By Doug Hallett
A new organization called GrassRoots Guelph, which opposes the current direction at city hall, plans to endorse some city council candidates in next year’s civic election.
The organization’s existence was revealed last week in a posting on guelphspeaks.ca, a blog run by retired journalist Gerry Barker. The blog has been highly critical of city hall’s leadership and direction since he created it a couple of years ago.
GrassRoots Guelph sees itself as an opposite counterpart of the Guelph Civic League, which played a significant role in the outcome of the 2006 election, Barker said in an interview Thursday. The Guelph Civic League was formed as a grassroots advocacy group in the aftermath of the 2003 election. It resulted in a more right-leaning council, including new mayor Kate Quarrie.
Quarrie and most of her supporters on council lost in the 2006 election that returned Mayor Karen Farbridge to power for a second term.
Barker agreed that he sees GrassRoots Guelph as an opposite counterpart of what the civic league has been. “But I don’t know what the Guelph Civic League stands for” these days, he added. “They did a hell of a job in 2006, but I don’t think it is the same operation now.”
In any event, he said, “they can fight their battles, we’ll fight ours.”
Barker describes himself as “a catalyst” in the formation of GrassRoots Guelph. He said other founders will be identified during a news conference to be held later this month. “I’m sort of the designated spokesman right now,” he noted.
Formed about a year ago, GrassRoots Guelph has become an incorporated organization, “mainly for liability purposes,” he said.
The people who have been getting GrassRoots Guelph organized over the past year “all share a concern about how the city is being managed,” he said.
The organization plans to push for policies at city hall that reduce city debt, make city government “more transparent,” and “apply common sense to municipal decision-making.”
It’s a “non-partisan” organization that includes Conservatives, Liberals and “some people who have not been involved directly in party action,” Barker said. NDP and Green party members who share the organization’s objectives would also be welcome to join it, he said.
Nominations open for the 2014 civic elections on Jan. 1, and GrassRoots Guelph will likely start endorsing candidates in February, he said. The election will be held on Oct. 27, 2014.
“There are some people who have approached us” already seeking the organization’s support, Barker said.
None of them are current members of council, he said.
GrassRoots Guelph is described on Barker’s blog as an organization that “will help Guelph taxpayers mobilize to effect change in the City of Guelph’s civic governance.”
It wants to help boost the turnout in the 2014 civic election in Guelph to the 50 per cent level, said Barker, who describes himself as a “political junkie” who has been involved in political campaigns at all three levels of government.
GrassRoots Guelph plans to launch a public website this month, he said. People who join the group will get e-newsletters, with a link to Barker’s blog.
Barker said he has been retired from a career spent mainly in journalism since before moving in 2003 to Guelph, his wife’s hometown.
By Doug Hallett