Hanlon Creek is turning into Farbidge’s Miller moment
Friday, August 7, 20095 Comments
Indecisiveness by the city has allowed the protest to continue to everyone's detriment. (istock photo)
(Click here for pictures of the Hanlon Creek occupation "Family Fun Day" and scenes from outside the courtroom)
It’s not a great time to be the mayor of Guelph. Facing a recession that has cut thousands of manufacturing jobs and a huge bill to update city infrastructure, there were complaints council was mired in trivial issues like the installation of outdoor urinals. People were reminded of cost overruns and delays to construction of the new city hall when grand opening celebrations were pushed back – again – to the middle of September.
Yet there was one project where Mayor Karen Farbridge could undeniably claim success. After 15 long years, construction of the Hanlon Creek Business Park was finally set to begin on her watch. If the city’s projections were accurate, the project would bring millions in investment and create between 10,000 and 12,000 jobs, all while accommodating the province’s Places to Grow Legislation that regulates sprawl outside city boundaries.
Then, the hippies turned on her.
With the occupation of the business park dragging into its third week, protesters being sued for millions in court and local residents' opposition to the project growing ever louder, council's love affair with the left has suddenly turned bitter.
Farbridge isn't alone facing a revolt in the ranks of her progressive voting base. Mayor David Miller tried to navigate this gauntlet during Toronto's municipal workers strike and boy, did he get bruised.
Dealing with budgetary problems of his own, Miller decided to play hardball with the city's unions - the same voting block that played such a decisive role in electing him and his progressive allies to council.
No more sick day bank, the mayor said.
We'll strike, the unions warned.
We won't back down, the mayor replied. And then, five weeks later, he did.
Miller refused to take a firm stance on the unions' aggressive picketing activities, then offered them a generous raise and the option of keeping their sick days. Torontonians got shafted. Everyone blamed poor David for the mess, and rightly so.
Fortunately for Farbridge, delaying construction to a business park isn't nearly as annoying as having trash pile up in your house, so the political fallout from this fiasco will probably be blunted. Still, I fear she's taking a page from the Miller book of conflict resolution: take a strong, uncompromising stance, let things simmer for a few weeks and then compromise.
It makes council appear disorganized and indecisive, which may very well be the case given their response.
On day one of the occupation, Farbidge said the city would not compromise or allow construction to be disrupted. That was 12 days ago.
Instead, the city gave the protesters a threatening-looking eviction deadline. It turned out to be a paper tiger - one that let every media outlet in the region know exactly when to show up and start filming. All the while, the protesters' camp grew.
The city and another landowner then went to court to obtain an injunction and sued a dozen of protesters for $5 million. Whether they honestly hope to recoup those costs from a group of twenty-somethings who have nothing better to do but occupy a construction site is unclear. But it gave the confrontation a David-versus-Goliath feel to it. Progressive voters (and the media) love nothing more than rooting for the underdog. Point, protesters.
In the latest defeat to the city, a judge ruled that the occupiers and their village could stick around while workers attempt to repair damage to the construction site. The encampment currently includes a kitchen, brick stove, composting toilet, watch tower, first aid tent and covered rest area. If this drags on for much longer, the protesters could probably add a veranda and a koi pond.
The judge also encouraged the protesters to find a compromise with the city that would achieve some additional protections for the Hanlon Creek ecosystem. Given the city's reluctance to take firm action, there's a good possibility Farbridge will end up sitting down the very people she refused to negotiate with in the first place.
Meanwhile, the deadline set by the Ministry of Natural Resources to complete the first phase of the project looms. If a culvert to be built on one of the tributaries isn't completed soon, the whole project could be delayed until next summer.
In other words, the protesters will get what they want. Guelphites will get shafted. Everyone will blame poor Karen for the mess, and rightly so.
Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon.ca and loves both hippies and koi ponds..
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