About the Blog:

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

Monday, October 31, 2011

One Week Later, the CFO Quits

I know it's Halloween, but this is a weird bit of news to have received on All Hallow's Eve. The City of Guelph discretely sent around a press release this morning saying that after a week on the job, new Chief Financial Officer Dan Chapman was handing in his resignation. The following is the total amount of information offered in the release:
GUELPH, ON, October 31, 2011 – Dan Chapman, recently hired by the City of Guelph to fill the role of Chief Financial Officer, has resigned for personal reasons.
The City learned of Mr. Chapman's resignation Friday afternoon when he shared his decision with Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert.
Mr. Chapman plans to return to the City of Kitchener where, until recently, he served as Deputy Chief Administrative Officer with the Finance & Corporate Services Department.
Chapman himself replaced Margaret Neubauer, the former CFO who left City Hall under a shroud of mystery back in May. As for the circumstances of Chapman's departure, Guelph Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert told the Guelph Mercury that his departure was a surprise and that, “He left for personal reasons.” Pappert added that the process to replace Chapman has begun, and that they expect to have someone in place by Christmas. 
Still, it is another unusual personnel move in a year that's seen a lot of top execs at City Hall depart. Some of the wags posting on the Mercury website are having a field day with the news, and while I'm not sure there's any conspiracy theory here, it is an interesting series of events just the same.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

911 Is A Joke

Mel Lastman, the first mayor of the "mega city" of Toronto, "jumped the shark" (or "nuked the fridge," as it were) when following the SARS outbreak in 2003, when in a series of interviews with international media, Mel Lastman drew the attention of Jon Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show, who had a field day with such Lastman nuggets of gold like, "Who the hell are these W.H.O. people? I've never heard of them! Apparently, they come from somewhere in Geneva! they must be getting all their information from reading the newspaper."
Leaving aside the fact that whole SARS situation was more Good-Time Slim, Uncle Doobie, and the Great 'Frisco Freak-Out' than legitimate pandemic apocalypse, the best face Torontonians could put on the Lastman punchline was an election in October. No bright spot for not-fans of current Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. With over a year of gaffs in his pocket already, the only people looking forward to the next three years are comedians.
By now, Ford's recent encounter with Mary Walsh and a camera crew from This Hour Has 22 Minutes has become legendary. Ford's assertion was that he was "accosted" by a camera crew that "didn't identify themselves" and the he and "his daughter" were "scared" because it was "dark." Well he was hardly accosted, his daughter wasn't there, it clearly wasn't dark, and the if the crew didn't identify themselves, which they did, Mary Walsh has been playing Marg Delahunty so long she should be on the five dollar bill.

And just like that, Doug became the better brother. I don't like having to pay Doug Ford any tribute, but in this video he did come off better than Rob, if only because he didn't call the police after retreating into City Hall.
But if being seen running from Mary Walsh wasn't bad enough for the Mayor, insult was added to injury when the CBC reported that Ford allegedly abused 911 operators when police action wasn't enacted fast enough for his taste. "You . . . bitches! Don't you f---ing know? I'm Rob f---ing Ford, the mayor of this city!” Ford is quoted as reportedly saying.
Of course, no one's going to confuse Rob Ford with Robert Frost, and such gaffing is hardly outside the ken of Ford, whose list of public faux-pas was recounted in a post on The Grid TO. But the first lesson of PR spin is mess up, fess up and dress up; you screw up, admit the mistake and work to rectify it. Or in this case, you make a mistaken statement about your embarrassing appearance on a comedy show, admit your embarrassment, and then, perhaps, invite to meet the comedienne again and eat some bitter humble pie. But instead, it took the better part of a week to get Ford to admit that he  - might have - exaggerated the offense of the 22 Minutes crew, and that he - might have - swore (like once) at the 911 dispatchers.
Sadly, Ford demonstrates a prime character failing in many politicians: he can't admit his own mistakes. Admitting you did something wrong is weakness, and the millions of stings from media flies is just the liberal media out to get you. But in our media savvy society appearance is everything. And when you say things you know are contradictory, like saying it was dark when it was clearly light, it looks bad enough, to say nothing of the sight of a grown man, chief executive of the largest city in the country, running from a 59-year-old comedienne with a funny accent. Isn't Ford's reputation built, to a degree, on toughness?
Now to bring this thing full circle, Ford had the dubious distinction of being named "Worst Person in the World" on Countdown with Keith Olbermann on Friday. Joining such luminaries as Glenn Beck, Sean Hanity, Bill O'Reilly, and other all stars of the American Right, Ford has landed his city back on the radar of political satire at a time when both the public's patience, and the proverbial fiscal gravy train, has run out for the Ford Brothers. A little PR rejuvenation is now needed, and perhaps, a sense of humour.

Friday, October 21, 2011

PR Friday #3: Enterprise Budget Passed for 2012

For our final press release post on this PR Friday, comes news that the City of Guelph's Enterprise Budget for 2012 was passed by city council. The biggest impact on you (as in you the people) is that water rates will go up an extra $1 per week, which so far as inflation goes isn't half bad. Scroll down to get more details and there's a link at the bottom where you can check out the full budget. 
GUELPH, ON, October 20, 2011 – Guelph City Council has approved the 2012 operating budgets for water, wastewater, court services and Ontario Building Code (OBC) Administration at $53,127,284. Water and wastewater rate increases will have an impact of 8.5% on the average residential bill, which translates to an approximate increase of $1 per week.
Water conservation efforts and careful budgeting has resulted in a lower than expected increase. Based on higher presumed consumption levels, original long-term rate forecasts in the City’s Water Supply Master Plan (2006) projected a 10% increase to the average household bill for 2012.
Guelph’s water use has decreased 20% in 10 years despite the addition of about 20,000 households. Conservation efforts are also delaying the need for very expensive infrastructure projects that would be a significant burden on rate payers.
Janet Laird, Guelph’s Executive Director of Planning & Building, Engineering and Environment, reminds residents that users pay for water by volume, which means conserving water keeps household costs down. “For the first time, forecasting household water costs is based on actual local use rather than national industry standard usage because Guelph’s actual use is much lower. Our efforts help Guelph remain an international example of environmental stewardship.”
Increases to water and wastewater rates fund the replacement of aging water and wastewater infrastructure; operating cost increases for energy and materials; maintaining environmental and regulatory compliance; and increasing contractual costs for qualified Water and Wastewater professionals. The approved budget ensures the high quality water and wastewater services that Guelph residents rely on are delivered.

Guelph is one of the largest cities in Canada to rely solely on groundwater. Guelph’s drinking water undergoes more than 20,000 health related tests each year to ensure it meets or exceeds Provincial and Federal Drinking Water Quality Standards.
The City’s wastewater treatment system is often referred to as a model for other communities as it protects local rivers and aquatic ecosystems. The wastewater treatment facility’s optimization program has been provincially and federally recognized for best practices in management, efficiency, and cost savings as a result of deferred capital investments and improved wastewater treatment.
Click here to see the proposed 2012 Enterprise Funded Budget.

PR Friday #2 - Members of Cultural Committee Named

Along similar lines to that first release, the City of Guelph announced today the make up of its new Cultural Advisory Committee. The press release came out earlier today naming nine people who will advise the city and council on matters concerning the arts, culture and all the cross tracks with heritage and business interests in Guelph. Read on to learn more: 
GUELPH, ON, October 17, 2011 – The City of Guelph is pleased to announce the community members named to its newly created 2011 Cultural Advisory Committee.
“Council has appointed a talented and dedicated group of citizens who will provide invaluable advice to staff and Council as we work together to foster a vibrant Guelph filled with arts, culture, heritage and creativity-driven businesses,” said Mayor Farbridge.
Committee members were selected through the City’s Citizen Appointment process and are named to one-year terms. The selected community members include:
  • Greg Pinks (Chair)
  • Nancy Sullivan (Vice-Chair)
  • Catherine Alexander
  • Lynn Broughton
  • Ronald East
  • Reinhard Kypke
  • Anuradha Saxena
  • Elsa Stolfi
  • Sally Wismer
Representative of the business, arts and social sectors, the members bring a well balanced range of skills and experience to the committee.
“I am very excited to work with this strong and diverse group,” said Greg Pinks, Cultural Advisory Committee Chair. “This is a great opportunity for community members to help develop, nurture, and promote arts and culture in Guelph.”
About the Cultural Advisory Committee
The Cultural Advisory Committee will support the work of the City’s new Arts, Culture and Entertainment department and will act as a bridge between the local cultural sector, the community at large, and City Council. Over the next twelve months, the Committee will play a key role in the development of a Public Art program and a comprehensive inventory of Guelph’s cultural resources. As community champions, committee members will work to increase awareness and appreciation of the local cultural sector. The Cultural Advisory Committee will meet will meet at least quarterly, and will establish subcommittees to work on various projects as they arise.

PR Friday #1: MacKay Resigns from Arts Council

So the press releases have been kind of rolling in like waves this Friday - and indeed all week - so I'm going to start moving them out by having a "Press Release (PR) Friday."  First there's this kind of surprising news that Anne MacKay is stepping down as executive director of the Guelph Arts Council after one year on the job. It's been a pretty important year for arts in the city with the promotion of Fab 5, and a seeming resurgence in the perception of Guelph as a music scene. Check out the press release below:
Guelph, ON (October 21, 2011) – Guelph Arts Council (GAC) announces that Anne MacKay will be stepping down as Executive Director.
Mary Calarco, Board President, says “Anne made many positive contributions to both the organization and the community. Her enthusiasm for the arts and unwavering optimism will truly be missed. ”
Over the last year, the Board of Directors worked with MacKay as they expanded GAC's focus on creative collaborations, community outreach and local partnerships. GAC is committed to maintaining this positive momentum as the organization looks forward. MacKay departs on October 28, 2011.
“It has been an amazing year” says MacKay “full of valued opportunities to see deeper into this community’s truly dazzling breadth of arts and culture activities”. MacKay plans to return to her private consulting practice, working with groups in the charitable sector. “As I shared with the Board, I came to GAC as a fan and I certainly leave as one. And I know that the long-time and new volunteers will continue to bring their new perspectives, knowledge and excitement together to beautifully serve the arts and culture life of this community.”
Guelph Arts Council Board of Directors will begin their search for a new Executive Director next week, and a hiring committee will be established to ensure a suitable candidate is hired to fill the position.
About Guelph Arts Council
Established in 1975, Guelph Arts Council (GAC) is a coordinating/resource organization dedicated to encouraging the development of the visual, literary, performing and heritage arts. GAC strives to enrich the cultural life of the community and to encourage widespread involvement in the arts.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Garvie Wins! (No, Really.)

It may not be a seat in either the Federal or Provincial Houses, but in terms of winning elections, getting a second floor office in the University Centre isn't half bad.
Yep, Drew Garvie, four time Communist Party candidate, is now the Communications & Corporate Affairs Commissioner of the Central Student Association at the University of Guelph. Garvie ran in the CSA by-election while simultaneously campaigning in the Provincial Election, which was held earlier this month. 
Congrats to Drew, and I'm sure we all wish him luck in his new position no matter our political stripes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Presses Stop

It was a sad but inevitable situation this past Saturday when I got an e-mail from Ron Kilpatrick, editor-in-chief of Echo Weekly, telling me and other contributors thatpublication had stopped on the vaunted Tri-City alternative. There will be no more Echo from this moment on, and that is sad. At least for me. 
Echo was one of those things that immediately caught my attention when I first came to Guelph in 1998 for university. It wasn't the type of newspaper I was used to (it had swearing in it!), and I ended up enjoying this weekly dose of left-leaning politics, the politically astute comic strip Weltschmerz, and Josey Vogles' classic sex column, My Messy Bedroom. (Mind you this was before the internet revolution took hold.) I very much looked forward to Thursdays, but that was then... Dan Savage replaced Josey years ago, and Weltschmerz took its bow a few summers ago.
But as numerous people have noticed - and related to me - there's been a definite decline in, I wouldn't say quality, but engagement. There hasn't been a proper cover story in the last year, the paper has been thinner and thinner, and it seems that no one's really been invested in making the once great alternative pop again. And the bitter truth is, there really hasn't. It's been a chicken and the egg type thing: The more the paper lost money, the more it pulled back and did less, which meant fewer people were willing to invest in Echo, and that started the cycle all over again. 
Adding insult to injury is the appearance that the people in charge in Echo maybe just didn't care anymore. It moved headquarters from Old Quebec Street to the Trafalgar Building, and then all operations were moved to the View's offices in Hamilton. In other words, there's been no Echo operations in the Tri-Cities, which is weird because it covers the Tri-Cities. It's seemed that the people in charge of operating Echo have been less focused on covering the scene in Guelph, K-W, Cambridge, as much they've been focused on just making sure that there's a magazine to cover it.
Of course, the harsh reality is that all the things that Echo did are now being done by a dozen some-odd websites and blogs out there, and these are the times. What perplexes me is that you drive to Toronto, and on any given day, there are about half-a-dozen alternatives that you can pick up off the newsstand, and people do pick them up. I wonder where the disconnect with the people of Guelph and area now is that we can't even pick up a single alternative to the point that it's viable?
So that's the end of Echo, and I really am sorry to see it go. I love newsprint, but in the meantime Guelph Politico will stay in business, and I guess that's the point.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Stuff Re-opens at West End Rec Centre on Monday

GUELPH, ON, October 14, 2011 – The pool, library and gym within the WECC is scheduled to re-open and resume regular operations Monday, October 17.
"We’re pleased to announce the facility’s pool and gym will re-open, and that drop-in programs and room rentals will resume Monday morning and will run as scheduled," said Bob Burchett, the City's General Manager for Parks and Recreation Programming and Facilities.
Aquatic programs, which were cancelled due to the closure from Tuesday, October 12 through Sunday, October 16, will be extended by one week. Adult and kids programs that were affected will also be extended by a week. Individual instructors will advise class registrants of all changes to program schedules. If a class cannot be extended, registrants will receive a refund.
Ice rinks will not be available for regular programming until Tuesday evening. All ice use and skating programs are scheduled to resume after 4 p.m. on Tuesday, October 18.
The repairs to the WECC’s main electrical panel are proceeding according to schedule and the building is expected to regain full power by Saturday, October 22.
For more information please visit guelph.ca and regular updates on the facility and programs.

Invite to a Civics Lesson

Now that all these election stuff is out of the way for a little while, it's time to get down to the business of governing and active engagement. Don't know how? Well there's a workshop coming up that might show you the way. All details are contained below:
Guelph Civics 101 - Engaging Your City Hall
The Guelph Civic League, in partnership with the Central Student Association at the University of Guelph and CFRU 93.3 FM's Beyond the Ballot Box, has organized a unique event focused on understanding and engaging your city hall.
The event unfolds on Tuesday, October 18th, 7-9 pm at the new City Hall in downtown Guelph. The focus will be on a panel discussion.
Representing City of Guelph staff will be Barbara Powell, General Manager, Community Engagement and Social Service Liaison.
Councillor Leanne Piper will represent the perspective of Guelph City Council.
Judy Martin, of Sierra Club and Guelph Urban Forest Friends, will give her perspective on how citizens and citizen groups can engage City Hall.
Tim Mau from the University of Guelph's Political Science Department will be moderating (bios for the panellists and moderator can be found below).
A short tour of the Guelph City Hall council chambers will follow the meeting.
Don't miss this opportunity to better understand how your local government works, and how you can influence decisions at City Hall in Guelph.
Panellist Bios
Barb Powell is the General Manager of Community Engagement for the City of Guelph. She has 16+ years of experience in local government working directly with residents, service providers and academics. Barb is a resident of Guelph and joined the City of Guelph in 2009. During this past year her work has focused on Community Engagement - connecting and building partnerships with citizens, service providers, volunteers and other levels of government. Barb has a keen interest in working with residents in new and different ways to create a vibrant, inclusive community in Guelph.
Leanne Piper's introduction to "politics" came at the grassroots level, where she participated in neighbourhood associations, school councils, and local community organizations and was a founding board member of the Guelph Civic League. First elected to office as a school board trustee in 2003, and then to City Council in 2006, Leanne is a strong advocate for participatory democracy and a strong public voice at City Hall.
Judy Martin is the Guelph Regional Representative of Sierra Club Canada. Over the past 25 years she has served on Sierra Club boards and committees as a volunteer and as paid staff. She has an extensive background in environmental policy analysis and advocacy, which includes 12 years as the legislative director for the Minnesota Sierra Club. She was formerly the Secretary-Treasurer of the Guelph Civic League, serves on her neighbourhood association board, the board of Pollination Guelph, and the steering committee for Guelph Urban Forest Friends.
Moderator Bio
Tim Mau is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Guelph, where he teaches courses on Business-Government Relations, Local Government and Public Management and Administration for the B.Comm. in Public Management and graduate level courses for the Guelph-McMaster Collaborative M.A. in Public Policy and Administration. He also teaches a course on the Politics of Organizations for the collaborative M.A. (Leadership) program. Tim has twice been named as one of the University of Guelph's Popular Professors by the annual Maclean's Guide to Canadian Universities. Dr. Mau completed his D.Phil. at St Antony's College, Oxford University, where he was a Commonwealth and SSHRC scholar, an MA in Public Policy and Administration from the University of Guelph (joint program with McMaster University) and a BA from the University of Guelph.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Electrical Issues Close West End Rec Centre Temporarily

But before gas was the word in pressing issues in the city today, there were electrical issues at the West End Community Centre to contend with. Here's the city's initial press release:
The electrical system at the West End Community Centre (WECC) was damaged yesterday as a result of an incident involving a contract worker who was on site installing the facility's new co-generation system.
The incident caused damage to the WECC's main electrical panel. The facility was immediately closed and will remain closed until electricity is restored.
All regularly scheduled programs at the WECC are affected until the facility re-opens. This includes aquatics, ice rentals and KidsAbility programs and activities.
City staff began phoning and emailing 900 registrants and renters yesterday to advise them of the closure. Staff will continue to contact registrants as it becomes apparent how long the facility will be closed. Members of the community are asked to visit guelph.ca for regular updates on the facility and programs.
While it's too early to tell how long the WECC will remain closed, the closure is expected to last through Wednesday at least. Staff learned this morning that the facility’s two ice surfaces could not be saved. It will take approximately a week for ice to be restored. It is possible however that the building—excluding the ice pads—will re-open before ice is restored.
Though the WECC—including the library—is closed, the fire station located in the same building remains open.
The Ministry of Labour (MOL) was on site following the incident yesterday. At the time of the incident, the work site was under the control of a third party contractor. The MOL's investigation is ongoing.
That was around 11:00. Just after 5:00 pm, the city sent this out:
City staff continue to explore all options to restore electrical power at the WECC as soon as possible
All programs and activities are cancelled until Sunday, October 16, while the facility is closed. Recreation staff are in the process of contacting all registrants and rental clients by phone and email with this update.
Fire Station #4 remains operational.
All I can say it that there are probably a few people who are glad this happened this week considering that the West End Rec Centre was used as an advanced poll and as a poll on Election Day. Well, not "glad" per se, but you know what I mean...

Gas Leak Plugged, People Heading Home

It was a pretty apocalyptic day in Guelph. I spent most of it in Toronto, or going back and forth to same, but this crossed my e-mail desk sometime before 1 pm earlier today:
Emergency Services and Guelph Police Services have initiated an evacuation of the Paul Street and Delhi Street area following a gas line break at approximately 11:45 this morning.
Union Gas personnel are on site and are tending to the gas line break.
As a precaution, some homes in the area have been evacuated to the Evergreen Seniors Centre on Woolwich St.
Fortunately, the whole situation was wrapped by 4:30, and everybody was allowed to head back home:
The gas line that was damaged in the Paul and Delhi Street area earlier today has now been capped and it is safe to return to the area. The evacuation is over and residents who were evacuated to the Evergreen Seniors Community Centre have been returned to their homes.
“Natural gas when released into the air is quickly diluted and once the source has been eliminated the amount of gas in the air quickly diminishes,” says Guelph’s Medical Office of Health, Nicola Mercer. “Most people not close to the source will not have any symptoms. The respiratory effects of inhaling natural gas generally occur within 30 minutes. Common symptoms could include coughing, choking, drowsiness, dizziness, headache or vomiting if a person is exposed in high concentrations. These people will need to seek medical attention. If an individual has no symptoms several hours after exposure to small amounts of natural gas they are very unlikely to suffer any health effects. The risk of health affects continues to decrease as time goes by from the original exposure to small amounts of natural gas.”
If residents in the area smell gas in their home, they are advised to leave the premises, then call Guelph Fire Department at 519-824-3232.
All's well that ends well. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

New Transit Schedule Delayed... Naturally.

Here's some unsurprising news: the new transit routes and schedules are delayed because one of the numerous people who are involved in planning these things didn't notice that there was some mysterious stipulation in the collective bargaining agreement with the transit union saying that the new routes can't go into effect till the new year. Seriously?
Now I'm not one to believe in conspiracy theories, but it really does seem that the City of Guelph doesn't want to improve transit in this town. The new transit hub's been delayed three times, we've had to fight against fare hikes and service cuts, and now the new and improved schedule is delayed on account of a clerical error. Is the city passing the buck? Because I find this press release pretty light on explanations considering that they're reneging on a project's start date with exactly one month to spare.
Anyway, here's the press release.  Decide for yourself where the truth lies. 
GUELPH, ON, October 6, 2011 – New and improved transit routes and schedules that were slated to begin November 6 as part of Guelph’s Transit Growth Strategy will now start January 1.
“Over the past couple of months, we’ve worked hard at planning and communicating the introduction of new routes and improved service anticipating a start on November 6,” says Michael Anders, General Manager of Guelph Transit and Community Connectivity. “We are ready to implement the changes, but because of collective bargaining agreement obligations, we have to move the implementation date to January 1, 2012.”
Guelph Transit will continue to keep riders and the community informed with respect to the new routes and services, and their start dates.

Friday, October 7, 2011

You Know What? Maybe You Shouldn't Vote.

As I was working at the Best Western polling station yesterday, somebody downtown was reading my Echo column and they decided to send me a comment via e-mail, and no, it wasn't a death threat or somebody telling me I shouldn't be writing a political blog. 
Long story short, he begged to differ from my assertion in the column that people who are able to vote, really should vote and that maybe they should no what it's like to have to fight to get the right to vote by writing an essay in order to get the vote back if you miss three elections in a row at any level. I'm not sure I was advocating a "Rock the Vote" style, vote or else campaign that encourages everyone to exercise their franchise even if they aren't really passionate about it, but I secede that it could be read that way.
"[L]ike you I always vote," my e-mail writer wrote, "I don't agree that we need to find ways to make more people vote. No good can come from the uninformed, unintellgent, and/or apathetic casting ballots.
Immediately before I read your column today I overheard the following (abbreviated) exchange between the staff.
Cook: Steve Jobs died.
Bartender: Who is Steve Jobs?
Cook: He was an Apple guy, he saved the music industry. I knew he was going to die because there's two kinds of cancer: the kind that makes you bald but you live, and the kind that makes you skinny but you die. He got skinny, so he died, like Jack Layton.
 "Do you really want people like that voting? What are the chances they have a clue what they are voting for?"
I agree, I certainly hope these people didn't vote. But there are a lot of people out there who should vote but don't. They know the issues, they're informed, they're passionate, but for whatever reason, there's a disconnect between that and getting to the polling place.
People who don't vote can be separated into five categories: there are people who are intelligent and engaged, but don't vote as a statement; there are people who are intelligent and engaged but feel that their vote doesn't matter; their are people who are intelligent and somewhat engaged, but perhaps feel not informed enough to vote; there are intelligent people that don't engage; and their unintelligent people who enjoy their ignorance and/or feel that society doesn't get them. People in those first four categories should be voting, that last category should not.
How we might fix that gap, I don't know. But working for the election gives you some pretty interesting insight into the system. Here's what came from my 12 hours manning the polls yesterday:
1) Mail's screwing up the process. There were so many young people that came in to vote, but didn't have proof of address because they don't have bills sent to their house. Or bank statements. Or magazine subscriptions. Or any mail really. Some were referred to a nearby printer, and one girl tried to show an electronic document on her laptop as proof, which sadly couldn't be accepted as proof of address. Which leads into the next point.
2) One of the many students working the Best Western poll remarked that the University spends so much time encouraging people to get out to vote, and not enough time giving them the info they need in order to vote. Like what kind of ID you need, or where you can get that info. While it is up to the individual to take responsibility to find the information they need, your student government should be able to help point you in the right direction.
3) People need to realize that voting isn't like going to McDonalds to get a Big Mac: you can't go to any location and get the same service. There were a couple of people who expected that they'd be able to just go to the polling station of their choice and submit their vote. Sorry, you can't do that. These things are carefully organized for a reason, and that reason is to make sure that you can't just walk into a polling station, say that you'd like to vote at this poll because it's closer to your work or home, when you're really doing a voting tour of Guelph. Which reminds me...
4) Use your advanced polls. A kid cam in rather irate that he wanted to vote at the Best Western because he had a busy day on campus and couldn't leave for an appropriate amount of time to vote at his polling place. What this guy should have realized is that there was advanced voting for 10 days, at several locations around the city, including the University Centre at the University of Guelph. You mean you didn't have two minutes in a week a half to vote just one floor down from where you get your Starbucks?
And yes, voter turnout was down from the last election, below 50 per cent of the total vote down, but I don't think making the process easier is the answer. Like the man said, Democracy is advanced citizenship, you have to want it before you're able to get it. And the point is more people should want it.

Hyperbole Alert

A little off the wall, don't you think? This was the cover of today's Toronto Sun. All that's missing is the AC/DC soundtrack. It's worth pointing out that the closest thing that Tim Hudak got to an endorsement from the Sun was a column by Peter Worthington, and even he said things like Hudak's point that he could cut government spending by reducing the number of public employees and giving other pay cuts "seemed more rhetoric than substantial," and said that Hudak's assertion that he wouldn't pushed around by minority or human rights groups "verged on the na├»ve." Still, no matter how you feel about Dalton McGuinty, I don't think this was the reaction you're thinking of. 

The Results Show

The results of the 2011 Ontario Provincial Election were really no surprise to anyone because no one really knew what was going to happen. 
In Guelph, Liz Sandals handily strode to a third consecutive victory with 19,734 votes, a loss of barely 450 over her total vote load in 2007. But that wasn't the real story in Guelph; the more interesting number was 802, as in the number of votes that separated PC Greg Schirk and NDP James Gordon. Schirk won 11,950 votes to Gordon's 11,148. For Schirk it was a marginal 308 vote loss over what Bob Senechal brought in for the PCs in 2007, but for Gordon it meant a 63 per cent improvement over Karan Mann-Bowers, who ran for the NDP in the last election. Sadly for local Greens, Steve Dyck was only able to collect 3,234 votes, or barely a third of the votes of Ben Polley's third place finish in 2007.
So what do we make of Sandals' easy hat trick? Beating her nearest competition nearly 7,800 votes due to strategic voting may be overstating the influence of that constituency. It's more likely that Guelph voters are satisfied with Sandals representation because the opposition's idea that there's a great ground swell in the riding/city of people unsatisfied with her time as MPP certainly wasn't represented in the polls yesterday.
Perhaps the real surprise of the election is that Premier Dalton McGuinty came so close to his third majority; a single seat separated him from a minority-proof 54, despite the fact that he was elected for an historic third term with a minority government. Trailing the polls for more or less the last year until a week after the writ was dropped, a McGuinty victory was an uncertain prospect. 
In context though, the McGuinty Liberals still lost 18 seats from their second election in 2007. That's not a number easy to sneeze, but I doubt the Liberals today are really caring. On the other side of the aisle, a seven seat addition to the NDP caucus will bolster Andrea Horwath's influence in Queen's Park, while Tim Hudak, who despite winning an handsome 12 seat addition to his party or a total of 37, may have some explaining to do. The last few days of his campaign were ugly, and some in his party may be wondering how, despite the poll numbers, the PCs were only able to wound, and not topple, the McGuinty Liberals. Respectfully, this was Hudak's first election, and that fact alone may reflect the result as many weren't yet sold on Hudak, or reserved voting for him until he's had more experience.
One thing that's hard to deny is that there's a new kind of regionalism in effect in Ontario. 
 Looking at the electoral map, Ontario is like a centaur: a big orange torso, with blue bottoms highlighted by red spots. The NDP runs the north and several urban centres, the PCs hold rural Ontario and towns and cities just beyond the borders of the GTA, and the Liberals represent the urbane areas of Ontario, particularly Toronto and the GTA. If the McGuinty government is to survive till 2015, the Premier will have to make small moves to make places outside Toronto feel like their part of the process; he'll have to reach out more and fight the most damning condemnation of his government: that it's a Toronto-down organization.
But will a minority McGuinty government in Ontario be under the same kind of attack recent minority governments federally were? Unsure. For one thing, there's that one seat margin that kept McGuinty from majority status, a much closer margin than either Paul Martin or Stephen Harper enjoyed. With so many close races, not to mention an exceedingly low voter turnout, a redo, impromptu election sometime in the next couple of years might work in McGuinty's favour. Then there's the Hudak factor. There are some grumblings about how much the PC leader didn't help the cause with comparisons to the increasing unpopular Rob Ford and commitment to potentially xenophobic and homophobic policies on the campaign trail. In an election where everything seemed in his favour to win, the reasons for Hudak's fortunes are multiple choice.
Either way, it's a new day, (almost) the same as old day in Ontario. Where will go to next?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Old Tricks Are the Best Tricks

Heading into these last few days of the campaign, we've been offered some of the dirtiest tricks yet played in this relatively squeaky clean election. 
A lot of the talk the last few days has been the M-word. As in "minority." Of course, the possibility has existed since the writ was dropped; with such a close race it was in the back of everyone's head, and we discussed the possibility on "Beyond the Ballot Box" the Monday before the election began. But in the last couple of days, PC leader Tim Hudak has tried to use it in the presumption that it will give his party the same edge his Federal colleagues got in the spring. However, Hudak misunderstands one thing when it comes to playing the M-card, Harper's Conservatives had the inside track to former the government either way, minority or majority.
Which raises another question: In the Federal election, Harper and his candidates made the case that in a fragile economic environment, voting for another minority Conservative government, or, heaven forfend, a coalition government of some kind, was dangerously disruptive. So why didn't Dalton McGuinty make this case? While his policies may not have sat well with all, as do many of Harper's policy, isn't there not still a skittish economy out there? Isn't the greater gamble on an inexperienced government in the midst of an economic recovery? 
 It would have played well into McGuinty's theme that despite the bumps, his government has done a great deal of good for the Province of Ontario. Given the fact that people seem pretty evenly divided on who to vote for, it might have even given McGuinty an extra edge in the campaign. After all, stability had more to do with the Conservative victory than an overwhelming endorsement by Canadians of the Harper platform.
As for McGuinty's opponent, the one issue that's not going to help Hudak in these final hours is the matter of the homophobic flyer that was passed around in a Brampton riding this past week, and the fact that he can't be moved off his support of it. Furthermore, the fact that PC staff physically intervened to stop reporters from asking about while in Brampton Monday conjures the very worst image of modern conservative politics. And where as social conservatism suits the Federal party well, it's only because the Western wing of the party supports that tact. In Ontario, Conservatives here struggle with those ideals, wanting to support their national party, but being themselves frightened by some of the core ideals so far as social policy is concerned. 
Basically, in these final days, Hudak has done himself no favours by reaching into the past, finding something that was patently untrue to begin with and eventually abandoned by the Liberals in any case, and tried to turn it into the closing argument for why he, not McGuinty, should be Premier of Ontario. In St. George's Square today, while waiting for Andrea Horwath, people were unsure whether to hate Hudak for trying to capitalize on homophobia, or pity him for his desperation.
As it stands, it's probably still too close to call. Or at least it's too close to call as to whether we get a Liberal minority, a slight Liberal majority, a PC minority, or maybe even a slight PC majority. It will either be quite apparent by bed time or it's going to be a long night. I guess we'll find out at 9 tomorrow.
Happy Election Day!

Horwath Stops in Guelph

Opening with a rousing rendition of "We Owe it to the Pioneers," James Gordon kicked off the last big event of the 2011 campaign, a visit to Guelph by NDP leader Andrea Horwath. Also in Guelph was Dufferin-Caledon candidate Karen Gventer, Wellington-Halton Hills candidate Dale Hamilton, and Halton candidate Nik Spohr. 
Horwath's stop in the Royal City was brief, to say the least. One of her handlers said that the NDP leader was making seven or eight stops today and was on a very tight schedule, so one-on-one meets, or even a media scrum, was out of the question. Rallying the team, Horwath said the important work now is to get out to the polls and vote, and to encourage everyone you know to get out to the polls and exercise their right to vote as well.
Horwath was scheduled to arrive at St. George's Square, on the patio outside Capistrano, at around 3 pm, but was about 25 minutes late. Not that the fact that Horwath was late dampened the enthusiasm of the crowd any. According to estimates from the Gordon campaign about 300 people showed up to cheer on Horwath and the local NDP. How that might translate tomorrow at the polls is still anyone's guess.
Check out a slideshow of pics below:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rolling With the Big Boys Now

When I was talking to Communist Party leader Elizabeth Rowley yesterday, she said that now, 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, it seems that Communists are having an easier time of it out on the trail, promoting their agenda, and even planting signs in people's yards. Here in Guelph, while I haven't seen any Communist signs in people's yards, they are up at heavily trafficked corners of town. They're kind of nondescript, and they don't have Drew Garvie's name on them, but it is interesting to see. These pics are from the corner of Norfolk and Waterloo.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Guelph Politicast #7 - Elizabeth Rowley

In this special bonus Politicast, I sit down with Elizabeth Rowley, leader of the Communist Party of Ontario. The opportunity came quite suddenly, and since it seems like I won't be able to interview any other party leader this election, then I figured why the heck not.
Rowley's had an interesting career. She's been involved with the Communist Party for over four decades, and was one of the first female leaders of a political party in Ontario. It takes a lot of dedication to fight an uphill battle for that long, and it seems that Rowley is just as passionate today as she was when she got involved with the party to battle racism and the Vietnam war in the 70s. 
Like she did in the 2007 campaign, Rowley has made the journey to Guelph, not just to campaign for her party's candidate Drew Garvie, but to touch base with the place where the Communist Party of Canada began exactly 90 years ago this year. We talk about that later in the podcast.
As for everything else, I think Rowley touches on all the major issues of the day, so press play and hear what she has to say.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Guelph Politicast #6 - Julian Ichim

With just days to go until the election, I managed to get another podcast in by interviewing one of the two candidates I have yet to talk to on the record. 
In this Politicast, I interview Julian Ichim, local activist and organizer who's running in this election as an independent candidate in the riding of Guelph. You may not agree with Ichim's point of view, or his politics, but I don't think you can disagree that he is a passionate and informed advocate on behalf of the poor and the disadvantaged. He's feisty, and ready to argue anybody to the mat on the issues of poverty and social justice. If you saw his performance in the Guelph Mercury debate, then you know that he was a magnetic presence on the stump. 
In my interview with Ichim, which was nearly an hour long, we talked a lot about the issues, but we also talked about his experience protesting the G20 last year, and his experiences in the criminal justice system after his arrest the Friday before violence broke out over the weekend. It's an interesting first hand account, but if you'd like to skip it and save it for later, we start talking about it around the 26 minute mark. 
In other news, I'm thinking about making the Politicast a semi-permanent thing on the blog. It maybe a once a month kind of proposition, but the more I think about it, the more I'd like to keep doing these little political talk shows. Making them has been a really fun experience this election. If you have ideas about the future of the Politicast, or have any suggestions, feel free to post them in the comments section.
But for now, let's talk to Julian Ichim. Listener discretion is advised, there's some salty language in this 'cast.

The Cosmic Gong Show Rolls On

As I innocently went about my business this morning, in full knowledge that transit buses were being diverted to Macdonell St for an event in St. George's Square, I once again witnessed another instance of the city's managerial impotence so far as busing is concerned. 
Yes, the buses were lined up along Macdonell as advertised, but someone forgot to tell the people parked in spaces along the street that the buses were going to have to use that area on Sunday morning. The result was traffic disruption, although only slight since it was Sunday morning, but buses still had to stop out in the street, forcing cars to go around, and forcing some commuters to have to walk as far as from The Diplomat to the Guelph Mercury loading bay to get their transfer. So the Run for the Cure wasn't the only race downtown this morning. You know it's bad when even the drivers are looking at each other with shrugged shoulders.
Just over a month from the brand new route system that is supposed to make riding the bus more attractive - and just over a month after Transit hiked fares to $3, which doesn't exactly encourage first time riders - we see again that when it comes to treating public transit seriously, the city treats it like The Gong Show. If there are any explanations, I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hudak Wants to End Fictional War

One would think with the hit to Rob Ford's numbers as of late that Tim Hudak wouldn't be as eager to crib from him, but he does. And he did. 
While in Dundas today, Hudak said he wants to end Dalton McGuinty's "War on the Car," and to prove his dedication he's going to open a new front by pushing for the construction of a new highway between Hamilton and Niagara to supplement the QEW. The Liberal government shelved the plan since studies showed that a new highway won't be necessary for another 20 years. At least.
"A good highway route like that would not only create jobs in building it, but most importantly will attract new businesses to our area and help to break the gridlock, because families are spending far too much time stuck in their cars and not home with the kids," Hudak told supporters today.
On the other hand area residents begged to differ. "At this point we need our food supply. We don't need this highway," said Susan McMaster, co-chair of the group Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment. McMaster tried to meet up with Hudak as he visited businesses in Dundas, but came up empty handed. "We're talking about some of the last viable farmland in the area and they want to pave right through it."
"There's some people who don't want to build highways in our province. I do," Hudak said rather nonchalantly later. 
Hudak's instance that he will build a highway because he wants it, regardless of how local resident's feel is as reckless and counter-intuitive as the "anti-car" measures he and others on the right claim to despise: Using traffic congestion as a form of control to get more people out of their cars and on to buses and trains, or charging a $60 Personal Vehicle Tax (AKA: The CAR TAX!!! - said with vitriol and bitterness through gritted teeth), to help cover the cost of infrastructure to support so many people driving cars. One way creates less pollution, less congestion and a more community-minded commuting system, the other create more roads, more pollution and yes, eventually more congestion. 
You make it more appealing for people to dive and they will drive. The convenience of your own personal automobile is always going to be more appealing that going from point to point to point in order to get to your destination. Short-term relief of congestion will be exchanged in 20 or 30 years with a growing population in this area, for having more people on the road, which will just mean two congested highways rather than one. 
The other exception I have is Hudak's quote that "families are spending far too much time stuck in their cars and not home with the kids," but honestly, whose fault is that? We've created a complex society in southern Ontario where people want to work good-paying jobs in the city, but want the sprawl with big houses and big yards in suburbia. I know life in the city's expensive, which is why so many people work downtown and live in the 'burbs, but generally those that can't afford to live in the city, can't afford the cost of a car either. 
Our secret identity society, being one thing during the day and another at night, is slowly killing us, and I'm not just talking about the environment. "Bedroom communities" kill any actual sense of community, and if you're only invested in a place as somewhere to lay your head, than your not going to treat that community better than the average hotel room. Also, the sprawl spreads. People who were once satisfied to commute from Mississauga and Oakville, then moved out further to Brampton and Halton Hills, and are now laying claim to Milton and Guelph. 
So Hudak, I'm sure that you are quite anxious to build highways, but I will respectfully agree to disagree. If people want to spent more time at home, then they should work closer to home, or home closer to work. Working to change the society outlook to make this idea more appealing, and trying to promote businesses to build in our communities will probably mean more in the end than another highway, anyway.