Council Duo Rated ‘Perfect’

The follwoing article appeared in the January 15 edition of the Guelph Tribune:

Councillors Lise Burcher and June Hofland will be the envy of students all over Guelph.

Their voting records over the past year have earned them 100 per cent scores from the Guelph Civic League, which has released an election-style report on how city councillors voted during the past year.Civic league president Annie O’Donoghue said residents can check how their values are reflected in the voting records of the councillors they elected.

While Burcher and Hofland are tied for top spot, Coun. Christine Billings gets the lowest mark from the group in its new rating report, which was released Friday. Billings is scored at 37.5% based on how she voted on 18 council motions over the past year, and Coun. Gloria Kovach got the next lowest mark of 61.1%.

Trailing Burcher and Hofland at 94.4% are Mayor Karen Farbridge and councillors Vicki Beard and Maggie Laidlaw.

Councillors Ian Findlay, Leanne Piper, Mike Salisbury and Karl Wettstein are all scored in the 80s, while Bob Bell and Kathleen Farrelly are given marks in the low 70s.

The motions picked by the Guelph Civic League for the comparison include approving a cosmetic pesticide ban, rejecting a future water pipeline to Lake Erie and testing two-hour free parking in the downtown.

Meanwhile, the local civic league has become a model for similar new groups springing up in Cambridge and in two B.C. communities, said O’Donoghue.

“I think what people are excited about is our values-based campaign. I think it stood out as a different approach.”

This approach, which is used in the voting record reports issued by the group, has focused on “values identified by the community” more than on issues, she said.

The group, founded after the 2003 civic elections, has no intention of disbanding in spite of the election of a council it likes in 2006, said O’Donoghue, who became president last May.

“Our focus is to keep the level of engagement and indeed deepen it” in the periods between elections, she said in an interview.

The current council has done a “fabulous” and “unprecedented” job of engaging the public, she said, “but in terms of engagement, there is always room for more.”

The report on the voting record of individual council members over the past year is based only on recorded votes. It doesn’t include the many decisions made by council on a simple show of hands.

However, under a new system of electronic voting, all city council votes are now recorded.

This will make it easier to produce future reports on how voting by councillors stacks up against what the group sees as the community’s values, O’Donoghue said.

The group’s new voting record report is on the website (

The Guelph Civic League, whose founding president was local singer-songwriter James Gordon, was contacted soon after the 2006 election by “probably a dozen different places in Ontario and as far away as Prince Rupert, B.C.,” O’Donoghue said.

People in these places, she said, were impressed by the Guelph Civic League’s rapid growth and by its 18-month “values-based campaign” leading up to the 2006 election. The organization spent a lot of time “reaching out to ask people what they value in their community,” including by knocking on doors, she said.

The group has provided advice to organizers of new civic leagues in Cambridge, Ont., and in Saanich and Coquitlam, B.C., which were all inspired by the example of the Guelph Civic League, she said.

“They are looking at our model specifically,” which includes “engaging the community by having fun” through fundraisers involving local musicians.

To help other similar groups form in southwestern Ontario, the Guelph Civic League is presenting a day of workshops called Communities in Action on Saturday June 7 at the U of G’s Rozanski Hall.

The Guelph Civic League will also present its third annual “Amazing Possibilities” conference on Friday April 18 in Rozanski Hall.

This conference will be “very Guelph-based” and will look particularly at development and “how the community can have a say in how development happens,” O’Donoghue said.