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Market Squared: Unsatisfied with our satisfaction

An Ipsos study says that Guelph is overwhelming satisfied with our quality of life here, but there were some structural problems with this survey

A wise man once said that “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Actually, he said, “I can't get no, oh, no, no, no, hey, hey, hey. That's what I say. I can't get no satisfaction,” but you get the idea. 

Except apparently you can. Guelphites are said to be very satisfied with the service they get in the Royal City, which was the underlying report offered by Ipsos after surveying some 600 residents by phone. Their final results were brought back to council this past Monday. 

Of course, statistics can prove anything, 62 per cent of people know that, which is probably why there are some cynics who are unconvinced of the validity of the numbers presented. Cold hard numbers, no matter how clinically gathered, are no match for our own feelings and anecdotal evidence. This is politics as we see them unfold south of the border right now. 

So admittedly I don’t question the results so much as I question the quality of this endeavour in the first place. What did this tell us? What did this do other than make us feel good about ourselves, and what we’re doing here? 

For example, Ipsos asked people about their satisfaction with city services, and people were the most satisfied with their emergency services: police, fire, and ambulance. That’s probably for the best, but consider what it means to be satisfied with other city services like, say, transit or waste collection. We know how good or bad it is by our experience using those services, right?

So here’s the rub: unless you’ve had to call the fire departm\ent because your house is burning down, or you’ve had to call an ambulance for a loved one fallen sick or injured, how do you know you’re satisfied or very satisfied with those services? Are we to believe that all 600 people contact have interacted with emergency services in the several months leading up to taking part in the survey? 

With police it’s a bit easier to proctor without direct engagement because if the crime rate is down, like it is in Guelph, it can be assumed it’s because the police are doing a good job. 

Garbage collection is another area that ranked high, which is paradoxical because a) a not insignificant portion of Guelph’s residential population doesn’t receive city waste collection, and b) there’s the constant push-pull of people deeply entrenched in their dislike of Wet/Dry Plus. 

It’s hard to believe that 9 out of 10 people are satisfied, or very satisfied, with waste collection when the wrong thing in the wrong bin means your garbage doesn’t get picked up. Also, the same guy shows up every budget year to make a point that there are a lot of taxpayers in this town that pay twice for the service because of where they live in certain condo developments. His name is Ted Pritchard, by the way, and he makes a good point.

But leaving aside the specific categories, let’s look at the overall intent of the survey, which leaves a pretty big paradox open ended. For if the intent of the survey was to find out if people are satisfied with city services, and if they feel like they’re getting good value for their money, how can we have one part be satisfied with one, and unsatisfied with the other? 

In the survey, residents of Wards 5 and 6 were the most satisfied with the overall quality of life in the city, while the people of Ward 1 and Ward 3 were the least satisfied. Scroll down to the question of value for tax dollars, and Ward 3 and 5 are the most satisfied with Ward 6 being the least. Ward 1’s satisfaction with the distance of how far their tax dollar travels is firmly in the middle. 

It’s paradoxical because if you’re satisfied or dissatisfied in the quality of life in a place, then there should be the same measurable effect on how people feel their tax dollars are being spent. but how can Ward 6 love life in Guelph so much, but feel like they’ve been given the short shrift on the value of their tax investment? I think we’re forced to assume that there’s a negligible impact on quality of life for some people no matter what the City of Guelph does on its end. 

And as we head into budget season let’s consider the following: 45 per cent of respondents in this survey felt that increased taxes to maintain or enhance City services is a good idea while 43 per cent want to maintain current service levels or cut them in order to keep taxes low. Considering that the margin of error was plus or minus 4 points, it means that the city’s pretty much split down the middle on the question of investment versus cost-cutting. 

If the intent of this survey was to provide clarity into the inner mind of Guelphites, just reading these few lines makes me think this was a spectacular fail. Ipsos, at the meeting, did note that this survey could be built upon with follow-up surveys later. It’s just like an X-Files adventure where one question’s answer leads to four or five new questions, I guess. 

For me, the most problematic part of the survey was a question on how people got their information about the City. The options included the “Internet”, as well as the City’s website and, which are both on the internet. It also listed CJOY, Magic 106, and CBC KW, as well as the Guelph Tribune, and while they’re not purely internet sites, they nonetheless have an internet component. 

The question had to do with how well the City communicates with the its citizens, and this really made me question if the City, Ipsos, or whoever designed this particular query knew what they were asking because social media, that’s on the internet too! You don’t go down to Twitter and hear what the folks there are talking about over a brew, do you?

For all of Guelph’s talk about innovation and leadership, this shows some dreadful old world thinking when it comes to the media. This is important because the survey mentioned communication as an area residents consider very important but have a slight to negative opinion of the City’s success on. 

Think of this way: is perhaps the reason why people in Guelph are so overwhelmingly satisfied with life here is because they can’t access the information that tells them different? Perhaps ignorance is bliss.