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OPINION: When mayors attack! (How a tedious night at council became insufferable)

This week's Market Squared talks about why local democracy means sometimes accepting that not everyone agrees with you
20201026 Guelph Council Chambers 2 RV
Guelph city council chambers. GuelphToday file photo

In response to last week’s column, a reader sent me an email where they compared me to Tucker Carlson. That didn’t feel great.

Still, I take some small measure of reassurance that I’m not a member of city council because this week, the mayor had some very critical words for his colleagues.

“I believe this is going to have intergovernmental issues. I think this is poking the province in the eye, and I don't think it's helpful,” Cam Guthrie said in response to a motion brought by Ward 5 Councillor Leanne Caron.

“I feel like this narrative continues to perpetuate that Guelph is a difficult place to do business, and that this is a difficult place to try to build homes,” Guthrie continued. “Why is it that developers and third parties had to go around the city and actually lobby the [provincial] government on things? Has anyone ever really thought about that for a second? Maybe it's because we're the problem. Maybe it's because we're causing issues in our narratives in how we speak and how we vote on certain things.”

And what was this motion that threatened to bring about the end of Guelph as we know it? Caron wanted to have Guthrie sign a letter as the head of city council to address concerns about changes made to the Official Plan and send it to Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark.

Well, okay, it wasn’t just the letter. Caron had a seven-part motion that pushed back on 18 total changes made to the City’s latest Official Plan Amendment, OPA 80, and while it did seem like nitpicking, this was not the prelude to the Final Judgment as Guthrie made it sound.

I would remind the mayor that this term of council isn’t technically six months old yet, and that he’s still got to work with these people for 36 more months before the next election. I would also note Guthrie’s tone at the meeting, there was a streak of viciousness under the usual dad jokes that was occasionally uncomfortable, and it wasn’t for the first time.

During last year’s campaign, Guthrie essentially told the Guelph and District Association of Realtors at a debate that he needed a council that would work with him, not against him, which was a softer pitch than 2018 when he campaigned with cherry-picked candidates in the now infamous “slate-gate”.

Twice now, Guthrie’s been told by the electorate that they choose city council, not him, and instead of working within the council that voters saw fit to anoint, he gave himself over the bee in his bonnet and set fire to inter-council relations while bemoaning the lack of council unity. It stank.

And let me be clear, I’m not advocating in favour of Caron’s motions. At least not all of them.

One clause dealt with viewing corridors of the Basilica, which I can't care less about, and I don’t understand why so many people do. Another wanted to accelerate heritage protections, which is fine, but we’ve been neglecting work on the heritage file for so long we’re not going to catch up on years of missed opportunities in 18 months.

To me, the most egregious clause was the request to look at creating a new downtown park in the next multiyear budget. The motion didn’t say it, but the intention is to turn the plaza along Wellington Street between Gordon and Wyndham into that park. Not a big deal, it just means moving two dozen thriving small businesses and perhaps knee-capping them into oblivion in the process.

But let’s get back to the mayor’s tirade, and lest you think that this was a 12-on-1 game, Coun. Dan Gibson tried to do his part to defend the mayor’s point of view.  

“We are missing the picture that this (provincial) government ran on this platform, they were elected on this platform, and outside of the municipal world, in the demographics that are still trying to get into the housing market, this is an incredibly popular piece of legislation and we need to acknowledge that we are not always in the right position and not always looking at it from the right perspective,” he said.

First, I literally Googled the words “Bill 23 popularity” and the second result was a QPBriefing article with the headline “Ontario’s Bill 23 very unpopular — including among many PC voters: poll.”

The provincial government did not run on a platform of re-writing municipal governance to get 1.5 million houses built, they introduced it less than 24 hours after the municipal election last fall and barely held any consultation before it was passed.

And, most critically, Bill 23 does nothing to build true, affordable housing. If you can’t afford a house today, you still won’t be able to afford one once 18,000 new units are built here through the present free market of housing.

Given those facts, it’s strange that we should worry about the provincial minister’s feelings. He took a red marker to three years of staff work and we can’t appeal any of his judgments, but if the Mayor of Guelph sends him what I’m sure will be a diplomatically worded letter at the behest of council expressing our disappointment, he’s going to get punitive? Come on.

Look, speaking from my own perspective, we got off light. That proverbial red market could have done a lot more editing and done something really provocative, like expand the city’s borders. But honestly, it’s not the end of the word, and Mayor Guthrie looked more than a little silly using the occasion to get on his high horse to complain about his colleagues playing politics.

Is this your first night at city council, sir? I hope you enjoyed the show.


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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