Loose Cannon: Now is the winter of our voter discontent

Thursday, December 10, 2009

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  • Dealing
with an estimated budget shortfall of $8 million for 2010, Guelph City Ccouncil
has some very difficult decisions to m

    Dealing with an estimated budget shortfall of $8 million for 2010, Guelph City Ccouncil has some very difficult decisions to m

Written by Greg Beneteau

These days, it’s not just the winter weather that’s creating a chill in the air.

Dealing with an estimated budget shortfall of $8 million for 2010, Guelph City Ccouncil has some very difficult decisions to make over the next week – ones that provide no escape from frosty voters who will soon be going to the polls.

On the one hand, it would take a whopping 9.2 per cent tax increase to keep the books balanced without cutting any costs or generating additional revenue. Making people pay more to receive the same level of service is unpalatable at the best of times. A near ten per cent increase in municipal taxes would drive the average homeowner apoplectic and severely damage Guelph’s claim to being an affordable place to live and do business.

So, council asked staff to go through its various departments with a fine-toothed comb, looking for items that can be cut without being missed.

The tough lesson here is that when council opens its purse to fund programs and services, people become invested in those programs and services. Try telling a local musician that cutting funding for the Guelph Arts Council is a better idea than eliminating free parking downtown. Both are being considered as part of budget deliberations.

Among students, the uproar is over a proposal to eliminate the Universal Buss Pass in favour of a monthly rate that would apply to students across the city.

Guelph Transit Manager Michael Anders has come out saying that the U of G pass was “way underpriced” and needed to be corrected to reflect the cost of running the system and encourage ridership among high school students. Estimated savings for the city: $300,000.

I’m sure Guelph residents (those who don’t have kids at U of G) are perfectly happy to hoist the additional cost onto university students. After all, fifteen bucks a month seems like quite a deal compared to the current rate paid by high school students, which is more than four times that.

University students, who have negotiated a mandatory annual transit pass as part of their student fees for nearly 15 years without any complaints from the city, have good reason to think they’re being thrown under the bus, so to speak. In better times, student money helped build up Guelph Transit into the relatively decent service that exists today.

So, whose interests win out during a budget brawl? While I believe city councillors generally have their constituents’ best interests at heart, they are political creatures by nature. Simply put, they’ll support whatever motions help them survive what promises to be a punishing election next fall.

Voters have long memories, so one of the strategies  is to piss off only the voters who don’t show up to the polls.

If it feels like Guelph City Council might give into the demands of high school parents on the transit pass issue, consider that the average turnout for voters between 18 and 21.5 years of age was 42 per cent in Ontario during the 2004 federal election, According to Elections Canada. For voters between 21.5 and 24, turnout was 37 per cent.

Compare that with a turnout of 63 per cent for the 38-47 age group and 70 per cent for those aged 48-57, and you start to realize why mom and pop have more clout than you do.

There’s evidence that students are taking time out from exams schedule to make their concerns heard. Ward 5 Councillor Leann Piper recently posted on a Facebook page related to the transit pass issue that she’d received more than 1600 emails. In a municipal election, 1600 votes is the difference between first and last place. U of G students would do well to remember that.

If council decides to scrap the bus pass, disaffected student voters will also need a candidate to challenge that decision at the ballot box. There are plenty of qualified student leaders on campus who would make an excellent addition to council, but they will need support from their normally apathetic peers if they’re to stand a chance of winning.

Budget time is squeaky wheel season, the winter of our voter discontent. Citizens who follow their councillors’ decisions closely and give feedback are more likely to get what they want.

Trust me, they’re listening. Like students studying frantically for their final exams, I suspect our elected representatives will have to put off sleep until sometime after Christmas.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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  1. Posted by: christine de pizan on Dec 14, 2009 @ 4:24pm

    thank you, yet again, greg.
    if the city of guelph cancels the universal bus pass, they will screw themselves over. too many students will boycott the monthly bus pass and the city of guelph will be left with even less money than they had to begin with. the city of guelph also needs to start spending their money better, instead of paying for huge renovations on city hall. this is just another point to add to the list called "the ways guelph has fucked us". this list of course includes the continuing hanlon creek fiasco, which probably won't resolve itself for another few years.

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