Growth and Water in Guelph

Friday, October 20, 2006

Written by May Warren

Three mayoral candidates were grilled on issues of water and growth at a public forum in Guelph on Oct 16th. Mark Briestensky, Bev Izzillo-Ustation and Karen Farbridge spoke to the crowd and answered audience questions in the auditorium of the Dublin St. United Church. The event also featured a panel of experts, which included former Green Party candidate Mike Nagy, City Counsellors Cathy Downer and Lise Burcher and University of Guelph professor David Douglass. The event opened with comments from the expert panelists on the future of Guelph's water supply and the importance of pursuing properly planned growth.

“Europeans have a higher standard of living than us but they use up to 2/3 less water per family,” reported Nagy, who spoke first. “In my house we have water barrels and use half the national average,” he explained, emphasizing the importance of personal water conservation. However he also stressed that government has an important role to play in conservation. “Cities have problems getting goals with teeth, they need to concentrate on binding legislation,” he reported.

Counselors Lise Burcher and Cathy Downer argued for a different model of growth for Guelph, insisting that development doesn’t always mean big box stores in the peripheral areas of the city. “We can do things differently. There are better ways to work. We need complete communities, walkable communities, mixed development communities,” says Burcher.

Dr David Douglass a Professor of Rural Planning and Development at the University of Guelph, agreed. “This is about values,” he argued. “There are two things on the table: who matters and what matters. Our children grandchildren and the environment are more important than a budget. We are tenants, borrowing the space from future generations,” he explained, insisting that he is in favour of growth, just not “linear urban cities."

After the expert’s comments the candidates were allowed five minutes to speak and then a one-minute rebuttal. Karen Farbridge used her time to stress the need for carefully sustainable development.

“Growth can bring tremendous opportunity as along as it is smart, but an unplanned city is costing us money,” she explained. Farbridge, who lost her post as mayor to Kate Quarrie in 2003, says she wants to put Guelph back on track.

She also says she's concerned about the water supply, particularly the controversial idea to build a pipeline to Lake Erie and pump Guelph's water in. “There are low cost effective ways to get more water,” she says, including repairing the city’s relationship with the country. “The pipeline is not for Guelph,” she insists.

“We must protect our water share,” said fellow counselor Bev Izzillo-Ustation. Izzillo-Ustation also spoke about her vision for Guelph that includes a “vibrant economically sound community with plenty of water.”

Mark Briestensky talked about how under the Harris government the province “downloaded a lot of responsibilities on to the municipalities that never should have been there.” He stressed the need to identity potential water sources and discourages wasteful water practices, especially as the population of Guelph increases. “I don’t advocate the pipeline but it may be something we have to consider down the road,” he says.

About 100 people attended the event and a lively question and answer period followed the candidate’s speeches. Current mayor Kate Quarrie could not attend because of a scheduling conflict.

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