Gazing into the belly button of Guelph politics

By Gerry Barker

Having written volumes about how our city functioned within the past six years, some conclusions have been reached about the future prospects of our civic society.

Guelph historically has been benign when it comes to voter participation in election campaigns.

That changed in 2006 when Karen Farbridge was returned to the mayor’s post along with a majority of councillors who accepted her leadership and proposals. It was a sweeping victory driven by a well-run and well-funded campaign, aided by professional organizers.

The defeated mayor, Kate Quarrie, ran a campaign that failed to recognize the public build-up of resentment against her and her council. Only two survived the onslaught.  Even though the Quarrie council was responsible for a new WalMart store that opened days before the election, it failed to ignite support.

The next four years saw the Farbridge majority council increase the city debt by more than $56 million with grandiose projects that played into the council’s self interests.  These included the $33 million compost plant and the new civic museum. The city’s $25 million share of the $74 million tri-government stimulus program was partially offset by calling a $30 million loan from Guelph Hydro.

These are just the tips of the crushing debt the Farbridge administration has created in five years of office. Revenues did not meet spending because of the anti-development attitude among many members of council coupled with the multi-million dollar unbudgeted costs.

These are known facts. It’s the unknown costs that voters must fear.

In 2010, Mayor Farbridge was re-elected with a reduced majority and she lost three members in her previous majority caucus. Actually it was four as re-elected Coun. Bob Bell joined the five councillors who did not support the Mayor’s policies. Getting even, the Mayor publicly lashed out at Coun. Bell for daring to challenge her authority.

Only 28 per cent of Guelph voters bothered to cast their ballot in 2010. It was the year that the two local papers shifted allegiance to the Farbridge administration. The move was subtle but nonetheless biased.  I know because my columns were the skunk at the garden party regarding the shift.

For five years I have been writing a column on the Mercury editorial page. My association became challenged just before the 2010 election when I was told I could not write a column that was biased against “you know who.” Following the election my columns, mostly critical of the Farbridge council, were regularly challenged or dropped altogether.

I wasn’t surprised when informed by e-mail that the column was finished. The added touch was that I should feel free to submit letters to the editor or the occasional guest column when the muse sparked.

That’s like putting the bull out to pasture and denying conjugal rights.

I have no regrets and my association with the Mercury editors remains amiable, as far as I’m concerned. They were only following orders,

The creation of guelphspeaks.ca has provided a platform that I can post almost daily to keep my viewers informed.  The daily growth of those viewing the blog has been phenomenal. It gives me confidence to feel that the great majority of voters is awakening and is starved for what is really going on.

The goal of guelphspeaks is to publish not only comments and opinion submissions by others, but to add more voices to build relevance to the blog.

The 2010 election remains a wake-up call for voters to ensure that competent, credible candidates are elected in 2014. Those prepared to represent all the people and return financial stability to the city hopefully will put their names forward.

Make no mistake, the city’s financial situation is crippling and will impact future councils for many years as they unravel the mindless spending of this administration.

Guelph has a great future as a bustling community with urban amenities and good paying jobs and services.  Unfortunately, the financial hole that has been dug by the Farbridge administration will delay the potential of this fine city.Step one starts today.

I urge citizens to become engaged in civic government. Question the slanted press releases from the city hall communications group. Question ward councillors about the issues and why they voted the way they did.  Express yourself through guelphspeaks.ca or letters to the editor.

Use your voice; study the issues and then we may begin to make change.

Guelphspeaks is your blog.

 

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