Hijacking Guelph democracy

“The municipal election is now behind us, and I think it turned out well. The wide range of viewpoints held by Guelph residents is represented around the council table. Advocates for both the environment and development are there, and political views run the range from the NDP to the Reform Alliance. This is the way it should be, but it’s seldom the way federal elections turn out. Our “first past the post” system of electing constituency MPs has a way of skewing the result in favour of a Party that doesn’t enjoy majority support in the population at large. A well-crafted system of proportional representation could give our federal parliament the kind of balance we achieved locally.”(Guelph Tribune, 21 November 2000)

That’s not talking about the election we’re in now. I wrote that in a Guelph Tribune column 18 years ago. Guelph municipal elections have a way of producing relatively even city councils. The twelve ward councillors and the mayor tend to reasonably reflect the community they are charged with governing.

Except, of course, from the perspective of cultural diversity. They have always been very white bread. When was the last time a person of colour sat at the Carden Street horseshoe? Lots have stood for election. Few, if any, have made it through the door. That’s a good subject for a future column.

Quite often city council decisions are arrived at unanimously. Sometimes they have a wide margin, say 11 – 2 for example. The stunning ones, the controversial ones we all remember, may go through on a 7 – 6 vote split. There’s nothing wrong with that, if the councillors are talking to each other during the decision-making process.

Our mayor, Cam Guthrie, wants to change this. He is working with a slate of like-minded candidates who are running in most of the wards. The mayor is campaigning with them. He puts photographs of himself going door to door with them on his social media platforms. His team includes Dan Gibson and Mark Gernon in Ward 1; Jonathan Knowles and Rodrigo Goller in Ward 2; Patrick Sheridan and Jason Dodge in Ward 3; Christine Billings and Indu Arora in Ward 4; and Stacy Cooper and Mark MacKinnon in Ward 6.

Cathy Downer and Leanne Piper are reasonably secure in Ward 5 and Guthrie’s team isn’t upsetting any apple carts in the old university neighbourhood. At least one of them is guaranteed re-election. For the other it’s just a very high probability.

The mayor of a city our size needs to work collaboratively with all twelve councillors selected from the wards and should not have been part of their election campaigns. I can’t think of any prior Guelph election where a candidate for mayor went canvassing in the wards with council candidates. There was a moment late in the 2003 campaign when Kate Quarrie and Peter Hamtak teamed up to give a deceptive press conference on an allegedly hidden budget document. Other than that, it hasn’t happened.

Some people will hold up their hands and shout “Oh yeah? What about the Guelph Civic League in 2006? Remember that? What about it?”

Well I was there, and I remember it well. The League did not run a slate and did not endorse any candidates. What we did do was survey the community to identify issues important to citizens and query the candidates about them. We then published a list of candidates whose opinions reflected the values and aspirations of the community. In some wards, this list may have included more than two candidates.

The important thing to take away from the 2006 election is that neither mayoral candidate involved herself in any of the ward campaigns and did not canvass neighbourhoods with any of the candidates for council seats.

What we are seeing now, for the first time, is an incumbent Guelph mayor actively trying to build a council that will always agree with him and vote with him. This has not happened before because it is the wrong thing to do.

There is some question about who is leading this charge. Fingers point at Dan Gibson as the brains behind the democracy heist. It’s no secret that Guthrie wants one more term as mayor and then he’ll wander off and join either Andrew Scheer’s team or Doug Ford Nation. Gibson will then chase down the mayor’s chain of office.

It should be remembered that three candidates on the Guthrie slate, including himself, have a common thread tying them together. They belong to Lakeside Church, a non-denominational evangelical Christian ministry with its main campus located on Conservation Road near the Guelph Dam. It also has a downtown ministry in the former Norfolk Street United Church building on Cork Street. It also partners with Christian ministries in Kenya, Haiti, and Central America.

For the record, I couldn’t care less about where politicians worship, or even if they do. Churches have always filled two purposes. They bring together people with common beliefs and give them a forum to express their faith. As well, churches provide the community for their members to network and help each other in times of need. A city council should be a safe place for people of different beliefs to move our city into a secure and sustainable future.

What concerns me about the Guthrie slate is that at least one other member of Lakeside was heard to brag about working to elect a “Lakeside Council.” That would be an evangelical Christian Guelph City Council. That worries me, and it should worry you.


  1. And that would be entirely illegal as a Church is a non profit charity and cannot endorse or finance any candidates. If the Church name appears on any campaign literature, it can lose its non profit status.

    1. Author

      Lakeside Church is not endorsing any one in the election. Several candidates who are on the Guthrie slate are members of Lakeside. Not all, but certainly most.

  2. I’m checking with the city clerk to see if the sitting mayor can assist with other candidates campaigning. Is this allowable in the Elections Act?

    1. Author

      Thanks Janette. I don’t know about the legality. Maybe it is. I am concerned about the ethics of it. It has not been done before in Guelph. Please let us know what the city clerk has to say.

      1. You should check Leanne Pipers post on facebook, https://imgur.com/gallery/vpiFk4v (unsure if linking works) She was asked about this, and she says it is fine as according to her he is campaigning as a candidate, not ‘acting as a mayor’

        1. Author

          I have never said it’s illegal. It is certainly unethical and is unprecedented in Guelph for a mayor to actively attempt to manufacture a council that will agree and vote with him.

  3. Can there be a survey to identify issues etc like in 2006? AND ALSO INCLUDE, what to many but not all, may be under-the radar issues …… Issues seen elsewhere but not yet OPENLY SPOKEN OR WRITTEN ABOUT in Guelph..?

    1. Author

      I don’t know if any one has done this yet. There’s not much time left to do it properly now. You should contact the Coalition for Social Justice to see if they know of anything.

  4. Wow, this is very concerning.

  5. Can you prove these people are members of the same church? That is the key thing.

  6. The issue is if they’re from the same church, and co-ordinating then they are a defacto political party.

  7. Why would seven elected evangelical Christian Guelph City councillors concern you?

  8. Can confirm that Gibson, Guthrie and Knowles are the only ones connected to Lakeside. Even Knowles I’m uncertain about as I don’t know him. He’s on HOPE House’s board. But the others there’s no known connection whatsoever.

  9. Just to be clear, I can 100% confirm that Cam Guthrie and Dan Gibson are the only connected to Lakeside. Jonathan Knowles sits on HOPE House’s board (and has apparently attended here and there but seems to categorize himself in the “spiritual but not religious” category). None of the other listed candidates are even remotely connected to Lakeside.

    Facts are important.

  10. The irony is that disagreement actually brings about BETTER decisions.

    “To understand rather than be understood…. disagreement needs to be harnessed rather than camouflaged in order to uncover all of the sources of value that each contributor brings to the table.”


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