Monthly Archives: October 2011

The wicked mix of bicycles and cars

The bicycle is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. 120 years ago, bicycles and horses shared the pathways of our country. For bicyclists the greatest peril was dodging the horse droppings and not getting hit by lightning.

Today through the efforts of a determined minority, the bicycle has become a form of basic transportation, rain or shine, snow or sleet. Using the battle cry of creating a healthier environment through exercise and reduction of carbon emissions, this group has conned those in charge of the public purse that they have rights on the streets.

Indeed they demand exclusive access to the major urban roads. In Guelph more than $2 million has been spent in the past two years on special bike lanes and so-called bike boxes at intersections.

Regardless, police say that most bicycle accidents occur on sidewalks. Now that is prohibited in Guelph but is steadfastly ignored by many teens and adult riders. Some of the more aggressive riders ignore stop signs and red lights, blithely refusing to accept their responsibility under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.

Councillor Maggie Laidlaw, an ardent bicyclist, advocated that the “Iowa rule” be invoked in Guelph. This allowed cyclists to breeze through intersections when there was no apparent reason to stop. Maggie is also famous for predicting there will be no cars on the roads in Guelph in 20 years. There is no sign of this happening and we have 16 years to go.

In fact there are more vehicles than ever on Guelph roads.

But then that’s the mantra of the cyclists pedaling their version of sharing the roads without responsibility. If cyclists want to share the road then they should agree to be insured, tested and licensed like automobile drivers.

But much has changed in 120 years. The streets are now paved. Most people prefer the comfort provided by the modern automobile and other forms of public transportation as they go about their business than to ride a bike.


When you compare a 25-pound bicycle with a 3,000-pound car sharing the same road, the car operator will always survive in the event of a collision.







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The Summit that never was

The city held a Summit last week to discuss how to curb student behavioural excesses. It was a closed meeting with only certain individuals being invited. So the public will never know what was discussed and how to solve the problem of students creating havoc through excessive drinking and other anti-social behaviour. Bits and pieces of information have filtered out but nothing conclusive.

As long as can be remembered, the problems of excessive noise and alcohol consumption, not only downtown but in the student lodging areas in the South end of the city have existed.

President Alastair Summerlee reacted after the recent University of Guelph Homecoming Weekend. He said that a minority of his students caused the problems.

The two councillors representing the South end, Karl Wettstein and Todd Dennis, reacted with surprise that they received so many complaints about the homecoming hi-jinks. Welcome to the real world gentlemen.

The police said their resources were overwhelmed with the calls for help by citizens and deployed all personnel available to answer the complaints and control the situation.

City staff attended the closed-door meeting.

Missing were representatives of the Ontario Gaming and Liquor Licensing Board. Nor was the Ontario Provincial Police invited to offer advice on such situations.

Most of all the public, those most affected, were not invited to participate.

This situation reflects badly on the City of Guelph and the University. When you inject some 18,000 students into a relatively small community, there will be trouble.

Having 33 bars open downtown when campus-drinking holes are shut down exacerbates it.

As for Wettstein and Dennis, it will be interesting to see the role they play at Council to prevent further damage to their constituents’ lifestyle.

It is mindful of the beloved German prison camp Sergeant Shultz who looked the other way in Hogan’s Heroes: “I see nothing, I know nothing, I do nothing.”




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MPP Liz Sandals went missing when Guelph bid for a separate public health unit

Judge David Price almost closed the door on the city’s attempt to halt spending $12 million for the Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health Unit’s new headquarters.

Mayor Karen Farbridge stoutly rejected the unilateral decision by the public health board to spend $17 million on its new headquarters and a satellite branch in Orangeville.  Guelph must pay 70 per cent of the unit’s capital costs.

Despite differences with Mayor Farbridge, I’m with her all the way on this one.

As usual, the judiciary followed the law to the letter. The joker is the law was changed in 2001 denying any member of a municipal consortium involved in a Public Health Unit to leave without permission of the province.

Guelph’s motion was to allow the city to opt out of the WDG unit and establish its own public health unit. Judge Price denied this. While he was sympathetic that the city was being forced to pay $12 million, he was unmoved. He suggested the Health Unit board should have approached city council to discuss their plans, something that did not occur.

Liz Sandals was aware of this yet failed to defend her hometown interests because, we presume, she was involved in getting re-elected. One can surmise two things: Either Sandals has little respect at Queen’s Park or she was afraid she might lose the election.

It is mindful of Brian Mulroney challenging Prime Minister John Turner over approving the patronage appointments made by Pierre Trudeau in the dying days of his tenure: “Mr. Turner you had a choice.”

Liz Sandals had a choice to support the city’s position or protect her legislature seat. Now we know what choice she made.

Mayor Farbridge says the city will request the province to appoint an assessor to review the proposal. Ruefully she admits that this request was made early in the process and it was refused.

This represents a huge blow to city finances as it does not have $12 million lying around.

Chances of this being overturned are next to nil.

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Rip Van Summerlee wakes up

It’s heart warming to see that University of Guelph President Alastair Summerlee has acknowledged that his students are causing problems in the community.

It is mindful of Rip Van Winkle who woke up to find the world had changed since his long sleep.

President Summerlee’s letter in the local prints acknowledged that “ a minority of students” was the cause of civil disobedience during the recent homecoming event. It was a weekend in which many charges were laid by city police and by-law officers including drunkenness, public urination and noise, noise and noise in the student ghettos in the south end of the city.

Well Mr. President, what caused you to decry the behaviour of your students? Do you not realize that this kind of behaviour has been going on for as long as most citizens can remember?

Do you ever leave the hallowed halls of academia to go downtown on the weekends to see how your students abuse the liquor and sanitation laws?  Police do not have the resources to maintain law and order, not to mention decency.

Mayor Farbridge keeps talking about making the downtown a safe and vibrant section of the city. The university leadership has ignored that message. Instead, the message from the university public relations people speaks only about the economic benefits the institution brings to the city.

Mr. Summerlee, start doing some serious thinking. First. recognize the experiences of Toronto G20 rampage and Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riots. It was a small group of adjunct urban terrorists that ignited those riots. That and abundant consumption of alcohol is all it takes for the minority to influence normally law-abiding young people to enter the fray and do things they would never do when sober.

Second, students should be mindful of the consequences of their off-campus actions and be relieved of some privileges in addition to being placed on probation if convicted of any Ontario law.

Third, reimburse the city for overtime costs associated with student misbehaviour including police, firemen, EMS, transit and by-law officers. The city should not have to absorb the costs of those employees called out to curtail student behaviour that lies below the community standard.

Four, reopen the campus pubs in the evening. Empower staff, including the campus police, to curtail drunkenness and other issues.

Five, assure the community in which the university is located, of steps taken to curtail this objectionable and disruptive behaviour.

Rip, er Alastair, thanks for waking up.



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Steps to stop University students from using Guelph as party town and a toilet

It’s about time for a summit meeting of city and University of Guelph officials to discuss how to curtail student off-campus drunkenness, its growing effect on the city’s downtown and student lodging areas.

Sometime ago the University closed the campus pubs and drinking establishments on weekends forcing students to patronize the more than 33 bars and clubs in downtown Guelph.

Recently the University suspended its rugby team for two games due to unidentified behaviour they refused to reveal. Rumour has it that it involved excessive drinking and hazing, (a practice banned by the University) but  it still occurs.

Then there is the pending lawsuit by a student who was thrown over a railing in downtown Guelph, suffering brain damage. A drunken varsity football player subsequently received a four-year sentence for aggravated assault.

That lawsuit did not include the University but did include the City of Guelph.

This and other incidents of drunkenness in the downtown area this past weekend resulted in 109 charges by police including 32 public intoxication charges, 18 for public urination and 48 noise complaints.  There were 78 alcohol related offenses.

If those stats don’t indicate a problem, compare them to other university cities such as Kingston, London and Kitchener-Waterloo.

The city is to be commended for pulling together a task force of provincial, and city authorities to tackle a serious downtown problem that has been going on ever since the University closed the campus pubs on the weekends.

When push comes to shove, the University must take action to channel its young students to stop using Guelph as a party town and a toilet. While the University cannot entirely control human behaviour, there are steps that will contain the problem.

One:   If a student is charged with an offense by Guelph police, they are suspended by the University until a trial or plea is conducted.

Two:  Reopen the campus pubs on weekends. Privatize and police the operations with strict controls on consumption and proof of age.

Three:   Set up a series of drug-abuse workshops to assist students to understand the consequences of excessive consumption of alcohol and other drugs.

Four:     The city should continue its crackdown on excessive drinking by anyone in the downtown area, regardless if they are students or not.

For those of us who live here, this seasonal 19,000 influx of students is welcome and appreciated. The ugly under side, however is not appreciated.

If Council wants to develop housing downtown, as it should, to make the core of the city family friendly, then it has to clean up this problem.

Who wouldn’t want to stroll downtown in safety at any time to appreciate the opportunities there and its commercial benefits?

It will never happen as long as the present situation exists.



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Knucklehead politics

If I had to vote today for an Ontario Premier, my instinct tells me none of those below.

Tory Tim Hudak is no Bill Davis with a Mike Harris taint. Liberal Dalton McGuinty has mired the province in debt with his social engineering policies. Andrea Horwath of the NDP is no Jack Layton and would throw up a wall of protectionism that would bury the provincial economy.

Some of the most inane and nonsensical statements and plans for the future of the province have emanated from the leader’s collective lips.

This is a typical “hold-your-nose and vote” campaign.

The best outcome would be a Tory minority with the Grits and NDP holding Tim Hudak’s political feet to work the middle of the political spectrum.

Perhaps then fiscal responsibility could be restored without seriously damaging the province’s social programs. With McGuinty’s Ontario, we have become a “have not” province now receiving a $2.2 million share of the federal equalization program.

Whatever happened to Ontario being the economic engine of Canada?

Whatever, please vote on Thursday. If not, we may get the government almost nobody wanted.

Gerry Barker


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When will Americans realize they badly need us?

Reprinted from the Guelph Mercury, October 1, 2011

By Gerry Barker

We are witnessing the attempted political assassination of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The American right wing, authors of the worst recession since the Great Depression under the leadership of George W. Bush, have confused and obstructed the third rail of the U.S. political system, the executive branch headed by the President.

Under the guise of misinterpreting the Constitution, the Republican Party leadership has made it clear that they are out to defeat President Obama without regard to economic policies that will bring the country out of the current recession.

No matter what the President proposes, the Republican leadership troika of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor, have thwarted any attempt by the executive branch to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

With more than 14 million Americans without jobs, the focus of the Republican Party is to defeat the President.

For his part, President Obama has attempted to strike a bi-partisan approach to work with the Congress and bring America out of the economic funk.

How has this happened?

The Democrats, who had a majority in 2010 in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, underestimated the strength of the Tea Party ultra right wing movement. Some 58 Tea Party members elected to the House stalled the government by refusing to accept balanced budget programs to reduce the huge U.S. deficit.

While the president recommended cuts to several programs, the Republican dominated House refused to allow increased taxes for the wealthiest of Americans. They continued to allow multi-billion dollar subsidies to major corporations including the integrated oil companies.

On Friday, September 2, the U.S. Labour department announced not one new job was created in August as the economy continued to stagnate. The underlying reason was the collapse of the U.S. political system captured by radical members of Congress who refused to give on their so-called principles.

The President has no choice but to face the electorate in November 2012. The gloves have to come off and he must pointedly blame the failure of the economy squarely where it belongs: On the Republican leadership and its hidden coterie of wealthy supporters. Instead he must promote positive policies to create jobs.

He is fortunately facing a divided panel of Republican presidential candidates vying for the nomination. Quality is definitely lacking. The potential Republican dream team for Obama to take on in2012 is Texas Governor Rick Perry with Michelle Bachmann as running mate.

Nevertheless, the outcome of this weighs heavily on Canada and our economy.

The U.S is our biggest trading partner as we are theirs. So why do the environmental activists attempt to stop the flow of oil and gas from Canada on the premise of pipeline leaks and so-called dirty oil from the Oil Sands? Why do they treat Canadians crossing the border as potential terrorists? Why do the states ban Canadians bidding on infrastructure projects? Why does the U.S Labour Secretary get criticized for trading in her limousine for a Chevrolet Equinox that happened to be assembled in Oshawa, Ontario?

Why are some Americans failing to recognize that Canadians are their best friends and spend millions to prove it?

In the next 25 years, America will need us more than we need them. It will be the need for safe energy supply and water to a projected population of more than 400 million.

Thinking Americans understand the important of our unique relationship. Let’s hope they remember it in 2012 when they go to the polls.


Gerry Barker is a retired newspaperman living in Guelph, Ontario. He writes freelance articles for the Mercury and other newspapers.  Reach him at –

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