December means end of the year lists, and when you’re a Guelph news site, that means taking account of the last 12 months worth of stories and deciding which were the 10 most compelling. Here’s the year in news according the finest mind of Guelph Politico!
Something distinctly uncomfortable emerged in Guelph during the 2018 municipal campaign, a local taste of the toxic internet political culture that’s been so thoroughly covered south of the border. Facebook groups meant to discuss local politics became enclaves of conspiracy theories, as well as rampant racism and sexism. A lot of that hatred was poured out over mayoral candidate Aggie Mlynarz, but many other candidates (and their families) were also subject to harassment. And although these outlets claimed to be beacons of Free Speech, anyone that disagreed with them, no matter how cordially, was banned. In the end, a new “media” site emerged that claims to cover the facts, but it’s already been fact checked by the AFP. With a Federal Election next fall, this trend will likely get worse before it gets better.
9) Library Hook.
After years of fits and starts, proposals and town halls, advocacy and fundraising, the City of Guelph took a giant leap towards the establishment of a new main library branch, and this time, it looks like there’s no organized opposition to it. The library board brought back a compelling business case, and a tender was made to start plans to redevelopment Baker Street. The public consultation of those plans began last month, and though there are surely some fights ahead about what the new library should have, and who should own what on Baker Street, for once, it seems a new, glorious main library in Guelph is inevitable.
8) Up in Smoke.
Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em! Weed became legal in Canada on October 17, and the momentous social changed seemed to pass by with a wimper. Of course, there were no bricks and mortar stores in the Royal City, even though that was the previous government’s intent, but there were small celebrations downtown on the day, which is rather laid back when you consider the frequently large gatherings on the University of Guelph campus on 4/20. The year ended with council approving the opening of retail pot stores in Guelph, though not without a sometimes difficult debate. So yes, cannabis is legal, but the story’s far from over.
7) Driveway to Hell.
Yes, one of the biggest issues of the year was a rash of bylaw enforcement actions in regard to the size and dimension of area driveways. Although the fracas started in the east end, it began spreading across other parts of town, and was such a nuisance that on the brink of the summer break and the start of the election campaign, Mayor Cam Guthrie and Councillor Dan Gibson drew nearly 200 people to a town hall on the subject. In the fall, council had a sometimes heated debate on how to resolve the matter, and eventually approved a pause in enforcement until staff can implement a stop-gap measure as staff undertakes a complete bylaw review.
6) Doug Life.
It was a foregone conclusion that Kathleen Wynne’s days were numbered as the Premier of Ontario, but the road to get there was a roller coaster, and the road since hasn’t been much smoother. The scandals, both before and after the election, are too numerous to list here, but Guelph’s burgeoning clean energy tech sector felt the effect of Doug Ford’s influence very early in his government’s tenure. Also, those concerned about the Paris-Galt Moraine in our own backyard are worried about what will happen with Bill 66, an omnibus package that reins in both environmental protections and public consultation. Whether it’s sex ed or economic policy, these next four years will look very different from the last four.
5) Minimum Rage.
The mainstream media’s crap-tacular (legit word) coverage of the increase in minimum wage warned of thousands of lost jobs, and increased unemployment across Ontario, as well as the shuttering of hundreds of small businesses unable to pay such exorbitant wages like $14 per hour. The most egregious of these stories came less than two weeks after the new year, when a CTV Kitchener reporter came to Guelph to cover the closure of Smokin’ Tony’s on Silvercreek, the third such “Smokin’ Tony’s” outlet to close in the city in the last four years. Was it the fact that maybe Guelphites aren’t big on lunch counter barbeque? No, it was the minimum wage increase that put Smokin’ Tony’s III out of business apparently, and it took 12 into 2018 to do it.
4) Clair Annoyance.
It’s not often that a city can direct the development of one big plot of greenspace, but the Clair-Maltby Secondary Plan presents one of those rare opportunities. Of course, it also presented opportunity for controversy as the area is both environmentally sensitive and already more or less divided between the largest developers in town just waiting for the day. With the odds stacked against them, activists went to council to try and affect policy, and they did enjoy some early success; Rolling Hills has been dropped off the map, and plans for a north-south road through sensitive wetlands have been dropped. Still, considering the money at stake, and the long influence of developers on local government, many in Guelph remain skeptical that the City’s lofty ideals for the site can be achieved, that is if the City wants to achieve them.
3) Glass Hole.
A Chinese company named Xinyi expressed an interest in building a glass manufacturing plant in Guelph-Eramosa township right near the Guelph border. Strike one: the plant was going to use about 2 million litres of precious ground water per day to make the glass. Strike two: those toxic chemicals used in the process would spew out smog in Guelph’s general direction. Strike three: Well, did there really have to be a strike three? The township council eventually voted 4-to-1 against approving the development. No appeal has been made, and none seems to be planned, at least from Xinyi itself. Premier Doug Ford called out Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner for Guelph’s unwillingness to rubber-stamp the plant and get 400 jobs, adding that any one of *his* MPPs would be glad to take that offer. So far, none have.
2) Not New, But Improved.
Although the October 22 municipal election returned 11 out of 13 members of council to their seats, it was undeniable that something in the Guelph electorate had changed. In 2018, the number of women running, and the number of people of colour running saw a precipitous increase over 2014. In Ward 6, for example, there was only one man running in a field of six, including two women of colour seeking a council seat. Youth were represented as well both in the mayor’s race with Aggie Mlynarz, and in the council races with Jax Thornton and now-Guelph Politico contributor Eli Ridder. Though turnout was low – perhaps in part because people were burned out on the provincial race in June – there’s no denying that Guelph saw the rise of a new political force in 2018.
1) We Like Mike!
Long seen in the eyes of Green Party politicians as the breakthrough they need to form a beachhead in Ontario, Guelph finally donned the colours by electing Mike Schreiner as MPP in June’s Provincial Election. With an easy victory of just over 45 per cent of the vote, Schreiner won the provincial riding of Guelph, the best showing for a candidate in a province-wide race since Brenda Elliott won in 1999. (Incidentally, the last time a Conservative won in Guelph.) What came next was remarkable: the provincial media started to seek out the Green Party leader for comment, and not just on the environmental portfolio, which was substantial given the change in attitude from Kathleen Wynne to Doug Ford. Watch the news on most nights, and you might see comment from Schreiner over interim Liberal leader John Fraser. And while the wags may think that Schreiner’s sacrificing Guelph needs for provincial attention, his dedication to Guelph, and Guelph issues, remains apparent, and his Queen’s Park colleagues know it. In an election that was all about change, Guelph went for the most drastic change of all.