Top 10 Guelph Political Stories of 2017

It’s the end of the year, and that means that it’s time for lists. Lists and more lists. Top 10s on every conceivable subject. Guelph Politico also likes to do lists this time of year, and the subject we chose is the Top 10 Guelph Political Stories of the Year. From retirements to mergers, from reviews stalled and reviews achieved, and from one renovation project nearing completion to another finally making it on the books, it was another busy year in the Royal City. Let’s countdown the hits in order…
10) Officially Official. Nearly five-and-a-half years after it was passed, the latest amendment to the Official Plan got the thumbs up from the Ontario Municipal Board. Passed in 2012, Guelph developers were operating in a kind of planning grey area as certain changes were anticipated, but had yet to go into effect. With Guelph’s condo-boom marching forward unabated, the duality of planning around the implementation of the plan was showing its strain with some local developers, but in October the clouds parted and Guelph has given the go-ahead for OPA 48. Not a moment too soon.

9) Petrie Dish. Back in the spring, members of city council, staff and the media were invited to tour the work in progress Petrie Building. Long suffering from neglect, there were many in town anxious to see the Petrie returned to its former glory, and people were fascinated by that early insight. Although there was still a lot of work ahead, the Petrie was finally making a comeback. The lines were long for Doors Open Guelph, and as the year wore on, the Brothers Brewing Co. then opened its own doors permanently on the ground floor, and then lights were seen on the upper floors for the first time in decades. Work on the facade continues, but the Petrie has quite nearly reclaimed its rightful place in the downtown skyline.

8) Reform Reaffirmed. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put the kibosh on electoral reform pretty early on in 2017; he tried nothing and he was all out of ideas. Guelphites, who were some of the loudest voices for reform, did not like those turn of events. A new group called Democracy Guelph rallied to present a new option for electoral reform, Local Proportional Representation, and found grassroots, bipartisan support in town to keep pushing the issue. Special guests like Michael Chong, Elizabeth May, and Peter Julian kept popping into town to keep reform front of mind, and though no minds in Ottawa seemed to be changed, Guelph still seemed super-charged on the issue even closing down Cork Street in front of Lloyd Longfield’s office to the make the point: this ain’t over.

7) Baker Street Believers. For nearly 10 years, friends of the library have been looking to Baker St, and the construction of a new library with hope. Though these friends tried yearly to promote interest and dump funds into a book sale that keeps going up and up in record numbers, the new main branch only ever seemed to move further away not closer. In July, it seemed all hopes were dashed when the Co-operators showed interest in the Baker St. lot for a new headquarters, but they opted for a new south end location instead. With renewed urgency, the public delegated hard at this year’s capital budget meeting, and found a receptive council. This time, the new main branch is part of the 10-year capital forecast, and the library board is developing its business case. A new library main branch is not as close as some people would like, but it’s closer than ever before.

6) Service Interrupted. The City of Guelph finally started implementing a pilot project for service reviews to see if there were any financial leaks that might need plugging in the corporation. Two controversial departments, and one kind of random one, were chosen to test drive the project, but before the interim report on the first review was even released to the public, there was controversy. Union workers for Solid Waste Services used the occasion of the Labour Day Picnic to raise the alarm that the privatization of waste collection was coming, but no final recommendations were made because further investigation of the Material Resource Facility was called for. The result of that was the review of Guelph Transit being pushed back to 2018, so that will be another year of waiting on how transit might improve. In the meantime, it’s assumed the review of boulevard maintenance went swimmingly.

5) Re-connection Failed. City Clerk Stephen O’Brien must have felt his game plan for the 2018 Municipal Election was pro forma, but when it comes to the implications of internet voting, a lot has happened between 2014 and now. After failing at Committee-of-the-Whole, city council got dozens of correspondences and delegations, and while many affirmed the committee decision and cited security concerns, the vast majority were in favour of continuing on with internet voting in spite of the risks, including a very compelling case on the issue of accessibility. Some members of council tried to find compromise by bringing back internet voting as it was done in 2014, but the slim majority of council would not be moved. So in 2018, we’re all going to have to go back to voting the old-fashioned way whether we like it or not.

4) The Feels on the Bus. The year started with the disappointing news that Guelph Transit would go through another year of reduced services, but soon there was some promising news. Transit was undertaking a realignment of routes and schedules designed to create a base system that addressed the immediate need, but would allow the service to build out with easy expansion as ridership improved and demand increased. When September came around, expectations were high and the new #99 Mainline was launched with a lot of fanfare and a bus ride with councillors, Transit management, and even Mayor Cam Guthrie, but soon the wear started showing. The new routes and schedules were not as responsive as advertised, and many runs were dropped due to staffing issues (or not, depending on who you asked). Like in 2012, the date of the last realignment, people were confused, angry, and stressed as they tried to adjust, which left Transit with only one option: head back to the drawing board.

3) Sandals Retires. Suddenly, Guelph is competitive in next year’s Provincial Election! In October, Guelph MPP and President of the Treasury Board Liz Sandals announced that she would not be standing for her fifth election this coming June, which puts Guelph in play for a very important Ontario election this year as Kathleen Wynne tries to hold on to power for four more years. Sandals’ retirement very much opens the field for Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner, so far the only declared candidate in the race. As for the PCs, Thomas Mooney made a splash announcing that the actions of the party in other ridings forced him out of seeking the nomination in Guelph, while the NDP will presumably nominate somebody to run. Stay tuned.

2) They Got Mail. Human resources issues at City Hall are nothing new, nor are lawsuits, but the accidental release of 50,000 confidential emails to the attorney of a former employee suing the City of Guelph is exceptionally newsworthy indeed. The $1 million wrongful termination suit brought by former building official Bruce Poole demanded certain disclosures, but the City ended up disclosing more then they intended to. Deputy Chief Administrative Officer of Corporate Services Mark Amorosi took the fall, and was fired by the City. Amorosi himself is embroiled in a $500,000 lawsuit against Guelph Speaks blogger Gerry Barker for defamation, and though Amorosi was fired, his City funded suit marches on. In the end though, the episode did nothing to persuade doubters that there aren’t issues with management inside 1 Carden Street.

1) Alectra Dreams. The Strategies and Options Committee worked for over a year to decide on a future for Guelph Hydro: selling it was out, it was too small to buy another utility, and looking to the future on its own was a risky proposition. So earlier this fall, the decision was made to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities, a publicly-owner conglomerate of four local distribution companies that’s the second largest public utility in North America. The City of Guelph was very up on the merger, but the public was dubious and felt like they weren’t getting an objective analysis about the benefits of the deal. The timing for the final vote was problematic too, smooshed between the passing of the budget and the busy Christmas season when even people that live and breathe council developments were having trouble keeping up. Council eventually voted 10-3 in favour of the merger, but for citizens there’s still a lot of confusion and a lot of uncertainty. How many people have you heard talking about how Hydro was “privatized”? Hopefully, councillors looking to stand for re-election in a few months can create more understanding…

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