Closing thoughts on the Provincial Water Taking Review

The Provincial Water taking file (I believe) has been a valuable process for our council, community and staff to go through together. What started out as a very aggressive motion brought forward by Councilor Gordon and Allt, eventually turned into a well focused discussion on how Guelph might influence the governance review of the water taking process in our province.  Governance that should always be grounded in science; where priority uses can be established for municipalities and others.

I sincerely want to thank all of the residents and business owners in Guelph who have reached out to me over the past few weeks expressing appreciation that this file was steered away from it’s original tone.  Many in our community have felt alienated by things that have been said during this process and to those people, I want to acknowledge that I heard your voices very clearly.  While often too intimidated to speak up, I thank you for reaching out to me.

Guelph is very passionate about water, but our passion should always remain grounded in the science of sustainable resource development and priority uses; not on personal value judgements alone.  For these reasons I commend staff for their work on this file.  For listening to council and the community and for developing recomendations that (I wholeheartedly believe) accurately reflect our collective water security concerns. The recomendations and report are defensible and most importantly are respectful of the relationships we have with our surrounding townships and the businesses where many of our residents work.  Residents and their families who are valued members of our Guelph community.

Guelph let’s talk about the “Frivolous Use” of water

In Canada we are truly blessed to have abundant water resources. And while we must never take for granted the sustainability of this resource, an abundance of water does allow Canadians to maintain a standard of living that (we can all acknowledge) includes many non-essential uses. Uses that other regions of our world can only dream of having, such as lawn and golf course irrigation, car washes and yes, swimming pools and splash pads. To be clear, I am not opposed to any of these uses provided the science can demonstrate the resource (in Guelph’s case groundwater) is not being depleted in order to provide them.

To this end, I believe a science based approach to rational and sustainable water use should always guide our policies (including price) and governance (e.g. Permit to Take Water Process – PTTW).  This approach was recently reinforced by the Provinces decision to review the PTTW Process in Ontario over the next two years.

It is in this context that (during the November 7th water meeting at City Hall), I decided to pose some questions to Wellington Water Watchers member Mike Nagy.  During his delegation Mr. Nagy took a moral position against the “frivolous use” of water by a company outside of Guelph.  And while I completely respect his personal opinions on water, I decided to explore the boundaries of this conviction.  My questions were intended to simply hear Mr. Nagy’s thoughts on the many non-essential uses of water that occur within Guelph.  Uses like swimming pools and splash pads, as well as industrial users (including breweries). I wanted to know whether he also considered these “frivolous” on a moral basis. After all, Guelph commercial breweries do consume water through their processes; bottle it; and ship it (as product) out of our region and around the world. And while I do not oppose any of these uses, I simply wanted to know if Mr. Nagy’s moral objection also applied to uses within Guelph.  I did so not to be patronizing, but simply to identify the inherent difficulties in developing water policy based on personal or moral positions. It is my experience in resource management that this type of approach often leads to interest groups simply “throwing rocks” at the users they don’t like (which we are seeing on this file).  And this type of targeting only results in division. This is why I continue to maintain that our collective focus must remain, first and foremost, on the science of sustainable water use; and I will continue to push this focus later on this month when the file comes before council for final deliberation and direction.

How is Guelph managing risks to our municipal water supply?

On Friday October 28th, 2016 Water Services released a report which outlines Guelph’s strategy for managing risks to the sustainability of our drinking water supply.  In particular, the report reiterates the City’s long standing positions on commercial water takings in our region and the risks they may pose to Guelph’s future needs.  I’m proud of staffs ability to prepare such a thorough and well articulated report on short notice (Council motion was only passed in late September).  Further, I’m proud of the mitigation measures already being established to address these risks through a comprehensive Tier 3 Risk Assessment (currently ongoing) for Guelph and surrounding townships under the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

guelph-water-budgetThrough this process (Tier 3 Risk Assessment), I’m confident our staff will continue providing council with expert advice and recommendations grounded in evidence based science, with a focus on implementing sustainable water resource use in our region.  To this end, I’m hopeful council will share a unanimous voice in calling for a science based review of the water taking permit process in Ontario.  A message similar to the one delivered on September 23, 2016 by Premiere Wynne when she called on the environment minister to “explor[e] ways to ensure sustainability remains the top priority for the use of our surface and groundwater. Your work will acknowledge that immediate improvements are needed when it comes to water bottling practices, particularly in the face of climate change, the increasing demand on water resources by a growing population, and concerns about water security”. 

Below are some pertinent sections of the Staff report that I believe all residents should be aware of.

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Dissecting the History of GMHI & District Energy in Guelph

Speaking notes from October 24th, 2016

From the outset, I take great pride in making the personal decision early on in this file to take ownership and indeed immerse myself in it’s history in order to better understand and determine how we’ve arrived at today’s outcome (suspending operations at Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc indefinitely).

So to the beginning, the creation of GMHI and pursuit of District Energy for that matter go back almost 9 years in Guelph. On November 24, 2008 council at the time struck a design team shortly after approving the original Community Energy Initiative in 2007. They appointed a sub-committee to build a business case detailing objectives, mandate, guiding principles and a proposed structure for HOLDCO (later termed GMHI).  On that design team were former mayor Karen Farbridge, former councillor Ian Findlay, and current councillor’s Mike Salisbury, Bob Bell and Leanne Piper.

Now, fast forward to June 28, 2010 (I’ve referenced this date many times in the past), Council endorsed a design (founded on this subcommittees work) for GMHI that includes 5 of 8 voting members of the board being elected officials. I’ll acknowledge Councilor Bell was the only member of the design team to vote against the proposed structure of GMHI. Appointed to the original GMHI board were Karen Farbridge (chair), Todd Dennis, Lise Burcher, and current councillors June Hoffland and Karl Wettstein. 5-8 voting members were politicians (a controlling interest) by design. Politicians that now maintained governance and oversight of Guelph Hydro and its subsidiary companies. Companies that, as we’ve heard Mr. Sardana state in the past, were subjected to “pressure” and “moral suasion” to get on with pursuing District Energy in the Hanlon Creek and Downtown. Initiatives that ultimately lead to $14M dollars being invested in District Energy, of which, $8.7M has already been written off in losses.

This was a well crafted sell to the residents of Guelph. I know because as a resident before being elected I voiced support for the concept of GMHI and District Energy, and today my trust has been broken over what I’ve come to know. This is a personal issue for me because I know what it means to government’s social license when environmental initiatives (shrouded in a lack of transparency), fail.  One only has to look provincially, at the erosion of public trust in government’s ability to implement renewable energy as proof of how important social licence is in these pursuits. GMHI and District Energy is no different.

So, now residents know, just like we (councillors) know the history and I fully support Mayors Guthrie efforts to bring transparency to this file.  Those who designed, created and ultimately governed over these pursuits should no longer be allowed to distance themselves from it or shift blame. I hope that in the coming months we can continue cleaning it up, and start rebuilding the trust that has been lost in our city.

My thoughts from Monday’s meeting are attached.

Update: Traffic Study at Watson Pkwy & Eastview determines traffic lights are warranted

Some exciting news for east end Guelph.  A recent traffic study completed at the Watson/Eastview intersection on September 20th demonstrates new signalized traffic lights are warranted .  Please see below correspondence received from staff today (Oct 7, 2016).


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Councilor Gordon does not speak for me when it comes to conservation & sustainable resource use

After reading the desire of Ward 2 Councilor James Gordon to “kick the asses” of a provincially regulated, private employer of more than 300 people, out of our region this week, I felt the need to state unequivocally that Councilor Gordon does not speak for me on this issue.

It’s one thing to relay our community’s concerns regarding the conservation of water and the current Permit to Take Water process, but it’s another thing entirely to create (as some have described) “hyper-rhetoric and division” around the issue.  Division that (as Gordon suggests) could lead to hundreds of Guelph residents, neighbors and friends, losing their jobs.   My thoughts on this file are as follows.  Continue reading

Ward 1 Town Hall | September 28, 7-9 at City Hall

Town Hall Image

Also joining us will be guests Mike Schreiner (Green Party Leader of Ontario) and Kithio Mwanzia (President and CEO of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce) for a facilitated community discussion on updating Guelph’s Community Energy Initiative.

Please consider joining us.

Dan Gibson
Ward1 City Councilor
519-827-6407 (c)
On Twitter | @ward1guelph
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Note to parents of new Ecole Guelph Lake students

Many parents may have already received this from the school board but as a reminder there will be a new crossing guard stationed at Eastview & Severn starting in September. This is based on the School Boards research into pedestrian traffic to the new Ecole Guelph Lake.  As a note, there will also be a traffic study completed at Watson & Eastview within the first few weeks of September to gauge the increased traffic to and from the school. This will help determine the necessity for traffic lights in the future.

Enjoy the last few weeks of the summer!


In Defence of Inflationary Tax Increases

Attached are some of my comments shared during the 2016 budget debate.  My challenge to council as we move closer to the 2017 budget process is, “how are our decisions on taxation supporting vulnerable home owners in Guelph”.


National study’s would suggest that as many as 11,000 households in Guelph are currently living paycheque to paycheque while trying to own or pay a mortgage on their home.  This represents a significant demographic in our city that is truly exposed to sudden spikes in taxation and/or inflation.  These households are not wealthy.  Their savings are invested in their homes and they’re relying on that investment to be their primary source of long term security as they retire, start a career or seek to raise a family in Guelph.

Finding common currency in Guelph’s Community Energy Initiative

The idea of residents finding common currency (or interest) in Environmental Initiatives is very important to me.  Whether your currency is financial (ROI), social or environmental, your values should be reflected in the Community Energy Initiative (CEI).  This is how we as a council can ensure as broad based support as possible.

Looking back to April, 2016 I’m confident that the process (and debate) council undertook on updating the CEI will prove to be successful.  With strong fiscal and environmental performance metrics embedded in the plan; moving forward we can now report back to citizens how the CEI is progressing and whether we are achieving our stated fiscal and environmental goals.

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