About the Blog:

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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Really? Again? Elizabeth May and the Debate

I can't believe I have to write this again. The consortium of Canadian broadcasters that set the ground rules for the Federal debate have decided once again, in their nowhere near infinite wisdom, that Green Party leader Elizabeth May will not be part of the National Leaders' debate. Really? We've got to do this again? Here's how it will go: the people will complain, the other party leaders will say that they want to have May in the debate, the broadcasters will relent, and May will debate. Why? Because she was in the debate last time!!! What's changed? She can debate last election, but not in this one. They tried her out one time, and decided that May wasn't appealing to the TV audience? That's right, Elizabeth May is the Cousin Oliver of Federal politics, I guess.
Well, in more interesting debate news, Stephen Harper said yesterday that he was willing to include Elizabeth May in the leaders debate, the are other possibilities. “We could also have a debate between Mr. Ignatieff and myself since, after all, the real choice in this election is a choice between a Conservative government or an Ignatieff-led government that all of these other parties will support,” Harper said.
Michael Ignatieff accepted the challenge (exact Tweet: “A one-on-one debate? Any time, any place.”), but what happened after that in terms of trying to set this up is a "He Said-He Said" of epic proportions. “Mr. Ignatieff insisted that his first preference was to have his coalition partners there at the debate, so that’s the format that was proposed and we’ve accepted it,” Harper told journalists in Halifax today. “If Mr. Ignatieff wanted that debate, he could have chosen that debate, but he didn’t.”
First of all, is anyone else sick of the coalition drum banging? It's like Stephen Harper is Swan from The Warriors, leading his rag-tag crew through the menacing streets of Manhattan under attack from all sides by a "coalition" of other gangs - The Turnbull AC's, The Baseball Furies, The Lizzies and The Gramercy Riffs - as they try to get back to Staten Island. The Conservatives have been the government for five years, they lead the polls, they've got momentum and funding, yet somehow, they're the underdogs. 
I can understand why Harper would like to face Ignatieff one-on-one, Layton, Duceppe and May can be scary when their Irish is up, but you can't paint them with the same brush as if they've all fallen under the spell of Cyrus in the middle of Van Cortlandt Park asking them if they dig it. After all, we all know Michael Ignatieff charisma level is more on par with Billy Ray Cyrus, than ambitious, and fictional, New York gangsters.

The Shifting Ground

People shifting parties isn't so unusual when Parliament is sitting, but in the middle of an election...
But that's the table we're looking at this morning with yesterday's news that Elgin-Middlesex-London NDP candidate Ryan Dolby was throwing his support behind his riding's Liberal candidate in hopes to stem a potential Conservative majority government on May 2nd. But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, as they say. In Vaughn this morning, Tony Genco, who ran against Conservative MP Julian Fantino as the Liberal candidate in a by-election last fall, has thrown his support to his old opponent. It's worth noting though that Genco is not running as the Liberal candidate in this election, Vaughan regional Councillor Mario Ferri took his place as the Liberal candidate on the ballot there.
So this is some pretty heavy political maneuvering in the battleground that is Southern Ontario; one step forward, one step back for the Liberals it seems. Sadly, I'm not sure how much the endorsement of Genco is going to help Fantino, he's in pretty fine position as it is, and besides, Genco lost by less than 1,000 votes in the by-election. And Genco's rationale for supporting Fantino, that the former OPP Top Cop "delivered" for the people of Vaughn in just four short months since his election, smells a little like sour grapes to me for getting bumped from the ballot.
As for Dolby, the only person he's really hurting is his former boss, Jack Layton. Layton has been trying to position the NDP as a viable alternative to the Conservatives, replacing the Liberals as the official Opposition if not forming a government of their own. Still, Dolby's reasons why represent the worst in cynical politics, he endorsed the Liberal candidate, Graham Warwick, in order to defeat Conservative incumbent Joseph Preston and thus prevent Stephen Harper from securing a majority government. Apparently, Dolby had reached out to Warwick prior to the election about a joint appearance where Dolby would publicly withdraw and throw his support to Warwick, but the Liberal said that he "didn’t think [Dolby] would do it." Dolby also ran for the NDP in 2008. 
Both occasions are surprising developments in this election that's still not even a week old. Hard to believe that there's still five more weeks of this.

Small Things Matter

I wouldn't say I'm a programming nerd because I literally don't speak the language, but I do enjoy it when websites do interesting things or have a feature that I've never seen before. I was preparing for my interview today with Green Party candidate John Lawson and naturally decided to visit his website, and as I was making notes, the idle computer popped up an all black screen saver. It's a small touch, but it's one of those touches that tells you just how much someone cares about their key constituency.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More Potential Labour Unrest Quelled

In local news again, the City Council has ratified a new contract between the City and the Firefighters' Union. Here's the City's Press Release:
GUELPH, ON, March 30, 2011 – Guelph City Council ratified a negotiated settlement between the City of Guelph and the Guelph Professional Firefighters’ Association (GPFFA) at its Monday night meeting.
The GPFFA ratified the same three year collective agreement, effective January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2012 at its association meeting on March 28, 2011.
The settlement contained wage and salary increases of 2.82 per cent January 1 2010; 2 per cent January 1, 2011; 0.09 per cent July 1, 2011; 2 percent January 1, 2012; and 0.09 per cent July 1, 2012. The three year contract also contains modest benefit changes to extended health care and dental to more closely align GPFFA benefits with other employee groups at the City of Guelph.
Guelph Professional Firefighters represents a total of 144 Guelph employees in the Guelph Fire Department.

Guelph Music to Help Japan

Trying to do our part for the people of Japan suffering the after effects of the 9.1 earthquake and accompanying tsunami earlier this month, a group of Guelph-based organizers and musicians are pulling together for the victims. Find the details and line-up in the below press release:

“Raise the Sun” – a benefit concert for Japan
April 10, 2011 at Norfolk United Church at 3:00 pm.
Join us for an afternoon of Guelph musicians and dancers and a tribute to the art and culture of Japan.
Following the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, members of the Guelph community have pulled together to organize a benefit event featuring a wide selection of our amazing and world-class local-area talent. With overwhelming support from the local community, event organizers (Paul Clarkson, Ajay Heble, and Marie Zimmerman) have come together in the strong belief that music and artistic expression can create opportunities for hope and help to mobilize new communities of involvement. Proceeds will go to the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre Foundation Earthquake Relief Fund. (All donations are guaranteed to go to the Japanese Red Cross and to infrastructure in Japan.)
The afternoon will be both a gift from Guelph musicians and dancers as well as a tribute to the art and culture of Japan through the performance of Nagata Shachu, a six-member ensemble who perform Japanese taiko drumming and music. We are also very happy to welcome Joy Kogawa, a brilliant Japanese-Canadian writer whose work, Obasan, was instrumental in the redress movement of Japanese Canadians interned in Canada during WWII.
The “Raise the Sun” concert will begin and end with contemporary dance and music by the Fall On Your Feet dance lab working with improvisational greats such as Jane Bunnett, Matt Brubeck, Kevin Breit, Amadeo Ventura, Larry Cramer and Colin Couch.
Improvised jazz by the Vertical Squirrels, dance by David Earle's famous company, and folk music by acclaimed singer-songwriter Tannis Slimmon will round out a tribute to the resilience of the Japanese people and our wish to support their recovery efforts.

Date: April 10, 2011
Time: 3:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Title of Concert: "Raise the Sun: a benefit concert for Japan."
Place: Norfolk United Church, (Norfolk St. and Cork St. in Guelph)
Tickets: $30 available through the River Run Centre (35 Woolwich St., Guelph; http://riverrun.ca/tickets; 519.763.3000; 1-877-520-2408)
Proceeds: JCCC Earthquake Relief Fund (http://www.jccc.on.ca/japan_earthquake_relief_fund.htm)
Organization: "Small" (Spirit, Music/Movement and Literature for Love)

Dancetheatre David Earle - www.dtde.ca
Fall on Your Feet Dance Lab
Jane Bunnett -www.janebunnett.com
Kevin Breit -www.kevinbreit.com
Amadeo Ventura
Colin Couch
Matt Brubeck -www.mattbrubeck.com
Joy Kogawa
Tannis Slimmon- www.tannis.ca
Vertical Squirrels- www.verticalsquirrels.com

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Third Party" Candidates Re-Upping for 2011

The slate is lined up in Guelph for the four major parties in this election, but last time around, the Royal City had 10 candidates on the ballot. Will have something similar this time out? It's a possibility as the Guelph Mercury took a straw poll of the candidates and parties from the 2008 election, and discovered that some old, familiar names will be throwing their hats in the ring again.

Kornelis Klevering (Radical Marijuana Party)
Votes Last Election: 166
Status: Apparently, Mr Klevering is in Thailand currently, and unable to run. No word on whether the Marijuana Party will be running a new candidate here.

Philip Bender (Libertarian Party)
Votes Last Election: 159
Status: Running again.

Drew Garvie (Communist Party)
Votes Last Election: 77
Status: No one from the Communist Party returned calls from the Mercury

Karen Levenson (Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party)
Votes Last Election: 73
Status: Running again.

John Turmel (Independent)
Votes Last Election: 58
Status: The man who's run-in and lost 72 elections is in the process of deciding whether he's going to run in his home town Brantford, or if he's returning to Guelph, which he calls "more democratic."

Manuel Couto (Marxist-Leninist Party)
Votes Last Election: 29
Status: Nothing yet from the Marxist-Leninist Party, but then again they were barely here last election. Seriously, I couldn't pick Manuel Couto out of a police line-up.

The final ballot won't be announced until after the close of nominations on Monday April 11th.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day Two: Getting Darker

When I wrote yesterday that things were going negative, I had no idea how negative they were really going in Campaign 2011. Did you know that the web address on Frank Valeriote's election signs leads nowhere? What a jerk! He's clearly unfit to be our MP because he's got I.T. issues. While I agree, it looks bad that a URL on the election signs you're in the process of plastering all over town doesn't work, but you know what does work? Several other websites about Valeriote and his work; his MP's site, his MP Profile, his Facebook page. And do you have any idea how hard it is to locate any of that stuff? I had to find this website called "Google" and type in Frank Valeriote's name and press 'enter'.
But seriously folks, that was the lighter half. The darker half stems from something that I guess was a symptom that I noticed yesterday. The Guelph Mercury reported this morning that there was a rash of sign vandalizing across Guelph on the weekend. More than that, there was someone, or someones, harassing Conservative candidate Marty Burke's family on Sunday morning, ringing the door bell and knocking on the door before 3 am before peeling off in an unseen car when Burke's wife came to investigate. This isn't the first time election harassment has been this bad, and I'm afraid to say that this probably won't be the last.
First, let's get the obvious stuff out of the way. The people doing this stuff are hoodlums at best, criminals at worst. A media release from Burke's office said, "The Marty Burke Campaign condemns these actions, and hopes that the Opposition campaigns will deliver a similar message to their workers." In there is a tacet implication that this is the work of a black ops division of one of the opposing candidates, which is strange because everyone agrees that it was a select few protesters that led the madness at the G20 meeting, and not every surly looking teenage that wonders into a store is looking to shoplift.
Why wouldn't the Opposition campaigns condemn these actions? Didn't they all come together in 2008 for a group condemnation? Is it in anyone's best interest to not come out against this kind of action? Is there a constituency of malcontents and anarchists that is key to election victory that someone is trying to win? Do they expect one of the other candidates to come out and go, "Yeah, some of my boys got wrecked Saturday night and thought it'd be laugh"? Would that actually happen? Isn't everyone that's mature and dedicated enough to be involved with a political campaign, aware that harassing the wife and kids of a candidate for no reason because you can is not the best way to get your point across?
I think the answers are obvious, and anyone that tries to turn these tactics to their own political advantage is cynical and exploitative. Condemn the jerks! Condemn them till the cows come home. But this was not a political operation in any acceptable sense of the term. And though we political humorists joke about negative politics, we all die a little inside when they occur. Noted psychic Edgar Cayce once said that the best prophecies are the ones that don't come true. Well it's more or less true with pundits, the best campaign is the one where there's no stupidity for us to remark upon.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Day One: Lies and the Lying Liars That Accuse Each Other of Telling Them

At least it didn't take long for this campaign to go negative. The Federal Election is barely 24 hours old and the accusations and tongue-lashings have been flying so fast and furious that the decision as to who the next government should be will probably come down to a "Yo Mama" contest. "Yo Mama's so dumb, she thinks 'Parliamentary Censure' is a disco band from the 70s." "Yo Mama's so fat, she counts as her own riding." And so on.
The wedge, in lieu of any actual issues this election, seems to be about the possibility of a coalition government. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff hit the stump running by issuing a declaration that if the Harper Government is again elected with a minority, he will not seek out a coalition with the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP. Bone-headed a decision that may be to rule it out completely, Stephen Harper saw a chance to attack. “Imagine a coalition of arch-centralists and Quebec sovereigntists trying to work together. The only thing they'll be able to agree on is to spend more money and to raise taxes to pay for it,” he told supporters at a campaign stop.
Still, Ignatieff called a coalition "a legitimate constitutional option,"and said of Harper that he's "fabricating lies about an impending coalition, something he knows is false?”
Meanwhile Gilles Duceppe, never one to let attack politics happen without him, said that Harper "did everything to provoke an election,''and that "The Conservative leader wants to impose his ideology without bounds." Then he showed his ace-in-the-hole: a 2004 letter signed by Harper, NDP leader Jack Layton and himself, addressed to then-governor general Adrienne Clarkson, discussing the possibility of the three opposition leaders proposed a coalition government if Paul Martin's Liberal minority government lost a confidence vote.
I remember the coalition showdown in 2008, and the arguments against came down to a "You can't do that mentality" with arguments about the undemocraticness of it trumping the fact that it is perfectly lawful according to our constitution and the traditions of a parliamentary democracy. In my mind, after three consecutive minority governments and the strong possibility of a fourth, a lot of Canadians are voting for a coalition government to begin with. If only our politicians could act like grown ups and see it that way.
As for locally, I had cause for concern about the rancor of the electorate this morning. As I walked downtown. on the corner of Edinburgh and Paisley I saw a smashed Marty Burke sign on the Northeast corner. Is this is the tone being set just one day into the election? Then again, perhaps this was just a drunken statement in favour of smashing things. On second thought, maybe its both one and the same. 
This is going to be a long election season.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

spring election. (Note My Lack of Enthusiasm)

I missed the budget last night as Synn Studios was hosting Business After 5 for the Guelph Chamber of Commerce. It wasn't until Chamber President Lloyd Longfield said that his Blackberry was ringing off the hook with interview requests from media, local and not-local, that I remembered the straw that was supposedly going to break the government's back was going to come down yesterday.
The Globe and Mail did a pretty good job of breaking down the highlights, but overall the budget aired on the side of conservative. The assumption that there would be enough so-called red meat for the NDP to endorse the budget, and save us all from an election, was ruined when Jack Layton told reporters that the budget missed on his party's four conditions for endorsement: elimination of the federal sales tax on home-heating fuel; measures to greatly increase the number of doctors; a big boost in pensions for poor seniors; and restoration of the home eco-energy retrofit program.
The thing of it is, what is an election going to get us? The national polls show cross-country support per party is largely unchanged. The only real news is in the west where Conservative support is down seven points, while NDP support is up nine points. Despite the scandals, the censures, the rapidly inflating price for fighter planes and the ongoing crumminess of the economy, Stephen Harper's support seems pretty solid, while ambivalence about the Liberals and the NDP continues.
As for the numbers themselves, and article from Monday's Globe breaks it down as 39 per cent for the Conservatives, 28 per cent for the Liberals, and 20 per cent for the NDP. Polls before the 2008 election, put the Conservatives at between 34 and 37 per cent support, while the Liberals were as low as 23 and as high as 30. The result was a second minority, and if the election were held today, then chances are that the result would be minority government number three. 
The situation looks grim for all party leaders; Michael Ignatieff is still fighting the charisma gap, Jack Layton tends to take one step forward then two steps back in terms of seats every election, Giles Duceppe has no power ambitions, and Stephen Harper has to deliver a majority government this time out, or his party's going to have to make some managerial changes in order to ensure that they get one next time. Except... is there a clear sucessor to the man that wants the Government of Canada to go by the more official name "The Harper Government?"
So what's going to happen? Election this May. Everyone wants it, except anyone you ask.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Craigslist Candidates

The online classifieds site Craigslist has been rather reviled recently for its "Adult" section and the services of varying degrees of ickiness that have been offered there, but can Craigslist be a homebase for grassroots politics? Somebody seems to think so.
While job searching the other day I came across an item in both the Guelph and Kitchener/Waterloo Craigslist. The subject line said "Member of Parliament candidate," and when you clicked on it, the post read:
"We are looking for good people.
This is a new party with a very different and far more democratic ideal.
Before replying please take a look at http://www.pppoc.ca and learn what we are all about. If interested please reply from there."
It got me interested anyway. This is certainly a new approach to recruitment.
The name of the group that placed the ad is The Participatory Politicians Party of Canada (or PPPOC), and the goal, as outlined by party founder Richard Hirtle (The Ricky McMountain's Buyer's Guide), is to take back the political process from scheming, ambitious politicians and give it back to the people and get them more involved in the democratic process. "Our politicians are acting very badly," he says on the PPPOC website. "We have politicians and political parties who routinely mislead to get elected, hide facts and cater to special interest groups. They don't listen, they make back-room deals and give beyond logic explanations."
If you read through the website, you can see that Hirtle's but a lot of thought into his party's philosophy and believes passionately in what he's saying. I'm not sure Craigslist is the place to go to find candidate material, but I wish him luck in the endeavour.

That Looks Familiar

Double-take alert! Does this remind you of something?

If you said the layout of the ads Liberal MP Frank Valeriote places in the paper when he's bring a special guest to town, you'd be right. Except this ad is from Federal Conservative candidate Marty Burke, who's sponsoring a visit from Laurie Hawn, MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defense today. Their topic of choice is Old Age Pensions and Veterans' Benefits, but if you go you'll be talking about it at the splendiferous Delta Hotel and Conference Centre rather than Valeriote's venue of choice, The Italian Canadian Club. 
I mearly point this out as a bit of layout geek humour. I actually applaud Burke for his efforts to bring a little governmental openess to the City of Guelph. It's these kinds of open houses and conversations with influencial and high-profile members of government that, to me, have made Valeriote's tenure as Guelph MP an interesting one. And considering that Guelph is a Red spot in a vast sea of Blue, I highly suspect Mr. Burke will asking more of his all-star colleagues to pop in during the next election... Whenever that will be.

Busy Times for Salisbury

It appears that Mike Salisbury isn't letting his loss in last fall's Municipal Election slow him down. Quite the opposite actually as he's now looking towards a higher office.
Posted on the Guelph Mercury's 59 Carden St. blog this morning is a release from the local Green Party of Ontario office, officially announcing that Salisbury is seeking the Green nomination to be their candidate in this fall's Provincial Election. “Electing Canada’s first Green Party member will send a strong message that Guelph is a leader in Canada’s green industrial revolution,” said Salisbury in the press release. “What we need most is a local change agent who understands the cultural dynamics of our city, and can leverage our local energy initiatives to create sustainable, high-paying jobs here in Guelph.”
But along with kicking off ambitions for provincial office, Salisbury is also appearing on the CBC show Dragon’s Den this week with his new Guelph-based business Tribute Caskets, which manufactures environmentally-friendly caskets that can also feature artwork and photo designs to better memorialize the deceased. You can learn more about Tribute Caskets here, which is the first in a line of environmentally-friendly post-death products being developed by the company. To follow Salisbury's adventure on Dragon's Den, visit the show's website here.  
As for Salisbury political ambitions, he's currently running unopposed for the Green Party of Ontario nomination, but the ballot remains open until April 17th. It looks like the Provincial Election is going to be a hot one for the riding of Guelph in terms of candidates with sunger/songwriter James Gordon trying for the NDP nomination. Current MPP will be running again for the Liberals, and there's be no word yet on who might be running for the PCs.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is This Really That Offensive?

I was scrolling through the "From the Editors" blog on the Guelph Mercury website and came across a post by Managing Editor Phil Andrews in regards to the above political cartoon. Apparently, some people found this cartoon, published in Tuesday's paper, to be offensive. My question is why? Because cartoons are supposed to be funny? Just like all animated films are for kids, and all comic books are about strong men in tights, right?
I'm a big fan of the work of Aislin (real name Christopher Terry Mosher), who does cartoons for the Montreal Gazette. His work typically walks a fine line between pointed social commentary and taking that commentary a step too far, but I like his style. He has a voice, and is able to express that voice without hesitation or reservation. 
 This cartoon seems to me to really capture in graphic form the terrible video captured after the quake, with entire neighbourhoods carried away in a torrent of sea water. There's something haunting in the way Aislin drew the water, as the crashing waves almost look like teeth. Perhaps the combination of the message and the artist's personal style fostered the supposed offense.
But really, the cartoon is not supposed to be offensive. But then again, it's not supposed to be funny either. Tell me if there's anything funny in this cartoon. Tell me this is a joke and not a horrifying mirror held up to today's media. It's an Aislin cartoon from a few days before the Japan earthquake.

You know what I find offensive? People running out to buy iodine pills. I don't mean the people that live in the potentially affected area around the Fukushima nuclear power plan, I mean the people that live near nuclear plants in southern Ontario and the northeastern U.S.,or the people living on the west coast of North America who think that radiation exposure will magically travel with incredible potency across the Pacific Ocean. The shallowness of these people offends me. Their ignorance offends me. The general tendency to make tragedy abroad about us, offends me. And the fact that all those things on front of that fake paper above were eating up all the time dedicated news lately, offends me. 
If you really want to be offended, be offended by the fact that it takes a tragedy on the magnitude of that suffered by Japan to bring us back to a reality that doesn't involve wasted sitcom stars and pointless gadgets.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Financial Statements Coming Soon

If your fetish is the financial statements of municipal candidates, then good news everyone, we should be getting the statements from the 2010 campaign before the month is out. Here's the City's Press Release:
GUELPH, ON, March 14, 2011 – Later this month the public will be able to access the financial statements filed by election candidates on the City’ website, guelph.ca. It will be the first time candidates’ statements will be available in one place.
Ontario’s Municipal Elections Act has long required that candidates file financial statements, however this year marks the first time statements will be made available to the public for viewing at no cost via city websites. This new provision is pursuant to section 88(9.1) of the Act.
Financial statements include the amount a candidate generated in income for his or her campaign, and the amount he or she spent.
There were 57 candidates in Guelph’s October 25, 2010 election—4 for mayor, 33 for ward councillor, and 20 for school board trustee. To date, 26 of those candidates have filed financial statements. The remainder should be forthcoming within the next 2 weeks.
“There used to be a grace period before penalties took effect,” says Lois Giles, Guelph’s City Clerk. “The grace period allowed a candidate to apply to the Ontario Court of Justice for an extension to file the document, however that provision for candidates who fail to file by the deadline no longer exists, and the penalties now apply immediately.”
The deadline for election candidates to file financial statements is 2 p.m. on March 25. The penalty, should an elected candidate fail to submit his or her financial statement by the deadline, is the forfeiture of any office to which he or she was elected, the office is deemed to be vacant, and the candidate is ineligible to run in the next municipal election. The penalty for unsuccessful candidates who fail to file by the deadline is ineligibility to be elected or appointed to any office to which the Act applies until after the 2014 election.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Here's a Bright Idea...

...Oh, never mind. Here's a recent City press release about a new endeavour on the part of City Hall and Guelph Hydro to develop the solar energy gathering capacity of city sites.
GUELPH, ON, March 1, 2011 – The City is working with Guelph Hydro and its subsidiary Ecotricity to put solar photovoltaic panels on a number of City-owned buildings. During last night’s City Council meeting, the City approved an agreement that defines the terms of Guelph Hydro’s mandate to develop energy projects on City properties.
"Ecotricity already operates the two Megawatt generator at the former Eastview landfill site," says Rob Kerr, the City’s General Manager of Community Energy "Now they’ll have access to our rooftops to generate more clean, renewable energy right here in Guelph."
Together with Guelph Hydro, the City has identified about 50,000 square feet of rooftop space where Ecotricity could install enough solar photovoltaic panels to generate up to 500 kilowatts of electricity. Once the panels are up and operating, Ecotricity would sell the power to the Ontario power grid over the next 20 years under the Ontario Power Authority’s MicroFIT program.
"This licence agreement is just the beginning," adds Kerr. "Together with Guelph Hydro the City of Guelph will continue to seek out more opportunities for energy projects on City-owned properties in order to support the goals of Guelph’s Community Energy Initiative."
About the Community Energy Initiative
Guelph’s Community Energy Initiative is a collective commitment among community members including the City of Guelph, Guelph Hydro, Union Gas, Guelph Chamber of Commerce and the University of Guelph to use less energy in 25 years than we do today; use less energy per capita than comparable Canadian cities; and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions per capita than the current global average.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Resolutions and Depositions Over Health Unit

From the City today comes word of more court action, this time against the Board of Health to prevent them from moving forward with the construction of a new headquarters for the Health Unit, the funding for which would be entirely on the back of the City of Guelph. Typically, the province is responsible for 75 per cent of the costs incurred by the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit (reducing the City's share of the cost from $10 million to $2.5 million), but for some strange the province has refused to spend new money on infrastructure, leaving Guelph (and Orangeville) in a precarious position. Here's the press release:
GUELPH, ON, March 8, 2011 – The City of Guelph has started a court action requesting an injunction to stop the Board of Health from incurring costs related to the acquisition or construction of capital facilities or from entering into agreements to this end until the legal authority for the Board to do so is determined. The court action follows the City of Guelph's resolution to not support the Board of Health in its plans to proceed unilaterally with the construction or acquisition of a new headquarters.
The City of Guelph continues to believe the Board of Health does not have the authority to incur debt in the City's name without its consent. The cost to Guelph taxpayers, should the Board of Health proceed as planned, is $10 million. The impact on the City of Guelph's ability to fund other projects could be significant.
"Guelph City Council has agreed it will urge the Counties of Dufferin and Wellington to not support the Board of Health in proceeding with direct ownership of property," says Guelph's mayor Karen Farbridge. "We will be requesting the counties participate, along with the City, in meetings with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to discuss alternatives that would not jeopardize Provincial participation in funding accommodation costs or add to the City's debt."
The City has been clear about its opposition to funding $10 million in capital costs for the construction of a new building in Guelph without participation from the Province in funding a portion. The City has been working with the Board to assess other proposals since 2007.
Capital funds for new facilities were not part of Guelph's 2011 budget approved last week. The Board of Health withdrew from its scheduled opportunity to present its budget on February 15, thereby eliminating Guelph City Council's ability to ask questions and comment on the Board's capital plans.
While the City of Guelph acknowledges a new location is needed, it hopes an injunction will afford the chance to determine its legal obligations to fund these types of projects. The City is committed to exploring alternatives, and remains hopeful an alternative can be found.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Budget Round 2 - It's a Pass

After two really long nights of deliberations, the Guelph Budget for 2011 was passed, but not without some serious contention for this young council. On the plus side, the property tax rate was slashed down to a more reasonable 3.14 per cent (or pi), but on the on down side, councillors had to raid city reserves in order to get us there. Here's the savings and spendings for the night as per the Guelph Mercury:
  • no social services data analyst - $51,000 saving
  • use the parking reserve to pay for infrastructure repairs - $1.3 million off the tax base
  • use the rate stabilization reserve to lower taxes - $700,000 off the tax base
  • cut Green Infrastructure (trees, etc) - $100,000 saving
  • cut Downtown Assessment Growth Fund - $265,000 saving
  • increase special events parking downtown from $2 to $5 - $71,000 in revenue
  • 10 per cent increase in library late fees - $25,000 in revenue
The City itself was quick to laud its efforts. Here's the press release:
GUELPH, ON, March 3, 2011 – Guelph City Council approved the 2011 tax-supported operating budget at $167,037,121, a 3.14 per cent increase over 2010. The capital budget was approved at $4,145,000. The impact on an average household in Guelph assessed at $281,700 will be roughly $67 this year. 
For the last few years and in 2010 in particular, the City responded to economic pressures by passing budgets that focused primarily on affordability. To keep tax increases low, or affordable, the City reduced services, postponed some important investments and reduced its savings.
This year the City will reinstate may of the services that were cut in 2010 and begin to ensure Guelph’s budget is realistic and more sustainable given the level of service residents expect.
City Council heard over 20 public delegations during this year’s budget process, many of whom objected to the City's plan to increase transit fares while offering 30-minute service frequency in June, July and August and no service on statutory holidays in 2011.
City Council voted to restore 20-minute summer service frequency, and increase cash fares in September to partially offset the $68,000 cost of delivering holiday transit service on Canada Day, John Galt Day, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Labour Day. "Less than 10 per cent of our riders use cash,” says Michael Anders, General Manager, Guelph Transit. “In September, an adult cash fare would increase 25 cents to three dollars.”
The budget was also adjusted to reflect the fact that Guelph’s new inter-modal transit terminal will open in November.
“The cost of opening and operating several new community facilities is having a big impact on this year’s budget,” says City Treasurer, Margaret Neubauer. “The City will move ahead with plans to open the new Civic Museum, the east end library branch, Guelph’s Provincial Offences Court, the inter-modal transit terminal, Market Square, the Organic Waste Processing Facility, new parks and trails and the South End Emergency Services Station in 2011.”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Budget: Round One!

There were some very surprising developments from last night's (as it turned out) first round of Council deliberations for the 2011 budget. 
Surprise #1: Transit wins. Somewhere, somehow, the majority of council seemed to click on to the fact that you can't promote the use of mass transit while cutting the legs out from beneath it. For 2011, fares are frozen, 20 minute service stays in summer and we get five stat holidays of service, which, as my grandmother used to say, is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. 
In what were the most part close votes, the fee freeze barely passed 7-6 (although Karl Wettstein later said that he pressed "the wrong button" voting in favour. At least the Mercury cartoonist got something out of it.) Meanwhile, the vote was a much better 8-5 in favour of keeping 20-minute service. On the contentious issue of stat holiday service, Maggie Laidlaw's original motion for service on all stat holidays was voted down 9-4, not giving up though, Laidlaw asked for a vote on having stat holiday service limited to Canada Day, John Galt Day, Labour Day, Christmas and Boxing Day, which passed much more easily by 10-3. I tip my hat to all councillors who showed commitment and content of character to not punish the City's dedicated (and sometimes limited) transit users by punishing them a second year in a row with a twin cut in service and fee hike. 
In other news, Gloria Kovach's motion to eliminate all 87.5 of the new Full-Time Equivalency positions and re-add them to a budget on a case-by-case basis was voted down, although some new positions were later cut. An additional bylaw supervisor and two positions — a network specialist and marketing co-ordinator — from the Guelph Public Library budget. That wasn't Kovach's only move against the Library. She tried to mothball the bookmobile, but it was voted down - narrowly. So Surprise #2 was: Has the Library been enjoying the gravy train too long now? Weird. 
Councillors also rejected a return of parking meters downtown, while approving a $900 pay raise for themselves. Fulfilling a campaign promise, Cam Guthrie brought the motion, admitting it was a symbolic gesture with not a lot of savings, but he lost the vote nonetheless 8-5. “I’m not prepared to forego a small increase for the sake of it looking good,” Laidlaw said, noting with the number of hours councillors put in they make approximately minimum wage.
Part Two begins tonight at 7 pm. In the meantime, The 59 Carden Street Blog has a pretty good break down of the cuts and costs so far:
  • There will be no transit fare increases this year - $200,000 cost
  • The Carden Street transit terminal will open Nov. 1 instead of Sept. 1 - $90,000 saving
  • No hiring of a bylaw compliance supervisor - $103,000 saving
  • Sign and sidewalk inspector position decreased by $10,600
  • 20-minute transit service throughout summer months - $260,000 cost
  • No new mobility supervisor - $74,000 saving
  • Remove corporate analyst from finance budget - $18,000 saving this year
  • Adjust snow removal standard from 8 cm to 10 cm - $137,400 saving
  • Continue to lease vehicles rather than own - $213,000 saving
  • Use social services revenues to offset cost of well-being strategy and social services assessment - $100 saving on tax-supported budget (though not an overall saving because the money will still be spent)
  • Run buses on 5 stat holidays (John Galt Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Christmas and Boxing Day) - $68,000 cost
  • Decrease staff training budget - $220,000 saving
  • Keep Bookmobile on the road (passed 7-6) - $200,000 cost
  • Cut two proposed full-time library staff - $91,000 this year
  • With all the ins and outs, the most recent estimate from staff (at 10:53 p.m.) is that the tax increase if the budget was passed at that time would be 5.04 per cent.

Welcome Back, Farmers Market!

After what's been a relatively smooth inter-repair period, The Guelph Farmers' Market comes home this Saturday to its original location on Gordon St. City workers were sprucing up the front today with a banner and a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man. Here's the City's press release on the subject:
GUELPH, ON, March 3, 2011 – The Guelph Farmers' Market will return to its original location at the corner of Gordon Street and Waterloo Avenue on Saturday March 5.
The structural repairs to the roof were completed on March 1. The structural engineer and the City's building inspector inspected the site and have declared the building safe to occupy.
"We are extremely pleased that the repairs were completed on time," said Derek McCaughan, Executive Director, Operations and Transit. "The transition to City Hall when the Market building was declared unsafe was not without its challenges. Without the dedication and perseverance of City staff, the continued success of the Market during this period would not have been possible. We thank the vendors for their patience and of course the market shoppers for their phenomenal support during this transition."
The market operated from within City Hall every Saturday since December while the roof was being repaired. The temporary location at City Hall saw close to 3000 shoppers each Saturday.
The Guelph Farmers' Market will be open at its original location at 7 a.m. on Saturday, March 5.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Just When You Thought It was Safe to Go Back for a Glass of Water...

It almost slipped by them, but the Wellington Water Watchers have mobilized quickly in response to Nestle's application the Ministry of the Environment for a 10-year extension on their permit to take water from the Grand River watershed in Aberfoyle. The new contract, if approved, would allow Nestle to continue to take 3.6 million litres per day for the next decade.
“This is far too long and way too much,” states Mike Nagy, former Green Party candidate and board member for WWW in a press release. “In fact, there are many aspects of this proposed NestlĂ©-Ministry of Environment agreement that should raise red flags for all Guelph-area citizens who care about water issues.”
And care they do. As soon as WWW changed the name of their Facebook group to “Oppose Nestle Waters Canada's ‘Permit to take Water’ Renewal Bid!” a tidal of wave of member reaction was posted to the site. The WWW will be holding a Community Information Session this Friday at ebar at 7 pm. Then, on Saturday, there will be a Community March to demonstrate against Nestle beginning in St. George's Square at noon and ending at around 3 pm outside the Nestle plant in Aberfoyle.
Emotions concerning Guelph’s water and the private corporations that want access to it have always been high. In 2007, Wellington Water Watchers was formed to combat Nestle’s previous contract renewal for five years at 3.6 million litres per day. After nearly a year of back and forth, the Ministry of the Environment followed direction from Guelph City Council and renewed the contract for only two years, but the litre per diem mark remained at 3.6 million.
“At the very most, the maximum volume of water allowed in any new NestlĂ© agreement should be no more than the maximum taken in 2010, which was 1.6 million litres per day,” Nagy says. “And then it should be reduced by at least 1.56 percent per year after that, consistent with Ontario’s initiatives on sustainable water use.”
The period for public comment about the renewal closes tomorrow, and a decision could be made about the renewal as early as March 5th. To learn more about WWW’s objections to the permit and find out how you can help their cause, go to http://www.wellingtonwaterwatchers.ca/

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

James Gordon Wants to Be NDP

After years of being the singing voice for progressive issues in the City of Guelph, singer/songwriter James Gordon now wants to be its actual voice at Queens Park. According to today's Guelph Mercury, Gordon is one of two high-profile candidates vying for the NDP nomination for this fall's Provincial Election, the other is Susan Wheeler, writer, educator and advocate for the disabled. According to NDP Federal candidate Bobbi Stewart, the local Provincial New Democrats are expecting to have their nomination meeting sometime for the end of April. Local PC's are also looking for a candidate and the Green Party says that they'll begin their search sometime this week. Current MPP and Liberal Party candidate Liz Sandals will be running again for a third term.

Loewig Announces Early Retirement

This morning's press release from the City of Guelph:
GUELPH, ON, Tuesday, March 1, 2011 – The City of Guelph's Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Hans Loewig, has notified City Council that he will not complete the full term of his employment contract.
Mr. Loewig shared his plans at a closed meeting of City Council last night and offered to stay on as the City's Chief Administrator until the end of 2011, committing to help Council with its recruitment of a new CAO and ensure a smooth transition. He is stepping down from the City's top job for personal reasons.
"This decision was a difficult one for me because I continue to be passionate about the important work we do on behalf of this community," says Mr. Loewig. "The years I've spent as Guelph's CAO have been rich with positive challenges and very rewarding. I have been very fortunate to have worked with so many committed and capable people in the organization. I feel we have accomplished a tremendous amount, built partnerships that will serve Guelph well for years to come, and laid important groundwork to continue to ensure Guelph remains an outstanding place to live as it grows."
Mayor Karen Farbridge says the loss of Guelph's chief administrator is a great one. "The legacy Mr. Loewig leaves is one of exemplary leadership, integrity, and a roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic that has served our community extremely well over the past four years. I'd like to thank Mr. Loewig for everything he's done for our community, and wish him the absolute best."
Mr. Loewig first accepted the position as Guelph's Interim CAO in June 2007. That contract was extended, then replaced with a permanent, four-year contract. Mr. Loewig joined the City of Guelph with 37 years' experience in the municipal sector including having served as the CAO for the City of Brantford from 1999 to 2004. Under his leadership the City of Guelph secured $48 million in federal and provincial funds to renew Guelph's aging infrastructure; made significant headway on the Hanlon Creek Business Park—employment lands expected to create 10,000 jobs and strengthen Guelph’s economy; implemented a People Practices Strategy to help the City become a top employer; and launched an economic development strategy to help Guelph compete and prosper in the next decade.
Mr. Loewig is leaving one year in advance of the term of his contract.