By Gerry Barker
September 17, 2018
Well, four years of the Guthrie Administration have gone by and are you better off today than October 2014?
The good news is that if you operate a business, are a public employee and have a good job, things are a little better, particularly if you own a home.
But we live in uncertain times. The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is on the edge of foundering. This has a direct effect on Guelph where there are more than 6,000 employees at Linamar plants alone, not including the small feeders plants to Linamar. They may see their jobs evaporate if the U.S. imposes tariffs on cars and auto parts built in Ontario and shipped south daily.
Let’s be fair. This potential economic threat is not in Cam Guthrie’s wheelhouse. It does become a problem when Guelph citizens employed in the private sector including the auto industry, retail and service operations lose their jobs and cannot pay their bills if NAFTA falls apart.
If this does occur, it will be a national disaster, the likes of which we have never seen since the Great Depression.
Guelph Citizens who escape this potential economic fallout are public employees including those working for the city, estimated to be 2,800, plus the University of Guelph and Conestoga College, staffs of the provincial and federal government living in Guelph.
I remain hopeful that NAFTA will survive although there will be changes that will affect some Canadians especially in the agriculture sector of our economy.
The Guthrie Plan for a Better Guelph
There is the obvious stuff to placate the progressive members of the new council. Stuff like affordable housing and communities, promoting the urban forest and canopy of trees, dumping single use plastics in city buildings, supporting the thousands of labour union members, and increasing and maintaining social services. Keep in mind that 80 per cent of the city staff are active members of unions and associations.
The mayor comes off as a law and order guy who wants to spend $750,000 every year hiring new officers. His mantra is safety, safety for everyone. As a member of the Guelph Police Services board, Mr. Guthrie is up close and personal with the growth of crime in the city. His solution is to spend more money adding more cops.
But there are serious drug problems on the downtown streets that have not been corrected in the past 15 years. Panhandlers, drunks, drug dealers and homeless people plague the streets downtown, particularly at night and weekends. For eight months of the year it is exacerbated by the weekend influx of University students and out-of-town rowdies.
It’s a volatile soup of booze, drugs, violence, and sex mixed with immaturity and irresponsibility.
Hiring more police is not the only answer, Mr. Mayor. As the next mayor, you need to set up a task force to investigate how other university cities handle the problem such as Kingston, Toronto, Waterloo, London, Windsor and Ottawa. Also the investigation should include Winnipeg, Calgary and Victoria.
The task force should be talking to Mayors and Police chiefs. It should also plan and complete its investigation material and report back to council within four months. This only addresses the control and enforcement issues. The social issues are ongoing endemic problems that need support from the provincial and federal governments.
Those folks employed on the front lines of this situation should not only be part of the Mayor’s Task Force to make the city safe for everyone, but supported by city council.
In my opinion, this remains a lingering boil on the underbelly of our city. It is time to lance it.
In his platform, he mayor does not address the high cost of living in Guelph. In four years, property taxes in the city have increased by an estimated 15 per cent, including increases in assessment and inflation.
It remains a conundrum when during his election campaign he promised to keep the property tax rate at the same level as the Consumer Price Index and get rid of the Guelph Factor. Not sure what that meant but believe he was referring to the cost and difficulty of doing business with and in Guelph.
Noting that has occurred, when I hear a story about a certain city employee who is responsible for protecting wild species, who I’m told, has veto power to deny development proposals. In this case, it was bullfrogs residing in a small wetland on a property applying for and receiving a variance to proceed.
So, the Guelph Factor remains alive. The Mayor’s proposal is to continue with the staff review processes that have been ongoing in the city.
For what it’s worth Mr. Mayor, you will become the mayor of the Century if you can lead your new council to reduce the operational overhead of our city.
Your support of the South End $63 million Recreation Centre and the main library project, also known as the $350 million Baker Street redevelopment plan, remain pixie dust in the business of the city.
The rhetoric is great, political but financially fanciful.
But then, when you are on the cusp of retuning as Mayor, you are entitled, and known, to change your mind.