My mom laughed at the headline in the letter section of the Guelph Tribune: “A complaint about the complaining complainers.”
The alliteration was the Trib’s, the letter itself was from a man named Joe Brook who kept it short and sweet. His point was that there’s a vocal group in the city that can’t seem to get over the fact that over two years ago now, Karen Farbridge lost the mayoral election.
They hate that, without the former-Mayor Farbridge, they have no one to blame the evils of humanity on.
You think Lex Luthor is bad? The Joker? Cobra Commander? Those idiot twins from Pokemon?
Well nothing will prepare you for the unremitting evil of the former three-term mayor of the Royal City! Keep an eye out, you might see her greet you warmly on the main street as she, and you, and my mom, go about our business.
The letter, and my mother’s enjoyment of it, sent me back into the stacks to see where this latest slap-fight began.
Brook was writing in response to a letter penned by Rena Akerman, who was responding to a column authored by Brian Holstein, who himself was inspired by a letter written by Glen Tolhurst. It’s like Clue except with character assassination. “I think it’s Brian Holstein in the Tribune with an ‘Oh snap, no he didn’t!’”
Actually, it’s more like The Usual Suspects because these are the usual suspects.
If you follow Guelph politics, even without a Marauder’s Map or a Ouija board, these are the people you invariable run into. That’s not a bad thing. Community runs on characters, and make engagement more interesting. Sometimes, they even make an interesting point or get you think about an issue in new ways.
Other times though, we just devolve into the same silly slap fight that’s fought in perpetuity forever on a game board only they comprehend.
So now, I try to comprehend it too. I sat in the library with a stack of Tribunes and my computer like I was trying to find the darn Zodiac Killer as I tried to understand this retaliatory strike of letter writing. (And you thought print was dead!)
In a January 5 letter, Tolhurst initiated a call to arms to fellow Guelphites who are sick of tax and levy increases. “Amongst the citizens of Guelph, there have to be eight or nine men and women would be good, financially conscientious members of council,” he wrote.
That’s fair. Of course, the definition of “financially conscientious” is entirely Tolhurst’s. In his letter, Tolhurst said was time to replace the members of council “who voted for the 2017 budget increases.”
I assume he meant the one per cent infrastructure, because all the councillors present voted in favour of the tax-supported operating budget while three (Dan Gibson, Bob Bell and Christine Billings) voted against the levy.
But then, in the next paragraph, Tolhurst asserts: “The block of eight, if they run again, must individually and collectively be kicked to the curb.”
So is it just eight we’re getting rid of? Or is it 10? Maybe we should just kick them all out for good measure? I’m confused.
For years, Guelph Speaks’ Gerry Barker has promoted this concept of the “Gang of Seven,” an unholy cabal of bloc councillors that wandered where Karen Farbridge leads. The bloc, it seems, survived Farbridge and added one more, although its membership is, as ever, a mystery.
In the occasional moments of procrastination-induced consideration I’ve given the subject, dang if I can come up with the full line-up. Ask me who the X-Men are, and I can tell you in alphabetical order.
Rena Akerman, an ally of Barker’s, followed up Holstein’s column by again revising the meme. “There are seven members of council who tend to vote in a pattern that would be supportive of the Farbridge agenda and unsustainable tax hikes.”
Either she missed the meeting where a eighth member of the “gang” was anointed, or there’s a some kind of swing member of the group, you know, like how Spider-Man is sometimes a member of the Avengers.
Anyway, full-credit goes to Farbridge for being the world’s greatest political puppet master. It must surely come as a surprise to current Mayor Cam Guthrie that his predecessor is holding his strings, or at the very least he’s being stymied by the telepathic might of Farbridge, who may very well be laying the ground work for the saucer men or the reverse vampires. I expect a motion to come forward soon to collect the precious bodily fluids of Guelphites (and then tax the fluids, of course).
Rationally, I find some of this discussion troubling.
First of all, when the answer to a vote is yes or no, you’re going to fall into a bloc. Speaking as an observer of council, there’s actually more agreement than disagreement.
The heinous 7-6 votes we hear about are actually few and far between, and the reason you hear more about those close votes is the same reason why you don’t know about your neighbours problems, until they’re screaming at each other in the front yard.
Secondly, there’s no partisan apparatus in municipal politics. No one’s whipping the vote, the mayor is not a party leader, and all councillors are expected to vote according to their own values and those of their constituents.
If your councillor votes in a way you disagree with, you are more than entitled to support someone different in the next election, or run yourself. That’s the beauty of not having to please a party hierarchy; no smell test, no hoops to jump through. You got an idea? An opinion? Run for office.
That was ultimately the point of that Tolhurst letter that started it all, and fair enough. But we’re seeing south of the border the damage of believing the whole world’s against you in a massive conspiracy that makes any talk of a fake moon landing look like three-card monte. That path doesn’t lead to better government, it leads to better ideology.
Still, I wonder if there will be a letter in the Trib this Thursday that takes this complaint chain up a notch, accusing Mr. Brook of being an out-of-touch liberal or some-such that doesn’t understand that some people don’t like it when their taxes go up.
Of course, I’ve never known anyone to like it when their taxes go up.
I do know one thing for sure, it’s okay to look Karen Farbridge in the eyes and say “hi” when you see her out and about. That’s not how she gets you.