Dead salamanders to double garages

(03 July 2018) – Guelph is the most environmentally progressive community in Ontario. This must be true, because we are constantly told it is. We are told this because we made history by electing the first Ontario Green Party MPP. Ever. It looked for a while as though we’d have to wait four years to see if it is really true. That’s when the next provincial election will tell us if voters want to do it again.

As it happens, we’ll get confirmation a lot sooner than that. We’ll know all about our environmental creds in October when we elect the next city council. Four years ago, we had the greenest mayor in our history. The current mayor, a city councillor at the time, ran against her on a campaign to get rid of “the Guelph Factor.” He won.

For those who don’t remember, the concept of a Guelph factor was the brainchild of the development industry. It was invented to pigeonhole a set of rules and regulations they had to follow when paving over green spaces and wetlands. Things like an upper limit on the number of mature trees that could be clear cut to make way for new homes. Or an acceptable ratio of dead salamanders to double garages.

To no one’s surprise, the developers hated these rules and wanted rid of them. They wanted regime change. Cam Guthrie volunteered to be their guy, their change maker. His immediate reward was in cash. Guelph corporations happily finance friendly municipal campaigns. For every five development dollars donated to mayoral campaigns in 2014, Guthrie got four and Karen Farbridge got one. The longer reward was in votes. For every five votes cast, Guthrie got three and Farbridge got two.

So much for the “Guelph factor”. Our environmentally progressive city voted against it. Now it’s not even a blip on the political radar. Think of it as being a close cousin of Doug Ford’s carbon tax. Four years ago, Guthrie won a battle against an illusion created to deflect attention from urban sprawl. A month ago, Ford won a battle against a similar ghost, this one designed to deflect attention from climate change. Guelph never had a factor, and Ontario never had a carbon tax. Again and again, illusion trumps reality.

Unless there is a sudden political earthquake in Guelph, Guthrie will waltz back into the mayor’s office. We are now two months into a three-month nomination period and no one is running against him yet. Seven people ran for mayor four years ago. Unless the floodgates open soon, nothing near that number will be on the ballot come October. Nominations close in three and a half weeks.

While Guthrie’s victory was welcomed by the developers, it didn’t open the door for them all the way. There are enough independent-minded councillors to hold him in check. The political fight for the rest of the summer and fall will be about control of the horseshoe. This is shaping up clearly in Ward 3. The two incumbents, June Hofland and Phil Allt, have often been thorns in Guthrie’s side. They are being challenged by Patrick Sheridan and Jason Dodge who promise to be thorns on Guthrie’s side.

Susan Watson is an astute and articulate observer of local Guelph politics. Her column in the Guelph Tribune last week described some of the developer-friendly moves coming out of Carden Street. It’s worth a read.

When we see what happens to critical scrutiny on Council, we will see how securely environmentalism is stitched into Guelph’s fabric.




  1. Good solid piece Alan! My flash on the “moves coming out of Carden Street” riff was it could easily be “what’s coming out of the political end of Carden Street”. The other end of course being the opioid crisis which is killing off more humans than salamanders.

    And of course the the Greenness of recent Mayors is a relative calculation. The one before Guthrie was the one who sent police to break up the activist camp attempting to protect what is arguably the tail end of the Hanlon Watershed, a struggle which began back in 1972

    1. Author

      Relative comparisons are always complicated. By any measure Farbridge remains the greenest mayor Guelph has ever had.

  2. Can’t eat concrete driveways or houses. Can’t bring back good clean air or rivers when they’re gone. Better stock up on breathing apparati and learning how to grow your own food1

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