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Friday Prayers

Friday Prayers

Greetings – I am very honoured and very humbled to speak at Friday prayers. I confess I am not very familiar with Islamic Theology. I wish I were more so and perhaps this is part of my journey. It is not my intention to focus exclusively upon the immediate past tragedies and horrors that have occurred in Canada and Quebec of late.

Religious intolerance, cultural bigotry and attacks on people because of their differences are without reason or understanding. I do not wish to sensationalise either these or the misuses of government that we witness south of our border for fear of fanning the flames of xenophobia. Suffice to say, I want to focus on our virtues, the blessings of multiculturalism, multi faiths, sisterhood and brotherhood. I believe I am my brother’s and my sister’s keeper in alignment with the 5th pillar of Islam and the Christian principle of charity. In both, we find our common community and humility.

It is so easy to be angry and to misplace our anger. I lament the actions of Alexandre Bissonnette. To have embraced values that made his actions acceptable to him stems, likely, from what we have witnessed South of the Border and in Canada. I don’t understand it. I cannot fathom what might have led to Bissonnette to feel such as path was righteous. That cannot be entertained by me and I am sure by anyone in this room.

Perhaps what occurred in Quebec City has something to do with what has recently transpired in the United States. These actions which seem to refute our common humanity are equally puzzling.

Yet, I forgive America. I understand that most Americans do not embrace the anger and divisiveness we witness within the halls of their government today. I embrace the passion of the Million Women March that was inspired by inclusiveness and values of community. I embrace the spirit of the American Civil Rights movement. My America includes all people regardless of race, creed or colour. I much prefer to focus on the words inscribed on a plaque that lies at the base of the Statue of Liberty. These are words by which America lived and grew and by which the United States will do so again:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

I thank Emma Lazarus for coining those immortal words – they remind us how this continent – for I include Canada in this incantation – was built and populated. Neither Canada, nor the United States, were built by billionaires with power and arrogance. Rather, they were imagined and made manifest by desperate people seeking sanctuary from poverty, famine, racism, religious bigotry and war. In time, we shall awaken from this current of intellectual and emotional darkness under which we toil. When we do, we will continue to build a better world –  a New Jerusalem with those huddled masses as the anchors of that paradise.

I think too of the province of Quebec. While I mourn their recent tragedy and others before it – the Montreal Massacre, the FLQ crisis, the riots of WWI, the antisemitism and persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses – I celebrate a province that is marvellous in its history and culture. I look fondly to a province that in many ways are more socially progressive than any part of Canada, that provides affordable day care to all, that first embraced gender equity. I marvel at a province that celebrates winter as its heritage – the words “mon pays c’est hiver, c’est hiver mon pays” (My country is the winter, the winter is my country) echo a culture that embraces the grandeur of God’s/Allah’s creation in the warmth of summer and also the cold frigid air of winter.

And we as Canadians, as residents of Guelph, as neighbours must embrace this frigid political climate in which we currently exist. We must find strength in each other. We understand we have our common heritage – the heritage that makes Jerusalem a pillar of three faiths  – Muslim, Christian and Jew – a common culture sharing Abraham, and the prophets of old. We understand that while there seems to be a poverty of political will to embrace our differences and create beauty, we, the people, can do it regardless of governments that seek to divide and rule. We can come together as we did on Monday in a thousandfold or million fold. We can hug, cry, share each other’s pain and understand first and foremost, we are neighbours.

Each of us here has a different background, a different upbringing. My background in nominally Christian. I was baptised Presbyterian, attended Catholic College, studied Mennonite theology and was raised by a Jewish grandmother.

None of you has my background. Yet, you share my love of community and of Guelph. I know that you and I embrace, peace and social justice. We come together in community. We want to build something new and better – we want that New Jerusalem.

On these Friday prayers – at which I am honoured to attend – I wish to share the words of God/Allah found in The Book of Isaiah. They are perhaps appropriate for us now as we contemplate our next steps. These words focus upon the purpose of fasting. Why do some of us fast? What is its spiritual purpose? Perhaps The Book of Isaiah put it most appropriately – we fast for others, we fast for social justice:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
We can be the Repairer of Broken Walls, we can raise up age-old foundations, we can restore streets and dwellings. We can be the opposite of the anger and fear we see around us in Canada, the United States and Europe – dare I say world wide.

It has been said by Him whom some call The Christ and others call Prophet: “My Father’s house has many rooms”. Nothing could be more true. We are here together with so many faiths, so many cultures – figuratively living in so many rooms. Yet we abide in the same mansion of humanity.

It is right and proper to stand together, to live together, to embrace Zakat, Charity and social justice. Let us hold fast to higher values than those that might divide us. Let us do as Toronto, Hamilton and London Ontario have recently committed. Let us make Guelph a Sanctuary City for refugees and for those who are fleeing tyranny, oppression and war.

Shalom, Nameste, As-salāmu ʿalaykum, Peace be unto us all.

Walk for the Alzheimer Society

Walk for the Alzheimer Society

Comments celebrating the fundraising walk for the Alzheimer Society.

I’m very pleased to be here to offer greetings on behalf of the City of Guelph and our City Council. I want to acknowledge Councillor James Gordon who is here as well.

Thank you very much to the – walkers and fundraisers, the donors, the sponsors and of course The Alzheimer Society of Waterloo-Wellington – for all the wonderful work they do.

Thanks also to, Tom Lammer, and the management of Old Quebec Street mall for providing a warm place to walk!

More than anyone, I want to thank the families, the friends and those that support those afflicted with Alzheimer’s, people who on a daily basis offer love and support to those in their lives that require more care and attention than they might have needed just a short time ago.

I also wish to thank all the volunteers who take time out to enhance the lives of those with Alzheimer’s by visiting and performing what seem to be very ordinary tasks but often are extraordinary for those for whom they support.

I am reminded of my friend Alan Pickersgill, who played Scrabble with an elderly gentleman with whom he volunteered. This act of volunteerism clearly improved the life of that person.

Similarly, the volunteers at St Joseph’s Health Care centre are deeply appreciated. Those who provide daily activities including teas and other social events are invaluable for improving people’s lives. For me, it is personal, as my mother is supported at St Joseph’s by warm caring individuals who go the extra mile. They are literally our parents’, brothers’, sisters’ and neighbours’ keepers.

Guelph is one of many communities across Canada raising funds this weekend for the Alzheimer Society. This financial support will make a difference for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia – and their families and caregivers.

As you walk this morning, you are clearly showing that community matters in Guelph. We care about our residents. We are committed to supporting them regardless of their circumstances. We understand that love, compassion and caring are important priceless symbols of who we are as a city. People in Guelph always chip in; your personal efforts are exemplary of our wonderful city spirit of giving.

Once again thank you.

Budget Comments

Budget Comments

Dear Members of Council:

In absentia, would have loved to rise on point of personal privilege and thank whoever might have read this for me. Procedurally, however, that would be awkward; hence, I have written to you all with this missive.

Unfortunately, I cannot be there to deliberate a budget that is in the best interests of Guelph. I urge that common sense and sound minds will prevail.

A budget is not to be framed on personal political ambition, on thinking of one’s own self-interest, on considering “what is in it for me”. It is framed in the common good. Of course, we all have ideas and many of these differ. From these, we need to seek common understanding

Creating a budget is part of a social contract engaged in by our citizens wherein we acknowledge a duty to support our community – the young, the old, the better off, the less fortunate – metaphorically we render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. In this way we make Guelph work into the future.

Tonight, I wish I could make determinations on bussing, on playgrounds, on roads, bridges, services and support for all of Guelph. I wish I could say: “I want to pay for a library so others might enjoy its benefits and when I need it, it is there for me”. I wish I could vote in favour of Councillor Mackinnon’s proposal for a 1% levy. I wish I could also vote for a City Building levy to help build a Rec. Centre in the South End and a new, modern, state of the art library in our core.

I wish I could pronounce from my seat at the Horseshoe, “let’s restore busing to 2015 levels and let’s find a way to make 2017 service better than it has ever been.”

I wish that those that come after us, will never be burdened with 60 to over 100 years of decaying sewers, water pipes, roads and valuable, needed engineering. We must guarantee that the good life remains exactly that – the good life in the best city in Canada – Guelph – Our Royal City.

Colleagues: please support a budget that is “Guelph Positive”. Please support a budget that is “Proudly Guelph”.

Please support a budget founded upon the principles of reason, that is principled and that is forward looking. We must develop a budget that is right for all our citizens.

For 2017 we must create, a dynamic, healthy budget that considers seniors, kids, newlyweds, all who choose Guelph, raise families, celebrate our diversity and exercise our right to willingly contribute to the public good via taxes. Living in Guelph is the best experience we will ever share. It is worth it to plan and pay for the best.

Let’s do Guelph right, let’s be “Proudly, Progressively Guelph”. We cannot succumb to populism nor cost saving because it seems to be the lowest common denominator. We have a responsibility to be better than that. We have a duty to build our city.

Tonight, what I wish most is to return to Guelph and rejoin my colleagues.

Unfortunately, I have to eat hospital food (mainly Jello) and suffer the certainty I will have a catheter removed soon. If you wish to trade me places, I’m happy to let you substitute.

Rest assured, my discomfort is nothing compared to the enormous responsibility you face tonight. Please consider: will the budget upon which you are about to vote to make Guelph better? It can only be one way. Our duty is to the future.

In the principles of Christian duty, Islamic Zakat, humanist responsibility to the community, I wish you great wisdom as you deliberate. Namaste, Shalom, As-salamu Alaykum, may peace be in your hearts.

Christmas Kettle Campaign 2016

Christmas Kettle Campaign 2016

I am very humbled to have been asked by Major Chris Pilgrim to help celebrate the advent of the Salvation Army Christmas 2016 Kettle Campaign.

The Salvation Army has been an institution in Guelph since 1884. I remember even as a kid donating to the campaign in downtown Guelph while awaiting a bus to take me home upon the completion of my Christmas Shopping. I saw this annual campaign through the eyes of a child sharing Christmas and honestly, I confess, not truly understanding what was being done.

For my family, however, the Salvation Army was personal and traditional. Over 100 years ago, my grandmother recollected that my great grandfather would play in the Salvation Army band in the Northern Ontario town of Dryden. My grandmother recited how, when she was a little girl, her father would walk along the tracks from Wabigoon into Dryden – about 15 miles – to join in what must have been a very small band. This was part of his and his family’s community and their social life. It shows how much the Salvation Army united people even in our hinterlands.

Today, many Guelph families are supported by this Kettle drive we celebrate tonight. To state that the drive is run with Salvation Army like precision is an understatement. Many people donate annually to its success. Yet, it is the efforts of staff and volunteers which ensure that Christmas is a joyful time for all. In the past, I have lifted a few boxes, driven a couple of hampers and attempted in a very, very small way to assist your efforts. It is nothing however to that which is done on a daily basis by your community,

I have witnessed many of you working overtime to ensure that the lonely, the less able, those on fixed incomes might enjoy a Christmas meal, that a child might experience the thrill of a gift and that Christmas will be a meaningful time of giving, reflecting and community. Your work is legion and dare I say, an institution in Guelph that is deeply appreciated.

It is important to me that the foundation of your mission be framed in Biblical verse. Hence I would be remiss if I did not refer to some meaningful words of Scripture. For me, the book of Isaiah is particularly poignant.

I will only cite one short passage from Isaiah 58 verses 10 and 11. These words succinctly anchor your work:

And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.

This, I believe, is the mission and fulfillment of the Salvation Army here in Guelph, in the streets of London England 150 years ago, and throughout the world.

Thank your for sharing your love for others, for those with less, for those in crisis, for those, who, for a moment, are without hope.

The Salvation Army’s kettle and it’s chiming bells are not a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal as is cautioned against in Corinthians. They are a symbol of faith, hope, and love. They are a clarion call intoning that when we see a wrong or despair, it is a duty to ease suffering and improve life.

Thank you for being an important part of Guelph and for also being an important part of Canada and everywhere, 365 days a year. Thank you, William Booth. Yours are big boots to fill – here in Guelph, your spiritual heirs are doing marvelously.

Where Civic Pride and Responsibility Meet

Where Civic Pride and Responsibility Meet

Mr. Mayor, Councillors, I am speaking in favour of the motion to refer Councillor Gordon’s and my resolution to Committee.

I must express some disappointment that delegates are not permitted to speak today. Yet I understand and accept that our rules do not permit it. There are arguably hundreds of people who wish their voices to be heard. Sadly our rules do not permit this.

There was a quick fix that we might have used. Just under a year ago, our mayor suspended the rules so we might continue to work on our budget – which we did – and then successfully approved. That draconian practice could have been used again today. I might have supported it had we alerted people to their opportunity to speak. Sadly, this would have given people very little time to prepare.  Furthermore, by not having time to announce this to the broader community, such a procedural maneuver would not have been appropriate.

At committee of the whole we currently provide people with a voice so they can express their concerns about taxes and other issues. We must also permit the public to express their feelings on broader principles including ground water protection.

We are a Blue Dot Community – a city that takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. This designation first came to Committee. We overwhelmingly supported this principle because the public, through delegation, convinced us it is right.  We are proud of that designation and more proud of the students who bravely lobbied us and convinced Council that this matters.

Historically, delegation to our Council was immensely important. We have supported issues that have ramifications far beyond our borders.

Decades ago, Guelph residents voted to become a nuclear free zone. Council also raised flags for Amnesty International and to support Prisoners of Conscience. 15 years ago, we mourned the victims of the World Trade Centre attack.

We cannot and should not look back to the good old days where merely being concerned with roads, parking, parks and policing were the topics of debate. People in Guelph want more from us as a Council – as guardians of the public trust. They want to speak on issues that matter deeply. They want to be heard, they want to be informed. They want to be engaged whenever a matter impinges on our quality of life.

Our residents understand we are at Ground Zero for national and international concerns such as water security. If we worry about Great Lakes water being exported to the American Mid West, surely we must be equally concerned about bottled water being mined locally and sold internationally.

People must be permitted to share their concerns about ground water regardless of their views. This is not about Nestle – this issue should not be considered as a criticism of one corporation: this is about a sustainable future.

Referring this to Committee is about considering our situation within the principles of “Places to Grow” and Guelph’s increasing population. It is, in the words of Citizen David De Weerdt “about collaborative leadership”.

As I express this, there are over 600 applications before the province asking for exemptions from Greenbelt protection. This reinforces why the public must speak at Committee. Let’s give people a platform to speak on ground water protection. Let’s foster further public debate.  This is a vital part and parcel of a much greater concern: the health and vitality of Southern Ontario for generations to come.

People speaking and working together help solve problems like our ground water crisis. They provide Guelph’s Council with much food for thought as we debate water security and community livability for generations to come. Please, I urge Council to  support continuing the public debate of bottling and exporting water from local aquifers.

It’s for our grandkids.

Phil Allt

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