About the Blog:

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Things I Read in Metro Today

I like Metro. I pick it up whenever I'm in Toronto (like I was this morning for a press screening of an upcoming movie). To me, it's a sign that the newspaper industry isn't as nearly deflated as the wags would have us believe. Every issue downtown in the subway stations is gone by noon, and that's despite the fact that a lot of Metro is re-edited, re-formatted, and re-hashed bits for the TorStar News Service.
So as I was flipping through today's issue, I had a number of reactions to some of the stories within. I thought it might be fun to put a few of those to the digital page. If you have an issue of today's Toronto Metro, feel free to follow along. 
PG 3 - "Road tolls 'not going to happen'" - Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his war on people without cars continues, as his brother Coun. Doug Ford confirms that toll roads are "off the table" as a way to raise funds for the City's subway plans. I'm not for or against toll roads, but it always seems irresponsible to me to take any revenue options off the table. Especially when you've already taken option number one - tax increases - completely off the table. 
PG 5 - "Camera did not go off in Tory's pants: Party" - Tory Candidate George Lepp had his Blackberry stolen and someone posted a picture of a live male phallus on his Twitter feed, but an erroneous report said that the camera went off in his pants and then posted the picture to his feed accidentally. To me, that's the "magic bullet" theory of social media posting, but it gave New Democrat Peter Kormos a chance to get on his soapbox in Queens Park and demand that the speaker band Blackberries from the chamber. Silly season in the campaign has begun, and "Penisgate" is its name.
PG 5 - Photo Cap: Further proof that politicians need to stop playing dress up for the camera

PG 9 - "Royal couple's tour bypasses Toronto" - How dare they! Doesn't the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge know how important Toronto is, and that it's the Centre of the Universe? Come on! They're stopping in Charlottetown, PEI for two days, apparently because the Duchess is a big fan of Anne of Green Gables. Sure, nice spin Buckingham Palace!
PG 11 - "Girls' guide to surviving NHL playoffs" - Oh, our boyfriends and husbands are perpetually obsessed with hockey and its the Stanley Cup finals. What are we going to do? How will we deal with the rowdiness and excitement?! Really, we're still doing this? Please, I know women who get just as excited, if not more excited, about hockey as man. What a tired stereotype. 
PG 13 - "CityTV shows off its talent" - And most of it is American-made except for two shows: Canada's Got Talent, and Secret Millionaire Canada. Nice.
PG 14 - Drive Angry DVD Review - Peter Howell's review is pretty spot on with my opinion of the film.
PG 17 - "Jones won't snitch on her baby-daddy" - Matthew Vaughn's got a hot movie coming out this weekend, but he's in hot water at home with accusations that he's the father of X-Men: First Class star January Jones' baby. Of course, it's hard to feel sorry for the guy that's apparently traded Claudia Schiffer for January Jones, but...
PG 28 - Blue Jays pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes avoids becoming the losingest pitcher in MLB history. He'll have to settle for being tied for worst with Oakland's Matt Keough and Boston's Cliff Curtis. Reyes' last win was June 13th, 2008. 
PG 31 - Today's sudoku was ridiculously easy. Finished it in 10 minutes.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Get in to The River This Weekend

This weekend is the 32nd annual Speed River Clean-Up organized by the Guelph branch of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG). Brought to you by Wellington Water Watchers, Trout Unlimited and GUFF (Guelph Urban Forest Friends), the Clean-Up, as always, aims to educate people about the importance of Guelph’s waterways, get them involved and in the river to literally take out the trash.
Like in years gone by, everyone is to meet up at the gazebo in Royal City Park (Gordon Street) by 11 am. Bring your gloves, sun gear, water and a pair of either old shoes, boots or hip waders. Then sign-in, join a group and start cleaning up the river. Afterward at around 12:30, everyone’s invited back to McCrae House for some eats and some entertainment. The theme is pot luck, so volunteers are being asked to bring a dish to share, and for each dish contributed, you will be entered in a draw to win two tickets to the Speed River Fundraising Dinner at Borealis Grille, a $120 value. Additionally, volunteers are being asked to bring their own plates and utensils to cut down on waste.
If you’re looking to get even more involved, OPIRG is looking for volunteers to take on specific jobs at the Clean Up. Among the list of jobs needed to be filled are crew leaders, photographers, set-up and take-down volunteers, and people to help out at the potluck. For more information, get in touch with OPIRG at 519-824-2091 or at opirg@uoguelph.ca
To get you in the mood, here are some picture slideshows of two Clean-Ups from the past, 2008 and 2010.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Unusual Video Promotes Bike Box

Bike riding through a city may be for "commie pinkos," according to Don Cherry, but Guelph is making it easier for them to share the road with automobile drivers with something called a bike box, which the city is hoping to set-up at the corner of Stone Road and Chancellor’s Way in time for the National Commuter Challenge from June 6-10. Check out the neat How-To video by clicking the link that came with the accompanying city press release.
GUELPH, ON, May 27—The City will unveil an all-together different kind of educational tool during today’s Active Communities Summit at the University of Guelph Arboretum Centre as part of its Bicycle-Friendly Guelph Initiative. 
A new public education video is part of the City’s latest efforts to help drivers and cyclists share the road, and comes days before Ontario’s second bike box—a road marking that identifies where cyclists are to wait in front of cars at a red light—comes into effect at the corner of Stone Road and Chancellor’s Way. 
Designed to reduce conflicts between drivers and cyclists, the bike box is scheduled to be installed in time for the National Commuter Challenge held June 6 - 10. 
The City is also completing a cycle track—a paved, segregated bike lane along Stone Road between Gordon Street and Edinburgh Road which will be supported by special markings (sharrows) that alert drivers and cyclists to changes in road-sharing conditions. The cycle track is also intended to reduce conflicts between vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. 
The bike box and the cycle track are the latest developments in the Bicycle-Friendly Guelph Initiative which aims to triple daily cycling trips by 2018. Only about 1 per cent of all daily trips in Guelph are taken by bicycle, even though most of those trips are less than five kilometres. As Guelph learns to go by bike, everyone will benefit from reduced greenhouse gas emissions caused by driving, and enhanced community well-being through healthy, active living.
As for the video, Corporate Communications Manager Tara Sprigg says it’s a fun, compelling and different way for the City to reach audiences with important instructional information about the new feature. “Cities, like any business, have to find compelling ways to convey what is often complex information. The bike box video was conceived as a fun, inexpensive way to create a useful instructional tool… and make people smile at the same time.” 
The City of Guelph is one of several community partners supporting the Active Communities Summit’s shared vision to make Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph bicycle and pedestrian friendly.

Friday, May 20, 2011

More Radio Days

If you should happen to be up early on holiday Monday - or if you're like some of my friends, 7 am is usually when you go to bed - then I invite you to tune in to CFRU 93.3 to listen to "Beyond the Ballot Box." Why? Because I'll be a guest talking about municipal issues along with the Guelph Mercury's Scott Tracey. We will be talking about recent staff moves at City Hall, issues of development and how the new council is faring after six months on the job. 
If you just can't wake up that early on a holiday though, the show might be re-airing next Friday afternoon as well, or you can just listen to it on the CFRU archives at the station's website. That's where you can now listen to my last appearance on "Beyond the Ballot Box."
Additionally, pick up the Waterloo Region Record this weekend, that is if you're interested in what I'm reading right now. I was recently asked to contribute to the "What They're Reading" feature in the weekend Record. 
Well, that's about as self-promotional as I'll get for now. Have a good Victoria Day long weekend folks.

Asbestos Takes on Daily Show to Reclaim Its Good Name

While looking for story ideas on the Canadian Newswire website today I came across this press release. In case you missed it, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart did a bit where correspondent Asif Mambi journeyed to Asbestos, PQ and pretty much did what The Daily Show does: openly mock and denigrate  its subject, in this case, the operation of the asbestos mines in Quebec, which still operate and export the deadly material. (It was even covered in a CBC documentary called "Asbestos: Canada's Ugly Secret")
I don't think this usually happens - at least now that most people get The Daily Show's schtick - but it seems the Executive Director of Jeffrey Mine feels that The Daily Show has sullied the good name of himself, his industry and the people of Asbestos, and has demanded an apology from the show. Here's the release.
ASBESTOS, QC, May 17 /CNW Telbec/ - Reacting to the tacky parody that was broadcast by the American television program The Daily Show, Mr. Bernard Coulombe, Executive Director of Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, said he is disgusted that he was made the subject of such an inappropriate parody, whose only purpose was to discredit him and make the people of the region look like ignorant imbeciles.
"It was already too late by the time I realized that this program was not a serious news show and that all the host wanted was to make fun of me and the town's representatives, to insult us and to deliver anti-asbestos propaganda. Had we known what he had in store for us, obviously I never would have agreed to involve myself in something for which I and the entire chrysotile brief would unfairly end up paying the price," indicated Mr. Coulombe.
Obviously, this crude attempt to discredit the mine and the region is part of a malicious operation that coincides with the Government of Quebec announcing its support for the Asbestos mine; an investment of several tens of millions of dollars that will preserve quality jobs and provide for extracting an exceptional natural resource safely and responsibly.
For years now, producing companies have been applying the principles of responsibility while ensuring that businesses that purchase their product use it safely and responsibly, and respect the exposure levels below which there is no measurable risk to health. "If a company fails to comply with our safety requirements for using chrysotile, we simply stop selling to that company," explained Bernard Coulombe.
Safe use of chrysotile: a reality here and abroad
As to the substance of the matter, it should be pointed out that the asbestos discussed on the Daily Show is in fact chrysotile, a fibre which is completely different from forms of amphibole asbestos, which are the main culprits behind the industrial diseases of the past. Chrysotile is used in applications in which the fibre is encased in cement or asphalt. Users must take certain precautions and understand that although chrysotile does pose a risk to health (like numerous other products we live with on a daily basis), it does not present any measurable risk when used according to the standard of 1 fibre/cc, which is the case not only in Quebec mines, but in many countries to which it is exported.
The same has not been demonstrated for substitute fibres and products, although there is some urgency for doing so.
Here's a look at the offending segment of The Daily Show thanks to Global Montreal 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why Wellington Water Watchers Won't [W]Appeal

After a disappointing permit renewal that will see Nestle Waters draw precious H20 from the aquifer in Aberfoyle for another five years, many observers expected the Wellington Water Watchers, at least, to keep up the fight. But a short deadline on the appeal, as it turns out, is only one of the reasons why the WWW opted out of further action.
Here's the WWW press release to explain why.
Wellington Water Watchers has decided not to appeal the April 30 decision by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment to grant a five-year extension to the water-taking permit in Aberfoyle issued to Nestlé Waters Canada. “The Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) system is flawed, and we have decided there is no point in participating in a process that appears to be a window-dressing exercise,” explains Mike Nagy, Wellington Water Watchers’ Board member.
WWWs will continue to oppose the wasteful and unsustainable practices of the plastic bottled water industry while supporting and promoting municipal drinking water services. The WWWs also argues that Ontario’s EBR process overwhelmingly favours ‘the proponent’ – in this case, Nestlé – and needs overhauling and renewal itself. “Proper procedures were not followed in this permit review,” Nagy explains, “and we were not treated fairly as stakeholders in the process. It is hard to believe in what is supposed to be an objective and balanced process, that Nestlé was put in charge of arranging technical meetings and inviting the participants. The Wellington Water Watchers were marginalized as a result.”
One particularly glaring oversight was Nestlé’s exclusion of Wellington Water Watchers from a key technical meeting on March 24. “The MOE should have been leading these meetings and ensuring that all stakeholders were invited and able to attend,” Nagy adds. “It’s obvious to us that ‘the proponent’ has a vested interest in keeping specific parties – particularly those seeking restrictions – from participating.”
Wellington Water Watchers had expected the renewed permit to be no longer than two years, with annual water volume reductions, and consideration for the fact that the wider community did not favour renewal. The group continues to have significant concerns that the MOE has not properly considered many key unresolved issues, including the lack of cold water upwelling in Mill Creek and potential for introduction of contaminants into the aquifer as a result of the pumping.
“Further, volume reduction should have been part of this new agreement, as Ontario is currently reviewing all water budgets and will be looking for conservation from all sectors in the near future,” says WWW Board member André Hueniken. “The province needs to live up to its commitment to uphold the precautionary principle, not just in word, but in deed, especially when making decisions that will affect future generations.”
“We’re not going away,” he adds. “We’ll continue to do everything we can to protect our watershed, and to properly regulate this wasteful, unnecessary industry.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Local Wrap

So it's been a week since I last posted. Mostly, I've been playing catch-up with my other endeavours, but now I find myself having to play catch-up with local political issues, lest I sound like an idiot in a pre-tapped segment for the next edition of the "Beyond the Ballot Box" radio show on CFRU. So as the man said, let's see what's in the news...
City Buildings Unsafe
In a rare and almost improbable move, the city closed seven "high risk" structures last Friday out of safety concerns. They include the standalone washroom buildings at Silvercreek Park, Margaret Greene Park, Hanlon Creek Park and Norm Jary Park, as well as the combination washroom/concession buildings at Exhibition Park and Riverside Park and the Riverside Bandshell. This is after the grandstand at Hastings Stadium was closed for safety concerns as well. What's the problem? Mario Petricevic, the city’s general manager of corporate building maintenance, says that the issue is the buildings' roofs, or rather the anchors that keep those roofs fastened to the walls of the buildings in sever wind. There are 34 buildings in the City that are deemed "high risk" and although the engineer didn't order the closure of those seven facilities, the City felt it necessary to act with an abundance of caution. In this year's budget, the City put aside $1.3 million for building repair. Some of the buildings will be able to be fixed right away, others have such extensive damage they'll need to be sent out for tenure.
Civic Square Conundrum
Impatience about the complete closure of Carden Street was compounded this week when word came down that, surprise, the finishing of the Civic Square in front of City Hall would be delayed by a month. The culprit? A particular brick made in New York "made using a special, highly durable kind of clay that’s not available in Canada," according to the Guelph Tribune. The end result is that the Square won't be finished till sometime in July, and that's discounting the ice rink, which actually won't be finished until sometime later this year, probably December. Merchants along Carden remain unimpressed. “Collectively, these businesses (along Carden Street) have probably lost several hundred thousand dollars in sales,” said Marc Black, owner of Hempire to the Guelph Mercury. But even when July comes and goes, Carden Street will still be in a half shamble because of the construction of the transit hub.
Premier Posits Problematic
Not sure if that sentence made sense, but oh well, I'm not sure this whole Health Unit issue does either. The Guelph Tribune reported Tuesday that Premier Dalton McGuinty will indeed endorse the idea of a meeting between Mayor Karen Farbridge and the Ontario government about the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit. “What we have agreed to is that somebody will meet with the mayor, so that we can talk a little bit more about this issue and get a better understanding from the city’s perspective about the challenges that present themselves here,” McGuinty said when he returned to the Royal City for the second time in two weeks on Monday. Guelph MPP Liz Sandals said previously that it was unlikely that the health minister would dissolve the WDG-Health Unit, but I believe the fact that the confirmation that two sides in this struggle will be sitting down together is a new development. Whether or not anything's going to come of it is another matter altogether. There's little appetite for Guelph to take on its own Health Unit bureaucracy from scratch, but at the same time, there's little appetite for Guelph to swallow the whole $10 million price tag for the new Health Unit as well. No date has been set for the tête-à-tête between the Mayor and health minister, but I suspect waves will be made when it's done.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gas Pain is the Best Pain

I remember in the early days of the election, and my interview with John Lawson. He said to me that we'll see gas prices hit $1.50 sometime this summer, adding, “No one in the mainline parties that [understand] that this is just the beginning. Now there are no alternatives, and what we need to begin now is looking at real alternatives. My vision for Guelph would be one that is largely self-sustainable for each house.”
Shortly after this interview, the price of gas started flirting with the $1.40 per litre threshold, and now, after a short rest-bit, the cost to fill up the tank shot up nearly 7 cents in 12 hours. And further, former Liberal MP and gas price watchdog Dan McTeague said that the price at the pump will likely, finally, cross the $1.40 mark on Wednesday. At least here in southern Ontario. In Montreal they're already paying $1.44.
The reaction, as always with gas price increases, was swiftly negative. Will it inspire people to change their behaviour? Well, let's consult a CP24 poll from today asking, "How are you coping with record high gas prices?" Two-thirds of respondents said that they're just going to drive less. Only 17 per cent said that they will now take public transit, with 12 per cent saying that they'll walk or bike, and the bottom 5 per cent saying that they'll slum and car pool. Granted, this is merely one, unscientific poll, but you have to ask yourself: what will it take for people to let go of their automobiles? The truth of the matter is that people are going to be have to priced out of their cars, and the way to do that is gas prices.
Granted, the sudden spike at the pumps is being driven more by commodity speculators than a rise in the price of oil, which did start to back-off earlier in trading this morning. But perhaps the greed of the oil companies and others can work in the favour of the people and the environment. On CP24 this morning, they read several tweets from viewers talking about gas prices. One woman tweeted that for the first time she bought a Metro pass and rode the TTC, and, get this, she was loving it. Her words. Would she have rode the TTC and loved it had gas prices not gone up? Of course not.
It'll be interesting to see if that love sustains the occasional hiccups in the TTC system. You ride public transit with any kind of consistency and you're going to see its problems and limitations. While I was at the Galaxy Cinema last week, I overheard one guy saying to his friend as they were leaving their car that it takes so long to get across town. Yeah? Do you ever take Guelph Transit? Because how long does it take to get from the southern most end of Guelph to the northern most end by Guelph Transit?
For Guelph, there is change on the horizon this fall with new routes that will hopefully cut down on travel time for most trips, but how long did it take for the city to reach the idea that having every bus go downtown every half-hour was a bad idea? Remember this past winter when the city, once again, attempted to mitigate transit growth by effecting a "summer service" and making no allowance for a return to stat-holiday service? I know full well about the city's cash problems, but transit use is a catch-22, you have to provide better service to attract more riders to get more revenue to pay for better service. 
When the gas prices went up a couple of weeks ago, somebody, I can't remember who, suggested we boycott gas stations for three days. How ineffectual is that? The gas companies know they'll get you eventually, because the fact of the matter is that people just love to drive. We've created a society here in southern Ontario based on that fact. You may live in Milton, but you work in Toronto. Why? Because you wanted a big house with a yard, but all the jobs worth getting paid to do are in bigger cities like Toronto. 
“We’ve gotten used to cheap fuel and built our society around that," said Jason Parent, an analyst at MJ Ervin & Associates, a London, Ont.-based petroleum consulting firm in the Toronto Star. "We drive big cars and live 50 kilometres outside the city, so it’s a bit of a shock when prices go up. But in comparison to some places, however, we’re pretty well off.”
By comparison, right now we're paying about 30 cents more than our American friends, and about a dollar less than many of our European friends. Why? Mostly because they tax their gas more to pay for public transit. Meanwhile in Canada, how much higher will gas prices go before people start petitioning the government to cut gas taxes to relieve the burden? But before that, let's keep in mind that despite the oil companies and those that profit on them, and their general love of lots and lots of money, gas use worldwide is growing, and we're swiftly running out of crude oil as well. 
Now we couldn't possibly stop all oil use in a day, but to begin to change things, that 66 per cent of people who will still drive despite the rising prices, but just drive less, have to start joining that other third that takes the bus, train, bike, or gets a ride with other people that are heading in the same direction. If you can take public transit, do it. You may have to leave your house a bit early, but the extra sleep you lose may pay dividends in the reduced stress you experience being behind the wheel while sitting in traffic.
No matter the reason, high gas prices now and in the future are inevitable. The problem is that no matter how angry people get, the vast majority would rather complain and keep driving rather than fight back in the surest way to make your voice heard to the oil companies: stop using their product, or use significantly less of it. Or think of it this way, on average, it costs just over $7,000 per year to own your car with gas, insurance, maintenance and all the associated costs. You'd have to work pretty hard ratcheting up a $7,000 annual bill on public transit by comparison. And you'd never have to worry about tomorrow's gas prices to boot.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

So Can I Interview Marty Burke Now?

No, really. I realize that Burke's overwhelming silence during the campaign had a lot to do with prevalent Conservative strategy where in the candidate need only keep their head down, limit their public comments, and keep to the party talking points, and election should be a foregone conclusion. But the election is now over, what does Burke have to lose by opening up to the press and the people, and give us his point of view on the campaign that was?
Instead, the response from Burke post-election has been remarkably muted, or it would be remarkable if silence had not have been the general theme during the campaign. Requests by the Guelph Mercury have gone unanswered, and Burke even failed to make a call of concession and congratulations to re-elected Guelph MP Frank Valeriote, even after both Bobbi Stewart and John Lawson offered their's in person Monday night.
The worm has quickly turned though. Many Conservative supporters, including Dick Chapman who e-mailed me, ask what the point is of Burke talking to the media when we were clearly biased for Valeriote. This argument didn't work for Sarah Palin, and it doesn't work for Burke either. Heck, the right can't even trust their own news network to not step on any toes in delivering flawlessly positive campaign coverage. Like it or not, the media is how you reach more eyes and ears than can ever be possible in one-on-one meetings, no matter how prolific you are at banging on doors. 
However, there was one media outlet in town that Burke had no problem reaching out to: The Guelph Tribune. In one of his characteristic e-mails, Burke told the Trib that Guelph really lost out by not electing him. “The pity for Guelphites, unfortunately, is that their already weak voice has been diminished further in Parliament. Backbench MPs in last place parties have difficulty getting glasses of water, let alone getting things done for their riding,” wrote Burke. “Canada’s so-called natural governing party has been reduced to a small rump – dead last in the parliamentary pecking order.”
For all the people writing on comment boards and blogs about what a great guy Marty Burke is, I'm waiting to see that translated into his own actions."Backbench MPs in last place parties have difficulty getting glasses of water?" Classy, Marty. Very classy. It makes you wonder though, where exactly did Burke see himself in the pecking order in his own caucus if he had won? Did he see a cabinet position in his future as reward for winning Guelph for the home team? If the final vote is any indication, it seems that Burke's argument that Guelph would be better represented by someone in the majority government, was soundly rejected. Not just by the people that voted for Valeriote, but the combined two-thirds of voters who put an 'x' next to someone else's name, other than Burke's, on the ballot.
And to Burke's point, I don't think Valeriote's going to have any trouble finding water in Ottawa. Where would Guelph's distinct voice be heard louder: in a small caucus looking to rebuild, or in a chorus of 160-some-odd others under a powerful leader committed to his own, pre-established agenda? Unitl this last Parliament I have always lived in a riding where the MP was part of the sitting government, and I have to say, I saw a lot more public interaction between the MP and his constuents while our representative was a member of the Opposition than when he or she was not. 
As for Marty Burke, I'm not sure what political ambitions he has left; Guelph is his third loss in three ridings and three elections. The next election will probably see another candidate step forward for the Conservatives, though attention will probably not be paid as completely in the next round. Despite high-profile guests and a campaign of calculated engagement, Burke was still unable to make a case to upset Valeriote, and indeed, the margin of victory was greater for the Liberals, despite the fact that Burke did manage to get more votes.
The lesson is that unless you've got name cache, or are riding an unprecedented wave of national support for your party, an election victory, on a per riding basis, cannot occure without engaging the media by being available and by going to the public through all-candidates debates and forums. One cannot win on their own support alone. And if local Conservatives pick up on one thing, than maybe its better going with the enemy you know, than being your own worst enemy.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Listen to Me More on the Radio

Do you like getting my opinions on Guelph Politico, but hate the tiresome eye-strain of having to read them online? Then good news everyone, because starting this Monday at 8 am, I will be a semi-regular panelist on the new "Beyond the Ballot Box" radio show on CFRU. On Monday, I will be joining Jan Hall, and the other members of the Federal Election show gang, along with the Guelph Mercury's Greg Layson, to talk about the aftermath of last week's election, both on a local level and nationally. Tune in to CFRU at 93.3 on your FM dial at 8 am Monday, or listen online at CFRU's website.

Nestle Gets Five More Years

Much to the dismay and disappointment of environmentalists and anti-corporatists in the Royal City, the Ministry of the Environment approved a five-year renewal of the Nestle’s water taking permit at its Aberfoyle bottling plant. The good news is that the approval wasn’t for the 10 year stretch that Nestle applied for, but the bad news is that Nestle will be permitted to continue taking the allotted 3.6 million litres per day. Reaction was swift, but local advocates only have a limited time to make their appeal, primary among them the Wellington Water Watchers.
With a limited window to appeal, 15 days from when the decision was announced last Friday before, the Watchers quickly sprang into action forming a subcommittee to meet this past Wednesday for a strategy session about the matter "The Wellington Water Watchers had made submissions to the Ministry of Environment and it looks to us that a great extent these submissions were almost ignored by the Ministry of Environment in the decision that they made," said Andre Hueniken, a Board Member of the Water Watchers.
The MOE for its part, seems to think that they have been conciliatory to concerns about the aquifer, limiting the permit to five years over ten “to allow a fulsome and ongoing review of monitoring data in a shorter time frame,” according to MOE regional director Carl Slater in the Wellington Advertiser. “It also allows for consideration of the water taking to be re-evaluated depending upon the local conditions and development in the area.”
John Challinor, the Director of Corporate Affairs for Nestle Canada, says that his company has no interest in draining the well, as it were. “When you invest millions of dollars in your plant like we do, you don't want your water source to be impacted,” he said to CTV. “You don't want it to go dry, you don't want to see a reduction, you don't want to harm your neighbours.”
This issue’s unlikely to go away, so stayed for more developments on the water front. (Get it! Oh, never mind.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

NDP Saddles Up For Provincial Election

With the Federal Election stuff out of the way, it appears that local NDP are eager to move forward and see if their federal fortunes can translate into provincial victories. Singer/songwriter James Gordon is primed to be the NDP nominee for Guelph in this provincial election, and he's hitting the ground running with a letter to the people, a new website, and fancy You Tube video:

Dear neighbour,
I love this city and I love this province. My work has led me to travel all across Ontario, and I've spent my life working hard to make this city better.
Above all else, I’ve spent my time listening to our community.
Again and again, I’ve heard from you that we need to make our communities stronger and more sustainable, and that we need to work together to make life more affordable, enlivened and secure. It’s why we get involved, it’s why we work day in and day out for the things that matter, it’s what makes Guelph so special.
The values that I know you and I share seem to have been largely set aside by our current Queen’s Park government.
We’ve seen good ideas ignored, while wasteful and bad ideas get rubber stamped in Queen’s Park.
We’ve seen the special interests of the well-connected come before the rest of us.
In this day and age, you’d think we could be strengthening and building our communities for the challenges that lie ahead.
And yet, we’ve seen things done the same way, over and over again-- and we’re getting the same results.
We’ve lost our voice in Queen’s Park. We need someone to listen and be that voice.
Listening to our community means that when one of the world’s largest companies demands more from a community that has less-- you fight to protect what really matters.
Or when our security is challenged by rising costs of living, you answer with great ideas like an Ontario Pension Plan-- not the HST which adds costs to everything from haircuts to hydro bills.
And when a new generation faces an unprecedented challenge to care for themselves and their families, you strengthen our public health care system-- instead of letting it slide towards privatization and a weakening of our health services.
That’s why I’m putting my name forward for the Provincial NDP nomination. I want to be your MPP, an MPP that listens, brings people together and stands up for what really matters.
In my years of work in the cultural sector, I know how important it is to work together and find the best way to make progress on key issues. Guelph has the creativity, ingenuity, and collaborative spirit that we need to bring about fundamental change.
I'm asking you to begin right now to work with me to build an exciting and winning campaign.
Things are changing here in Ontario-- people are starting to hear the message that New Democrats have been saying for so long. Andrea Horwath has re-energized our party as Leader, and Canada’s NDP has won a historic breakthrough.
Now more than ever, I believe the party reflects the values and principles that formed the foundation of the NDP 50 years ago. Across the country, people are seeing the NDP as the better way forward on challenges that we all face. I want to make that change a reality here in Guelph.
I believe that all Ontarions should live with the peace of mind of a strong and steady pension, and with better access to quality public health care. Our great province should be at the heart of a thriving, sustainable energy economy.
That’s the message we can bring to the ballot box this fall, and that’s the vision I hope you will join me in making a reality.
We're only a few days away from the deadline to sign up new members, which means I already need your help. Please use the tools below to share with your friends, and help us win the nomination.
You may not be an NDP member, you may not have even voted NDP before-- but I'm asking for you to take a look at getting involved. My team needs your help, our city needs your energy and enthusiasm.
Thank you in advance for your support and involvement.
James Gordon

On a sad note though, accessibility advocate Susan Wheeler is taking her leave from the race for person reasons. She sent out the following letter today to explain her reasons:

May 3, 2011
Over the past month I have worked behind the scenes assisting with communications and website development as part of the Federal election campaign team for NDP Guelph’s candidate Bobbi Stewart. It has been a privilege working with such a dedicated candidate and I sincerely appreciate that I had the opportunity to be involved in the federal election process within this capacity. It has provided me with a tremendous learning experience. More specifically, it has given me clear insight to the actual time demands and physical activity level required of a candidate. As a result of this knowledge I now find myself faced with the difficult task of reevaluating my decision to be considered as a NDP candidate nominee for the upcoming provincial election.
Although I consider myself to be a person who focuses on my abilities and strengths despite the level of physical disability that I experience everyday, at the same time I must also be realistic. Since I initially submitted my application for candidacy consideration my health has been further challenged due to the ramifications of a serious fall that occurred last winter. Unfortunately, my recovery has not been as productive as I would have hoped. With that in mind, it is clear to me now having experienced this past election in my limited capacity that it would not be in my best interest to challenge myself physically to pursue the honour of being a candidate first hand. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that I regret to inform you that I must withdraw my request to be considered as a NDP candidate nominee for the provincial election.
I have complete faith that the elected nominee chosen for this honour will both champion the citizens of Guelph and be a superior representative for the New Democratic Party. To date I hold the position within the NDP Guelph riding executive committee as their designated disability representative and I would like to continue to provide support to the group/party within this capacity.
I trust you will communicate my decision to withdraw from the nominee process to those required to know this information.
Yours respectfully and in solidarity
Susan Wheeler

While I appreciate the vigour to get next campaign off the ground, if it's okay with everyone, I'd like to take maybe a week to think about other things, like sleep. ;-)

More Mail From Dick

I wonder if this is going to be a regular Thursday thing. You may remember that last week I was e-mailed by a man named Dick Chapman, who said, among other things, that I was a mouthpiece for the Toronto Star, neither a writer or journalist, and was someone without honour. Apparently, that hasn't stopped him from offering me further advice:

Now that the election is over and the decision has been made there can be a time of reflection about why you did not receive any replies to your requests! The main reason was as a reporter for the Mercury the committee had nothing to say as the newspapers anti Marty stance! It was obvious that Frank Valeriote was the favourite of the paper and Marty's views and information were twisted and misreported constantly! So why should anyone answer your questions! As far as I am concerned the smear campaign that the Mercury and Valeriotte [sic] carried out worked somewhat, but a lot of people supported Marty! A true Canadian Hero!!!

I responded again to Dick, but I think this time I was a little more snippy. (I didn't pause to take a "chill pill" to borrow a phrase from Marty Burke.) The Catch-22 of this Conservative argument, one tried and tested by their ideological brethren in Republican Party south of the border, is that the media always has a liberal bias, so why bother interacting with them by giving them fodder for the fire, or "smear campaign" as Mr. Chapman says. Here's my response.

Hi Dick,
I respectfully disagree. You might not believe me, but I was eager to meet with Mr. Burke and talk to him about the issues and his candidacy. If I, or the Mercury for that matter, were conducting a "smear campaign," as you say, why would we expend so much time, effort and energy in trying to get Mr. Burke on the record. If it was a smear campaign, why try and talk to him at all.
And again, I point out, that the six other candidates and Mr. Valeriote made themselves available to press no matter their perspective of so-called press bias. Why should anyone answer my questions? Because it's the responsibility of political candidates to answer questions, both from the media, and from their constituents, and in Guelph, I am both. And as far as I'm concerned Mr. Burke lost, in no small part, because of his refusal to be open with the public beyond those whose support he already secured. He missed several debates, and only responded to press inquiries through e-mail or his communications director.
A lot of people supported Marty Burke, yes, but how many he more could he have won over? And please, I realize that Mr. Burke served his country with distinction in the military, but that hardly qualifies him for office. He may be a Canadian hero, but most people in Guelph decided that that wasn't enough for them to elect him as our Member of Parliament.
Again, I appreciate your passion, but if the Burke campaign wanted better coverage, they should have made themselves more available to the press.
Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

V For Valeriote

During the CJOY debate last week, a caller phoned in with a question for Frank Valeriote that asked why, in the wake of an unlikely Liberal victory, should Guelph voters put their support behind the incumbent? But why follows why not? The question itself is loaded, implying that the only way one can be effectual in government is by being a part of the party in power. I'd like to think that in the last two-and-a-half years Valeriote has proved time and again that an Opposition MP can be very effective, if not as effective, as an MP that's part of the governing party. And that's why Valeriote was given a mandate and a return ticket to Ottawa on Monday night.
Our system of government is supposed to work by choosing the person you think will represent you best in Ottawa, not necessarily party leaders and party ideology. That comes into it too, of course, but it seems that Guelph decided that having an opposition MP was alright by them, and why not? Valeriote is an accomplished man that many people in Guelph respect, and even if they don't agree with him politically, he made a strong case and was indeed highly visible and highly active locally as a Member of Parliament.
By the numbers, Valeriote won with 25,574, or 43 per cent of the vote. This represents a 10 per cent increase over the last election, which saw Valeriote win with 18,977. Marty Burke finished with 19,252 votes or 32 per cent of the vote. While not enough to beat Valeriote, Burke did best Gloria Kovach's 29 per cent share of the votes, 17,185 in total, from the 2008 election. The NDP's Bobbi Stewart finished a respectable third with 16 per cent, or 9,836 votes. Green's John Lawson finished in fourth place with 3,711 votes, or six per cent overall, with each of the other candidates getting triple digit numbers: Philip Bender (192), Kornelis Klevering (171), Karen Levenson (123), and Drew Garvie (104). 
So what does this mean for Guelph? Well, right off, I guess the Harper Government will probably not be compelled to fawn over us anymore. If they can't win Guelph under these conditions, how can they ever win Guelph? 
Who's to blame for that? Well, Marty Burke need only look so far as the mirror. He was almost a complete non-entity in his own campaign, even being notable for his absence in the article about his election night festivities. Not only was he not at his campaign HQ (at least while the press were there), watching the returns come in, he didn't offer Valeriote his concession either. It was really the perfect end to the Burke campaign; a campaign of obfuscation and such careful strategizing that Burke practically strategized himself out of contention, only really being carried by the unwavering support of the Conservative base. 
Burke's response to the CJOY question was basically that people should vote for him because it would mean he would be an MP in the government, not the opposition. In the end, the Burke campaign was about only two things: getting Harper a majority by electing him, and that he was in the air force for 23 years. I'm still not sure what he, personally, stood for. I hear comments from people talking about what a great guy he is, but that's hard for me to determine for myself when he didn't talk to anyone I know in this campaign. And by "I know," I mean press people. Even the Mercury only ever got the e-mail treatment, and if people can't hear your voice or read your words, especially when they only come out of the Blackberry of your communications director, don't be surprised if the voters don't respond. 
Anyway, I think that's a wrap for the 2011 Federal Election. I honestly didn't expect to get sucked in the way I did, but I'm kind of glad I did. What's next for Politico? There are a couple of local stories I've had on the back burner for a while, and once I get those posted I'll probably take a bit of break. It looks like I might be a permanent part of CFRU's new local politics show, and there'll be more details on that when it happens. In the meantime, stay tuned to Guelph Politico for all the latest political scoop and commentary. And now, to bed!...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The View From the Polling Station

If you've never worked at a polling station on election day, it's an experience well worth having. Seeing the mechanics of democracy, in action, from behind the scenes is amazing. And though it might sound boring to sit there all day and administer paper ballots and direct people to where they should be, the time actually goes by pretty quick.
Yesterday, I was an Information Officer at St. Francis of Assisi. I welcomed people that walked though the front doors of the school, directed them down the hall to the gym and checked to make sure that they had the proper ID with them to ensure the smooth processing of voters. You'd be surprised to learn how many people can't follow the rather simple instructions on voting procedure and what ID they need to vote. Several people brought in the brochure that outlined the types of ID they needed and what that ID needed to say, and they still didn't have the correct information. (Usually, they were forgetting something with their address on it.) 
And don't even get me started on how many people either forgot their Voter Information Card, said they misplaced it, and even admitted to throwing it out. 
The big news was the robocalls telling voters that their polling place was changed, too busy, or closed early. After the first couple of people told me about the robocalls I phoned it in to Elections Canada HQ in Guelph, and they told me that they had heard several other complaints as well. What happened with the crank calls has been well-covered by now (with the exception of who's behind them). One industrious woman gave me the phone number of the caller thanks to the miracle of called ID. I tried ringing the number, with its Montreal area code, and got an inaudible name before being directed to the number's already full voice mail box. Whoever is behind it, the robocalls were dirty pool, and considering the attempted (and occasional successful) disruption of democracy, I would go so far as to call it treasonous. Yes, these people are enemies of democracy, and should be treated as such.
Otherwise, it was a pretty smooth day at the polls. I met and talked to a lot of nice people. Some of them were veteran voters, some of them were there for the first time ever. There was no political sniping, no negativity, no shouting or hair pulling, just pleasant people exercising their constitutional right to choose the government. It's just too bad that more people still don't avail themselves of the opportunity.

The Shifted Ground

It's funny how an election that started with a whimper, ended up shaking the Canadian political landscape in a way not seen in nearly 20 years. In one foul swoop, the Harper Conservatives secured their first majority, the Liberals were near fatally wounded, the Green Party finally landed on the board while the Bloc Quebecois was nearly swept off it, and the NDP had their single greatest election victory ever, not only hitting triple digit seats but became the Official Opposition for the first time too. If you look at the CBC's election map, you'd swear Canada were the new Edmonton Oilers logo (and perhaps given the winner of last night's election, the allegory is apropos).
Now the question is, what will these results mean for the next four years to Canada, and will the political map keep this new order or is it a one-time glitch. Let's break it down:
Conservatives - 167 seats - 39.62 per cent of the popular vote
The third time's the charm. Stephen Harper has secured his majority, but a lot of the problems that plagued him and his party remain. There's the small matter that despite winning a majority of seats, the Conservatives only gained two points in popularity. It makes a case for some serious voting splitting on the left from one end of this nation to the next to the next, as the combined NDP-Liberal vote won nearly 50 per cent of the popular vote. Three out of five people voted for someone that doesn't make up the government. (Incidentally, I think every election now makes a stronger case for electoral reform, but that's another discussion entirely.)
While basking in victory, the morning after analysis might offer some strong sobriety. There were licks taken in this election about the party's secretiveness and limited availability, the fact that they are just a little less of a non-entity in Quebec than the Bloc, and the little change in popular support despite a majority. Given these conditions, can the frequently cited "radical right" agenda people fear about Harper be enacted to its fullest? And the problem remains that Harper still has no obvious successor as the Conservatives are as much a cult of personality as they are a political party.
The fact of the matter is that the people voted for an end to elections every two years. Come what may, we know that the next election is four years away now, and for some people, that's all the piece of mind they need in Harper's Canada. (Or at least for 40 per cent of the 61.4 per cent of eligible votes that rolled out to the polls yesterday.)
NDP - 102 seats - 30.62 per cent of the popular vote
It was a wild night for Jack Layton. Thanks to big, huge gains in Quebec the NDP leader finally broke through and became the voice of Canada's left, and the official Opposition Party. A good question is, what happens now? A better question is, how did it happen in the first place?
While no one can doubt that there was a sudden and complete shift to the NDP in Quebec, I have yet to hear a complete analysis of the reason or reasons. Layton's debate performance? Well, it was a delayed reaction if that's the case. Some talk show appearance? Well then, this must have been the most politically important talk show since David Frost interviewed Richard Nixon. The real picture, again, I think comes down to fatigue. The average Quebecer, seeing no progress in the representation of French issues by voting Bloc, and being reticent about supporting the Liberals again - or heaven forbid, the Conservatives - were looking for a new direction, and by process of elimination, that choice was the NDP.
From here on, one of two things can happen. The next four years could see an NDP building strength and support, gaining the confidence of more and more Canadians and poised for a breakthrough to, at the very least, a minority government situation of their own. But Quebec is the X factor. Will French Canadians be satisfied by NDP representation? Do the NDP know what to do/have what it takes to keep French Canadians in the supporters column? It should be interesting to see what the new Quebecois influence will have on the New Democrats.
Liberals - 34 seats - 18.91 per cent of the popular vote
Ouch. There are no words. This is easily the most crushing defeat of a major Canadian political party since the PC's in 1993 (with one exception discussed next). Michael Ignatieff, once the promise of a new generation of Liberal power, is defeated on almost every level, including personal, losing his own riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore by nearly 3,000 votes to Tory Bernard Trottier. The case of Ignatieff is that once again the candidate that looked good on paper did not translate into ballots checked. The Liberals were too soft in response to Conservative attack ads and just couldn't get past the assault. A prime minister and party censured for the first time ever by Parliament, accusations of secret keeping and other shadowy activities, and an economy still in a relative shambles, and the Liberals still weren't able to capitalize. Where was the disconnect?
The answer to that is, in part, because of Ignatieff's charisma gap, but it's not all on him. The NDP surge was too strong, and the momentum was with Jack Layton. The Liberals couldn't make the point to vote strategically, and if they could, people were already starting to think of the NDP as the strategic option. Where does the Liberal Party go from here? Well, not gently into that good night. There may be an opportunity for rebound, if only because the party still has nearly three dozen MPs in the House, and a storied history that goes back to Confederation. The gap may still be too wide for official merger talks with the NDP, and Layton may not think he needs the help, but there is the possibility, and likely probability, for more collusion. As for leader replacements, that's going to be tough; tough to see who might step in, tough to see how anyone can turn the boat around. But if the Liberals could say one thing this morning, it's that they aren't the...
Bloc Quebecois - 4 seats - 6.05 per cent of the popular vote 
Considering the enormous personal popularity of Gilles Duceppe, it seems that Quebecers left the party like rats fleeing a sinking ship. I don't think anyone called this reversal of fortune for the Bloc, even me. As I pointed out the day before the election, the Bloc surges and then it ebbs. But in this case, it's like the tide went out completely, and the question is will it ever return? Can the Bloc come back from this defeat? It depends on how you answer this question: Is separation still important to a significant percentage of French Canadians? If the answer is yes, then the Bloc will be back in some form in 2015; if not, then this might be the last we've seen of the Separatist Party. 
Green Party - 1 seat - 3.9 per cent of the popular vote
Elizabeth May finally won her seat in the House of Commons, but the cost seems to be a loss of about half of the Green Party's popular support over the 2008 election (in '08, that was 6.8 per cent). Really, the Greens were as much a victim of the NDP's surge as the Liberals, but that didn't stop May from making history by becoming the Green MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands. (And not only that, but she defeated Conservative incumbent Gary Lunn by over 7,000 votes.) The question is what happens now? Can May be effectual in the House as a party of one? Where do the Green Party's fortunes go from here? One thing's for sure, no one will be able to block May from a leaders' debate again.
But no matter what happens next, this is what Canada looks like today. Who would have guessed that 40 days ago...?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

...And Now For My Final Thought

It's been a weird, wacky ride this election. Despite initial guffaws over the pointlessness of this poll, cynacism gave way to one of the most vibrant and surprising campaigns in recent memory. A cocksure Conservative Party was expecting to strut to an easy majority, only to find their odds upset by a surging opposition. What's more surprising is that opposition party turned out to be the NDP. 
Meanwhile, the Liberal Party primed for a comeback, seemed stuck in neutral, as Michael Ignatieff's first campaign as Liberal Party leader was unable to capitalize on the Conservatives vulnerabilities in the same way that the NDP's Jack Layton has. Suddenly, the golden boy, world-traveling professor that was going to return the Grits to their former glory looks more like a golden goose. Ignatieff says he wants to stay on as Liberal leader, but if the party can't even maintain its current status as the Official Opposition, will he even have that option?
But there maybe more immediate concerns off the top. If the NDP gets enough seats to become the Official Opposition, will an NDP-Liberal coalition come about? It seems unlikely that should the Conservatives return to Parliament with a minority that anyone on the opposition bench is going to be satisfied with the status quo. And despite refusing to answer questions about it yesterday, Stephen Harper and his inner circle have got to be sweating the possibilities.
Since we're talking about it, what happens to Harper if he returns to Parliament with his third consecutive minority? What happens to him if a coalition NDP-Liberal government takes power instead? I think that either way, tomorrow might be Stephen Harper's last election as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
As for the Bloc Quebecois, they're being hurt the most by the NDP surge, but the Green Party must be smarting too for that matter. The Bloc has taken hits before and always come back when Quebecers tire of the shenanigans of the main parties. The Greens, however, are in a much more precarious position. Moving ever closer to the breakthrough they need to get a Green in Parliament, the last thing they needed was one of the main parties to get the wind, and the press, at their backs. I find it unlikely that the Greens will win a seat in this election, but I thought for sure they would win one last time. So maybe I'll be wrong. 
No matter what your opinion is, please make sure that you get out their and vote tomorrow. Remember your voter card AND a piece of I.D. with your name, address and photo on it, or two pieces of I.D. with a combination of those three. I'll be working at the polling station at St. Francis of Assisi as an Information Officer so if you're coming to vote there, say hi. Afterward, I'm scheduled to do a bit of punditry on the CFRU Guelph Election Radio show.
Hopefully, tomorrow's polls will run smoothly and civilly, and we can avoid any Kent Brockman-like overreaction or hyperbole. I'll be back Tuesday with post-game analysis.