All Candidates’ Speech

Speech Delivered at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church All Candidates’ Meeting October 4, 2018

It has been nearly 50 years since I attended Church, Sunday School and Cubs at St. Andrews. I still have The Bible given to me by Reverend Forbes Thompson – something which I cherish. 

My name is Phil Allt. I am seeking your support for re-election as Councillor for Ward 3.

A councillor’s role is multi faceted and dare I say the day is long and busy. A councillor is a listener, a mediator, a conciliator, a handy person. Councillors need the wisdom of Solomon, the tenacity of Gandhi and the patience of Job to chart the challenges we face. 

In Guelph, local environmental challenges abound. We cannot take the purity of our water supply, or the safety of our neighbourhoods for granted.  We need strong local leadership to address these and other issues. Ward 3 and Guelph need councillors willing to stand up for Guelph to rebuild our sewers and streets,  to improve our public transit, to plan our Baker Street library, to calm dangerous traffic even to attend to leaf collection.

Guelph has to address its growing pains. In Clair Maltby we must provide for proper parkland development, protect the headwaters from which our drinking water springs, ensure that local retail outlets are easily accessible for new residents. For those living in Ward 3 –  the most densely populated of all the wards – we must ensure that infill and Brownfield redevelopment enhance our neighbourhoods rather than detract.

Guelph residents care deeply for our drinking water. We must protect it from water bottlers, from quarrying that could contaminate our wells, from glass plants that could exhaust the ground water. If we do not do this right, we have a multi billion dollar Lake Erie pipeline challenge in our future.
My past role building Cooperative Housing and Chairing the former Wellington and Guelph Housing Authority were invaluable  preparation for dealing with the worsening housing crunch. Our city cannot solve this crisis alone. Yet, private developers cannot afford to do it either. The federal and provincial governments must get back into building low cost housing in a meaningful way. 1500 families need improved housing right now. 

While Council talks endlessly about the South End being nurtured and developed, what about Old Guelph and particularly our historic downtown? Our beautiful downtown architecture should be the envy of Canada. The foundation is already there – beautiful buildings, dynamic businesses, fabulous restaurants and a devoted Downtown Board of Management.

Thoughtfully planning the new downtown library and the Baker Street Project will keep our downtown vibrant. As your Councillor, I will see this project through to completion.
Guelph’s working population needs a Council committed to the local economy. A clean energy economy is on our doorstep. Canadian Solar, a world leader in solar panels  and small businesses like Guelph Solar need our support. 

Our auto manufacturers must see Guelph as committed to new electric car technology which is embraced world wide and will make the electric car the norm within 10 years.

I have worked with so many of you. I have heard from so many of you. When I volunteer at the Shelldale Centre in the breakfast programme and attend their Community Safety meetings I learn about neighbourhood issues. I would not be well informed if I were not engaged with you in a meaningful manner.

When I attend the numerous events held by the Exhibition Park Neighbourhood Group I know I am part of  a community of Parents and grandparents and children of school age. You are families with mortgages and day to day concerns, You  have your worries and your joys. You and your families know what makes Guelph tick and what makes Guelph a fun place to live. 

When I play darts at the Evergreen Seniors Centre I hear about our buses, our garbage collection, our yard waste pickup and our snow removal. I hear about mobility transit failing people’s needs. I become informed with knowledge I use to improve what our City offers. Everyday I speak to at least 3 people who call or email with an issue. 

When I attend meetings of the Beechwood Neighbourhood Group or hear from the Old Guelph Residents Association I understand why residents worry about their neighbourhood being compromised by a development that seems too big, too imposing or inappropriate for its setting.
A Ward Councillor listens and responds. You expect me to listen; you want me to ask you important questions about what matters to you. You ask me to make reasoned decisions on an encyclopedia of issues  –  water conservation, restoring a bus route, addressing half-way houses, rejecting a building proposal or improving a park but only after we have a thoughtful dialogue. We don’t always agree but we always build a better community. 

My name is Phil Allt. I am seeking your support for re-election as Councillor for Ward 3. Let’s build a better City and a better City Council. Let’s firmly anchor real leadership on Council for the next four years. Thank you for listening to me, thank you for sharing with me over the past 4 years.

Social and Affordable Housing

Social and Affordable Housing

Many thanks to the tenants of low cost housing and the policy experts who assisted with important details.

Affordable Housing: A Multimillion dollar Question and a Bureaucratic Quagmire.

A fellow Guelph citizen, a university educated woman who lived a comfortable middle class life until a pregnancy put her in financial jeopardy, wrote to me recently about living in social housing. She is once again returning to college because there are no job prospects in her field – while studying, she must remain housed where she is: 

“The letters they send out are almost threatening. You have to have all your paperwork and everything done if anything changes – for me this means redoing subsidy packages, gathering and delivering paperwork 2-3 times a year to calculate my rent, then having them over charge me (then have to pay me back) every few months. . . .They demand tons of paperwork to stay on waiting lists and if something isn’t absolutely perfect they take you off lists for bigger housing – because they have no bigger housing. I have been on the waiting list for a bigger home for 5 years and they have tried to throw me off of it three times. Both times they said their regulations have changed and I was no longer eligible. Then it took letters, appointments and phone calls to be reinstated. I can’t even explain how stressful it is to be poor and try to get help. It is worth not living in housing and starving unless you are made of f**ing steel. It’s not worth the effort to get help. Everyone has an agenda and no one actually wants to help you.
I’m pretty bitter today, so I guess it’s best I don’t get started. By bitter . . . I mean bloody furious.” 

Another community member has lived in social housing most of his life. He briefly owned a house. Unfortunately, he fell prey to an addiction to prescription pain killers after a workplace injury. He beat that addiction, but chronic pain keeps him unemployed and living on the margins:

“I got a 50 cent raise (at my part time job)  and 1 extra hour at work. My rent went up almost 50 bucks. The disconnect at the county level is astounding. Your OW or ODSP worker will tell you that you can make “X” amount before they claw it back. They don’t tell you that housing claw back is immediate.

The U of G did an interesting experiment a few years ago.  Grade 12 students from affluent families had to navigate “the system”. 
Most of them either couldn’t do it in the time restraints or didn’t believe the experiment was even truthful. It was truly eye opening for many. In fact, it made a few of them change their vocational studies.” 

It is a little known fact that the City of Guelph spends millions on social housing each year. Last year, Guelph invested nearly $16 million in the Wellington County administered Social Housing portfolio. That is our city’s share of what it takes to operate low cost rental housing within our boundaries. Housing is administered and maintained by the County in a service sharing arrangement. We also invest $100,000 each year in the City of Guelph’s Affordable Housing reserve. But both sums are not enough to lead to greater investment in building affordable housing for Guelph. We have to face a significant problem of profound need in our neighbourhoods that carries with it a very costly solution.

I agree with many housing activists that direct municipal involvement is best for developing effective strategies for low cost housing because we know our communities best. We would use our local knowledge for policy development.  However, we cannot afford what the provincial and federal governments can – we do not have the tax base.  There is a 7-year waiting list for social housing. To correct this problem by quickly investing in 1500 under-housed Guelph families would drive tax increases that are unsustainable for all. 

Yet, the $100,000 per year the City allocates to our own affordable housing reserve is not enough either. Everyone agrees. Setting aside money at this rate, it will take years  (actually decades) of savings to raise what is needed to put a development of any size in the ground at a reasonable cost. Estimates suggest that 100 units would cost approximately $20 million to build at today’s current prices.

I believe all partners (government, non profits and the private sector) including our homebuilders need to come to the table and offer real financial solutions. The solution may appear simple. Getting there however is not easy. It requires community leadership, efficient economic strategies and shared non-partisan political will. 

Our community must also address the problem of how we build more low cost housing without actually growing outside our borders or decimating green spaces. If we limit the areas for growth, that affects the land available for low cost housing and reduces the possibility of utilizing future development charges to pay for this housing, a practice currently used in the Region of Waterloo. 

 Guelph’s last significant area to grow is Clair Maltby in the south end. We need to get it right. Together we need to ensure that we develop Clair Maltby in ways that balance broad community needs. How do we preserve green space?  How do we ensure that infill and Brownfields are developed?

Recently, I counselled a large family needing a 5-bedroom home. There are simply no places being built like this in Guelph nor do I expect that there will be anytime soon. I suggested this family apply to the coop I was involved in building in the 1980’s (Windfield on Westwood Road). They have some 4-bedroom units and some former members’ finished basements that could be used as bedrooms. But these are limited and do not address our future housing shortages. 

Some suggest Guelph might consider using increased development charges to build new low cost housing as is done in Waterloo. That however will load the cost on to new purchase home owners. Something else that should be considered is building smaller units on smaller lots. This requires that the city and homebuyers change their assumptions about what is an appropriate lot and house size. Land in Guelph is costly, so we must reduce the cost of affordable housing by reducing the land taken up by the structures. 

As a community we need to bring all partners together to examine policies and incentives that might change lot and house sizes so homes can be put on smaller lots and cost less. We need to be open to communities of mixed housing with shared community space rather than to the individual yards of traditional suburbs – townhouses and, for seniors, co-housing are two answers embraced world wide.

We need to consciously challenge our attitudes toward what is acceptable development in a subdivision. That might not be easy for some who might fear this would lead to lower property values for larger, more expensive homes.  Still our neighbours should not be struggling to pay their rent.

I believe we must demand that our federal government develop a practical housing strategy which guarantees a variety of low cost housing options: cooperative, nonprofit, subsidized and rent geared to income. 

Currently the National Affordable Housing program only reduces rents by 20% for up to 20 years. That is a flaw. For most people on fixed incomes these rents are already too high, and this program does not significantly contribute to increasing our low cost housing portfolio. As is borne out by comments in our community, we clearly need to streamline the services that allow for these accommodations.

As Guelph grows, we lose ground in the fight for more low cost housing. It is time to put our collective heads together, and work for a comprehensive solution that transcends ideology.

Our Growing Population

Our Growing Population

Considering Clair Maltby in the South and opportunities for Infill Development – A Challenge, an Opportunity and a problem to solve.


Guelph is required by provincial mandate to accept thousands of new residents by the middle of this century. How will we manage growth? What could we do differently? 

Growth is a problem for Guelph. Guelph embraced the Provincial ‘Places to Grow’ targets and the  Provincial Green Belt – both are commendable and address the reality that more and more our City is becoming a part of the Greater Toronto Area growth ring.

This puts a lot of pressure on Guelph. Inevitably it will lead to significant increases in the cost of housing – both owned and rental. It will also put a lot of pressure on our tax base as we are required to pay for this growth. Our water supply, possibly even the quality of our air, can be affected as pollutants increase in a more densely populated city.

In considering Guelph’s precious water – we are the largest city in Canada on a dedicated spring water system. Consequently the limitations of our water supply dictate what population Guelph can sustain. That is a good thing. Guelph cannot get much larger.

We must grow slowly and not grow too large. Infill buildings and our long term plan for areas -including Clair–Maltby – help us plan for  population growth.  Still, we need more infill in Guelph to ensure we can welcome new residents and properly house those who are currently under-housed. At present Guelph is ahead of its population growth targets so, in my opinion, we have worked well within the Places to Grow principles. 

On a final note: although I am in favour of Two Way All Day GO – and I am sure most people are – we all need to appreciate it creates challenges for plans for housing affordability in Guelph as it creates significant pressures on the housing market. We must honestly embrace a housing strategy that will put cooperative, subsidized and rent geared to income housing in the ground – further we have to stop playing with the definition of “Affordable”. Guelph cannot work on this alone. New housing for lower income residents requires a solid Federal and a Provincial programme. Private developers won’t do it, it is simply too expensive. I will discuss this issue in a future post.

Public Transit

Public Transit

A User’s Perspective on What Can and Should be Done & Saving St Joe’s Route #3


Public Transit is exactly what you believe it to be:  Public Transit. Good public transit can and should get the public from where someone is to where s/he needs to go. I confess I use transit on an irregular basis. 4 years ago, I embraced the one-month bus challenge, stopped using my car and found it tricky to get around. I would use my bike too, putting it on the front of the bus and thereby used a hybrid Transit system. It was educational for me as I realize we need to do more. I still use Guelph Transit but not always.

Council must do more to ensure our Transit system meets the current and future needs of our community. Let’s take just one need. In February and March, Councillor June Hofland and I met with members of the public from all over Ward 3. We heard that there were real problems with mobility issues for those living throughout our Ward. On Waterloo Avenue, residents of County Housing explained to me that they cannot do their shopping anymore without relying upon a private school bus service sponsored by a particular Grocer. That’s fine if you want to shop that that Grocer’s store. But what if you want or need to shop elsewhere? What if your prescriptions are at some other store? What if you have special dietary concerns?

From listening to people, I realized that we must act upon which we might be able to repair. In this case, that action was working to restore the St. Joseph’s Hospital Ward 3 route to its former level of service. You might recall that staff reduced this route’s service to every 40 minutes – it wasn’t the fault of staff: they thought they were doing “the will of Council”. This caused extreme confusion for many people – especially for senior citizens.

I am proud that Council narrowly voted to restore this service effective this September and that citizen action and councillor support paid off. When I rode the buses, went door to door and met with Senior’s in their apartments, I  heard loudly and clearly that people  throughout Guelph had been seriously hampered in their efforts to get to St. Joseph’s Health Care. We heard that students could not get to Our Lady of Lourdes school as easily. We heard that the numerous doctors offices, therapists’ offices, clinics and a pharmacy were not easily within reach of people unless they devoted 4 or more hours of their day to going there. I thank June for working on that campaign with me.

I am also thankful that we are doing a Business Service Review on all of Transit. We need to make our local system better for all. Further, we must realize that staff are working well with the resources we provide – yet we simply can’t ignore the fact that transit is a money issue and a public good and that Council holds the purse strings . If we don’t provide the cash, the Transit system and the riders suffer. 

Public Transit is both a public good and a necessity. If we can get people out of cars, we can reduce pollution and costs to the city. Consider how much longer might roads last if we embraced public transit as people do from Amsterdam to Australia. Consider how our Infrastructure costs could be reduced if we did not need repair worn roads as often. Let’s continue to work to make this service better. 


How can we improve Intercity Transit?

How can we improve Intercity Transit?

Advocating for Two Way – All Day Go – while disputing High Speed Rail


First and foremost, two way – all day GO needs to be a priority above high-speed rail. Fact: an electrified conventional rail system on an improved track bed can get commuters to Toronto in just a bit more than 7 minutes beyond what high speed rail promises and at substantially lower costs. 

So what is wrong with cheerleading for High Speed Rail?

Well, it’s unrealistic- its a multi-billion dollar endeavour with a minimal return on investment. 

I stated my scepticism of this from when it was announced a number of years ago. Early in this term of Council I stated it again and was publicly blasted by the Mayor. Yet, I am still sceptical – even more sceptical with a Doug Ford Government in Toronto. High speed rail has been a non starter as it is too costly and the physics of a line from Guelph to Toronto do not make sense. (The truth: you cannot speed it up and slow it down between places like Guelph and Kitchener – hence it’s not high speed rail but rather conventional rail at a high price.)

Furthermore, I find it inconsistent of the City to call on the provincial government to build a high speed system when we have arguments over what to cut at the local level and that includes local transit. You can’t have it both ways – micro manage the bottom line and want other levels of government to make Guelph look good.
Two way GO makes sense but must be complimented by 100% track ownership and electrification. Until this is accomplished commuters will have to linger a little longer in traffic jams and buses that take 3 hours to get to Toronto.

On another front we also need far better Regional Transit. Yet getting it is tricky. We need to develop transit in cooperation with the Region of Waterloo and with Hamilton. However that requires provincial support and significant collaboration. We cannot do it alone but if we in Ontario truly wish to help get people out of cars and develop the Technology Corridor, it is imperative that we replace the private buses that get workers to KW with publicly supported buses that get people to KW, Cambridge, Hamilton and even as far away as Owen Sound. 

Postscript – there is a downside to rail improvements: Two Way All Day GO imperils housing affordability in Guelph. It will lead to greater demand in the housing market. To keep Guelph housing reasonable for people who currently live here, we must embrace a housing strategy that will put cooperative, subsidized and rent geared to income housing in the ground. Yet, Guelph cannot afford this without a solid Federal and Provincial programme. Private developers won’t do it, it is simply too expensive. I doubt that Doug Ford feels too positive about it.

Guelph Hydro, The Library & Infrastructure

Guelph Hydro, The Library & Infrastructure

The Guelph Hydro merger followed by the Baker Street/Library decision, and the decision to create an infrastructure levy are 3 very important decisions voted upon by Council.   

I voted against the Guelph Hydro merger as I still have nagging doubts about 2 or 3 issues associated with this decision including how a customer base of 1 million can be provided with better service than one of 55,000. However, now that the decision is made, it is the duty of everyone on Council to stand behind it and ensure that it is successful for Guelph. 

On the Baker Street/Library decision; I believe that it was the right move. This has been years in the making for our downtown. I will ensure that proper oversight, excellent communications and project management will be in place for this key capital project.

The Library will be an anchor for our downtown as more people move to the centre of town attracted by cultural and educational facilities like new Baker Street Library, the River Run Centre, The Sleeman Centre and also our great restaurants and shops.

Safeguarding the community is a key responsibility. Our infrastructure levy moves us forward together, thereby ensuring can replace old roads, bridges, pipes, and public buildings. If we underfund this levy we under repair Guelph’s sewers, water supply, roads, and other key elements that are relied upon by all of us each and every day. 

National Aboriginal Physical Activity Conference

VIP Reception
Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 7 – 8:30 p.m.
Guelph Civic Museum

Miigwech, Bonjour, Welcome. I’m very pleased to offer greetings on behalf of the City of Guelph.

I’d like to begin with the City of Guelph’s Statement of Acknowledgement:
As we gather, we are reminded that Guelph is situated on treaty land that is steeped in rich indigenous history and home to many First Nations, Métis and Inuit people today.
As a City, we have a responsibility for the stewardship of the land on which we live and work.
Today we acknowledge the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation on whose traditional territory we are gathered.

This statement acknowledges that there is a rich history of Indigenous Peoples in the Guelph area.

• Archeological evidence indicates Indigenous Peoples were present in the area now known as Guelph as early as 11,000 years ago.

• Up until the 15th century, the Anishnaabe people lived, farmed, and hunted in the Guelph area.

• Local aboriginal population was once estimated to number 30,000.

As Much of our First Nations’  history was not written down anywhere we are grateful to those who are keeping that history alive even today.

But I am here to bring greetings at the start of the National Aboriginal Physical Activity conference. As I do, I want to digress into my appreciation of Aboriginal history, culture and what I consider to be a bit of a problem our dominant culture has acknowledging the richness of that culture from Coast to Coast to Coast.

I am sure that everyone is familiar with Norval Morriseau, Benjamin Chee Chee, the carvers and artists on the West Coast including Roy Henry Vickers in Tofino. I am sure we are familiar with Wab Kinew and of course my friend Tom King. Many of us are still appreciative of Pauline Johnson.

I am grateful for the contributions of Tom, Wab and Pauline to literature and in Wab’s case to political activism. I am also pleased that Canada embraces First Nations’ artists like Roy, Norval and Benjamin. We must take pride in these. Furthermore, we all appreciate the music of Buffy Sainte Marie and a Tribe called Red.

So it is a puzzle to me why we don’t seem to embrace First Nations’ athletes in the same way. Perhaps it is because the athletics that I and others are familiar with seem, with the exception of Lacrosse to be so foreign to us. Inuit sports I have witnessed in the Pan Polar Games are beyond me. Some of them even scare me. You can be assured that I will never participate in a blanket toss.

Yet, you know there was purpose to these feats. The athletics my grandmother and her brothers played when they settled Wabigoon Ontario over 135 years ago were those that helped them survive. Without hunting, fishing and the canoe skills taught to them by their Ojibway sisters and brothers I would not be here today. I confess to be in awe of my grandmother for having known how to skin a rabbit, hunt a partridge and fish for Pickerel and Pike.

I am more disturbed that when I taught history, my students knew nothing of Tom Longboat whom I argue is one Canada’s greatest athletes – if not our greatest. Tom’s running feats, his role in WWI should be the stuff of legend. Yet, he is largely ignored by our dominant culture. I always thought that the Skydome/ Rogers Centre should have been named after him. Skydome always sounded as if it should be in Montana. Rogers Centre sounds like a place to get my internet service.

The Tom Longboat Stadium, on the other hand, would have been a place all could have taken pride in as we remembered the greatest runner in Canada’s history and a figure largely forgotten by adults, kids and in the classrooms of Canada.

Yet, my political statement should not distract from why were are here. Thank you for promoting athletics amongst our First Nations as you do. My late friend Sherman was an Ojibway musician and baseball player.  During the summer he and I would play ball together, drink a few beers play guitar and share a few laughs. Sherman’s ball playing was legendary in Guelph. He could hit, he could catch – but his knees in later years did not let him run. Yet up to his death, he knew that athletics was an important part of a lifestyle kept him mentally and physically happy to the end. When he passed, I lost a friend. What I will never lose is the memory of him hitting the longest homer I have ever seen right over my head when we were on different teams. He didn’t need to run those bases, he could have hopped or crawled backwards and it would not have mattered. I know he would have embraced this conference and its goals.

Welcome to our city. Your visit here is a testament to how athletics among First Nations is important for all. To be an athlete in childhood is the start of a healthy lifestyle. I am sure that Tom Longboat and Sherman ran, played and competed early on in their earthly existence. Tom King, not so much, ask me to tell you about his pool playing and then, I encourage you to challenge him to a stakes game. Your money is safe.

Thank you, a la prochaine, miigwech, we are thrilled to have you here. I wish you all the very best for a wonderful conference.

Internet Voting – Letter to Guelph Residents

An Open Letter on Internet Voting to Guelph Voters

Dear Guelph Residents worried about Democracy:

Many thanks for your many emails expressing concerns about Guelph’s Council recommending a cessation to internet voting. I must admit I am one of the converted who now has concerns regarding Internet voting. In 2014, I supported online voting to get the vote out. Now, I am not certain that was an appropriate principle to embrace. I have had, I must say, my conversion on the road to Damascus (figuratively speaking)

In 2014, I did have concerns regarding security. However, I always believed it would improve not deteriorate over the years. We have however seen a regression in security as is apparent from Wiki Leaks, the Trump/Clinton feuds and the evidence of Russian hacking. Some people even point to allegations of voter fraud in Canada, in leadership races and even in our elections of the past. I don’t care to dwell on those. Rather,  I care to protect the future.

Of course, the Russians are not intending on hacking the Royal City. Still, the Ontario Ministry of Education EQAO was hacked by someone (not likely the Russians). This rendered the 2017/2018 EQAO online literacy test void.

If it can happen to a secure test, surely it can happen to our MPAC generated voters’ list – which is not, I am led to understand, any more secure. Similarly, as my brother, an Internet Expert working with Internet Security Issues each day stated, “There is no assurance that no one is standing beside a home computer offering 100 bucks to a person to vote a certain way. John A. Macdonald did it with beer, that’s why you are not allowed to go into a voting booth with another person today.”

I need to feel assured that voting is a level playing field and that only those who are entitled to vote actually do so. At this point, I am querying if the MPAC list identifies where a person actually lives and if that person is Canadian. If a person on the voters’ list is not, then MPAC inadvertently permits – or perhaps turns a blind eye – to the likelihood that offshore property owners can vote – something I did not think about until yesterday (Please note, I do differentiate this from non-Canadians residents voting as I do think an argument can be made for landed immigrants having the right to vote in our elections).

Re: accessibility and voting.

I have cut and pasted the following from information provided to me by another source:

“I wish to provide the following reassurances, as outlined in the Municipal Election Act, that the suspension of internet voting does not change the requirement of the City to meet the needs of electors through other avenues.”

As the clerk mentioned at the meeting, he has a statutory obligation under the MEA to provide voting options for electors with disabilities.

“Moreover, the MEA includes a requirement for polling stations to be situated in any institution with more than 20 beds and any retirement home with more than 50 beds. In addition, election officials are empowered both to attend to a disabled elector within their room at a retirement home or an institution or, to visit their private residence in order to allow them to vote.”

In closing, this was a very difficult decision and one in which I weighed populism versus principles and protecting democracy. A superficial response is to permit a voting system with the potential for significant error to remain and perhaps be expanded.

Note too that this is not about massive voter fraud being committed by an overwhelming number of residents. I do not believe our voters are extreme practitioners of fraud any more than I am a suppressor of votes, as has been alleged by some. (In fact, I believe in mandatory voting – such as occurs in Australia – which, I believe, renders the argument for internet voting null and void.)

This issue is not about who should vote, it is about how we should vote.
For the time being, I believe that paper is the best protection against bad voter lists and cyber threats.

Thank you for your email,

Phil Allt,
Ward 3 Councillor
City of Guelph


Celebrating The Canadian Masters Curling Championship

Remarks Celebrating the opening of the Canadian Masters Curling Championship, Guelph Curling Club, Sunday, April 2nd, 2017.

I am very pleased to represent Guelph at the  Canadian Masters Curling Championships.

Just 6 hours ago I was in Vancouver at a conference. Thankfully, Air Canada got me to the rink on time. Air Canada knows you cannot keep the Masters waiting and I am glad they do.

We are thrilled to have such tremendous curlers in Guelph from all over Canada. Like you, I am over 60. However, the only way I will ever be on a rink at the Canadian Masters is by participating in the opening ceremonies.

To give you an appreciation for our history you might wish to know that The Guelph Curling Club was established in 1838. Ours is this the second oldest curling club in Ontario.

In those days, the population of Guelph was around population 2,000; now we’re around 140,000 people. All this time, curling has been part of our heritage – from when we played on the Speed River, to when we curled on Baker Street to now.

But what is most important is Curling in the history of Canada. To some, it is a blasphemy that I will suggest that curling, not hockey – is our national sport. Here’s why: in curling, there is no age discrimination. Furthermore, it is fair to say we have 100 percent gender equity.

Our personal histories intertwine with Curling. Over 40 years ago I started curling right here. I met my future wife at this rink. She fell in love with me when she realized what a fine sweeper I was. How many of you met your future partners or spent time with your future spouse on a curling rink? I will hazard a guess that is most of you.

But, there is something more important about curling than our teenage romances. Why do I say suggest this is Canada’s national sport? Let’s look around. Many of us started to curl as teenagers. Many consider curling to be a fundamental part of our winter social season? How many of you travel to curl against friends and rivals? That’s the powerful, socially unifying nature of our game.

The jacket I wear is from the St. John’s Curling Club circa 1960. It belongs to my colleague, Councillor Leanne Piper’s father. He was stationed in Newfoundland with the Canadian Armed Forces and curled when off duty. Perhaps the jacket is out of date in this age of spandex and stretchy material. Yet, By its very design, it says that Curling unites us – coast to coast to coast.

In this Master’s Tournament, there is gender equity like there is every day on curling the rink. We play with our sweethearts, our husbands, our wives, even our lovers – as long as we don’t get caught.

Our children curl as our equals. It does not matter what age or gender you are, any of you can skip, lead or vice. That is the egalitarian nature of our game. And unlike hockey, we don’t have too many bench clearing brawls. Instead, we share a drink with our rivals at the end of each game.

Consider too the champions amongst you. Many of you excelled 30 or 40 years ago and rose to be champions locally, provincially and nationally. That’s a long career in any sport. Even Gordie Howe did not play hockey that long.

From coast to coast to coast Curling unites us on the rink and over a celebratory drink following the final end. This tournament unites us across 4000 miles.

Thank you to the tournament sponsors who helped make this event possible.

Thank you to everyone who assisted in organizing this tournament.

Most of all, thank you, competitors. Throw true, sweep hard and excel at our game.

We’re thrilled you are competing in Guelph. I hope you’ll have time to get to know Guelph a little better, to visit our historic and energetic downtown. If you need a spare, I’m always available.

Let the games begin.

Sherman Maness Eulogy

Liz and I are so sorry that we cannot be among friends to pay our respects to a great man and a great friend.

Sherman Maness was a friend of mine for nearly two decades. He would understand that this was not supposed to be a wake. This was supposed to be another Sunday when Sherman joined Alan, Barry, Ron, Karen and others to throw a few darts, drink a few pints and have a few laughs. None were supposed to be here today paying tribute and our respects to our dear friend.

In so many ways Sherman was larger than life. For me, in all my 5 feet 6-inch height, Sherman towered above me. When I first heard of Sherman, before I met him and he became a friend, he stood out in Slo Pitch as an awesome force. My teammates warned me to stand back, way back as Sherman was likely to hit over my head. He did and there was nothing for me to do but listen and feel the ground shake as he thundered around the bases yet again celebrating another home run.

It was when I played ball with Sherman in two leagues – with A to Z Dragons – the orthodox team, and in the men’s Slo Pitch league on many teams that I got to know him. I picked him up many times from the bus station when he worked in Toronto in order that he might make our games. I asked him questions about indigenous life which he answered honestly and with candor. When I wanted to know about the “two-spirited” status some indigenous people ascribed to gay members of the community, Sherman thought, took a drag on a cigarette and said without blinking: “it means you are queer” – nothing more, nothing less, nothing mystical, purely respectful of others. In fact, For him, people were people regardless of their background or lifestyle. If they could play ball, throw darts, strum a guitar or hammer out a bass line all the better. For Sherman, being human and being respectful and accepting of all people mattered.

I once talked to him about young people whom I was teaching trying to figure out how to deal with confused kids. I told him of the troubles one boy was in – at that time in a lock up in Goderich for participating in a stupid, juvenile attempt at trying to hold up a variety store. I said to Sherman, “Kids are so messed up, what would ever make a kid want to try to do a heist of a corner store?”

Sherman laughed, “You want to see messed up? Try growing up on a Res.” I supposed I got a bit close to Sherman’s past. I had forgotten that Sherman had grown up Ojibway in Sarnia – something he never made much about but was with him all his life.

Sherman joined our darts team about 10 years ago. He loved to throw those things. I often wondered what was he throwing at. If you ask Karen, Chuck or even Ron, Sherman was not throwing darts. He was launching them with a ferocity that threatened to send them through the board, the wall and possibly around the world. I believe it was Bob Desautels, who suggested that if Sherman did not ease off a bit, they would have to reinforce the walls where the Wooly Boards hung. Sherman did not play to impress. He played for fun, for camaraderie and to be part of the idle chatting and banter that came with darts and beer.

That was the way Sherman played guitar and bass as well. It was both a pleasure and an honour to play with him. I was in awe of his ancient Martin Guitar which sadly he sold a couple years ago. I wanted to buy it but could not afford to pay what it was worth – at least $3,000.00. I was relieved when I heard that Mark at Folkways apparently assured Sherman he would get a good price. I am happy to say that I am the owner of his Traynor Bassmate amplifier – a 1960’s amp that I purchased from him at the time he sold his Martin. I still have his name inscribed on tape fixed to the back of the amp – if the glue dries up, I will glue it back on.

Those sales of guitars and amps are part of Sherman’s legacy to me. They reveal that he was tight for cash. Previous to buying it, Sherman had told me I could have his amp as he had left it at my place years ago. It was a very generous gift and one I could not accept.

I knew that Sherman loved his Martin. If he was selling it, he was in need of cash. I worried that he was going to need more cash as his pensions would only go so far. 200 bucks was a fair price for the amp and one I was happy to pay – Sherman was happy to get it. I think that he was not alone in this predicament. In a sense, Sherman became symbolic not just of our Canadian Native brothers and sisters but also our retirees – tight for cash and worried about making ends meet. If there is anything we can do for Sherman’s memory perhaps it is to help others who are in his situation today. Poverty sucks, being tight for cash in old age sucks even more.

When I think of Sherman, I think of a friend whom I had for years – a man of quiet strength who had his demons and kept them to himself – most of the time. Sherman liked a beer, a cigarette and to smoke pot. He confided in me that he used pot to self-medicate preferring it to the prescriptions that made him sometimes feel out of his mind. Perhaps he is the poster boy for medical marijuana, for the elderly on fixed incomes for the boy who leaves the Res to conquer a hostile world.

While all that might be true or is perhaps me romanticizing, this I know: Sherman is best remembered as a friend. A smile as big as a house, a ponytail worn to the end. A friend inquiring to me often about my stepson Caleb, wondering if Liz’s March on Washington was a success – wanting to talk to Liz about it but succumbing to illness too soon.

I’ll miss him. I’ll miss playing ball with him, guitar with him (him laughing and criticizing me for being lazy playing C9 when a song calls for a C). I’ll miss his voice, driving him home, sharing a beer or two. I will shed tears as I think how much I’ll miss my friend and his deep unforgettable voice.

So today, toast Sherman, play darts, play music, play ball this summer. Remember a man whom we called friend, who was truly larger than life and whom none of us can believe is gone.

Migwitch Sherman, keep slamming them homers on the other side.