. George’s. Located in the northeast corner of the city, Ward 2 pretty much covers everything east of Woolwich and north of Eramosa and Eastview Roads. Amongst its attractions are Riverside Park and Goldie Mill, the oldest saw mill in the city established the same year as Guelph: 1827.

Vicki Beard and Ian Findlay, both elected in 2006, are the councillors responsible for speaking for the residents of Ward 2, which boasts the highest number of long time residents, including seniors and young families, and is home to a lot of Guelph’s post-war development. On the cutting edge of innovation as well, Ward 2 also has the world’s first “Pollination Park,” which lies atop the old Eastview landfill and is a research project commissioned by the University of Guelph for which Beard is an excited and passionate advocate for.

“It’s probably the most established ward in the city in that there’s not a lot of new development,” says Findlay when I meet up with him and Beard at the Cornerstone, downtown. “There are not a lot of infill opportunities either; it’s pretty much built up. There’s a little bit happening on Woodlawn and Victoria, but I would certainly suggest it’s the most stable.”

Stable, except for the fact that Ward 2 is “ground zero” as Findlay describes, for the city’s termite problems, although their number have gone down in the last few years. A repurposed and dedicated city department has been exceptionally helpful in tackling the problem, explains Findlay. “One of the first things we did when we got on council was retain Dr. Tim Myles from the University of Toronto. He’s one of the pre-eminent termite experts in all of Canada.”

Another change that Ward 2 residents have been positive about is the expansion of service on Guelph Transit and the new “Downtown on the 20” schedule. Beard and Findlay say that they’ve heard from poeple a desire to do more for the environment and conservation on a local level, and giving more support and money to buses was a good, first step. “We’re not done fixing transit, but this was a big step, a huge commitment on the part of the city but we’re not suggesting that all the problems are solved yet,” says Findlay. “And we need a strategic transit plan and that’s coming up in the next little while,” added Beard.”

Less pleased, were Ward 2 residents, about their councillors’ votes over the recent proposed expansion of the Wal-Mart at Woolwich and Woodlawn. A vote that both Beard and Findlay say has been mischaracterized. “I did not vote ‘No’ on the Wal-Mart expansion,” says Beard emphatically. She was in favour of the expansion as presented in a city staff report, which called for numerous environmental and energy friendly benchmarks, but what she ended up voting against was the 6&7 Developers plan as presented to council at the July 7th meeting which didn’t include any of those things. “Their answers did not match that report,” she adds.

“A final decision has not been made, I think we need to make that clear,” continues Findlay. “The motion was to approve [the proposal] as was, and that was defeated. We still need to give formal direction to city staff, but this will be coming back to council for further consideration.”

“We represent people in our ward that want that expansion, we see it as a non-issue – it’s going to happen, we want it to happen,” says Beard, who adds that other developers in Guelph have gone out of their way to meet the city’s commitment to sustainability and environmentally friendly alternatives. “We have to get this straight,” adds Beard, “It’s not the developer; it’s how we want the development to happen.”

The vote certainly got people talking which was good news for Ward 2’s biggest act of transparency: the Ward 2 blog maintained by Findlay and contributed to by both councillors. Findlay says the blog serves multiple purposes: not only can he and Beard talk directly to their constituents, and they respond back, but serves as a paper trail, so to speak, in highlighting residents concerns before the council. Plus the blog has a pretty liberal open door policy. “Any letter that comes in, providing that they’re not too personal, I will post,” says Findlay. “Critical: absolutely. But if they start identifying people and getting derogatory then they don’t get posted. I don’t filter it in any other way.”

To keep up-to-date with the goings on in Ward 2, you can visit the blog at http://ward2guelph.wordpress.com/

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Farewell Bev

The City of Guelph lost a passionate and intrepid voice in local politics this week when Bev Izzillo-Ustation passed away after a lengthy fight against cancer at the age of 74.

Before five gos at the Mayor’s chair and twice running for city council, Izzillo-Ustation as an advocate for the group Persons United for Self Help (PUSH), an organization that focused on taking down barriers and meeting the needs of those with visual and hidden disabilities. She pressed for accessibility in all areas of public space and was instrumental in improving access by pressing for curb cuts, automatic doors and ramps.

To many Politicos though, Izzillo-Ustation was most known for her fiery, grassroots campaigning. She was usually the candidate for open and honest government and in what would be her last election, up against incumbents Kate Quarrie and Karen Farbridge, she enthusiastically declared that “It’s my turn now.”

That's where I remember her from. The 2006 election was the first municipal race I followed (and yes, covered) since I moved here. Izzillo-Ustation was written off by some people as a kook, or "that funny old lady running for Mayor," but hearing her speak on the issues, you had to admire her spirit. She was informed, she was active and she was engaged, which is a lot more than you can say about most people and municipal politics. It takes a lot of guts to get up to bat again and again knowing that you might not get a hit, but Izzillo-Ustation was a player on the political field, always unafraid to take a swing. If anything, we need more people like her.

Bev Izzillo-Ustation is survived by four grandchildren, three step-grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. As expressions of sympathy, donations to Marianne's Place and/or the Salvation Army would be appreciated.

Read Scott Tracy's article on Izzillo-Ustation's passing here.

Read my candidate questionnaire to her from the last election here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Farbridge Campaign goes Online

Further evidence that election season is now upon us, Mayor Karen Farbridge has launched her re-election campaign's website, which can be found at farbridgeforguelph.ca

On the site is the usual bios, pics and campaigning material. The Mayor's vision is split into three different areas: Your Home, Your Work and Your Community. Two of those, interestingly, mention the Hanlon Creek Business Park directly, with the Mayor saying that the develpoment of the HCBP "will help us attract the kinds of high paying, long-term jobs we need to grow sustainably."

So one gets the impression that the Mayor foresees the HCBP being a big issue this election cycle. But then the website says in another area of the site to keep in mind that "only about 10 to 20 per cent of City resources are dedicated to high profile projects, like the Hanlon Creek Business Park, a new main library or a South End community centre."

Additionally, the Mayor will be chronicling her re-election in the blogosphere by posting at karenfarbridge.com The only thing there right now though is the text from her speech announcing the start of her campaign. Still, light years ahead of anyone else running for Mayor. Any takers?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Protest Parliament... Being Back in Session

All jocularity aside, a group called Guelph Participates is holding a "Searchlight on Democracy Walk and Talk" tomorrow evening:

The Guelph chapters of Council of Canadians and Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament - Guelph Participates is holding "Searchlight on Democracy Walk and Talk" on March 2nd. The event is being held to highlight the return of the MPs to the House of Commons after the controversial prorogation of Parliament on December 30, 2009. People are asked to gather at 7:00 p.m. in front of Guelph City Hall (1 Carden St) and are encouraged to bring flash lights or candles to the event. Several speakers will address the group. Following that, the group will walk to Norfolk United church for presentations and discussions on how to hold government accountable for their actions and to consider changes in parliamentary practices to avoid such abuses in the future.

For more information you can e-mail info@guelphparticipates.com or call 226.486.1035

The NDP Choose....

It's been a long time since anyone's thrown around the E-word (election), but then again it's been a long time since Parliament's been in session too. In the inbox today, I was given a notice that the New Democrats of Guelph would be choosing their candidate for the next Federal Election this Thursday at 7 pm at the CAW Hall, 611 Silvercreek Pkwy N. Below you'll find, in the candidate's own words, her bio and a brief policy statement. Give it a gander.

Bobbi Stewart - Seeking your Support for Federal Nomination

I was raised in Niagara Falls and came to this wonderful City of Guelph to attend the University of Guelph in 1972 for their Bachelor of Arts, music major program. I am married to Cameron Adams and have three adult daughters and two step – children. I’ve worked for some terrific social service over the past thirty years. My current employer, with whom I have worked almost twenty years, is Family & Children’s Services of Guelph & Wellington County. Since earning my Masters of Social Worker I have done clinical social work and managed the care of children in foster care. I love my work with children and families and also to volunteer in the community. I enjoyed involvement with the Guelph Youth Singers for several years, canvassed for the Cancer Society and fund – raised for the Guelph Civic League, but my most rewarding and enjoyable volunteer work has been with the New Democratic Party. I have been a member for two decades, joining when Chris Margetson asked me to second her nomination for Federal candidate.

I joined the New Democratic Party because their values fit with mine. I strongly believe that our worth as a society is measured by the way we treat our most vulnerable citizens and I live my values of respect, empathy and compassion. We as NDP supporters share the proud history of Tommy Douglas, the CCF and the birth of national Medicare. I have never understood why our Party has never held power in Federal parliament. We are the Party most in – tuned to the needs of average Canadians and we have bright, passionate leaders. I agreed to seek this nomination because of my strong belief in our Party and to stand up against Harper arrogance, black and white thinking and the erosion of our democracy. I will also speak out against the Liberal corporate agenda as their approach will never solve our economic crisis. I will do my utmost to convince those who would vote for the Green Party to vote NDP, as a vote for the Greens is a wasted vote. I have a great deal of energy, enthusiasm and love new challenges, especially when they involve politics. I know that I can represent you well and ask for your support.

Bobbi Stewart, Candidate for Federal Nomination

So with Stewart's presumptive nomination, the four major parties have their players on the board:

Liberal: Frank Valeriote (Incumbant)
Conservative: Marty Burke
Green: Bob Bell
NDP: Bobbi Stewart

NOTE: Last election Guelph ran 10 candidates in our riding, so this will likely be far from a complete list by the time the election begins (when it begins).