If it’s December, then it’s time for end of the year lists, and what a year it was in the Royal City! We had a not-surprising surprise election, and we had to get ready for two more. Housing was a major issue, but so was the environment, and the year saw a lot of people get back into the habit of protesting. Transit made some news, so did downtown disgruntlement, and the Dolime Quarry, but what ended up number one? Let’s find out.
10) Quid Pro Status Quo
In 2021, there was a Federal Election that was long anticipated and unsurprisingly realized, but nonetheless greeted with borderline disinterest from the electorate. As a result, the House of Commons came back last month relatively unchanged with another Liberal minority, which includes the now thrice-elected MP for Guelph Lloyd Longfield. The real election story was in the granular. Dr. Ashish Sachan had the best showing for a Conservative candidate since 1988, Aisha Jahangir of the NDP grew her share of the vote by seven points, and Guelph’s enthusiastic Green base could not prevent Dr. Michelle Bowman from feeling the effects of the party’s national collapse. Meanwhile, the People’s Party grew it’s share of the vote by 2,000 votes versus 2019. See you in 2023!
9) Clock the Vote
Sure, we had one election this year, but we’ve got two in the pipe for 2022, and everyone was getting their ducks in a row. While three of the four main political party candidates were all acclaimed this past summer, the Provincial government itself kept busy using the notwithstanding clause to pass it’s new bill on third-party spending after it got shot down in court. Guelph’s election next year went to court too. The new ward maps approved by council are currently under appeal at the Ontario Land Tribunal, and a decision could be coming soon. At the same time, Guelph’s disable community fought for access to the ballot next year on their own terms, but ultimately couldn’t get it done on the City’s time line.
8) Finding Quarry
This really should have been bigger news, especially given mixed feelings about sprawl and the use of Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZO), but the long and winding road to end the Dolime Quarry and secure local drinking water came to a nearly unceremonious end this past summer. From Wellington County, to the Guelph/Eramosa Township and back to the City of Guelph, local governments approved the plan to annex the quarry site with little to no push back from the politicians themselves or members of the public. Perhaps there was just relief that this is a long-term issue that no one in the three municipalities will have to talk about in next year’s election.
7) Down With [Fill in the Blank]!
While there were some very notable protests in 2020, this year saw a sharp increase in the number of people out in the streets for a lot of different issues. Perhaps the biggest were the repeated marches downtown for Indigenous rights, lending support to the Wet’suwet’an and outrage to unmarked graves at former residential school sites. Around the same time, thousands marched in solidarity with the Muslim community after a hate motivated killing in London, and several hundred demonstrated for the Palestinians affected by Israeli airstrikes this past spring. On the flip side though, there were occasional gatherings of people who are either vaccine hesitant or were against COVID restrictions, no matter how small they are.
6) On Your Way (Again)
It was a good year for transit, and it was a bad year for transit. To start with the bad, this year saw Greyhound do the inevitable and cease all Canadian operations. The pandemic was to blame of course, and it was also to blame for the ongoing struggle in getting ridership back to pre-2020 levels and Guelph Transit has still not full adjusted back. On the bright side, GO Transit has returned to a full schedule, the students at the University of Guelph approved new UPass contract securing vital revenue, and council made some big investments in transit this budget season including improved routes, a new multi-level affordable pass, and a pilot that will let kids ride free. The best is yet to come? Maybe.
5) Downtown Crabby
There’s something going on downtown, and it might get more complicated in the new year. At October’s council meeting there was the sound of rumblings, perhaps some dissatisfaction with the way that the City and the Downtown Guelph Business Association are managing things. Some downtown businesses are upset about recent City directives like a limited 2021 road closure for patios and the shut down of the Baker Street parking lot. On the other hand, even the DGBA itself was disappointed with the City’s call to initiate the Baker Street redevelopment without an institutional partner, they even requested that council delay the project, which was declined. Will council pursue a review of the DGBA, and what happens then? Stay tuned.
4) Climate Traction
Climate change didn’t have too much of a direct impact on Guelph, but it would be insane to put together a list of the biggest news stories of the year without mentioning it. There was certainly a lot of action on promoting the issue locally as climate strikes and other protests became a regular site downtown again, and outside the office of MP Lloyd Longfield where young people repeated gathered to push the Federal government on climate action. Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner also did some pushing, introducing a private members bill to get Queen’s Park to approve an annual carbon budget, and while that ultimately failed, Schreiner did take a victory lap on the Supreme Court decision that the carbon tax is constitutional. At the end of the year, two city councillors tried to get the City to hit the gas peddle in terms of local action. To be continued…
3) Farmhouse-gate (AKA: Minutes-gate)
Heritage issues were on the proverbial front page a lot this year, but then there was, well, Farmhouse-gate. At the September council meeting, the biggest action happened in closed session as the horseshoe voted to demolish the nearly 200-year-old farmhouse at 797 Victoria Road North out of an abundance of concern for safety, but there was a snafu: the City didn’t get feedback from Heritage Guelph in advance of the vote. When Mayor Cam Guthrie called an emergency meeting a few days later to see if council wanted to re-open the issue, they needed a super-majority to do it, but the motion failed. A week later there was another hiccup, a key difference between the motion as written in the minutes, and the motion as stated in the meting. The 90-minute long back-and-forth affirmed that the issue was done, but confidence in council may have been adversely affected.
2) The Great House Directive
Housing affordability is an issue that’s gotten worse since the start of the pandemic, but in 2021 we finally started to see some concrete action from the local government. City council approved three supportive housing projects this year, including the Grace Gardens redevelopment at the old Parkview Motel. The two other projects are at Shelldale and the old nurses quarters at 65 Delhi Street, and while that project is currently under appeal at the OLT, the Parkview and Shelldale projects both got final approval in council with limited public push back. This was also the year that the City finally came up with a process to manage the money they put in the affordable housing reserve annually, working out a deal with the County of Wellington to administer the funds. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
1) Vax First
On January 6, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was put in the first person in our region, a staff member in an area long-term care home. It was a tough several weeks waiting for the vaccines dose to catch up with the desire to get shots, and there was a lot of disappointment as the delays lagged in February, March and April, but by the time June rolled around, WDG Public Health was giving out over 37,000 in a one-week period. By the first week in December, the first full week that kids between 5 and 11 could start getting shots, over 90 per cent of people 12 and over in our region had gotten at least one shot. In Guelph alone, now more than 92 per cent of people 12 and over are fully vaccinated (83 per cent once everyone 5 and over is factored). It’s a remarkable record, and one that might secure Guelph a historical place as one of the most vaccinated places in Canada.