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Poverty Sucks

Poverty Sucks

Poverty sucks which is why the 2 to 3 vote at Guelph’s Corporate Services Committee which rejected a “Living Wage” is so galling.

Let’s do some number crunching.

There are 27 employees at the city of Guelph who earn less than a living wage as calculated by anti poverty groups;
These employees earn 8 cents an hour less than the living wage.
The total cost to bring these employees up to a living wage is $4,930.00 per year to the City.
That translates to .038 cents per person in Guelph for a living wage– but let’s round it up to .5 cents to be on the safe side.

The Living Wage campaign for some is symbolic. For me, it is personal and principled: I grew up in poverty and know how it hurts.

In “the wealthiest country in the world” poverty is still chronic both nationally and locally. It is considered by many to be a contagious disease cured by hard work and a free market – even the great economist Adam Smith disagrees. He knew the limits of a “free market.

For those below the living wage, much of what Guelph residents take for granted – the option of shopping for new clothes instead of browsing used clothing shops or relying upon donations, the option of eating fresh vegetables, the option of substituting whole foods for processed foods does not exist. Hell, for many, over 50 percent of a family’s earnings can and often do go for paying the rent!

For Guelph to support a living wage is an ethical stance. In cold hard cash, it is a penny on our tax bill – actually it is far less. Symbolically it states that our bottom line goes beyond cold hard cash to doing the right thing for the least among us.

For those who live in poverty, who cannot afford new clothes (ie don’t shop in St. Vincent de Paul’s as a choice but shop there out of necessity), who cannot wear the best clothes to a job interview, who do not eat nutritious food, denying a living wage is a slap in the face. Guelph has the highest employment rate in the best country in the world. We can and should do better.

Thanks to Councillor June Hofland for relentlessly promoting and supporting the motion to enact a Living Wage in Guelph. Thanks to the Guelph Downtown Board’s Marty Williams et al for supporting a living wage by advocating for it. Thanks to Councillors James Gordon, Cathy Downer, Karl Wettstein, Bob Bell for being supportive of our efforts.

When we defeated the Living Wage, Guelph’s Corporate Services Committee were “.038 of a penny wise” and a “dollar foolish”. Some would say that’s “looney-tick”. When we could have led by example we chose to lead with parsimony and ideology.

Ignoring poverty or relying upon the free market is not the answer. If it were, we would embrace child labour as a virtue and let the market decide whom it is that is employed, how much s/he is paid and whether health and safety measures matter. Thankfully the days of the workhouse, of Oliver Twist and Charles Dickens are behind us. The duty of City Councillors in a civilized community is to ensure that all benefit from prosperity. It’s not that hard nor that expensive.
Poverty sucks.

Point of View

Point of View

Firstly, I thank our Council that the rules of order permit me to speak without interruption on a matter of personal significance. I believe this to be the most significant political controversy in Guelph since the Michael Sona/RoboCalls scandal.

On Friday April 15, 2016, I was surprised to learn I was the subject of an Integrity Commissioner investigation. I was alleged to have breached closed session by responding to an email from Ms. Rena Ackerman stating I had acted without due regard for the city of Guelph by leaving a closed meeting.

I wrote to Ms. Ackerman the following: “As you are aware, I cannot reveal what occurred. You will have to trust this simple message is of importance to all Guelph residents: By denying quorum we were defending the integrity of the City as a corporation and staff.”

This email ultimately ended up on the blog of amateur blogger Mr. Gerry Barker. It is from that Blog which “The Complaint” (ultimately dismissed) arose.

I have recently discovered that Ms. Ackerman and Mr. Barker were executive members of Grassroots Guelph. This municipal activist group endorsed and helped finance the following candidates:

Ward One: Bob Bell and Dan Gibson
Ward Two:   Andy Van Hellemond and Ray Ferraro
Ward Three: Craig Chamberlain and Jason Dodge
Ward Four: Christine Billings and Greg Schirk
Ward Five: Bob Senechal and Jim Galatianos
Ward Six: Glen Tolhurst and Mark Mackinnon
Mayor: Cam Guthrie

Was there a political motivation to the complaint levelled at me and five members of council who left the meeting of January 25th? Who knows?

I can state without equivocation that I never spoke nor wrote to Mr. Barker as was alleged by the anonymous complainant. I do not respond to bloggers. I consider most to be of the calibre of the National Enquirer or Mad Magazine – entertainment for a very limited, narrow scope of readers.

I believe a political play was orchestrated. Two councillors integral to understanding what we were to discuss were unable to attend that particular meeting.

More importantly, I can point to correspondence that I had with all of Council and members of the Executive from January 21st. It outlines why I believe that meeting should have been rescheduled. The following  moots the foundation of the remaining complaint levelled:

Mayor Guthrie: . . . “I feel it is imperative for Council to know why you believe it important that the CAO and Executive be excluded from Monday’s meeting. This action appears to be very draconian, arbitrary and ultimately a decision that can be perceived as both undemocratic and threatening open informed and transparent government.”

This email was in no way confidential. It was sent 4 days prior to the closed meeting. Hence, we appear to have a false narrative arising from the complainant’s charges.

To hold a special closed session meeting with the minimum notice, it is imperative that we await a full compliment of Council. We should have awaited Councillors Hofland and Wettstein’s return from their vacations.

Already, this meeting had been postponed from January 14 – when we had several absences and quorum initially failed. The three days until Councillor Wettstein and Councillor Hofland returned were all that was necessary for us to have had a different meeting than this unfortunate affair. Both Councillors were, I might add, integral to understanding the issues being presented.

My final point is simple: I challenge anyone to state without equivocation what was leaked from closed session. Was it an anonymous open correspondence we were to discuss – Item C2016-2 on the agenda — an item that has been lost in the hubbub? Was it the decision to exclude the City’s Executive Staff – already a publicly discussed issue? Was it Guelph Municipal Holdings?

Was it other discussion which occurred within closed session? We have no written record for this. We could rely upon hearsay and remembrances. Yet, we know these are restricted by closed meeting rules and protocol. We do have a report of closed session that was presented in open. For that, one of the accused councillors – James Gordon was in attendance.

What really needs attention is this: “How do we make the elected City of Guelph Council work effectively? Furthermore, how do we stop the myriad of leaks from other closed sessions?

We must find a way to work collaboratively for Guelph. Clearly, things are not working now. Clearly, some wish to rerun the past municipal election.

That’s not going to happen. We must make Guelph work by cooperating, finding common ground and ending toxic game playing. It has reached its zenith with this complaint to the Integrity Commissioner.

I could ask who pays for this? This was recently posited of a dismissed complaint by Ms. Susan Watson to our elections’ commission. I won’t ask that – for it is the right of any citizen to seek redress if she/he feels a wrong doing has occurred. That right should not however be used frivolously as it was on January 25th 2016.

I will not put this city at financial risk – ever. Nor will I expose it to civil legal action that could cost it in diminished reputation or in monies owed. That, is a serious breach of public trust.

The bottom line – had we waited 3 days to allow full council membership to be present, a different outcome would have been witnessed.

Blue Dot Resolution

Blue Dot Resolution

Last fall we were very proud to have Guelph adopt the Blue Dot Resolution, a nation-wide initiative meant to ensure our right as citizens to live in a healthy environment. Introduced to council by Guelph High School students, this resolution was embraced enthusiastically by the city.

One clause in the resolution is of immediate importance:

“The city of Guelph is proud to be a leader in environmental stewardship. We are continuously striving to improve in a wide range of areas, including water and energy conservation and efficiency; food security; waste reduction; transit and active transportation; and sustainable planning.”

Guelph’s award-winning Community Energy Initiative is being updated and revitalized to ensure it will continue to be relevant in the future. The CEI is our commitment to use energy more wisely and to fight climate change.

Our forward looking plan has now been emulated by dozens of other Canadian municipalities. Citizens, businesses and all levels of government are working together to improve the environment for our kids and grandkids. Even Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, visited Guelph last week to see what a leading-edge community and its industries are doing to bring jobs and energy innovation to our city.

So what is Community Energy?
Here’s a brief summary from the city website:
The Community Energy Initiative is Guelph’s commitment to use and manage energy different and better, than we have in the past. The initiative will also attract quality investment to the city. After all, experts agree that a reliable, sustainable energy supply is and will continue to be a key ingredient in the long-term competitiveness and prosperity of cities.

Guelph’s goals under the plan are to:
Use less energy in 25 years than we do today
Consume less energy per capita than comparable Canadian cities
Produce less greenhouse gas per capita than the current global average

Our community is not unanimous in its commitment to the CEI, some see it as a fantasy. They also see Global Warming as a conspiracy that has been popularized by tree hungers, hippies and idealist visionaries searching for rainbows and unicorns.

Actually CEI is common sense home economics. For example: local industry and our power utility Guelph Hydro recognize that Solar Panels, insulating and updating our housing are all part of the solution – not the problem.

We must build for the future. In Guelph today, there are only about 35 electric cars. Yet, we can plan and design for when these are common place if we start to act now and locate electric chargers that rely on conventional electricity and maybe wind and solar too.

We can move forward with Community Energy for the future with a robust business plan. CEI can help give us energy sustainability while addressing climate change. We need to consider the quadruple bottom line. The social, environmental and health benefits of this plan are incalculable and every bit as important as the economic.

Guelph’s leading community energy advocacy group, eMerge has this to say about the CEI:

“Rarely do we get a chance to have a profound impact on the future of our city’s economy – and at the same time – improve our environment. The CEI provides all of us with the opportunity to transform our local economy for the better – an economy that will focus on putting our neighbours and families to work by investing in using less energy, using energy more wisely and producing more clean energy alternatives locally. It’s about creating more energy security within our city.”

To know where your are going requires you look ahead. Building for the future requires a far sighted vision. Through planning wisely, we can move towards a clean energy economy that makes our community healthier and more prosperous. That’s what we did 100 years ago when Ontario harnessed the awesome power of Niagara Falls. It’s time to plan and prepare for our future right here in Guelph – sensibly and sustainably.

Let your councillors, your mayor, and your neighbours know that you support updating and improving your Community Energy Initiative and creating jobs and prosperity locally.

Join us at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 25th at City Hall.

CEI is part of Guelph’s commitment to our grandchildren.
They’re worth it – are they not?

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

Speech delivered to Zonta
International Women’s Day breakfast
Thursday, March 10, 2016, 7 – 9 a.m.
Italian Canadian Club, Guelph

I’m very pleased to be here to offer greetings on behalf of the City of Guelph. I want to thank the Zonta Club of Guelph for organizing this event. Thank you for all you do – not just on International Women’s Day, but all year long.

I’m proud to give a warm Guelph welcome to our guest speaker, Sharmila Setarnam, President of the Board of Amnesty International. We’re thrilled to have you here.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that it is indeed a wonderful coincidence that Sharmila is with us today. My late mother in law, Elizabeth Boyle was actively involved in the early days of Amnesty International Canada. At that time, AI had evolved from being mainly concerned with Portuguese prisoners who had been arrested and detained by the Fascist Salazar government to focusing on human rights in general.

Elizabeth was characteristic of the feminist activist. She well understood what it was to be a woman who was fated to live a life of economic and social subordination to males and she rejected it. When she was to be presented to the King and Queen of England in the 1930’s, Elizabeth refused on the grounds that it was a disservice to women who were campaigning against England’s appeasement of the Franco fascists in Spain.

Elizabeth, educated at the feminist Girton College of Cambridge, continued all her life to advocate for women. Even in Guelph she advocated on behalf of domestics here in order that they might earn a living wage.

There are many among us today and also those who have passed from our company that deserve accolades. How many of you know which woman first sat in the seat of mayor in Guelph? It was not Karen Farbridge. Rather it was was Elsie Lowell – admittedly as the mayor of the day. Yet, in the 1960’s that was important accomplishment and my grade six teacher Mrs. Tawse insisted we know that.

And we should remember others too – Adelaide Hoodless, The women of the Women’s Institute, Barsa Kelly of Match International – who sadly passed when Air India was bombed in the 1980’s, Chris Margetson of Onward Willow and the Fetal Alcohol activist group FASAT.

We should acknowledge Lenna Bradburn – Canada’s first female chief of police, Ann Pappert our city’s first female Chief Administrative Officer and yes, we should acknowledge our women mayors: Karen Farbridge and Kate Quarrie.
Let us also pay homage to former MP Brenda Chamberlain, MPP Brenda Elliot, our current MPP Liz Sandals and all the others who have enriched our political culture.

Within business, we must pay tribute to CEOs like Linda Hassenfratz. Equally, we must recognize the work of Janice Folk Dawson President of the Guelph and District Labour Council and all women who work daily in Guelph.

I could go on and on about how women in Guelph have helped make life better. However, I want to end with a tribute to the past and the present. As we acknowledge those Activists who tirelessly campaign on issues of reproductive choice including birth control and unfettered access to safe therapeutic abortion, who demand that we eradicate violence against women including such practices as date rape and female circumcision, we should also pay tribute to the modern pioneers of reproductive medicine: the midwives.

It is they who confirm that all that is old is new again. Today, we have amongst us women devoted to bringing new life into the world in the warm confines of the house where women are actively involved in the birthing process. Most of us here I suspect were born in hospitals with fine male doctors attending. Yet, it bugs me that for nearly 100 years, midwifery and home birthing was put on a back burner in Canada. Over 100 years ago my grandmother, at the age of 15, was a midwife along with her mother among the European settlers and the Ojibway of the Dryden area. Then, the practice all but disappeared until women – not men -realized that we must resurrect the notion that women assisting in the birth of children was not a novelty. Midwifery arose out of a knowledge  that when it came to birthing and women’s reproductive health, women know best. Today, Women can finally, once again, reassure the expectant mother, and can assist with nurturing the newborn child.

There will always be new opportunities for pioneering in health care, politics, and  business. But please, never forget the campaigns and the struggles of women in Guelph, in Canada and throughout our world. Remember the struggle for the vote, for equality, for inheritance rights, for reproductive rights. Our collective foremothers demand we, both males and females, never break faith with them.

Tax Letter

Tax Letter

Dear Guelph Resident:

Thank you very much for your note. I am so glad that  the council administrative assistant Ms Puthon corrected my email address so I could read your concern. Otherwise, it would not have got to me.

In the last election, I too voted for change and ran on that platform. I was also very honest in saying I could not guarantee that I would not raise taxes if I was elected. In contrast, I promised to be financially responsible. That was the proper thing to do and was part of a platform that was received very positively by all I met with the exception of one person.

The promise to not raise taxes is the very worst charlatanism one could imagine. No politician can promise to predict the future and if s/he does then s/he is being insincere or is displaying a reckless irresponsibility. I am proud that I did not do that.

I am proudly responsible for looking after your city’s well being as well as my taxes and yours. As you know that takes sound financial management – not hollow promises. Guelph is aging and that aging is not cheap. In fact, I compare Guelph to an aging person. As we age (I am a retiree), we cost more to maintain. I know only too well the aches and pains I once did not experience. I am thankful we have public health, social services and good roads upon which ambulances, busses, fire trucks and even mobility scooters can travel.  I am joyful we have good quality parks in which to play and wander. Sadly all of this costs money. Cities might not have aches and pains, but you and I know that they deteriorate if not attended.

If you wish, perhaps you and I can meet for a coffee sometime to review what is required for an growing city to operate? Sadly we have not recovered from the Harris and Harper governments downloading more on us. As you know what they downloaded they did so because they did not wish to fund those things themselves. Instead,  those governments preferred to trick people into thinking we could get something for nothing – a terribly reckless approach to public policy if ever there was.

Like other cities Guelph must seek the financial resources to bring our streets, parks and infrastructure up to standard. We are in a difficult situation. Like you. I want to keep taxes down. Like you, I want to live in a city in which it is worth living. You and I agree we don’t want to live in Flint Michigan or in Detroit with their dying centre’s and poisoned water. To ensure we don’t, we must use our taxes wisely and we must increase them when needed. As city councillors we are in a darned if we do, darned if we don’t situation mainly brought on by the reckless decision making of Mike Harris and Stephen Harper. In fact, cities right across Canada must fix the mess those two caused.

Why don’t we meet for a tea or a coffee? I would be very happy hear your ideas and hopefully you would like to hear mine too. I am generally available most days so I could meet at your convenience.

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Phil Allt

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