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Third time unlikely to be the charm on dog parks

This week's Market Squared will reflect on what will likely be the utter waste of time of the dog park notice of motion
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The Bristol Street Park fenced-in, leash-free dog park. GuelphToday file photo

There’s a scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (stay with me) where Admiral Kirk is informed that his former lover Carol Marus is trying to reach him. Kirk is in a turbolift with McCoy, who sardonically observes, “It doesn’t rain, but it pours.”

Kirk then turns on his old friend Bones and tells him that as a physician he should appreciate the danger of reopening old wounds.

Well, the same should be said about people who have been on city council for a long time. They too should appreciate the danger of reopening old wounds.

For some strange reason, in the middle of a global pandemic, in the middle of an economic crunch in both city hall and the greater community, and in the middle of a once-in-a-generation shift in social justice and civil rights, now is the time to have another debate about closing fenced-in, leash-free dog parks.

Ward 3 councillor June Hofland introduced the notice of motion in the council agenda this past week, and the debate on the motion will take place at the Aug. 24 meeting. The motion will ask staff to shutter both leash-free, fenced-in dog parks at Peter Misersky and Bristol Street parks and come back with a report during the 2021 budget process about building a new dog park in a non-residential area.

Seriously.

If this sounds even vaguely familiar, it’s because this motion is virtually identical to the one that was shot down by Mayor Cam Guthrie that came out of Committee of the Whole in February. The ruling to find the motion out of order was challenged, but council upheld it in a vote of 9-4. Even though it meant that nearly 30 people prepared delegations for nothing, I had the suspicion that at least nine of the councillors were relieved to not have to rehash established policy all over again.

This one has a COVID-19 twist though because in the summary of the motion is the line, “With the  arrival of COVID-19, it is essential that we reconsider these small fenced areas where people can gather to exercise their dogs to a larger area leash free area that will, in the future, accommodate physical distancing.”

If this seems weird to you, you’re not alone in your confusion.

In Toronto, dog parks were open at the end of May, all 70 of them except one, and the only added safety precaution was new signage telling human parents of dogs to stay two feet apart. Any reticence on Guelph’s part in delaying the re-opening of dog parks is because the city was waiting for construction on both parks to be completed before allowing people and pets back in.

Now, nearly three months later, all park amenities have been allowed to re-open and they are available for use by the public. Is there any more danger at the Peter Misersky dog park than there is at the skateboard course at Silvercreek Park, or the tennis courts at Margaret Green Park? Or is COVID now the convenient scapegoat upon which we can justify the revisiting of political decisions we disagreed with in the past?

I understand that there’s a not-so-silent delegation of people who hate these dog parks, and they have not been shy at filing their outrage with council, staff, the media, and anyone else that will listen. But how big is that lobby really?

Back in February, I did an analysis of the 257 correspondences to council on the motion to close the dog parks, and found only 26 opposed, and that opposition ran the gamut from “this is my neighbourhood and I want it to stop,” to “let the dogs run wild and free.”

So far, 15 correspondences have been received about this new Hofland motion, and all but one was in favour of keeping the parks open. That outlier was more of an open-ended question about whether or not Public Health has been consulted, which was answered in the city’s press release announcing the reopening of the park because it including safe-use advice from Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.

So what is this really about? Cheap politics? Is the greater public good being served by spending money on engagement, research, planning, construction, and improvement of city amenities only to tear them down on a whim?

Have the justifications for proceeding with the dog park plan, as is, changed in the last few months? No. Quite the opposite in fact. In the COVID era, do we not need more gathering places outdoors where it’s safer to be together in groups? As council talks about zero per cent budget increases, are they going to be willing to invest in starting a whole new process on building dog parks by going back to the starting line?

Councillor Hofland wasn't at council this week, but on Aug. 24 I hope she has an excellent explanation about why she wants to re-open this old wound.



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