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The end of the year is not the end of the story

This week's Market Squared recaps the year and realizes that 2020 is going to look a lot like 2019 on the issues.
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Congratulations! You not only made it to the end of the year but the end of the decade. We’re about to enter the Roaring 20s all over again, but there was actually a lot to roar about over the last 12 months.

If there was an issue that cast the biggest shadow, and the most influence, over the last year, it’s climate change.

Of course, this is a worldwide issue and not just a Guelph one, but we do tend to think of ourselves here in the Royal City as above average in our dedication to environmental action.

That perception was challenged somewhat though when city council failed to endorse a motion to declare a climate emergency in the spring.

The message from council was clear that they take the challenges of climate change seriously, and they’re moving on ambitious goals to get the city to net-zero and 100 per cent renewable by 2050, which is a benchmark set by a lot of governments and political parties when taking climate action.

The debate came down to a matter of semantics it seemed, as some members of council didn’t want to say “emergency” without pushing the panic button. Slow and steady wins the race maybe, but that leaves Guelph out in the cold. Many other municipalities in our area have declared a climate emergency, and so did the Upper Grand District School Board, so it’s hard to ignore the slight to Guelph’s green cred.

Of course, it was kind of a theme this year that council would say one thing and then had trouble sealing the deal when it came time to vote. The debate over transit during the budget process this year was a prime example of council saying one thing, but not being able to push the ‘yes’ button when the time comes.

Every councillor spends 364 days a year saying in interviews, in council, and on their website or social media feeds saying that the city needs to create more transit. Watching some members of council trying to get out of the cost of expanding transit was like watching a group of people go out to eat and argue about how to split the cheque; there’s always someone that abhors an equal split because they ordered something off the value menu.

Second thoughts abound on even more high-profile projects. For instance, the year began with the collective excitement of proceeding on a new main library, but by July the hobgoblins of doubt descended on city hall as the costing for the project came back higher than expected. It didn’t take much to get council to double take on the project, and it was a sad bit of déjà vu because if it weren’t for those hobgoblins 20 years ago, we could have gotten a new library at about a quarter of the price.

Not helping things was the Provincial government, who seemed to take tremendous pains to pull the rug out completely from underneath Ontario municipalities. As we head into the new year, cities still aren’t 100 per cent sure what they’re collecting when building permits are filed on Jan. 2.

For now, it seems like much of the province’s disruptive attentions are focused on teachers, but they still somehow found the time this week to cancel the LRT project in Hamilton, for which $162 million had already been spent.

Now you may ask why what happens with large scale infrastructure projects in Hamilton matters to those of us that live in Guelph? Well, the debate about building an LRT started back in 2008, and the momentum for the project was dragged by former Mayor Bill Bratina, who phrased the issue as a matter of having to choose between all-day GO train service and an LRT.

In this one situation, I see the twin furies of life here in the Royal City, an overabundance of doubt on big infrastructure projects, and the willingness to start pitting one project against another.

I was tagged in a tweet this week where someone said that they heard the South End Community Centre was being sacrificed for the new main library. I sat in almost every city council meeting this year, and I have never heard anyone say, or suggest, that one capital project is going to cannibalize the other.

It’s problematic to think that someone hears something in line at Timmies, or read partially informed opinion on social media, and people consider that the whole truth, but that seems to be life in Guelph as we enter the Roaring 20s.

This time of year is a great time to reflect, but it’s also a great time to think ahead. Many of the issues we faced last year, we’re still going to face next year, so all we need to get informed so that we can start these debates on the same page.

As a wise man once said, there are miles to go before we sleep, and disinformation gets us nowhere fast.



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