What a year! Perhaps you don’t need to be told, but from this side of the computer it was a very busy news year indeed. For the last 11-and-a-half months it’s felt like not a day’s gone by without some major breaking news, or another new development in long-term stories as our community absorbed one challenge after another. From new maps to new councils, and from election changes to changing issues, let’s count off the Top 10 Guelph news stories for 2022!
10) A Guelph Divided?
Keep your eye on February 9, 2023 because that’s when the Ontario Commission for Federal Electoral Districts Redistribution submits its report, and we will see whether Guelph is still one riding, or if the south end will be broken off and combined with large swaths of Wellington County. At a virtual public feedback session in September, Ward 6 Councillors Dominique O’Rourke and Mark MacKinnon took time away from the campaign to make a special point to advocate against the changes saying that it redivides the city at a time when we’ve finally achieved some unity. Stay tuned.
9) Local Love for the Convoy!
As the Freedom Convoy rolled to Ottawa, local supporters rolled through Old Quebec Street. The relative quiet of a Saturday afternoon (still under the post-Christmas Omicron lockdown) was interrupted by an emboldened anti-mandate and COVID conspiracy movement, and they kept moving. Though the mandates were all but gone by March, the largest protest yet stopped traffic on Gordon Street, and after one more much smaller gathering in May, the movement seemed to disappear from public view, though some choice representatives ended up landing on the ballot in October even ones who had the common sense to try and cover-up their allegiances.
8) Finally Finished (Except for the Lawsuits).
What began with an elaborate ground breaking ceremony in April 2016 ended completely unceremoniously in 2022 when it was quietly noted in an information report to council that the Guelph Police headquarters renovations were complete. In a different universe, there would have been some kind of celebration, but in that universe the project was completed on time in 2019. In this reality, the project being finished is its own success, even though there are still big questions about cost overruns and the dangling condition of a lawsuit from the fired contractor. At the same time, people in the city skeptical of the administration’s ability to build anything on-time and on-budget have a new straw man to erect as warning for future high-profile (and high-budget) city building projects.
7) The Infrastructure Bomb.
Back in the spring, there was the somewhat unsurprising announcement that the South End Community Centre had been costed tens of millions of dollars over budget due to the supply chain and other inflationary issues. In order to react to the swiftly changing landscape, council granted planning and building staff a special delegated authority to roll with the punches, but the ballooning costs once again made the library an election issue as some candidates called for the project to be paused or cancelled altogether. Meanwhile, the the provincial government would add considerable complications of their own…
6) McArthur: Don’t Stop Never Stopping.
What were you doing in September 2016? It feels so long ago, but at the time Constable Corey McArthur of the Guelph Police Service assaulted an underage person in distress at Guelph General Hospital while they were handcuffed to a bed, and he was suspended. This drama reached it’s inevitable conclusion this year when a disciplinary hearing decided that McArthur can no longer be a police officer. He felt differently. Although he was told to either resign or be fired, McArthur opted to appeal to a higher authority, and thus extending the drama for a further undisclosed amount of time. If it weren’t bad enough that he’s been paid this whole time, it seems McArthur has a deaf ear not just about the community concerns about having him back on the beat, but the last several years of concerns around police misconduct. Unfortunately, this is to be continued…
5) Repeatedly Code Red.
The pandemic issues in 2022 were weird to say the least; we started the year with yet another lockdown here in Ontario, and we seem to be ending the year without any ability to care about how sick we get anymore. Consider the alarmingly frequent site of ambulances lined up and down Delhi Street as staffing issues at Guelph General Hospital forced hours and hours of delays. The issue became inescapable in the summer, at a time when COVID-19 numbers were supposed to dip to their lowest levels, but there was no summer break for COVID in 2022. Then, in the fall, a stronger than expected cold and flu season began with the additional complication of RSV, not to mention all the usual medical issues people face *and* the linger COVID-19 virus. Solutions depend on action from the provincial government, but they’ve been focused on other concerns. (See below.)
4) Not So Great When You’re Downtown.
For the most part, it seemed like Downtown Guelph escaped the economic downturn created by the COVID-19 pandemic; it was bruised, but not beaten. But can downtown survive the societal and economic crush of homelessness and mental health and addiction issues in the city? Now, it’s worth noting that these issues are not isolated to the core, but that’s where so many social services are offered, and it seems to be the place where so many people in need are concentrated. Because of that increasing need, council was pressured to take action in the summer despite the limited options and despite the timing in the middle of an election campaign. That new committee has been active, and they have made some progress, but there’s a big question about how much the City of Guelph can do without the budget and infrastructure of a social services department.
3) The Changing of Numerous Guards.
In the last couple of weeks, Marty Williams announced that he would be stepping down as the executive director of the Downtown Guelph Business Association and Kim Cusimano said that she would be leaving her position as the executive director of the People and Information Network. They were the latest in a number of changes at the top of various community organizations this year. Marianne Walker said that it was her intention to resign at the end of this year as CEO of Guelph General Hospital, Patti Broughton left the Guelph Arts Council, Sheila Markle stepped away from Family and Children’s Services, Gabriella Currie-Ziegler vacated her position at the Guelph Youth Music Centre, and Councillors Bob Bell, June Hofland, James Gordon and Mike Salisbury all announced their retirements from city council. Speaking of which…
2) Five Came Back.
Speaking of a changing of the guard, it was clear by the summer that there were some big charges in store for city council after the October 24 municipal election. Cam Guthrie always looked like a shoo-in for a third term, running without a single competitor for 15 of the 16 weeks nominations were open. Meanwhile, 40 people emerged to put their names forward for council with four guaranteed open spots available, but in the end, the appetite for change was so palpable that at lease one incumbent went down to defeat. In the school board races, the Upper Grand District School Board saw an almost entirely new slate of Guelph reps after four out of five incumbents didn’t submit their names for re-election, and they constitute the near entire slate of “Team Normal” candidates who ran for those offices. Despite what voter turnout numbers say, it was a very interesting election indeed.
1) Elections Have Consequences.
It wasn’t much of a surprise that Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives won re-election, especially with the lower than usual voter turnout for a provincial campaign. Still, it was somewhat surprising that the PCs won even more seats in 2022 than they had in 2018, especially considering the widespread dissatisfaction with the Ontario government’s COVID response, including that aforementioned lockdown in January. The most surprising part though was that despite less than 41 per cent voter support (out of the 43 per cent of people who actually voted), the Ford government began acting like they had an overwhelming mandate. They dismantled democratic powers with so-called “Strong Mayor” legislation, they dismantled municipal planning processes that also undermined how cities can fund infrastructure, they opened portions of the Greenbelt despite promises not to, they took away the constitutional rights of education workers, and they seem to have completely ignored the implications of the so-called “tri-demic.” It’s worth pointing out that this represents six months worth of activity at Queen’s Park, and that there’s over 1,200 days till the next provincial election.