It’s almost the end to 2021, so it seems like a good time to talk with the mayor about what kind of year it’s been. The story of the year was COVID-19, again, and there was a lot of action at the City of Guelph from lockdowns to re-open strategies to vaccine rollouts, and a lot of information about all that stuff passed through the office of Cam Guthrie. Guelph’s Mayor appeared on the most recent edition of Open Sources Guelph to talk about it all.
The interview was recorded before the announcement that the City of Guelph was cancelling any plans to end the state of emergency declared in March 2020, but during his year end recap, Mayor Guthrie said that it was hard to escape COVID-19 on just about any issue handled by city hall through much of the year.
“The biggest challenge was really the rollout of the vaccinations, trying to get as many people vaccinated as possible, and that worked,” said Guthrie. “Thank goodness I’m the mayor for Guelph, because we know how to get it done. Now we have the next challenge, which is vaccinations for younger the kids, but that uptake is going very well.”
Guthrie credits a united front in Guelph’s high rate of vaccination, and a very particular problem that Guelph has not seen a lot of through the course of the pandemic.
“We were so united at a leadership level, in council, in the executive team and then in the greater community leadership as well,” Guthrie explained. “I don’t think we had to experience a lot of the hurdles of anti-vax, there are councillors and even a few mayors perpetuating anti-science and other issues and some communities have had to deal with that, but it did not rear its ugly head in Guelph.”
But vaccine hesitancy and protests against COVID restrictions are not just issues in real life. There’s plenty of anti-science sentiment online too, and Guthrie, who is very active on social media, has had to come up with a strategy to deal with the people angry about lockdowns, vaccine mandates and states of emergency.
“When it comes to social media, I deal with it every single day, and I tend to engage where I can and not engage because it’s sometimes better that I don’t as there’s no way of getting through to some of them,” Guthrie explained. “There’s a community responsibility to look out for your neighbours, your friends, your co-workers and your family, and it’s hard to have those conversations. They have the right to have the conversations, but I have the right to not engage in them.”
On other matters, Guthrie explained that his recent no vote on the 2022-2023 municipal budget was an expression of his belief that now’s not the time for such a drastic increase in the City’s budget.
“My preference would be to look at the pace of all these projects, and there’s no sacred cow because they all need to have that scrutiny, but when council makes a decision, we’ve got to move forward,” Guthrie explained. “I said this in another media interview, even though I didn’t vote for the budget, and one of the reasons being affordability, my job as mayor is to implement the things that are in that budget in the best possible way that they can be done.”
In terms of municipal finances and next year’s elections, Guthrie said that he hopes to generate some conversations about the way cities can fund themselves over the course of both the provincial and municipal elections in 2022.
“We’ve been talking about this even before the pandemic […] We’ve been asking for a new fiscal governance model between us and the other levels of government, and more autonomy,” Guthrie said. “I would argue that we’re the most transparent level of government. We have to balance our books by law every year, we do everything out in the open from public engagement to delegation, and we need to be respected as that government that we know that we are.”