By Gerry Barker
August 22, 2019
Part Seven of Seven
Experiencing the ebbing of summer as it morphs into fall, I reflect on the forces and political events that in the past 13 years have changed Guelph forever.
The city has changed as the demographics have changed. Many new people have moved to this city touched by gentle rivers, lush parks and being a preeminent home to the new Canada, one of diversity, tolerance and peace.
With that statement of idealism comes the downside of transferring a beautiful city to meet the challenges of a changing planet, separate of the demographic between the young and old and the handmaiden of authoritarian civic rule.
The outcome has been a mixed bag of modernization, coupled with a rigid cultural shift that transferred political power to an efficient majority of progressive believers in change at any cost.
It has been incredibly uncomfortable in this period of dominant control of our civic affairs, pegged to some 16 years of Liberal-dominated provincial governments. In fairness, some of the mistakes in wasted capital were made in Guelph by the administration of dream catchers.
If you have been following this series, you have read the details of the high cost of change driven by a council and senior staff to turn the city, they said many times over, into a world class municipality of unparalleled elimination of fossil-fueled vehicles, alternative transportation (bicycles), reduction of waste, developing self sufficiency in sourcing clean power.
At the time, these efforts were appealing to the council supporters, including the labour unions, employee associations, the University of Guelph and Conestoga Community College, plus the two Liberal governments at Queen’s Park.
The previous six parts of this blog have detailed, in my observation and opinion, a dismal record of misuse of power and personal ambition lust to alter a way of life.
New housing did not include detached homes
The type of housing in the city changed dramatically almost overnight. The virtual elimination of detached single- strip attached homes incorporated in low-rise condominium development. It was the urging of the Wynne Liberal provincial government to create the intensification developments to discourage detached single-family home sprawl.
Unfortunately, the costs of servicing these new developments soared as the city’s operational overhead costs increased with each new proposal.
City council adopted the intensification proposal mainly because it had a higher return of property tax than the detached home developments.
Many viewers reading the series of blog posts for whatever reasons, may sneer, some will dismiss me as an ”irritant,” I call others the Monday regulars, those who appreciate my reporting and analysis. Then there are the readers on Twitter and Facebook where the blog material is regularly posted.
In my opinion, Guelph is still a small town and managed accordingly. On the ground, we have the size of a city but are controlled by ward councillors who have been in charge for 13 years. I call it parish pomp politics run chiefly by a part-time council.
There remain important issues to be resolved. Some are the result of a transformation of society. Many are neglected and need action with the most important being the city’s aging infrastructure.
Past mistakes are hard to fix and expensive. If we have learned anything, we need much closer public participation, a new reduced full-time city council elected at large, and nine would be a good number.
Instead of the dated Community Energy Innovation plan, circa 2007, lets study the new jobs that the future will demand. The shift in information collection and delivery has seen the loss of print media including newspapers, snail mail, call centres, transportation, healthcare and delivery of cyber services.
Like it or not, the transformation of our society is bringing rapid changes. Manufacturing jobs are shrinking with the advancement of robot technology that is pervasively replacing workers. This issue will hit Guelph’s manufacturing companies who will have little choice but to lay off employees due to robots taking over.
You know, robots don’t pay taxes, do not participate in the community, don’t drive cars, don’t get emotional and have one line of repetitive thinking. This will seriously impact the future basis of determining business taxes in the city.
Guelph’s drug crisis that is deadly and growing
A comment from a reader described Guelph as the Meth (amphetamine) capital of Canada and the downtown area was awash with needles. Is that an exaggeration? Will legalized distribution of pot change this dangerous opiod growing epidemic? Don’t bet on it.
My experience living in Guelph, is I believe that use of illegal drugs in our city has been a long-term problem. It is one that can be controlled but will never disappear even with the advent of recreational pot.
Guelph police have focused on the dealers of these drugs including the arrival of the powerful opiod fentynal
Several things need to happen: Enforcement of choking off the supply and distribution. That includes drug wholesalers, pharmacists, physicians and illegal drug dealers. This campaign will be costly and take time. It’s time city council stops denying and providing the resources to halt this scourge that is not unique to Guelph. Regardless the drug supply and culture in the city lays the groundwork for very serious consequences.
Dealers and users should be arrested and dealt sever penalties if found guilty. No more releases of accused druggies on their own recognecense, provide the resources for more law enforcement, the courts and the professional organizations whose members may be part of the distribution of illegal drugs.
This is the time to set aside the capital projects such as the proposed Baker Street $350 Million project, the Guelph Innovated District planned purchase, the South End Recreation Complex, all bike lane expansion and climate change and other environmental and Innovation projects.
The focus must turn on the transformation issues now affecting our immediate future. Council has a lot of work to do to meet the new direction of society including public health.
I am in the December of my years but my one regret is that I will not be around to witness and participate in the real changes that are at the doorstep of civilization.
Where do Guelph citizens figure in all this?
I am positive that if the administration is reduced and keeps the public informed regularly, allows online voting and attracts representatives with experience and qualifications, and pays them well as full-time councillors. I am confident if this occurs, Guelph will become more than just another pinpoint dot on the atlas of Canada.