Thoughts on Guelph’s water-taking issues

It’s been an amazing journey these last few months working with our wonderful, INFORMED community towards our city response to the province on water taking issues. The public engagement around this has been overwhelming, proving that protection of our most precious resource is of utmost importance to us all. I want to thank everyone who took part. Over 1000 emails. Over 30 delegations. Massive coverage in the press. I think the unprecedented response from the public and from our staff, ( thanks staff!) has already had a positive impact on the province. Your voice matters. The concern and the sense of urgency you shared resulted in positive steps like the moratorium on new permits and the promise to not re-issue permits until comprehensive new regulations are in place. I am grateful to the province for their pro-active response.
City water staff prepared a very detailed report. The biggest take-away from this was their calculation, given our future growth predictions, and the risks associated with climate change, that our community water needs may be in conflict with the Nestle Aberfoyle water taking in the future. Our Intergovernmental staff has delivered what I think is an excellent report capturing all the commentary and submissions involved in this process. Their main messaging is consistent with what I’m hearing in the community and from our greatest water advocates, the Wellington Water Watchers, which is that community or public water needs must have priority over corporate water taking activities. I will be recommending that we approve their report, with a couple of minor amendments, one of which is to be very clear that any decisions made about water use must be done with the full consultation of our original stewards of our water, our indigenous people.
I am very pleased that staff has recommended that our decision making process be evidenced-based AND principle based. We can’t have one without the other, and I’d like to add another factor that I’m hearing strongly from our community. I recently took part in a very moving aboriginal water ceremony under an extra large grandmother moon. That experience helped clarify for me that we need to acknowledge that many of us want our most precious resource protected from corporate interests because of its sacred, spiritual quality. It’s at our core, so we want our values and principles, our intimate connection with water, to also be at the core of all our decisions.

Here’s something I heard frequently from the public.  If we are sharing our water for business purposes, ( and that’s how Guelph got here, using our two beautiful rivers to power our mills which were our first industries, ) we want those businesses to provide some value for the water they take. Bottled water offers NO added value. It’s packaging something we can have for free from our tap, just as safely; it’s just as convenient and portable if we bring along a refillable container. The packaging up of our own water and selling  back to us at 600% profit is a very clever marketing ploy that has convinced a generation that there is some use other than in  emergency situations for this product. It’s offering nothing that we need, which is why water bottling is referred to as a ‘frivolous’ use. It was suggested by one councilor that if we consider that a frivolous use, why aren’t we questioning splash pads and swimming pools too? Splash pads, for instance, provide a valuable community service, cooling us in the summer and providing a welcome recreational activity that increases our quality of life. Bottled water, on the other hand, is not only unnecessary but it encases that water in plastic which is a blight on our environment and adds a cost to our taxpayers to clean up the discarded and often not recycled bottles. It leaves our water shed with a net loss to our supply, and despite a claim made by a paid lobbyist for the bottling industry, bottles made in Aberfoyle ARE found all over the world. Its only local benefit is in the jobs it provides, and we must be very clear that when the day comes, and we know it WILL , that our community needs take  precedence over consumptive water use, we must make sure that a robust programme for transitioning those jobs take place.
Though every delegate to appear before council expressed concern about the validity of corporate water taking except those paid to defend it, I think it’s important to clarify that we do not need to assess blame to water bottling companies when it is in fact our own government, with their out-of-date regulations, that has allowed this activity to take place. That’s why we are encouraging the premier to introduce regulations that accurately reflect the public will in this matter.

I am hearing that we must not focus our attention on one particular water bottler and that the discussion needs to be about water bottling in general. I would agree with this, and yet, and yet, the reason that many people have focused their attention on the Nestle Corporation is that, for one thing, that’s the water taking permit that is up for renewal, so we MUST refer to them. Secondly, there is a feeling that if we want to share stewardship of our water with a corporation, we want that company to demonstrate best practices scientifically AND ethically. Nestle’s website states that they sell ‘water you can trust’ and yet for many, it’s hard to place our trust in a company that has demonstrated world-wide a LACK of proper stewardship, most recently in California and Michigan. So I can’t blame corporations for taking water legally, until we change the laws, and I can’t blame our citizens for showing their concern about a particular bottler. The Nestle permit renewal has not been opened by the ministry for commentary yet, so we’ll be doing this all over again when that time comes.

I look forward to this ongoing dialogue, it has proven the efficacy of grassroots democracy, and I thank you all once again for the accomplishments we can collectively take credit for.

I’ll end with a quote that sums things up nicely:

“To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life” (Rev 21:6)

Yes folks, our water should not be for sale. Water IS life!
Thank you! James

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Thoughts on our Guelph 2017 Budget

November 21st:

While the festive season is upon us, it’s not quite as jolly at city hall. It’s budget time! I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you about it, and to get YOUR input on the important decisions that are soon to be made.
First off, I want to commend city staff for their hard work in coming up with a series of budget recommendations that seem to be finding approval and consensus around the horseshoe.
The biggest new item we are tackling is the proposed levy that would address the crippling backlog we have in keeping up with our aging infrastructure. We are really a generation behind in addressing the huge gap created by years of sending the true cost of keeping our city safe and sustainable down the line to the NEXT council so that we can keep our taxes unrealistically low.
I am sensing a positive shift in my fellow elected officials. We are starting to see that it can be a political asset to give top priority to keeping our city as healthy as possible. This is a shift from a prevalent belief that driving taxes down was a goal despite the impact on our marginalized citizens and our future generations. I am hearing our councillors reflect what seems to now be a common voice in our community: we want to ‘make things’ right, we don’t want to pass along the problems to our children, and we are willing to invest in that future even if it costs us a little extra now.
Taxation has become a bad word in our culture, yet some are now reframing the discussion so we can look at taxes as our prime means of contributing to the well being of our city. More and more of our citizens understand that it is more important for their leaders to demonstrate that they are getting the best VALUE for their tax contributions than to look for an artificial tax ceiling that can sometimes mean service and staff cuts that put that well being at risk.
Like all of us, I want my taxes to be affordable. My goal on council is to strive for affordability without sacrificing anything that would leave our most vulnerable citizens behind. Often our zeal to cut our expenses in an effort to lower taxes helps those who need help the LEAST, and negatively affects those who need that help the MOST.
A case in point for this is transit. Last year, in our efforts to meet our base budget goals, we essentially attacked the efficiency and the frequency of our bus service. This proved to be a disaster for our transit users. Some couldn’t get to work or school on time;  the new schedules were confusing and frustrating; many were driven away from our system all together just at a time when we need the most effective public transit we can to meet our growth needs and our environmental sustainability targets. In our efforts to meet the challenges of climate change and our projected 46% growth by 2031, the last thing we want is to reduce the efficacy of Guelph Transit. For one thing, it grows our already severe income gap. Some of us CAN afford to take a car instead. Some can’t, and if they can’t navigate our bus system to meet their needs, they are out of luck. We’ll never get people out of their cars if they aren’t offered an alternative that is cheaper and more reliable. We CAN do this if we commit the funds and the energy necessary, and I feel we MUST. This is not the time to move backwards on transit. It’s a classic example of a tension that still exists on council: short term vs. long term thinking. We can no longer look towards saving a little now when it will cost us more in the long run.     Efficient, safe, vibrant transit is one of the things that makes us a desirable place to live. It attracts employers who want to make sure their workers’ needs are met.
Staff tells us that it will cost 1.5 million dollars just to bring us back to 2015 levels with our transit. That’s a lot of money. Can we afford it? In some cases like this I believe that we can’t afford NOT to. We owe it to our transit riders to at least make up for the mistakes we made last year. We should be moving ahead, not falling behind.
Another area that we must move forward with is our investment in capital projects like the South End Recreational Centre and a new downtown main library. Again, we’ll lose our reputation as one of the best places in Canada to live if we can’t provide our growing population with the quality of life that brought them here. Our library was built in 1960 when our population was a third of what it is now. Despite the stresses on it, our library has the highest per capita membership in the province. It’s more essential and appreciated than ever. If you can’t afford a computer, internet service, if you don’t have a safe home or workplace to study or gather with your community, you head to the library where all are welcomed. It’s the age-old argument. Are our rec facilities, neighbourhood hubs, libraries, and our cultural centers “needs” or “wants”? More and more we are recognizing them as important elements in offering the sense of community that every city needs to remain vital and attractive. These are the things people expect a city to provide for the taxes they pay. And yes, these things cost money.   To me, we are as behind in this area as we are with our infrastructure, so I am in favour of a proposed .5% City Building levy that would exist temporarily until those capital projects are completed. For the average home-owner, that’s just 2 dollars a month. These projects end up giving a handsome return on that investment. It’s visionary long-term thinking.
There are some on council who think we can pay for projects and our infrastructure with some quick cash through the sale of Guelph Hydro or by privatizing aspects of our services like waste and transit. All across Canada we’ve seen that when this happens, there IS money to spend in the short term, but prices go up, wages go down, and in the case of our utility we lose a steady income from a profitable company and we lose control of our own innovative energy initiatives.
I believe that we owe it to our future generations to be the best stewards we can be of our resources and our environment, and the best we can be at creating the kind of city that THEY will thrive in.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I want to be sure that your voices are heard in this process. We discuss the budget, ( and public delegations are encouraged ), on November 30th. We vote on December 7th with the hope that we can act together on council to create a budget that we can celebrate in this season of giving and sharing!

thanks for reading and responding. James

find me at james.gordon@guelph.ca or use the comment section on this blog page.

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Water discussion at council November 7th

From the Wellington Water Watchers, of interest to Ward Twovians-

Great news! The future of water permitting in Ontario is open for comment.

As many of you will be aware, the Ontario government recently invited public comment on a proposed 2 year moratorium on water taking permits for new or expanded operations that take groundwater to bottle and sell.

Now is the time to speak up and communicate our goal of Water for Life, not for profit.

Wellington Water Waters is encouraging the city to submit a comment to the province that will express the concerns of Guelph residents. We, in turn, need to let the city know what we want it to communicate to the province.

To facilitate comment from the citizens of Guelph, the city has called a special meeting dedicated to water and water permitting issues as based on the motion passed at the September 26th Council meeting.

The meeting details are as follows:

Date: November 7
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Guelph City Hall

We are looking for volunteers to delegate at this meeting. This would involve making a 5 minute presentation to the committee. We will work with you to ensure our overall impact is maximized and that your voice is as effective as possible when combined with other like minded volunteers.

If you are interested in speaking, and would like to work together with Wellington Water Watchers, please respond to this email by October 28th.

Anyone interested in speaking is also invited to attend a meeting called Delegating 101 on November 2nd where we will come together to discuss our presentations and how to make them work in concert. We will gather at Silence Sounds, 46 Essex Street in Guelph at 7 p.m. Please RSV on this link to let us know you are coming.

Delegation requests must be submitted by emailing clerks@guelph.ca before 10 am the previous Friday (Nov 4).

If you have any written materials or an electronic presentation, they will need to be submitted to clerks@guelph.ca no later than 10:00 a.m. on Friday November 4.

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Open House about Proposed Emma-Earl Pedestrian Bridge- Tuesday the 25th

Hi again…. Unfortunately this important meeting is at the same time as the Ward 2 Budget Meeting…. but if you are in the area… I’d urge you to come to the Evergreen Centre this Tuesday … 6:30 to 9 pm…. about a proposed pedestrian bridge connecting Emma Street and Earl Street. This bridge would be located south of Speedvale Avenue to allow a safe, pleasant pedestrian/cycling crossing across the Speed River. The Guelph Trail Master Plan (2005) recommends a bridge in this location to provide a connection to the Trans Canada Trail and to Downtown.

The meeting will be held  at the Evergreen Seniors Community Centre, 883 Woolwich St., 6:30-9pm.

I’ll drop in right at 6:30 before rushing to the Budget meeting. ( So much going on!) I’d love to have your input on this. email me at james.gordon@guelph.ca if you have an opinion to offer.

James

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Reminder: ward 2 budget meeting Tuesday

 A reminder:

Ward 2 and 3 councillors are getting together on Tuesday Oct 25th at 7 pm for a town hall meeting  about budget issues -at City Hall in Meeting Room C on the ground floor. We’ll have a presentation on the budget process, and then we want to hear your thoughts and ideas in a question and answer session. Hope to see lots of Ward Twovians there! I’ll be presenting along with Councillors Allt and Hofland from Ward 3. Andy Van Hellemond is unable to attend… hope to see you there.

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Ward 2 and 3 Budget Town Hall Meeting Oct 25th

Hi folks… sorry it’s been so long since I communicated with you in this form. After a holiday break, it’s been pretty non-stop on council. Budget season is upon us. My Ward-mate Andy Van Hellemond and myself have joined with Ward Three councillors Allt and Hofland to host a meeting about budget issues on Tuesday Oct 25th at 7 pm at City Hall in Meeting Room C on the ground floor. We’ll have a presentation on the budget process, and then we want to hear your thoughts and ideas in a question and answer session. Hope to see lots of Ward Twovians there!

James

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Ward 2’s North End Harvest Market fundraiser!

North End Poster.jpg

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by | September 14, 2016 · 3:00 pm